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The Exile Kiss

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The Exile Kiss

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Author: George Alec Effinger
Publisher: Doubleday Foundation, 1991
Series: Budayeen: Marîd Audran: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Cyberpunk
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Marîd Audran has risen from hustling on the streets of the decadent Budayeen ghetto to being the right-hand man of one of the Maghreb’s most feared men. As an enforcer for the powerful Friedlander Bey, Marîd is just beginning to enjoy his newfound wealth and privilege, when he and Bey are betrayed by a rival and accused of murder.

Sentenced to exile and abandoned to die in the vast Arabian desert, Marîd and Bey must somehow survive the searing sands and make their way back to the now-hostile Budayeen-and, then, take their vengeance.

By turns thrilling and philosophical, The Exile Kiss is the culmination of one of the great works of modern SF.


Chapter One

It never occurred to me that I might be kidnapped. There was no reason why it should. The day had certainly begun innocently enough. I'd snapped wide awake just before dawn, thanks to an experimental add-on I wear on my anterior brain implant. That plug is the one that gives me powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. As far as I know, I'm the only person around with two implants.

One of these special daddies blasts me into full consciousness at any hour I choose. I've learned to use it along with another daddy that supercharges my body to remove alcohol and drugs from my system at better than the normal rate. That way I don't wake up still drunk or damaged. Others have suffered in the past because of my hangovers, and I've sworn never to let that happen again.

I took a shower, trimmed my red beard, and dressed in an expensive, sand-colored gallebeya, with the white knit skullcap of my Algerian homeland on my head. I was hungry, and my slave, Kmuzu, normally prepared my meals, but I had a breakfast appointment with Friedlander Bey. That would be after the morning call to prayer, so I had about thirty minutes free. I crossed from the west wing of Friedlander Bey's great house to the east, and rapped on the door to my wife's apartment.

Indihar answered it wearing a white satin dressing gown I'd given her, her chestnut hair coiled tightly on the back of her head. Indihar's large, dark eyes narrowed. "I wish you good morning, husband," she said. She was not terrifically pleased to see me.

Indihar's youngest child, four-year-old Hâkim, clung to her and cried. I could hear Jirji and Zahra screaming at each other from another room. Senalda, the Valencian maid I'd hired, was nowhere in evidence. I'd accepted the responsibility of supporting the family because I felt partly to blame for the death of Indihar's husband. Papa—Friedlander Bey—had decided that in order to accomplish such a worthy goal without causing gossip, I also had to marry Indihar and formally adopt the three children. I couldn't remember another instance when Papa had cared at all about gossip.

Nevertheless, despite Indihar's outrage and my flat refusal, the two of us now found ourselves man and wife. Papa always got his way. Some time ago, Friedlander Bey had grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shaken the dust off me and turned me from a small-time hustler into a heavy hitter in the city's underworld.

So Hâkim was now legally . . . my son, as queasy as that concept made me. I'd never been around kids before and I didn't know how to act with them. Believe me, they could tell. I hoisted the boy up and smiled in his jelly-smeared face. "Well, why are you crying, O Clever One?" I said. Hâkim stopped just long enough to suck in a huge breath, then started wailing even louder.

Indihar gave an impatient grunt. "Please, husband," she said, "don't try being a big brother. Jirji is his big brother." She lifted Hâkim out of my arms and dropped him back to the floor.

"I'm not trying to be a big brother."

"Then don't try being a pal, either. He doesn't need a pal. He needs a father."

"Right," I said. "You just tell me what a father does, and I'll do it." I'd been trying my best for weeks, but Indihar had only given me a hard time. I was getting very tired of it.

She laughed humorlessly and shooed Hâkim toward the rear of the apartment. "Is there some actual point to this visit, husband?" she asked.

"Indihar, if you could just stop resenting me a little, maybe we could make the best of this situation. I mean, how awful could it be for you here?"

"Why don't you ask Kmuzu how he feels?" she said. She still hadn't invited me into the suite.

I'd had enough of standing in the hall, and I pushed by her into the parlor. I sat down on a couch. Indihar glared at me for a few seconds, then sighed and sat on a chair facing me. "I've explained it all before," I said. "Papa has been giving me things. Gifts I didn't want, like my implants and Chiriga's bar and Kmuzu."

"And me," she said.

"Yes, and you. He's trying to strip me of all my friends. He doesn't want me to keep any of my old attachments."

"You could simply refuse, husband. Did you ever think of that?"

How I wished it were that easy! "When I had my skull amped," I said, "Friedlander Bey paid the doctors to wire the punishment center of my brain."

"The punishment center? Not the pleasure center?"

I grinned ruefully. "If he'd had the pleasure center wired, I'd probably already be dead. That's what happens to those wireheads. It wouldn't have taken me long, either."

Indihar frowned. "Well, then, I don't understand. Why the punishment center? Why would you want—"

I raised a hand and cut her off. "Hey, I didn't want it! Papa had it done without my knowledge. He's got lots of little electronic gimmicks that can remotely stimulate my pain centers. That's how he keeps me in line." Learning recently that he was truly my mother's grandfather had not disposed me more favorably toward him. Not as long as he refused to discuss the matter of my liberty.

I saw her shudder. "I didn't know that, husband."

"I haven't told many people about it. But Papa's always there looking over my shoulder, ready to jam his thumb on the agony button if I do something he doesn't like."

"So you're a prisoner, too," said Indihar. "You're his slave, as much as the rest of us."

I didn't see any need to reply. The situation was a trifle different in my case, because I shared Friedlander Bey's blood, and I felt obliged to try to love him. I hadn't actually succeeded in that yet. I had a difficult time dealing with that emotion in the first place, and Papa wasn't making it easy for me.

Indihar reached out her hand to me, and I took it. It was the first time since we'd been married that she'd relented any at all. I saw that her palm and fingers were still stained a faint yellow-orange, from the henna her friends had applied the morning of our wedding. It had been a very unusual ceremony, because Papa had declared that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to marry anyone but a maiden. Indihar was, of course, a widow with three children, so he had her declared an honorary virgin. Nobody laughed.

The wedding itself was a mixture of customs observed in the city as well as those from Indihar's native Egyptian village. It pretended to be the joining of a young virgin and a Maghrebi youth of promising fortune. Friedlander Bey announced that it wasn't necessary to fetch Indihar's family to the celebration, that her friends from the Budayeen could stand in for them.

"We'll pass over the ritual certification, of course," Indihar had said.

"What's that?" I asked. I was afraid that at the last minute, I was going to be required to take some kind of written test that I should've been studying for ever since puberty.

"In some backward Muslim lands," explained Friedlander Bey, "on the wedding night, the bride is taken into a bedroom, away from all the other guests. The women of both families hold her down on the bed. The husband wraps a white cloth around his forefinger, and inserts it to prove the girl's virginity. If the cloth comes out stained with blood, the husband passes it out to the bride's father, who then marches around waving it on a stick for all to see."

"But this is the seventeenth century of the Hegira!" I said, astonished.

Indihar shrugged. "It's a moment of great pride for the bride's parents. It proves they've raised a chaste and worthy daughter. When I was first married, I wept at the indignity until I heard the cheers and joy of the guests. Then I knew that my marriage had been blessed, and that I'd become a woman in the eyes of the village."

"As you say, my daughter," said Friedlander Bey, "in this instance such a certification will not be required." Papa could be reasonable if he didn't stand to lose anything by it.

I'd bought Indihar a fine gold wedding band, as well as the traditional second piece of jewelry. Chiri, my not-so-silent partner, helped me select the gift in one of the expensive boutiques east of the Boulevard il-Jameel, where the Europeans shopped. It was a brooch, an emerald-encrusted lizard made of gold, with two rubies for eyes. It had cost me twelve thousand kiam, and it was the most expensive single item I'd ever purchased. I gave it to Indihar the morning of the wedding. She opened the satin-lined box, looked at the emerald lizard for a few seconds, and then said, "Thank you, Marîd." She never mentioned it again, and I never saw her wear it.

Copyright © 1991 by George Alec Effinger


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