Read Pet Noir Online

Authors: Pati Nagle

Tags: #mystery, #science fiction, #humor, #cat

Pet Noir (7 page)

BOOK: Pet Noir
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Devin looked at me. I looked at the chief.

“I'd like to go home, now,” I said.

A slight frown creased the chief's brow. “Home?”

“Back to Astara. It's been fun and all, but I don't see that I can help you much.”

The frown deepened, and the chief shot a glance at Devin, who shrugged. Turning back to me, he folded his hands in front of him on the desk.

“Why don't you tell me how yesterday went?”

So I told him about the warehouse, adding a strong suggestion that something should be done about the rats. I told him what I'd heard the Stratoma guys saying in the warehouse and at Molly's, and about my idea for setting up a sting with a transport ship. The chief listened very attentively, nodding now and then.

“But from what Devin says, the real problem is at Stratoma's home base at Jupiter and we don't have any jurisdiction there. So really, you're never going to kill this enhancer ring. All you can do is bust the runners who come through here. The middlemen. You'll never get the head of the beast.”

The chief nodded slightly, frowning in thought. He was gazing off at nothing, but after a second he looked at me.

“That's not bad, Leon. Not bad at all. You're doing very well.”

“Thanks, but you know, I'd really rather get home now. Don't see how I can be much more help, really.”

The chief glanced at Devin and licked his lips. “Devin, could you get us both some coffee? Thanks.”

Devin gave him a quizzical look, then slouched out of the room. The door slid shut behind him. The chief looked at me, sat up a little straighter, and cleared his throat.

“Leon, I'm afraid I have some unpleasant news for you. Astara isn't your home anymore.”

I frowned, as much as a cat can frown. We don't have the eyebrows, but we can do the flattened ears thing.

“What do you mean?” I demanded. I had an uneasy feeling in my gut.

“Gamma Station Security commissioned you,” the chief said gently. You know you're engineered?”

“Yeah, yeah. What does that have to do with it?”

“Well, we
paid
for your engineering. You're under contract to us because of that. Did Jill not mention that at all?”

A vague memory of a conversation with Jill flickered through the back of my mind. She had said something about a contract, but I hadn't paid close attention. I'd been busy killing a wad of paper at the time.

“She might have mentioned it,” I said cautiously. “Maybe you'd better fill me in on the details.”

“Sure, Leon. I have a copy of the contract here if you want to look over the terms. I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have.”

He brought up the contract on his com screen and moved it so I could read it. There was a lot of jargon, but I was able to figure out that I was contracted to work for Gamma Station Security until the cost of my engineering had been fully depreciated. In other words, for five years.

That's a hell of a long time in cat years.

I looked at the chief. “You know, the terms of this contract seem kind of unfair. Especially considering I wasn't consulted. I think I might have a case if I took it to the Galactic Labor Board.”

The chief sighed. “You can try, Leon, but the precedents for indenture of engineered beings are pretty well established. I looked into that, actually, before we signed the contract.”

I felt a yowl of misery welling up inside, but I stifled it. Didn't want the chief to think I was a crybaby. Instead I stared at the contract on his screen, trying to think of a way I could get out of it.

“I just miss my family,” I said.

“Um, we could call them if you like. Want to say hi to Jill?”

Jill. She had sent me here, with that bag full of feather toys and chewy snacks and my special food dish. She had known all along I wasn't coming back. She could have told me.

“Not now I guess,” I said. Feeling restless, I began to pace back and forth on the desk.

“Listen, Leon, I know it must be hard getting used to a new place and new people, leaving home for the first time and all. But you know, Gamma's a pretty decent place to live.”

I didn't say anything. I was angry, and I just had to pace it out so I wouldn't destroy anything. I thought about Jill's favorite pink sweater, the one she wouldn't let me near because she didn't want it to get snagged. Thought about ripping it to shreds.

Thought about Ma and the sibs. That made me sad, and the anger all drained away. I was lonely, tired of being surrounded by strangers. I stopped pacing, then hopped down onto the chief's lap.

I couldn't help it. Not only had I just learned I could never go home, but I had spent the night alone for the first time in my life when I was used to sleeping in a pile with my family. I needed some contact, even if it was just the chief.

“Uh,” he said. “Um, I'm sorry you're feeling down.”

I leaned against his chest, rubbing my face on his clingsuit. He shifted, then gave me a hesitant pat on the head.

“It's OK, Leon. It's OK.”

I heard the door slide open and looked up in time to see Devin wipe a startled expression off his face, replacing it with neutral slouch. The chief quit petting me and shifted in his chair again. I took the hint and climbed back onto the desk.

“Here's your coffee,” Devin said. “Hope you like it black.”

“Thanks,” said the chief, accepting a lidded beverage cup from Devin. He took a sip, grimaced, and set it down on his desk. “You want anything, Leon? Some milk or something?”

“No, thanks.” I sat down and began grooming my tail.

“OK. Well then, about the Stratoma guys. I want you to run backgrounds on them, Devin. Maybe it'll turn up something we can use. I'm going to go ahead and set up the transport sting. That should be ready later today.”

“What about Nu-Delta's regular run?” Devin asked. “They have other cargo to take to the Fringe. Won't we be delaying all that?”

“We'll use the sting ship to shuttle the rest of their stuff to a pickup point. They'll be able to complete their normal deliveries, they just won't stop here for them.”

The chief paused and looked at me. I had finished with my tail and was staring at my contract, still glowing on his screen. He cleared his throat.

“Um, Leon, I think you should go on the sting transport. Devin's cover in the warehouse makes it too suspicious for him to go, but you can stay out of sight and keep an ear to the deck for any bits of information the Stratoma goons may drop. Think you can handle that?”

“Don't have much choice, do I?” I said.

He looked at me with narrowed eyes. I knew I was pushing my luck, antagonizing the boss, but I was in a foul mood.

“You'll have some time before the transport is ready,” he said slowly. “Maybe a little R&R would do you good.”

The chief looked at Devin, who shrugged. Something passed between them that I couldn't interpret. Human stuff. I couldn't care less, at the moment.

“Let me make a few calls, then I'll show you around the rotunda a little more,” the chief said to me. “How about that?”

I shrugged. I'd go along with whatever he said until I could figure a way out of the contract. There had to be a way.

“Devin, why don't you and Leon go and, um, work on those background checks? I'll come to your office in about half an hour.”

“OK,” Devin said.

He went to the door and was halfway out before he looked back at me. I jumped off the desk, hitting the floor as hard as I could to emphasize my dissatisfaction. Didn't make much noise, but, oh well.

I stalked out after Devin, my semi-extended claws clicking on the floor. It was the best I could do to express my disdain for Gamma Security and the human race in general.

Devin led me down the hall to an office about half the size of the chief's. Three desks were crammed into it. Devin sat down at one and took a long slurp out of his coffee cup before putting it down and firing up the com unit.

“What do you need three desks for?” I said. I hadn't meant to talk to him, but I was curious.

“I don't. I share this office with two other agents.”

“Where are they?”

“Sheila works swing shift, and Ralph works graveyard. That way we each get the office to ourself, mostly.”

“Then what do you need three desks for?”

Devin shot me an impatient look. “So we can each keep our own stuff here, OK?”

“OK, no need to get cranky! Sheesh.”

“Sorry, Leon. This is a little earlier than I usually get up.”

He took another long pull from the coffee cup. I went over to an empty chair at one of the other desks and hopped onto it, then up onto the desk. Walked across an untidy stack of papers to Devin's desk and sat down to watch him scanning data about Stratoma.

“Don't suppose you heard those guys' names,” he said.

“The fish-faced one is called Lou.”

“Yeah, I know—Lou Feeber. I got his name from the paperwork on the shipments. I meant the other two.”

“I think one of them was called Vinnie.”

“Vinnie. Let's see if we get a hit on that. Aha—Vincent Malone.”

The chunky guy's head appeared over Devin's holopad, grinning stupidly as it slowly rotated. I moved closer to see the text at the bottom of the field.

Looked like our man Vinnie was brand new at Stratoma. Devin brought up his employment record, which looked like a patchwork quilt. He'd done a little of everything that required brawn, and not much that required brains.

“New hire,” Devon said. “Interesting. Lemme check if Stratoma's got any other new guys.”

He keyed in a search command and started zipping through a succession of employee files. I watched the floating heads come and go over the holopad until I spotted one I recognized. It was the wiry guy from the warehouse.

“That's the other one!” I said.

“Gus Lyman,” Devin read. “OK, Gus, what are you about?”

Gus's employment was a little steadier than Vinnie's. He was also new at Stratoma. They'd both been hired a little more than a week ago.

“Why are they sending new guys out on the smuggling run?” Devin mused.

“Maybe the old guys quit,” I suggested.

“Hm. Trouble in paradise?”

I gave him my best blank stare. Like, do I even know or care what makes humans tick? Particularly specimens like Vinny and Gus? No.

Devin brought up both their records side by side and sifted through the data for a while. “No past employers in common. Vinnie was out of work for a while before Stratoma hired him.”

I began grooming my face. Hadn't really done it since that bite of Devin's sandwich I'd eaten earlier. Thinking about it made me hungry, which made me mad. I wanted to get out of there. I didn't want to have to ask Devin, or any human, for food.

We didn't talk for a while. Devin was absorbed in the data feeds. I hopped down and began sniffing around the floor of his office on the off-chance of finding a crumb of something. Looked like the cleaning crew had been pretty thorough, though.

I caught an interesting whiff from one of the drawers of another desk—peanut butter crackers, I thought—but when I tried to open the drawer it was either locked or too heavy for me. With Devin in the room I really couldn't put my back into it.

The door slid open and the chief walked in. I was under a desk at the time, and I decided to stay there. I wasn't really feeling very charitable toward the chief. I sat down to listen and watch.

“Where's Leon?” he said.

Devin shrugged. “He's around.”

“Are you sure? I don't want to lose track of him.”

“Yeah, he's here. Where could he go?”

“Leon?”

Actually, I was sitting about a meter from the chief's feet. I waited for him to notice this, taking interest in his agitation.

Of course, it wasn't me he was concerned about. He just wanted to protect his investment. I began to wonder just how much Gamma Security had sunk into my engineering. I wasn't cheap, that was for sure.

“Leon? Where are you?”

The chief started pacing around the office, looking in the corners. I watched in growing amusement. Devin shot him an annoyed glance, then went back to cruising data.

When the chief picked up a waste basket and started looking through it I decided things had gotten ridiculous enough. I stepped out from beneath the desk and sat down beside his feet. He didn't notice, so I spoke up.

“Got any cheese danish?”

He jumped. “Leon! Oh, there you are. Good.”

He put down the waste basket. I went over to it and stretched up to look into it, as if wondering what he'd found so interesting. I was just barely tall enough to get my head and paws over the edge.

“No, I don't have any danish, but if you're hungry we can go get a bite to eat in the rotunda. How does that sound?”

It sounded better than I wanted to admit. I let go of the wastebasket and sat down again.

“Sure, if you want.”

“OK. Devin, I'll bring him back later in the morning.

“Fine.”

Devin was still zoned on data. Didn't seem too concerned about his new, expensively genengineered partner.

The hell with him, then. Cherchez la food.

The chief looked down at me. “Uh, shall I carry you or do you want to walk?”

“I'll walk, thanks,” I said, standing up and going to the door.

“Good. Great. Stay close, though, OK? You don't want to get lost.”

Thinks you, I told myself. Getting lost might be one of my best prospects. After breakfast, though.

We strolled out of headquarters together and into the rotunda. Well, the chief strolled—I had to jog to keep up with him. He cruised past Molly's, which looked pretty dead at this hour, and then past Zip Fix. I was disappointed but I didn't say anything, deciding to wait and see what he came up with.

BOOK: Pet Noir
8.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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