Authors: Steve Perry
Bork didn't speak to this. If you were good enough, you could rascal almost any machines. If the computer was blanked and the guards were bribed, the scenario was possible.
"We've already run fast truthscans on the guards and secretary, deepscans to follow. So far, our people tell us, nobody is lying."
Interesting, Bork thought. But not certain. Anybody who was sharp in fugue could beat a shallowscan. It took a lot of skill and practice, but it could be done.
They reached the door. Blood had pooled on the carpet, much of it soaking in, but some of it jutted a sticky, congealing finger almost to the entrance. There was a bloody footprint halfway to the desk. The room had a funny smell, not just the metallic odor of spilled blood, but something sharper.
"Looks like somebody threw up on the desk," Taz said.
Bork nodded. That was the sour stench he detected.
In life, Tibois Beven had probably been a handsome man. Bork estimated he'd been a fit sixty or seventy, hair naturally gray, features clean, either by nature or surgery. His body, sprawled in a fetal pose on the rug, was attired in a silk suit that revealed a certain amount of care as to its appearance. Not fat, not too lean, fairly sthenic.
Bevin's eyes were open, fogged somewhat as they dried, staring into infinity. But his mouth was closed and his expression was almost neutral, no fear, no surprise. A certain amount of blood formed a small puddle under the cleanly cut neck on the desk, but the severed head appeared remarkably neat otherwise.
"Somebody with a real sharp knife or a real strong arm," Bork said.
"Both," Taz said. "If the pattern is the same. The first one we found was so clean we figured it was a laser or vibrowire did the decapitation, but the lab found a few steel molecules. Could be a sword, they figure, that might give the leverage."
"Yeah, ain't it. Okay, Trager, what else you got for me?"
"That's it, Chief. We're running beegees on the guards and secretary-she was Bevin's mistress, along with two others we've found out about so far. His wife was offworld, visiting a daughter on Little Numa.
His son was setting up a solar converter in the Nojina Swamp. The usual enemies, mostly business competitors. One threat, unsigned, same as the others."
Taz nodded. Looked at Bork. "Welcome to the house of mystery, Saval. Let's get out of here. I'll buy you some lunch and we can work on this."
She gave him a slight smile, and he knew the line was for the listening Trager's benefit. Chief Bork wasn't anybody's picaflor. But Bork already knew that. They'd been children together, and even then, Tazzimi had been somebody to reckon with.
BORK WAS TWELVE, and he didn't much like his eight-year-old sister Tazzi tailtagging along behind him, but there wasn't a whole lot of choice. Da was off work, drinking too much, looking for something to be mad at, so it was bring her along or leave her there for him to smolder at. When Da was working, he was the best father you could want-took them places, did fun stuff-but when he was waiting for a job to happen, he got mean. It wasn't personal, Ma said, but it was hard to take it any other way when his big hand smacked you for something you didn't do.
So they were on the docks, Bork and Revoo, his buddy, and Tazzi all bright-eyed and curious and buzzcut black fuzzy head right behind them. The Confed liner had put its boxcars down at the offshore terminal and the old fanner ferries were hauling the tourists in to see the wonders of Hadiya's Sin City.
Hadiya was the fourth-no, the fifth world Bork could remember living on, they'd been on Three Fingers, Tatsu, Baszel, and of course, Ohshit. Twice they'd gone back for jobs on Ohshit, which was really named #313-C, but which got the nickname from what offworlders usually said when they first got a good look at the place.
When you are a heavy-gravity mue, the big planets like #313-C are where you get the most work. Da Bork was strong, the strongest man his son had ever seen, that was for sure. It was scary when he was in a bad mood; he could punch holes in walls and move flitters by himself, but it was also something that made Bork proud. A week past, Da had tossed a rubbish cannister across the street when it had gotten in his way, and Revoo was still talking about that. He and Bork together had barely been able to move it, much less pick it up and fuckamucka throw it like it was nothing.
"Here comes the ferry," Taz said. "What are you going to do? How do you pick somebody? Can I help?"
"Yeah, you can help by shutting up," Bork said, irritated at her. "Revoo and me, we'll spot one who looks real lost and we'll follow them for a little while. Then we offer to help them look around. For two stads. You just be quiet, you copy?"
Taz nodded, her head bobbing rapidly. Bork turned away and tried to pretend she wasn't there.
The ferry settled to the water's surface, the fans cycling down. The engine sounds muted to a drone, the collateral wind splash dropped to a breeze. The conveyor jacked out to the dock, looped itself on, and the offie tourists stepped onto the belt and began moving off the ferry. They had money, otherwise they wouldn't be traveling, Confed rules being what they were. Even here in the middle of a bored zone like this, there were troopers with carbines slung, standing by to make sure nobody tried to climb the mountain of regs the wrong way. Da didn't much like the Confed and some of that filtered through to Bork, but he didn't really understand all that much about it. Nobody had ever bothered him personally and Bork sometimes thought about joining the military and being a soldier. As an HG mue, he could apply for an exemption to the draft and probably get it-there were places in the galaxy where they needed all the help they could find, and the Confed would rather have him hauling crap than waving a gun. Yeah, he was a shrimp compared to Da, but he was gonna get bigger someday, maybe as big as his father. Gonna have muscle to spare. Even so, he could choose to go into the service; they always needed more troops, so they said. It was a thought.
"Look at that one," Revoo said. He was used to doing this, he didn't point, but Bork caught the drift and saw who his buddy meant easy enough. A short fat man in purple glowsilks waddled off the conveyor, blinked against the warm summer sunshine. They were close enough to see the man's eyes darken as his droptacs polarized. He stuck a thin rod into the air, and Bork realized it was an umbrel-field set to cut the UV and much of the heat beating down on the tourist. Had to set the guy back what Da made in a week, that field. Money.
"Yeah, copy that," Bork said.
The three of them flowed slowly into the fat man's wake, staying back far enough to avoid stepping on his heels, close enough to keep from losing him in the outrush of the crowd from the ferry.
Other children who'd finished or skipped edcom for the day jockeyed for position around various tourists. The one good thing about such a stillwater like this was that there were usually enough tourists to go around. If somebody took the one you wanted, you could find another one easy enough. A bigger guy or somebody with a gang behind him wanted your offie, you smiled and slid away. If you were bigger or had more clobber on your side, then it was up to the other guys to shear off. Simple enough.
Apparently the gangs had other offies in their sights today; nobody gave Bork the wave-off.
"We're clean," Revoo said.
"What does that mean?"
Bork turned to his sister. "You don't worry about it, twaddle. You just seal it and stay right behind me."
"And don't call me Savvie. It's 'Saval.' I could leave you at the cube with Da next time."
She looked as if somebody had slapped her, and Bork felt a quick flash of guilt. Tough boy. Make the little girl cry. "Okay, I won't, never mind. But keep quiet, all right?"
Her smile came back. "Sure, Savvi-I mean, Saval."
"You through with primary edcom?" Revoo said. "Can we make a run at the offie, or you got more lessons for the smooth twaddle here?"
"When he gets to the pedway, yeah," Bork said, trying to maintain a sense of control. Embarrassed by his sister.
They moved in closer, so that when the fat offworlder reached the spinstep for the pedway, they were right behind him. "Hey, citizen," Revoo said, "need a guide?"
The fat man hesitated at the spinstep. Turned to look at them. Smiled, showing lots of wrinkles around his eyes. Happy kind of guy, must smile a bunch, Bork thought.
"Fuck off, street lit. I don't need scum like you trying to squeeze my stad account."
Bork and Revoo glanced at each other. Sometimes you got a bad one. When that happened, you just backed out and away. More where he came from, they hurried.
"Problem here, citizen?"
Bork turned slightly and saw a Confed trooper. Right next to them. Not just a trooper, an officer; he wasn't carrying a carbine, he had a holstered handgun on one hip. Definitely time to leave. Bork edged back. Put out one arm to move Taz with him.
"Yes, as a matter of fact. These little turds are trying to suck on my credit cube. Isn't there a law against that or something?"
The officer smiled and nodded. "I think we can find something to get you breathing room, citizen."
With that, the officer reached out and grabbed Bork's tunic front, twisted his fist into the cloth, and pulled Bork almost clear of the ground.
He had started to grow some height in the last few months, but Bork's weight-clothes, boots and all-wouldn't have added up to sixty kilos. The Confed officer, while not nearly so large as his da, was easily forty kilos bigger than the young Bork, much of it muscle. Before Bork could even think, the man backhanded him across the face, a hard slap that snapped his head to the side, stunning him.
Time went into a holding pattern, slowing, twisting, puzzling. What-?
"You don't dogheel citizens on these docks any more, swill, you hear me?" At the finish of the backhand his hand was naturally cocked for the second slap. Under his uniform, the officer's deltoids flexed as he tensed and started the hand coming back.
Bork saw it, but through a red and throbbing haze.
So slow . . .
Bork was also vaguely aware that Revoo was twenty meters away and speeding up, laying fast track and not looking back.
Another whack like the first one might cost teeth. Or knock him completely unconscious. Amazing that he had so much space to think and notice all these things, but at the same time was unable to move to do anything about them. Like there was a cut circuit between his brain and his body. He couldn't move, couldn't even blink
Halfway to Bork's face, the officer's hand stopped.
Then the man screamed.
In a moment of clarity unlike any he had ever experienced, Bork saw the reason: Taz, wrapped around the man's right leg like a clutch-spider sucking a syrup cane. Biting him on the back of the thigh. The cloth tore under her teeth, the flesh parted, blood welled The officer let go of Bork's tunic. Reached down for Taz with both hands. Bellowed wordlessly.
Solidly back on the surface of the dock again, Bork reacted without thinking. He jumped at the soldier, both his hands extended. He hit the man square on the chest with all his weight behind the shove. The officer was twisted and the impact was enough-he tumbled, hit hard on his left side.
Bork grabbed Taz's arm. "Come on!"
She released her grip on the officer. Scrambled away from him. They ran, with Bork half-carrying her by one arm.
"Little bastard shitheads-!" the officer yelled. "Come back here!"
But Bork dodged through the crowd, darting in and out of the startled outworld tourists as if they were standing as still as trees. In five seconds they were out of the officer's sight. In ten seconds, clear of the docks.
A minute later, having put the maze of van delivery and trash collection alleyways between them and any possible pursuit, Bork stopped to catch his breath. Oh, man-!
Taz was crying. She wiped at her mouth, clearing the little bit of cloth and blood from it.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Why are you crying?"
"That man hit you."
"Well, I'm okay. Don't cry now."
"I bit him."
"Yeah, that's right, you did."
He looked at her. Revoo, his best friend, rocketed the second the Confed officer had reached for Bork.
Vapor-trailed and never looked back, and Bork had to wonder if he would have done the same had the officer grabbed Revco instead of him. But little Taz, the tagtail twaddle, had grabbed the guy and sunk her teeth into him. Just like that, no questions, nothing, to help her brother. That meant something, something important. He was only twelve, but he understood that.
"You did okay, Taz."
"Yeah. You shouldn't be biting people, you know, but it was the right thing to do this time. I won't forget it."
"You won't tell Da?"
"No. It's between you and me. Our secret."
She grinned at him, and he rubbed her head, feeling the short burr of it under his hand, realizing something had changed. From the instant his sister had latched onto the Confed officer's leg, things weren't ever going to be quite the same between them again.
It was a lesson about family he would never forget.
KIFO SAT LOTUS, waiting.
The entrance to the meditation chamber opened. Kifo did not look up but he felt the other man's massive form move across the wooden floor, heard the old boards protest the passage. Mkono, Kifo thought, was an instrument upon whom the gods had writ boldly-and large.
Without speaking the big man sat. Knotted his legs, thick, but supple, into adept's pose. Waited.
Fifty heartbeats came and went. A hundred.
Finally Kifo said, "There is now one less obstacle in the path of the Plan. The gods are pleased with their Hand."
A faint glimmer of a smile flitted across Mkono's face. He inclined his head a few millimeters, eyes closed.
The gods had not spoken of Mkono's mission; they did not converse with their servants directly in that manner. Neither had Mkono spoken of his success; still, the logic of it was simple enough: had Mkono failed, he would not be here. If the Hand believed that Kifo had some way of seeing that which he ought not to be able to see, so much the better. The Unique was supposed to be exalted, at least a little.