Read The City Who Fought Online

Authors: Anne McCaffrey,S. M. Stirling

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Science fiction; American, #Space ships, #Space warfare, #Sociology, #Social Science, #Urban

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BOOK: The City Who Fought
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"No substitute for hands on," Channa said with determined cheerfulness.

She reached up to the hatchway and chinned herself, sliding into the narrow inspection corridor. "Hand me up the toolkit, will you?"

* * *

Two hours later the chief stood rigidly as Channa finished her checklist. His skin was a muddy gray under the natural brown, and he seemed to be shaking slightly.

" . . . and deviations are more than
thirty percent
beyond approved," she said crisply.

"Ms. Hap"—the luckless bureaucrat said, trying to cut in once more—"those long-range systems are purely backup. They haven't been used since the SSS was commissioned!" At her raised eyebrow, he continued hurriedly, "Besides, I'm understaffed, and—"

"Chief Doak," she went on. "Regular personal inspections are standard procedure in all installations of this type. I don't
care
if the equipment is used infrequently. Backups exist for an
emergency
when they had better be able to perform the functions for which they were designed. And I
don't care
if you send in the remotes every so often. Machinery does what you tell it to do, whether that's the right thing or not.

Experienced technicians are supposed to have a feel for their equipment. Your people obviously don't.

This isn't satisfactory. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Ms. Hap," he said woodenly.

Bitch, she read in his eye. That's fine. You have your right to an opinion of me, and I have a right to expect you to do your work, she thought, turning and striding briskly for the door.

"I don't care what anyone says, Ms. Hap. I think you're going to do a great job."

It was one of the communications technicians. Channa smiled pleasantly at her and said softly, noting her name tag. "Frankly, Ms. . . . Foss, I don't give a damn
what
you think. I'm only concerned with the quality of your work. Which, at the moment, you're not doing." She continued down the corridor.

"Excuse me." Simeon said to Channa when she was out of earshot.

"Yes?"

"Did you have to be so nasty to her?"

"Simeon, it would be unprofessional of me to allow people to choose up sides like that.
We
can chew out a section chief, but interfering in the chain of command is petty and divisive and causes morale problems.

Perhaps I'm not going to be here very long, and I'm unwilling to leave that sort of mess for someone else to sort out. You've got to nip these things in the bud."

"Nipping is one thing. You cut her off at the knees."

"Oh, I see. You think I was unkind."

"You
were
! In fact, you were downright cruel."

Channa stood a moment, hands on hips, looking down thoughtfully. Then she shifted her weight and crossed her arms. "Simeon, I noticed that Tell Radon was here twelve years longer than standard retirement date."

"He wasn't ready to go," Simeon replied suspiciously.

"But six years ago he submitted his resignation."

"He changed his mind and withdrew it. I wasn't about to force him out. He's a friend."

"Un-hunh. Well, when I glanced over some of the meeting records for the last few years, I couldn't help but notice that everyone behaved as though he wasn't there. On the infrequent occasions when he did make a contribution, it was immediately questioned. Or don't the words 'Is that right, Simeon' sound familiar?"

"So what are you getting at?"

"I'm getting at the basic difference in our styles, Simeon. When I'm cruel, it's to prevent more pain further down the line. When you're cruel, it's to get your own way."

"What!"

"Surely you know that consideration for a friend can go both ways? Maybe Tell Radon stayed because he knew you would prefer it that way. You've had things your own way around here for quite a long while now. I don't imagine you were looking forward to breaking in someone new. Some stranger who might want to do things
their
way instead of using the nice, smooth routines you've worked out over time."

"Where are you getting this bullshit?"

She shrugged. "It's that or you just got so used to seeing him humiliated on a daily basis that you didn't notice it anymore. Either way, it probably felt the same to him."

"I know him, Hap; you don't. If Tell had a problem, he would have said something. Why would he suffer in silence when he knew he could come to me?"

"Have you looked at the recordings?"

"I don't
have
to look at anything. I was there."

"They'll confirm what I've said, you know."

You corycium-plated bitch!
"Has it occurred to you that you're biased? You've been finding fault with me since we said hello. Let me tell you something, omniscient one, you can't get a good impression of Tell from the recs. He hated the damn meetings. 'Hell,' he used to say, 'these frigging meetings make my brain melt.' He
rarely
spoke at meetings. They just weren't his style."

"Was it customary to question his every comment when he did speak?"

"You're making a simple request for confirmation sound like attempted murder."

Channa bit her lower lip. "Simeon, the recs will confirm that what I saw is there, very plain to see, unmistakable, clear, obvious. You might find a review of the meeting recs illuminating. Okay?"

After a moment's reflection, something in Simeon opened like an eye and he saw a bitter twist to Tell Radon's mouth. Tell had always described it as "gas," but . . .

"You fight dirty, Channa," he said.

She blushed, but her expression remained hostile. "I'm angry," she said honestly. "My career is in ribbons because you wanted him to stay on. So when I saw . . ." She bit her lip again. Then she went on more calmly. "You have to be careful how you use expressions like, 'you cut her off at the knees' and 'you were cruel,' around me. It tends to set me off. Also, you could have taken me at my word instead of turning self-righteous."

"Yeah . . . I'll remember that." He paused. "Y'know, if you're really so hot to get out of here, I'll back your transfer request to the hilt. Since I didn't get what I asked for last time, I figure I'm still owed a few favors—"

"Ho no. The last time you backed someone to the hilt, the hilt ended up protruding from between
my
shoulder blades. Thank you so much. Now that I think about it, I intend to give Central Admin plenty of time to forget this mess and my starring role in it. You're stuck with me for a couple of years, at least, so you'd better get used to it. Oh, on the subject of overlooking things . . ."

"Yeah?" What now? Is there dust on the light fixtures?

"I came face to face with a little boy in one of the aft engineering compartments."

Silence.

"What? No comment? Does this mean that you know about him? After all, you
are
able to view all areas of the station."

In the silence that followed, she walked over to the wall and leaned casually against it. "He was gone before I could react. But you know what's really strange? There is
nothing
on file about such a kid." The silence lengthened. "Simeon?" she asked with some asperity.

"A little boy?"

"Yes, Simeon, about twelve years old—Standard—give or take a couple of years. In the aft power compartment. A restricted area, I believe. A kid who looks and smells like a Sondee mud-puppy.

Whose child is he? What can you tell me about him? Don't even try to tell me you know nothing. Kids don't acquire a patina of dirt like that overnight. He also looked like he'd been eating regularly, if not well.

So someone's been looking out for him . . . minimally."

I don't think saying
"
You're cute when you're angry
"
would be a very good idea right now,
Simeon thought. He froze her image and scanned it for temperature variations and pupil dilation. She was angry on behalf of an abandoned child rather than at him.
Which makes a nice change.

Besides, he could use an ally with this problem.

"He calls himself Joat," Simeon confessed with a sigh. "I don't know how long he's been here. I discovered him by accident myself. He's mechanically brilliant. The area he's staked out as his own just stopped needing repairs. That's probably the only reason I investigated. I mean, there are enough squeaky wheels around here. Why take notice of one that's quiet? Then I noticed that the last repair made in that section was two years ago. I got curious about nothing ever going wrong. So I went on a prowl, using mobile bugs, and kept, well, softpersons refer to it as seeing things out of the corner of their eyes. I always thought that had something to do with blinking, you know, eyelashes getting in your line of sight or something. But I kept seeing these flickers of movement and I
don't
blink. By turning up my sound reception I could sometimes hear little scrapes and movement, but there was a sort of 'white noise'

masking it. It seemed unlikely that everything else in the area was running perfectly with the exception of my sensors, so I decided to do a stakeout. Eventually, he got careless and wandered into my line of sight.

The first time I spoke to him, blip, he disappeared. It was a long time before I could get him to talk to me. You'll note I said talk, not trust. He's incredibly wary. I can't believe he was clumsy enough to let you see him."

"Two
years
?"

Leave it to you, you bitchoid, to pick out the pertinent information.
"I said the last logged repair was two years ago. It's been known to happen. What can I say? Somewhere from two years to two months, who knows?"

"Who is he, Simeon?"

"His story is that he ran away from a tramp freighter. Joat told me that the captain won him from his uncle in a card game. I know, I know, that sort of thing's illegal, but it
does
happen out here in the boonies. The tramp left abruptly and went somewhere not listed. Joat has never had it soft, but apparently, the captain he ran from was of a different order of brutality altogether."

Channa wrinkled her nose. "Sounds like something out of Dickens."

"Yeah, well, the more things change . . ." and he left the sentence dangling. "What are you going to do?"

he asked warily. After his first, disastrously wrong, impression, Channa hadn't struck him as a bleeding heart. Would she suggest flooding the compartment to flush the poor kid out?

"We've got to get him out of there. We can't leave a little boy in a dangerous
and
restricted area. It's illegal at best and irresponsible by any standard."

"He's been badly hurt and frightened, Channa. He doesn't want to be with people. The little guy can barely tolerate me. He likes machinery better than people, and I qualify as a borderline case. Besides, even
I
can't find him if he really doesn't want to be found. Maybe we should leave him alone for the time being. He's where he wants to be."

Channa looked up with her jaw set. "Simeon, no child
wants
to be alone in the dark and the cold of a power room, or wherever he's lodged himself. He needs and deserves to be taken care of! It's his right."

"I agree in principle, but I think he needs more time. I'll take the responsibility."

"What does that mean?"

"I'll take full and complete responsibility for what happens to him."

Channa brightened. "Really?"

"Yeah, really."

"Okay," she said, "I'll call up some information on adoption procedures and we can get doings underway."

"What?" I'm always screaming what? at this woman. I'm beginning to feel like a demented parrot.

"Well, what else did you mean when you said you would accept responsibility?"

"That, if anything goes wrong, I'll answer for it." I swear, if I had hair I'd tear it out. Softshells have some advantages after all. But, what is this . . . this . . . wench trying to do to me?

"Great! If he gets killed or maimed, you'll accept a discommodation? Well, how big of you!" Channa cut Simeon off when he began to splutter a protest. "By now you should know that I listen to what you say, even when
you
don't. I promise you, Simeon. I will
always
call you on it when you try to shut me up or fob me off. You're not going to shuffle this one off, buddy. I won't let you."

"What are you talking about? I didn't put him in this situation. I want to help the kid. Hell, I
am
helping. I just don't see any need to rush him. The fact that you saw him may mean that he's almost ready to come out on his own. I'm certainly opposed to coercing him. Geeeze but you're hostile! You're so willing to believe the worst about me that every time I talk to you I feel like my circuits are being realigned. Am I really such an evil bastard? Or," and he changed his tone from plaintive to trenchant, "could it be that you really are the most bloody-minded, impossible woman I have ever met?"

"Oh, Simeon," she drawled, "you have no idea how difficult I can be. Just cross me if you want to find out."

A chill settled in Simeon's mind.
Does that mean that so far she's been
reasonable?
Gah!

"You're about to become a father, Simeon. That's what full and complete responsibility for a child means. Congratulations, it's a boy.
If
your word is good."

"They're not going to let me adopt a kid."

"Why not? You've been extensively tested for emotional stability, you have a responsible job. You even appear to care very much about his feelings. Do you think such a wounded child, of his age, is going to have prospective parents lining up to take care of him? I think you've got a very good chance."

She clapped her hands and rubbed them together gleefully. "So . . . let's get to work on it."

* * *

Mart'an presented the menu with a flourish and left them with a bow.

Channa looked around wide-eyed at the dimly lit, subdued elegance of the Perimeter Restaurant. There were even actual beeswax candles burning on the tables; a fortune for material and air-bills both.

No pleasure like spending somebody else's money,
she thought. The Perimeter was paying; something of a goodwill gesture. And it
was
logical for her to get acquainted with one of the station's premier tourist attractions.

BOOK: The City Who Fought
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ads

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