Monday, November 20, 2017

Survivors - live, and a teaser

The e-book of Survivors is up now (still working on the paperback version) and here's a sample.


Jillian paused for a moment of pure aesthetic appreciation before stepping into the crowded room to join the babble of greetings and witty comments and the latest gossip. The large, light room before her swept the width of the building, with glass doors opening onto a terrace. The upholstery, cushions, and curtains were all of color-changing smartcloth, which was so expensive most people reserved it for their best clothing. The waves of subtly changing colors, from pale gold to sand to silky grey, accomplished two things at once: advertised the owners’ wealth, and set off Liya Delplato’s ash-blonde coloring. Unlike Jillian’s, Liya’s hair owed its subtle shadings to a master stylist and looked even more natural than the real thing.

If Galen could furnish the studio like this, it would be easy to act the part of an Inner Circle socialite.

“Jilli! We had almost given you up!” Liya glided towards her, small white hands outstretched. Her sparkling beige dress was just a shade darker than the white-blond hair that had been artfully piled up and then allowed to fall over one shoulder.There was a hint of censure in the greeting; they both knew that Jillian had been invited mainly as an attraction for the important guests.

“I’m sorry, Liya. I came as soon as I could get away.” And she was going to have to leave early, too, but she didn’t want to explain why and she certainly didn’t want to get into a spat now. Liya might act as if she and Jillian were the closest of friends, but Jillian had a pretty good idea how long that friendship would last if she stopped showing up on command to attract fans. As far as she was concerned the party was just a way to make Galen happy; he kept bugging her to mingle to promote the show. Not that it really needed promotion.

Fortunately Liya’s butterfly attention had already lighted on another topic. “Isn’t Charley with you? Oooh, is it true what they said on Celebrity Chatter, then? That you might be breaking up? My dear, I’m so happy to hear it. Charley Lagos isn’t nearly good enough for you. Look at the way he let that Esilian agent hypnotize you last year!”

Liya had a little trouble separating the flourishing plot lines of Love for Living from actual life. It wasn’t an uncommon thing in these circles, where ‘real life’ was something seldom experienced. Jillian nodded and smiled and agreed that she and Charley Lagos were not “together.” In real life they weren’t even friends, but the studio liked to float tantalizing rumors of an on-again, off-again love affair between the stars.

She caught sight of an unfamiliar face in the crowd and, to underline that she and Charley were not an item, asked with simulated enthusiasm, “Who’s that? I haven’t seen him before.”

Liya followed her glance and looked at the tall man without any enthusiasm at all. “Oh, that’s nobody. Some up-river hick from one of the farm cooperatives. He was pestering Edd about some business of the coop’s and to get rid of him, Edd went and invited him to my party. Told him he’d meet the real movers of our world here. Well, I’m not saying my guest list isn’t distinguished, but I doubt he’ll do himself any good here. His manners are atrocious and he doesn’t know anything about current events, but what can you expect from people like that?”

Jillian nodded while cataloguing his features. Overlong dirty-blond hair flopped over a craggy face with prominent cheekbones, a large nose, a firm chin. His closed lips twitched in a half-smile as he caught her eye, and she hastily looked away. “He does look a bit rough-hewn,” she agreed. “Liya, I love your dress. It’s as if someone had sprinkled a handful of stars over you!”

She had been almost unpardonably slow in registering the secret of Liya’s dress. It was made of FutureGen, the latest in smartcloth: twinkling lights were embedded in the fabric. She’d heard that they could be programmed to light up in various patterns, but Liya’s dress just sparkled randomly.

Her hostess grinned like a little girl. “Isn’t it just? And look at this!” She spun on one foot, reminding Jillian even more of a little girl, and hidden veils of sparkling lace spun out of the folds of her skirt and made a momentary cloud of stars around her. “I shouldn’t complain about Edd being too soft with that farmer; he’s much too generous to me.”

This was the Liya Jillian liked best, the barely-grown gamine who frankly enjoyed the goodies that marriage to a deputy minister had brought her. “Isn’t Edd trying to catch your eye?”

Liya looked in the direction Jillian indicated, nodded, raised her eyebrows, and brought her palms together with a little bow towards Edd. “Yes. I have to go and charm Ray Elmasri. But I’m not going to abandon you to this crowd. Greg!” she called in her high, sweet voice! “Greg, come! A little bird told me you might not bring Charley,” she explained, barely lowering her voice, “so I asked Greg Tavas for you. You see, Jillian, I can think ahead. I just don’t like to.”

By now Greg Tavas had made his way to them. While he was bowing over Jillian’s hand, Liya plunged back into her own party and could be seen, from time to time, parting the crowd like a determined terrier on the trail of something – in Liya’s case, the target would be one of those Elmasris.

“Terrible crush, isn’t it?” Greg said. “Shall we step out on the terrace?”

Terrible waste, isn’t it? Greg had that resonant baritone voice, thick dark hair, deep blue eyes, charming smile, superb manners… and, as far as Jillian had ever been able to tell, absolutely nothing else. She suspected that if hooked up to a monitor, it would declare the subject clinically dead. Between the ears, anyway.

Oh, well. Jillian actually liked Greg, in a way. He was so grateful when a woman talked enough to spare him coming up with any conversation, and he was the one man in this crowd whose invitation to step out on the terrace meant nothing more than that. And the superb manners drilled into him by some crĂȘche-mother meant that he led the way to the terrace, parting the crowd like… wasn’t it some ancient prophet? Or had that one parted the water? Jilli gave up on that shred of memory and followed in Greg’s wake, catching scraps of conversation as she passed. “My dear, I’m perfectly certain the servants are stealing food, but what is one to do? It takes so long to train good servants…”

In the next group a man with an authoritative voice was speaking. “These protestors are just spoiled children who haven’t the patience to wait in line. The Ministry for Peace is going to deploy troops to control the lines at the community markets; that’ll quiet things down.” The subject matter was a bit more serious than the usual who’s-with-who gossip, but from the tone of the crowd, Jilli didn’t think there was anything much to worry about. They might be in for some bad economic times; that would be hard on the poor, but it wouldn’t make too much difference to the circles she moved in.

“And you wouldn’t believe how much my little man expects just for a little butter and a few eggs! Well, of course it’s off the books, can you see me standing in line to have my hand scanned at a market? But when it comes to paying twenty times the market prices, it’s simply price gouging! I’d report him to the Bureau for Trade, but Traj absolutely insists on fresh eggs for breakfast, and where else would I get them?” Jillian lingered a moment to hear the rest of this complaint, but Greg took her hand and drew her along with him. “Come along, Jilli, here’s the terrace. It’s nicer out here, isn’t it? You are glad I got you out of that crush, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am, Greg, it was very kind of you.” The terrace wasn’t exactly deserted, but at least it wasn’t so crowded that anyone near her could press up against her body and blame the crush. Nearby, the rough-hewn farmer type was pleading some case or other to a woman with tightly pursed lips and a pile of dark hair half as tall as the rest of her body, held down by jeweled combs; somewhat farther away, Liya was being charming to Ray Elmasri. Two or three other couples had found their way outside and were leaning against the parapet, exclaiming about the view. In a city built on the flat land of a river delta, just about the only way to enjoy a view was to be rich enough to own an apartment in one of the high-rise towers that had given the Inner Circle neighborhood the nickname, “The Hill.”

Dutifully Jilli, too praised the view. It was in fact worthy of praise; as darkness fell over the city, buildings lit up with a wave of little lights as fine as any FutureGen dress. Unfortunately, just as she was mentioning this feature, the wave of lights crashed into darkness and disappeared.

There was a momentary silence on the terrace; then, as lights began to show again, the buzz of chatter resumed.

“That’s the third time this week,” complained a girl with a Flickering Flames smartcloth dress to which very full FutureGen sleeves had been added. “Why can’t the Bureau for Energy at least keep the lights on? Oooh, look,” she added without changing her whining tone, “it’s Jillian Lisadel! I’m your biggest fan, Jilian, I never miss your show. Do you really think Charley Lagos is plotting to murder your husband? Is that why you’re breaking up with him? Can you take a holo of us together, Jefri?”

There were four young people in the group and each of them wanted a holo with the star of Love for Living. Jillian nudged Greg and made him volunteer to snap all the holos; he was good at it, and painstaking, and with him in charge she wouldn’t be displayed on someone’s coffee table with the top of her head cut off, or tilting like the Leaning Tower of… wherever it was that tower had done its leaning.

The ones who weren’t being holorecorded at the moment continued their conversation. “I hear the Central Committee is going to save electricity by giving government workers a third day off each week.”

“A day off? That’s ridiculous! Why reward them for not doing their job? They ought not to have any days off until they get the power supply fixed.”

“Well, you know, Zoi, most of them don’t work for the Bureau for Energy and wouldn’t know the first thing about how to fix the power supply,” Zoi’s escort said, almost apologetically, as if he felt rude for pointing out something any child in elementary crĂȘche should know.

“If you ask me,” a young man with peacock-blue hair said, “it’s all because of that artificial sasena ruining our export trade!”

Zoi had a pretty, tinkling laugh that had probably charmed a number of men into overlooking her inanity. “Why, Rik, you say the funniest things! What can boring stuff like exports and trade have to do with simply keeping the lights on?”

The holos having been recorded, Greg was fidgety. He looked at Jillian in a mute appeal for help. Silence bothered him; he needed her to make conversation for both of them. At the moment Jillian wanted to keep eavesdropping, so she asked him to bring her a drink and he set off to make his way back through the indoor crowd. Having a task he knew how to do usually made him happy.

The brightly decorated young people who’d been discussing the lights failure had now drifted back to the edge of the terrace and were playing some kind of game based on counting the windows in a given tower. Behind her, the guy from the country was getting frustrated with his designated audience. “It’s a matter of simple logic, madam, even you must see that. Look, if we can’t sell our milk and cheese at a profit, we can’t feed our dairy herd. The more we have to slaughter for lack of feed, the less milk and cheese you’ll get from us next year.”

“You’ve already said that three times, young man!”

“Yes – trying to get it through your head!”

“Impudent! I don’t believe a word you say. Everybody knows the farm cooperatives are filled with subversives who sabotage production to get a higher price for their goods. If you ask me, it’s high time the Central Committee put a stop to your greedy ways!”

“But – but – madam –“ The little woman with the high pile of glossy dark hair turned on her heel and made for the man Liya had been chatting up.

Greg was still out of sight, and the farmer’s craggy face was appealing in a strange sort of way – maybe because she never saw men who looked so unpolished. Jillian decided to give him an opportunity to take her around the corner and kiss her.

“You know, if you really want to persuade people of your views, you’re doing it all wrong,” she told him.

The farmer shook his head. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong with facts and logic?”

“They’re not exactly common currency in the city. I’m Jillian, by the way – Jillian Lisadel.”

“Ruven Malach,” he said as if her name meant nothing at all to him. Hmm. Not quite so raw as he looks; he thinks to score points by failing to recognize me.

“I could… help you learn how to reach politicians,” she said. “In fact, I’m quite good at reaching people in general.” As you perfectly well know, Mister I-don’t-care-who-you are.

“Are you, now?” His eyes were light blue, and just now they were lit with some sort of amusement. “And you know all about the economics of coop management, too?”

As if talking economics had ever persuaded anybody of anything! “Chord and Consonance. You do need help. Only it’s so crowded here…”

That was his cue to follow her glance towards the shaded corner where the terrace wrapped around to a service door.

“It is. And I hadn’t ought to laugh at you, had I? I’m afraid it’s true; if I’m to save the collective, I surely do need all the help I can get. Perhaps I might call on you tomorrow?”

“Afraid I’m working tomorrow.” And she wasn’t about to give her address to a strange man who pretended he didn’t even know who she was. Jillian turned away from him and greeted Greg with a dazzling smile. “Pink Jillis, my favorite drink! Greg, you are an angel.”

“Jillis for Jilli,” Greg said, beaming as though no one had ever thought of this bon mot before.

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