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Authors: Lynn Hightower

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BOOK: Alien Eyes
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“And in a startling development, Dahmi/Packer, the Elaki Mother-One
alleged
to have committed infanticide by smothering her four pouchlings—”

“How'd she know they were smothered?” Mel said. “We didn't release that.”

“—was kidnapped from Bellmini General Hospital today, where she was undergoing mental evaluation. The Saigo City Police Department will not—”

“Turn it off,” David said softly. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling.

Della peeled a tangerine, carefully placing strips of deep orange skin on a white napkin. She looked thoughtful.

“Off,” Halliday said. The television blipped off and the overhead light went out. String looked up. Halliday sighed. “Lights on.” He glanced warily at the television. The screen stayed blank. He looked around the room. Mel was slumped in his chair. Pete had his arms folded and his eyes shut.

“Where are the Elaki?” Halliday said.

Della delicately spit a seed into her palm. “String's right there, Captain.”

Halliday eased into the chair behind his desk. “The
other
Elaki.”

“The Elaki-Three,” Mel said.

“Where
are
they, Mel.”

“In the waiting room at Bellmini,” David said.

“Doing what?”

“Interviews. The waiting room was full. We thought some of the Elaki there might have noticed something.”

“Yeah, when they didn't have their backs turned.” Mel grinned and David gave him a warning look.

Halliday put his fingers together. When he spoke, his voice was flat, words carefully enunciated. “This was a professional job, wasn't it? That was your take, David, as I understand it.”

David nodded, unsmiling.

“Based on?” Halliday said.

“No witnesses, except the doctor, um, I can never remember—”

“Aslanti, medical.” String hissed. Halliday looked at him.

“And there was one nurse who talked to them,” David said. “I interviewed the hospital bed, the clock, the elevator. Nothing in the room knew anything—memory erased on each one. The elevator didn't know anything either, but it doesn't look like anybody did anything to the memory. So they likely took the stairs. In and out—took a patient out of a secure, psychiatric floor. And nobody knows anything. That doesn't happen by accident, Roger.”

“It's not likely then, is it? That the Elaki in the waiting room saw anything?” Halliday said.

“A thorough, methodical investigation,” David said. “You have to ask.”

The silence was heavy.

“Seems a poor use of manpower, Detective Silver.”

“Remember,
Captain
, that the Elaki-Three—”

“Will you quit calling them that?”

“Were appointed to see that there were no cover-ups. The Elaki doctor—”

“Assslanti.”

“Aslanti said whoever it was, was cops. Elaki cops. Izicho.”

“Isss
not
Izicho.” String spread a wing tip and a scale fell, landing at Della's feet. She bent down and picked it up.

“What for you do this?” String said.

“We don't want anybody to think we're hiding anything,” David said.

“And we don't want to fuck up the investigation,” Mel said. “And these guys
aren't
cops, and they don't know squatola. Even Gumby don't like them. Do you, String?”

String hissed.

“Well he wouldn't, would he?” Pete said.

Mel frowned.

“So they get access to witnesses,” Delia said. She daintily wiped her hands on Mel's jacket, which hung from the back of his chair. “But nothing critical.”

“Nothing they can screw up,” Mel said. He looked from his jacket to Delia.

“And what have the
professional
cops come up with?” Halliday said. “A secured prisoner who vanishes from her hospital bed. What kind of security was there, anyway? She—”

“She was in restraints, Roger,” David said. “Nets and leather buckles. Somebody let her out. When, I don't know. Aslanti thinks it was just before lunch. Around ten-thirty, or so.”

“That's just before lunch?”

“Hospital schedule,” Mel said.

“But they got great elevators,” David added.

Halliday leaned back in his chair. “Theories, please. Who and why?”

“Izicho?” Pete said. “Sorry, String, but that's what the doctor said.”

String moved from side to side.

“Get a grip, Gumby,” Mel said. “We got to be objective.”

“Why objective? I know things. Is good to know, then not the time wasted.”

“We got to prove it,” Mel said. “Best favor you can do the whole Izicho secret police bunch is prove they had nothing to do with Dahmi, or the cho invasions.”

String turned sideways, both eye prongs stiff. “That may a point be made.”

“Sure it is, Gumby. And you got to at least admit the possibility of some kind of extremist group of Izicho involved. I mean, what do the Izicho think, String, of the Guardians?”

“Anarchists,” String said.

“Yeah, well, see, most people think the Guardians have the right idea. Personal freedom—it's a hangup with hot dogs, String.”

“Much trouble.”

“Okay, say you're right. What kind of trouble?”

“Not obey community rules. Laws. People hurt when this to be case. Follow Guardians, no rules, then what? Killing allowed? Theft?”

“Okay, String. Suppose you got a group of Izicho who are real worried about the Guardians. Maybe they think the combination of Guardian politics and Earth freedom are too dangerous. Maybe they decide to do something about it.”

“What does this have to do with Dahmi?” Delia said.

“The neighbor—Painter—she said Dahmi was a big fan of Angel Eyes.”

Pete snorted. “Angel Eyes. She's too old for this stuff, she's retired.”

An old Elaki. David wondered if the ancient Elaki Mother-One was still on the sidewalk outside the office.

“She used to run the Guardians,” Delia said. “She's still got lots of popular support.”

“Yeah, well, so does Reagan,” Mel said.

“He's dead.”

“Finally.”

“That could be attractive,” Pete said. “Blaming it on Reagan.”

String looked from one to the other. “What is Reagan?”

“Trust me, Gumby, there's some things about humans too horrible to know.”

David rubbed his eyes. “Suppose it was Izicho. Suppose it was just like Dahmi said. She finds out, somehow, she's a target for a cho invasion. Why would the Izicho take her now? They've accomplished what they want.”

“She would be most dangerous,” String said.

“Aw, come on.”

“No, Detective Mel. Please to hear this. She not irrational if follow the theory. Soon to recover from shock. Soon to have nothing to lost. Soon to be most dangerous. Mother-One with pouchlings to avenge. Could be much trouble.”

“I believe it.” Delia pointed at David. “We all know
his
wife.”

String bowed deeply. “Rose Silver much admire.”

David bit his thumbnail. “What about the Guardians?”

“Them?” Pete frowned. “Why? They should be on her side.”

“Ohhhh,” Delia said. “I see it. Sure. They are on her side. They took her to protect her.”

“What do we know about this group?” Roger said.

David shrugged.

“Maybe we better find out.”

“I think it's time I met Angel Eyes,” David said. “Maybe I'll stop in for a lecture.”

Pete pushed his chair back. “Are we wrapped here? 'Cause if we are, I haven't had my lunch.”

“You bring that garlic salami again?” Mel asked. “You did, we're moving your desk downstairs.”

“Pastrami, today. Pastrami and cheese. And …” He faltered and looked at Delia. “A tangerine.”

THIRTEEN

The receptionist at the school of Diplomacy was human, and the waiting room had comfortable chairs, people, and no elusive scent of lime. Edmund University had Elaki faculty members, but not very many.

The boy behind the desk was young. Most likely, David decided, a student on a work/study scholarship. He wore blue jeans, and squinted over a book on physical anthropology when he wasn't answering the phone or admitting ignorance to people's questions. He had a trace of acne, innocent blue eyes, and a tendency to push the wrong button and disconnect people when the phone rang.

Every time the kid screwed up, David felt a twinge of satisfaction. He was beginning to cherish human incompetence.

Mel was humming. David could not quite recognize the tune. String was quiet in the corner, and no one stared at him. Elaki were part of the fabric of the university. As were humans. String had that stillness about him, that look of waiting, of patience, the Elaki ability to go inside himself. Becoming one, they called it.

Mel always said one what.

David cleared his throat. He glanced back at the coffee table. His choices were
Package Gourmet
, the December issue, and the latest
Saigo City
!, the smarmy local glossy.

He leaned forward and took the
Saigo City
!. Nothing about the cho crimes, this was strictly a chamber of commerce effort. Their ideas of
Saigo After Dark
bore no relation to his own experiences. He flipped the pages, yawning, wondering how a local horoscope was different from a regular one, but not interested enough to find out. One of the pictures caught his eye, and he turned back.

He did not expect to find a shot of Little Saigo, no matter how cleaned up and airbrushed. The usual garbage was gone, and except for an overly relaxed man sprawled next to a bush, there were no obvious derelicts. A grey-haired woman in a baggy, forest-green sweater grinned at the camera. Her face was slightly out of focus, but it was obvious that she was missing teeth. She held up a necklace that caught the sun, sending a sword of reflected light across the page. The headline said
“JEWELRY FOR SCALE.”

David skimmed the article, then glanced up at String. Was that why Della was saving his scales? To make jewelry from?

David stood up, tossed the magazine in the chair behind him. He glanced at his watch, then frowned at the boy behind the desk.

“It's been twenty minutes. You sure she didn't have an appointment or something after lunch?”

The boy opened his mouth and closed it. “I don't think so.” He turned to a computer terminal and typed in a command. He shook his head. “Nope. No appointments.”

“She prone to taking long lunches?”

“Ummm. I don't know. I've only been here a couple weeks.” The boy swallowed and smiled. “I'm sorry. She should be back real soon.” His voice was hopeful.

David nodded curtly. He moved from the desk and bent down to Mel. “I'm going to head out a minute. I'll check and see if there's a back door she can come in and out of. I'm not in the mood to sit pat while she plays games with us.”

“Um,” Mel said. He didn't look up from his magazine. David bent down and looked at the cover.
Aquarium Fish
?

David let the door ease shut behind him. If the office complex had a back door, it would likely be to the left and down the hall. Instead, David crossed to the side doors that led to the quadrangle gardens.

It was getting late for lunch, and the benches and walls that had been clotted with students, faculty, and staff were free now. A pink paper napkin was picked up by the breeze and swept past David's foot. The sun was high, but it might be semipleasant in the shade. David shed his jacket, unknotted his tie, and unbuttoned the top, tight button of his dress shirt. He took a breath. If he remembered right, there was a fountain and a statue down the worn brick walkway, and a thick knot of tulip trees.

The fountain was still there, and water rose and circled in a fine spray. The tulip trees, ancient and lush, arched over a concrete bench. David sat down. It wasn't till he was settled that he saw the Elaki.

She was extraordinary—coal-black from the back, side pouches loose enough to indicate a female who had borne children. She stood under the trees, swaying slightly. She turned suddenly and saw him.

Angel Eyes.

Her inner coloring was rose-petal pink, the scars that laced her belly stark white. Her eye stalks were close to her head. She was holding a brown bag with the sides turned down. David smelled popcorn.

“Excuse me,” David said.

“Good of the afternoon.”

He knew the voice, of course. Too young and strong, for her supposed great age. Actually, no one ever said she was old, exactly. Just that she was retired. But if she'd been active in the bad old days the Elaki never liked to talk about, she'd have to be at least … He had no idea. He'd have to ask String.

She moved steadily toward him, moving off the grass to the brick walkway, and David wondered what age meant in an Elaki.

She swept by him. She was graceful, he thought. He stood up.

“I'm sorry,” he said. “But—you are Angel Eyes, aren't you?”

He wondered if he should use a title of some kind, the Elaki were sticklers. Did she have a PhD? Dr. Angel Eyes sounded ridiculous.

She gave him a second look. “Do I … I do know you, don't I?” She turned and faced him.

He had never seen eyes like hers on an Elaki. Not the Angel scars on her belly, but the purple-brown eyes on the stalks.

David frowned and shook his head.

“I do
not
know you? But—” She moved slightly to one side. “Ah. You are the police captain who rescued the Elaki Mother-One. You brought her from the house of bullets.”

“David Silver,” he said. “
Detective
. Saigo City PD.” He took out his ID.

Her belly rippled and she made little noises, like laughter. Except Elaki didn't laugh.

“Not necessary, David.” She held up the grease-specked bag. “If you like it salty with butter, please have some. You have caught me. I was supposed to lunch on red snapper at the faculty club. But I had this urge to eat popcorn and be out of doors. Please.” She pushed the bag toward him.

BOOK: Alien Eyes
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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