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Authors: Kristine Smith

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BOOK: Code of Conduct
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“Oh, Evan.” Jani listened as he reaffirmed every point he'd made on the
Arapaho
. He left out his beliefs concerning Ulanova's ambitions, of course, but the intimation was there if you knew what to listen for. “I don't think that's what Anais had in mind.” She watched the Exterior Minister's vis
age grow stonier as each verbal missile Evan launched made target. “You spiked her, Evan. This was your chance to play nice, and you bit your playmates and kicked sand.”

A flash of silver-blond captured Jani's attention. She watched Lucien Pascal lean over Exterior Minister Ulanova's shoulder and whisper in her ear. The woman nodded sharply; Lucien responded with the smile Jani knew so well after five weeks on the
Arapaho
.


Roc cui'jaune
,” she whispered to the smug face on the screen. “That means ‘stones of brass,' you son of a bitch.” Lucien bent forward again, allowing her a clear view of the red lieutenant's bars adorning his Service tunic collar. “A mainline spine.” She squinted to see if she could pick up the tiny gold letter in the center of the bar.

“I spy with my little eye a letter
I
. Intelligence. Wonderful.” Jani switched off the holoVee and stared into the blank screen. “What the hell have I walked into?” She slumped against the soft cushions and studied the ceiling. Then she went into the kitchenette and applied herself to the still-warm bread, washing it down with another healthy dose of coffee. Afterward, she cleaned her dishes, zapped her trash, stored the uneaten food, and scrubbed until everything shone and even her old drill instructor could not have found fault.

Then she returned to her office and studied her columns. After a while, she flipped to a clean page, and wrote, “Lyssa's death—Martin's augie” along the top. When Lucien's sailracers distracted her, she slammed them facedown on the desktop. When she grew too exhausted to hold her head up, she stretched out on her office floor, duffel by her side, and slept.

“His troops would follow him anywhere, but only for the entertainment value.”

Tsecha stared at the sentence until his eyes felt desert-dry. Finally, he admitted surrender with a rumbling sigh and reactivated his handheld. The small unit had long since gone dormant; he had to rock and jostle it before the blue activator pad glowed and the display lightened.

You are as me, grown most old
. Tsecha entered codes and file keys both by voice and input pad, pausing frequently to allow the readout time to catch up. He practiced his English counting as the time passed.

Then, one after another, the words scrolled across the display, the looping curves and complex crosshatches of High Vynshàrau. Tsecha savored each nuance, every shading. Even after so long, he found his self-made dictionary most educating.

Entertainment
. He read the line again.
This officer's troops intend to watch from a distance, as though he walks a stage
. That implied they did not trust him. A poor thing, such mistrust. A threat to order. Why then did the Service maintain the officer?

Why did humanish do so many foolish things?


Aháret
.” Tsecha spoke aloud the Pathen Haárin word.
Why
? An unseemly question in the Pathen tongue. It implied the gods did not know what they did. He stared for a time at the bare, sand-colored walls of his room. Sand—such a comforting hue.

How I miss heat, and truly
. Heat, bright sun, and the bloom-laden trees of home. Relasetha and ìrel, fierce yellow and blessed red. The images he held in his memory seemed so much richer than the paper and paint ones that rested within niches in his walls.

I came to this damned cold place for a reason
. Why now did that reason seem as hard to grasp as Service English?

Tsecha toyed with his handheld. So much easier to grasp. And so much did it contain. Notes, translations, and definitions of his three most favored humanish tongues, English, French, and Mandarin. He ran a finger along the unit's scuffed, gouged black case.
So much we have been through—peace and war, the death of that which I was and the birth of that which I became
. He looked at the handheld's screen. It flickered. The display fragmented. Half the words lost all meaning, while some took on meanings quite strange. He bared his teeth.
I say you tell me jokes to ease my mind. But my suborns call you broken
.

Once he had, with great reluctance, allowed one of his communications suborns to attempt to transfer the knowledge in his aged device to one of the new bracketed-neuron models much valued by Vynshàrau intelligence. Tsecha had almost screamed himself when his unit whistled and screeched as the young female attached the interphases and initiated connections. He had torn it out of the transfer array just in time, she admitted later. Any longer, and his old friend would have…would have…

The connections had aged, the suborn said. The neural sheaths contained too much plaque, there had been too much cell death. A transfer was not possible.
At this time, nìRau
.

At any time.

We have aged together
. He stroked the plastic case, which felt warm and smooth as flesh beneath his fingers.
Perhaps together, we were meant to die
.

“Ah, you think of death again!” Tsecha rebuked himself aloud, in English. The language worked quite well for such. Its sharp, throaty sounds, aided by so much tongue and tooth, forced one to pay attention.

“So pay attention to this.” He paged through the copy of the Service Officer Fitness Assessment, combing for more
sentences that would challenge his knowledge and his repository. “The humanish think these words funny, and truly. Why?” It crossed Tsecha's mind that his hosts would be surprised to find an idomeni studying the personnel files of active officers in their military, but he felt it a point to be ignored. He wished to perfect his English, and Hansen Wyle had told him much of the language's meaning could be found in such humanish government files as this, in places “between the lines.”

So shall I search. Between lines
.

Tsecha put down the file he held and opened another, paging through sheet after sheet until he came to the entry with the latest date.

“This officer should go far. I'll drive.”

Tsecha stared and studied. This statement, he felt he understood.
Another incompetent—with so many, how do the humanish survive
? He closed the assessment and set it on the table beside his chair. He would have to remember to ask of his intelligence suborns where exactly they had obtained these files. They had insisted most strongly that their infiltration of humanish systems was not suspected.
But the humanish enjoy laughter so much
. A game, perhaps? Tsecha bared his teeth. Such, he understood most well.

He rose slowly from his rigid metal-and-wood seat, wincing at the popping sounds his aged joints made. He twisted and stretched his spine, worked blood and feeling back into his limbs. Humanish complained of uncomfortable idomeni furniture, but pain kept one sharp. Such did all believe. All idomeni, that is. Humanish were different. They could not accept the mind-focusing ability of pain.

He padded across the bare tiled floor, the same soft color as his walls. He opened a large wooden cupboard and stored his files in one of the touchlocked compartments of which his suborns knew. Then he pushed aside carved panels and etched veneers and opened a touchbox that contained things of which they knew not. Inside rested a ring, twin to his own ring of station, and a much thinner sheaf of documents.

Tsecha picked up the ring, held it under the light, savored its glisten. Then he returned it to its resting place and removed the documents.
Moragh
, he thought as he opened the file.
I
must find a humanish to tell me what means
, Moragh. He had already sought the meanings of his Captain's other two names and had come away from each quest still wanting. Perhaps the key was in
Moragh
. There had to be some hint, some foretelling, somewhere. Surely his Captain could not have faded away without leaving some type of trail. Some type of sign for him, who believed.

I fought the Laumrau for you. You are all that is order to me
. Tsecha returned to his chair and paged through the pale blue Service parchment. Long ago, some of the sheets had been stained by smoke, then by flame-retardant foam. Their surfaces shone greasy grey and mottled in his room's sunlike illumination.

I paid much to the Haárin to recover these from your Service base
. His debriders, dispatched to search the cleansing flames of Rauta Shèràa for any paper they could find.
But all they found was this small amount
—Tsecha riffled the few stiff pages—
because even your own wished you erased
.

Even though he knew the words as he knew his born-sect and skein, Tsecha read Jani Kilian's Officer Assessment.

Insubordinate. Typical dexxie know-it-all. Stiff-necked colonial. Doesn't belong in a uniform
. As ever, he could find no humor in Kilian's file.

A muffled, metallic sound stole his attention. Softly, at first, then more loudly, the cloth-wrapped bell that signaled the cook-priest's visitation rang its dull, late-evening song. Tsecha continued to comb the papers. Soon would come last sacrament, then sleep. He had not much time.

Where are you, my future
? He read the passages which dealt with the Service's search for their officer, their condemnation of her disorder, their fear she would be found first by the Vynshàrau.
Mutiny…murder…conspiracy…forgery…assumed dead…body disappeared…door-to-door search…no sign
. Acadian, she was, but later, they searched for her there and found nothing. Rebellious, she was, but they continued their searches to this day on their colony planets and found nothing.

Words as written, ink on paper, Tsecha read and ignored, continuing his own search for the sign from his gods, his own quest for his Captain. In his own nothing. Between the lines.

The “thank-you” Jani's back gave her for spending the night on her office floor was countered by the opinion expressed by her right hip and thigh. She limped into the bathroom, shedding clothes along the way.

Another hot shower—two in less than a day. A giddy surfeit of hydrodynamic riches. All wasted, unfortunately. Afterward, she only felt battered and slightly feverish. Never had so much hot water done so little for so few.

Travel lag. Had to be.
Over a month of artificial gee—it's never the same, no matter what they say
. She dug through drawers and shelves, searching for an outfit that didn't make her look like graveyard shift in the engine room, finally settling on a dark blue trouser suit. The color made her appear ill, but the cloth and cut of the outfit whispered “expensive” with an Earthbound accent. She could wander Interior halls at will in a getup like that. Besides, the trouser legs were cut wide enough to fit over her boots.

Jani buttoned the roomy jacket, flexing her shoulders as she checked herself in the full-length mirror. Keeping her hands in her pockets hid the fact that the sleeves were uneven in length, with the right one too short. She glumly examined the crooked breaks in her trouser cuffs. She looked all right. Businesslike. Unconcerned with fashion, as though—

“As though I'd been hurled from a speeding skimmer.” She tamped down her damp curls, vowed to check out the cosmetics selection in the Interior stores, and gave the contents of her duffel a last check.

Just before she left, Jani glanced toward the comport light on the end table by the bed. No blink, which meant no message from Evan. She thought of Martin's files, locked in her desk.
Yeah, I probably wouldn't be eager to talk to me, either
. Her stomach rumbled, and she tried to recall the quickest route to Interior House Main. She'd take her meals there today. However averse Evan was to seeing her, the feeling was mutual.

 

Jani had found the second-floor dining hall extremely attractive the previous afternoon, which was why she avoided it now. Nobbies were to be avoided at all costs. Ridgeway. Angevin. Even Steve.

She rode elevators and scaled stairs until the signs meant nothing.
DISPOSITION AND WAREHOUSING—FIELD ASSESSMENTS—CODES AND STATUTES
. She ducked into the first breakroom she came to, and was treated to a view of skimmer charge lots and maintenance sheds through the single grimy window. She grabbed a tray, loaded it with single-serve dispos from the glass-fronted cooler and headed for the darkest corner of the deserted eating area.

Don't forget to face the door
. Jani sat down, looking up just in time to see Durian Ridgeway enter.

“Good morning, Ms. Tyi.” He strode toward her, not seeming at all surprised to find her in such a remote region of Interior Main. “Getting to know the layout of the place, I see.” He was dressed in a black day suit and white shirt that had the same effect on his complexion that Jani's outfit had on hers. He sat down across from her and started toying with the spice dispenser.

“You've been following me,” Jani said.

“Strictly speaking, no. I just had people keeping an eye out for you.” He frowned as she continued eating. “You certainly don't seem the worse for wear, considering.”

“Considering what?”

“You read Martin's file, didn't you? Evan gave it to you, didn't he?”

“Yes, and yes, again.”

Ridgeway's ears reddened. “It's too early in the morning for flippancy, Ms. Tyi.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Ridgeway, I am most serious.”

“Then you agree with my estimation of the negative impact the release of that information could have on his career?”

“Oh, yes.”

Ridgeway sat back with the edgy posture of one who knew there had to be another shoe teetering on the brink somewhere. “Evan would like to see you. After you finish your breakfast, of course.”

Jani reached across the table and took the spice dispenser from his hand. “He can kiss my ass.” She slid the spout around to the white-pepper compartment and sprinkled some on her melon. “I'm not interested in his explanations.”

“He's your Minister, Ms. Tyi. When he says, ‘jump,' it's your job to ask, ‘how high.'”

“And yours to hold the measuring tape, Mr. Ridgeway. What a valuable man you are.”

Ridgeway stared at her. Then his gaze flicked to her tray. “Would you mind telling me why you just put pepper on your fruit?”

“Because that's the way I choose to eat it.”

“You know, Ms. Tyi, I don't think you're quite well.”

Jani shook the spice dispenser over her bowl until the melon looked sand-dipped. “You can kiss my ass, too.”

“Spit and show me where, Risa dear,” Ridgeway replied coolly. He turned toward the breakroom entrance. “Colonel Doyle. Could you come in here please?”

Three guards dressed in mainline winter polywools filled the doorway like a steel blue eclipse in triplicate. A tall, rangy, dark-skinned woman with a shaved head stepped forward, her eyes on Jani, one hand on her shooter holster. “Sir?”

Ridgeway stood up. “It's always been up to me to clean up Evan's little errors in judgment, Ms. Tyi. Perhaps you should keep that in the back of what passes for your mind.” He tugged on his jacket cuffs. “Shall we go?”

Jani looked from Ridgeway, to the guards, then back again. She knew she could get past them all and out of the room before any of them knew what had hit them. Augie was telling her how. She would sustain damage, of course, but she'd been
damaged before. She wouldn't die. She'd never die. She'd tried it once. It didn't take.
I could let them have it for you, Marty. Show them what an augie can really do
. In the body of an adult who knew the drill.

A sour burning rose in her throat as she stood. “You've left me no choice, Mr. Ridgeway,” she said, ignoring his smug smile. As he turned his back to her, her eyes locked on the place where his thin neck met his undeveloped shoulder.
Perhaps later, Marty
. Who knew what could happen later?

Outside, Jani excused herself and hurried to the nearby lavatory, Ridgeway's order to “hurry the hell up” ringing in her ears. She reached the toilet just in time, losing her breakfast in a few rapid heaves.

When she finished, she pressed her sweat-damp face against cold ceramic, closed her eyes, and tried not to think how a thwarted augie would take out his displeasure on a three-year-old boy. Or how the three-year-old boy would react. It never paid to think along those lines. A person could go crazy if she dwelled on things like that.

She cleaned up quickly, then rejoined her escort. Two of the guards bookended her, while Doyle brought up the rear. Ridgeway, of course, led the procession. Jani kept her eyes on the spot between his shoulder blades. The point bobbed up and down—he had an annoyingly bouncy gait.

She slowly relaxed. She'd encountered her share of Ridgeways in Rauta Shèràa, walked in more than one promenade to the principal's office. She shoved her hands in her pockets and swallowed down the last hint of bile. She needed freedom and access to do the job asked of her. Despite what Ridgeway wanted, Evan could only afford to bust her so far.

Evan waited for them in his office anteroom. Jani had to allow him some credit—the look he gave Ridgeway and the guards would have stopped a howling mob in its tracks.
It's a gift—comes with the nose
.

Ridgeway held up a hand. “Evan, let me explain.” Pedantic tone. Mistake.

“An armed escort,” Evan replied, very quietly. “Of my guest. In my house.” Small “h.” Easily discerned. He'd chosen to take it personally. He looked at Jani. “And what crime was committed?”

Ridgeway floundered. “She was insubordinate!” he finally sputtered.

Evan shrugged. “Of course she was, Durian. It's part of her charm.” He stepped past Ridgeway, who watched him with mouth agape and walked over to Colonel Doyle, who seemed preoccupied with the pattern of the carpet. “Virginia.”

“Sir.” Doyle cast a sidelong glance at Jani and winced.

“Ms. Tyi is to be allowed free access to all parts of the House.” Capital “H,” this time. “I was remiss in handling that. I'm taking care of it now. You'll help me see to it, won't you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“She is a professional, as are we all. Despite what you may have been told, you have nothing to fear where she is concerned.”

“Yes, sir.” Doyle looked at Jani again. In contrast to her dark skin, her eyes were surprisingly light, a pale gold-brown. “If Ms. Tyi will come by and see me afterward,” she said flatly, “I'll see she's taken care of.”

“Of course.” Evan smiled. The temperature of the room rose above subarctic. “Now, Risa and Durian and I need to talk.” He nodded toward Colonel Doyle, who shot Jani a last, reappraising look as she herded her two subordinates out of the anteroom.

Ridgeway erupted as soon as the door closed. “How bloody dare you! You made me look a fool!”

“You never needed any help from me in that regard!” Evan's voice shook. “We're all three of us on one level from this point on. In it up to our necks!” He spun on his heel. “We'll talk in my office, where it's secure.”

Jani tried for a seat on the opposite side of the room from Evan's desk, but he blocked that move with a glare and gestured to a chair near his own. Next to Ridgeway's. Jani settled in and looked around. At least the bar was closed up.

“Well?” Evan planted his elbows on his desk. He wore the same sort of severely cut suit as did Ridgeway, but black was his color. It enlivened his complexion, gave his slim frame a solidity it didn't possess on its own, and invested his anger with the authority of worlds.

Not a great way to start the day.

“You already know my feelings.” Ridgeway jerked his head toward Jani. “You'll be sorry you brought her into this. Mark my words.”

“So you still decline to consider my side of things.” Evan waved off Ridgeway's protest and turned to Jani. “And are you, Ms. Tyi, sorry you were brought into this?” A soft light filled his eyes. “You don't look pleased.”

Jani teased at her right cuff. Try as she might, she couldn't pull it past her wrist. “Whose idea was it?”

Evan didn't need to ask which idea. “Does it matter? I was his father. It was my responsibility.”

Ridgeway chuffed in disgust. “Go ahead—play the martyr. If you still think you can afford it.” He looked at Jani. It took an effort—she could almost hear his spine crack from the tension. “It was Acton. He'd been kicked out as king, so he tried for kingmaker. He'd heard about some personality-enhancement work being done by researchers who'd broken off from Neoclona. Similar to combat augmentation, though with a different focus.”

Evan cut in. “The secessionists were making noise even then. Nawar had just scrabbled his way back into power, won the interim election by a landslide. The feeling at the time was that he'd be Prime Minister for life. I'd taken the wrong side in a domestic appropriations dustup, so I was in the political doghouse. Dad ran scared. He didn't think he'd ever see a van Reuter in the Cabinet again.”

Jani gave up on her jacket cuff and began tugging on her pants. “Any Neoclona hack and slash will tell you augmentation is exactly that, an enhancement of what's already been formed. Whoever told your father they could shape the personality of a three-year-old was a lying butcher, and he was a fool to believe them.” A cold-blooded, megalomaniacal fool. But she herself had been gouged more than once by the Old Hawk's beak. “Did Lyssa know the details?”

“We believe so.” Ridgeway and Evan answered simultaneously, then Ridgeway picked up the ball. “She was a physician, after all. Not a Neoclona affiliate but still well regarded. I'm sure she only suspected some type of standard behavioral dysfunction at first, but when the true nature of
Martin's problem became known, she plunged into denial as readily as the rest of us. It began slowly. We thought it a phase, a bid for attention, especially after Jerrold and Serena were born. We thought he'd grow out of it.”

Jani yanked on her right trouser leg—a high-pitched rip sounded as lining gave way. “You—” She tried to count to ten, but lost track after
three
. “You took an infant who had no true grasp of right or wrong, no firm moral foundation, and engineered him to automatically, at all times, put his own survival first above all things—”

Ridgeway's face flared. “I had nothing to do with it—”

“—and you thought he'd grow out of it!”


You're out of line, Tyi
!”

Jani stormed out of her chair, her stomach on fire. “
Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch
!”

Evan rushed around his desk and thrust an arm between them. “
Quiet
!” He leaned hard against Jani, pushing her back into her chair. “I don't give a damn how you two feel about each other. When you are under this roof, you will treat one another in a civil manner. You will not use any of my departments like little toy armies in your vendettas,” he continued, catching Ridgeway's eye, “and, like it or not, you will work together. I need you both. If I have to grind you both into one meaty lump and drag in Neoclona to make a sensible person out of the mess, I will.”

Jani fixed her eyes on the floor. She could hear Ridgeway's hard breathing slow.

Evan took his time returning to his seat. When he finally spoke, Jani heard the smile in his voice. “I won't ask you to shake hands. I'm no physicist, but I understand the concept of fission.” His chair creaked. The silence stretched.

After what seemed hours, Jani looked up to find Ridgeway staring at Evan, naked pleading paling his ruddy face.

“Tell her, Durian.”

“Oh, Christ, Ev—none of that can matter.”

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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