Here we begin to see a little of what is wrong with Cock, perhaps; what is wrong with his life, continuing from the last chapter.
Dolen El is probably the hardest character I’ve ever written, harder even than the freeman Kellis from Beasts of Delphos. While Cock has his quirks, he’s ultimately a decent person; Dolen El has no such redeeming virtues.
Yet he cannot be a caricature. To make him genuinely detestable, I have to make him human too. He cannot be a two-dimensional scrawl of a Bad Guy; he’s got to have his own motivations, and they have to make sense and fit into the story.
Truly bad people do not know they are bad. They know they’re working outside the socially-acceptable paradigm, I think; but it’s just too facile to label them as crazy or evil. There’s a little bit of the truly terrible in each of us, and while it’s normal to be prudishly incensed by that, if I’m going to tell a good story I can’t let myself get away with penning a boring, flat, dead evil person.
Unfortunately, that makes Dolen El extremely hard to bear — for me as a writer, and probably for most readers too.
Oh, in case you’re wondering, Blessed is a two-syllable word in this context.
Routine, from The Seven-Year Mirror by Warren Ockrassa, ©2007
Dolen El paced and scowled at the viscast when he knew he was out of range of the pickups, furious. “What do you mean, someone new for me to work with? I don’t need to work with anyone.”
“That may be or may not,” Oina said calmly in her minimally-accented but eccentrically-structured Standard. “It does not matter. This is the nature of the assignment and you will accept it.”
Dolen took a breath and then another. Consular brass could be … abrupt. It was not personal; he knew that. But knowing a thing and not pounding a desk in fury … two different animals. “I was unaware this was a training branch, is all.”
“There is no training involvement,” Oina said. “Melol Tule is fully competent. She is to be your second field operative.”
Dolen bit back the groan. So much was wrong with that sentence. He decided to try the easy part first. “There’s always a familiarization period while a new agent becomes used to the couriers. You know how quirky they can be sometimes.”
“That is true,” Oina’s bust nodded at him. “Therefore Melol Tule has been apportioned viscast records of your couriers and she is familiarizing herself with their files. As we have this conversation she is en route and will be present within the week.”
All right, second tack. “I wasn’t aware I was in need of a second field operative…”
“Planetwide Castor is our demesne,” Oina said smoothly. “And you have covered its bulgeward territory well.” Dolen nodded in recognition of the compliment. Oina was in the ringlands; as far as he knew she had never ventured from the Consulate’s general office outside Urbis Fuji. It had never been necessary; enlightened self-interest had made him see to that. “We believe that there are sufficient Blessed potentiates there to warrant a second operative.”
Dolen was genuinely surprised at this news and forgot about his third protest, which he could not have voiced to Oina anyway, as she and the new operative shared a gender. He wasn’t very comfortable in the presence of women, especially women who might question the time he spent with couriers. “Really? How many?”
“Possibly as plural as thirty,” Oina said. “Currently, and there has been indication of massing over the last half century.”
“Holy sh…eeoooot, that’s amazing.” Thirty would put the Blessed numbers at two in about five million per capita. That was high; it should be nearer half that amount. Blessed individuals, in a universe populated by Gem-enhanced life, were rather thin in ranks.
“It does seem an uncommonly large percentage, yes,” Oina nodded. “And this is the next reason for the new agent. Melol Tule will be responsible for uncovering the cause of so much unusuality.”
“Ah,” Dolen nodded, feeling some relief. She’d be busy, then, doing things other than stepping on his toes. “And you said within the week?”
“Perhaps later,” Oina said. “Is there a reason you would object to assistance?”
“No, no of course not, Oina,” Dolen said hastily. “I just didn’t want the Consulate throwing okane over the waves. I understand now why another agent would be of use.”
“Very well, Dolen El. I will be accepting your contact when Melol Tule arrives there.” The viscast winked grey and the imager broke up into mist. Dolen studied the inert platform for several minutes, wondering how this would affect his life.
Badly, he reckoned.
There was a reason he worked Castor, which was a planet that had almost no need for couriers, and therefore no need for agents, and therefore was a world where he generally remained unsupervised at all times. As far as the Consulate was concerned Castor was a backwater, a cul-de-sac for agents and careers. Quiet. He preferred it quiet.
But the Consulate wasn’t just in the business of working with current couriers; it also sought out and recruited new ones. Thirty potentiates was a very high number in a very short time, an outrageous percentage spike, and could get his office, his sovereign domain, centered in attention-space for an indefinite period.
“Fuck,” he said, clearly enunciating the fricative and velar consonants.
Home, such as it was, was just a short launch ride from the Consulate station, and Dolen took it with the same automatic lack of attention he used every day. He’d been in Urbis Shinzou for nearly twenty years Standard and no longer noticed much of anything around him, with a few half-clad exceptions. He paused at the noodle kiosk near his danchi, nodding perfunctorily to the owner, and had his usual post-work fare, udon with miso flakes and genmai cha. The roasted rice in the tea always soothed his stomach and he needed a little extra assist today after Oina’s little delightful.
He finished the noodles and departed, tubing up to his koujuu and thumbing the lock. The door hissed closed behind him on gas cylinders and he stood in his foyer for a long time, numb, before doffing his tabi and settling in the living room/bedroom/dining space.
A luxury flat it was not, but it beat the dripping shit out of a barque.
He gazed through the window, the only window, out of which could be seen the wall of the danchi next door to his.
Barque brats could be heard in the distance, their voices high and merry over the town. He was tuned to them, noticed them as a mother might the coo of her babe, or more accurately he noticed them as a toother did the scent of blood in the water.
The apartment blocks in the Urbis region, domain of midlevel-management type professionals, did not have much naturally occurring young life.
Of course it didn’t matter much. Even if he’d lived in the Barque districts he would have had to keep a hands-off policy. He had learned early that most boys avoided him. They did not like how he looked at them. He was too frankly appraising and they, not entirely sure why, were unsettled by his gaze. He’d rarely, in all the years he’d lived on Castor, been successful in any attempt to speak with any of them, let alone … satisfy his particular cravings.
At least not with the wild variety.
He would have been mostly content to just watch, but the parents of the Barque brats were as cagey as their offspring. They didn’t like him either and he was damned if he would settle for living in a Barque district if he couldn’t even watch the occasional boy take the occasional nude dip.
And it was stupid and nonsensical of them to shy from him. The way they carried on with each other — and the way they took after the visitors at the resorts. Yet for some reason he wasn’t good enough? He wasn’t up to their codes? What did that say about him?
No, better: What did that say about their powers of discernment?
Ah, that was it, yes. They were just too young, too ignorant to know what was good for them.
One joyless shower later, Dolen El sat in front of his viscast and ate tella flakes right from the box, keeping up with the Castoran newsbands. There wasn’t much more fare on the airwaves than was in his koujuu, but he was a man somewhat of habit after all these years on this watery spheroid.
There were reports of minor incidents involving tourists, there were many many reports of “entertaining” things that tourists could see (but there were only so many double sunrises or cetate migrations one could watch in a lifetime, however little of that lifetime might actually be remaining), and there were adverts aplenty for resorts, each trying its damnedest to hook fish from out of the creel of the other, so to speak.
There were constant jump wars — one resort would offer to pay tourists a premium in addition to rates equal to that of another, in the hopes of snaring vacationers. In reality it rarely, if ever, worked. Most resorts booked on reservation only, months or, more often, years in advance. (One time he had heard of a man skipping his third child’s birth in favor of a slot on Castor, because he figured, having seen two babies born already, the current wouldn’t be much different, but a stay on Castor really was a one-time-only thing. He had booked the room, a single, five years before getting married. His wife, to Dolen’s moderate surprise, actually agreed with his decision.)
But the advertising didn’t hurt; it made the resorts look competitive when in fact they all offered virtually identical terms all the time. He was fairly certain none of them had ever actually had to make good on any jump-offers.
The news ended and he brushed tella crumbs from his blouse, then looked down at himself and felt a wave of self-loathing. He was thicker across the waist than he preferred and always intended to do something to improve his condition, but never quite managed to actually get down to doing it. The closest he’d made it so far was purchasing a small pedal-powered watercraft, a one-person launch he’d planned to use to get to the Consulate station daily. But the first day he prepared to deploy it a storm had beat up and he felt prudence dictated a more conventional mode of transport for that morning, at least; the second day, the waves still looked a little choppy and steep for his tastes. The third day had broken with a heavy fog, the fourth was a day of solid rain and by the fifth he’d more or less forgotten the idea, though it still surfaced in his mind from time to time like the one turd in the bowl that just would not flush.
His ears perked again at the sound of youthful play in the distance. Kids. They didn’t know how lucky they had it. They were so energetic, so active all the time, they never had to worry about gaining kilos of flab, nor about the looks of contempt that could make a man’s life harder than it had to be, especially when those looks came from the very youths he so admired.
The looks were unfair. It wasn’t as though he was affecting the tide.
Right there — that. That sense of humor. You’d think the boys would be able to appreciate it. A little self-effacing, a little amusing, and a smile as a reward. No touching; no, just a little glance, maybe a happy gesture from some lithe young sweet thing, a little flirty shy flash of the eyes, maybe even a glimpse of that fickle skin, sometimes proud, sometimes so timid, that simple, lovely thing of which he never could quite get his fill, that bit of body that made boys boys.
“But they never…” His voice trailed off as he stared out his window. He was not aware he’d spoken.
He turned in not much later, his rest fitful and broken several times by dreams. He only recalled a fragment of one of them, and it didn’t make much sense, though it distressed him hugely. In it he was trying to straighten a wire, he wasn’t sure why, that had become bent he didn’t know how, and no matter how carefully he adjusted it there was always a slight curve in it someplace that made it less than laser-linear.
The following morning Dolen El’s pattern reasserted itself, habit dragging him from his narrow, swaybacked mattress and into the light of the outside world before his mind had fully caught up with dawn, and he went to the Consulate along a route almost completely unremarked.
There was a difference and he almost took it as a sign.
A single amber message light was gleaming on his desk console and he thumbed the contact and let the ID scanner peer at his retina, then whispered his passphrase into its pickups. Satisfied that he was who he claimed to be and that he was in fact alive and still capable of using his voice to prove it, the machine’s processor released the data it carried in its little glassy memory lattice. A small engineering firm at Urbis Os’ka had some information it needed carried under security; there were possible patent issues involved and the material’s secrecy could not be compromised.
Dolen arranged the meeting, secured the office and went in person; it was a half-day trip but at the moment he still had no staff (which he did not want in any case) to assist him. He listened to the usual statements of concern and stressings of the need for absolute secrecy and total dependability that everyone felt it necessary to repeat, even those who had used the Consulate’s services many times in the past. He assured the client that the data would be absolutely safe. He accepted the sealed, encoded package and returned to the office late that day, locking it into his under-desk vault, and wondered who would receive the nod for the task.
He carried the question home with him and into the news feeds. That was when the report reached him of the assault of a woman in the Barque district near Urbis T’oh-K’o, and when the image of the accused was shown he knew his second sign had appeared. It meant a tremendous amount of cover-up work but at least his question had been answered.
He was actually glad; this boy was one of his personal favorites. Delightful body and superb at performing fellatio. A bit old, now, for his tastes, but that did happen after a while. Even the most lovely flower’s bloom withered.
And it wasn’t as though he hadn’t enjoyed the boy’s dewy petals many, many times before.
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