“It is much easier to be critical than correct.”—Benjamin Disraeli—
Zormna stared at her glass of tsilk and grumbled to herself. She was an Anzer, and well deserved. And she had kept out of trouble. But whenever Alea Tengarr saw her in the hallways he gloated so much that she felt like wringing his neck—though that did not bother her half as much as that undercity boy she had caught the other day. She knew she had seen his face somewhere before and by the time she remembered where she had seen him, a lousy P.M. accused her of losing the boy. The P.M.’s accusations brought back all her anger and frustration at the whole rotten system. She had nearly forgotten it all in the quite living of the Alpha district.
It had been nice being home. Her duties as an Anzer were good. Alea Arden kept her busy, so she really had no reason to complain, except…. The boy’s face flashed in her head. His determined and exasperated expression as he wrestled her grip astounded her. No one ever fought as hard as he did. No one ever could fight her as hard as he did. It was difficult enough to keep him down but harder still to fight his unconquerable spirit. Zormna had been so proud of her success, even after the P.M.s lost him—but it was his face, like out of an important dream that she had somehow forgotten, and Alea Arden’s expression of sadness that puzzled her.
She stirred her drink and shook her head. Did Alea Arden know him? It was probable. Alea Arden did grow up in the undercity, and that boy was so entirely undercity even if he did look like a seer child. Her superior officer looked so…so…Zormna could not put her finger on it. He looked disappointed, but not in her. It was not even disappointment in the boy. Zormna stirred her tsilk and mulled over it all. No. It was the system. Zormna nodded at this conclusion. He hated the system.
A dull ache tugged at her chest and Zormna frowned. No…. That was not it. Not exactly anyway. It was something else.
“Zormna!” someone called to her over the crowd at Sandi’s.
“Oh, hi, Salvar,” she said, barely looking up.
Salvar ignored her unenthusiastic greeting as he trotted over to her table and leaned on it. “Me and a bunch of the guys are going to the public gym to watch Alea Prantz get his pants kicked at pronuk. Do you want to come?”
Zormna cracked a smile at the thought but shook her head. “I’d better not. Pronuk in my off hours never did me any good.”
Giving a shrug and a nod, he said, “You don’t have to come in. We’re also stopping off at the Ker’zep dance hall with a few civs we picked up at the arcade.”
Casting him a sidelong glance, Zormna said, “You’re hanging with civs? Since when were you interested in civilians, Salvar?”
With a blush he pulled on her hand. “Come on, Zormna. You’ve been mopey since yesterday. That boy’s escape doesn’t still bother you, does it?”
She shook her head slightly.
“I dunno. Maybe a little.” Then with fury, she said, “That P.M. had no right to storm in like that, making accusations.”
Salvar nodded. “I know. That boy must be his pet project or something, and he blew it.”
Nodding, she agreed. “I guess so.”
Again Salvar tugged on Zormna’s arm again to come with him. She smirked, shaking her head at him.
“If I come, will you quit with the pulling?” she said wryly.
Salvar smiled. He had her. They immediately left the restaurant, abandoning the still full, fizz-less tsilk sitting on the table.
They jogged out onto the balcony walkway just outside in the Surface Gate main hall where Aver Bren and Cadet Marsek waited with two middlecity blondes on the back of their flight scooters. One look at Zormna Clendar and the girls immediately shared glances with each other and at their third friend, a svelte strawberry blonde waiting on Salvar’s scooter.
“Is that your friend?” the girl on his scooter said, trying not to sound catty but still giving away her surprise that Salvar’s friend was not a boy.
Zormna strained a smile, knowing what was running though the girl’s head. Since her true emergence into womanhood, it seemed Zormna got nothing but snide remarks from the ladies of all castes.
“Do you have room on your flight scooter?” Salvar’s date asked him as he climbed on.
Zormna laughed. “I have my own,” she said, walking towards her top of the line Alpha issue, patting it.
Salvar rolled his eyes and started his motor, casting Zormna behave-yourself looks. She fluttered her eyelashes back at him with a mocking grin as she climbed astride her vehicle, then Zormna gave the girl a placid gaze and pulled on her helmet, strapping it securely then adjusting her gloves and jacket to fit.
Adjusting Salvar’s jacket around herself, his date pulled on his helmet also, and gave an excited giggle as he let his scooter hover. Her arms wrapped quickly around his waist. The other two officers lifted off at the same time, guiding their vehicles into the Surface Gate traffic. Salvar waited for Zormna to follow, glancing back as she revved up her scooter. She lifted off before he could give a word, practically leaping into traffic the way she always did.
All together, they zipped through the traffic, passing slower cars and service vehicles while weaving in and out as their training had taught them. The three girls on back giggled and screamed to each other as the boys flew faster to show off, zipping around a little recklessly. In fact Zormna was the one minding the traffic when it was usually the reverse, but then she was the only one that had to keep from bringing more marks against her record. As they journeyed, Zormna could hear through the helmet com the girls commenting to each other over the wind as they had not strapped their helmets on properly—chatter and gossip mostly so not worth listening to. But one gasped rather dramatically at a remark another girl made and they hissed more fervently that it was hard to ignore.
<<I don’t think she’s anything to worry about. He’s with you, not her,>> one said.
The girls looked back at her the moment they heard the laugh through their helmet coms, hushing up immediately.
Cadet Marsek dived out of the traffic, leading them to the curb near the sports center doors, landing with style. Aver Bren flew right on his tail, pulling alongside, followed next by Salvar then Zormna. Their passengers climbed off. As they started to fit their flight scooters among the other parked on the side, they noted to themselves the sheer number of Surface Patrol scooters that were among the parked vehicles. It wasn’t usual.
The girls started giggling again once they passed the helmets back to the boys, gathering in a cluster before the boys joined them on the walkway. Zormna took her time to unbutton her jacket and stuff her helmet into her seat, glancing up at her fellow officers who were in her mind grinning like dopes. Salvar had a broad smile with one arm around his date as he entertained her with stupid jokes that were meant to impress her. The girl laughed on cue, all perky and vapid to Zormna’s tastes, and he looked incredibly pleased with it all. Zormna shook her head with a smirk, joining them towards the doors.
As they walked through the game doors, they showed the man at the entrance their identicards and they passed through. The man gave the Surface Patrol officers polite nods, and he inspected the girl’s cards to make sure they were not expired. After they passed the first gate, Zormna, Aver Bren, and Salvar (who was now an Aver himself) walked over to the locker hall to check in their firearms. Cadet Marsek waited with the girls, gazing enviously at their weaponry that only officers in the patrol were allowed to have. Salvar took the key and clipped to the inside of his jacket pocket.
Strolling further into the large sports arena, they hardly gave the vaulted ceiling that opened into three levels with a large arcade a glance. Instead they passed the ground floor gymnasium on the left and the long drinks bar on the right straight to the pronuk gallery where they could find spectators’ seats to watch private matches. Like all pronuk rooms, the observation seats were situated in the back behind the players where thick see-through glass gave outside viewers a look in but a sense of privacy to the players within. Alea Prantz was playing in pronuk room five.
Several Surface Patrol officers were already sitting on the stands, cheering the Alea. Seeing him play Zormna chuckled. That Alea needed all the help he could get. The man was playing against a tall undercity blond guy dresses in plain clothes with that the characteristic moppish haircut that had his bangs falling into his eyes and over the tops of his ears. Zormna could only pretend to cheer for the Alea, but her interest leaned toward the blond fellow who was a more than a fair player. He was good. Very good.
She watched the undercity boy’s moves, feeling drawn into each play as if she were competing against him herself. But then she leaned back with a chuckle, covering her mouth.
“What’s so funny?” the middlecity girl with Salvar said, looking annoyed.
Ignoring the source of the question, Zormna leaned over to Salvar and said, “I know his weak spot. He can’t hit the triple right from the low corner.”
The she leaned back again, laughing again at her discovery.
The girl scowled at Zormna for ignoring her. “Then why don’t you play if you’re so hot?”
With a glanced at Salvar’s date with a twitch in her frown, Zormna said nothing.
Aver Bren spoke up with a snort. “She used to. But she swore if off after they caught her and Cadet Lenn scamming a bunch of the other cadets.”
“I quit,” Zormna replied to him with bite, “because I didn’t want to be used in that way ever again, Aver Bren.”
Salvar smiled then leaned over to his date in a whisper. “Anzer Zormna used to be the best pronuk player in the Patrol until she played Cadet Kurtz. She doesn’t like losing.”
Zormna just rolled her eyes at him as he grinned back with a smirk. Turning her gaze back down on the game, she tried to ignore the girls’ snickers that chorused with their dates’. But the game below had paused. Alea Prantz was drinking something on the sidelines while the blond boy who had been leading the game by thirty points was being coached on the sidelines by another undercity boy who was more of the Orr’quarr ethnicity, a rare mix of red-black hair like that P.M. Dural Mezela. But this undercity boy kept his long mop of hair brushed sleek to the side of his face, his one hand stuffed in his undercity jacket as the other demonstrated what he thought his pal was doing wrong.
“Zormna only likes to show off to the Alpha district now-a-days,” she heard Cadet Marsek say to Aver Bren, still laughing at her. The girls laughed even more, peeking glances at Zormna to see if she was blushing from embarrassment.
Trying hard to ignore the jabs at her expense, she still kept watching the players. The dark haired undercity boy had now left the pronuk hall and sat down on the steps near the door, ready for the game to start. But just as Alea Prantz was about to serve the ball for the next set, someone walked up to the undercity player’s pal in the shadowy steps outside the door and whispered in his ear. Zormna watched as the boy’s silhouette directed that person toward the game room, talking as if with a friend but on urgent business. His silhouette was taller than the Orr’quarr, with an undercity mop of hair—male, yet still a teenager. Since the distance and darkness made it hard to make him out, that was all she could figure until he walked to the game room door, opened it and stuck his head into the hall calling to the blond player. Here she could see his features lit clearly. He was Orras—Seer Class hair color of midnight black.
Alea Prantz caught his serve mid air.
“Who is this?” Salvar gestured toward the boy that just stepped into the room.
“Some jerk that probably forgot his identi-card and needs to mooch off of his buddy, probably. He’s dressed undercity,” Aver Bren said.
Cadet Marsek nodded.
Undercity. But Zormna stared at the boy’s face, which she could see clearly despite the distance. She peered at him for about a minute before his identity clicked in her head.
She stood up and marched straight down the steps.
With instinct too accurate not to be psychic, the boy pulled out his head from the room and looked right at her with his fathomless eyes. Zormna quickened her pace, but before she could get any closer, he bolted from the door and out of the pronuk stands.
Zormna darted after him. “Stop right there!”
She leapt down the last steps and landed on the floor. Springing up, she sprinted past the door, skidding right around the corner where the slick haired boy was sitting, causing him to tumble back into the seat behind him. He gaped after her as she dashed into the corridor outside the pronuk halls where she halted. It was filled with all sorts of people, several with hats on, all of them gaming, and none that she could pick out as him. He was gone.
Dragging her feet back to the pronuk stands, Zormna gave the slick haired boy a sidelong glance as she passed by. He stared up at her uneasily, adjusting himself back into his seat with flustered blinks. She shook her head and walked back up the stands to join her friends.
Salvar greeted her, standing up and lifting his hands open to ask what gives?
“What was that?” one of the girls said to the others with a look to Zormna.
Zormna sat down, frowning. “Just a boy that got away the other day.”
Salvar’s date leaned towards her with little friendly desire. “What were you going to do with him? Talk to him?”
“I dunno,” Zormna muttered with a shrug. “Maybe.”
But as she thought about it she really did not know what she was going to do or say. Seeing him just frustrated her. It was as if the P.M.’s major insult the other day had come back to haunt her.
“Where did you pick up this P.M.?” Salvar’s date said to him.
Zormna popped up. “Call me that again and I’ll flatten you!”
The girl dropped back.
But Zormna didn’t lay a finger on her. Instead, Zormna stomped down the steps all the way to the door of the pronuk room then leaned against the wall, crossing her arms and stuffing her hands underneath them in fists, growling under her breath all the nasty things she wished she could say to that civilian for hanging all over her best friend the way she was. The slick haired boy averted his eyes when he saw her standing there just a few feet away. And though he tried to watch the game he eventually cleared his throat and said with a wave of his hand for her to move, “Would you mind sitting? I can’t see.”
Blinking at him, her face flushed. But she hesitated. Then pushing off the wall, Zormna walked over to the bench he was sitting on and sat down next to him. She stared at the game blankly for a bit, and then looked at the boy. Now that they were close up she could see he was about a full Arrassian year older than her, if not a bit more. And though he was putting forth admirable effort to watch the game, he leaned slowly away from her, shifting in his seat with a squirm.
“I’m joining the Surface Patrol today,” he abruptly said with a weak rasp to his voice. He cleared his throat and looked over at her, blinking his cool blue eyes.
Zormna gave him a faint smile then nodded.
“My friend here is taking me over since my dad won’t come,” he continued, trying to make conversation, though she could tell she was still making him uncomfortable.
“Sorry to hear it,” Zormna managed, trying to keep her eyes on the game and her mind off of her negative thoughts.
Glanced back into the stands, she noticed Salvar watching her with an annoyed yet curious gaze, his eyes especially fixed on that dark haired undercity boy. He was ignoring his date, causing that girl to flush red as if ready to explode into a tizzy. Zormna smirked.
“Don’t be sorry, I want to join. I’ve wanted to join since I found out I could join,” she heard the undercity boy to her side say.
Zormna gazed back at him, giving him a funny look as her mouth curled up in a smirk. “What was it? The ships or the surface?”
“What was what?” he asked, now a little flustered that she asked him a question.
“What lured you there? The ships or the surface? Very few nuts want to join the Patrol.” Zormna waited for his answer as he realized that she called him a nut.
He cleared his throat, “Uh, both I guess. What was it for you?”
Zormna smirked, pulling on the mourning strands of her hair that spiraled somewhat along her cheeks. “Did I have a choice?”
He nodded, gaining more confidence. “Yeah, you did. I hear you guys don’t have to join if you don’t want. You guys can just get regular jobs once you pass the adult test, can’t you. They give you all the training you need.”
With a smile, she blushed with a shrug. “Admitted. I would have been a police officer had I not joined the Patrol.”
She glanced back at the game with a smile, feeling a little better. The blonde was still winning, twenty up, and Alea Prantz was sweating drops the size of bullets.
“I’d be a cop too, but they don’t have long lives in the undercity,” the undercity boy said.
Zormna peered at him and wondered. “My uncle was a policeman. But he was shot when dealing with a night mob.”
The boy nodded gravely, drawing in a breath as if he understood. “You undercity?”
Zormna shook her head. “Middlecity. My father was a doctor.”
He looked at her and made a face that was half pity, half wariness. “How’d he die?”
The game had ended. The blonde had won. The crowd stood up, and Zormna did likewise. She looked at the boy who still waited her answer.
“P.M. mob attack, though in the records it wasn’t called that,” she said, straight faced.
“Zormna!” Salvar called over the rumble of the crowd, walking down the steps through them to join her. His date followed him, though she looked likely to kick him. “Ready to go to the dance hall?”
Zormna nodded and then glanced back at her new acquaintance. His friend had just stepped out of the pronuk room, dabbing his sweaty neck with a towel. The tall undercity blonde gazed at Zormna with eyes that she could only read as careful. In a way it reminded her of Alea Arden. Alea Prantz walked out right after him. He stopped once he saw Zormna and her motley crew.
“Aver Zormna Clendar, what are you doing here?” he asked with a tinge of superior pain in his voice.
“That’s Anzer now Alea Prantz,” she said, still giving the blond boy sidelong peeks.
The undercity blonde started to leave, whispering to his slick haired friend as he walked off.
“And I’m watching your game,” she added.
“You are, are you?” Alea Prantz replied. “I thought you gave up on pronuk.”
Zormna narrowed her eyes then shook it off. “I might take it up again just to see if I still have it in me to beat your opponent here.” She motioned to where the blonde had been standing, but the boy had already walked down the hall and out the door. Peering down the corridor Zormna called out to him, “Hey you!”
The blonde turned around, but not without some coaxing from his dark haired friend that walked next to him.
“You played a good game,” she said, nodding in his direction.
The tall boy took the compliment after a second, his eyes flickering on her face like he was memorizing it.
“Yeah, thanks,” he said. He then turned down the hall and walked away. His friend was watching after him with a puzzled expression but he also started to follow.
Seeing this, Zormna squeezed out of her crowd and ran up to the slick haired boy. “Hey, I didn’t get your name.”
The slick haired boy smiled at her, blushing somewhat with a glance at his friend who had already put a good number of people between them, that blonde head standing taller than them all. The blond undercity boy looked back to see if his pal was coming, his eyes fixing on Zormna with a blink. Exhaling loudly, he slumped his shoulders with a roll of his eyes.
The slick haired undercity boy shook his head and turned again towards Zormna. “I’m Dzhon. Dzhon Niizek.”
Zormna smiled. “Anzer Zormna Clendar.”
Salvar and the rest crossed the rest of the distance with their dates in tow, though the girls were now glaring at Zormna behind their backs. It was clear they would not act that way in front of their faces, since by now they knew the Salvar and his buddies would not go without her, and if they wanted free passes to the dance hall they had to keep playing along. Salvar seemed the most insistent to get to her side.
Seeing the undercity blonde’s annoyed glances at his friend, Zormna walked backward to her group. “You’d better go. Your friend is getting impatient.”
Dzhon nodded with a laugh and turned to join him. “Yeah.”
Zormna walked back to Salvar’s side as she gave a goodbye wave. “See you in the Alpha district.”
Dzhon was half way down the hall to join his friend when he gave her an enthusiastic wave. He spun around with a skip in his step as the two pals disappeared into the throng.
Zormna heard Salvar’s date grumble. She glanced back at them, her eyes flickering on Salvar’s protective gaze as he watched the undercity boys go from sight. Then he looked to Zormna with a frown, trying to clear it for her sake. He gestured for all of them to hurry out to the dancing hall next, still keeping his eyes peeled for that one undercity boy.
“Why so jealous,” his date said, jabbing Salvar in the ribs when they passed through the main doors. “I thought you said she was like your sister.”
Zormna did not hear it. She kept wondering about that blonde, his Orr’quarr friend, and that undercity Seer class boy that had come to see him. She knew it was him. She knew it was that guy she had caught twice now. No one could move as fast and instinctively as he did. No one.
Jafarr waited at a small table at the sports center’s bar. He held his head low as watched the Surface Patrol officers and their dates go, keeping an eye on that one tiny blonde. How she spotted him he never knew. He had picked that place to meet his friends because the pronuk hall had been dark. Of course he never expected his friend to get into a match with a Surface Patrol officer and draw a crowd.
“Hey, Big Z,” Alzdar said sheepishly, sitting down next to him. “Sorry we’re late, but old Dzhon had to go and get friendly with a Surface Patrol girl, and it kept us up.”
Dzhon blushed sheepishly, sliding into his seat. “She was uncommonly pretty. Besides, she sat right next to me. It was the same girl that chased you.”
Jafarr looked up. “The same girl? And you just talked to her?”
Dzhon nodded, ordering a foamy tsilk from the barkeeper. “She’s really not that bad. Kind of high strung, but she’s actually beautiful.”
“So you tell me,” Jafarr said, shaking his head. Then shaking it more with exasperation at what just happened he chuckled. “So you just talked to her. What did she say? Did she ask about me?”
Dzhon shook his head, licking his lips. “No. She seemed more irritated by what her friends had just said to her than anything else.”
Jafarr gave him a sidelong glance that told him to be clear.
“I just told her that I was joining the Surface Patrol today. We talked about that,” Dzhon said.
“Nothing else?” Jafarr asked, still searching his face for any hidden meaning.
“She complemented me on my game,” Alzdar offered.
Jafarr glanced over the bar at the bottles of juices and ices that could be put into multiple glasses of tsilk, and he cocked his head. “Weird.”
He shook his head again and ordered a glass of citric tsilk.
Dzhon licked his lips, tasting his foamy and gazing at the ceiling lights. Then resting his eyes on his friend, he said, “Her name is Aver Zormna Clendar, if you are interested.”
Alzdar laughed, and Jafarr could not help cracking a smile.
“Cheers,” he said picking up the glass that was just placed before him and he took a nice long drink before laughing some more at the idea.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 28.02.2018
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