THE CHANTRY GUILD
Gordon R. Dickson
Copyright (C) 1988 by Gordon R. Dickson.
A little before dawn, Amanda Morgan woke in the front room of the tiny apartment rented by the family which had risked giving her shelter. A young girl shared the front room floor with her, but she still slumbered, as did the rest.
Amanda had slept in the shapeless brown smock that had been all but forced on the inhabitants of this world and its sister planet of Mara by the Occupation Forces now ruling them. She rose now without putting on her ankle-high bush boots, and squatted on her heels beside her borrowed sleeping mat, and rolled it up.
Stowing it in a corner of the room and picking up the boots in one hand, she quietly let herself out into the hall. Still carrying the boots, she went along it to make use of the communal bathroom at the hall's end, then descended the narrow wooden stairs into the street.
Just inside the tenement's street door, she stopped to put on the boots. The smock had a hood, which she now pulled up over her head to hide her face. Silently, lifting the latch of the door, she slipped out into the mist-dimmed, pre-dawn light of the empty streets of Porphyry. It was a small town in the subtropical uplands of Hysperia, the northeastern continent of the Exotic planet of Kultis.
Through those streets between the graying, unpainted wood faces of the tenements, she went swiftly. Most of the local Exotics, rooted out of their countryside homes, had been brought here and required to build these dwellings for their own shelter, close under the eye of authority, and the fact that the required design and materials of the buildings made them firetraps had not been entirely unintentional on the part of the designers. For the plan behind the Occupation was for the Exotics of Mara and Kultis to die off - as much as possible by their own doing.
She thought of those sleeping within, and felt a sensation as if her heart moved under her breast at the thought of leaving them, as a mother might react at having to leave her children in the hands of brutal and antagonistic caretakers. But the word that had been sent her was the one message that could override all else, and she had no choice but to go.
After several turnings down different streets she slipped between two buildings and emerged into the open yard-space behind them. Just before her lifted the six-meter height of the wooden fence that now enclosed the town, and which those who inhabited it had also been forced to build.
At the foot of this fence she stopped and, reaching in through a slit in her robe, loosened something. As she gave her body a shake a coil of loose rope dropped about her feet. She stepped out of it and bent to pick it up by the running loop already worked into one end.
She gathered up the rest of the rope and dropped it by arm-lengths back onto the sparse grass of the untended ground at her feet, shaking it out and recoiling it up again into loose loops in her left hand, to make sure there were no kinks in it. Then, taking the last meter or so of the other end with the running loop into her right hand, she shook the loop sliding through that eye of rope to a larger circle, swung it a few times to get the feel of its weight and balance, and took a step back from the foot of the wall.
She looked up at the fence, past the flimsy walkway that allowed it to be patrolled by those on guard, with no more than their heads showing above the pointed ends of the uprightly placed logs that made it.
Selecting one particular log-end, she swung the captive loop in her right hand in a couple of graceful circles and then let it fly upward. She had been handling a lasso since her early childhood on the distant planet of her birth, one of the few Younger Worlds where a variform of horses had flourished. The loop flew fair and true to settle over the upper end of the log she had chosen.
She pulled it tightly closed, and tried her weight on the rope. Then, with its aid, she walked up the inner face of the wall until she could pull herself onto the walkway. Loosening the loop from the log-end, she enlarged it and put it around her so that it formed a loop diagonally about her body from one shoulder and around and under her opposite hip. Doubling that loop with more of the rope, she threw the long end of it down the wall's far side, climbed over the fence and proceeded to rappel down its outside face, mountaineer fashion. Once solidly on the ground she pulled the rest of the rope around the log-end overhead and down into her hands. Recoiling it around her waist over her robe as she went, she headed for the darkness of the forest, only a short distance away.
The forest hid her and she was gone. But she had not left unobserved. One of the early waking inhabitants of a building, looking out a back window, had seen her go. By bad luck, he was one of the few locals who tried to curry favor with the Occupation Forces - for there were good and bad Exotics, as there were people of both kinds in all cultures. His attention had been caught by a glimpse of a figure moving outside while the curfew of the night just passed was still in effect. Now he lost no time in dressing and hurrying himself to Military Headquarters.
Consequently, she was almost to her destination when she became aware of being followed by green-uniformed, booted figures, with the glint of metal in their hands that could only come from power rifles or needle guns. She went on, not hurrying her pace. They were already close enough to kill her easily with their weapons, if that was what they wanted. They would be waiting to see if she would lead them to others, and in any case their preference would be to take her alive, to question her and otherwise amuse themselves with her before killing her. However, if she could only gain a few minutes more, a small distance farther...
She walked on unhurriedly, her resolve hardening as she went. Even if they tried to take her now before she reached her intended destination, still all might not be lost. She was Dorsai, of the Dorsai, a native of that cold, hard, meagerly blessed planet whose only wealth of natural resources lay in its planet-wide ocean and the scanty areas of arable and pasture land on its stark islands, upthrust from the waves like the tops of the underseas mountains.
For generations, the Dorsai had seen their sons and daughters leave home to sell their military services in the wars of the other Younger Worlds, and so earn the interstellar credits the Dorsai needed to survive. While those behind her now were the sweepings of those other worlds. Not real military, and spoiled beyond that by the fact that the Exotics they were used to dominating did not know how to fight, even if they were willing to do so to save their lives. So that those who followed her now had come to believe that merely to show a weapon to any unarmed civilian produced instant obedience.
So, at close quarters, if those behind did not first cripple her with their power or needle guns, she could handle up to half a dozen of them. In any case, it would be strange if in the process she could not get her hands on at least one of their weapons. If she did that, she would have no trouble dealing with even a full platoon group.
But she was almost to the place toward which she had been headed, and they were still some meters behind her. It became more and more obvious they were merely following, unsuspecting that she might know they were there, and hoping she would lead them to others they could capture as well. She had been working here as an undercover agent from Old Earth for three years now, helping the local populace endure, and wherever possible, resist these followers of Others - the new overlords of the Younger Worlds. These soldiers would at least have heard rumors of her. Undoubtedly it was inconceivable to them that she could be alone and elude them that long - that she must have some organization helping her.
She smiled a little, to herself'. Actually, her most active work in those three years had amounted to occasionally rescuing a prisoner of these same jack-booted imitation soldiers, when this could be done without giving away her true identify. Mostly, her job had been to provide reassurance to the local Kultans. So that they, like the other dominated peoples of' the Younger Worlds, would know they had not been entirely forgotten by those still holding out behind the phase-shield of Old Earth. Holding yet, against the combined strength of the Younger Worlds and the self-named, multitalented Others who ruled them.
But now, her hopes lifted. Those following had delayed almost too long. She had at last reached the little hillock of flourishing undergrowth and young trees, which she had transplanted here three years before with great care and labor. She stopped, and, almost casually, began to tear up a strip of turf between two of the trees.
That, she thought, should intrigue them enough to keep them from rushing upon her too swiftly. The turf came free, as it had been designed to do, being artificial, rather than real, like the rest of the vegetation in the hillock. Below it was the metal face and handle of a ship's entry port.
At last, she moved swiftly, now. A second later the door was open and she was inside, closing it behind her. As she turned the handle to locking position, the blast from a power rifle rang ineffectively against its outer side. She took two strides, seated herself in the chair before the command panel and laid hands on the controls.
A Dorsai courier vessel did not need t ...