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Authors: Kristine Smith

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BOOK: Code of Conduct
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Jani said nothing. Instead, she watched Evan's hands, as she had learned to do during their time together. They rested easily on his knees. No nail-picking. No sleeve-tugging. Either he told the truth or he'd learned to hide his lies better.

“I'd been debating telling you for days. Thought if I men
tioned it, I'd give you just another excuse to bolt. But I've no choice. Duty calls.”

“You roust me out of my home, close off my escape routes, then tell me you're leaving me alone among strangers for five weeks?”

Evan wrinkled his nose. “Whalen was no home. And you don't need any escape routes.” His eyes sparked. “Besides, I'm more concerned for the strangers than I am for you.” His stare deepened and his features slackened until he wore the bewildered, slightly stunned expression Jani remembered from their first meeting. “I wish I could stay.”

If you're going to look at me like that, maybe it's better you don't
. Jani tugged as unobtrusively as she could at the bodice of her dress. A waste of time—the silky material snapped back into snug place like a second skin. “Well, I may be able to work better without you around.” She snuck a peek at Evan beneath her lashes. He wore evening clothes as easily as other men wore ship coveralls; now, as he unfastened the stiff formal tunic, he looked very agreeably rumpled.
You're still the best-looking man I've ever known
. Yes, and he had very good reasons to go out of his way to make her feel cosseted and comfortable. If it so happened that keeping her cozy could get him laid, he wouldn't turn it down. Remember the pragmatist.

Not fair
. Except for that single grumble in the Amsun station bathroom concerning their breakup, he had been silent on the matter of their past.
Sheep's eyes don't count
. Those could be chalked up to a heavy meal and too much alcohol.
Neither do wicked thoughts
. Lucky for her.

“The centrists,” she said, “think the colonies will require a lengthy period of adjustment before full independence can be granted. I've heard numbers ranging from ten to one hundred years. Speaking as a colonial, I don't think we need babying.”

If Evan noticed the abrupt cool-off, he hid it beneath a veneer of serious reflection. “The coalition pushing for these talks is led by a group being advised by Ulanova. They may know how to run businesses, but they don't know how to run governments. They'd need her help, and she'd give them just
enough to keep their heads above water until they needed her again. That's not true independence.”

“Maybe it's enough to get them started.”

“You don't know Anais, Jan. Once she'd sunk her claws into that power base, she'd never let go. She wouldn't rest until she was PM of her own little Commonwealth.”

“Funny she doesn't believe she can get what she wants with an Earthbound government,” Jani said. “But then, you're fairly isolated with respect to GateWays. You've turned into a planet-sized office building over the years—you've got no substantial manufacturing or shipping anymore. The colonies are where the money is. By comparison, you're stagnant.”

Evan scowled. “I wish you'd stop saying ‘you.'” He sagged against the cushions and clasped his hands behind his head. “Are you angry with me? For holding out on you?”

Jani twitched a shoulder. It twitched back. “A little.”

“I'll be waiting for you in Chicago. You will show up, won't you?”

“Yes.”

He looked up at the ceiling and exhaled slowly. “Thank you. I'll sleep more easily tonight.” He stifled a yawn. “It won't be horrible.”

“It could be.”

“I'll be there. I'll help you.” He fell silent for a time. Then his eyes came to life again, and he laughed. “Before you arrived, Durian was filling my ear about Tsecha. Your old teacher's causing quite a stir, apparently. He took one of the embassy triple-lengths out for a spin a few weeks ago. Problem was, nobody knew he could drive. He got as far as Minneapolis before a Service-idomeni pursuit team caught up to him and herded him back to Chicago. They had a hell of a time hushing it up. That's all the anti-idomeni faction needs to hear is that the ambassador flits unguarded through the provinces.”

Jani chuckled as well. “You're in for it now! Sounds like he hasn't changed. He used to like making himself up as a human in Rauta Shèràa. He even pulled down a job as a Consulate tour guide for a few days. Nobody could tell—his customers kept asking him what colony he was from.”

“Oh shit, I'd forgotten about that. One more thing to worry about—what joy.” Evan's expression grew wistful. “Seems odd, calling him
Tsecha
. We knew him as
Nema
. I still think of him by that name.” He looked at Jani, his eyes narrowing. “He liked you.”

“Yep.”

“He thought you were special.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He had plans for you.”

“Evan, if you have a point to make, please do so.”

“No. No. Just rambling. Exhausted.”

“Too much to drink.”

“Hmm.” Worry clouded his features for a moment. “How do you feel?”

“Fine.”

“Are you sure? You look ill.”

“Thanks.” Jani rubbed her stomach. It had started to ache. “I just ate too much.”

“We've had a few nasty new bugs crop up in the Outer Circle over the past few years. Maybe you should see a doctor.”


No
.”

Evan held up his hands in surrender. “Ok, ok. Sorry I mentioned it.” He struggled to his feet, then helped her gather her bag and case. “Cabin's to your liking, I hope? Your clothes?”

“Nothing fits, Evan.”

“Really?” He circled her, studying her in a way not entirely objective. “I did my best. Took your measurements from your old ID and turned it over to my tailor. She seldom errs.”

“She made up for lost time.”

“I disagree. This dress is perfect.” He chucked her under the chin. “Goes with the face.” His hand lingered near her cheek. “I'm getting used to it. It fits you. Very ‘Queen of the Nile.'” He hesitated, then leaned close and hugged her lightly, as though he feared she'd pull away. “We'll be fine. You'll see.” His breath smelled of wine; his neck, of the haygrass-scented cologne he'd always favored. Jani broke the embrace before she wanted to and rushed out the door before
he could say good night. She walked back to her cabin in the grip of the sensation that she'd just skimmed over a land mine.

I have to play this at arm's length
. She hated to admit how good it felt to talk to Evan, to someone who knew the long-submerged Jani Kilian and, if outward signs could be believed, still cared about her as well. It wouldn't take long to become used to nice dinners and pleasant conversation again.
And anything else that might reasonably follow
. Soon, the roots would go so deep that when the time came to cut and run, she'd be fixed in place by indecision and fear of what she would lose.
I can't afford to relax
. Especially now, with Ridgeway watching her every move.

She turned the corner in time to see her steward emerge from her cabin.

“Ma'am?” He brushed a hank of hair from his sweaty brow. “There's a problem with the climate control on this deck. I've notified Environmental, but they may not be able to return it to full function until we stop at Padi.”

“Oh please!” Jani sagged against the wall. She looked at the name tag on his left breast pocket. “Mister Ostern. Can't this wait until morning?”

Ostern thrust a small touchbox toward her. “Oh, everything's under control for now, ma'am. I've jury-rigged a bypass.” His face glowed with pride.
Look what I made, Mommy
!

Jani accepted the small device with the hesitation of someone who'd learned long ago there was no such thing as “free.” She looked again at Ostern, shifting from his blinding smile to his eyes. Dark brown, like chocolate. A warm color, normally. When brown eyes chilled, the cold came from within.

Her steward had cold brown eyes.

“I can show you how it works, if you like?” Ostern's voice, a pleasant tenor, still sounded boyish, but the examining look he gave the documents case aged him several stony decades.

“No, Mister Ostern, it's all right.” Jani hoisted the case and, smiling sweetly, pushed past him and palmed her way into her cabin.

“Are you sure, ma'am? I—”

“It's all
right
,” she said as the door slid closed. “I think I can figure things out.” She paused in the entryway and sniffed the air. It did smell vaguely metallic and dusty, as though various things had gone
plonk
in the depths of the ventilation system.

She removed her shoes. Blessedly barefoot, she knelt in the middle of the sitting room and positioned Ostern's little box on the carpet in front of her. Using one of the spindly heels like a hammer, she smashed the device to bits.

After she tossed the fragments down the trash chute, Jani rooted through her duffel. She pushed aside her magnispecs, assorted scanpack parts twined through a holder of braided red cloth, broken UV styluses, and cracked touchpads, until she reached the scanproof false bottom, beneath which lay her shooter and her devices.

Her sensor looked like a UV stylus, except that the light at its pointed end blinked yellow instead of blue, and it had cost more than such things did when purchased through the usual channels.
One does what one has to
. As long as she'd never hurt anyone but herself, what difference did it make?

She flicked the device on. Holding it before her like a glow stick, she took a turn about the sitting room.
If I were an insect, where would I hide
?

It took the better part of an hour to locate the bug, lodged in the bedroom temperature control panel. Bold of Ostern to set it up so she would activate it herself with his cunning control box. She wrapped the tiny plastic cylinder in a strip of antistatic cloth and buried it in the depths of her duffel. A simple listening device, rather than a full sight-and-sound recorder. In that respect, Ostern had disappointed her. She would have expected more from someone with such cold eyes.

Jani ferreted through her cabin a second time. Reasonably certain she had done all she could to ensure her privacy for the ship-night, she undressed. Her stomach ached in earnest now. Her skin felt clammy. She opted for a hot shower in an effort to warm up, and to wash the food odors from her hair. She stood under the water stream until the utilities monitor squealed an imminent cutoff. Then she toweled slowly, all
the while thinking about the garage guy. He'd had stomach problems, too. Nausea. Sweats.

Last thing I need is personal experience with the latest colonial epidemic
. They'd become more and more common in the last few years—planet-specific infections which, in all the cases Jani heard about, led to long hospital stays and vague medical mumblings about mutating viruses. Well, she'd had enough doctoring to last a lifetime. Anything she had, she'd fight off herself.

She trudged into her bedroom and dug one of her Service tee shirts out of the warren of drawers. The white polycotton still looked new, even after twenty years.
I remember when I got you
. She pulled the use-softened shirt over her head.
I'd just graduated OCS, surprising one and all
. She smiled. Some memories, at least, were pleasant.

One of Six for tongue of gold, Two for eyes and ears
.

“It had nothing to do with brains or rank, Ridgeway—we were all on the ball back then,” Jani explained to her furniture. “And we needed our little games, to keep us sane.”

Three and Four for hands of light, Five and Six for Earthly might
. They each had their own special method for keeping the Laumrau Academy administrators off-balance. Senna and Tsai possessed their “hands of light,” their talents as musicians, which ranked them quite highly as far as the born-sect idomeni were concerned. Aryton's and Nawar's “Earthly might” derived from their Family connections.

“But Hansen was the
Ambassador
,” Jani said, stressing the point for the benefit of her bedclothes. True red hair was extremely rare among the idomeni's major sects. Red in all its variations being a holy color to them, they were inclined to believe any human gifted with such to be possessed of talents in many areas. When trouble brewed in Rauta Shèràa's human enclave, Hansen was always called in to help lift the pot off the boil.

“And I always went with him.” Kilian, with her knack for understanding idomeni languages and mannerisms, and her ability to fade into the background.
I'll talk
, Hansen had always told her,
you just watch
.

“You get used to watching.” She crawled into bed, duffel and documents case in hand. She unlocked the case and
pulled out black-jacketed, confidential Interior files, arranging them in a semicircle on the blanket.

Then she activated her scanpack, her original, unadorned, idomeni-made unit, awarded to her personally upon her graduation by the being who now called himself Tsecha. Then, as now, he served as chief propitiator, the religious leader of his sect. Thus empowered, he had compelled his order-loving, xenophobic people to accept his dictum that humanish be allowed to school with them. Work with them. Even live with them, if isolation in an enclave two kilometers from the farthest outskirts of Rauta Shèràa could be called “living with.”

Scores of humans had studied various subjects at the rigorous Academy. But the Six had been favored, and Jani Kilian and Hansen Wyle had been the most favored of all.

Not that she recalled any envy. If anything, her fellow documents trainees had been happy to allow her and Hansen the bulk of Nema's attention. And of his plotting.
Grim Death with a Deal for You
, Jani had dubbed him, much to Hansen's delight. But he had been theirs to laugh at. After all he'd put them through, they'd felt entitled.

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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