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Authors: Lynn Hightower

Alien Eyes (7 page)

BOOK: Alien Eyes
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“You were told—”

“Humans get tired, Mother-One. I have studied them. It would be bad hospitality not to bring sit.”

The Elaki stiffened, but she waved a fin tip. “Permission.”

The small Elaki turned to David. “Please? Have a sit?”

The bench did not look like it had a prayer of holding him.

“Thank you.” David pressed his palm on the plastic. It was soft. The pouchling skittered back and forth, watching.

David sat down carefully. The bench held, damp on the seat of his pants. It was low to the ground, and David's knees rode high. He felt ridiculous, but touched.

“Good sitting, David Silver,” the pouchling said, voice high and fluting.

“Good sitting,” David agreed.

The pouchling rippled and slid from the room. The Elaki Mother-One was silent.

“What was Dahmi afraid of?” David asked. “Cho invasion?”

“I will not speak of such things. It is not safe.”

“When's the last time you saw her?”

“On TV.”

“Before that?”

“Outside with pouchlings. Throwing them into trees.”

“Doing … into trees?”

“It is game. She did not
throw
them into a tree. She … it is a game.”

“When was this?”

“Nine days before last night.”

“Nine days.” David rippled his fingers, counting. “Sunday? Sunday, you saw her?”

“Sunday-day. Yes.”

“Did she play with the pouchlings outside a lot?”

“Infrequent. Only when she was … the word? Happy. Only when she was happy, David Silver.”

TEN

David glanced up and down the street. No sign of string or Mel. He stepped up on the running board of the van and leaned in the open window.

The horn seemed overly loud in the quiet neighborhood.

“What's up?” the van asked. “Problem?”

“Mind your business.” David draped his jacket over the headrest and looked down the street to Dahmi's house.

The sun was high and hot. David rolled the sleeves back on his shirt, wondering if it was worth the trouble to wear a suit to interview Elaki. They didn't care what people wore. No scales no sales. As far as Elaki were concerned, people had strong cheesy odors, and it stank in a suit or a pair of jeans. Painter was going to clean her house this afternoon just because he'd been in it.

He stood outside the shockee where Dahmi/Packer had killed her pouchlings because she loved them. Was the danger real, or in her mind? What kind of danger could an Elaki Mother-One be in?

She had not gone to the police. Elaki were orderly, rule followers. Dahmi was afraid of the police.

Cho invasion. Enough to frighten any parent, Elaki or human.

They were very like the home invasions of the past. The bastards broke in while the families were home and took what they wanted, trashed the house, and, worse, tortured the families. Men, women, children—rape, pain, twisted pleasures. Usually they left them alive.

Cho invasions went a step further. They didn't leave them alive. But they took their time with the killing.

Motiveless sprees was the official line of thought. Very sick clusters of criminals, creating a twisted synergy. There had been two in Saigo City in the last nineteen months.

Could the Izicho be responsible? Both Saigo City victims had been predominantly Elaki groupings, with tenuous ties to the university, and stronger ties to the Guardians. But neither was deeply involved with the organization. Their connections were almost peripheral, very much on the fringes, nothing more serious than being, say, registered Democrats.

As far as he knew.

The killers were Elaki. Were they Izicho?

String, in the midst of the investigation.

David bit his thumbnail and looked at the house.

The ivy ground cover was trampled and torn, and bits of waxy green leaves spotted the gravel walk that led to the door. The front yard was crisscrossed with deep tire ruts, and there was broken glass near the front door. David walked around back.

The back window was sealed with thin plastic that had bowed in the hot sunlight. Shards of broken glass were scattered in the dirt beneath the window. David looked inside. The room was bare. In his mind's eye, he saw the four pouchlings side by side on the floor.

David heard voices.

“But yes, the human mind is easy to read.”

“Sure, String, sure.”

“Pick any number between one and ten.”

“Four.”

“Do
not tell
the number. Pick another one.”

“I know I heard that horn honk. David?”

“Pick any other number.”

“David?”

“Back here.” David moved around the side of the house to the front yard.

Mel grinned at him. “So what? She put the moves on you, partner?”

“The moves?” String said.

“Slang for a pass.” Mel sighed. “A sexual advance.”

“Between human and Elaki? You must joke.”

“Yes, he must,” David said.

“What did you learn?” String asked.

“That she was a wonderful mother, very happy, no access to a gun.” David looked at String. “She was playing with her children Sunday week. She was happy. Throwing them into trees.”

Mel grimaced. “Already snapped, huh?”

“It is game, Detective Mel. Play it with the little baby ones.”

“Much belly rippling,” Mel said sourly. “I didn't know Elaki played.”

“The point is,” David said, “she was happy. Do you think it's likely … String, say Dahmi was convinced that she and her pouchlings were going to be the target of a cho invasion. How likely would it be for her to be outside, throwing her pouchlings into the trees?”

“There aren't even any trees around here,” Mel said.

“Not all likely,” said String.

“Humans … a human mother, or father, still might play with their kids, even if they were upset.”

String teetered back and forth on his fringe. “Human would ignore pressing matters and play?”

“People,
parents
,” Mel said, “might still play with the kid if nothing could be done about it then. Why drag the kid down with you? Let them be normal.”

“And the pouch … the child has no idea the problem or upset?”

Mel shrugged. “A lot of the time they know something's up. Depends how bad it is.”

“Ah. This is when the pretending is taught.”

“Just answer the question, String,” David said. He wiped sweat from the back of his neck. “Likely or not?”

String considered. “Hard to say. But this outdoor game. Is it part of the usual regimen? Mother-Ones often most organized the day.”

“No,” David said. “Painter said she only saw them out playing like that now and then.”

“Ah,” String said. “More sense. It is a spur moment thing. Would be like human female, walking down street, swinging her purse.”

David was quiet.

“Something happened, then,” Mel said. “Something major happened between the time she was doing whatever weird thing she was doing out here with the kiddos. Yeah, I heard you, throwing them into the trees. And between the time she killed them. Miriam tell you how long they'd been dead before you found them?”

“Ninety hours.”

“This is Wednesday, then. She kill them Friday night?”

“Afternoon or morning,” David said.

“And when was she throwing them around?”

“Sunday.”

“So whatever it was happened between last Sunday afternoon and Friday morning.”

“She had to get the gun,” David Said. “It happened before Friday.”

“I wonder what it was.”

ELEVEN

The waiting room of Bellmini General was full, and the cacophony of distressed Elaki gave the air a frantic flavor. One Elaki moaned. The others politely turned away.

David wondered if there was coffee this afternoon. He must be an addict to want coffee in this heat.

Two pouchlings skittered in front of him and he stopped just in time. Another Elaki cried out and teetered sideways. The other Elaki turned away as one, only to find themselves facing a sick pouchling. Elaki hisses filled the air, as Elaki twisted and turned in doomed efforts of courtesy.

The same blonde sat behind the reception desk. Her hair stuck up in clumps around her head, and her lipstick was worn and chewed. She spoke in soft, careful tones to an Elaki Mother-One who held a tiny pouchling.

“Yes, yes, ma'am.” Her voice was shaky. “We are giving proper priority. We're shorthanded, excuse me, short on staff.” Her voice became tearful. “We're usually not this busy Wednesday
mornings
. Yes, ma'am, yes … it
would
be good to plan for such things.” The blonde looked up and saw Mel over David's shoulder. She flinched.

“Doctor …” David frowned and looked at String. “What was that doctor's name?”

“Aslanti,” String said. “Please to see the Aslanti, medical.”

The blonde frowned. “You'll have to wait.”

Mel smiled with his teeth. “Sweetheart, just tell us if she's on duty.”

“Yes. But she's—”

“Get me some coffee, will you, hon?”

“I most certainly will not.” The blonde straightened her back and raised her chin.

Mel grinned and led David and String through the swing doors to emergency.

There was no television in the ER this afternoon. David leaned close to String.

“Wednesday a big day for Elaki accidents?”

String drifted slightly sideways, the equivalent of an Elaki shrug. “Not for me to know the experience of.”

“Gumby, if you mean no,” Mel said, “just say no.”

String hissed. “There.” He slid across the tile floor, belly plates rippling. “Aslanti, medical.”

Her answering hiss was audible.

Mel looked at David. “Looks like love to me.”

“Dr. Aslanti?” David said.

“Yes, police detective. Please to hurry, much to do.”

“We need to talk to Dahmi. And I'd like an update on her condition.”

“Yes?” Aslanti teetered back and forth on her fringe.

There was a short silence.

David tried again. “Can you tell us—”

“Why you ask?”

“Cops are irritating, aren't we?” Mel said.

“No. No, why you ask to me?”

David had a sudden bad feeling. “Where is she?”

“Not here.”

He gritted his teeth. He'd had one too many literal Elaki today. “What room did they give her?”

“Fifth floor, mental. I tell all this to other of the police. Why not to speak for them?”

David glanced at Mel. He felt a chill at the base of his spine.

“What other police?” Mel's voice was rough.

“Other ones. I not remember names. One say … oh, I not know. Am busy, please to—”


What other cops
?” David put a hand on her soft scaly side and she skittered backward, out of reach. “Human? People cops?”

“No, not hot dog flatfoot.” She turned to String and hissed. “More Izicho.”

“I'll take the stairs,” Mel said. He ran to the door, then turned. “Where
are
the stairs?”

A woman holding a basket of plastic specimen bags, one Elaki scale to a bag, looked at him curiously. She popped her gum.

“Best way is, you go like through there—”


Show
me.” Mel grabbed her arm and pulled her along.

“Parking lot, String,” David snapped. He looked at Aslanti. “Show me the staff elevator.”

“Elevator?”

David gave her a push. It was like rolling a heavy vacuum cleaner. “
Go
.”

Aslanti swept ahead of him, shedding scales. She glided out of the ER into a main hospital corridor, then made a sharp left.

An Elaki mounted upright on what looked like a scaled-down fork lift was being propelled into a open elevator.


Priority
,” Dr. Aslanti called. “
Please
to scram out of the way.”

A startled boy in green cotton scrubs pulled the fork lift back out of the elevator and watched David and Aslanti scuttle in.

“Five to mental, code secure Aslanti,” she said. “Priority speed.”

David grimaced. Priority speed on a hospital elevator? They might make it by dinnertime.

“Brace yourself, Detective.”

The door slid shut and the elevator shot upward like a rocket. David grabbed for the side handle that wasn't there, and fell backward. Aslanti, lightweight, no ballast, her frame no more than three inches thick, spun sideways past him.

“Gabilla,” she muttered. “Most stupid system.”

David caught her in one arm and held her close. She smelled citric and was soft to the touch. He wondered if she was offended by his human odor. The elevator jerked to a stop and he let her go.

The door slid open and Aslanti glided through. She was moving fast now, he could just keep up. The floor was polished and slippery and he skidded once, Elaki staff looking up at the squeak of his shoes.

Aslanti paused outside a narrow black door. “Secure, Aslanti,” she said. The door opened a few inches, and she pushed her way in. David turned sideways to fit through.

The room was tiny and close, the walls dark brown. The S-shaped bed was shoved crookedly against the wall. A leather buckle dangled over the headboard. A smattering of scales trailed across the floor.

No Dahmi.

David wondered how she'd stood it, restrained and netted in this narrow nightmare, alone with her thoughts.

Perhaps it was different for Elaki.

He looked up at the sound of pounding feet. Mel's face was red and he was breathing hard.

He stopped when he saw David's face. “They got her?”

TWELVE

David sat at the Oval table in Roger Halliday's office and watched Enid West on the news. Was it his imagination, or were her teeth unusually sharp?

BOOK: Alien Eyes
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