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Authors: Kristine Smith

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She heard Evan stir beside her.

“I believe Lyssa was murdered, too, you see,” he said. “I think since we're on speaking terms with the idomeni again,
someone wants me out of the picture. That's why I need a friend.” He reached out to her, his hand hovering above hers without touching. “A friend who can find out what happened.”

“You want to take me back to Earth with you?”

“I need your help, Jan. I need a friend who knows me, knows the idomeni, and knows where the bones are buried.”

I buried some of those bones
, Jani thought as she watched Evan's hand. It shook. Very slightly. Did she make him that nervous? Or was he in that much trouble?

“I know what we had didn't end well,” he said as he let his hand rest on the seat near her knee. “Do you hold a grudge?”

“No.”

“I didn't think so. You're not the type. You follow your own rules, your own code. You're tough, but you're fair.”

“You haven't known me for a long time. I may have changed.”

Evan continued as though she hadn't spoken. “For my part, I'd show how much I trust you by placing my career in your hands. All I ask is that, as events warrant, you proceed with caution.”

“That would be a first for me, don't you think?” Jani studied her distorted reflection in her cup's polished surface. “You really want to take me back to Earth?”

“You have to go somewhere. My blonde mentioned I blew your situation here.”

“‘Blew' doesn't begin to describe it. The Merchants' Association blames me for your traffic slowdown. They think
I'm
a verifier. I'm probably being watched. If I returned to NorthPort after being seen with you, I'd be dead by nightfall.”

“So, you need to get out of here.” Evan's voice sounded stronger, surer. That made sense. He was negotiating now. “Ok, I'll get you out of here. Where do you want to go?”

“I don't know.”

“Then what's wrong with Earth?” He counted on his fingers. “Look, we pass through four GateWays on the way. Amsun, Padishah, Felix, and Mars. If you change your mind
on the way, I'll give you whatever you need and let you go.” He leaned toward her, his voice coldly eager.

“But if you had a chance to work at a job that utilized your training, realized you could live a different life, wouldn't it make sense to stick with me? Look around you, Jan.” He gestured toward the storm-whipped scenery. “You don't belong here. You deserve a second chance. Officially, sure, the Service is still looking for you, but unofficially?” He shook his head. “They think you're dead. You can reinvent yourself any way you want, and I'm offering you the opportunity to do just that.”

“If I work for you?”

“If you find out what happened to Lyssa. Call it working for me if you want. Call it anything.”

“You could be the bait in a Service trap. Why should I trust you?”

“Well, if what you told me about your popularity in NorthPort is true, you'd better trust me at least as far as Amsun.” He raised his cup to her in a toast. “What choice do you have?”

What choice, indeed
? Jani stared into her cup. Then she drained it and handed it back to him. “You know, some old Service officer once said that if you fall back far enough, you'll just wind up at the front again.” She pulled the second Naxin bomb from her duffel and punched a fingernail through the sealant coating. Popping up her door, she darted into the rain, pulled open the door of the single-seater, tossed the bomb inside, slammed the door, and closed herself back in the sedan before the first wisps of Naxin appeared in her old skimmer's windows.

Evan stared at her. “That was quick.”

“The Service taught me things like that, remember?”

“Remind me never to pull up next to you.” He glanced down at the floor near her feet. His smile flickered back to life. “Still carrying your bag of tricks, I see.” He punched the sedan's charge-through. The vehicle activated with a low hum. “I'll send some people over to mop up. It'll be like you were never even here.”

“They're going to need HazMat gear.”

“People always need HazMat gear when they clean up af
ter you. It's one of the constants of life.” His eyes glistened with suppressed merriment. He reversed the skimmer out of its slot, then eased it forward. “Is there anyone you want to message before we leave? Anyone you need to notify?”

“No,” Jani said. That was the advantage with avoiding names—it always made bugging out easier. She reached beneath Evan's seat for the thermoflask. “I didn't watch the entire welcome program. Were you the only minister Cao took exception to?”

Evan steered the skimmer into a wide, banking turn. “No, there were more. Gisela Detmers-Neumann, the Communications Minister. Fitzhugh and Ebben, the deputies from Commerce. Unser from Education.”

Coffee sloshed into Jani's lap, running down her weatherall and spilling to the skimmer floor. “Why them?” she asked.

Evan looked at her, then at the beading puddle on the carpet. “Now, Jani, you of all people should know the answer to that.” He reached into the glove box, pulled out a dispo, and handed it to her. “Don't get too nervous. This visit doesn't have to be all business. Who knows, you might run into Tsecha. You were his pet at the Academy. I'm sure he'd enjoy seeing you again.”

“At this point,” Jani said as she dabbed at the spilled coffee, “I think any running I'd do with regard to him would be in the opposite direction.”

The faint glow of the shuttle pad glimmered in the distance. Evan pressed the accelerator. “By the way,” he asked, “who was that old Service officer? You always used to mention him in Rauta Shèràa, too.”

“Wasn't a ‘him.' Was a ‘her.'” Jani sighed. “It was me.”

Amsun Primary's VIP wing exuded the chilly luxury of a Family mausoleum. Jani hitched her duffel, eyed the sculptures lining the station's carpeted gangway, and kept pace a few meters behind Evan, who was busy dictating orders to a quartet of Amsun annex staffers. Each underling took their position at his shoulder, then backed off and let another take their place, just like lead changes during skimbike races. It had been that way since they'd left Whalen two days ago. Every time Jani tried to question Evan about Lyssa, an advisor would turn up to drag him off.

Maybe I need a uniform and a title to get his attention
. A possibility, but not one she wanted to consider. Even in her current circumstances, she wouldn't have traded places with Evan or any member of his escort. Voices snapped. No one smiled.

We're in Exterior country, my friends
. Unlike every other Ministry, which located its main headquarters in Chicago and scattered its annexes throughout the colonies, Exterior had moved its Main House to the Outer Circle planet of Amsun and maintained only a token presence on Earth. That hadn't seemed wise when the late David Scriabin, Lyssa van Reuter's father, had set the transfer wheels in motion fifteen years before.

Smacks of genius now
. Exterior burgundy formed the basis for every aspect of interior decoration in Amsun Primary, a constant reminder to all parties wearing Treasury gold, Com
merce green, Interior black, and every other Cabinet hue in exactly whose sandbox they played.

Jani passed the portrait of a severe, dark-haired woman wearing a high-necked tunic in the ubiquitous
colour du monde
. Everyone thought Exterior Minister Anais Ulanova should have stood for Prime during the last election. When she didn't, the Earthbound news services professed shock. The colonial reaction, in contrast, had been blasé.
Why fight to be shepherd when you already own the sheep
?

As she came upon yet another holosilk study in red and orange, Jani rolled her eyes. It was partly artistic opinion, partly aggravation. Red was the color of blood and warning lights to her augie, the chromatic equivalent of a scream in the night. Unfortunately, the action caused an eyefilm to shift. She tried to blink it back into place, and it hung up on her eyelid. Tears brimmed, then spilled as the film edge curled and split. She cupped a hand over the damage and searched in vain for a sign indicating a restroom.

“Ms. Tyi?”

Tyi? Tyi
? That was her name now. Risa Tyi. Josephan. Bad choice. She couldn't speak Josephani.

“Ms. Tyi!” Evan had pulled up short and stared back at her. “Is everything all right?” The look in Jani's visible eye must have set off alarms. “Folks, I'll get back with you.” He left his puzzled entourage behind and hurried to her side. “I knew you shouldn't have flown so soon after the surgery.” He gripped Jani by the elbow and pulled her toward the elevator bank. “I hope the incision glue held.”

One of the underlings called out, “Your Excellency, if a physician is required—”

“No, no,” Evan said as he pushed Jani ahead of him into the first open car. “We'll meet you at the
Arapaho
gate in a few minutes.” The door hissed shut. “What happened!”

Jani sagged against the wall. “Film broke.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Yeah.” She shivered as the odor of berries filled the elevator. Her mouth watered. What the overdose of red started, the stress of the moment intensified. She breathed through her mouth in an effort to block out the smell of fruit.

“Are you all right? I know red used to get to you some
times.” Evan leaned close and blanched. “Oh shit.” As the door opened, he held her back and looked up and down the hall. “Still red—cover up.”

Jani pressed her hands over her eyes as she was herded, dragged, and prodded. Another door opened, then whispered closed. “Evan? What color are the walls now?”

“They're a very calming shade of blue.”

Jani lowered her hands. The walls were indeed quite relaxing, but some of the fixtures appeared unusual. “Evan, we're in a men's toilet.”

“It was the closest door to the elevator, ok? People were coming.” He activated the lock. “There. That lights up the ‘being cleaned—come back in ten minutes' sign.”

“If the hall monitoring picked us up—”

“This is the
private
section. Anais does any scanning here, I'll have her ass.” Evan's voice grew hushed. “That look you had in the eye I could see scared the hell out of me—like you were staring up from the bottom of a pit. Was that some kind of seizure?”

Jani walked to the mirror above the row of sinks. “No.” A few fissures had formed along the film's black-and-white surface. “A combination of the stress and the environment. The nervousness of the moment. The augmentation kicked in.”

“Augmentation.” Evan gave each syllable a twist of disgust. “You were sideline Service, not mainline. How could you let them do that to you?”

“I was still Service, Ev. When they tell you to peel and bend over, you drop your drawers and think of the Commonwealth.” Jani dug into her duffel. “Guess they thought we all needed it, with the way the Laumrau-Vynshà situation was heating up.” She shrugged. “I have mixed feelings about it. It helps me think more clearly in emergencies—almost like a permanent tranquilizer implant. If I get hurt while it's active, it kicks on adrenal and thyroid boosters, and helps the wounds heal faster.” She checked her clear face in the mirror. The peeling skin and rash caused by her brief exposure to the Naxin had healed in two days, instead of two weeks. “Dulls pain.”

“Helped you survive the crash,” Evan added with an encouraging smile.

“That's why I have mixed feelings.” Jani freed the bottles of film former from the depths of her bag, then blended the memory film with its activator. “Sometimes I think justice would have been better served if I'd died with everyone else. Or if I'd died, and they'd lived.” She looked up to find Evan's reflection staring at her in shocked surprise. “Don't worry. I won't go suicidal on you. Just a little objective over-analysis on my part.”

“Really?” He studied her skeptically. “I know some people back home you could talk to about it.”

“PTs?” Jani peeled the ruptured film from her eye. The tear-swollen black-and-white fragments smacked wetly into the sink. “Ev, if the psychotherapeuticians ever got me, they'd never let go.” She activated the faucet, cupped tepid water in her hand, rinsed away the last specks of old film, and washed them down the drain. She didn't notice Evan's approach until he stood beside her.

“Jesus!”

Jani stared into the mirror at her eye. The iris was still the dark jade of her childhood. But the sclera, instead of white, shone a lighter, glassy green that took on a bluish cast in the harsh bathroom lighting.
Corroded copper coins—built-in pennies on my eyes
. At least the pupil hadn't changed in shape or size. And her sight had never seemed any better or worse than other people's.

Evan drew closer. “How the hell did that happen?”

“Contaminated starter tissue, the doctors said. No time to grow them over.”

“The doctors?”


The
doctors. John Shroud, Valentin Parini, and Eamon DeVries.” They had worked out of the Service hospital in Rauta Shèràa. They had rebuilt her after the crash, gave her strange eyes and numb limbs, and remained together after the war to form Neoclona. Now, they controlled all the hospitals in the Commonwealth that were worth a damn. Jani tilted her head back and counted out the drops of film.
One…four, five
. She held her lids open for ten seconds, then looked in
the mirror. Her purple-black eye gazed back with teenage clarity.

Evan cleared his throat. “Don't you think you should do the other one?”

“I just did it three days ago. Barring incident, the stuff lasts seven to ten.”

“I think you should make sure.”

Jani watched Evan in the mirror until he turned away. After some hesitation, she peeled, poured, mixed, and counted. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

“That sounds hopeful.” He turned back to her. “Does that mean you've decided to come at least as far as Padishah?”

“Amsun's too close to Whalen. I'd feel better a little farther out.”

“How will I know when you feel you've gone far enough?”

“You won't.” Jani dabbed away a drop of film former that had spilled down her cheek. “I'll just be gone.”

“That sounds familiar.” Evan hoisted himself on the counter next to her sink. “Sorry. Completely inappropriate.”

“Yes, it was.”

“What's past is past. I apologize.” He fingered the soap dispenser. “So, how've you been?” He shrugged off Jani's incredulous look. “I've been weighed down with work the past two days. This is the first chance we've had to talk since I rescued you from that hellhole.”

“I'm fine, Evan.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Jani's back twinged, and she leaned against a urinal for support. “You?”

“Fine.”

“I'm sorry. About your wife.” The words came haltingly. She'd never had a talent for saying the right thing; anything she thought of now seemed inappropriate. Death didn't just alter. It razed. Annihilated. “Your children, too. That was tragic.”

“Yes. Thank you. Not a day goes by that I don't think of them.” Evan looked at her and sighed. “You've wanted to ask me something delicate for days. I can tell. Go ahead.”

There were no right words for this, either. “We heard gos
sip out here in the beyond. That you and Lyssa had problems.”

“Yes, we did. For the most part, however, our marriage functioned.”

“Sounds mechanical.”

“Most Family marriages are.” Evan's eyes glinted. Sapphires in snow. “I don't recall you as the type to be drawn in by rumor.”

“Rumors blossom and seed all the time. They don't all result in the convention of a Court of Inquiry.”

“I told you, Cao and Ulanova want me out.”

“You must have really ticked them off.”

“I don't quite have your talent for alienating the opposition, but I'm working on it.”

“There's something you didn't tell me. Something you left out.”

“And what could that be?”

Jani leaned more heavily against the urinal. She could feel the cold porcelain through her thin coverall. As cold as her right hand. As cold as the chill that gripped her.

“Is something wrong, Jan?”

“This concerns Knevçet Shèràa, doesn't it?”

“I don't know. But I bet you could find out.”

“You bastard. You set me up.”

“No, I gave you A and B and let you reach the logical C. The setup was all yours.” Evan glanced at his timepiece. “We better get going.” He pushed himself off the counter, then turned to wash his hands. “I'm sorry, Jan, but if I'd mentioned Knevçet Shèràa back on Whalen, you'd have bolted. I couldn't let you do that.”

“What am I walking into?”

“Nothing that endangers you. I'm the one in trouble. You're assumed dead, remember?” Evan gripped the rim of the sink. “Jani, your own family wouldn't know you. That's how different you look. Hell, I didn't know you.” He reached blindly for a dispo towel. “And I knew you better than anyone.”

“Better not call me ‘Jani' anymore. Stick to Risa.” Jani tossed her bottles into her bag and gave her eyes one last check in the mirror. “I don't speak Josephani, you know.”

“It's like High Dutch.”

“Oh, that narrows it down. Thanks.”

Evan unlatched the door. “We're going to walk past a lot of red between here and the shuttle. Will you make it?”

“Yes. I'll just get a bit wound-up. I'll be fine.” Jani waited for him to raise the all clear, then followed him into the hall. “Well, that brought back memories.”

Evan paused in mid-step, eyes widening as he remembered. “That play. At the Consulate Hall.
Becket
. Intermission. The ladies' was crowded, and you barged in and—”

“Told you to shut up and guard the door. That's how we met.” She patted his arm. “You still guard doors pretty well.”

They both laughed, a little too loudly and a little too long. Evan offered her his arm as they walked to the elevator bank, then bowed like a gallant as the door opened, gesturing for her to enter first. The other occupants smiled at them, as though the little show had brightened their day.

You set me up, Evan
. Jani stepped to the rear of the half-filled elevator and tried not to flinch as he crowded beside her.

Knevçet Shèràa.
Not a day goes by that I don't think
—She leaned against the rear of the car, closed her filmed eyes, and clenched her numb left hand.

 

“I guess you could consider this a working vacation,” Evan said. He nodded curtly to the steward who bustled past him, towing Jani's luggage in a hand-skimmer.

Correction—Risa's luggage
. Jani shook her head in disbelief as the steward disappeared into her bedroom to stash the seven brown trueleather bags in her closet.

“I'll unpack while you're at dinner, ma'am,” he said as he took his leave, all silver-blond hair and flashing smile. Jani returned the smile to the best of her ability, then turned back to Evan to find him glaring at her.

“But don't get carried away with the vacation part.” He walked across the large sitting room and flopped into a lounge chair. “Of course, I don't think I have enough work to keep you occupied for five weeks, and what you do in your off time is your own…affair.” He smoothed the front of
his black uniform tunic and fixed his sights on the wall opposite.

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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