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Authors: Kristine Smith

Code of Conduct

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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Kristine Smith
Code of Conduct

The visible aspects of the condition, it is believed, first manifested themselves during a stressful period in the patient's life. Therefore, the mild agitation that commonly precedes the acute phase, although evident, was easily ascribable to the patient's augmentation or other, more mundane, causes
.

—Internal Communication, Neoclona/Seattle, Shroud, J., Parini, V., concerning Patient S-1

Contents

Epigraph

Chapter 1

The frigid morning dampness seeped through Jani's weatherall as she…

Chapter 2

Scrub and sand blurred past as Jani concentrated on the…

Chapter 3

Amsun Primary's VIP wing exuded the chilly luxury of a…

Chapter 4

The balance of the meal passed uneventfully. Make that the…

Chapter 5

“Do you have anything to declare, madam?”

Chapter 6

Jani sat in the living room of her suite, which…

Chapter 7

“Your government takes issue with the bidding, nìRau?”

Chapter 8

Jani followed Steve into the dining hall and waited as…

Chapter 9

Jani found Evan waiting for her in the Interior executive…

Chapter 10

“His troops would follow him anywhere, but only for the…

Chapter 11

The “thank-you” Jani's back gave her for spending the night…

Chapter 12

Doyle handed over the House access codes with the eggshell…

Chapter 13

“NìRau?”

Chapter 14

Jani sat at her desk, office door closed, curtains drawn…

Chapter 15

A still-pouting Claire poked her head into the hallway and…

Chapter 16

The note had been written on Ulanova's personal stationery, Tsecha…

Chapter 17

A jovial “Come in, Risa” sounded through the door just…

Chapter 18

It seemed only seconds had passed when Jani felt a…

Chapter 19

Jani ignored a staffer's efforts to announce her arrival and…

Chapter 20

“Here is your seat, sir. Would you like a program?”

Chapter 21

What do you think, Eamon?

Chapter 22

Angevin's office, at the opposite end of the wing from…

Chapter 23

The skimmer shuddered as it skirted the border between Exterior…

Chapter 24

Jani punched her pillow and turned over. Again. Again. I…

Chapter 25

Ridgeway joined Jani inside the parts-bin vending alcove; they took…

Chapter 26

Tsecha shifted against the rigid metal frame of his uncushioned…

Chapter 27

Jani entered the infirmary to find Angevin in the midst…

Chapter 28

“How the hell did you get in here?”

Chapter 29

Jani keyed into Doc Control's Archive wing. As she studied…

Chapter 30

“Of course you understand, nìRau, that much depends on your…

Chapter 31

She lay on her back. She couldn't move. Efforts to…

Chapter 32

Evan stood at the bar in his dimly lit office.

Chapter 33

Jani opened her eyes. The view was white and brightly…

Chapter 34

“Where are you taking me?” Jani lagged behind Lucien as…

Epilogue

The stylus moved across the blank parchment. Beneath the moving…

The frigid morning dampness seeped through Jani's weatherall as she hurried out of the charge lot. She jammed the notes from her crack-of-dawn meeting into the side pocket of her duffel; as she did, she quickly surveyed the scene behind her. Rain-slick skimmers hovered beside boxy charge stations. Trickle-charge lights glimmered like distant stars. A single streetlight bathed everything in a cold blue sheen. No movement in the ice-light. No sound.

Jani took a step. Stopped. She could feel eyes follow her, could sense their probing like a skin-crawl across her shoulders. She turned.

A few meters away, a feral cat regarded her from its perch atop a discarded shipping crate. It stared at her for a few moments, then poured to the ground and vanished into an alley. Seconds later, Jani heard the scatter of garbage, followed by a strangled squeak.

Sounds familiar
. The poor mouse. It probably never knew what hit it. Jani could sympathize. Her meeting had gone much the same way.

It's like everyone's forgotten Whalen's Planet exists, girly. Commercial traffic at the docks is down sixty percent in the last two weeks. That's six-oh
.

She trotted down a side street that led to the main thoroughfare. Her right knee locked as she turned the corner, and she stumbled against a pair of mutually supportive inebriates who had emerged from one of NorthPort's many bars.

One of the drunks shouted as Jani disentangled herself and
hurried away. Something about how her limp made her ass wiggle. She looked over her shoulder, caught glimpses of brightly colored ship patches and a slack-jawed leer. She felt the heat creep up her neck and kept moving.

She entered the lobby of a hostel that catered to merchant-fleet officers, tossing a wave to the desk clerk as she hurried to the holoVee alcove. Several employees already sat on the floor in front of the display screen, their positions carefully gauged to allow them a clear view of the front desk.

On the lookout for the manager
. Jani kept quiet until she entered within range of the holoVee's soundshielding. She knew an unauthorized break when she saw one. “Is this it?”

One of the cleaners nodded. “Hi, Cory,” she said without looking up. “It's the CapNet broadcast. It's just getting started.”

Jani did a quick mental roll call of the small group, counting faces, uniforms. She didn't know their names—she tried to avoid the complication of names whenever possible. “Where's the garage guy?”

“He's still out sick,” the cleaner said. “Should be back tomorrow. He'll be mad he missed this.” The young woman grinned. “I'll tell him you asked about him. He thinks you jam.”

Jani responded with her “Cory” smile. Quiet. Closed. A smile whose owner would blush and keep walking. She leaned against a planter and surveyed with satisfaction the lack of fuss that greeted her arrival. Yes, Cory Sato, documents technician, had settled quite nicely in NorthPort over the last six months. Jani Kilian had never seemed farther away.

Until her morning meeting.

Business has dropped over the side these past two weeks, girly. NUVA-SCAN annex won't answer our calls. Even the Haárin are complaining. But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you
?

An overwrought voice interrupted Jani's troubled meditation. “A great honor is being paid the Commonwealth,” the CapNet reporter gushed, “opening a new and exciting chapter in human-idomeni relations!”

Spoken like someone who has no idea what she's talking
about
, Jani thought as she watched members of the Commonwealth Cabinet walk out onto the sheltered stage that had been erected in front of the Prime Minister's palatial Main House. Steam puffed from their mouths. A few of the coatless ministers shivered in their formal, color-coded uniforms. Chicago in winter looked even less hospitable than NorthPort, if that was possible.

Treasury Minister Abascal, ever-flushed face glowing in lurid contrast to his gold tunic, trundled to the podium “to say a few words.”

“Where's the ambassador?” someone grumbled.

“He doesn't come out till later—you want the poor old bastard to freeze to death?”

“Never get to see him at this rate.” One of the day-shift waiters checked his timepiece. “All fourteen ministers gonna talk—it'll be hours.”

“Not all fourteen,” said the restaurant hostess. “Van Reuter's not there.”

Really
? Jani studied the rows of faces, looking for the one she knew. Had known. Long ago. “Too bad,” she said. “He's the best speaker of the bunch.”

“You like him?” The waiter glanced at Jani over his shoulder and sneered. “He's a Family boy nance.”

“He knows the idomeni,” Jani replied. “That's more than you can say for the rest of them.”

“You don't see him much since his wife died,” the hostess said. “Poor man.”

“You hear about him, though,” the waiter muttered. “Nance.”

On-screen, Abascal finished to scattered applause and gave way to Commerce Minister al-Muhammed. Jani leaned forward, straining to hear the commentary over the buzz of multiple conversations. Commerce controlled trade and transport schedules—maybe something al-Muhammed said would shed light on the slowdown around Whalen.

“Is al-Muhammed the ‘A' in NUVA or the ‘A' in SCAN?” someone piped, drowning out the minister's voice.

Oh blow
! Jani shouldered her bag and walked through the middle of the huddle. “Al-Muhammed's the ‘A' in SCAN,”
she said, bumping the speaker in the back of his head with her knee.

“He's another nance,” griped the waiter.

“Cory, I thought you wanted to see this,” someone called after her. “You'll miss the ambassador.”

“I have to go. I'll catch it somewhere else.” Somewhere quieter. She should have known better than to try to watch the program with others. Some things needed to be studied in private. Pondered. Mulled.

We've officially reopened relations with the idomeni
. Jani rubbed her stomach, which had begun to ache.
Wonderful
. She walked past buildings of black-and-yellow thermal scan-brick toward NorthPort's Government Hall. The elegant twelve-story edifice loomed over all like a stern but forgiving patriarch, offering numerous types of guidance to his wayward children. Audit assistance from External Revenue Out-reach. Documents counseling from the Commerce and Treasury Ministry annexes. By all appearances, family relations appeared very close.

Appearances, as the old saying went, could be deceiving.

Why you always hang about with the nances at Guv Hall, girly? What goes on there so interesting you need to see it every day
?

She increased her pace as she headed out of the business district, monitoring her stride in shop windows and mirror-glazed brick. She had only become aware of the hitch in her walk over the past couple of months, and had attributed it to a combination of the NorthPort weather and a cheap mattress.

Among other things
. Jani took a step.
Right foot down
. Another.
Left foot…down
. She had to assume that. She hadn't much sensation in her left leg. Or her left arm. The lack of feeling sometimes made quick movement an adventure, but she maneuvered pretty well for a half-animandroid patch job.
And my ass does not wiggle
—she glanced at her reflection—
not much, anyway
.

Block after block fell behind as she tried to walk off her growing apprehension. She passed warehouses, long-term skimmer charge lots, then a three-hundred-meter stretch of sand and scrub before coming to the houses.

The facades of the one- and two-story polystone homes
would have appeared familiar to most humans, but a careful observer would have noticed the subtle alterations. Smaller, fewer windows. No doors opening out to the street. Blank walls facing the human side of town.
For humanish ways are strange ways, and godly idomeni avert their eyes
.

The low clouds opened. Cold rain splattered down. Jani yanked the hood of her weatherall up over her head, but not before looking around to see if she was being observed. She wouldn't be welcomed here. The made-sect Haárin, like their more disciplined born-sect counterparts, preferred that their humanish neighbors keep their distance.

Except when it comes to business
. The Haárin were non-violent criminals and other idomeni social anomalies, their manufactured sect the pit into which the born-sects dumped their misfits. Even though Jani understood the Haárin better than most, she still couldn't be sure whether they settled on human worlds because they enjoyed aggravating their governing Council or because they actually liked the neighborhood. They definitely enjoyed learning concepts like float-rebound accounting. They liked dealing, and possessed a disrespect for Commonwealth rules and regs that was almost colonial in its fervor.

They're probably all at the gathering hall, waiting for Tsecha's speech
. The reopening of formal diplomatic relations between the Commonwealth and the Shèrá worldskein, and the subsequent reevaluation of trade and taxation laws, concerned them as much as it did Jani's bosses in the Merchants' Association.

I foresee busy times ahead for documents technicians
. Jani squinted as the rain pelted harder and thick fog wended around homes and down the empty street. Then a shadowed movement in the murky distance caught her eye; her stomach clenched as it always did when she saw a NorthPort Haárin. Their born-sect forebears had been Vynshàrau and Pathen, and the strains had remained undiluted. The approaching Haárin was rope-muscled, slender, and two meters tall. His yellow-orange skin, which screamed
jaundice
to humans, in idomeni reality marked the races that originated in Shèrá's desert regions.

It's only Genta
. Jani's anxiety subsided. The shuttle dealer
walked toward her with long, loose-limbed strides. His dark green overrobe clung wetly to his matching belted shirt and trousers, the hem catching on the fasteners of his knee-high boots. Clothing drenched, fine brown hair plastered to his scalp, the Haárin appeared completely at ease. With his narrow shoulders, age-grooved jowls, and wide-spaced yellow eyes, he bore more than a passing resemblance to a bored cheetah.

“Nìa Chaw-ree.” Genta crossed an arm over his chest in greeting. His right arm, palm facing inward. A sign of regard, if not respect. “You ar-re noth ath a holoVee, watching speeches? That is wher-re all idomeni ar-re, watching speeches.” The English words tumbled from barely moving lips, all trilled r's and fuzzed hard consonants. “Insthead, you ar-re her-re in the rain.”

“Yes, ní Genta—I don't like speeches,” Jani replied as she returned Genta's greeting gesture.
And I have some nerves to walk off
. But a Haárin wouldn't know a nerve if it reared up and bit him in the ass, so no use mentioning that. “Why aren't you in the gathering hall? Tsecha's born Vynshàrau—they've always been friends of Haárin. You might like what he has to say.”

Genta held a spindle-fingered hand to his face and brushed water from his hairless cheeks. His stare pierced Jani. She, of all people, should have been used to it by now, but the direct gaze of idomeni eyes, dark irises surrounded by more lightly colored sclera, could still disconcert. Looking strangers in the eye was taboo for all born-sect idomeni, but the NorthPort Haárin were adopting the custom as a matter of good business. The fact that it rattled the hell out of most humans had nothing to do with it. Of course not.

“I did not wait for Vynshàrau to tell me to live with humanish,” Genta said, “and I do not need what Vynshàrau says now to work with humanish.” Like all his fellow world-men, he became much more intelligible when he had a point to make. “NìRau Tsecha is not for Haárin. He is not for Vynshàrau, or even for idomeni. He is for something
here
”—he thumped the middle of his stomach, where most idomeni believed the soul resided—“and to fight for such does not extend GateWay rights or alter contract law.” With a dis
tracted gesture of departure, he started back down the street.

“It will be bad for business,” he continued, his rumbling voice deadened by the fog. “Bad, as it was before. Even now it starts—where are all the ships these past weeks? No good can come from this. No good.” With that, Genta disappeared into the swallowing mist, leaving Jani alone in the rain.

 

Eventually, she returned to the human side of town. She wandered from storefront to storefront, finally joining a small crowd that had gathered in front of a communications shop. Every holoVee screen in the window contained the image of Prime Minister Cao.

“And now, fellow ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,” Cao paused, drawing out the moment, “it is my honor and my privilege to introduce His Excellency, ambassador of the Shèrá worldskein, of the Vynshàrau and of all idomeni peoples—”

“Sects,” Jani muttered.

“—Ègri nìRau Tsecha.” Cao looked off to the side and extended her arm. “Excellency!”

Jani sensed the tension around her as, on the screen, a familiar face came into view. Familiar not because of the Genta-like skin tone, the same gold eyes and long, straight nose, but because of something deeper, something older. She felt wet cold wind brush her face and imagined it drier, hotter. Instead of damp mingled with the acid bitterness of skimmer cells, the sweet odor of lamptree blooms filled the air. The crowd surrounding her towered above her, wore flowing overrobes, and spoke in lilting rises and falls.

Eighteen years ago, in the godly capital of Rauta Shèràa, when we both were known by the names we'd been born with
—

“Dear-rest fr-riends—”

—
I almost got you killed, didn't I, nìRau
?

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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