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through Chapter 13.
Next: The Quiet One
With his mid-day herbal remedy several hours away, Leon was re-visiting his personal hell of too many memories for one mind to handle. He was shaking, sweating, and living in the half-life between dream and waking, where the demons were, where the memories lived.
Suzanne watched him anxiously, waiting for the inevitable jolt which would transform her friend into a panic-ridden, fretful child.
She was also working on her gun.
What better time or place was there? She was surrounded by young Gvot boys and girls who were building exactly the same thing, Leon - when in his right mind - was a wealth of useful skills and advice about the working of the wood for the stock, the mechanical parts for the firing mechanism.
It was the spring that was the puzzle. Even the childrens' guns lacked them and no amount of questioning in English was of much help there. Gvot only learned English after the Coming-Of-Age.
She knew he was there because she'd seen him. There were many good reasons for contacting Nagas anyway. First, it was good currency for the Powers That Be if Suzanne had information about his activities or whereabouts should the need arise to sell him out. Second, befriending Nagas might expedite matters vis-a-vis getting both she and Leon out of Little Gvotia.
Alone among the Gvot she'd met besides Stormer, Nagas had a vox. A vox meant she could call Aggie & Rails, possibly Stormer, and arrange safe passage back when needed.
As long as the herbs kept Leon relatively all right most of the time, the determinant was Suzanne's Gvot rifle, owed to Stormer in exchange for the longevity she sought.
She searched the faces beyond their little alcove of six tents.
Tents in space. Human symbols die hard.
As women had their hair and facial coverings, the men had their beards and headresses. People feared the Gvot because they didn't understand the reasons for the customs and practices.
But Suzanne had heard of the Beltway Nagas, the one who sometimes wore his head uncovered, the one with the expensive suits, the one the women talked about.
Stevich. The one with the emerald green headdress. Stevich, whose face suddenly looked familiar to Suzanne. Stevich, too, knew of Washington parties, fine clothes, fine food and wine; fine women.
Drawing her face covering up, she took a slightly guilty look at Leon sleeping, then moved swiftly into the crowd, eyes up in defiance of Gvot custom, eyes forward, looking for the flash of emerald green.
At last, he'd paused to chat and glad-hand the less powerful. She cast her eyes down and stood behind his right elbow, a slight tug so he would know she was there.
Stevich glanced at her, taken aback by the cool grey-blue eyes above the shroud for a moment. Then recognition set in.
He made quick work of ending his social obligations. "Mrs. Devereaux, things are well, I trust?"
"With me, yes, by the grace of your people, Radhac, but Mr. Freeman is not well, and I need to speak with Radhac Nagas urgently." She used the word 'Radhac' by design, the Gvot title for 'Master'.
"I promise nothing, but I will see what I can do." Stevich did not smile. He was waiting on the offer.
"I will be most grateful if you could." Her eyes smiled at him.
"Grateful enough to share the pleasures beyond our customs?" Stevich was well on his way to Nagas already; Suzanne knew the signs.
"If you are successful, all things are possible." She leaned in as if kissing him on the cheek, a polite custom well tolerated. While her left hand had his shoulder, her right hand did not, and Stevich was already large beneath his traditional robe.
She pulled back, expert in the timing of such things. Stevich felt the absence of her hand as much as he had felt its presence. When his breath returned, he said "Go back to your tent, wait and I will send someone to you within the hour."
She smiled, and adjusted her mouth cover a little, letting him glimpse her wet lips for an instant. "Akh bhanat."
She disappeared into the crowd, and Stevich walked into the men's washroom across the court and did not come out.
Suzanne checked Leon, and helped when the Shaman arrived. The herb concoction settled him, and she felt a great deal of relief.
"Mrs. Devereaux?" The young man who spoke to her was not familiar. She covered herself properly and acknowledged who she was.
"I send you greetings and benedictions from Masseen Iago Stevich, and bid you accompany me to his presence." He looked surprised when she reached for the traditional rifle. He smiled. "Tamiu izhnat."
She knew he could tell form her eyes she was smiling. "Pellakh ganat vertu hammis."
The young man laughed. "Come, I will take you to Stevich now." He looked at Leon. "Your father, he is feeling better?"
Ah, she thought, so that was the story. "He is, yes, the Shaman has worked his sacred wonders well."
They moved off through the crowd again, towards the same washroom door Stevich had entered. The young man beckoned to her to enter via the women's washroom. "Go to the furthest stall and wait, please."
Suzanne did as she was bid. She was in the stall less than a minute when the tiled wall slid to one side.
Inside was darkness, small fires in steel cans, smoke of many kinds.
The young man slid the door closed again, restoring the bathroom to its usual condition. "See? It is how we are naughty growing up. Every Gvot community has one of these places." He laughed at himself.
Stevich was standing down the alleyway in front of a tent in darkness, no fire glowing inside, no smoke coming out its top.
Suzanne said "Tidjmat!", roughly translating to 'I owe you one'.
Stevich nodded, but said nothing. He gestured to the opening and departed with the young man beside him.
"Come in, Mrs. Devereaux." The voice was low, a little gruff.
She stepped inside and took a moment to adjust to the darkness. A match flared and a candle was lit. Suzanne saw Copernicus Rade Nagas sitting on a large, high cushion.
She waited to be addressed again.
"Please, I beg of you, take off your Gvot clothing and tell me how I can help you."
"Thank you." She removed her headgear and knelt in front of him. "I seek your help for two reasons, one is that I wish to contact those outside who may be worried about Leon and me, the other is that I must honour an agreement and I need to acquire the spring for the firing mechanism of my rifle."
He leaned forward. "Show me the rifle."
She removed it from its case and placed it across his hands.
He broke it down, not a difficult task once one knew where the break release was, he examined it in fine detail. It was a while before he spoke. "This is a triumphant effort from an outsider! All you need is the spring!"
"I am happy you are pleased." Suzanne pressed a bit. "Can you help me with that?"
Nagas nodded. "That I can do. The other things you want, the messages to the outside world, I am a hunted man with my life to lose and my people's liberty literally hanging in the balance solely because of Stormer and me. Without us, all Gvot are worthless here. Who are these people you need to contact and why should we trust them?"
"They are people we love, Leon and I, and people who love us." Most people never really understood Suzanne spoke the truth nearly all the time.
"So you do not need to talk to them, merely to get them a message you are both safe?"
"They will not be told where you are, you understand?" He seemed adamant.
"They must not come here looking for you." Nagas held his head slightly to one side.
"As long as they know we're all right, all will be well, on my honour."
"Stormer says your husband made you wise in our ways. Did he make you aware of our penalties?" Nagas held her in a stony stare.
Suzanne nodded and answered quietly. "I know the penalties."
Nagas nodded for several moments, as if juggling inside his head. "Okay, I will get word to these people." He reached for a pad of paper and a pen. "Write their names on here, give me a place where they can be found."
Suzanne spent a minute or two writing down the information. Towards the end, she spoke again. "How do I go about getting the spring?"
He emitted what seemed to be a small laugh. "It is very simple, really. Like all things, it is a transaction, you give me what I want, I give you what you want."
She leaned forward, and handed him back the pad and pen. Without moving away, she asked "And what is it you want?"
He smiled in the half-light. "You are a beautiful woman, but I have wives."
She looked at him, unafraid and knowingly. "So missionary is right out of the question?"
He finally laughed. "Yes, exactly!"
"But I imagine the arts of the French have not been lost in space as yet?" She pursed her lips a bit seductively, a knowing smile playing at the edges of her mouth.
He knew his goal was within reach. "The problem is since I have been in space, I have been unable to locate them."
She ran his robe up his thighs. "I believe I've not lost my touch as yet." She flicked her eyebrows up as she felt the desired reaction. She watched his face as she freed him, stroked him up and made herself comfortable.
As she took him in her mouth, she heard his subtle sigh, felt the helplessness she loved so much overtake him. She took much pleasure in the act herself, so she took her time, finishing him with such elegance that not a drop was spilled, with just a hint of sluttiness she added in to allow him to feel he was the reason this was happening.
At the end, she let him settle before venturing her question. "Now, the spring you said you'd help me with."
To her surprise, he laughed again. "I am sorry, darling lady, but you will not like this at all. It is a test designed to see if you will return with the rifle done but for the spring. The TaskMaster then retains his importance." He handed back the rifle the way she had given it to him. "Take it to Stormer, he will give you a spring."
She placed it in the case and rose. "I thank you for seeing me."
He remained seated. "By midnight, your friends will know you are safe. In that, I am a man of my word."
She stepped forward quickly and kissed him with the same mouth with which she had recently swallowed him. She leaned in and whispered "I love doing that, in case you were wondering if you'd taken advantage?" She smiled beatifically, backed away, picked up the rifle case and left the tent.
Stevich was a few tents down. "You pay all your debts?"
She shook her head and took his arm. "All but for one, which I will gladly retire now, if it's convenient."
Stevich seemed to think that sounded like a pretty good arrangement.