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“Whether a party can have much success without a woman present I must ask others to decide, but one thing is certain, no party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.”

—Desiderius Erasmus

The summer was hot and Kendra took to working in shorts, kneepads and a halter. The predominant local custom of removing body hair now made sense as a precaution against the reek of sweat and the rash it caused, and she went along with it. She wore her contacts and either a hat or scarf and gradually eased off on the blocker to a light protective layer against the desert-bright Iolight. She was developing a tan.

She arrived one morning, dreading another day of sweat pouring down her back, tickling and itching, dust in her nose and the still heat from all the wind breaks. She got a reprieve when Hiroki arrived and said, “Kendra, we need to set up facilities for Solstice this weekend. Take twenty of the labor and get the fences set.” He showed her a map and pointed, “And we need courtesy lights along here and the toilet trailers go here. Take the large truck.”

She nodded and gulped. The large truck was ten meters long. She grabbed the code, checked it over and very carefully backed out, then pulled in front. Walking back inside, she looked at the labor pool and said, “Okay, let’s go, people.”

Some came over immediately, a few hesitated until she waved at them. Two older adolescents sat at the table, talking and smoking and ignoring her.

“I said, ‘Let’s go!’” she repeated, louder. One of them flicked his eyes her way, deliberately looked back and kept talking. She finally walked over and grabbed his shoulder.

He threw her hand off, stood up and loudly said, “You just better back the fuck off, indent! When I’m done, then we can go!”

Myrol Jamal, the park mechanic, came over at the commotion. His broad mustache fluttered as he spoke, knotted arms and hands twisting a rag. “And you better back off, criminal, or you may find yourself in shackles. The lady asked you to do something you’ve been assigned to, so get to it.”

The tall youth looked down at him, up at Kendra and snorted. He swallowed his drink, threw the bulb at the recycle can and jumped into the truck. Kendra gave Myrol a grateful look and jumped into the driver’s seat. He nodded slightly. He was a hard man to intimidate and very decent, if normally reticent.

The idiot hung off the side and hooted all the way across the park. Some of the kids thought it very amusing but Kendra steamed. He was going to be trouble.

Most of the crew worked at least adequately diligently at the task. Some were outright industrious. The punk, whose name was Rubens, did nothing but talk and get in the way.

Finally, she said, “Rubens, go home. Come back when you are ready to work. I’m marking you off for the day.”

He spun, walked over and pressed his face up to hers. His breath stank. “Who’s going to make me, indent? You? I’ll take off and stay right here with my friends. And if I don’t get credit, there just may be an accident. Get me?”

Kendra swallowed. This was the first hint of violence she’d seen since arriving. Still, if this punk thought she’d be intimidated, he had something to learn. She came from a big city, fifteen times the size of this place.

She knocked his arms aside, put a hand on his chest and shoved. “Get the fuck out of my face, get your lazy ass working, unless you aren’t adult enough for a job, in which case I’ll call your daddy to come get you. And I will write up any report I damn well feel like! Understand me, prisoner?” she shouted. She took two steps toward him.

He stood, not sure if she was going to hit him or not. But he couldn’t back off once he’d set a position. He approached.

Two of the others flanked him and grabbed him. “This isn’t up, man,” one of them said. “She’s doing her job. If you start a fight, you’ll be shackled and doing shit work.”

“Yeah?” he replied. “You afraid of her?”

“No. But I don’t want to get dragged into your fight and I don’t want to be a witness and I don’t think there’s any reason to fight. Just do the damn work and we can go, okay?”

Kendra was only too glad to get back at midday and be done with it. She privately thanked the other two, who were paying off petty theft charges. Rubens was being held for assault, which was apparently unusual. She reported all of it to Hiroki.

That evening, Rob quietly read her the riot act. “Lady, you need to be armed! There’s a very few idiots, and that was one of them, who only understand brute force. You aren’t strong enough to tackle them.”

She didn’t like that idea. But she did agree he had a point.

She read Earth news that evening, sitting at her desk, and it didn’t reassure her about the future. General Robinson and Colonel Bruder were being tried for misappropriation and more people were being dragged in. This was a scandal that kept growing and tied in to illegal arms shipments to several of the plethora of factions on Mtali, a general assemblywoman, military officers . . . and there was still a secondary listing of her as a suspect, with a reward attached. She’d been hoping that it would eventually blow over and she could somehow head home. She realized she’d not thought it through, couldn’t go home and would be wanted for life. Sighing in depression, she buried her head in her hands. She was stuck here permanently. She’d known it intellectually, but not in her guts until now.

So, she had to pay off her indent at menial work that wasn’t much of a strain on her faculties, somehow create a new life without drawing attention to herself and avoid contact with anyone from Earth who might recognize her. What did it take to change a name here?

She went back to talk to Rob. Then she realized she couldn’t give him too many details. Then she decided she had to talk to someone. She told him everything.

He sipped a beer and listened quietly, then replied, “Okay, so what?”

“So what?” she replied, storming. “Didn’t you listen to me?”

“Yes, now relax,” he replied. He waited while her breathing slowed. “We don’t have security cameras, we don’t have implants for location in emergencies. Who’s going to recognize you? Why change your name? The whole point of coming here was that they wouldn’t look for you here, right?”

Considering and taking another breath, she replied, “Maybe you’re right.”

“Of course I am,” he assured her, taking another swallow of beer. “Of course, I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. There are people who’d take the reward money after all, but even then, it’d be hard to extradite you.”

He sounded so relaxed. She’d grown up thinking of the government as omnipotent. The hazy inefficiency in any large bureaucracy wasn’t something she’d considered and it didn’t apply here anyway. She still wasn’t sure within herself.

Rob interrupted her musing by saying, “Now, that UN General Assembly vote condemning us for selling technology to ‘nonapproved users’ is a bit annoying. But again, they can’t do anything about it.”

The next day, she was by herself again, the regular work supervisor back from his day off. They dropped her in the far eastern side of the park with two planters, a mower, an edger and a map. She had until 3:75, about 10 a.m., to get things arranged and trimmed, then the labor crew would arrive to lay out chairs. The day heated up quickly and the work was complex and demanding despite the automation. She finished on time, heaving support equipment back aboard the trailer and shortly was taken back to the garage. As Hiroki drove, he asked, “Would you mind working on Berday? There is a bonus.”

“Sure, if it’s a normal shift. My friends want to show me around.”

“That’s fine,” he nodded. “We’ll set up and be done in plenty of time for the party.”

“Thanks. I need the money.”

Solstice was on Gealday, local Sunday, but the celebration was Berday night, leaving the three-day weekend and Rowanday as a holiday. Kendra had gladly embraced the seven-day workweek and three-day weekend as a better schedule than Earth’s. One could actually get things done in three days. The work week was long, but the hours—divs—were not bad. It actually worked out to slightly less than the time she put in on Earth.

Most local businesses gave Berday off, too, just so people could travel. Kendra had laughed in delight at the idea of a five-day weekend and was sorry she couldn’t give it a try. The extra money would be welcome though, and she had nowhere particular to go. She helped arrange and organize toilets, seating, barricades, ropes and traffic avenues for the half-million people expected to throng the park that night. There were trash containers to put out, edges to neaten and more vendors of all the usual holiday trinkets and drinks. It was as big an event as the Fourth of July in America or World Federation Day. Not only that, but it was a commercial event that had her bemused. There was so much hype about it that she didn’t understand at all.

Crowds were beginning to form even before the crew finished. They were good at taking direction and keeping the avenues clear, but it promised a crush of people later. The cleanup was likely to be staggering, but two others were supervising that and the labor would be all prisoners. She wondered again if there were enough trash bins and toilets, but she knew they handled this every year.

The pyrovisual company doing the main display had brought in floater after floater of launch tubes, banks of lights and lasers, their own generator in case local power was lost and an army of technicians. It was owned by one family who did nothing but travel the planet and some of the habitats doing displays, and they cheerfully dragged out the kilometers of wire and hundreds of transceivers they would use. Long practice gave them seemingly effortless professionalism and the towers and racks seemed almost to fly together from psychokinetic forces.

As promised, Kendra was released in plenty of time to get home. She arrived close to dinnertime, which was at 6 div, about 2:30 p.m. Most of the other tenants were gathered outside in the quad, burning charcoal and steak, chicken and shellfish and sucking down liquor at a rate that was truly awe inspiring. Virtually everyone was walking today and most of those who weren’t were riding the “public” transportation, which was of course all privately owned. Kendra was surprised to find that they had lowered their prices for the holiday to almost nothing.

Rob had several items grilling, including a vat-raised steak for her. She appreciated the gesture, knowing how expensive it was here, and accepted a beery kiss. He’d had a few. As soon as he disentangled, he gripped her arm to indicate she should wait and jumped onto a picnic bench.

“Listen Up!” he bellowed. “That means you, you booze besotted inbreeds!” There were chuckles and a few retorts at that. “All of you know I’m the local maintenance, security and general dogsbody around here.” He rode out more insults and raised a hand for quiet. “You may want to reconsider those comments,” he grinned. “As of Rowanday, I will officially be the owner of our little slum. Official notification will come down then, but I wanted to confirm it now. Rent is as it was, which I’m sure is your first question, ya deadbeats, and nothing will change much. Except that your payments will go to my account now. That’s the only important issue.”

There were more jokes, some cheers, some cheerful boos and he stepped down. Kendra asked him, “How did you manage that?”

“Old man Lindeman is expanding on the North Side. He isn’t getting as much return on this as he’d like, it’s too far from city center to bring a high price and he can’t raise the rent much on what’s here. So we came to an understanding,” he said.

“Still building your little empire, then?” she asked playfully.

“Damn skiffy,” he replied.

“And just what would it take to come to an understanding on rent?” she joked.

“Should I categorize by act?” he leered. She howled in mock protest and nudged him, unsure if he was serious or not, deciding she didn’t want to pursue that line of thought. “Seriously,” he said, “if you ever don’t have rent, let me know. But you’ll have to prove it. And I’m not cutting deals for friends or lovers. I’d be paying people to stay here if I did.”

She nudged him again.

They left as soon as they finished eating, Rob dragging a cooler. The streets were crowded with pedestrians, all heading for Liberty Park. Their dress ranged from utter nudity to garish costumes of lights and phosphorescence, casual garb and half-removed businesswear, from the light flowing daytime styles to the tighter, revealing nighttime outfits.

The park was packed. The crowd was thin near the edges and osmotically flowed across the streets to the cafés, pubs, bars and mobile vendors. Nearer the center, it became tighter and tighter, until it seemed the throng would crush itself. Rob guided them toward a hillock on the northeast side. It was covered with blankets, but there was still room to squeeze in.

It was nearing dusk, Io low in the west and a slight breeze blowing from the coast. The heat wasn’t too bad and the swarms of Earth and native insects had been driven off with pheromone repellent sprayed across the park. The people were a blaze of color and style as far as could be seen, over the hills and along the edges of the walks. Kendra noted gratefully that they did not trample the flowerbeds and kept the walks reasonably clear. City Safety officers wandered through on foot and bike, ensuring traffic was clear, and they had a cart with water for emergencies. It was a surprisingly well-behaved event, from Kendra’s viewpoint.

Some people had brought small grills and braziers, as well as coolers. Food vendors and trinket dealers wandered around, selling shirts, glowtoys and mementos. The glee was infectious even to Kendra and she was totally immersed in segs. Children were galloping through the tangle of legs, carelessly getting caught and yelling apologies as they played. People lit small fireworks all around, pops and sparkles adding another acrid scent to the haze of atmosphere. The reckless abandon was unlike anything she’d ever seen on Earth, but seemed to fit here.

Music began to blare from receivers and mounted speakers. There were several bands and orchestras somewhere in the huge park and broadcasts ranging from classical to dance to oddrock and the distinct dissonance of Freehold contemporary tunes. Lights and lasers probed the sky and the cloud generators started pumping a screen upward.

“Test fire!” sounded through the speakers and an explosion rocked the air, snatching Kendra’s breath. A cheer and a few whoops rose around her.

The music tapered off, and the crowd became tense with anticipation. It was that electric feeling to the air of a half-million people awaiting amazement and thrills. A slight shiver ran down Kendra’s spine. Rob brushed fingers along her hairline and shoulder and she leaned toward him.

Music roared back into being, lights glared across the crowd, who were now shouting and cheering and rising to their feet. She was a bit puzzled as everyone stood still. “National anthem?” she asked Rob.

“Yes,” he replied, ramrod straight at attention. She kept quiet and looked around slowly. The safety officers were saluting. She couldn’t see any military in uniform.

The bright, powerful theme ended and a roar went up from the crowd. It drowned out the announcer’s voice for a few seconds, then Kendra could hear “—ors Freehold and Clash Ale. Facilities by Budreau Activities and the Jefferson City Parks. A celebration of summer, in light and soun—” The last word was cut off by another report.

Kendra would remember little of the next half-div. Concussion shells, actinic explosions, multi-colored bursts of geometric shapes, fireworks that painted animated pictures across the sky, with lasers and spotlights and roaring music, launched from the center, from building tops downtown and from skylifted platforms stunned her into amazement. She simply lay on her back and stared. She was vaguely aware of Rob fondling her left breast and shoulder, but paid no attention. The spectacle was awesome.

A pause, a cheer, then the finale hit. It lasted segs and lit the sky from horizon to horizon, crashing in her ears and dazzling her eyes. She lay still after it finished, feeling her nerves tingle. “Wow,” she said simply.

She rose to her feet with Rob’s help. The crowd was dazed-looking, elated, and she could smell the alcohol content in the air. More than a few looked to be under the influence of recreational drugs.

She was glad they were walking. It helped clear her head, despite the acrid smoke drifting down from the clouds. She’d drunk a bit too much, too. “That was incredible!” she said to Rob. “They do this every year?”

“Solstice, Landing Day, Heritage Day and Independence Day. We’re looking for more holidays to declare, so we can do this every month,” he said, half joking.

They wove through the dispersing crowd and Kendra noticed the trash lying around. There was very little, actually. What there was seemed to have dispersed from the filled cans. The civility of these people was just amazing.

She was too exhausted to go out barhopping with Rob, so she kissed him goodnight before retiring to her apartment to collapse.

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