The Olodumare Hegemony rules the entire solar system. Led by Oba Isembi, the primary agents of his rule are the Ori-Inu: highly trained telepathic operatives, who do the Oba's dirty work. They are found and trained by Orisha.
When Ori-Inu start disappearing, Isembi sends his finest Orisha, Hembadoon, to investigate. But when he is injured in a refinery explosion, it's up to Folami—Isembi's best, most powerful Ori-Inu—to learn the truth about the missing operatives.
Folami uncovers a conspiracy to overthrow Isembi, encounters an old comrade whom she thought was dead, and awakens hidden memories that rock her very identity to its core!
"One thing that works really well in Guilt in Innocence is that there's no real good or evil between the different factions depicted in this novel. At first the main protagonist (and the reader) is tending to sympathise with the one side, than with the other side, only to come to the realisation in the end that the best you probably will find is that our 'heroes' are on their own and have to arrange with the lesser of two evils. There are some plot points that aren't really new – like plans to enhance capabilities going wrong or old friends ending up on different sides of a conflict – but DeCandido makes it work, and that's once again mainly due to his excellent character work."– Jens Deffner, Unreality-SF.net
Folami stared at the man in the L'owuro infirmary and tried to figure out why she knew who he was.
She'd come across a few Orisha in her time. Orisha were the ones who found and trained potential Ori-Inu, but they didn't interact with them much after that training was complete, so she hadn't met all that many.
Hembadoon was not one of them.
Doctor Modupe was running a scan on him. Folami noted that Hembadoon was still wearing the white robes of his station. That surprised her at first, that Modupe had left it on, but then she recalled that Orisha robes, like Ori-Inu body armor, came with built-in first aid. Also, Orisha were high-level agents of the Hegemony. These were not people that a mere shipboard medic could disrobe with impunity.
"How is he, Doctor?"
Modupe almost leapt a meter into the air. "Orioda, you scared me, Folami!"
"Sorry," she lied. "I just wanted to know how he was doing."
"Physically, he should be okay. His toga, or whatever it is, kept him from dying, and I was able to stitch up the rest of it. About an hour ago, he woke up, and he's all nice and coherent, but I had to sedate him again to keep him from leaping out of bed—the man needs to heal, not gad about like a madman. He's going to need a week in a convalchair, but that's not the problem." Modupe shoved a reader in her face.
Folami took it, even though it was full of colored indicators that didn't actually mean anything to her.
"See that?" Modupe inexplicably expected her to recognize something in particular.
He snatched it back quickly. "According to every scan L'owuro knows how to make, Orisha Hembadoon's telepathy is at fourth level."
Folami nodded. Fifth-level was the cutoff for telepaths. Second through fourth levels often came with some kind of sensitivity to psionics, which was a handy skill for a Orisha, and indeed most were in that range. Most humans, of course, were first-level, which meant no psionic ability or sensitivity whatsoever.
Then Modupe dropped the other glove. "I checked Hembadoon's file—he's a third-level. Has been all his life."
That brought Folami up short. "Seriously?"
"Yes!" Modupe's voice cracked. "This is completely insane! Telepathy level doesn't change!"
"Maybe his original reading was wrong?" Even as Folami said it, she didn't sound convinced.
Modupe was quite convinced, though, as he got even shriller. "He was tested before he joined the Orisha, again after he completed his training, and again during his last physical, and every time, third-level!" Then he whirled on Folami. "Hold still a second, will you?" Modupe rummaged around one of the drawers set into the bulkhead of the infirmary.
As he did so, Folami looked down at Hembadoon. Modupe had gotten rid of the blood and healed the burns on the Orisha's face. His hair still needed to grow back where it had been scorched, but still it was definitely a face she knew quite well, even though she'd never seen him before today. She recognized his brown eyes, his rounded face, that odd shape to his nose…
What is going on here?
Turning around, Folami saw Modupe holding out two small squares, which she recognized as a pair of field telepathy index readers. Even as Folami took one square from the doctor, Modupe put the other on Hembadoon's sleeping forehead. Folami did likewise with hers; it adhered to her flesh instantly.
Modupe then entered a command into his handheld unit, and Folami felt a dozen or so tiny needles prick through her skin and hit the bone of her skull. His brow furrowed, the doctor scratched the thatch of hair on his left cheek while he waited.
After a second, the needles retracted. Even though Folami didn't reach for it, Modupe yelled, "Don't take it off, yet! It needs to stop the bleedi—"
"This isn't my first time using one of these," Folami said testily. "Well?"
"See for yourself." Modupe held up the unit display-out. Dark blue on a pale blue background provided the following: subject 1: 4. subject 2: 10.
"Assuming I was subject two," Folami said dryly, "it's accurate."
"Of course you were! I just don't understand it!"
Folami, however, was having thoughts in that direction.
Before she could articulate them, the intercom sounded. "Ori-Inu, report to War Chief Tobi's cabin immediately."
Now she took the square off her forehead. The pinprick wounds in her head had healed over, and the blood wiped away (even minor head wounds bled profusely). Dropping it on the nearest table, she headed for the exit, ignoring Modupe's complaining about how she could have just handed it to him.
I'm starting to understand why nobody likes him.
She sauntered through the corridors of L'owuro. Everyone avoided getting too close to her, some going so far as to push themselves against the bulkheads.
Filthy buruku, (I bet it'd) I can't believe they let (be great with her.) her just walk (She's probably) the corridors (reading my mind) like that. I'm glad she's here, (right now!!!!) but does she (I hope) have to be (they have the) such a beautiful (meat loaf tonight.) girl? I (I love) don't want (the meat) a protector (loaf) I want (with bacon) to fuck.
It was the curse of being tenth-level. She didn't pry—even if it was legal, just the thought of it made her almost break out in hives—but she couldn't keep out the obvious strong emotional thoughts. The cavalry and support staff who walked the corridors of L'owuro right now had very emotional thoughts, and the only ones that weren't negative thoughts directed at her came from the one—one of the cavalry chiefs—with the meat-loaf-and-bacon fetish.
Turning a corridor led her to the cul-de-sac which ended with the war chief's cabin. Before even approaching the door, she sensed two minds inside, one of which was scared witless.
Definitely not Tobi, Folami thought with a smile. The war chief didn't do fear. Folami figured that would lead him to do something spectacularly stupid in the field one day. Tobi was generally good enough that his inability to let fear temper his reactions didn't matter all that much. But Folami figured it was only a matter of time.
I just have to hope he's got a different Ori-Inu assigned to him when it does happen.
The steel door to the cabin slid aside at her approach, which meant that the war chief had programmed the door to recognize her and let her in, something he'd never done before.
Tobi kept his desk facing the front door from a distance of only a couple of meters, so his face was the first thing you saw when you came into his cabin. Right now that face was scowling. He was in his dress uniform, which was also unusual, and might have been the reason for the scowl, since Tobi probably would have chosen to again go out in a dashiki with nothing under it than his dress reds.
The war chief sat behind his desk, his massive form framed by the dozens of weapons that hung on the wall behind him. Folami recognized all of them, various models by Ayoka and Bayo, as well as a few by Oledele, even though his designs weren't favored much these days.
Very little was on the desk itself: a standard terminal, two data readers, and nothing else.
The source of the fear she had felt outside was the young cavalryman standing next to Tobi. Based on Folami's surface read, the young man had never been summoned to Tobi's presence before, and he probably would have lived a much happier life if he'd gone through it without that particular experience. The cavalryman's hairline was receding, and his high forehead was glistening with sweat. His hands were clasped tensely behind his back in a largely futile attempt to hide his nervousness.
"Reporting as ordered," Folami said with a salute. Since they were outside the military rank structure—or above it, depending on who one asked—Ori-Inu weren't required to salute anyone, but Folami always did so anyhow.
If Tobi appreciated it, he had yet to show it. He simply returned the salute and said, "Cavalryman, report to the Ori-Inu."
The junior officer swallowed audibly. "Uhm, well, we completed the atmospheric analysis on the battle site. There was, ah, some kind of—of, well, gas that was released in the initial explosion that—that the computer didn't, uh, didn't recognize. Entirely."
Folami frowned. "That was a Kaduna refinery, wasn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am. And I, ah, I checked the scans against everything Kaduna has on—on record. Unfortunately, whatever this stuff is, it disperses pretty, uh—well, pretty quickly. From the time you and Rufiji hit dirt to when you did that thing with the Eso, the concentration went down from—from eighty parts per million to two parts per trillion. We don't even have a proper—proper sample. We re-ran the scans four times to be—to be sure, but the results were the same every time."
Tobi stared at Folami the entire time that the cavalryman spoke with what the war chief had probably hoped was a penetrating stare. It had yet to faze Folami.
"Thank you, Cavalryman, that'll be all."
"Thank you, sir." He practically ran past Folami to the door. A first-level could have detected his relief at being excused.
As soon as the door slid shut, Tobi activated the holoviewer on his desk, which then provided an image of Orisha Hembadoon, along with the abstract from a classified file. "This," the war chief said, "is your Orisha buddy's mission. He was investigating Ori-Inu who've been disappearing."
Folami's eyes widened. "I'm sorry?"
"Not only that, but it's a level-seven mission straight from the Oba."
Smiling, Folami said, "I was wondering why you were wearing the first-class uni."
"Yeah." In one drawn-out syllable, Tobi managed to pack a great deal of disdain for Oba Isembi's protocol that all line officers report to him in dress uniforms when practical. "That's why you're here. We need to report to Oba Isembi. As soon as the flight deck has the signal, they'll let us know."
Tobi rose to his feet, then, and moved toward the sideboard that was under the collection of weapons. He snatched a thick-bottomed glass from the lower shelf and poured an amber liquid from an etched glass carafe. Then the war chief turned to scowl at Folami, and she could read that thought loud and clear: Go ahead, buruku, wait for me to offer you a drink.
"War Chief," Folami said with a sigh, "if you want to intimidate me, I have a suggestion: make your skin chitinous, replace your hands and feet with claws, and take your orders from Oyo rebels. Otherwise, you're just wasting your energy."
Tobi had poured himself a sour mash from back home on Ife, and he slugged it down before responding. "Why would I try to intimidate you? That would be like trying to intimidate this glass of booze—or my pistol. You're just another tool, Ori-Inu. I'm thinking you need some help reading people. You're getting intimidation mixed up with contempt."
Folami's retort was interrupted by the voice of the Eji-shift communications officer. "Flight deck to War Chief Tobi."
Sitting back down at his desk, Tobi touched a control on his terminal. "Tobi."
"Oba Isembi is ready for his audience with you, War Chief."
Tobi, based on both his expression and surface thoughts, didn't think much of the protocol that forced the officer to express a comm from Ife in such a manner, either.
"Put him through, Cavalryman."
The image projected by the holoviewer on the desk changed from that of Hembadoon to that of the Hegemony's monarch. Folami had long admired the man, and even met him a few times, and she never failed to be impressed by his presence. She often wondered how it was that Tobi managed to convince people to follow him into battle, but such questions had never occurred to her regarding the Oba.
Without preamble, Isembi asked, "Where's Orisha Hembadoon?"
"Still unconscious, my Oba," Folami said, her head inclined slightly out of respect.
"However," Tobi said, "the last report he filed on his ship indicated he was going to talk to someone named Kosoko, who was the last person the Ori-Inu he was looking for was seen talking to. The dead body we found nearest to the Orisha was identified as having that same name."
Isembi gritted his teeth. "I assume, War Chief, that you've read the Orisha's mission profile?"
"Just now, my Oba."
"Good, because as of now, you're attached to it. Folami, so are you. Until the Orisha regains consciousness, you are to take over his investigation. I want to find out where my Ori-Inu have gone."
"Sir, there's more," Folami said before Tobi could speak. She hadn't intended to overwrite him like that, but it was done. "The explosion that injured Orisha Hembadoon—and killed Kosoko, for that matter—released a gas into the atmosphere. The L'owuro lab couldn't identify it."
"What kind of— No, you said that your lab couldn't identify it."
"We do know that the gas has some kind of effect on telepathic ability, my Oba. According to the ship's doctor, Orisha Hembadoon's psionic level has gone up a full level."
Isembi's thick eyebrows raised at that. "Really?"
Folami nodded. "It also—I think it might have affected me as well."
"In what way?"
"Weird flashes of—of things I don't remember." The next sentence came out of Folami's mouth practically unbidden. "Probably hallucinations of some kind."
She managed to control her reaction to her own words. But she also lied to the Oba. For some reason, she thought it was critically important that Oba Isembi not know that she was regaining old memories. She knew that she'd been mindwiped upon completion of her training. She was permitted to remember that training, but not anything else that came before. Ori-Inu did the job better if they were unencumbered by their previous lives.
Folami was morally certain that the flashes she'd gotten in the field were from that erased past. If it came to that, that was probably how she knew Orisha Hembadoon—as like as not, he was the one who recruited and trained her.
So why don't I want Oba Isembi to know about it?
She shoved the question into the back of her mind, and finished her report. "The gas doesn't match anything currently being produced by the Kaduna facilities, nor is it a naturally occurring gas."
"I want to know what this gas is. I've already diverted all the Ori-Inu within a day's travel of Oshun to you—Folami, I hereby appoint you to be the senior in the field. Full interrogation methods are authorized."
Being senior in the field meant that, for this mission, all the Ori-Inu reported to her. The authorization meant she and the other Ori-Inu could scan all they wanted to anyone considered a significant person in the investigation, as long as they could justify it after the fact.
"War Chief, I want daily progress reports from you. L'owuro is to be the center point for the investigation. When the Ori-Inu arrive, find accommodations for them—either on your ship or commandeered space on the surface. The Ori-Inu are authorized to use Orisha priority."
"War Chief Tobi, I want my Ori-Inu back. And I want to know why a gas that alters telepathy levels is being manufactured without my knowledge. If these wants are not satisfied, I will hold you personally responsible. You do not wish to disappoint me."
Once Isembi's visage faded from the holoviewer, Tobi glared at Folami. "Mind telling me when you were planning on sharing the information about the gas with me?"
"I only just found out before you summoned me here."
"I don't appreciate being sideswiped like that, Ori-Inu."
Feigning confusion, Folami asked, "What difference does it make? You were going to find out anyhow—this way I only had to explain it once."
Tobi started to speak, but Folami really didn't feel like being on the receiving end of his abuse any longer.
"It's going to take them some time to get themselves together on the surface, and I'd rather not interrupt the cleanup efforts after the mess we made. Besides, I want to give Orisha Hembadoon a chance to wake up so we don't repeat any of his work—and the other Ori-Inu won't be here until tomorrow. So I won't need any of your people until tomorrow at the earliest."
With that, Folami turned and left Tobi's presence.
Even as she departed, she was surprised at her own haughtiness. She was acting perfectly within her rights as an Ori-Inu. Not only didn't she report to Tobi, but he was pretty much her chauffeur when he wasn't being combat support. Still, she'd never been so dismissive of a cavalry commander before.
I have got to find out what that gas was.
Folami was still exhausted from the fight against the Eso, so she headed straight to her own cabin.
Turning the corner, she felt a familiar set of thoughts, and then saw the face that went with them. Unlike the other personnel on board, this one didn't go out of his way to avoid her. Instead, the smiling face and near-bald head of Adejola met her head-on.
"Folami! How are you? Feeling better after your workout with the Eso?"
Chuckling, Folami said, "More than a workout, but yeah, I'm fine. I was just going to study my eyelids for a while."
She could feel his disappointment in that, which confused her. "That's too bad," he said, words mirroring thoughts.
"Well, I was all set to invite you to join me for dinner."
Folami's confusion only deepened. "Why would you want to do that?"
Adejola laughed. "Why wouldn't I? You're a beautiful woman, an interesting conversationalist, and I want to get to know you better. Inviting you to dinner seems to me like the obvious next step."
"I'm Ori-Inu," she said slowly.
Folami blinked. Intellectually, she knew that people who were interested in each other dined together. But nobody had ever been interested in her enough to ask—or if they were, they were too intimidated to ask. Generally, when she shared her meals with anyone, it was either other Ori-Inu or a cavalry company she was attached to that had limited mess facilities. A one-on-one dinner was simply out of her range of experiences.
That she remembered, anyhow. Though whatever new memories that gas on Oshun had squeezed forward didn't seem to include anything like this.
A term did suddenly leap into her brain: date. Adejola was asking her out on a date.
"Look," Adejola said, "every time I go out with a woman, there's always a certain—well, frustration with her inability to get what I'm thinking. I figure with you, that won't be an issue."
At that, Folami barked out a laugh. "I don't know if I should mix business with pleasure."
That got Adejola to laugh, and she realized that he had done so in her presence twice. It was exceedingly rare to find a flatbrain who laughed with her.
Another thought came to her, and that was the one that convinced her to say yes: If Tobi found out, he'd be furious.
"All right," Folami said. "Shall we proceed to the mess hall, Cavalry Chief?"
"I was hoping for something more private. Maybe your quarters—this way you're on safe ground."
That brought Folami up short. There was no shortage of cavalry on this vessel of both sexes whose dream was to be inside Folami's quarters, and not to share a meal. But if Adejola had such a desire, he kept it tamped down fairly well.
And he was right, it was her own territory, so she could set the rules.
Plus, she was an Ori-Inu, and he was just a pilot. If he tried anything untoward, she'd be able to kill him without even trying very hard.
The dinner that Folami and Adejola shared was not the best—it was still prepared by the same chef who made all the mediocre meals on L'owuro—but it was still the finest Folami had had in a long time.
Adejola spent a lot of time talking about himself. "Believe it or not, I never wanted to be a pilot. Every other spacehopper I've ever met has been completely locked into that, that they just had to be a pilot, like it's a drug."
"But not you?" Folami asked.
Shaking his head, Adejola said, "Nope. I mean, I was always good at it. Me and some friends back home on Ife, we took flying lessons one year for fun. See, I grew up with four other friends, and there one of them, Egba, was kind of the pack leader, y'know? She was one of the types who always wanted to fly. The other four of us kinda got sucked up into it with her."
"So you all took lessons?" Folami asked after sipping the awful wine that was all Tobi had allowed in the cargo hold. The war chief said that decision was based on the notion that the cavalry were less likely to show up on duty drunk if the only option was bad wine. In practice, the notion hadn't worked out so well. A cavalry who was determined to drink would take whatever was available. Knowing Tobi, Folami assumed that he figured if cavalry were going to get drunk, they were going to suffer for it by drinking vinegar.
"Yeah, and I was the only one who took to it. Poor Egba was a terrible pilot. No aptitude for it, and she had depth-perception issues."
Folami frowned. "She had a depth-perception problem and she wanted to fly?"
"We didn't know she had it, or we would've stopped her."
"How could she not know she had it?" Folami knew that there were those on the colony worlds who did not have access to even the most basic medical care, but that was rare on Ife itself, particularly with someone who could afford piloting lessons.
Adejola chuckled. "I said we didn't know, not that she didn't know."
Folami shook her head. "I will never understand that."
After sipping her wine, and almost choking it down, she replied. "Dangerous self-delusion. It's one thing to strive for something that's difficult, but to ignore something your body's incapable of… I just don't understand it."
"Well, as a telepath, you're a lot more aware of what your body can and can't do. Egba, she'd never needed depth-perception before. Not really."
"So she failed?"
"Never even made it that far—they wouldn't let her into the simulator once they scanned her. She got completely crazy over it and wanted to just turn around and leave. But the rest of us had already paid our fee, so we went on with the lessons." He sipped some wine also, then winced before continuing. "At the end of it all, she wasn't speaking to any of us because we 'betrayed' her, and I got a rating of fifteen."
While Folami had no idea what that rating meant, she could tell from the manner in which Adejola said it and from the pride in his thoughts that his fifteen rating was akin to her being a tenth-level telepath. "So you pursued it?"
"Honestly, I was seventeen, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and suddenly I found something I was good at. Plus, my other friends, even though they went through with what they paid for, eventually took Egba's side. They all thought I betrayed their trust by signing up for a formal piloting school."
Adejola shrugged. "Way I see it, if they were willing to end the friendship over that—if Egba's being happy was more important than my being happy—then it wasn't a friendship worth salvaging."
"So you joined the cavalry?"
"Not exactly—I did private jobs, at first. But this was back before the war, and a lot of my clients were Oyo. Once Yemoja blew up, work was harder to come by, so I let myself be recruited by the Cavalry."
Folami smiled. "I can imagine." But something nagged at the back of her mind. When he'd referred to Yemoja blowing up, Folami had felt her heart skip a beat. It made no sense—unless, perhaps, she'd been to Yemoja before its destruction?
The conversation went on from there, and by the time they got to dessert—a near-tasteless cocoa cake—Folami asked the question that had been on her mind since Adejola had first talked to her on the flight deck.
"Cavalry Chief, why did you ask me on this date?"
Another laugh. Folami decided she liked his laugh. "I'll tell you, but you have to agree to call me Adejola."
She smiled. "Okay, Adejola, why did you ask me—"
"Because I wanted to get to know you. Everyone treats you like a weapon or an object, and I don't think that's fair. I guess I got used to that from when I was working commissions. Nobody paid any attention to me, I was just a part of the machinery."
"And you didn't like that feeling, I take it?"
"No." Adejola leaned forward. "I see you being treated the same way, and I don't like it. You're a person, no more a part of the machinery than I was. I figured you should be treated like one."
Folami popped the last of the awful cake into her mouth, looked at Adejola, and smiled, saying, "Thank you for that, Adejola."
And she meant it. The notion of being treated like other people was as completely outside her range of previous experience as a date was, and she found that she liked both a great deal.