A new serial for a new phase of Banter Latte! It’s not replacing anything, and yes there’s going to be more forward motion now that we’ve gotten through a pretty intense spring around where I am. There should, in fact, be several posts today. This is somewhere between Space Opera, speculative SF, adventure fiction, and… I guess a Western? Yeah, why not.
This post takes place in an alternate future of Mythic Heroes/023SG. And, although metatalents are real and once there were heroes and villains who flew through the skies, the Age of Heroic Intent is long since gone.
The question is, what kind of future does a society that once had superheroes have? Especially if one realizes that in 2130… all but one tenth of the population of Earth was destroyed, along with all of the old star empires in the galaxy.
These are the Worlds of the Ladies, and this is the first story — Tailor’s Honor. It takes place in 2601AD, about thirty-nine light years from Terra to start. And? It starts with tea.
Because of course it does.
North Shielaton, TSZ-2,
Dorhety Region, Planet Cloister
2601-02-07 Planetary Union Standard
The Teahouse didn’t have a lot of advertising. There were no digital deals or outreaches on Cloister’s infinet offering coupons or extolling virtues. There were no paid-for reviews or testimonials. Even the shop itself lacked any language other than the flat black sign hanging in front of the low wooden building’s door — the sign was cast iron and depicted an old style of teapot. Beyond that, the building had wide timber construction and panes of glassite letting in the eternal light in one side. At this point, it had been there for decades, people figured. Centuries was closer to the truth, but thanks to its low profile the Teahouse didn’t really attract that much notice.
But, for those that knew these things and passed them along to their friends, the Teashop was known to have the best brewed tea on Cloister Colony — and probably the best cuppa in Trappist System, if not in all of the Planetary Union outside of Sol System and Terra itself. Which wasn’t bad when you remembered that the Tailor — the Tailor to some, Mister Tailor to others, and just ‘Tailor’ to friends — didn’t even consider the Teahouse his actual primary business. Well, not as a tea shop, anyhow.
Trappist System hadn’t been the closest to Sol System when Humaniformity had begun to reach for the stars in the years following the Android Tyranny. At the time, the old methods of FTL had been made extremely unreliable on a galactic scale, which had broken apart ancient star empires even as others faded away. In the early 21st Century, the galaxy had been moderately crowded. Then, the distances between worlds had become vast once again.
Trappist wasn’t as close to Sol as, say, Hope Colony in Berenice Beta System (Beta Comae Berenices on the old charts)— much less Arus Colony in Baku System (Ross 128b) at a scant 11 light years from Sol — but the tachyogravitic wave that had distorted the various methods of hyperspatial travel hadn’t left as perilous a route to reach the cool, red dwarf star, and unlike almost any other potential colony Trappist didn’t have one or two but seven potentially productive worlds, the majority of which had water and potential bases could be placed. Thus, Trappist System became home to the first of the Far Colonies, as they were called back then. Nearly five hundred years later, four of the worlds had thriving independent colonies that were all Planetary Union members, and the other three worlds all had permanent habitation — all orbiting a dim red dwarf not that much larger than a gas giant. The worlds were so perfect for colonization and exploitation one almost believed the old Authorists had been right — all seven planets in resonant orbits, tidally locked, with nigh-unchanging climates. While not all could be lived on without effort, it was still a bonanza back in the day.
Five hundred years later, with the Shiftdrive stitching the Planetary Union back together within days or hours of travel instead of months or years (and moderately safely to boot), millions of people lived on the planets orbiting Trappist — so close together that separate worlds looked more like moons in each others’ sky. As the worlds were tidally locked, the planets that had permanent populations saw those populations living along a terminator ring right on the border between the eternally sunlit side of the planet and the eternal night opposite. The thicker and damper the atmosphere, the more warmth carried over to the dark side.
Beyond that, the close, resonant orbits of the worlds created a climate the colonists could work with. On Planet Cloister — Trappist IV — the planet orbited Trappist every six point one standard days. All the sunlight hitting the substeller point in the sunward hemisphere caused cloud formations and air to rise rapidly, flowing back towards the cold nightward hemisphere. The rapid orbital period meant that there was a strong westward flow as well, as the Coriolis effect did its job. Because the orbits of the worlds were nearly circular — which allowed for their resonant orbits to exist — there was little climactic variation in Cloister’s six day whirl around Trappist.
As a result, it rained often along the terminator line, but the temperature didn’t change much. The warm air blowing back onto the nightside let a good number of colonists live in twilight ‘bedroom communities’ where the sun never rose and work in the eternal dawn or early morning just over the terminator line. The further over the terminator you went, the warmer things got and the less likely people would settle.
The sprawling metropolitan area of North Shielaton was in Sunward Zone 2 (or SZ-2 for short). The zone, circling the planet North to South, was considered the “tropical” zone on Cloister. The sun was high enough over the horizon to be an actual circular star — mountains willing — but not so high as to make life unbearable. Beachfront areas along the inland seas were popular in this zone. Humidity was high. A lot of people loved visiting SZ-2, but almost no one wanted to live there. It was too hot, and a bit far to commute over the terminator line to the nightside hemisphere.
But, between tourism, industry, agriculture, and a cultural bias against waste, North Shielaton had no shortage of residents. And, as with any place considered ‘undesirable permanent living space,’ a good number of those residents were on the lower end of the economic scale — with all the business opportunities that came from that type of inequity.
The Tailor, as most people knew him, had been amused by this since he emigrated to Cloister — and he had emigrated long before most of Cloister’s population had even been born. All the terms for crime he’d grown up with invoked darkness. “Shady business.” “The Underworld.” “The Dark Economy.” And so many others. But on Cloister, those businesses naturally gravitated to the places where the sun never went down at all. It got worse in Sunward Zone 3, of course. Sunward Zone 4 didn’t have enough permanent residents to make a difference, at least at North Shielaton’s latitude.
Nonetheless, Tailor quite liked North Shielaton. It was convenient for both sides of his business. On the one hand, there was his tea shop. Tea had followed Humaniformity to the stars with only moderate local gengineering. Over the decades, Tailor had bought and cultivated a lot of land south of North Shielaton, focusing on rough terrain with lots of hills, mountains and valleys with very little productive metal but lots of potential for reengineered soil. Since the sun never moved in the sky, one could use different altitudes on mountains, sunward and nightward, to create consistent conditions. Adding in appropriate growth lighting or solar refraction gave him the chance to cultivate many varieties of Camellia sinensis, ranging from modified Wuyi teas to Assams to various greens and oolongs. Most of the day to day was automated and programmed into agricultural systems that monitored the plants and made adjustments from pest control through water levels up to pruning or harvesting. Still, there were plenty of steps that needed people to supplement the machines — the Carlton Tea Company of Outer Shielaton, Cloister was a moderately large employer in areas where employment wasn’t always great.
Tailor had spent years tinkering with cultivars, hybrids and soils, finding the best way to produce drinkable teas so many light years from where the evergreen bush that produced all proper tea first evolved. It was perhaps the most relaxing part of his day to day routine. He had also spent years perfecting tea brewing techniques for Cloister — every world was different, after all, with differences of gravity, of atmospheric pressure, of local mineral content in the water, and so many other intangibles making a predictable brewing technique that produced excellent tea on Earth produce undrinkable sludge on Cloister.
As a result, exported Carlton teas did quite well as a perennial moneymaker — and agriculture was a surprisingly good mechanism for money laundering, to boot. And despite the aforementioned lack of advertising the Teahouse had a solid, regular clientele. Patrons who came in would be ushered to one of any number of rooms on different floors, from the workmen who came for builder’s tea before their shift to the parvenus who impressed dates with ‘this amazing little tea shop I found’ and all the way to the wealthy who had rooms of their own set aside for privacy and for spending truly ridiculous amounts of money on rare and imported blends.
Still, all that was just a sideline. The Tailor didn’t advertise because the Tailor’s name was enough of a draw for his real business, and there were rooms in the Teahouse where that business could be conducted as well.
The timbers that made the building looked like real wood — timber framing, with half-meter by half-meter main beams that looked and smelled like old, weathered pine stained blond. In reality they were grown in a vat and were significantly stronger, as were the ‘planks’ and joists. Throughout, hidden sensory kept tabs on every corner, undetectable by almost any standard gear. Long before Cloister had been settled, the Tailor had had access to technology unknown to the Union even today, and he’d only improved on it in the meantime.
Throughout the rest of the building, young men and woman — some as young as fifteen standard years old, some as old as twenty two — acted as staff. Cleaning, seating, tea-making, and servicing equipment — learning various skills and trades in private. The Tailor had a knack for finding students with more promise than prospects. Their families generally appreciated their children having a place to go around their secondary school schedules — or appreciated them having work, be it full or part time. Truth be told, more of them appreciated the income than the opportunity, but the Tailor wasn’t running a charity himself. That said, if ‘one of his’ had problems, they often found themselves with a room on the premises.
The Tailor himself was back in the Library — a misnomer, as what few pre-digital books were in the building weren’t kept here. Instead, holostats gleamed on glassite, showing scenes in different parts of the Teahouse, along with toggles for discretion. One of the services that the Tailor provided was privacy — that included from himself, though passive sensory would always let him know if someone were stupid enough to start a fight in the Teahouse.
Courtney was at the host’s station, smiling and having runners bring newcomers who came in the upper entrance. Most workmen entered on the lower level — there to drink tea, enjoy the local menu, and yell at the holostats or generally have fun. The Tailor had noticed over time that if a pub were familiar enough and fit the needs of the clientele well enough you could cut the actual alcohol out and soon enough no one would care. It was amazing how many people showed up for iced sweet chamomile and valerian blends after-shift, if it meant they got to watch sports vids imported from across the Union, especially if they’d gotten into the habit with their parents or grandparents. Or great-grandparents, even.
The people who came through the upper entrance were either looking for something more genteel or something more private. Courtney and her staff could sort them out well enough, though the sensory would pick out people and run them long before they made it anywhere interesting in the Teahouse. There was also an Aft entrance called ‘the kitchen door’ though it was nowhere near the kitchen processors or cookers. Some of the Tailor’s best paying customers came in that way — they usually didn’t want to be seen, and all too often the Tailor’s everyday clientele didn’t want to see them either.
But you had to be an existing customer or have a very specific referral to come through the kitchen door. Some prospective ‘special customers’ came in the lower level entrance, more comfortable with the working class than the gentry.
Some, but by no means all.
There were three tones of alert as three people walked through the upper entrance. Two of them were men, wearing dark blue uniforms — private security with corporate insignia. The third was a woman in a black traveler’s jumper over bodysuit. Most such things were meant to be comfortable for long trips aboard star liners or other craft. Some — like what this woman was wearing — was cut in that style but was clearly significantly more expensive. Her hair was near-black and tapered to a widow’s peak, her skin dusky with a hint of unnatural blue undertone. Blue probably meant Galloglass Colony — humaniform-galloglass had been tailored for darker climates and lower gravity, as well as an atmosphere that wasn’t quite suited for humaniform-terra. The tone was just an accent in her case, so she was probably two or three generations interbred with non-galloglasi.
The Tailor watched, impassively, as the sensory cataloged the various weapons and gear the three carried. The two men were clearly bodyguards, with pretty standard kit. Their sidearms were multigun carbines with projectile, pacifier, hazer and pulse chambers that could be rotated into place. Worthington D-657s. Pricy but not particularly unusual. Their uniforms were armored, as was her’s. The former wasn’t anything unusual — the latter was. Some business-folk had basic defensive or comfort bodysuits, but most didn’t bother. When they did, they didn’t usually bother to conceal it. She also had a bone conductor behind her right ear to feed her audible information, a basic sensory more advanced — and automatic — than the security scanners the guards had on their belts, and a higher-end comm that wasn’t as off the shelf as it looked. A couple of goons working for an otherwise sharp magnate who wasn’t as up and up as she appeared at first glance.
The Tailor let the sensors gather data about the three and discretely place system inquiries. It was always best to identify potential clients ahead of time. In the meantime, he enabled audio on that screen.
“Welcome,” Courtney said, cheerfully. “Are you here just for tea or will you be dining with us this evening.” She didn’t identify the Teahouse by any name. Even ‘the Teahouse’ was only the place’s name by convention.
One of the bodyguards stepped forward. “We’re here to see the Tailor,” he said. Idly, the Tailor watched the system begin adding his voice to the other biometrics it was already collecting.
“Excuse me?” Courtney asked, looking puzzled. “I’m sorry, we sell tea here. The garment district is about four bocks down Ninth. We have a retail entrance if you’re looking to buy bulk tea or—“
“Yeah, yeah,” the bodyguard said. “Tea. We’re not here for tea. We know the score, okay? We’re here to see the Tailor.”
The Tailor reached down and thumbed a green square on his holostat panel. It turned yellow. A new holostat window spawned along the glassite and he saw three of his own moving to be ready to assist. Not that he expected to need them.
“I’m sorry… I really am. I’d be glad to get you a table or booth. We have public holostat so you could easily find a recommended clothier—“
“Maybe I’m not making myself clear, little girl.“ the bodyguard said, moving closer to the station. “We’re here to see the Tailor. Now make that happen or—“
Courtney’s eyes grew wide and she shrank back, but according to the sensory her heart rate was steady. You had to be good to work the hostess station. She touched her station’s own holostat panel. Behind her, the nearly invisible glassite panel covering the back wall of the hostess’s foyer rippled into six holostat screens, each showing the newcomers and Courtney from different angles. “I’m sorry,” she said, still managing to affect fear in her voice and posture. “By policy any actions that seem coercive or threatening are automatically recorded and will be transmitted to the Union Constabulary unless the security office cancels the transmission. We have no interest in causing inconvenience.”
That spiked both bodyguards’ vitals. The Tailor smiled a bit. Always good to confirm a prospective client wanted to stay off the UC’s radar. Just then, a new screen spawned — this one identifying the bodyguard who’d spoken:
Westergren, Henry Alfred - Age 26 Std Citizenship: The Jovians Registered Planet of Residence: Galloglass Colony Registered Employment: Madraí Caomhnóra Security Services contracted to Ceardaí Industrial Planetary Visa Status: Union Freedom of Movement (Tourist Ultd, Business 8 days Rem.)
There were a few background flags reflecting some trouble with the law in his past, but nothing that would disqualify him from security work. Almost as quickly as Westergren had been identified, the system pulled up his fellow bodyguard — Romuald Handal, late of Mars, now like Westergren a Galloglass resident contracted with Madraí Caomhnóra and assigned to Ceardaí Industrial. Handal was a few years older — almost certainly more seasoned. Seven to three Handal let Westergren do the talking to keep his own neck from being exposed.
The system hadn’t found the woman yet, but it was undoubtedly going through registered Ceardaí Industrial personnel as well as crosschecking the visa lists. Not all the checks were strictly speaking legal, of course. As he watched the system identify the three, the Tailor kept an eye on the trio. The guards were both anxious now, shifting to cover the woman. The Tailor’s own security was poised — if they decided to make a move regardless of the feeds, or didn’t respond quickly enough…
The Tailor tapped a few controls on his holostat panel, feeling the haptics in his fingertips. Sending a hold to security and discretely informing Courtney of that fact. His eyes stayed on the woman… she wasn’t anxious, but she was flushed with annoyance…
“That absolutely won’t be necessary,” she said, stepping forward out of the protective cover of the two bodyguards. She smiled a very professional smile. “Some tea sounds absolutely lovely. Preferably in private — I have a few discreet calls I need to make and I need to discuss a few things with my associates.”
The Tailor smiled. He knew this couldn’t have been her first time around the block—
Another window opened — this one listing out her statistics:
Clemmont, Cassandra - Age 34 Std Citizenship: Galloglass Colony Registered Planet of Residence: Galloglass Colony Registered Employment: Ceardaí Industrial - R&D Division (Exec Vice President), Board of Directors Planetary Visa Status: Intracolonial Business Fellowship Member (unlimited Tourist/Business)
Below that were the basics — her business affiliations and honors. She looked like management instead of an actual technologist, but she was high up in. There was enough in there to suggest she’d been under suspicion of some shady dealings in the past, but no convictions for her nor direct connections back to Ceardaí Industrial. Ceardaí itself seemed like one of those overarching parent companies that owned a good sized chunk of the total business on their colony. Beyond that, it had some investments in Sol System, Trappist — nothing directly impacting the Tailor — Mercer Colony and elsewhere.
Most importantly, the Tailor knew her credit rating — both the official one for business purposes and the unofficial one that was the Tailor’s real interest. He smiled just a bit. Always good to up cash flow from new sources. He tapped a few commands into his panel.
Down below, Courtney didn’t react visibly, but she did reach over and cancel the recordings. Well, the official ones. Unofficially… you don’t walk into a person’s place of business and issue threats. Not and keep guaranteed privacy. “Of course, ma’am,” she said, getting her smile back — though she managed to look spooked at the same time. Courtney really was a good actress. “Why don’t I bring you down to one of our VIP booths. It has a station built in so we can brew the tea in front of you.”
“She said private—“ Westergren started to say.
“That sounds lovely,” Handal cut in, firmly. The Tailor could appreciate that. There reached a point where keeping your neck covered just exposed your back, after all.
Courtney nodded. “Of course. Xingyue? Would you please show our guests to Lower Suite B3?”
Xingyue was actually one of the security operatives — smart on Courtney’s part — but when she stepped around she looked like a standard secondary school student picking up easy part time work. “This way, please,” she said with a smile, and began leading the two to lower level B. It was below the workmans’ pub level, with a lot of extra security — not to mention being literally underground.
The Tailor took a fast look around, then tapped another control. “Juliana? Please neaten up the library,” he said smoothly, then cut the mic. With new clients, you wanted someone you trusted on overwatch. The Tailor stepped out and down a small wooden stairwell by way of the public facing tea bar. Always good to be seen by your customers.
He was about five foot ten, and though he’d been thinner and almost ridiculously handsome when he was young, he hadn’t been young in a very long time. Looking mid-thirties now, the Tailor looked almost weathered. His skin was a very light brown with an almost red-gold undertone, bespeaking his quarter bwa’satari heritage. There were other xenological influences on humaniformity, but the bwa’satari were the highest percentage and interbred with stock humanity the most easily. Most bwa’satari ended up on the Station City-States in Sol System after the war, so even after all this time anyone who looked at the Tailor would think ‘Stationer,’ so he didn’t generally try and hide it. His brown hair was cropped short, with a few streaks of what looked like premature grey. He had one scar on his face — a line that went through his left eye, and the eye itself had been replaced by a smooth red crystal, one facet always glinting in the light. It took people a while to realize that glinting facet always tracked the pupil of his organic right eye.
“Tailor!” Old Vintner shouted from the bar. “Want to put a few quidbucks on the World Cup? I say Cloister’s got it all over the Stationers this year!”
“Easy money,” the woman next to him called out, laughing. Essie? Essie. “Idiots are still in spin gravity — the cup’s on Hope this year. They’ll hook every shot they try!”
“I would dearly love to take your bet, Vintner,” the Tailor shouted back, “but since I get these feeds before the rest of you I already know how it ends.” He winked, making his way along the back of the bar—
He paused. There were young tea-crafters pouring and measuring out tea. One lad — ‘Gritty,’ they called him, though the Tailor had no idea why — was lifting a full pot on a tray. “Hold up, Gritty,” he said. “Let me see that.” He picked up the cast iron pot, uncovering it with his other hand and smelling. “This is the Faux-Doomni/Darjeeling?” he asked.
“The ‘Evening Wakeup,’ yeah,” Gritty said.
“Thought so.” He moved the pot over one of the recessed sinks and poured it out. “You used the wrong water temperature and oversteeped. No one wants to drink boiled cabbage. Here.”
Setting the pot down for refreshing — you only reused pots when a customer asked — he grabbed up one of the thick interim pots he’d made himself. It was a ceramic canister with an iron core, nice and dense, and a glassite coating, kept at 90° C for ready use. He spooned out the tea, then set the interim pot under the 88° C dispenser. The water aerated as it poured into the pot, the Tailor watching the flow and regulating it by hand, before releasing it and setting the cover on the top, adjusting for very slight ventilation. A four minute timer glowed across the glassite surface, counting down. “There,” he said. “Warm the receiving pot with 93 degree water, empty it out when the brew is at ten seconds, then decant into the receiving pot as soon as it hits zero.” Some teas you had to brew in their ultimate pot — the layers of tea liquor that formed would be best blended when you poured from the pot into the cup. The Evening Wakeup tea didn’t need that, and the two stage was a bit more practical.
“I know,” Gritty said, a bit annoyed.
“If you know, then do it right. Tea doesn’t take apologies.” The Tailor pushed past him and headed down the stairs to Lower B. It was a delay he hadn’t intended, but if people couldn’t count on a decent pot of bloody Evening Wakeup when they came to the Teahouse then the Tailor would have to close down out of shame.
Lower-B was only dimly lit. The different booth and table areas had local lights that looked at a distance almost like candles. The faux wood and stain of the building blended with the smell of different teas down here. The Tailor was proud of the effect.
His left eye began to register the slightly darker hallway, even as it went to active sensory. If anything unusual were to go on, he wanted to know it first. Information touched the edges of his perception — ready to be glanced at if he needed to know more. He could see that Clemmont and her bodyguards had been seated in suite B3. He toggled the audio pickup in that suite even as he stepped through the service door for that side of the suites.
“—said there was food here,” Handal was saying. “There’s nothing but tea on this menu.”
“They asked if we were here for tea or to dine,” Clemmont said. “I said we were here for tea.”
“I thought tea also meant little sandwiches,” Handal answered. “Cucumber or crap like that.”
“You’re thinking of high tea,” Handal said.
“You’re thinking of afternoon tea,” Clemmont snapped. “And Terra, for that matter.” Clemmont didn’t sound like she was in the best mood. “We’re not here for the food. We’re here to get work done.”
“And they’re just jerking us around,” Westergren snapped. “I have plans later.”
“Your plans are contingent on my needs,” Clemmont said coolly.
“I know that, ma’am. That why I want them to hurry it along.”
“This that fluff at the shuttle port? She wasn’t interested.” Handal sounded somewhere between amused at his junior and annoyed at the situation.
“Shows what you know. We’re already on. I’m supposed to meet her by Gate C luggage at sundown.”
The Tailor paused in the hall, stifling a laugh. Handal didn’t bother to stifle his. Even Clemmont started laughing.
“Jesus, Westy. Are you honestly that stupid? There’s no sundown on Cloister. The planet’s tidally locked, remember?”
“Oh… well… that’s… I know but there’s—“
“You may safely relax,” Clemmont said. “There’s no one waiting for you at the Gate C at the port.” She chuckled again. “You hear about people falling for that sort of thing—“
“Ma’am. Gentlemen.” the Tailor stepped up through the door and moving into the table service position, a slight smile still on his face. “Have you decided on what you might like to drink?”
“Wh— oh.” Westergren was flushed. Clearly embarrassed. “Um… can I get an iced kona?”
“You absolutely can,” the Tailor answered. “Locally, I’d recommend Port Selkie Roasters — they’re about four blocks from here heading towards the financial district. Would you like something to drink here before you leave?”
“Give him a builder’s tea, sweet,” Handal said. “Man’s lived on Gallowglass I don’t know how long and still doesn’t know tea.” The older bodyguard was cycling through the holostat, looking at the menu. “It’s been a while for me, but do you have anything like Koshary?”
“Any strong black will do. Something with a little bite to counteract the mint?”
“And you, ma’am?”
“Mm. Something smoky? Straight up with lemon on the side?”
“We’ve got our Lopchu Pyrite.” The original Lopchu Golden was an Indian Darjeeling. The Tailor was particularly proud of the local equivalent he’d bred.
“I’m sure that’s fine.” She was looking the Tailor up and down — appraising him, almost. “I understand that it’s also possible to get some custom clothing work done here. Do you have a tailor in-house?”
“I know a few people who are pretty good with a thread and needle,” the Tailor said, brushing the bottoms of two tall, thick mugs with honey, even as he brewed two different black teas in those same canister pots he’d used upstairs — one a straight Assam tea, the other a blend of Assam, a Darjeeling, and a blend of mint. They didn’t have countdown timers — the Tailor hadn’t needed a timer for tea in generations. Setting the mugs aside, he spooned the Lopchu Pyrite into the receiving pot directly and poured aerated 87° C water into it. Having been put into the mood for smoke himself he spooned a blend of Lapsang Souchong and Keemun with a hint of Ceylon into a canister pot as well. “What kind of ensemble are we talking about?”
“Well, I run into hazardous weather a lot,” Clemmont said. “Sometimes very hazardous.”
“Of course. Something to keep the rain off.”
“Exactly. All sorts of rain. In a very proactive sense as well as reactive.”
“Absolutely. There’s no reason to give the rain a chance to hit you, now is there?”
Westergren rolled his eyes, shifting in his seat.
“Is there a problem, sir?” the Tailor asked, even as he poured tea into the two pre-doctored mugs. He then added milk to the builders’ tea.
“Wh— no. I mean… I don’t see why we have to talk around everything.”
“Westy—“ Handal said, an edge of warning in his voice.
“Oh, no no. Let the boy talk,” the Tailor said, smiling. “But do bear in mind the house always applies a surcharge for rudeness to the final bill. And also bear in mind that after attempted intimidation and implicit threat of the hostess at the front, that surcharge is already at seven and a half percent. I’m curious if we can make it to eight before even discussing specifications.”
Clemmont frowned, slightly, but didn’t say anything.
Westergren, of course, did. “Seve— fine. Fine. I’m sorry. Ma’am, I’m sorry. I’ll pay the rudeness fee.”
Clemmont snorted. “You should probably just stay quiet,” she said, curtly.
“Westy,” Handal said, softly. “The bill they’re talking about now isn’t for the tea. For God’s sake shut up.”
The Tailor took the awkward pause that followed as an excuse to set the two mugs of tea in front of the bodyguards. He then set the cast iron pot in front of Clemmont, with a dish holding two sliced lemon wedges next to it and a small matching cup for the tea. He poured for her and set the pot down, before pouring his own cup from the last canister pot. “But. He may have had a point. What kind of ‘bad weather’ are we discussing? And please, feel free to be frank.”
“Even though you’re recording?” Clemmont asked.
“Even though I’m recording,” the Tailor answered, his smile not slipping. He sipped his own tea.
“Wait — I thought this was guaranteed private! What kind of—“ Westergren cut in—
“And there’s eight percent. My my.”
Clemmont turned to her junior bodyguard. “It was. And then you threatened one of his workers. And now it’s being recorded. I’m okay with that. Be okay with that.” She turned back, picking up her own tea, even as Handal did the same. They both sipped—
The Tailor smiled a bit more as the two paused, and looked at their cups.
“What?” Westergren asked.
“Try your tea,” Handal said.
He blinked, and picked up the mug. He sipped—
“…oh my God that’s the best cup of tea I’ve ever had in my life…” It seemed Westergren’s inability to keep his mouth shut wasn’t confined to complaints or demands.
“It really is,” Handal said, still looking at the cup. “Reminds me of my father’s tea, only better.”
“Mm,” the Tailor said. “I really need to rebuild the filtration system from scratch — there’s just never enough time.”
Clemmont cocked her head. “Do you seriously have a metatalent for making tea?”
The Tailor shrugged. “I think we’d call it a knack. So. Bad weather.”
Clemmont nodded. “Someone’s trying to kill me.”
“An occupational hazard, I would imagine.”
“This is a bit beyond the normal pale.” Clemmont didn’t bother with denials. That was a good sign. It was always easier to deal with the crooked who didn’t try and convince you of their rail-straightness first. “Heavy plasma cannons and hardsuits on the last go-around. We lost four guards to that one and I just barely made it to the port.”
“That’s some nasty rain all right.”
“Quite.” She sipped more tea, then topped up her cup. The Tailor noticed she wasn’t adding lemon this time. “We contract all our security through Madraí Caomhnóra, as I’m sure you’ve gathered. They’re good, but quite frankly they’re completely outgunned. We need that to stop — and I need to have more of a sense of personal security through it all.”
“I absolutely understand. Do you have some sense of who?”
“Who? Or why?”
The Tailor shrugged. “I’m not in the ‘why’ business. Either you deserve their attention or you don’t. Either way, it’s generally nothing to me. Who makes a difference though. It gives me baseline specifications and gives us a starting point for negotiations.”
“Of course. It’s someone… from the Station City-States.” She was looking at the Tailor again. Well, of course. People might not recognize him off the bat, but absent obfuscation it was obvious he was a Stationer himself. “Will that be a problem?”
“Innately? No. Well, if you’ve managed to bring Lady Awe-Inspiring 16’s wrath down on your head I’ll be glad to try my best but she’ll win. But she’s so newly installed I can’t imagine it’s her.”
“Might as well be,” Westergren muttered.
“All right,” the Tailor said, frowning. “It sounds like we’d better get into specifics before we go any further.” With his luck, they’d installed a new Lady Presumptive on the heels of the new Lady taking the Oath — and the Ladies Presumptive were as brilliant as the Ladies themselves, only the Tailor hadn’t kept up on any prospective candidates for a while. When dealing with the highest known metaintellects in the Planetary Union, it was a good idea to get the facts down first. If it were someone like that…
Clemmont looked uncomfortable. “It’s the Paladins.”
The Tailor paused. “Excuse me?”
“The Paladins. The Lady’s Paladins — whatever they’re called. Specifically…” She took out her comm, bringing up a page, then tapping it to the table. The glassite reacted, opening a holostat with some basic information and a picture. She turned it and pushed it to the Tailor’s side.
The Tailor looked at the picture. He didn’t bother reading the infodump. He knew it already. It depicted a woman in her mid to late thirties — tall, like a valkyrie, with auburn highlights in her dark hair. Skin almost the exact shade of red-gold touched light brown as Tailor’s. Green eyes. She had a sword in her hand, wore a deep red uniform in the old bwa’satari style. It had a family crest on her shoulder, and a sash in hunting Campbell tartan pinned to her waist. Over her heart was a modified Bwa’satari Star, with the center crystal that indicated she had been accepted into the Lady’s personal service.
The Tailor knew her face well — knew it like he’d seen it yesterday instead of long years before — not that it would matter. She was at least as long lived as he was.
She was Terrilyn Marjolaine Zaindaria of the Four Bloods. Heir to the Admiral’s Honor. Regina Filia Principis Stultitiae. Knight of Realms Beyond. And, yes indeed, Founder and High Commander of the Lady’s Order of Lion, Knight, and Admiral, better known as the Paladins of the Ladyship Awe-Inspirational.
“I take it you’re familiar with her?” Clemmont said, dryly.
“In a manner of speaking,” the Tailor said, looking back up at the businesswoman. “How do you know it’s her?”
“How did you identify Marjolaine Zaindara as being your persecutor. Did you catch her on vid? Scan her genome? Did it come to you in a particularly vivid dream?” He watched for her reaction on that last one in particular.
“She didn’t try hard to hide it,” Handal said. “Her insignia on the attacking ships, for one. Intercepted orders from her on back channels. And yes, my understanding is she was sighted.”
“But you didn’t see her yourself?”
“I trust the people who did.”
“Good for you.” The Tailor looked at the holostat again, then turned it around on the table and batted it back to Clemmont. “Pass.”
Clemmont seemed taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“I said I pass.” The Tailor looked intent. “If I were a different sort of man, I’d sell you a load of goods, charge you through the nose, and rig them to take you out at the worst possible moment, long after the money was laundered. But like it or not I’m an honorable man, and I won’t stake you out or cheat you. I won’t take this job.”
“Why?” Westergren asked. “Are you scared?”
“Of Dame Marjolaine? Yes. I’m rational. But that’s not why I’m passing. Not that my reasons matter. The tea, of course, is complimentary, and I apologize that we can’t do business in this matter. I guess Master Westergren’s off the hook after all.”
“We have come rather a long way under rather unpleasant circumstances, Tailor,” Clemmont said, coolly. “I’m not inclined to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“Wait,” Westergren said. “How’d you know my name? Or her name? We didn’t tell you—“
“‘Stupid puppy’ can be a cute look, son, but that cute wears off fast. Mistress Clemmont, I realize you’re used to moving into hardball right about now. Negotiating from strength — knocking down the other side’s preconceptions and getting them off balance. And as you say, refusing to ‘take no for an answer.’ Well. This is a good time to resist that urge. You can’t shove this down my throat. You can’t intimidate me through financial or any other kind of pressure. I have zero interest in being any kind of enemy to you but if you labor under the impression that you can bring me down in any meaningful way? I’d rethink.” He looked at Handal. “And next time, don’t bring the Junior Woodchuck with you.”
“He’s who I have,” Handal snapped back at the Tailor. “We got away from the last ambush — me, him, and the boss. I don’t know who else I can trust, so it’s us. It’s us and it’s you. And you are going to be working with us on this.” He pulled his D-657, snapping the pulse chamber into place and aiming it at the Tailor.
“If you shoot me? I’m probably not going to be able to do much of anything.” The Tailor didn’t betray any concern.
“Who says we have to shoot you?” Westergren snapped, pulling his own carbine and rotating the hazer into position. “This is a hazer, tough guy. This place’ll burn really well really fast.”
“Well, I’m not so sure about that. I did spring for the expensive all weather sealant on the timbers.” The Tailor smiled slightly. “Friendly neighbors—“ He watched as RAMONA activated silently, a ready-prompt showing in his right eye. “You really don’t want to pull those triggers.”
“After all your crap? I kinda do,” Westergren said, pointing the carbine at the Tailor. “Just give me a reason.”
“Keep your hands nicely above the table where we can see them, friend.” Handal said, eyes narrowing.
“Mistress Clemmont — do you intend to stop them?” the Tailor asked. RAMONA showed active progress. The carbines needed careful regulation in most modes, and obviously had been hardened against most digital incursion… but the Tailor had tricks almost no one else had ever heard of. Right now they showed yellow in his right eye’s assessment… different exploits being trying, the system adapting to new ones.
Clemmont looked at the Tailor for a long moment. “It has been a very long few days,” she said, softly. “And quite honestly, I’m out of ideas. So no, Mister Tailor. I’m not going to stop them. They’ve had a long few days too. I’d consider making them a little happier.”
Westergren’s carbine turned green in the Tailor’s right eye. He took a long breath, letting the seconds tick by. “You’re absolutely certain I can’t talk you two out of this?” he asked.
“I think we need an answer, Tailor.” Handal sounded strung out. In a way, the Tailor felt badly for him.
The yellow tag on Handal’s carbine turned green.
“I understand.” The Tailor shrugged. “The answer’s still no. Do with that what you have to do.”
Westergren growled, pulling the trigger on his carbine. His was still set as a hazer — it was possible he intended to wing the Tailor — letting the incredible heat cook a bit of his flesh and put him in excruciating pain, even as it set fire to the walls behind him. From the Tailor’s point of view it didn’t matter. You pull the trigger on a weapon designed to kill? You meant to kill.
The carbine buzzed non-functional.
“What—“ Westergren shrieked, looking at his carbine. He tried to rechamber but it didn’t respond.
“Holy—“ Handal pulled his own weapon’s trigger. It buzzed the same way.
“I’m disappointed in you, Master Handal,” the Tailor said. “Master Westergren was clearly a hopeless case, but you at least should have kept up your firmware. That’s basic. Good day, gentlemen.” He pushed his foot forward, hitting a small floor control on his side of the teamaking station.
Both Westergren and Handal spasmed, their faces swelling slightly. They both made a sound between a wheeze and a gurgle before Handal stopped moving and Westergren fell out of the booth and into the hallway.
“Wha— what did you do?” Clemmont shrieked. Well, everyone had a breaking point.
“I gave you ‘no’ as an answer.” The Tailor reached down — no sense keeping his hands in sight now — and touched the table, spawning a holostat window. “Juliana? Cleanup in 3B and interdict our remaining patron, if you would?”
There was a thunk, and the seat Clemmont was sitting in folded back, dumping her into a shaft sliding down before snapping back into place. Her involuntary scream was cut off completely when the seat snapped back.
“Cleanup in ten seconds. What should we do with them?”
“Disposal. We have no idea what happened to them. I’ll be down on Lower D.” The Tailor turned and stepped down into the serviceway, then out into the hallway. By the time he was there, the two rigid things that had once been humaniforms were being bagged by his cleaning crew. Four of them, two male, two female, all in their twenties and seasoned. This sort of thing didn’t happen much, but it paid to be ready in this profession.
It took three minutes to get downstairs, though two of those were spent swapping out his kit. Palm scanner, combat scanner, and high end scanners. Weapons here and there. Making sure his own suit’s charge was primed. The belt with the field emitters. Life field generator button clipped in place. He didn’t expect to leave the Teahouse, but you didn’t get to be his age by being unprepared.
Clemmont was in a holding cell on level Lower D. Most of the private booths on Lower B lacked the ‘garbage chute’ option, as one of the Tailor’s workers had called it once, but when you had minor belligerency at the door, you took fewer chances. Said holding cell was an osmicrete cell with a thick glassite pane that made up one full wall. The chute Clemmont had slid down was on the right side from the Tailor’s point of view, though a heavy plate had slid down there. The floor was a variable pad, able to cushion the woman’s impact on the way down but firm as a floor now. It would soften for sleeping if she were staying any length of time, which she wouldn’t be.
She was frantically working her comm, trying to find some connection she could make. She practically snarled when she saw the Tailor, backing up to the back wall. “You’ve made a bad mistake,” she hissed. “If you’re going to kill me, you’d better—“
“I’m not going to kill you,” the Tailor said. “I’m not even going to hold you. We’ll talk for a few minutes and then I’m going to let you go.”
That took her aback. “Let me go?” she asked. “On what condition?”
“No conditions. Well, other than our need to talk for a few minutes first. Call it a debriefing, I suppose.”
Clemmont was staring at the Tailor — incredulity seemed to be winning out over both fear and anger. “How… why are you so calm! You just murdered my bodyguards!”
“Well, that’s one of the things we need to discuss.” The Tailor folded his arms and leaned back against the far wall. “Your bodyguards drew weapons on me. I tried to talk them out of using them. They both pulled their triggers. All of which I have on validatable video. I use the good stuff. Either the good folks at the North Shielaton Municipal Police or the even better folks at the Union Constabulary would be able to establish self defense within a few seconds.” He paused. “They’d also be able to establish accessory to attempted murder on your part.”
“What? In what possible—“
“RAMONA? Please display my question to Mistress Clemmont during the actual armed confrontation and her response to that question.”
There was a three tone sound of acknowledgement. RAMONA wasn’t a sentient digital intelligence — barely — but could certainly respond vocally. However, by default that was disabled around strangers and clients. It was always good to keep your capabilities a mystery. The glassite wall rippled, and four two-way holostats appeared — the image didn’t look mirrored on either side, for convenience. Each window showed the same thing from a different angle, though there was only one audio feed playing.
The Tailor watched as Handal spoke. “Keep your hands nicely above the table where we can see them, friend.”
The recording showed the Tailor’s comparable lack of reaction. The Tailor found himself watching his ‘performance.’ “Mistress Clemmont — do you intend to stop them?” His voice was mild, with no sign that he had been waiting for RAMONA to confirm compromising the maintenance hacks on the two carbines.
From the different angles, the Tailor could see how tired Clemmont looked. She had tension throughout her body. “It has been a very long few days,” she said, the mic increasing its gain to make her soft words clearer. “And quite honestly, I’m out of ideas. So no, Mister Tailor. I’m not going to stop them. They’ve had a long few days too. I’d consider making them a little happier.”
The Tailor watched himself take a deep breath — almost like a sigh. “You’re absolutely certain I can’t talk you two out of this?” the recorded Tailor said—
“End playback and clear screen.”
The holostat windows vanished, leaving the Tailor and Clemmont facing each other through thick glassite. Clemmont looked even more tense now.
“I was one person. There were three of you. We were in close quarters and you had no way of knowing I had any kind of failsafe. Under Cloister law, I was justified in using lethal force to protect myself. In fact, legal precedent suggests I could have just cut all three of you down without giving any of you a chance. But, I am an honorable man, and I don’t think that’s very honorable.” He lifted his chin. “Still. Your bodyguards were trained professionals — one more than the other, admittedly — and just disabling their firearms wouldn’t stop them from pulling less easily negated weapons out or just attacking me hand to hand. Legally, I was justified in the level of force I used.” He half-smiled. “On Cloister, at least. And just as legally, you were asked if you intended to stop them, and you said you weren’t. That makes you an accessory.” The Tailor looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure whoever’s actually trying to kill you would have an easier or harder time if you were in jail or prison here on Cloister.”
Clemmont was still staring. She slowly shook her head, as if in disbelief. “So why didn’t you kill me too?”
“Like I said. I’m an honorable man. I extended my hospitality to you and your bodyguards. That included protecting the three of you while you were here. Your bodyguards violated that hospitality — they actually tried to kill me, Mistress Clemmont. Let’s not forget that. They lost my protection in that moment. And, to be frank? They offended me in that moment. Good manners are important, don’t you think?”
Clemmont had no answer for that, so the Tailor kept talking. “Now, legally I could have killed you, too. There’s no question about that. But while you declined to stop your guards, you yourself didn’t violate the rules of hospitality. You were willing to let them kill me, and that’s hardly civil, but that’s not the same as pointing a gun at me, much less pulling the trigger.” The Tailor shrugged. “You’re still under my protection as my guest. I couldn’t very well kill you, could I?”
“That’s… insane,” Clemmont said. “You’re a madman. An inhumane sociopath—“
“Inhumane?” The Tailor smiled a bit more broadly. “Mistress Clemmont — you’ve already surmised I was born a Stationer, largely through appearance. The bwa’satari had adaptive genetics, and pre-Union humanity had an almost frighteningly flexible genome when it came to interbreeding xenologically. Thanks to those two factors, bwa’satari and baseline human didn’t even need medical intervention to interbreed. I can easily trace a quarter of my genetics to bwa’satari sources. I acknowledge the big, happy family that is humaniformity, but of course I’m inhumane.” The Tailor chuckled. “Besides, my ‘insanity’ is keeping you alive and will get you set free in a few minutes. Maybe this isn’t the time to be poking at it.”
Clemmont paused at that. She took a deep breath of her own, and composed herself. “You’re right,” she said, spreading her hands in conciliation. “I appreciate that you didn’t… what did you do to them, anyway? They just went rigid after making that horrible sound.”
The Tailor was impressed with Clemmont’s ability to recover. He’d assumed she’d seen death before in her career. She probably was responsible for some all on her own, and was undoubtedly culpable of others. The fact that her business was clearly in part criminal would have ensure that. “A little something I came up with. In effect, all the cells in their body coagulated instantly. That horrible sound came from the air being forced out of their lungs while their vocal cords were distorting. It sounds horrible but their neurons were affected at the same time. It’s actually hard to get a more instantaneous death.” He shrugged. “In a case like this, making someone suffer is uncouth. They attempted to kill me and they died for it. Since I could make that death painless I did.”
“And… before that… you disabled their weapons remotely. You said something about firmware—“
“Mistress Clemmont — I’m called the Tailor for a reason. I’m a designer, an armourer, and a weaponsmith. Quite frankly, I’m in the top four of all of those categories in the entire Planetary Union. People forget that automated and digitally guided weaponry have operating systems and firmwares that can be exploited. I keep on top of these things, in part to make sure the weapons and armor I provide doesn’t have those vulnerabilities.” He chuckles. “By reputation if nothing else you and your bodyguards must have heard that I’m older than I look. And there’s a reason you came all this way, hoping I could give you gear to even your odds against the Lady’s Paladins. It never ceases to amaze me that people rationally know I must be the best armed, best prepared person they’ve ever met and yet think they can bully me or threaten sixteen year old girls who work for me.”
He leaned forward, serious now. “Mistress Clemmont, I don’t intend to make anything more of this matter. As far as I’m concerned, your bodyguards simply stopped existing. I have no reason at all to have any kind of grudge with you. If you decide to pursue this further, out of pride or anger or God and Lion knows what? I will turn everything over to the authorities and let them take you in. Do we understand each other?”
Clemmont glared, but then looked down. “We do. Trust me, I don’t want the U.P.s involved any more than you do.”
“Probably quite a bit less. All right. I’ll have you seen out.”
“Tailor — what about Zaindara? All right — you won’t take my commission. Fine — there are other armourers, and at this point I probably need to find a mercenary company to boot. But… they’ve been hounding me for weeks. It took a desperate gamble to make it here. I know you have no reason to help me, but I have no one else to ask. What do I do?”
The Tailor paused. He knew better than to get involved. At the same time…
Well, he was an honorable man. And as little as he ever wanted to speak to Terrilyn Marjolaine Zaindara again, honor still had its demands.
“Mistress Clemmont… Marjolaine Zaindara isn’t trying to kill you.”
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve verified. I’m not speculating. This is absolute fact. Marjolaine Zaindara isn’t behind whatever you’ve been dealing with. Honestly — if her name and reputation’s being used to mask the movements of some other party, I’d recommend going straight to her. She’d probably take you in and fight this battle for you sheerly as a matter of honor and her own good name. Plus… she’s a bit of a sucker for hard luck cases. And somehow, despite being an executive vice president, multi-millionaire, and nefarious consigliere at the very least you’ve turned into one of those.”
Clemmont was staring at the Tailor again. “How can you be so sure?” she asked, finally.
“I’m a Stationer. What’s more, I… know quite a bit about Paladin philosophy and the mixture of personality cults, bwa’satari warrior culture and Christian apologetics that make it up. I know she isn’t behind this… because if she were she would have told you why, directly.”
Clemmont blinked. “What?”
“Zaindara’s not a fool. She wouldn’t endanger herself if she didn’t have to. But, she’d absolutely contact you. She’d explain why you had to die in no uncertain terms. She’d let you rebut. And then she’d do whatever she felt she had to do. I asked you directly how you knew it was her, and the response was circumstantial. Ergo, it’s not her.”
The Tailor had seen a lot in his time. He was a moderately good judge of temperament and character — certainly nothing that had happened today had surprised him, beyond hearing Zaindara’s name come up — and he had been in a lot of situations like this. A lot of people, when told they were wrong, dug their heels in regardless of hard evidence — much less what sounded like the personal speculation of some mad scientist who made tea and railgun-equipped hardsuits in equal measure. They argued. They couldn’t be wrong. And the Tailor had gotten very good at washing his hands of those people. He was an honorable man, but honor didn’t demand he educate fools who refused to see what was in front of them.
Clemmont, on the other hand, had gone a bit pale. She looked away, her body language a bit more vulnerable. “All right,” she said. “You’ve done me a service. Thank you for that. I…” she almost laughed. “I’d ask for a more generalized commission to be made, but I get the feeling—“
“That moment’s rather passed, yes,” the Tailor said, smiling slightly. “Come back in a few years and we’ll see, but as for today—“
“I understand.” She paused. “And… thank you. For not killing me, and for telling me this. Though… I still think you could have stopped my guards without killing them.”
“Oh, I could. I don’t claim otherwise. And if it had just been them hitting their limit after I turned them down? I might have. No promises, mind.” He narrowed his eyes. “They threatened my front hostess, Mistress Clemmont. And you didn’t stop them then, either. No one does that. Not under my roof. If you do nothing else for me? Make certain you pass that tidbit around at your soirees, while you talk about the madman with the tea fetish and the crystal eye.”
“I have no intention of ever telling anyone about any of this,” Clemmont said, dryly. “I wouldn’t want word to get out and cause those vids to get released, now would I?”
“We understand each other perfectly. Now. Would you like to be brought back to your hotel or the shuttle port? Or do you have a vehicle?”
“I have a skimmer we rented. Through a couple of third parties, mind. I’m not stupid enough to put my name on a rental’s tracking beacon while someone’s trying to kill me.”
The Tailor half-smiled. “I’m glad to hear that. Though… mm. All right. Perhaps a bit more for free.”
Clemmont raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
The Tailor touched the glassite. “Holostat window,” he said, and one resolved. He tapped a few commands, then keyed for vocal — he’d already shown that he could just speak and things would happen, but again. You played down your capabilities where you could. “Launch eye. Track and trace groundskimmer rental, backtracing to use and door-keying to Clemmont, Cassandra. There may be one or more aliases involved.”
There were the multiple tones, and a series of text windows opened, scrolling information. About four seconds later another window spawned. This one a panoramic showing a holocast from the eye that had just been launched. It swept out and down the street then over two cross streets, before panning the view to show a six-person groundskimmer parked on the street. Decent but not too flashy.
“Is that your card, Mistress Clemmont?”
“…so quickly…” she murmured.
“I don’t know what specific division of the old bar sinister you work under, Mistress Clemmont, but it’s worth noting things like this can be traced more easily than you think, if your opposition has the resources and the willingness—“
There was a flash of light on the vidwindow, interrupting the Tailor’s lesson.
The groundskimmer exploded.
There was a general four tone alarm. “Heavy armor deployed in area,” echoed through the level — and anyplace non-public facing. The heavy armor in question seemed to be a heavy hardsuit — four meters of retailored ceramics, metal, and glassite in the rough shape of the pilot wearing it, the haze of gravitics on its elbows, back, outer thighs and boots letting it slide through the air even as it tracked. Active scanning was detected even as a second hardsuit slid into view.
Both were running hot, and both had scrambled recognition signals. Fast interpret showed them as Stationer — specifically Paladin recognitions.
And the eye tagged a symbol on one. The Bwa’satari Star and insignia of the First Commander.
“Blow the eye,” the Tailor snapped. The holostat window flashed and closed. “General alert three. Go to full lockdown, pull all staff in. Maintain calm among the patrons though let them know there’s a civil disturbance. Let any leave who want but don’t throw them out. Open holding D3.”
RAMONA announced the basic orders in the private areas of the Teahouse, even as the glassite slid down into the floor, opening the holding cell. Clemmont looked spooked and angry at the same time. “What do I—“
“Follow me,” the Tailor said. “Decide right now if you want to be dropped or if you want to let me extract you. And either way, unlock your comm and give it to me.” The Tailor turned and began to stride down the corridor, confident that Clemmont would follow.
After all, where else would she go?