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Authors: Kristine Smith

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He touched the back of his neck, where bottom of skull met top of spine. “About ten years ago. It was my fifteenth birthday present from Anais.”

“Is it like mine?”

“Not entirely. It's an improved version of the one Martin had. By then, they'd learned it was better to wait.” He turned down a narrower road. In the distance, shuttleport lights blazed against the darkening sky. “I don't know if I'd be any different without it. Like they say, it only augments what's already there. Or in my case, what isn't.” He bypassed the small charge lot, parking the skimmer at the edge of the tarmac next to a large baggage trolley. “Let's get a move on.”

After a week of frigid cold, a comparative heat wave had settled over the city, making coldsuits and face shields unnecessary. Jani found the double layer of polycotton she wore adequate to keep her warm. She lagged behind Lucien, who broke into a trot as he neared a line of shuttles going through their preflight inspections. A serious-looking older woman in an olive green flight suit, pilot's headset dangling from her neck, walked out to meet him.

Jani circled the woman's ship. Late-model commercial shuttle. Sleek. Well maintained. Even the most suspicious Customs agent would think twice before searching it. It reeked of paid-up docking fees and clean inspection records. Therein lay the problem.
I can't afford to go anyplace you could take me
. Jani reached up to stroke the shuttle's smooth underside.
And anyplace I want to go, you'd stand out like a boil
.

She left Lucien and the pilot as they began the preflight walkaround and set off on her own inspection. She passed along the short line of shuttles, looking for signs of gold striping on the right side of the entry door. Customs' scarlet letter, a sign to all that dockscan had turned up something suspicious and you'd been boarded and searched. Most ships sported at least one such badge of infamy. Law of averages dictated you'd get nailed at least once if you flew long enough. Two or three meant bad luck or a lousy ship's clerk. More than that meant stupidity or bloody-mindedness.

No stripes, however, could mean one of two things. It could mean the ship was brand-new, too young to have a record with Customs. Case in point, Lucien's ship.

Or it could mean the ship had changed hands recently. New owner meant a clean bill of regulatory health for the vessel involved. New owner could mean someone anxious to keep it that way. Someone unfamiliar with the law of averages.

Jani stopped before the first vessel she came to that had no stripe. A few reentry blisters marred the polycoat skin—other than that, it appeared in good shape. A serviceable shuttle. Older model. “Hello,” she said to the pilot, who was in the midst of his own walkaround.

The man looked up from his recording board. A serviceable face. Older model. “What do you want?”

“Nothing.” Jani smiled. “Just stretching my legs.” She sidled up to him, peeking over his shoulder at the board display. Standard preflight checklist. She spotted three coding mistakes in the first four entries. Nothing that would interfere with the actual piloting of the vessel, of course. But Treasury Customs didn't give a rat's furry ass whether a pilot could hit his mark on an ocean float blindfolded. If that pilot could not fill out his forms properly, that pilot would live to regret the oversight.

The man tensed when he realized he was being watched. “Is there a problem, ma'am?”

Jani shrugged, backed off. Kept smiling. “Just checking out your coding.”

The man's Adam's apple bobbled. “What's wrong with my coding?”

Jani pointed to the first entry. “You've entered takeoff data on a docking line. When the board tries to calculate your flight stats, you'll get an error message.”

“So I'll just erase and reenter.”

“If you don't code the deletion, it won't recognize your erasure.” She took the board out of his hands. “You need to give it a reason, so that when you download the data to Luna dockscan, it will read ‘entry error, deletion because of such and such, reentry.' Otherwise, it just sees an unexplained mistake. Being a Cabinet system, it thinks, sloppiness. Then it thinks, sloppy incompetent or sloppy on purpose? Then it
calls a human.” She activated the stylus and enacted the change. “A Customs docking inspection is a hell of a way to start the day.”

“It's just a mistake.” The pilot watched Jani make rapid multistep entries without a hitch. “You know this stuff, huh?” He rubbed his chin. “Have a look at the rest of it, if you don't mind.”

It was so easy, Jani at first suspected a sting, a crackdown on non-Registry clerks. The manifest, however, proved to contain the sorts of convoluted, ingenious errors usually executed by someone who knew just enough to be dangerous. The look on her face must have alarmed the pilot. He started to say something as she handed the board back, but she cut him off with a headshake and an absent “G'night.” She turned, started to walk away, counted.
One. Two. Three. Do you want
—?

“Do you want a job?”

Jani stopped, turned back, pretended not to understand.

“Only if you need one, of course. But if you don't, you know, I'd pay for your time. I can get you back here tomorrow. If you need to get back.” He stuck out his hand. “My name's Zal.” He approached gingerly, his face reddening. Obviously not the type to solicit strange women in shuttle-ports, but honest working-class fear had made him desperate. “Take you to Luna. Or farther. I'm starting a new transport business with my brother. He's handling the registration up there.” He waved in the general direction of Earth's only natural moon. “We sure could use the help, though. Someone who knows how to fill out all these blasted forms.”

The deal was cut quickly. Zal had been too relieved at the thought of handing off clerical duty to ask Jani her name, which was fine with her. It would give her time to think of one.

The stripped-down interior of this shuttle couldn't compare with the one in which she'd arrived a little over a week before. She strapped herself into her seat, stuffed her duffel into the grapple rack beneath, then started plowing through the manifest revisions. As the low powers rumbled to life and the shuttle taxied toward the runway, she twisted in her seat to look out the port. Lucien and his pilot had split up and were
darting from vessel to vessel, accosting everyone they saw. Then the shuttle turned, and they disappeared from view. Within minutes, takeoff acceleration drove Jani into her seat.

“Sorry, Lucien. I just don't like being herded.” She felt a pang of guilt that she hadn't said a proper good-bye after all he had done for her, but it soon passed. She liked him. Therefore, they would find one another again. She could adopt Nema's attitude, use it to keep her warm tonight.

Her old teacher's gift glinted in the cabin light as she wrote. Jani glanced out the port again as the shuttle banked over Chicago on the way to its exit corridor. It struck her how the ring's glittering red stone mimicked the lights of the city below. And foretold the lights of the cities to come. Wherever they were.

The stylus moved across the blank parchment. Beneath the moving tip of the writing instrument, the curves and whorls of High Vynshàrau appeared as though demon-written.

It is only science
, Tsecha thought as he read his words, reconsidered, and made changes. Pro-dye impregnation. Ultraviolet light. Delocalization of electrons. So dull, such lucid explanation. He preferred to believe the words appeared on the paper's surface by magic, the work of demons.

His Temple and his Oligarch, if they could have read what he wrote, would no doubt have agreed.

…
for humanish ways are not so different from ours. A piece of clothing. A color of eye. An intonation. Such are all that separate us
.

He frowned, stylus poised above the newly inscribed phrases. So obvious, the ideas. Did he really need to explain such?

“Steven is beyond this.” He sat back in his favored chair, allowed it to stab him in the usual places, and meditated on the stark simplicity of his room. Yes, his Mr. Forell had come along quite quickly. But then, so eager had he been to learn. He had petitioned Tsecha personally for instruction in Vynshàrau document systems, saying he could not hope to further his Interior career without such specialized knowledge. Of course, Tsecha had not believed him. Not when he pulled
Angevin into the meeting room after him like a reluctant youngish, and demanded Tsecha tell him the story of his Captain.

Yes, Steven had proved most seemly. So open to new thoughts. Almost as though Hansen had fathered
him
, and not Angevin….

“I will not ask.” Tsecha contemplated a carved bloom that rested in a wall niche opposite his desk. Humanish were sensitive to questions of parentage, and he did not wish to test his Steven's loyalty so soon. Not to mention his Angevin's temper. Best some things be left between the lines, for now.

This I know as fact, from experience. As always, I only write that which is already known, simply unacknowledged
.

Instruction, at times, proved challenging. “Steven accepts as Hansen did, while Angevin fights…” Tsecha bared his teeth. “She fights as my Captain does.” His Captain, who could read his writings as well as her born tongue, and who understood their meanings all too well. Where was she now? Lucien offered his guesses, of course. Such was his way, to never admit to not knowing. But he had misplaced her at the shuttleport, and his weeks of futile searching had left him morose and prone to sarcasm.

“My Captain is quite skilled at being misplaced, and truly.” First by John Shroud, then by Anais Ulanova, and now by the odd lieutenant. How wondrous to be so unknown to so many. To be able to evade so well.

She can never be captured. She will live on, and lead on, into a time so different than this. This, too, is known but unacknowledged, for fear of the future prevents its recognition. This, of all manners, is the one of humanish adopted by idomeni. This is foolish, as I have written before. As I will write again. Until it, as my dead Hansen used to say, “sinks in.”

Tsecha continued to trace stylus over parchment. In another room, much as this one, he had written such essays for two other humanish, instructing them how the universe would change.
So it began then
. So would it continue now. Until all would be revealed. One page at a time.

Acknowledgments

A first book is usually the most difficult to write, firstly, because you're still trying to find your sea legs, and secondly, because you've no assurance whatsoever that what you've spent years producing will go anywhere other than a box in the cellar.

I've been lucky enough to have had help from many people in assisting me through the difficulties. In particular, I'd like to thank Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, who helped keep me on track, and my parents, Gordon and Charlotte Smith, whose love and support helped keep me going.

About the Author

Kristine Smith
works as a process development scientist for a large pharmaceutical manufacturer. She lives in northern Illinois.

Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

Books by
Kristine Smith

C
ODE OF
C
ONDUCT

R
ULES OF
C
ONFLICT

L
AW OF
S
URVIVAL

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

CODE OF CONDUCT
. Copyright © 1999 by Kristine C. Smith. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

EPub © Edition NOVEMBER 2008 ISBN: 9780061979385

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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BOOK: Code of Conduct
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