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A short story by

Alex Irvine

"No," Drenthe said. "If they cannot be directed, I will stand fully apart. Half measures make for poor storytelling."

"You're the artist," Dario said.

Indeed, thought Drenthe. A third project began to reveal itself, incorporating and superseding both the initial job and the subversion he'd agreed to in the stateroom aboard the ship. There was a real documentary here, about oppressed workers being used as sacrifices to make a propaganda piece. (And he had been suborned into helping!) What if, instead, he could turn it into a propaganda piece about oppressed workers who discover that they were about to be sacrificed and instead turn the tables on their oppressors?

What could he do to make that happen?

* * *

Later that night, Drenthe emerged from his room and left the executive complex. "I am Drenthe," he said to the guard. He waved a holocam. "I am making a holo. Tonight I wish to gather some images of the complex and proving ground at night."

The guard looked him up and saw that he was listed as a visiting contractor with VIP privileges. He waved Drenthe through without comment. Drenthe passed, annoyed that the guard had not mentioned seeing any of his other works. What did people do out here for culture?

Once he was beyond the sight of the gate guard, no one was watching him. He walked along the edge of the factory works and skirted the proving ground, carrying a pair of handheld holocams whose feeds he could tap and which he could drop along the road where they wouldn't stand out amid the rest of the flotsam and industrial junk. Or, he thought, he could give them to someone. When he reached the road, he saw that the factory gate was guarded but the way to the town itself was open. Axiom, it seemed, did not care what the workers did as long as the company's main asset was protected. No doubt Axiom had spies and informants among the workers to root out the most vocal rebels.

Drenthe looked up at the sky and did what he had told the guard he intended to do. He took establishing images and holos of the factory works, the landscape, and the night sky of Bukari V. There were three moons visible, one of them overlapping another. This was something Drenthe had never seen. He devoted several minutes to the sight, considering the idea of eclipse, of masking, of disappearance and renewal. He watched the two overlapping moons gradually diverge, rapt and amazed at the sights the universe had to offer. Then it was time to get back to work. He had a holo to make.

The company town was dark and miserable. There was a single main street lined by two- and three-story prefabricated buildings. There were several bars and a single holovid theater showing a despicable piece of junk by a director Drenthe considered a moronic imitator of previous moronic imitators. People looked him up and down as he passed, but they did not speak to him, marking him out immediately as an interloper. Their fear and hostility were palpable. For a moment Drenthe feared for his safety, but his curiosity overrode those fears. His miniature holocams drank it all in.

Down side streets Drenthe saw squalor. Trash lay in piles in front of buildings that bespoke deep poverty. Windows were broken, roofs sagging. Drenthe recorded it all. He walked the main street until he found two men coming out of one of the bars. He thought he recognized one of them from the demonstration—tall, bald, scarred as if he had once been in combat—and the other was working at a loose tooth with thumb and forefinger. "Excuse me," Drenthe said. "I am Drenthe. I saw the conflict."

"Go to hell," said the man with the loose tooth.

"There was a woman with red hair. Quite a beauty," Drenthe said.

Both of the men stopped and looked carefully at Drenthe. "You're the holo director," the bald one said. "Drenthe."

"I am," Drenthe said, pleased to be recognized.

"We heard about you. You're making a holo of the Warhound test. AxO PR wouldn't shut up about it."

"Yeah," said the man with the loose tooth. "That's why we had the demonstration. Thought nobody would do anything with you around. So much for that."

You do not know how much worse it could have been, thought Drenthe.

"You want to talk to Ayla?" the bald man said. "Tough. She's not going to talk to an Axiom stooge."

"Yes, she is," Drenthe said. "There is something she needs to know."

"Tell you what," the bald man said. "I'll take you to see her, but the minute I don't like what you're saying I'm gonna kick your ass all the way back to Korhal. I've been in prison. I've seen war. I ate a fekking zergling once because I missed breakfast. Get what I'm saying?"

"Understood," Drenthe said. "Where is she?"

It turned out she was nearby in another bar, surrounded by loyalists who eyed Drenthe like he was something contagious. "I saw you in the disagreement yesterday," he said, approaching her.

"What about it?"

"What is your name?"

"Ayla."

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