Back | Next


Jon Moore

I very much wanted to sleep. “These can’t wait?” I said.

“Imagine a world in which I disturb you without significant cause,” Lobo said. “We call that, ‘fantasy.’ To put it differently, sure, it can wait, as long as you are willing to let me decide your future for you. That has not, however, been your past preference.”

Something I’d done had annoyed him, but I didn’t have the energy right then to pursue it. “Okay, what are the problems?”

“As I said, we have two. What I didn’t mention yet is that they are related.”

“So maybe one solution will fix both,” I said. “That’s a good thing.”

“I would agree with you,” Lobo said, “except that you aren’t going to make the choice that would do that. You’re going to make a bad choice.”

I yawned. “How about we stop discussing what these might be and how I might behave, and instead tell me what they are.”

“Fine,” Lobo said.

Yeah, he was annoyed, but I refused to rise to the bait.

“The first problem concerns the host of the auction.”

I already didn’t like this.

“As you may recall from the feeds I showed you initially, they have already identified him. In case you missed his name, he is Luis Kang.” Lobo paused.

“I didn’t remember that,” I said, “but so what? I heard that he’s important and on some Central Coalition council, but he’s also clearly guilty of kidnapping and trying to sell children.”

“Luis Kang,” Lobo said, “is the chairman of the Central Coalition council that oversees activities on Haven.”

Oh, crap.

“He is also the former planetary president of Haven, as well as, at a hundred and fifty-three years old, one of the oldest, richest, and most powerful men on that planet.”

Haven was the second world humanity colonized via jump gates. Pinkelponker, where I was born, was the first planet humans reached after Earth, but we got there via a generation ship. The first jump gate appeared in the original solar system very shortly after the gen ship crashed on Pinkelponker. It took us to Freedom, the oldest non-Earth human world. The second aperture to open in Freedom’s gate led to Haven.

“So we busted a very dangerous man,” I said. “That’s probably a good reason to avoid any of his friends, but given how old he is, he’s likely to die in jail.”

“The first problem is not the fact that Kang was the auction host. The problem is that he is already free.”


“He’s back on Haven. As a Central Coalition council head, he enjoys the benefits of the reciprocal diplomatic immunity agreements that all three coalitions have in place. He’s in his estate on Haven, where the news from Studio barely made a blip, and no one is bothering him. The few times some newstainment hound has worked up the courage to ask, Kang has explained away the whole thing as a terrible misunderstanding of a charity auction in which the families of the children were participating—and would be well compensated.”

“So his status lets him walk, and his money will buy off the families?”

“It appears that will indeed be the outcome,” Lobo said, “or at least enough of the families that the news story is already vanishing quickly.”

Maybe Chang and Lobo were right. Maybe I should have killed Kang, killed all of them.

None of that mattered now, though; it was over. At least I’d saved the children.

“I hate that,” I said, “but it’s over.”

“Ah,” Lobo said, “is it? Kang threatened to hunt you down. He has the resources to do it, or at a minimum to make a very good try of it.”

“So we run to some faraway world many jumps from here, and we live quietly for a while. We’ve done that before.”

“Indeed we have, and that’s the very course of action I recommend. Living quietly has not, though, been what you’ve been doing of late.”

Anger coursed through me. “It’s not like I’ve been wasting time. I—we—have been saving children.”

“Yes, we have, but that’s not going to be possible if we confine ourselves to one world and a low-profile lifestyle for long enough to let Kang get over his anger—or to come to regret the expense of hunting us.”

I did not want to stop the work we’d been doing. I did not want to give up on all those children on all those worlds who were still being used as child soldiers, sold into slavery, abused. “I’ll have to think about it,” I said, “but in any case we could head away from here right now.”

“I would love that choice,” Lobo said, “but you’re not going to make it, as I mentioned, because of our second problem.”

“Which is?” I said.

“I found this audio-only recording waiting under your name in a variety of public mail systems here on Studio. As you’ll hear, if you want me to play it, the message isn’t only here.”

Crap. “Play it.”

“You could ignore it,” Lobo said. “We could jump far, far from Haven and hide out from Kang for a very long time.”

“Play it,” I said.

A voice filled the air.

“Jon,” a woman’s voice said, “it’s Omani, Omani Pimlani. I’m leaving this note for you on every single human world.”

“Pause,” I said. “Seat, please.”

Lobo extended a pilot couch.

I sat in it and shook my head. I had not heard from Omani since I was 35 years old, over a hundred and twenty years ago. She was the first woman I loved, and the only one I had ever tried to build a relationship with. I’d left at a time when she’d needed me. I had good reasons, including the fact that she had noticed that I wasn’t aging, a trait I hadn’t realized until then that I had. Some combination of the way Jennie had healed me and the nanomachines in my cells from the scientists in Aggro had made me, at least so far, immune to aging. I couldn’t let her find out the truth, because eventually it would have led again to people experimenting on me. I would never let myself be a lab animal again. That wasn’t the only reason I’d left, but it was the main one, and it had caused me to desert her when she had most needed me. I’d chosen protecting myself over her, a choice that had bothered me for decades. It sometimes still did.

Omani was five years older than I was, which meant she had to be of the very oldest humans alive. Why was she contacting me now?

“Resume,” I said.

“I want to see you, Jon,” her voice said, “because I’m dying. I haven’t been able to keep up with you, because there’s not a lot of data out there about you, but from what I can tell, you are still alive. I’ve never forgotten you, Jon, and I’ve never understood why you left. Grant a dying old woman one of her last wishes: Come see me, and explain it all to me. I’m easy to find, because I never left Haven, not for any serious period of time. I’m still here in York.” A few seconds of quiet. “Please, Jon. You owe me this much.”

“That’s it,” Lobo said.

I said nothing. I’d never expected to hear from her again. I assumed she had moved on, led a normal life, and by now, died. Rich people with great medical facilities—she had the money, and Haven had the medtech—routinely lived into their early hundred and fifties, but very few lasted past that. I’d heard of small groups here and there in their hundred and sixties, most of them in terrible physical condition, and almost no one older.

I’d learned with Omani that I could never allow myself to build a real relationship with any woman. Though a few had tempted me, I knew it could never work. I’d always moved on. With her, though, against all the social obstacles Haven had put in our way, we’d given it a go for a couple of years.

I shook my head to clear it.

“Now I understand what you meant,” I said.

“And was I right?” Lobo said.

“That we should leave here and jump to some planet far, far away? Yes.”

“No,” Lobo said. “Was I right that we won’t?”

We should leave. I shouldn’t take the risk that Kang had been blustering when he threatened me. If he wasn’t, if he was seriously going to send people to find me, jumping to his home world was a very bad choice. I also couldn’t let Omani see me as I am, because what was once a small age difference was now so huge that she would realize immediately that I did not age.

She was right, though, that I owed her. I had loved her, the only time I’ve ever let myself love any woman fully, the only time I ever could have done that. I could make up a story that would help a dying woman feel better. It would be a lie, but it would also be a kindness. I did owe her that.

I nodded my head. “Yes,” I said, “you were. We’re going to Haven. Spend the next day gathering what you can on Pimlani and jumping us to a lot of different worlds. Change your look and our registration as often as you safely can. Let’s make our path difficult to follow.”

“One last time,” Lobo said. “You know this is a bad, dangerous idea that could put us both at great risk. Heading to Haven is a bad plan.”

I chuckled. “Well, the last time you told me something was a bad plan, it resulted in us saving ten children from slavery.”

“And in one of the richest, most powerful men in the oldest planetary coalition enraged at us and possibly hunting us.”

“We won’t stay long,” I said. “I just owe her one visit.” I stood. “I’m going to sleep.”

“Will you at least tell me how you know Pimlani?” Lobo said.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t explain it without giving away my most dangerous secrets.

“No,” I said. “I’m going to bed, and I’m going to sleep.” I thought but did not say that I’m also going to figure out how to approach Pimlani so safely that she won’t be suspicious and no one else on Haven, including Kang, will notice we were there.

I started for my quarters. As the door to them slid open, I said, “It’ll be fine.”

“Nothing in our experience,” Lobo said, “suggests that will be true.”

“Just take us to Haven.”

Back | Next