Vagabond souls the ionia.., p.1
Vagabond Souls: The Ionia Chronicles: Book 2, page 1
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Book 2: The Ionia Chronicles
Cover Design by Kate Marshall (KateMarshallWrites.com)
Copyright © 2017 Pamela Stewart
All rights reserved.
Shout out to Xanthe, Pam G., Kathleen, and Brenda for reading for me, encouraging me, nudging me in the right direction, and getting excited at all the right parts. To the South Lyon writer’s group for giving me feedback at a vital time in my process. To Erynn Newman for a fantastic editing job (how did I survive without you?) To Kate Marshall for revamping the awesome cover.
To those I didn’t mention by name, my friends, my crit partners, my reviewers and my early readers, I appreciate everything forever and always.
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“It would have been faster to visit the Mars colony.” Ionia scrambled after her mom through the crowded airport. “It shouldn’t take this long to reach somewhere on Earth.”
“Actually, it currently takes two months to get to the colony.” Her mother instantly corrected, ignoring the sarcasm.
Ionia’s butt ached, and her travel coat hung like an anchor made of tarred feathers. Its all-weather outer layer and plush inside made it dense and hard to move in, but her mother had insisted.
You’ve never been home. You’ve never seen the rain there.
Home. It wasn’t Ionia’s home. When she thought of home, she imagined Tucupita in Venezuela, or even Mac Town, but not New Delhi. That was all her mom.
Ionia let out a deep-from-the-guts sigh and approached the next, and hopefully final, gate. “Why didn’t we just take the bullet jet from Mac Town to the mainland then transfer to ND? The whole thing would have taken less than ten hours.”
“What are you a travel expert now?”
“No. But everyone knows a cargo plane isn’t exactly going to take a straight line.”
In fact, the cargo plane had transferred twice and was stopped by customs in not one but three different territories. Between dealing with sovereign National Asian Republic borders and weird delays, they had been in transit for over twenty hours. Twenty hours of waiting and walking and dying a little more with each stop.
“No use in complaining. We’re here. ND. Come.” Her mom strode away, and Ionia jogged to keep up.
The air hung heavy with humidity, so dense it was almost hard to breathe. Ionia raced behind her mom, trying not to lose her in the crush of people. The sheer number of people brushing passed boggled her brain. She didn’t know so many actual humans existed, let alone crunched together in such a closed-up space.
The lukewarm, recirculated air couldn’t penetrate the press of humanity. Tiny beads of sweat dotted her forehead. She hitched up her shoulders to shrug off the gawd-awful coat.
Her mom, who must have installed a rear video snatcher in the back of her head, spun. Her eyes widened, but her face maintained the usual emotionless mask. “Keep it on.”
Ionia didn’t retort and pulled the monster back onto her shoulders.
She had learned—the hard way—that her mom didn’t say things just to be a bitch. She said them because they were true. But that didn’t mean Ionia had to like it. Or that her mom was right about everything. She conceded and stayed in sweaty misery.
A few people stared. A small kid even pointed and grabbed his mother’s leg. Ionia’s face flashed hot, and she adjusted her eye patch, making sure the ugly, oozy gap was covered. They couldn’t get to a surgeon fast enough. She’d thought in such a big city, with so many people, she could slide under the weird-o-rama radar, but between her coat and eye patch, she looked like an overdressed pirate. And pirates drew attention. She walked faster.
“We need to hurry and get to baggage pick-up.”
“Why?” Her mom didn’t break stride or look at Ionia.
“You know. He’s been in the box for hours. I hope he’s okay.”
“He doesn’t even know he’s traveling. It’s cheaper. And it’s airline policy. Humans only. The only exception is a wellness droid.”
“I still don’t like it.” Turning him off was so similar to death that it felt like opening a vein. He would be fine. Fine. But a niggly little feeling still snatched at her insides like rats working on a snack.
Finally, the last gate, where she was required to remove her outer jacket and walk through the detector. It would be a relief. She lined up behind her mom,, who shifted from foot to foot, more impatient than usual. Her shoulders seemed tight too, like before she went in to wrangle a new avian test subject—wound tight, spring-loaded and prepared for anything. Her small brown eyes scanned the crowd on the far side of the security checkpoint, and then she double clicked her thumbnail.
The strange kept getting stranger. Her mom’s face was drawn, lips bitten in, forehead bumpy as a topological map of the Himalayas. She never allowed her emotions to creep on her face. Never. Something bad was going down.
A tiny jolt of electric fear shot through Ionia as she scanned the crowd, the walls, the alcoves, looking for anything that might be a threat. If Den were here, she wouldn’t be worried, but without him, she felt exposed. Invisible, invisible fingers tightened around her throat.
“Anabel!” From about five meters away, someone dressed in a scarlet sari shouted and waved both arms above her head.
People called her mom lots of things—Dr. Patel, Mrs. Patel-Sonberg, and even, although never to her face, Royal Bitch, but her given name was all but forgotten. It didn’t suit her. Too soft. Too girly.
“Sera.” Her mom breathed the name out like a sigh so only Ionia could hear, and her forehead smoothed.
“Aunt Sera!” Ionia’s fear flipped to skyrocket excitement. She hadn’t seen her aunt since she’d been small. All she remembered of her was the dark skin, a curtain of raven hair, a kaleidoscope of color. The woman had known how to dress. She’d sent Ionia care packages with an array of silk and scarves. All the color and texture was better than chocolate cream puffs for an artsy kid. Aunt Sera had bought a lot of good karma in Ionia’s book.
Her aunt stepped out from the crowd followed by a handful of children. One looked about Ionia’s age, probably Ravi. She’d seen a few vidclips and captures of him over the years. The minimum contact to know she had family other than her mom and dad and to also realize they were not on close terms.
He’d turned out better looking than the last image she’d seen of a skinny boy with short pants, knobby knees, and elbows.
His modern Continental clothes hung on him perfectly, tailored to him, and his hair was cut short on the right side and left long on the other. He could have modeled for any of the clothing lines with his long, lean looks, and a slightly bored expre
Aunt Sera stood as tall as Ionia, statuesque and gorgeous. She looked a lot like her mom, same square face with a pointed, dimpled chin, but the blinding smile swept away the comparison. It lit up her face and made her eyes sparkle. Ionia didn’t think her mother was capable of such an expression. The guards stepped between the sisters and pointed to the gate.
Her aunt’s sweet smile melted into an expression that was nearly a twin of her mother’s don’t-muck-with-me face. The officer leaned in and spoke to her. The general din didn’t allow Ionia to hear what was happening, but soon the officer gave a half shrug and offered her his hand. It looked like she passed him something from her bag, and he stepped aside.
The guard’s face was smooth and unbothered, but Ionia noticed the tight set to his mouth. Auntie must have said something he didn’t care for, or else he had bad curry for lunch. Either way, they got to bypass the last security check in.
Aunt Sera’s eyes locked on her sister’s, her arms wide, hands up, asking for a hug.
Her mom, whose arms were crossed over her chest, stiffly released them and accepted the embrace. It was brief, but her mom seemed to relax into it before pulling away and becoming rigid again.
Aunt Sera’s attention shifted from her mom to Ionia. And it didn’t matter that Ionia hadn’t seen her since she was eight. Those eyes, that face—it felt familiar, warm, inviting. Like family should. She threw herself into her aunt’s arms.
The crowd didn’t matter, the coat didn’t matter, her eye patch didn’t matter. The warmth of the hug bore into her heart. Time and distance evaporated, and she soaked in the sensation of affection. Only her dad had ever given her this much physical affection, and she hadn’t realized how much she missed it.
“Let me look at you.” Aunt Sera released her, stood back, and eyed Ionia from top to bottom. Her gaze became weirdly focused, like the look her mom got when examining a fresh gaggle of experimental penguins. Then her expression melted into pure delight. “You’ve grown even more beautiful, and almost eighteen.”
“Thank you, Auntie.” Ionia gave a tight-almost-forced smile. She usually didn’t mind people admiring her. She actually kinda loved it, but the expression on her aunt’s face was too eager. Ionia had a feeling there was something lurking beneath the compliments. Maybe her hideous eye patch had disgusted her, and she was trying to hide it? Ionia couldn’t get that new eye fast enough. Then everything would go back to normal, or at least their version of normal.
Ravi and the others crowded around. The tall boy hung in the back behind his sisters, his lips moving in some Cortex conversation. He faced away from the reunion and kept looking at the exits. Quite a change from the ten-year-old boy who had played Franglesnaps with her.
Ionia accepted the wave of adulation from the two sisters, both still in their primary enclass years, dressed in traditional saris like her aunt. Why hadn’t her mom gotten her a sari or something that would make her feel less like an outsider? The patch made her stick out, and her giant coat made her feel like a barnacle on a ship, ugly and unwanted.
“Let’s find a hover bus,” her aunt said.
“No, Sister. We have some...baggage to pick up,” her mom said.
Ionia couldn’t keep the scowl off her face. “He’s not baggage.”
Her aunt watched the exchange with interest but didn’t interject. “To baggage claim then. Ravi, take the girls and get us a way home.” Ravi didn’t look up from his palm display but did somehow herd the two girls to the wide entrance.
Her mother pressed her thumb and forefinger together and said, “Baggage claim.” The floor lit under their feet, a vibrant yellow in the shape of an arrow with Sonberg written in elegant script within the arrowhead. Five shades of pretty-darn impressive. Mac Town airport still had an ancient manual pickup. They followed the signals to the carousel. The crowd had thinned here.
The rotation of bags and crates dropped to their owners in an orderly array because of the homing chips embedded in the handles. They moved as a group to a podium, and her mom said, “Sonberg, Dr. Anabel.”
A soft female voice replied. “Sonberg, Dr. Anabel. Vocal and ocular verified.” The belt whirled, and a chute opened. Two bags jettisoned and, in perfect synchronicity, shot to their pick up location, one a woven multicolored sparknighted satchel, the other a square, wheeled monstrosity. Ionia didn’t care about this bag. She was looking for a box.
A large human-sized box.
“Other packages are on hold in the security office. Please collect your belongings, and follow the arrows.”
Her mom snorted and narrowed her eyes at Ionia.
“What? I didn’t do anything.” Leave it to her mom to be offended by Ionia’s very existence.
“No need to worry yourself, Sera. We’ll meet you back here.”
Aunt Sera raised an eyebrow but didn’t voice an objection. “I’ll let Ravi know to go on home with the girls. I’ll wait for you here.” She sat in one of the plush seats that lined the walls.
After a nod between the sisters, Ionia and her mom left to follow the arrows. They walked farther into the airport, away from the window, down featureless hallways. Ionia sped up almost faster than the arrows could illuminate. Her heart beat a persistent throb in her ears. She’d heard of things like this in NAR controlled countries. Suspicious packages and people were detained, stripped, imprisoned—some never heard from again. Maybe they thought they were fugees trying to sneak in, or that Den’s box really was a bomb or a WMD. Every thought made her heart squeeze tighter. She’d had too much trouble, and she didn’t want any more.
Her short-legged mother had to jog to keep up. “Ionia, please. It’s just a routine check. Calm down. And slow down.”
She only went faster until the last arrow lit up and pointed at a nondescript door. No common language sign on the outside stating what department they represented. Ionia’s hand had a slight waver as she pressed it against the ID pad.
“Sonberg, Ionia. Minor child. Access denied.”
“Hey! He’s mine.” She banged on the door with a closed fist.
Her mom came up behind her, grabbed Ionia’s shoulders, and pushed her gently aside. Then, she placed her hand on the pad.
“Sonberg, Dr. Anabel. Access granted.” The door swung open. Den’s box lay across a table, two men standing on either side with scanning equipment illuminating it.
The box they had transported Den in was a huge upgrade on the one in which he had originally been delivered. This was a polyplastic capsule that looked space-travel worthy, and it was tough enough to withstand a small nuclear bomb.
“Get away from Den!” She wanted to jump them, to rip their scanners from their hands, and smack them in the heads. How dare they mess with Den? Her Den.
Her mom clasped Ionia’s shoulder, hard. “Sirs. I am Dr. Sonberg.” She used her smooth, professional, I-am-a-doctor-with-a-capital-D voice.
“Dr. Sonberg.” Security Guy One said. He wore a gray jumpsuit very similar to the ones they wore at the South Pole Station. “I’m sorry to interrupt your travels, but when we scanned this package, we received very unusual readings.”
“Oh.” Her mom had mastered the bored look. “I disclosed that I was bringing a droid.”
“Can we see the device?”
“Certainly. Open it.”
Ionia pressed in the code, the one she always used—the rainbow plus one—and the mechanism whirled, and the top slid open.
She should think him handsome, but she always thought beautiful, with his long dark eyelashes and fall of dark curls against his forehead. The sight of him made her heart stumble.
“A flesh covered chassis. We’ve had issues with this type.”
“Issues? What issues?” Her mom asked.
“Problems bonding with their masters. Having militia type tendencies. Being too human looking.” His voice held a degree of disgust that surprised Ionia. This was the Continent, in the heart of ND, one of the metro capitals of the world.
“This style has been banned for a few years in ND,” the officer said. “And it’s only a courtesy that we’re sharing the problem with you before we go to the authorities.
“Authorities?” Ionia couldn’t help but parrot what he said. What would they do to Den? They could take him away or worse. “Listen. He’s just a companion droid.” Ionia didn’t want to go into his speckled history with protecting her. He hadn’t reacted badly since he’d gotten his new body. Now, unless she was in life-threatening danger, he was harmless. If they could just see that. Meet him. “Here, let me turn him—”
“Young lady. You are not allowed to touch the evidence.”
The blood rushed to her face, and she stepped toward the guard.
Her mom snatched her arm and pinched Ionia hard enough to say, Chill out. I am handling this. Ionia wanted to shake her off and ignore these goons, but her mom was right. For now. She’d let her mom take the lead.
“Evidence implies a crime,” her mom said. “We have committed no crime.” Iron-sides Sonberg had awakened from her slumber, and Ionia almost relaxed. No one messed with her mom when she spoke like that.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. But the flesh has got to go.”
Strip Den’s flesh? It felt like someone had jammed a steel rod through her chest. “Oh, hell no.” Ionia’s hands rolled into fists, and her breath came in short spurts. The urge to beat them senseless fought with a weird desire to hide under the polyplastic table. Her mom dug harder into her with a pincher-like grasp.
“I suggest you release our belongings, and I will not mention this.” Her mom spoke again with the calm, cool voice.
“You can’t let them do anything to Den!” She was having a hard time not jerking out of her mom’s grasp.
Her mom shushed Ionia then turned to address the airport jerk patrol.
“I am from ND, you know. My sister is married to Councilman Hebbar. Should we discuss this situation with them?”
by Pamela Stewart have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes