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Authors: Kristine Smith

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And now he's back
. And still causing trouble, according to Evan.
If all you think he's interested in is the occasional joyride, have I got news for you
.

She cracked a file seal and glanced down the table of contents of an Interior budget report, then scanned the file. Her 'pack worked without a hitch, as it had since the day she'd received it. “Anytime you want to compare equipment, Mr. Ridgeway, you just say the word.” With that, Two of Six, the Eyes and Ears, set to work.

 

By the time the patient arrived on Earth, she had already entered the acute phase of the condition. This phase, which is characterized by physical malaise and extreme neurochemical imbalances, played itself out over the seventy-two-hour period predicted during lab trials
.

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

“Do you have anything to declare, madam?”

Jani edged away from the half-opened door, which led to the Customs check-in booths reserved for “personal interviews,” and left the young Commerce staffer and her husband, both sweaty and shaken, to their fates.
They know you're smuggling something, dears—may as well give it up
. Once a Customs inspector began addressing you formally, all bets were off.

My guess is collectibles or jewelry
. Jani had followed the couple since they'd docked at Luna. Well dressed and parcelladen, they had shunned the bullet cars that would have taken them to the shuttle docks' VIP section in minutes, preferring instead the hike through two kilometers of walkways.

Jani had followed them, curiosity egging her on even as fatigue set in, aggravating her limp. She watched them shift packages and whisper frantically, and waited out their frequent restroom stops, stifling the urge to sneak up behind them and shout, “
Boo
!” Instead, she'd trailed them into the deceptively comforting confines of the lounge, and waited.

Within minutes, a Treasury Customs official, dark gold uniform making him look like a tarnished elf, interrupted the pair's exploration of the buffet and led them away.

The restroom stops tipped Customs off
. Scancams lined the public walkways of shuttle stations, but they were unobtrusive and easily ignored by fatigued travelers now a mere five-hour hop from home. Amateurs. Like any game,
smuggling had its rules. You followed them, or you paid the penalty.

She cut down the short hallway and entered the spacious lounge. Collecting a cup of tea and a sandwich from the extravagant buffet, she searched for a seat near the wall-spanning window. In the distance, the Lunar shipyards gleamed in the unfiltered sunlight with molten force, drawing the attention of most of the waiting passengers as construction sites always did.

Jani settled into a recently vacated chair, the documents case between her feet, duffel in her lap. Residual stranger-warmth soaked into her lower back. She took a bite of her sandwich, some sort of smoked fish with herbed mayonnaise.
Good, but Lucien could have done better
.

Lucien. Pascal. Her excellent steward's real name. After several more failed attempts to bug Jani's cabin, followed by futile efforts to gain access to her duffel and documents case, he had proposed a truce, which she had accepted. Life aboard the
Arapaho
became more conventional after that, though no less interesting. Watching Lucien operate within the strict hierarchy of the Cabinet ship's Service crew had proven educational. He never broke rules. He never bucked authority. But things got done his way, usually by people who should have known better.

He had even finagled her some Interiorwear that actually fit, like the grey-and-white wrapshirt and trousers she wore. A courtesy, he had told her, from one professional to another.

I almost preferred it when he was trying to gig me—it took my mind off my work
. Evan's files. She understood why he had been so reluctant to let her see them. There had been some dealings with a junior member of the Justice Ministry that wouldn't have borne the weight of a public inquiry, as well as personal financial hopscotch of the sort that implied tax evasion. It had taken her almost two weeks just to sort out the intricacies of the accounting involved. The NorthPort Haárin could have learned something from Evan's financial advisor.

But even so, she'd seen worse. Certainly nothing to merit a death. There had already been too many. First, Evan's and Lyssa's children, drowned during their efforts to sail an an
tique boat during a summer holiday. Two boys and a girl—ages fourteen, twelve, and ten. Martin, Jerrold, and Serena.

Then came Lyssa. Official record confirmed the gossip. The woman's behavior had become increasingly erratic over the past two years. Unexplained disappearances. Rumors of drug abuse. Hushed-up accidents.

But all the documents scanned within normal variation
. Nothing to suggest tampering. Nothing to merit a murder.
Have I proved your fears unfounded already, Evan
? As things now stood, Lyssa died a broken woman's death, driven by past tragedy.

Jani watched construction workers flit along a future commercial transport's spindly framework, one beat ahead of the immense robot ganglion that did the actual hoisting, joining, and fastening. No matter how well-programmed the 'bot, however fuzzified the thinking, human supervision was still required. No robot was capable of seeing the overall picture. Ultimately, it only knew what it was told.

Jani watched a moon-suited human dodge and weave about one of the arms like an armored gnat…

I sense an effort to lead me by the nose
.

…ensuring that the arm moved in the correct direction and hit the chosen target.

His initials are Durian Ridgeway
.

Jani finished her sandwich. She hoped she hadn't wasted almost five weeks working with half the data, but she knew that hope was misplaced. She had slipped an urgent meeting request, coded to Evan's attention, into the queue of scrambled messages transmitted to Chicago every half hour. But she doubted she would receive a reply before her shuttle left in—she checked her timepiece—forty-five minutes.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

Jani turned toward the voice. On the far side of the lounge, Customs clerks moved among the waiting passengers, logging colonial purchases, calculating tariffs, handing out receipts. She exhaled with a shudder. Augie notwithstanding, she hadn't been breathing very easily the past few minutes. But she could relax now. The sending-out-of-the-clerks meant all those who merited more personal attention from Customs had already been winnowed.

I wonder how my young couple is doing
? Had the body cavity scans begun? Attorneys been contacted?

“Do you have anything to declare?” Chipper voices grew closer. Paper rustled. Recording boards chirped. “Anything at all?”

If you only knew
.

“Nothing?”

Not an issue, now. You had your shot and missed. Go away
.

“Are you quite sure?”

Yes. My secrets remain mine. I am Jani Moragh Kilian. Captain. United Services. C-number S-one-two-dash-four-seven-dash-one-seven-nine-D. Sideline Service, assigned to Rauta Shèràa Base, First Documents and Documentation Division. Not a real soldier
.

“Anything else?”

Eighteen years ago, in a place called Knevçet Shèràa, during the height of the idomeni civil war, I killed my commanding officer in self-defense. His name was Rikart Neumann—Colonel—Gisela Detmers-Neumann's uncle. She and others would perhaps take exception to the self-defense argument, but since they're aware of the events that precipitated the shoot-out, they may not dare voice such
.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

The Laumrau panicked when they learned of Neumann's death
. First they lobbed “pink”; the microbe infested and disabled all the weapons, environmental, and communication arrays. Then came the shatterboxes.
The Laumrau had secrets to bury, which are none of your concern. All you need know is that, in the process, they buried my corporal. She died when a wall collapsed on her. Corporal Yolan Cray, Mainline Service, Twelfth Rover Corps, C-number M-four-seven-dash-five-six-dash-two-eight-six-R
.

“I'm ready, miss—please continue.”

One idomeni day later, I killed twenty-six Laumrau in an effort to save my remaining troops. The deaths were not “clean” as far as the Laumrau were concerned. No human had ever become involved in one of their skirmishes before—the resulting disorder upset them. Since I had violated the Bilateral Accord, the Service would have turned me over to
the idomeni for trial followed by inevitable execution, but
—

“I'm sorry, miss, could you speak up, please?”

—
but the transport carrying me and my troops from Knevçet Shèràa to Rauta Shèràa exploded on takeoff
. Lift-array failure. Everyone gone. All her real soldiers.
I know their C-numbers, too
. All fourteen of them.
Do you want to hear them, too
?

“That's not necessary, ma'am. Please continue.”

I, however, did not die
. Not medically, anyway.
Three doctors salvaged me from the wreckage, for reasons that would shock you to your core. They pieced me together and hid me in a hospital basement in Rauta Shèràa's human enclave. As I healed, the tide of civil war turned, and the Laumrau lost to the Vynshà
. Laumrau descended to Laum, and Vynshà ascended to Vynshàrau. No one fights to avenge the deaths of the losers, not even the well-ordered idomeni.

But they remembered. They called her
kièrshia
, she'd learned later. Toxin.
You don't want to allow me within your perimeter—everything I touch dies
.

“Do you have anything to declare?”

The pennies on my eyes
.

“Do you have anything to declare?” The smiling Customs clerk stationed himself beside Jani's chair, recording board in hand, beaming in a way that reminded her of Lucien.

“Just these.” Jani removed some pieces of truesilver jewelry, purchased in a hurried swoop through a pricey Felix Station shop, from the side pocket of her duffel. With cheerful efficiency, the clerk scanned the information from the still-attached price tags into his board's data bank and totaled the tariff. Jani just as cheerfully rattled off the Interior account to which the tariff could be billed.

Rule One: Always have something hefty to declare to throw them off
. Transaction completed, receipt tucked away, Jani settled back and watched the construction workers hover and dart like metallic bees around a skeletal hive.
Take it from an old smuggler
. She sipped the tea, winced at its bitterness, and waited for her boarding call.

 

“Admit it, Jani. You'd never seen anything like it in your life. All those old skyscrapers! All that history!” Evan bustled
her out onto the glass-walled balcony that adjoined his office and pointed out his view, which included both the Chicago skyline and the nearby lake. “I hope you got a chance to see the memorial to the Greatest War on the way in.”

Jani took in the curious array of oddly shaped buildings, all obscured by wind-whipped snow. “You mean ‘The War of Family Aggression,' don't you?”

“There were no Families back then, Jani,” Evan said patiently.

“No. They came later.”

“I seem to recall us having this discussion before.” Evan sighed. “Politics aside, it's worth a visit. It's a liquiprism obelisk that changes color on the hour. Really quite striking.”

“Evan, I don't know if you've noticed, but it's not sight-seeing weather.” Jani looked out at the lake, which had taken on a churning, milky grey life of its own. “If this balcony wasn't enclosed and well heated, we'd be icicles within seconds.”

“Yes, but it's home.”

“Not for me.” She turned her back on his fallen face. “Sorry—didn't mean to rain on your birthday.” She hesitated at the office entry.
Why do I feel like I just kicked a puppy
? “I'm sure it must be very nice. In the spring.”

“Oh, it is.” Evan hurried to her side. “The parks. The arboretums. You'd love it here in the spring.” He escorted her back into his retreat's soothing blue-and-green depths. “I gathered your ride here from O'Hare was more exciting than you may have liked.”

“That's an understatement.” Jani sank into a chair across from Evan's desk. “Nothing like a collision with split batteries to disrupt the flow of traffic on a twelve-lane skimway. Then the HazMat unit came. Then this storm. At least it held off until after I landed.” She shuddered. “I think my driver has a death wish. I'd yank her license.”

Evan perched on the edge of his desk. “Quite an indictment, coming from you. I blamed my first grey hairs on our sojourns through Rauta Shèràa.” That little
bon mot
launched, he eased behind his desk and kicked back. “Chicago is the Commonwealth capital, Jani. Over seventeen million people live within the metroplex limits. I can't tell you the exact
square kilometers offhand, but the number borders on the ridiculous.” His look turned concerned. “I hadn't considered culture shock. Are you?”

“Shocked by the wonder of it all? I'll live.” Jani massaged the hard knot in the back of her neck where augie had planted his foot. She had coped with the throbbing red lights on the emergency vehicles well enough, but the sirens had gotten to her. She held out her hands. The right one had finally stopped shaking. The left one had never started.
Half-sane, at least, but which half
? “Does this place have a gym? Exercise helps.”

“Five. I'll get you a pass for the one I use—it has the best equipment.” He picked absently at his fingernails. “We have a decent medical staff, as well,” he added carefully. “All Neoclona-trained.”


No
, thank you.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, stop acting like an idomeni!” Evan's voice rasped with irritation. “What, I'm not your physician-priest, so you can't talk to me? When was the last time you had your augmentation evaluated? Any augmented vet who works for Interior has to be checked out every six months and have at least one precautionary take-down per year.”

“Forget it. Look, I received enough doctoring after the crash to last a lifetime. Half my limbs and most of my insides were grown in a tank. I'm sick of the smell of antiseptic, poking and prodding, and white sheets, not necessarily in that order. And forget any damned take-down. No one's going to stick a blinking box in my face and short out my brain for my own good. I've had it. And speaking of ‘had it.'” She gave Evan a brief rundown of her thoughts with regard to his files. His headshaking grew more and more pronounced each time Jani alluded to the possibility that Durian Ridgeway had purposely withheld information.

BOOK: Code of Conduct
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