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Authors: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fiction

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BOOK: Masterminds
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The man had been a police officer at the Valhalla Basin Police Department. He would have known something about the death of Flint’s ex-wife. DeRicci had known Flint for years. He didn’t trust easily.

Something in the interaction with Flint and this VBPD detective made Flint trust the man. And made Talia care about him. Because she had seemed shocked to hear that the man was presumed dead.

DeRicci had relied on Flint’s word when she made her decision. She had meant what she said about taking risks. Something else was coming; she could feel it in her bones—or maybe in her stomach.

And she didn’t really know what kind of action she could take to stop it.

She felt like the bad guys—whoever they were—were ahead of her. And if they were Earth Alliance officials, then they probably were ahead of her. They had access to the same information she did, and they had similar training.

They had known what she would do before she had done it.

She stood up, which sent a stab of pain through her stomach. She activated the soother after all.

She would deal with her own discomfort when this crisis was over. Right now, she had things to finish.

She needed to update her lists of the various investigations she was supervising. She also needed to continue her own internal investigation.

She was using the program that Flint had set up during the Peyti Crisis to scan faces here on the Moon. It infuriated her that the Peyti clones had been in plain sight the whole time. She hadn’t thought, after Anniversary Day, to look for a large subset of clones already on the Moon.

She had thought of it now, but the parameters were so much larger. She had no idea if she was looking for human clones or alien clones. And some aliens were so very alien, she wasn’t certain if the program would work.

She had broadened the scope, but that slowed the program down. And she wasn’t someone who could tinker with things and make them better.

Even before this new contact, Flint was following more promising leads. DeRicci didn’t want to interfere with his work there. And she wasn’t sure who else she could trust to tweak the program.

Maybe it wouldn’t take Flint long. Maybe she could ask him when he returned.

If all went well with this new contact.

She hoped it would. Because right now, she was stretched just about as far as she could go.

She wasn’t sure she could make it through one more crisis.

She wasn’t sure any of them could.

 

 

 

 

TEN

 

 

MARSHAL JUDITA GOMEZ
stood in the arrivals area of the Port of Armstrong, feeling disoriented. She had spent months traveling to the Moon, and now that she’d arrived, she could barely accept that she was here. She had not traveled with this kind of goal before—and to achieve it made her feel uneasy.

She knew she wasn’t done; she had come to the Moon to talk with Noelle DeRicci, who as head of Security for United Domes of the Moon, seemed to be the only representative of the Moon’s government. Gomez had actually had one of her crew, Neil Apaza, research who the best person to contact was, and Apaza had concluded that Gomez’s initial instinct had been right—no one else on the Moon had the kind of political reach that DeRicci did.

Apaza had wanted to come with Gomez. So had Lashante Simiaar. Like Gomez, Simiaar had taken a leave of absence from the Earth Alliance Frontier Security Service. The EAFSS had no idea that the two women were actually moonlighting, investigating the attacks on the Moon from all the way out in the edges of the Alliance.

Gomez’s ship, the
Stanley
, had encountered the PierLuigi Frémont clones fifteen years before, in a strange circumstance on the far side of the Frontier. After the Anniversary Day attacks, Gomez realized that no one had ever acted on the reports she had filed about that enclave of clones.

Had someone acted, Anniversary Day would never have happened.

In her long travels to the Moon, Gomez had investigated the clones and other things that had bothered her about the Anniversary Day attacks. She had convincing evidence that the attacks on the Moon had originated within the Alliance—and because she was convinced, she couldn’t send that information along her links.

She needed to convince Security Chief DeRicci in person.

And now that Gomez was facing the moment, she felt uneasy. Here she was, a EAFSS Marshal near retirement, coming to the Moon with a fantastical story of betrayal within the Alliance.

She had to approach DeRicci correctly, so that the woman didn’t dismiss her out of hand.

Which was why Gomez was going to see DeRicci alone, and why she hadn’t contacted DeRicci before arriving on the Moon.

Gomez didn’t want to give DeRicci the opportunity to put off a meeting. Gomez needed DeRicci to hear her out immediately.

Particularly since another set of clones whose original had been a mass murderer had tried to destroy the Moon a second time.

Whoever—whatever—was after the Moon clearly wasn’t willing to give up after one or two tries.

Gomez had visited Armstrong at several points in her career, but the last time was decades ago. She remembered it being busy and full of aliens from all over the Alliance.

The port seemed busier now—the crush of people was intense. They wove around her as they hurried to whatever their final destination was. But she saw very few aliens, and the ones she did see looked like they were heading to the departures area or were waiting near the arrivals lounge for someone else.

There had been some odd bumps before arriving—the port wanted her ship, the
Green Dragon
, to declare whether or not it was a multispecies vessel. The pilots had simply declared them a human-only ship without consulting Gomez.

Simiaar found out about it before Gomez, and gave them a tongue-lashing, reminding them that no one had those rules inside the Alliance. But the crew Gomez had put together hadn’t been inside the Alliance in years except for short stops near the Frontier, which was why they didn’t know Alliance protocols.

Instead, the crew operated on Frontier protocols, which were to do whatever the port authorities asked for, if the ship really had to land in a particular site.

Gomez knew that the Moon was on edge, but some of the changes here disturbed her greatly.

She had always thought of the center of the Alliance as the most civilized place in the universe. To see that some of the basic tenets of civilization were being ignored here or deliberately flaunted really upset her.

Just like the fact that some in the Alliance were involved in these attacks disturbed her as well.

She allowed the port map to activate inside her links. She would follow the map to the nearest exit, and then she would take whatever kind of public transportation that existed in Armstrong directly to the Security Office.

She needed to give all of her information to DeRicci and then offer assistance.

It had all seemed so easy when Gomez had laid it out for her crew on the
Green Dragon.
But, as Simiaar had pointed out, it wouldn’t be easy at all.

No one in the Security Office had reason to trust Gomez, especially with the outrageous information she was bringing them.

She had enough evidence to make them believe, if they only listened.

And listening would be the hardest part of all.

 

 

 

 

ELEVEN

 

 

THE COCKPIT ON
S
3
’s space yacht should have been more accurately called a bridge. It housed eight people easily and had more equipment than the environmental control room in S
3
’s main offices on Athena base.

Salehi had only been up here a few times, and each time, he felt the breadth and power of this particular ship. It made him feel like a master of the universe, which was probably why Domek Schnable bought it. Schnable, whom Salehi privately called Schnabby, was the oldest named partner at the firm. Schnabby reserved many large purchases—like space yachts—for himself.

Not that Salehi or the other name partner, Debra Shishani, cared. Schnabby had a great sense of luxury combined with a practicality that showed itself well in this ship. Fast, but comfortable. And clearly expensive, because Schnabby—hell, everyone at S
3
–knew that money talked.

Lefty Wèi, the ship’s pilot, was standing behind the control panels, looking through the clear windows at the Moon, looming large enough to be a presence in front of them. Hundreds of lights gathered around the Moon’s exterior—ships of all types, inside the Moon’s protected space.

Wèi had a virtual screen active above his pilot’s chair, showing all of the ships in 2-D, but he wasn’t looking at it. His copilot and his navigator were monitoring their own screens.

“What’s this, now?” Salehi asked as he stepped across the yellow line that Wèi had painted along the edge of the cockpit, ostensibly to bar “civilians” from his domain. Wèi preferred to be called Captain Wèi, but Salehi refused, given the fact that Wèi had never served in the military and he wasn’t really in charge of this ship. “We’re a mixed-species vessel? What the hell’s that?”

“Apparently, some new regulation established by the Port of Armstrong,” Wèi said, arms crossed. “I have sent you all the documentation they want. Looks like it violates all kinds of laws that pertain to open Alliance ports, but I’m no lawyer.”

Salehi was, but space law wasn’t anywhere near his specialty.

“Fortunately,” said a voice behind Salehi, “you are ferrying a ship filled with lawyers.”

Salehi turned. Uzvuyiten, the Peyti lawyer whom the government of Peyla had asked to join S
3
on the clone case, stood just inside the door. He was acutely attuned to the moods of others, no more so than on this trip. He knew that his mask made humans nervous, even though the humans on this ship knew he had nothing to do with the attempted bombings on the Moon.

His sticklike arms were at his sides, his damaged fingers mostly hidden by the human-style suit he wore. He had maintained formal dress throughout this trip, ostensibly because that was who he was, but Salehi knew that Uzvuyiten was doing it primarily for the others on the ship. He wanted them to know he was on their side in all things.

Even among the high-powered lawyers on this ship and in S
3
, Uzvuyiten was among the most subtle and manipulative, which often made him the smartest person in the room.

“Have you sent the port a passenger list, complete with species designation?” Uzvuyiten asked Wèi.

“Of course not.” Wèi was clearly insulted by the question, which made Salehi glad that Uzvuyiten had asked it. Salehi had planned to ask the same thing just before Uzvuyiten entered the cockpit.

“Then how do they know this is a multispecies ship?” Uzvuyiten managed to ask the question without it sounding accusatory.

“Perhaps they don’t,” Salehi said. “Perhaps the new policy is to send every new ship this message and let it self-identify.”

Uzvuyiten inclined his head toward Salehi, silently complimenting him on that thought.

“Have you self-identified?” Uzvuyiten asked Wèi.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Wèi said, looking at Salehi. Apparently, Wèi was one of the humans who now had difficulty with the Peyti. Or perhaps Wèi was still feeling insulted.

“How did you respond to their multi-species demand?” Salehi said, both clarifying and asking the same question.

“I contacted you,” Wèi said. “I didn’t contact
you
.”

The second
you
was directed at Uzvuyiten. He shrugged his bony shoulders, then adjusted his mask, which—oddly enough—looked like a threatening move, even to Salehi.

Perhaps Uzvuyiten had intended it that way.

But Wèi probably didn’t. Because his gaze was on Uzvuyiten’s hand. Uzvuyiten’s fingers had been damaged long ago, bent backwards between the last knuckle and the tip of the finger. The damaged section glowed blue, and brought out the weird blue edges of Uzvuyiten’s gray eyes.

Salehi frowned at Uzvuyiten. Was he monitoring all shipwide communications or just communications that came to Salehi? They would have to discuss that later.

“You did not contact me.” Uzvuyiten’s tone made it sound like Wèi was a particularly poor student who had finally gotten an answer right. “I’ve been expecting this, so I’ve been monitoring in-ship cockpit communications since I’m not privy to your communications outside of the ship.”

That last part was for Salehi. Uzvuyiten was explaining why and how he got here.

Whether or not he spoke the truth was another matter entirely.

“You’ve been expecting a problem and you didn’t tell me?” Wèi asked.

“One of the reasons I’m here is that the Peyti have been consistently denied access to the Moon since the Peyti Crisis,” Uzvuyiten said. “We’ve been wondering how so many got turned back before arrival at the port itself. I think we have just answered that question.”

BOOK: Masterminds
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ads

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