When Autocrats (attempt to) Escape!

At the beginning of “Blood Enemies” Andrej Koscuisko makes a successful escape from Safehaven at last, to go apologize to Brachi Stildyne.  It’s not the first time he’s tried.  In the earlier drafts of the novel at least one previous, unsuccessful attempt is thwarted, yet again; here’s a look.


Andrej Koscuisko walked slowly down the empty hallway of the uppermost level of the main hospital building, still under construction; always under construction.  The smell of wet curing concrete was strongest here, and the clear-plex sheets the workers hung over the open holes where the windows would be flapped fitfully in the night breeze from the ocean.

There were cloth curtains stretched across doorways where no doors yet stood, tacked to the walls with temporary adhesive to keep thoughtless feet from treading on flooring whose secures were still setting; if the pressed cellulose beams were weighted before the binding glue was dried or firm the floor would never level.

The floor in his office suite, his apartment, where he slept, had never been right; but it was one of the finest in the hospital nevertheless.  They treated him well here in Safehaven, according to their resources.  They just wouldn’t let him leave.

Safehaven as a port city was perpetually a-building; the hospital was new.  Karol Vogel had brought him here a year ago when he’d come to Gonebeyond because this was the place he was needed the most; he was the only surgeon of his caliber in Gonebeyond Space, and this was the only place where the micro-surgery at which he excelled could be supported.

The raw walls and hard floors were the stuff of nightmares for a man who’d spent as much time as he had at the Domitt Prison.  That had been new construction too; the penthouse suite they’d put him in had had every comfort a triumphant conqueror could provide, but it had all been built by slave labor, and the haste in which it had been put up to house more slaves and process prisoners could be all too easily seen.

The Domitt Prison had been full of Nurail, then; Safehaven’s hospital was full of Nurail now, staff and patients alike.  They could just look away from him, and they did.  He couldn’t look away from them, especially in his dreams.

The woman had risen from his bed and gone three hours ago.  He didn’t know her name; they only very rarely told him, though it wasn’t uncommon for them to hiss the name of a weave into his ear at the moment of his dissolution so he would know which of the dead of the Domitt Prison had claimed his child.  It wasn’t a Dolgorukij folkway.

When his people lost men and women to an enemy they mourned and cried to the Church for hearing and adjudication, if they had not the force of arms to take life for life.  When Nurail lost one of their own to war or murder they took a replacement from the weave that had robbed them.

Usually the women came three or four nights in a row, staying for just as much time as it took to harvest him.  Sometimes they came back again after a few weeks; sometimes they stopped coming back, and sometimes they never did.  Sometimes he thought he saw one of them in the halls on their way to family medicine – a small section in Safehaven, but growing.  They looked at him sometimes, sometimes with vengeful triumph in their eyes, sometimes with no emotion on their faces at all.

He wondered if he would recognize any of their children, if he ever saw them.  He wondered if they’d look like him.  There was a run of Nurail he resembled, the not very tall, light-haired, broad-faced, light-eyed sort whose shoulders set at a deceptive angle that made them seem slighter in their frames than they actually were; so maybe he wouldn’t even be able to tell.

None of them stayed through the night.  Sometimes when he was lucky he slept through their departure and woke with weariness but no surprise in the morning, left to himself once more; more often he lay in bed pretending to sleep with the name of the weave echoing in his head.  The captives of the Domitt Prison had known that the Jurisdiction meant to destroy them utterly, that their Pyana enemies meant to eradicate their name and blood from known Space so thoroughly that it would be as if they had never even existed.

The weaves had been proscribed on pain of death, but no one who came into an interrogation cell to face Andrej Koscuisko expected to live; and rightfully so.  They’d told him, when he asked, and he in turn had never forced that information.  He’d liked the Nurail, in an abstract sense; and a man had to respect their determination that their nation would not succumb, not even to the entire weight of Jurisdiction.  He’d started writing their weaves down.

Now his notebooks lay under the protection of the Malcontent, held secure in a private place somewhere to which Nurail were smuggled to transcribe them.  Andrej wondered what that was like, for them.  It required a close and collaborative effort to extract the Nurail sense of it from the Standard they’d given him; not always carefully, not always precisely.

Once he’d realized what they were doing when they tried to confess old crimes to him he’d done his best to make time for their witness, but he had not been the master of the Domitt Prison even while he held the power of life and death over the prisoners referred to him for questioning.  And someone had to read his handwriting.

Stoshi could do it; Stoshi was his cousin, the Malcontent Cousin Stanoczk, and they’d been so alike as children that they’d successfully conspired on many pranks based on mistaken identity.  The difference in the colors of their eyes had been almost the only thing that betrayed the difference.

That hadn’t lasted, no, of course it hadn’t, Andrej was the inheriting son of the Koscuisko prince and the Koscuisko familial corporation and Stoshi was no longer even a person.  When Stoshi had elected the Malcontent, when he’d given himself body and soul to the Saint in exchange for reconciliation, he’d passed from person to property.

They’d grown less alike as they’d added to the few years of their childhood; Stoshi’s voice had changed, but Stoshi’s handwriting hadn’t, and why should it have done?  They’d had the same tutors, until they’d been eleven years old or so.  Even now when Andrej saw Stoshi’s handwriting on something it could confuse him, I don’t remember having sent a note to myself.  Why would I have done that?

He reached the end of the corridor, where it opened up into a hexagonal space intended for a family consultation and waiting area.  The clear-plex had come down from the window-cuts on the seaward side, and the night air carried a now-familiar smell of rotting kelp and the industrial effluent that escaped the best efforts of the port’s environmental infrastructure.

It was low tide, then, because when the tide was up there was only the scent of salt and marine life, the cries of the sea-birds and the slapping of the waves at the sea-walls on the docks.  All of the commercial work of the port lay on the landward side, where the launch-fields were; but the docks still had their part to play in Safehaven’s economy.

There were fish in the ocean, and people here who knew how to husband and harvest the plentiful population of a marine ecosystem almost untouched by hominid intervention.  It gave Safehaven a reliable source of high-quality protein.  Andrej had learned to appreciate fish, if not positively enjoy it; and of course the kitchen staff never tired of jokes at his expense.  Dolgorukij didn’t eat fish.

On Azanry the harvest of the rivers was set aside for the poor, and the only people who did eat fish – unless they were impoverished, or doing penance – were engaging in a form of sexual play.  And probably Malcontents, which was where Dolgorukij went, if they were like his cousin Stoshi.

Crossing to the leeward side of the room Andrej lifted the clear-plex curtain and looked out.  One moon full and one occluded, but the fuller moon was the further and smaller one, with less pull on the tide.  Still it gave light.

He could go up the stairs to the roof and down the side of the building, he could climb down the skeleton of its evacuation ramps; but he didn’t like climbing down from things, he never had, not at the Domitt Prison, not in Port Burkhayden where he’d been too drunk to notice what he’d been doing and how much he didn’t like it until well after the fact.

The stairs to the roof were open to the sky but there was a security rail.  He could cross to the older side of the roof and get down there where the evacuation ramp was finished, enclosed, where he wouldn’t have to concentrate on not looking down.  They’d find him if there was a fire alarm, but if there was a hospital evacuation he’d be evacuating anyway, and that would be that for his night-ramblings until tomorrow or the next time he thought the vigilance of security might be due for an understandable lapse.

He moved slowly past stacked crates of construction materials, impervious sheeting for the flat roof’s surface, beams and boards to finish out the floor below.  It was better up here, under the sky.  He’d had a garden outside his quarters in the Domitt Prison but this wasn’t a garden, and it wasn’t the Domitt Prison.

The Security who’d been with him at the Domitt Prison were all gone, because their bonds had been revoked, they’d been released from Bond – six years ago.  It seemed like so much longer, but four of those intervening years had been served under Griers Verigson Lowden on the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok, and those had been forever.

The Security who had been with him ever since the Domitt Prison – on the Jurisdiction Fleet Ship Ragnarok – were all gone, too, because he himself had revoked their Bonds all at once and personally and illegally and sent them away into Gonebeyond space to be free.  No pension, no privileges, none of the community respect or immunities that the Bench granted bond-involuntaries who lived out their term of slavery and imprisonment; only free, and alive.

He’d meant to go and visit them when he came to Gonebeyond, to see whether they were adjusting, to see how they were doing, to see what he could do to improve their lives.  That hadn’t worked out.  They’d let him send and receive the occasional messages, but he couldn’t leave Safehaven, and what he’d been able to say had seemed so formal and cold to him that it was almost worse than nothing at all.  They hadn’t come to him, so he had to go to them.  What he needed to say to them couldn’t be put into transmission format.

And now it had been a year.

There was no one on the evacuation ramp.  Touching the system over-ride to “status:  inspect” Andrej opened the door; if he moved slowly enough, at a normal pace, the lights would stay low and the klaxons would not sound.  The evacuation ramp knew that people had to walk it periodically for inspection.  Someone in facilities administration might have noticed when he opened the door to get in, but it would have been a transient alert, and with luck nobody had noticed.

Outside on the ground level the air was clear and cold, with no hints of the fog that would be coming in the morning as surely as the sun would rise.  Turning up the collar of his coat against the chill Andrej scanned his surroundings for any sign that someone might had noticed him; he saw no one.

He couldn’t afford to hail an auto-cab, because the Port Authority might have a protocol in place against persons of his general size and description leaving the hospital at night; it was a long walk – fifteen veserts, perhaps – to the launch-fields but he didn’t have anything better to do and exercise was good for a man.

He knew his way.  He’d been here before, moving through the shadows of the sleeping city toward his goal.  Ten days ago he’d gotten more than halfway there before he’d turned back, and hadn’t seen nor heard any hint that his night travels had been noted.  It was still a risk, but tonight was a good night to take it, because he wasn’t going to stop trying to get away to see his people.

The hospital ran all shifts, but the support structures in place – supplies management and warehousing, the suppliers themselves, places for staff to get something to eat if they didn’t want to eat at the hospital’s kitchens – those were closed.  Beyond the hospital district there were administrative offices and what passed for retail space, all thriftily darkened in the night.  When the air was clear a man could see the stars in the skies above Safehaven:  light pollution was not so much of a problem, unless there was a night ship coming in to the Port Authority and the launch fields were on alert.

There was a traffic corridor between the seaboard side of Safehaven and the launch fields, recently rebuilt, widened to accommodate the traffic growth that was projected; it was sparsely traveled now, beautiful, white, and ghostly.  Andrej walked along the shadowed berm along the protective barrier that controlled the entrance and exit of transit cars, hands in the pockets of the duty uniform coat he’d brought with him from his former life, looking at the moons.

It was a peculiar feeling to be out alone by himself, and he liked it.  At the hospital a man was never alone.  On board of a ship someone was always there.  At home on Azanry there was always someone waiting near at hand to hasten to his will, because he was the inheriting son of the Koscuisko prince and had been from the day he’d been born.  Princes were never alone.

There were twenty blister stations between the city and the launch fields, places where the lanes had been widened into turn-outs so that people could pull out of traffic if they developed mechanical problems or had other needs to address.  They were softly lit at this time of night, the cheerful bright colors of the vending machines muted within the glassed-in halls with their waiting areas, emergency transport pods, as-yet-untenanted food kiosks and sundries counters.

Andrej realized he hadn’t been counting the stations as he passed, and had no real idea how far he’d gotten.  It didn’t really matter.  There was no way to get around a blister station except by jumping the very short distance down into the transit lanes; for that he had to wait until traffic was clear, because if anybody saw him they’d report it.

Idiot in the street and up to no good I doubt it not, if nothing else.

A pedestrian in the transit lanes presented a potential danger of collision and injury to both himself and the transit car.  If he passed through the blister station, though, the lights would come up and there might be a signal at traffic control, an alarm.  He wasn’t as familiar with administrative systems on the night-watch in traffic control as he was with those of the hospital.  It was better not to take the chance.

The moons were beautiful.  He stood well back against the barrier wall, alongside the blister station, watching the lights as transit cars came up from the launch fields on their way into the city.  He could see them well in advance; when the way was clear he jogged to the high curb and hopped down into the lanes, only thigh-deep to the pavement.  Now he had to hurry, while there were still no lights on the horizon.

He ran, but he didn’t think he needed to sprint; the lanes were quiet, and as he reached the other end of the blister station he noted with satisfaction that a car was only now just beginning to show from the city end of the corridor.

Made it.  Putting one hand on the curb he jumped back up onto the pavement, safely past the blister station, and made for the dark beneath the barrier wall to seek concealment and continue on his way.

There was a small pile of debris or temporary storage there against the wall on the other side of the blister station.  There were debris piles all over Safehaven, packing crates, construction materials, discarded shipping containers, damaged furniture waiting for disposal.  Someone would be along to tidy all such left-over rubble away sooner or later, Andrej knew.  The transit authority was as short-staffed as everybody else.  That was all.  It was a sign of prosperity and growth, really.

But there could be only one reason for a flask of rhyti to be balanced carefully atop the heap.  Andrej knew what that meant, and sighed, reaching out to take it.  The rhyti in its insulated container was hot, milky, and sweet – just the way he liked it.  He was prisoner here, but they unquestionably took very good care of him, as far as their resources allowed.

“Good-greeting,” he said, to the silent air.  “Tell me, had I any chance at all, this time?”

A figure coalesced from out of the shadows at the wall, the lane-lights falling across his face in a way that emphasized his scars.  It was Beauty himself, the provost marshal, a man whom Andrej would have thought had better things to do than stroll about in transit corridors in the middle of the night keeping a look-out for escaping Dolgorukij.

“It was good, getting up onto the construction floors,” Beauty said.  “Sugar-cake?”  Well, Andrej thought, if he was going to be turned back yet again, he might as well at least get a sweet out of the attempt.  So he accepted the pastry that Beauty was holding out to him, a Nurail biscuit rich in butter that dunked well in rhyti.  “We’ll have to plug that hole somehow.  You know we have a perfectly adequate exercise track in physical therapy.”

Safehaven only barely had physical therapy at all.  “I can never get away during working hours.”  Over time the sugar-cake would crumble, gradually, as it was dunked and eaten and eaten and dunked, so that a pleasant layer of sludge of cake and rhyti collected in the bottom of one’s cup.  Andrej appreciated it.  “Beauty, I hear nothing from Langsarik Station, nothing worth hearing.  It seems hard that I may not go.”

“That’s not true.”  Beauty was drinking cavene, and dunked a sugar-cake of his own in contemplative companionship before he spoke again.  “You’ve had messages.  Just not ones you will accept as such.”  He was right about that, Andrej had to admit.  He heard “all well here, hoping the same is true in Safehaven” and “nothing to report, all well here.”

The current state of communications technology in Gonebeyond Space didn’t support much by way of private messages.  He’d written a longer letter and given it to Stoshi for delivery, since the Malcontent had its own resources; but Stoshi had resolutely turned away his urgent suggestion that Stoshi take him on board, and he hadn’t heard from Stoshi in months.

“When comes the time that I may leave, then?”  He knew it was presumptuous of him to ask, in a sense; to have come to Gonebeyond meant never to leave it, because there was nowhere to go back to from here – they were all under sentence of death one way or the other.  At least it had been so in the past, with allowances made for Malcontents and Bench Intelligence Specialists; nowadays the traffic had picked up.  Just not enough.  The Malcontent seemed to come and go – at prudent intervals – safely enough, but the Malcontent was just visiting, and doubtless had arrangements.

“The first we can be certain that no one will try to kill you on your way.  These are our instructions.  Here’s our car.”  Jumping down into the transit lanes Beauty beckoned with a wave.  “Come on, Uncle, no fear, we’ve got all traffic stopped on either end till we give the all-clear.  And you have clinic in the morning, they tell me.”

He should be flattered that Beauty came in person.  It was a mark of comradeship, of a sort; comradeship by accident, all because of a casual bit of aid and comfort he’d given to some refugees when he ought not to have done, on the way to the Domitt Prison many many years ago.

Finishing off his cup of rhyti with its bottom layer of sodden sugar-cake crumbs Andrej tossed the spent flask into the trash-bin on the blister apron, and followed.