The next couple of days went smoothly enough if you didn’t count Marcoli.  Higgins had decided that actually dealing with Marcoli was too much trouble, so he just assigned me to a different team.  Carlos looked heart-broken and Marcoli just glared.  This was okay when we were working, but the rest of the time he’d try to walk right through me, as if I wasn’t there, or as if he was daring me to start something.  At mealtimes, I took to getting in line well after him so I could sit as far away as possible.  Carlos looked like he wanted to join me, but I think he was afraid of Marcoli.  I couldn’t blame him there, Marcoli was a nasty piece of work.

Sleep shift was worse yet.  We all slept in a barracks and the icing on the cake was that we hot-bunked with the crews that were on duty.  The ventilation in that place was damn near non-existent, and I pitied the guy that had to climb into the bunk after Marcoli, but fortunately that wasn’t my problem.

Montaigne ran his operation on a standard Terran 24 hour day.  Three eight hour shifts. The ‘sleep’ shifts were offset by two hours.  You worked eight, had six off, eight to sleep and two hours to get up, eat and be ready to work again.  Your time off was spent in a common area.  Under each stack of three bunks were nine drawer-like lockers for personal possessions.  Not a lot of space, but then few ‘dents had much.  If you were smart, you wore the key to your locker securely fastened to you.  I had mine in the thin money-belt my cousin had given me the one time he showed up for my birthday.

It was close to lights out when I saw Ron come in and look around.  He crawled into Marcoli’s bunk and rolled over to face the wall.  It was then I realized Marcoli was missing.

I walked over and sat on the edge of the bunk.  “Hey, Ron,”  I asked, “What’s up?”

“Nothin,” he said, but I’d already seen the bruise on his cheek.

“Marcoli, right?”  Jeez that guy was an epic asshole.  “What happened?”

“Nothin,” he repeated, “leave I alone.”  But I could see his shoulders shaking.  The poor guy was crying.  I didn’t know what Marcoli was up to, but it couldn’t be good.

Like everyplace we went, the barracks had an Anyúvin guard.  I didn’t know if the point was to keep us from running off or to keep assholes like Marcoli from pushing people around, but it obviously wasn’t doing either right now.  I got up and called down the aisle to it.

“Mádjban!” I called out.  The old Anyúvin looked up and I pointed my thumb out the hatch.  “Going to the head, OK?”

It stared at me for a moment, then nodded and looked back down at the game board on the table.

Hoping the guard was sufficiently distracted, I turned right instead of left out the hatch.  Ron had come in more than a little drunk the other night and I had helped him back to his quarters which were about 20 meters down the companionway.  I tiptoed the last few meters and I heard Marcoli cussing. “Useless…  Hey, you get over here!”  I could hear the sound of someone being slapped followed by the thud of a body against the bulkhead.  Someone was crying.

There are times when a little voice tells you to just walk on by – and this was one of those times.  But that voice is an asshole.  Somehow I’d never learned to listen to that voice, because it usually meant someone was in trouble.  And I have a passionate hatred of bullies.  It was going to get me into serious trouble one day.  From the sound of Marcoli’s voice, it was probably going to be today.

I was listening at the hatch, trying to figure out whether to bust in or just go get the guard, when the door opened suddenly.  Marcoli took one look at me and went ballistic.  I side stepped his attempt to grab me and pushed him away.  I could smell some pretty awful bootleg on his breathe and he was a bit unsteady, but it wasn’t enough to keep him from coming after me.  Worse, I’d screwed up and now he was between me and the barracks.

I backed down the hall and he followed me.  Behind him, a woman bolted out of Ron’s quarters and disappeared down the companionway.  He saw me looking and turned just in time to see her disappear around a corner.  He turned his attention back to me.

“Bitch, I am so going to ghost you,” he said.

He came down the companionway, which was just a bit too narrow for me to dodge him.  I kept backing up, but he lunged suddenly.  His first swing was wild and I ducked it, but he closed before I could get out of his reach again.  Even half drunk this guy was fast.  He grabbed my neck with one wiry hand and pulled his other back in a fist, winding up for a punch.  I was trying to get at least one hand up to block it, but I needed both to loosen his grip enough to breathe.  This was going to hurt.

“M’tok!”  The Anyúvin guard was standing in the companionway behind Marcoli.  I could see rage battling caution in Marcoli’s eyes and his right hand stayed cocked for the punch.

“One of these days, bitch,” he spat at me, “I am going to catch you alone.”

“M’aved!”  The Anyúvin said, walking forward.

Marcoli threw up his hands in mock surrender, turned and walked back up the companionway.  He started to turn into Ron’s quarters, but the old Anyúvin grabbed him and tossed its head in the direction of the barracks.  “M’djer!”

Marcoli stood stock still in front of the Anyúvin.  I could see how badly he wanted to tell it to bugger off, but he wasn’t that dumb.  Instead he stomped back to the barracks.

I started to follow, but the Anyúvin put its hand out and stopped me.  “Ván, Djédi, ekadinák akáve.”

I had no idea what it was saying and made a mental note to learn more of their language.  More interesting was the fact that I’d never heard the Anyúvin call any of us by name – assuming “Djédi” was its attempt at my name.   I shook my head.  “No entiendo.”

“You,” it paused for a moment, “careless,” it said finally, then shook it’s head.  “Risks too many take.”

Well, it had a point, but I’d grown up on a freighter and had been running around ports and cargo bays all my life.  My parents had tried to keep track of me, but I had this knack for escaping and going off to explore, which I loved more than anything.  Eventually they gave up trying.  When I was nine Mom started teaching me Jiu Jitsu.  Dad, reluctantly, taught me to shoot, and Sanchez, the Diamante’s environmental tech, had chipped in with a few tips on fighting with knives.

I was suddenly struck by all that I lost.  It was like I’d kept it all pushed down until right now.  Oh, I’d cried for days after I first woke up, but somehow it suddenly seemed all too real – and bigger than I had first realized.  Too permanent.  I realized how big my ‘family’ had really been.  I remembered Atkins showing me magic tricks in the engine room.  Circe letting me watch over her shoulder as she plotted the Diamante’s course, all the while explaining everything she did.  Lietta, Circe’s wife and our cook, who always seemed to have snacks ready when I came into the galley hungry.  Conner telling me to get out of the cargo bay – trying to pretend he was angry, but with that Irish twinkle in his brown eyes.

I wasn’t stupid.  Just going into space was a risk.  You learn to live with the gamble and the fact that sometimes you lose, but I’d always assumed that we’d all lose together, not that I’d be left alone with so many painfully beautiful memories.  I looked the Anyúvin in the eyes.  I had no answer for it, so I started back to the barracks, then turned around.  “Thank you,” I said and it nodded.

When I got back to the barracks hatch, I pushed through the crowd that had gathered.  Marcoli was standing by his bunk.  He kicked it.  “You’re in my bunk, skag.”

Ron scrambled out of the bunk and headed for the hatch.  He looked at me as he went by and I could see just how scared he was.  The Anyúvin went back to its cushion and sat down again.  I climbed back into my bunk and looked across the room.  Marcoli had murder in his eyes and mine were filling with tears.  Somehow, I didn’t think I was going to get much sleep that night.

Is there anything worse than waiting for the next shoe to drop?  Marcoli had gone from glaring to smirking and I wasn’t sure that was an improvement.  The only time I’d forget about him was the mid-shift break.  I’d wolf down some of whatever they’d brought up for us and then go play Módjun with Djáni.  If it wasn’t our guard that day, it would show up at break time anyway.  Módjun was their name for what I’d been taught as ‘Sticky Hands’.  To be honest, I liked their name for it better.  From what I could get out of Djáni, Módjun translated, more or less, as “Balance Game.”  Everyone else thought I was nuts not to get off my feet, but the moving meditation of Módjun was better than an hour of sleep.  Perhaps it was simply that I could relax because I trusted Djáni more than anyone else I’d met since waking up in this hellhole.

“Hey, JD, your boyfriend’s here.”  Marcoli never seemed to get tired of that stupid joke.  As if I even had any idea what sex Djáni was.  I’d tried to ask, once or twice, but Djani just gave that what-does-it-matter shrug it was so fond of.

I got up, casually flipping off Marcoli, nodded to Djáni and we moved off to find an open area to play in.  One or two of the other ‘dents brought their mid-shift meal over and sat down to watch.  We bowed to each other, stepped up and placed the palms of our hands together.  The dark, ebony skin of its palms was perfectly dry, despite the heat in the cargo bay, and the rest of it’s body was covered with a fine honey blond fur, with darker brown stripes that matched the fur on its muzzle.  A dark black mane framed Djáni’s face and disappeared down it’s back.  Short, erect ears poking out just above where they’d be on a human.

Djáni was about average height for an Anyúvin, a bit taller than me, call it 180 cm.  Only four fingers on its hand, and they were just a little too long to look quite right, but that wasn’t a big deal.  To me, it was the eyes that really set them apart.  I could read Djáni’s body language, but those eyes were harder.  Catlike pupils, only the slit ran horizontal instead of vertical, and when the light hit them just right they glowed a pale, fiery red.  Even more disturbing was the dark nictitating membrane that snapped across their eyeballs whenever the light got too bright.

I was beginning to wish it wasn’t so hard to talk to Djáni.  Hell, it was damn near impossible!  I’d met Anyúvin before and they’d all spoken Standard as well as anyone else, or at least Anzedjo, the Standard-Anyúvin creole.  Only Montaigne’s Anyúvin ‘soldiers’ seemed reluctant to speak Standard.  Then again, they seemed reluctant to talk to humans at all.  Why Djáni came to play with me was something of a mystery. The other mystery was where the Anyúvin quarters were – and if I wasn’t so worried about Marcoli catching me alone, I’d have sussed that out by now.  Whether they’d appreciate it or not, I wasn’t sure.

Djáni and I were getting into the groove.  We’d both managed to get a couple of points on each other at the start, but that was slowing down as we tuned out the distractions around us.

“Jeez, they’re groping each other.”  Marcoli’s voice came from behind me.  It sounded like someone slapped his arm or something because the next words out of his mouth were, “Well, that’s what it looks like from here.”

I lost my focus and half expected Djáni to score, but he had already stopped and was staring at Marcoli.

“Don’t pay any attention to that asshole, Djáni.”  I said, putting my hand on his shoulder.  He turned and looked at me.

“Vák vánda nakídjve.” Djáni said, “Vak ketákdju békve.”

The frustration of not knowing Djáni’s language was beginning to piss me off.  “Djáni, speak Standard, dammit!”

“Oh, I’ll bet he can’t,” Marcoli said, “poor ignorant sod.”

“‘Can’t’, no.  Won’t.”  Djáni and his damned broken Standard.  It made him sound stupid and I know he’s not.

“Why not, dog face?  Is it too hard for you?”

Marcoli was grinning, which I’d come to realize meant he’d found someone to abuse.  But why he thought he could get away with doing anything to one of Montaigne’s Anyúvin, escaped me.  Then I realized that everyone else had left.  There was no one around but Djáni, me and Marcoli.  So, no witnesses, but why?

I looked around the cargo bay, half expecting to see some goons come slithering out from between the crates.  He couldn’t be stupid enough to think he could take both of us on his own, but I watched him cross over and stand right in front of Djáni.

“Y’know, dog face, I think you’re a coward.  I think that if I were to hit your girlfriend here, you’d just stand there and watch.”  Marcoli took a step back.  “Let’s find out, shall we?”

Marcoli wound up and took the biggest, slowest roundhouse swing I’d ever seen.  I leaned back to avoid it and swept his fist on around.  He was laughing.  Djáni stepped up and grabbed his throat.  I could see Marcoli’s eyes roll up.  The asshole was still smiling.  I had to think.  Marcoli was trying to set me up and lunch break was more than half over.  I had about ten minutes to figure out how.

“Djáni,” I said, “Hold him here until I get back.  Don’t let him wake up!”

I slipped behind some crates and made my way toward the cargo bay hatch.  The Anyúvin on guard saw me, but I heard Djáni say something and he turned away.  I slipped out the hatch and almost knocked Ron over.  He looked at me as if I was going to kill him.

“Hey, Ron,”  I started, then grabbed him as he started to bolt.

“OK, let’s try this again,” I said.  “What are you afraid of?”

“He make I do it!”  Ron whimpered.  “Always makin’ I do such as’ll get I troubled.”

“Give me a for-instance, Ron,” I said, “something … recent.”

“Put sumthin’ in your locker,” he said, wringing his hands.  “I didn’ want to!”  The end of that came out fast and high pitched.  Jeez he was scared.  Well, maybe that would work for me.

“Let me guess,” I said with as much of a sneer as I could muster.  “Something incriminating.  Something bad.”

“No sussin’ that.  He gave it I, then he say you be gettin’ yours.”

“And how would you be getting into my locker,” I asked, “Hmmm?”

“I got t’ master key!”  He said with a scared kind of pride.  “Y’know, in case I gotta clean out someone’s locker.”

Oh, yeah, someone – dead.  That hadn’t happened since I’d been working here, but some of the others had told me things to watch out for.  Not every ‘dent got to go home.

“Well, Ron, I have a little job for you too.”  I dragged him whimpering down the companionway.  “We’ll see who’s going to get what.”  Ron must have figured out what I had in mind, because suddenly he was twisting around and scratching at my arm.

“He’ll kill I!”  Ron cried.  “Ain’t gettin’ dead for you!”

I spun him around and pushed him up against the bulkhead.  “You’re not going to die.  Not if he’s the one who gets caught.”  It had to be drugs of some kind.  Possibly a weapon, but more likely drugs and I’d heard how Montaigne felt about that.  He’d smuggle them around for people, but he wouldn’t stand for his workers using Dream and the like.  Unless I missed my guess, framing Marcoli would give him a one-way ticket to the Fengs.  Or the O’Connells.  Either way, he wouldn’t be a threat any more and I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over his fate.  As far as I was concerned, he had it coming.

It took about five minutes to switch the package to Marcoli’s locker.  It was mid-watch and everyone in the barracks was asleep, which was fortunate.  I was back in the cargo bay just as break ended, standing next to Djáni.  Marcoli was still on the floor.  I kicked him awake.

“Get up, asshole,” I said.  “And stay the hell away from both of us.”

Marcoli got up.  He wasn’t grinning any more.  I think getting beat up was part of his plan, and we’d been rather gentle, so he had no cuts and bruises to show, although he did manage a convincing limp on the way back to work.  At this point I didn’t care.  The only downside I could see right now was if Marcoli somehow managed to figure out what we’d done and ditched the package before anyone came looking.

I tried explaining what had happened to Djáni, but I’m not sure it really understood.  “You know, Djáni”, I said finally.  “I got the feeling this isn’t going to end well.”  Djáni looked back at me and nodded.

I finished out the shift and headed back to the common room.  I guess the whole affair wasn’t much of a secret any more, because everyone was pretty quiet.  Marcoli was back to grinning.  I’d checked my locker when he wasn’t looking and the package hadn’t magically reappeared, so my guess was he thought his plan was still on track.

Montaigne showed up a couple of hours into our break shift with Ron and half a dozen Anyúvin.  He looked at Marcoli for a second, then walked over to me.

“Up,” was all he said before turning and walking back towards the barracks room hatch.  He stopped just inside.  “Come on!”  I could hear Marcoli snickering as we left.

We got halfway there when Montaigne stopped.  “I don’t know what’s up between you and Marcoli,” he said and raised his hand as I started to speak.  “And I don’t really care except that I suspect I’m going to have to get rid of one of you and I’m already short handed.  I’ve heard his side and it smells bad.  You’re a lot smarter than he is.  So, you got an explanation for this?”

“Marcoli is a perv and a bully.”  I started out and glanced at Ron who looked like he was about to piss himself.  “He’s trying to frame me for something, drugs would be my guess – I didn’t open the package up.”

“Which is your excuse for why I’ll find drugs in your locker?”

“No, which is the reason you’ll find that package in his locker,” I answered.

“And how did you get it into his locker?”

“Same way it got into my locker in the first place,” I said, and nodded at Ron.  “But I wouldn’t go too hard on him.  Like I said, Marcoli’s a bully and Ron doesn’t stand much of a chance against him.”

Montaigne sighed.  “Ron?”

“Yes, boss?”

“Is this true?

Ron looked like he wanted to split in two.  Half of him worshipped Montaigne and the rest of him was deathly afraid of Marcoli.  “Yes,” he said, wringing his hands, “boss, I ‘fraid of ‘im.  He beat on I more’n once.”

“I didn’t know, Ron,” Montaigne said, “and it hurts that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me.”

“OK, you and Ron back each other up,” he continued, turning back to me.  “Give me a third person and I’ll believe you.”

“Djáni,” I said.

“Anyúvin?  And how would you know one of them so well?” Montaigne asked.

I gave him the twenty-five-words-or-less version of where Djáni fit into all this and he got an odd look in his eyes.  “OK, I’ll look into that,” he said, and nodded at Ron.  “You take care of that package.”

“Yes, boss!”  Ron said, bobbing his head and disappearing into the barracks room with one of the Anyúvin.

“Sometimes I think I should just kick him out, but he wouldn’t last ten minutes,” Montaigne said.  “OK, I’ll make sure Marcoli’s tucked away safe until I figure out what to do with him.  He knows more about my operation than I like. Question is, what do I do with you?”

I spent the rest of the break shift worrying about what Montaigne had said.  Marcoli was gone from the common room by the time I got back, but people were still looking at me like I had two heads.  It was hard to tell if I was some kind of hero or a pariah.  Still, when sleep shift came around I fell asleep almost instantly.  I hadn’t felt this safe since I got dumped here.

In the morning, I showered and headed for the cafeteria for some breakfast.  Ron was there and suddenly we were best friends again.  I put up with his jabbering because I felt guilty about pushing him around.  Doing something like at always makes me feel kind of unclean.  As work shift rolled around, I got up to head for the cargo bay.

“Oh, no, JD.  Not today.”  I turned around again and Ron was grinning.  “Boss say you see him.  Shivvy up,  I take you.”

And now I was worrying again.  “Did he say what for?”  I asked.

“Sumthin ‘portant,” Ron said, “I sussed that out.  Meetin’ w’ all them Anewvin!  Gotta be big!”

Now I was really confused.  Ron didn’t sound like it was anything bad, but I had no clue what Montaigne had in mind.  I worried over this while Ron led me to Montaigne’s office.  We found him sitting behind a massive wooden desk, and not a cheap one at that.  The rich, red wood had a swirling grain that could keep your eyes moving for hours.  Montaigne waved his hand and a holographic display flickered out as we came in.

“So, it seems the Anyúvin backs up your story,” Montaigne began without preamble, “at least as far as I can tell.  Been working with them for ten years and I still can’t make head nor tail of what they’re saying half the time.  Funny thing is, I think they understand me just fine – when they want to.”

“I think you’re right,” I said, “sometimes it seems like Djáni understands me perfectly.  Other times…”

Montaigne leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk.  “Well, I’m getting a little tired of it.  I need someone on the inside with them – a translator.  Someone who can learn their lingo – get to know how they think.  You seem to get along with them and they seem to like you.  Not sure why, but the job’s yours.”

I started to ask what made him think I could get ‘inside’, but Montaigne waved his hand.  “I’ve cleared it with them.  They understand what I want and they’re not in a position to argue,” he said.

“OK, so far it’s all good news,” I said, still unsure how that was going to work, “but what’s the catch?”

“No catch on my end,” he said, then leaned back and shrugged his shoulders.  “From their side – who knows?  They want something and I’ve never figured out quite what it is.  They’re different somehow.  I’m sure you’ve noticed they’re not like other Anyúvin.  And they don’t mix well with them either.”

“There’s quite a few Anyúvin enclaves on Jumble.  They could have taken what was left of that old ship of theirs and bought their way into any one of them.  Instead they show up at my airlock.  Offer to be my soldiers.”  He shook his head.  “Never could figure out why they picked me.  Or maybe they didn’t, maybe it was just sheer dumb luck, but I needed them very badly.  Charley Fenwick was trying to take over my operation.  And she was winning, I’ll admit to that.  Until they showed up.

“For a week they did nothing.  Oh, they stood guard like I asked, and that was the last time any of Charley’s goons got in here.  Then one night half of them are gone.  In the morning, one of them comes and tells me it’s over.  And, damn, it was right.  Never saw anything so smooth in my life.  Not one of them got so much as a scratch, but Charley and all her people were locked up in a cargo hold.  ::Heh::, most of them were still alive, if somewhat the worse for wear.”

“Then they pulled the biggest of Charley’s cargo modules over.  Big sucker, sixteen bays big enough to pull a heavy freighter into.   They moored that old ship of theirs next to it and moved in.  They grabbed a couple of her salvage boats as well.  I didn’t say anything – I figured they’d earned that much.  And,” he said, sitting back, “it set Charley back quite a bit, which made me happy.  So, that’s all I know.  I’m hoping you can find out more.  That cargo module is like a black hole.  Stuff goes in and nothing comes out.”

I thought about this as I went back to the barracks to pick up my stuff.  I wasn’t really happy about spying on the Anyúvin.   I knew living with them was going to be strange, but there was a kind of relief there.  Somehow I felt I could trust them.  Not just Djáni, but all of them.  They had a kind of honor.  And as long as I didn’t betray them, I knew I’d be safe.  Which made the idea of spying on them even worse.

I pulled my stuff out of my locker and packed it in an old ruck Ron had found me.  I left the key in the lock, scribbled ‘vacant’ on a piece of tape and stuck it to the locker.  The Anyúvin guard looked up and smiled at me, then nodded its head towards the door.  When I turned, I saw an older Anyúvin waiting there.

It pointed to itself.  “Kádjiš,” it said, which I took to be its name.  I nodded, pointed to myself and said, “JD”.

It smiled and said, “Váš čádiš anášve.  Means ‘I know that’  You say.”

“Váš čádiš anášve,” I said and it bobbed its head.  “Good.  ‘váš’ is ‘I’, ‘čádiš’ is ‘that’.  ‘anásh’ means ‘to know’.  It is ‘mitáma’,” he paused, his head bowed in thought.  “Action word?” he asked, finally.

“We say ‘verb’.”

“He waved his hand and started walking again.  ‘Mitáma’ is better.”

“Váš óba vándji anravínda akáne,” it continued.  “ván is ‘you’, vándji is ‘yours’…”

It rattled off the rest of the words.  The sentence came out to mean “I will be one of your teachers.”  Which was intriguing since it meant that language might not be the only thing I’d be learning.  By the time we’d reached the hatch to the Anyúvin area, it’d rattled off half a dozen sentences.  Learning Anyúvin was not going to be easy if this was its teaching style.

It stopped with its hand on the hatch and spoke over its shoulder, “In here you speak only Anyúvin,” and without waiting, pushed the hatch open.

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