Verdan’s Marsh, scene 3: The Deal

The lift doors closed behind Admiral Blacklop, his back as straight and stiff as a knife. Steen’s gaze swam over the glass walls. Night was falling over the city expanse. His attention turned to Vikquan. She dropped her head into her hands and cried a loud sob.
‘Vik…’ Steen began, approaching her and trying to take her in his arms, but her elbows were thrust forward, her hands over her face. Steen had never seen her cry. He swallowed, scared by her the rawness of her emotion.
‘Don’t touch me!’ she cried, thrusting him away with her elbows and forearms. ‘Don’t I have any say in this?’
Steen watched her creased red face with dismay. ‘Wha—?’
‘I’m not some kind of medal to be bargained for. Not a fucking prize to be won!’ She turned away from him and folded her arms, her fingers tucked beneath her arms, beneath folds of her white silk blouse.
‘Vikquan,’ Steen said, placing his hand upon her shoulder. ‘I know you want to be with me, too.’
‘Right,’ she said, nodding. ‘Because I love you. Which is why I don’t want you down there, getting killed.’
Steen had to laugh. ‘Killed?’ he shook his head. ‘What on Binartherm is going to get me killed?’
She turned to him, eyes open wide. ‘You really don’t get it, do you? I thought you were being brave, but you don’t realise the danger.’
‘What danger, Vikquan?’ Steen said. ‘The Admiral mentioned the wall. But I don’t see why I should be afraid to cross it.’
Vikquan sniffed, wiped her eyes and her emotion evapourated. This was the calm and serious director Steen was used.
‘Our people made a deal,’ Vikquan said. ‘When the second shipment arrived. We all learnt the basics of it school, don’t you remember?’
‘I hated school,’ Steen said.
She raised an eyebrow at him, regarding him like a school mistress, but one with large brown eyes that made him want to kiss her. A deal? Steen shrugged. ‘Yeah, I guess they might have mentioned a deal. Um…’
‘Let me refresh your memory, and tell you some things you wouldn’t know, as well as what you’ve forgotten. The first humans who got to Binartherm blended with the planet. They became the Beba. When our people came on the second shipment they wouldn’t have a bar of living on the marsh with no technology so we brokered a deal. Humans got half the planet, the Beba got the rest. They said they’d put up a fence along the equator and we were not to cross it. That’s the fence, below. Until now we’d never seen it. Now we’ve built right up to it. And we promised, a thousand years ago, that if we ever found it, we’d stop.’
‘And if we don’t?’ Steen asked.
‘We forfeit our right to live on this planet.’
Steen laughed. ‘Forfeit it to who? Who’s going to take it?’
Vikquan sighed. She spread her fingers wide as though trying to contain him.
‘Steen, you have to believe me. It’s in our records. That was the agreement.’
Steen grinned. ‘Sweetheart, I don’t doubt your learning history. But an agreement is only worth as much as the power to enforce it. It might be easily renegotiated, or entirely overridden.’
‘Steen! You’re not listening to me!’ Her arms were rigid by her sides. ‘Please don’t go down there. We’ve never talked to the Beba, never shared the same ground as them. If Binartherm had the power to change them from humans to…that…’ She walked to the window and looked out over the darkening marsh. ‘That tree,’ she said, pointing. ‘That’s one of the breeding females.’
Steen nodded, it was the tree he’d noticed before. The first he’d seen out on the marsh. ‘A female tree. Cool.’
‘Half human, Steen.’
‘Are you serious?’
‘Think about it Steen. The ‘power’ here made people like us into that. So think about what it could do to us if it wanted.’
Steen pursed his lips. ‘If it’s that strong it must be pretty smart, and in that case I can reason with it.’
She was shaking her head.
‘Vikquan, I want to marry you. I want to ascend to CEO. That plot out there is my ticket, and I’m going to try. What harm can I do, just going to see what’s down there? At least talking to them will prove all this is true. Otherwise it could just be a fairytale. You’re telling me that thing is part woman, but all I see is a tree.’
Vikquan’s chest heaved with deeper breath. Steen backed away, her emotion was returning. ‘You’re going to do it, anyway,’ she said, her face becoming stormy as a dark cloud. ‘No matter what I say.’
Steen nodded. He reached for her hand. She snatched it out of his hold and backed away to the lift.
‘Just exploration, Vik. And not even too far. I’ll only go, what, fifty metres?’
‘Over the fence,’ she said, her lips trembling. ‘Over the fucking fence.’

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