What drove Gren to the edge he's on in Jupiter Jazz? A little bit of backstory. Or maybe a lot of it.
But it did begin simply. It began with a song.
Grencia Mars Elijah Guo Eckener was not a great believer in Fate. This was simple self-preservation; if Fate existed, then obviously it held a grudge against him for some past life transgression. That would have to be true, else why saddle him with five names and only one of them spellable by the average citizen?
He preferred not to believe in Fate. It would have been unbearable to think that all the fights he got into over one or the another of his names were because some divine being thought he deserved it. In fact, it was generally easier to not believe in anything at all. The universe was random, had always been random, would always be random, and there was nothing in it that cared a jot for him or anything to do with him.
That his parents were commune-living hippies was random. That they, in a burst of herb-inspired creativity, saddled him with five names was also random. Therefore the fights he got into over said name were random, and the apathy that meant his grades fell was random, and the trouble he got into out of boredom was random. His parents shipping him off to the army to beat some discipline into him was random, too.
No logical progression there /at all/.
Boot camp was a novel experience. Head shaved and uniform clad, his name shortened (for the sake of a nametag that would actually fit across his chest) to simply "Gren Eckener", he learned how to fight in a way that would let him win, learned how to fire a gun, learned how to survive. It was, in its way, fun. If he had believed in Fate, he might have speculated that all his prior life was simply leading up to this point. There was a whole solar system out there, and he was going to get to see it.
Join the army! Travel to new, exciting places, see new and exciting cultures, meet new and exciting people - and kill them!
It wasn't real to him until it was happening all around. And then it was a nightmare.
The enemy. If they had a name any more, he'd forgotten. Everyone just said 'the enemy', as if there were only one. As if only the artillery shells, tanks, and various men with guns were the problem. Titan wasn't a new and exciting place. Titan was /Hell/. Or, at the very least, training grounds for it. Everything, from the dry heat to the dust storms to the scorpions to - yes, the other army - was 'the enemy'. You couldn't lose to any of them. Every week there was at least one more man dead of a scorpion's sting, at least a few more lost to the constant sandstorms, at least a few more lost to the heat. Gren sometimes wondered why The Enemy bothered firing shells at them. Surely just fencing them in and waiting would do the job as well. And why fight over a desert moon anyway?
But there was one, unmitigated blessing; the men of his unit. Throughout his life, Gren had been alone - not because he particularly wanted to be, but simply because no one had acted all that friendly around him. Here, in this outpost of Hell, the only thing standing between you and the guided tour was the men of your unit. You were friends because you damn sure didn't need any more enemies. You were friends because everyone needs someone. Shoulder to shoulder, both of you might live to sundown.
Shoulder to shoulder, you were comrades.
Gren had /comrades/. And he learned to fight ferociously to defend them.
Estavan had gone through boot camp with Gren. Unlike his comrade, Estavan hadn't been sent to the military; he'd chosen to sign up. "There's no money in music," he'd explained, when a stunned Gren asked him why on earth anyone would do such a thing. "I've got debts to pay off, and the tips don't roll in like they used to."
But he could play. Oh, he could /play/. In Estavan's hands, the saxophone had a throbbing, mellow life, and while the music played Gren didn't feel the ache in his muscles from the training. The only reason it took Gren a week to ask Estavan to show him how to do that was the difficulty in approaching someone whose talent made them so intensely attractive.
One night, after a really good performance and some really bad gin, Estavan proved that his hands could play more than a saxophone. Comrades. For a year. And then a stray artillery shell made sure there weren't even enough pieces of Estavan to bury. The men of the unit, by common agreement, gave Gren his saxophone. He was the only other man who could play the thing, after all. Comrades. You didn't cry in front of comrades. Not because it was weak, but because they were grieving too - and everyone had to keep moving, keep fighting. Gren played for them, because they'd asked him to, but it was hard to control his breathing and after a taps he stopped.
Men came and went in the unit - most left by dying, but they'd come from anywhere. Some because they were sent, as Gren had been sent. Some because, like Estavan, they'd had debts to pay off. A few were sentenced to serve as punishment for a crime - those, Gren and the other regulars tried to avoid.
And one came from nowhere he would name. Not that Vicious was prone to telling anyone anything much about himself anyway. Bets were laid among the regulars. Vicious was cold, and talented with weapons. He came from one of the syndicates. Or maybe, because he was distant and apathetic, he'd volunteered to get over a broken heart. Or he was just psychotic, and signed up because in the army it's perfectly okay to shoot people for money.
All anyone really knew about the man, beyond his skill at staying alive, was his name. Gren was inclined to like him just for that - here, at last, a man had topped in one name what Gren had had to deal with in five. And he was very good at staying alive. Vicious never said anything, never seemed to be paying attention to anything. But he was never, ever, caught by surprise. And he fought like a very demon; within his first week he'd managed to save the lives of every one of the regulars, and not even stuck around for the cursory 'thanks'. Gratitude was at a premium; there was, after all, a war on. And saving one anothers' hides was what comradeship was for.
But Vicious did not have comrades. He didn't seem to need them. He was complete in himself, and most of the men started to feel that if he saved your life, he was going to ask for it back somewhere down the line. Suspicions rose that Vicious was part of a syndicate - the question then becoming why on earth one of the syndicates would have an interest in Titan. But then, why did anyone else?
Vicious never seemed to say, do, or have anything personal. He was as real as a golem, as full of life as a machine. Until Gren, enjoying a quiet smoke in the trench that was his unit's base and shelter for the time being, saw Vicious sitting on the ground, playing a tiny little music box with an unfocused look in his eyes. Having a good idea by now that startling Vicious could result in severe internal injuries, Gren moved and slowly sat down next to him, keeping his voice friendly and unthreatening. "What's that song?"
"Julia," Vicious replied quietly, not looking up from the little turning drum.
Part of Gren was surprised. So a woman had sent him here after all? He should have taken bets with the men who swore Vicious was with the syndicates. "That's a good tune, nice melody," he offered, lighting up another cigarette to hide nerves. Vicious was always so private, after all. "Would you mind if I played that tune on my sax when I get back home?"
It was a throwaway offer, only meant to cheer, make conversation, but Vicious looked up from the little box at that. Held it out in his hand, and his face was the hard mask he always wore. When - unable to think of anything else to do - Gren held out his own hand, Vicious put the music box in it and turned away.
Gren was stunned. Vicious - Vicious who didn't need anyone, didn't talk to anyone, didn't do favors for anyone - Vicious had given him a /gift/. And information about himself. Not much, but even knowing Vicious connected the song with someone named Julia was more than anyone else on Titan knew. He watched, quietly stunned, as Vicious rose -
And nearly died of a heart attack as the man suddenly whirled around with his combat knife in hand, jamming it into the hard earth right next to Gren's left ear.
Gren froze, looking up at that hard face, those frozen eyes, trying not to think about the knife next to his ear. Had he found out too much? Was Vicious going to kill him for knowing that something mattered in the white-haired man's life? Terrified, his eyes slid from Vicious' face to the knife in the rock...and saw the scorpion there, cut neatly in half by the blade's strike.
Three gifts. A personal detail, a music box, and now Gren's own life. Vicious yanked his knife free and sheathed it with the same fluid movement one would expect of a swordsman, bent down, picked up his rifle, and walked away.
It was only then that Gren dared to breathe. Held the little box up to his eyes, turned the little handle, listened to the tinny tune. It was soft and gentle, and he smiled when he thought of how it would sound when played on his sax. He'd make it sound really, really good.
He wound up the little drum whenever he had the chance - most often just after his unit had finished moving around for the day - and soon had the tune memorized. After that it wasn't hard to play it on Estavan's old saxophone, and in an odd way it felt...appropriate. It was the sort of melody his old companion would have done justice to.
Vicious was a man of few words, Gren found, but it was hard to misinterpret his appreciation. Gren played it first for him - "To make sure Julia wouldn't mind," as Gren had said by way of reason - in Vicious' own tent.
It was like being loved by a sword, or a gun. There was no part of Vicious that was not steel, there were no words that were not harsh on the ears, no touches that wouldn't leave marks. It was like being loved by one of Titan's own sandstorms, hot and harsh...and all-encompassing.
It was a gift that was bestowed on no other man in the unit, and Gren was not about to be ungrateful. He watched, he learned - having been given an unparalleled opportunity - and he survived in a war where the average lifespan was under six months. He didn't expect overtures or romance, and didn't get them. What he expected, he got - a man who would, unfailingly, watch his back. A comrade.
And under his fingers, the song from the music box was love, and pride, and strength.
The line for the baggage queue was interminable, and Gren was relieved when he finally got to the front. "Name?" asked the handler.
"Gren Eckener," he replied with a grin. At last, to be home - to play Estavan's sax in the clubs, and see if the old boy had been right about tips.
The handler checked his screen and nodded, pressing a button. Instead of a door sliding open with Gren's duffel and chest on the other side, an MP rose from a nearby chair and came forward.
"You'll have to come with me, sir," said the MP flatly, laying his hand in an uncompromising grip on Gren's arm.
Gren wasn't about to argue - he was far too bewildered. He'd only just gotten off the transport. "What's going on?"
"Not for me to say, sir, come with me..."
"Who are your superiors?" demanded the examiner, thumping the thin steel table dramatically with a thick-fingered hand. "Look, there's no point pretending innocence at this point, Eckener. We've got solid evidence and corroborating testimony that you did in fact reveal to person or persons unknown up-to-the-day details of your unit's movements and it's a wonder more of them didn't die. All we want to know is who you talked to."
"Evidence?" Gren repeated, lost. "Testimony? I haven't transmitted anything - look, my CO will tell you I served honorably -"
"And my CO can pin a dozen counts of espionage on your shirt before lunch," snarled the examiner, "with the evidence we already /have/." He stood up, annoyed. "Look, I don't have to play games with you. You don't want to confess, make it easy on yourself, fine. Between the off-planet transmission records and Vicious' testimony, I've already got enough to put you behind bars for the rest of your life." He turned to the military policemen standing guard at the doorway. "Get this loser out of my sight."
"Wait!" cried Gren, as the police moved to obey, grabbing his arms and hauling him bodily out of his chair. "Testimony? Vicious? What did he say? What are you talking about?"
But no one was interested.
Not the policemen with their blank, unreadable expressions as they hauled him to a cell.
Not the lawyers, or the judge, or the jurors, who were handed years - years - worth of transmission records and the written testimony of one man named Vicious.
No one. He wasn't even able to find out what it was that Vicious had actually said about him. The arrest, the trial, and the sentencing were a blur, a whirlwind of events that began and concluded so swiftly that Gren kept wanting to go back to when he'd understood life and people and start again from there, only on half speed so he might actually be able to see what was going on.
And then time slowed.... to .... a .... crawl.
Prison will do that.
They say that the first night in prison is the hardest. That it's not really real until the bars slam closed on you, in the cells of steel and stone, when you're shivering from the hose-down and the shave and your skin stings from the delousing do you know that it's not a dream.
Gren was waiting for that moment when he would know that it wasn't a dream. It certainly felt like one. Part of him was sure that he'd just fallen asleep on the transport from Titan, that everything since then was just a dream, just a nightmare, and he'd wake up soon. He knew he wasn't a spy, and Vicious was his comrade/, they'd saved each other's lives dozens of times over, slept in each others' arms, Vicious wouldn't /lie about him like that, it made no /sense/. Vicious had never lied. Why lie now? Why like this?
He wasn't allowed to wonder long. Even a several-years' veteran of Titan was only one man, and there were no comrades here. His mind distracted, still trying to make sense of what he'd been told at the trial, Gren quickly went down before the vultures and jackals that now constituted his world.
Maybe they lied, he thought, lying awake one night pinned to his bunk, with a heavy bull-queer sleeping on his back. I wasn't a spy. I never was a spy. If they can make up the charges then they can make up the testimony too.
Sleeping, without comrades to watch his back, was even more dangerous than it had been on Titan. Sleeping meant being defenseless against the beasts on all sides, sleeping meant waking to questions unanswered or various mentionable or unmentionable body parts being shoved in his face. Sleeping meant waking to horror. At least if he stayed awake he'd have a vague idea how it started.
Mind and body agreed waking up was a bad idea. The agreed-on solution was simply not to sleep. His mind occupied every waking moment with trying to make sense of the charges, the trial, the testimony. His body kept itself busy trying to get through a day unmolested.
When he began to hallucinate from the lack of sleep, he was so preoccupied he didn't notice. At least, not until his mind mistook the hand of a guard for another attacker. The resulting scuffle ended in several cracked ribs, uncountable bruises, and a very small cell of his very own.
And a visit from the prison psychiatrist. She was a remarkably pretty woman - dangerous in and of itself in this environment - and apparently used to that appearance having an effect on the men in her charge.
Gren barely saw her. To his sleep deprived, fractured mind, the bare cell was coated in sand and slime and stank of squid, and she was a ghost covered in mud. It would have been horrifying, were it not for the fact that Gren was well beyond horror now and living in the calm, frigid waters on the other side. She spoke to him, but he made no answer; ghosts were not real, after all.
She spoke nonsense, anyway. She kept it up for a while before realizing he wasn't going to talk to a muddy spirit, and then moved closer.
Gren attacked, screaming words he later could not remember.
Drugs were wonderful things. In a certain way of thinking. Twice a day, Gren received injections - morning and evening, left arm and right arm. It didn't change much that happened to him - his pretty face, his beautiful hair, and his slight frame still combined to make him the most sought-after target of the other inmates - but it no longer mattered. Gren was living in his body no longer. Rather he was steering himself from outside himself, a part of and apart from his surroundings.
The drugs made him calm; the drugs let him sleep. No matter who was doing what to him. They also thinned his waist and gave him breasts. If anything, it only increased his popularity.
Somewhere outside of himself, Gren was still /aware/. Aware of himself, aware of his surroundings. Aware, at times, of a raging need for whatever had been in the injections. Addicted. He was addicted. And now somewhere between male and female, as well.
Gren watched himself falling, day by day and week by week, into apathy. Loose shirts hid his breasts, though prison rumor meant that he went through a lot of shirts as they were ripped open by larger and stronger men to display them anyway. He could fight off his attackers, but there were always more. There were five other men in his cell with him; five times a night at the least, he was passed hand to hand and body to body, and fighting only meant a rougher night. There wasn't any point in fighting. It was like persuading water to run uphill.
Down, and down, and down. Caring less and less about anything but getting the fix of drugs that made him more and more something between male and female. That didn't matter much; he'd never set much store by what men were and weren't supposed to be, or do. What mattered was that the more female, the more /womanish/, he seemed to the men around him - the more painful his life became.
Down, and down, and down - until, one day, he found out about red-eye.
What's one more drug, to an addict? And this one had decided benefits. He could fight off most of his attackers, seeing their movements in more than enough time to avoid them.
Seeing. Seeing differently. A plan began to form.
Six weeks later, disguised as a laundrywoman, Gren escaped the prison. In the laundry cart, under piles of dirty sheets, were two bodies (the woman he'd killed for her clothes, and the dealer) and a large sack which, underneath his clothes and his saxophone case, was filled with vials of red-eye.
The red-eye was only to make sure he wasn't caught again too quickly. It let him avoid the guards, surprise a pilot who'd just refueled his ship, and navigate the unwieldy beast through the gate before the escape sirens had sounded.
The frozen moon of Callisto was practically designed for people like Gren. The population consisted mostly of men on the run, all looking out for themselves, and therefore not generally inclined to be helpful to either policemen or bounty hunters. And they were starved - not just for company, which they generally satisfied with each other sooner or later, but for anything that took them out of themselves, away from the harsh, cold grit of their existences.
The Blue Crow was a famous bar on Callisto. Signs all over the moon pointed the way to it. When Gren walked in - clean, and in clean clothes, with his saxophone case at his side, because this was a job interview of a kind even if the proprietor didn't know it yet - he decided that the reason the Blue Crow was so famous was because it was, in point of fact, /clean/. And had more to drink than cheap vodka and bathtub gin.
Gren played the song from the music box - partially because it was still the song he knew best, and partially to see if the man knew it at all - and was hired on the spot to play, every night. Money enough for room and board, and tips would keep his life comfortable. A saxophone was well suited to the mood of most of the men of Callisto.
He was there for - several months, at least, settling in. Although his taste for men hadn't changed, Gren found that his taste in men most certainly had. The military prison had destroyed any desire he'd once had for men atop him, and the men of Callisto were by and large no more scrupulous of character than the men of the prison in any case. Gren knew he was innocent of the charges laid against him. He also knew that this was probably not true of anyone he met, no matter what they said on the matter.
He played his saxophone every night, used the tips to pay for furniture for his apartment. He put the campaign photographs on his wall, near his telephone. Vicious. Last love. The end of the dream? Or the beginning? The question still nagged at him, looking at the still frames. Did you betray me? But there was no one on Callisto who knew of Vicious. No one who knew of a Titan veteran with white hair and pale eyes, and a breathtaking grace with blades.
It was only a matter of time, Gren believed. Vicious was not a man of small ability, of small worth. Sooner or later, someone would come to Callisto who knew of Vicious. And then he'd have a trail to follow, to hunt Vicious down and find out the truth.
He wasn't expecting the 'someone' to be a woman, though.
She would have caused comment simply for being female, here where women were rarer than diamonds. But she was not only female, she was a bombshell blonde with a face like an angel of mercy and a voice like prayer, who wore leather lined with fur as if nothing could be more usual. Gren was playing with a pianist by then, and concentrating on following the man's occasionally-erratic tempo and chord changes so that the sound wouldn't cut into his tips, so he didn't see her come in.
He just looked up at the end of the song to find her there, sitting on the corner barstool, sipping at her drink and watching him with sad, tired eyes. And here, he knew, was a kindred spirit - she really couldn't be more out of place than she was, after all. And she was safe enough here, but he wouldn't lay bets on that once she got out the door.
"Do you have a request?" he asked politely.
She ducked her head as if to hide her face behind her hair. "I don't remember the name," she said.
The feeling of not-belonging was very strong around her. Whatever reason she had for coming to Callisto, it wasn't a good one. She didn't belong here for reasons greater than merely being female. And she felt so...not innocent. Something else. Like more had been asked of her than should ever have been done, and it took something that would never come back. "Hum it for me?" he offered, gently enough.
She didn't blush, he noticed. Shy as she was, she didn't blush. Only swallowed, closed her eyes, and hummed the tune she wanted.
It was the same tune he'd learned from the music box. Gren blinked. "I know that song," he admitted, faintly. "I've known it for years. Here, let me play it for you."
He took a few seconds to compose himself, and then began the song. Ovid, his pianist, picked up the accompaniment they'd worked out a long time before.
She smiled, and it was a beautiful, sad smile. Gren adored it in the way that he would have adored a fine sculpture, or a perfect photograph, and knew that this woman really didn't belong here at all. But she knew the song...the song that Vicious had given him. When, after his set was over, she got up to leave, he hurried to catch up with her.
"Excuse me, miss, please," he said, to catch her attention, reaching out his arm. "Are you - are you Julia?"
She spun around at that, and looked haunted, hunted. "How did you know that?" she asked quickly, her eyes very steady - and fearful - on his, as her hand reached for her pocket. "Who are you?"
Gren stood very still. He was fairly sure - fairly sure - he could beat Julia in a fight. But he didn't want to fight her. Not when she was connected to Vicious. Not when she was the first lead, the only lead, he had to finding Vicious. And if he didn't get her off the street quickly, she'd be in a lot of trouble with the locals. "It's not safe here," he said in a low voice. "Please - if it makes you feel better you can point the gun at me as we go, but we need to get off the streets. You're attracting a lot of attention."
"I can see that," she replied, equally quietly, equally calm. She nodded, once, and he led her back to his flat.
"There are no women here," he said. "That alone puts you in danger."
"From you as well, one assumes," she replied, somewhat drily.
"I'm not into women," was Gren's short response, unlocking the door. "You're probably safer with me than with most of the men here. Quick, inside."
She didn't need to be told twice - probably because it wasn't hard to see how random movements kept bringing more and more people near to her. The moment the door was opened, in she ducked - and Gren quickly closed and locked the door behind them, locking the deadbolts. He leaned his back against the door, puffing a little sigh of relief. "I don't think I'm answering the door for a while."
Julia's eyes were very steady. "I hope you're planning on letting me out again," she said evenly.
"Yes, of course," he blinked. "I only want to talk. You're the first person to know that song - and your name is Julia."
"Which is more than I know about you," she pointed out, one hand in her jacket pocket - probably around a gun. "And I'm in your apartment, which you've just locked me in."
"My name is Gren,", said Gren, smiling a little. "And -"
"You know Vicious," she said in a dead sort of tone. Her eyes had gone past him, to the wall where he had his pictures taped.
"Actually, that's what I'm hoping you can tell me," Gren replied, as Julia pulled her handgun out of her pocket. Her aim with it was remarkably competent and steady.
"What do you mean?"
Gren swallowed. She was hardly the first person to aim a loaded gun at him, even in the past week, but there was something split about Julia. She still radiated this odd sort of softness, even when she was quite competently prepared to shoot him. It was unnerving. "I mean...look, could you please put that away? I'm not going to hurt you. I just need to talk to you."
Julia sighed, and put her gun away. "So you keep saying. Why should I believe you?"
An odd question to ask, after putting the gun away, Gren reflected - but he had an answer he could give her that would probably suit. He took off his coat and hung it up, and then unbuttoned his loose shirt. "Because...I'm not quite as I appear," he offered.
The sight of bare breasts and decided cleavage certainly startled Julia, and Gren waited as she searched his face - trying to decide, male or female. For the moment, she seemed to settle on 'female' - as Gren had hoped - and therefore harmless to her. She took a seat on the couch, watching him as he buttoned his shirt up again. "Vicious was my - lover," she admitted, and the way her voice caught on the last word told Gren it wasn't the first one she would have used.
"Vicious was my comrade," Gren returned, nodding at the wall. "At least, I thought he was. He watched my back as I watched his, we fought shoulder to shoulder on the deserts of Titan...and he gave me your name, and a music box that played your song."
Julia was staring at him as if he'd lost his mind, and he wondered why. "Vicious - gave you the box?" she asked, faintly incredulous. "What happened?"
Gren wondered what she knew, and continued his story hoping to find out. "I played the song on it until I learned it by heart," he said, fetching the box and setting it down before her. She watched it with the alert stare of someone who expected it to explode, or bite her. "And then, after the war, I was arrested, tried, and convicted of espionage." He let a note of pleading enter his voice. "They said...Vicious testified against me."
Julia was still staring at the little box. "Break it," she said. "He gave it to you - break it open. Take a look inside it."
She sounded very sure. And she was still watching the box, and not him. Slowly, so as not to startle her, Gren picked up the box and carefully took it apart.
Inside the tune-drum, geared to the spring so that it would be powered by the drum turning, was a small transmitter. Gren tipped it out, held it in his hand. So. This was why he'd been arrested for espionage - this was why he'd spent years in that hellhole of a prison. There was reason for the charges after all.
He hurled the tiny thing at the wall, heard it smash. "Why?" he demanded.
With the transmitter destroyed, Julia was much calmer - in fact, in a way, her eyes on him were dead. "Vicious was my lover," she repeated. "I - found someone else. I'm sure he's alive, somewhere. I thought he might be here. I don't want Vicious to find me."
"He's not here," said Gren shortly. "Vicious isn't here. No one who's even heard of Vicious is here. I've been trying, trying to find someone to tell me where he is. I need to hear from him - I need to know why."
"Because he's Vicious," said Julia, and he didn't know if she meant the person or the character quality. Either would be accurate. Her voice softened. "When he heard - I'd found someone else...he told me I would have to kill - my new lover. Or he would kill me. I ran."
It was hard to believe. She was the Julia, the one the song belonged to. But she'd been right about the music box. She didn't seem to be lying - certainly had no reason to do so.
It was a wonderful month. Julia stayed to search for her lover, wandering around town during the day - he learned she could quite take care of herself, that her aim and speed were enough to keep her safe as long as her gun held bullets enough - and in the evenings she had a game of slipping in when he wasn't looking, sitting on the corner barstool. After his sets, she went with him back to his own flat and they'd talk, sharing stories. Gren told her - after she'd slept on the couch in safety a few nights - about his time in prison and the drugs that had changed his body. He told her about Estavan and his saxophone. He very pointedly did not discuss Vicious with her any more.
And Julia told him about her lover, Spike. All about Spike - from the way he looked to the way he sounded to the way he walked, and when she maundered on at length about the two colors of his eyes and how strange it felt to look into them, Gren could almost believe she was as innocent as her face and voice made her seem.
Finally, Julia seemed satisfied that Spike was not to be found on Callisto. One night she said, "I'm leaving tomorrow."
Gren sighed. "It's been nice, having someone to talk to," he said. "And walk with. Where are you going to go?"
She smiled her pretty, sad smile. "Better that you don't know," she said. "We're going in opposite directions, after all. Are you sure you want to find Vicious?"
"Yes," Gren said with a nod. "I know - I know you find it hard to believe that I can have faith in him. But you weren't /there/, Julia. You weren't on Titan with us. He saved my life so many times. I can't believe he'd go to the trouble just to betray me."
"I can," she said quietly, with those sad eyes. "But if you're sure..."
"I am," Gren repeated. "Can you help me? Will you?"
Delicate fingers reached up to gently cup his cheek - she was a very touching sort of person, once she knew he was safe to be friendly and familiar with. "Vicious is with the Red Dragons," she said softly. "On Mars. If you're careful, you can draw him out that way - make him come to you, here. I wish I could believe the advantage would help you. Plan it carefully, Gren. I can't tell you more without making it obvious I was the one who helped you."
"Can I use your name?" he asked. "He gave it to me, with the music box. It wouldn't mean anything."
"Better mine than Spike's," she laughed quietly.
"If I see him, I'll tell him I saw you," said Gren. "I can't give him any way to find you, can I?"
"No," said Julia. "If Vicious finds Spike, he'll kill him. I'm sorry. But at least Spike will know I'm still alive. That's something, anyway. The dealers in red-eye should be able to help you contact the Red Dragons."
"Red-eye?" asked Gren, surprised. "That's - very helpful, Julia, thank you." He pulled away, so that her hand fell to her side. He was going to miss having a friend. A comrade, of sorts. "I suppose I should help you pack. There's always something left behind, if you leave it to the last minute."
It had taken two years. Two years of being friendly with the dealers, the stash of red-eye he'd taken with him out of prison a thought he could barely stand to hold in his mind. Two years, to gain the codewords and the frequencies and a transmitter strong enough to use both from Jupiter to Mars. When everything was ready, down to his last present for Vicious if all of Julia's words turned out to be true, he sent the transmission from the back room of the /Blue Crow/, on the frequency used by the Red Dragons, just before going out to do his set.
Message/transaction codename: Julia
/Offer to sell 7500 grams of red-eye at 30,000 woolongs per gram, payable in Titan opals. Find me at this location or contact at telephone 05-03-425-1610./
It was time to find out what comradeship was really for.