Off the Grid and Lost – Danny Ryder

I figure it’s time you meet someone else on Thanah – one of the Gathered, Danny Ryder. He starts out as a bad boy – an ex-con, one with a desperate need to belong to something, a gang, whatever. So long as they’ll have his back, he’ll have theirs. But things don’t work out the way he planned… and he realizes there’s someone he wants to protect.

Month 5, day 26 – 186 days on Thanah

somewhere in the House

Nobody seemed to know where Ryder was lately, not his bad-ass homeboys, nor the Ouroi. He showed up for his work shift every day, looking rougher than usual but doing his job with a dogged focus. Just sort of keeping his head down, like he was thinking hard while doing something else. Shift done, he’d ghost over to the dining hall and eat—and then disappear off the House radar. Since in general no-one was much interested in looking for him, no-one much missed him either. His pack could care less—Roach was still pissed at him over the stupid kid, and the others found it safer to follow Roach’s lead rather than risk crossing him anyway. Still, even Roach wondered every once in a while where Ryder’d got to, in an annoyed, sort of missing-having-a-whipping-boy kind of way.

Where he was, was lost. Something—or someone—had poked him in a place he’d thought long dead, and now he was trying to figure out if this was a good thing or a bad thing. It had been a very long time since he’d thought about anyone but himself, and now he couldn’t seem to think about anyone else but her.

He didn’t really know why yet, hadn’t figured it out, but ever since he’d talked to the redhead in the back hall she’d been sort of there in the back of his mind. How she’d given him his space, coming on him like that. How she’d listened, really listened, to what he’d said; had seemed to believe him. How she’d caught on so quick that he had to cover himself, caught the ball and didn’t fumble. There was something to her that stuck in his mind like a sandbur and wouldn’t let go.

There was something going on with her, too, something big, something that when he thought about it set his teeth on edge like biting into a piece of tinfoil. She didn’t dress or act like a skank or a ho, but there was still the rumor in the House that she had some guy outside, real rough trade. But it didn’t fit with what he saw of her, and he couldn’t figure how anyone else could believe that. So something was going down, and she was deep in the middle of it.

Jimmy Spitz, a young kid he’d met in the House that was also from Brooklyn, he worked in the gym and he said she was in there like three-four hours every day, working out like a crazy person with some guy Arvanis and that security guy, Sinclair. Said they were teaching her all sorts of stuff he’d never seen before—not just karate stuff but wrestling and boxing and like that.

He’d learned she went out every two weeks with the Keeper, Kanti, but then Kanti came back alone every time and the redhead came back hours later all beat to shit and looking like she’d been run over flat by a garbage truck. Now maybe the word was true and she had some rough trade going—but those hours in the gym said something else to Ryder. That kind of drive said obsession to him, that there was something so big in her mind that was worth taking that kind of punishment.

He remembered back to that day in the dining hall when she’d laid the smackdown on him. She’d been beat all to shit like they said, and looked like she’d been through six kinds of hell. She’d hit him like a piledriver, looking crazy, freakin’ like she was on drugs. Now he was thinking it was something else—something worse, something sick. He knew a girl who’d been gang-raped, back home. She’d had that same look in her eyes, got the same freak on if somebody touched her when she didn’t see it coming. He’d heard she’d walked off a subway platform in front of an inbound.

The redhead, though—she was taking it the other way, fighting it, trying to make herself stronger, strong enough to take whoever was doing—whatever—to her.

The only thing he couldn’t figure out was why. There had to be a reason why someone would go out on purpose to take that kind of shit, and keep going back.

Maybe if he could figure out why, he could get her out of his skull and get back to his damn life.

* * *

The Fourteen Houses of Thanah

On the world of Thanah there is but one City. It is set on the eastern coast of a northern continent in a cirque valley on a high, high cliff, and it spills down to a harbor in the shelter of the mountain’s arms. The Fourteen Houses are spaced along the arc of the cirque like the prongs of a setting around the central jewel of the Agora, with the finest gem being the great Temple of Athēna Arkhegetis—Athēna the Originator—the founder, protector, and patroness of the City.

The Houses encompass the Lords of the City, their families, their workers and their families. Each House has its businesses, its offices, stores, warehouses and the like in locations throughout the City, but most of the workers live within the enclaves that are the physical Houses.

Within the Houses, the Master is the source of his or her House’s well-being—what each member needs to live: food, clothing, shelter, and health. Their House provides these to each member in exchange for their loyalty, their service, and their obedience. As with the great feudal lords of Europe, the Master of each House holds the rights of low, middle, and high justice: where his people interact within the House, his word is the final law. There is, of course, a certain parity of law across the Houses.

Elsewhere throughout the City, the Law is set by the Assembly; the lawmaking and governing body made up of the Masters of each House. Where people of multiple Houses interact, the Assembly is the final arbiter of law.

Thanah was settled more than two millennia ago by humans of Earth, brought there by an alien race known to them only as the Seekers. All that long time ago, a Seeker ship was cast away in the mountains above a great polis called Athenae, known to us now as Athens. The people that lived in the mountains befriended the Seekers and helped them to survive in their—to the Seekers—primitive world for the many years it took for a rescue to come. In gratitude, when the Seekers left for the stars they brought their human friends and servants with them, and settled them in the valley most like the mountains of their former home.

But as often happens, there was a worm at the heart of the beautiful fruit. Something in their new world was different. Whether it was something new and inimical, or something lacking, even the Seekers were unable to discover, and as generations passed children became fewer and fewer, and miscarriages more and more frequent. At long last the Seekers did the only thing they could think of to do: they went back to Earth and convinced more humans to return to Thanah with them in the hope that in time together they would discover and correct the problem.

It was not to be. At first again, the births were many, the children healthy, and the parents overjoyed. But once again the problem returned with succeeding generations. And so the Seekers went back—again, and again, and again.

In that same time, the Seekers taught the humans their technology, and their medicine, and all the other trappings of civilization.

And in that same time, the Seekers themselves waned as all life will eventually. When each Seeker knew its death was near, it took ship to seek a place among the stars, and soon there were no more Seekers. But the humans had learned well, and had built their own Ship, manned by them and sent out to the other colonies the Seekers had settled throughout the long generations. Colonies of humans, and of other races stranger still than the Seekers themselves. Through those years, the humans of the Ship of Stars traveled among the worlds as traders and explorers. But when it became clear that that their numbers would soon fall below what was needed to survive, the humans of the Ship went back to the world of their origin.

But they had never gone with the Seekers before and seen how they found their new colonists, and so the humans of the Ship simply took what they needed. Wherever there was a small village, or a group of people alone on a road or in a field, there the Ship-folk gathered their quarry, sending them to sleep with their technology and carrying them back to their new home of Thanah.

And so it is that the Gather-Ship travels a great circle among the stars, carrying goods and artworks and crafters in trade to the colonies, and thence back to Earth to acquire seeds and stock and goods and pretty things—and people. There is but one Gather-Ship, and its course among the stars takes almost twenty-five of Thanah’s years; more than twenty-seven of Earth’s.

This year, the ship brought back almost three thousand people from Earth. Among them was a young woman named Ari Dillon—and Thanah will never be the same.