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Authors: Kristine Smith

Tags: #science fiction, #novel, #space opera, #military sf, #strong female protagonist, #action, #adventure, #thriller, #far future, #aliens, #alien, #genes, #first contact, #troop, #soldier, #murder, #mystery, #genetic engineering, #hybrid, #hybridization, #medical, #medicine, #android, #war, #space, #conspiracy, #hard, #cyborg, #galactic empire, #colonization, #interplanetary, #colony

Rules of Conflict

BOOK: Rules of Conflict
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


The Jani Kilian Chronicles: Book Two

Kristine Smith

Book View Café Edition
January 26, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61138-581-6
Copyright © 2000 Kristine Smith

In loving memory of Prince, the best puppy in town

Chapter 1


Jani Kilian shifted her attention from her aching stomach to the
admissions clerk who held her MedRec card by the corner like a dirty dispo. The
woman tapped her stylus against the data-entry grid that rested on the desk in
front of her, the staccato impact of plastic on polycoat sounding its
get on
with it

“Shane Averill,” Jani replied, “just like it says in the card.”
She snatched a peek at her reflection in the highly polished counter. Chilly,
too-dark eyes. Jaw tensed with discomfort. She forced a smile.

The clerk ignored the attempt at sociability. “Date and place of

Jani heard her voice quiver as she recited the information she’d
memorized in preparation for this encounter. The Earthbound accents that echoed
through the cavernous lobby made her nervous.

Coming to Felix had made sense after fleeing Chicago. The closest
colony to Earth, it was an easy burrow to hunker down in. So obvious a stopping
place was it that the Service agents who had no doubt pursued her would have
bypassed it for someplace less likely. The Channel Worlds. Or Pearl Way.

But the burrow had proved to be made of quicksand. Expensive but
necessary equipment purchases had devoured her finances, forcing her to remain
until she could earn enough money to leave. Then her dodgy health had taken a
serious downturn.

The stomachaches, I can handle.
But not the nausea, the
vomiting, the pounding heart. She knew she risked exposure by coming to
Neoclona-Felix, but it was the only place on the planet that could treat her
properly, and she had grown sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

It was a matter of minutes now. One blood study or encephaloscan,
and she’d be blown.

They promised I had nothing to fear.
Cal Montoya, the
doctor who had saved her life in Chicago, and those he spoke for.
were made to be broken
. Her stomach clenched, and she leaned into the

“Parents’ names and worlds of origin?”

Jani looked around the Neoclona facility’s glass and stone lobby
as she gave voice to more of the fictitious Ms. Averill’s invented history.
Shades of purple—the company’s signature hue—shone from every surface, even the
tinted glass that softened the battering Felician sun. Bathed in shafts of
grape-colored sunlight, she felt as though she stood at the bottom of a filled
punch bowl.

“I don’t suppose you can give me the first letter of your patient

Jani took a steadying breath as the pain in her gut eased.

The tapping ceased abruptly. “You
your patient string

Jani restrained the urge to turn on her heel, walk out of the
lobby, and disappear into the Felix Majora crowds. “It’s just a series of
encodes. GateWay nearest my birth planet, followed by world code, followed by

The clerk ran the card through a scanner, then watched the
disgorged data as it scrolled down the grid screen. “Shipping administrator for
Felix Cruiseways, huh? Figures you can memorize forty-two-character strings.”
Her haggard features softened at this discovery of a kindred, data-crunching
soul. She even cracked a smile. “Is Cruiseways a good place to work?”

Jani eyed the clerk’s bright purple shirt. Silver caducei, every
detail of snake, wing and staff visible in the holoetching, sparkled from
collar and cuffs. The knowledge of what lay behind the symbols made her shiver.
Or maybe it was the subarctic temperature of the lobby. “It’s all right. I
doubt it’s any more exciting than what you do here. Besides, with the way
Earth-colony relations are headed, the shipping and travel businesses are bound
to take a hit. You’re better off sticking with Neoclona.”

The woman sighed and tugged at her dark blond bangs. Earthbound,
judging by the odd twang of her Felician Spanish, and younger than she
initially appeared. Mid-twenties, but her attitude aged her. “It just didn’t
turn out to be as exciting as I thought it would when I answered this posting.
‘See the colonies! Meet new people!’” She fingered an entry into the grid.
“Check in with the outpatient nurse on thirty-seven. She’ll tell you where to
go from there.”

Jani reclaimed her record card and offered a commiserating grin of
Dear child, the last thing in the Commonwealth you want is an
exciting life
. She waded deeper into the bowl, toward the lift bank.

They asked her the same questions four more times as she scaled
the floors to her doctor’s office. Crude way to suss out potential health-care
fraud, but with the field of documents forgery as advanced as it was, the human
element usually turned out to be the weakest link. Something about the
increasing isolation and the proximity of sharp metal instruments and blinking
analyzers tripped up less-determined con artists.

But we’re the few, the sneaky, the hard-core liars
, Jani
thought as she followed the latest in the afternoon’s series of white-coated
backs down a hallway lined with examining rooms. She had reached the
seventy-second floor, aerie of department chiefs and other demigods—her
appointment had been made with a divinity named Tellinn. Deputy chief of
endocrinology. Narrow, slumped shoulders. Shaggy black hair that needed
trimming. Lapdog eyes deep-set in a drawn, pale face. Looked as though he could
use a little of what he sold.

“This way, Ms. Averill,” he said as he led her around yet another
corner. “You’re complaining of nausea?”


“And you’re feeling jittery?”

,” Jani hissed. Two decades of experience compelled her
to memorize the locations of the nearest exits, the security desk, the dead-end
hallways. “At first, it just happened after I ate, but now it’s constant.”

“Could be one of the food allergies we’ve been encountering
lately,” Tellinn said glumly. “Are you from Elyas? Elyans have an awful time
when they come here.”

“No, I’m . . . not.” Could they tell she was
Acadian from her pattern of genetic mutations, or would her unique condition
swamp out minor colony-to-colony differences?
What won’t they find out about
me, if they probe deeply enough?

Jani sniffed the filtered air and shivered again. She hated
hospitals. Not that this richly appointed corner of Neoclona’s far-flung empire
resembled in any way the jury-rigged basement in which, eighteen years before,
the company got its start and she received a second chance at life. But old
memories died hard, and every time she caught a biting whiff of antiseptic no
filter could ever totally eliminate, three faces formed in her mind.

The three empire-builders. Eamon DeVries, who hated her guts. John
Shroud, who . . . didn’t. And Valentin Parini, who put out the
fires that raged between the two polar opposites like the born fireman he was.

John and Val promised I would be looked after
. Their
representative had spoken in their names—she had nothing to worry about. She
looked up and down the hallway as she trudged after Tellinn.
Exit to
stairwell—unalarmed—second hallway to the left of the nurses’ station.

“Jesus Christ!” Tellinn slid to a halt so quickly Jani almost
walked up his back.

“Not nearly so grand,” said the man who had stepped out of the
shadowed doorway. “Hello, Hugh.”

“Val.” Tellinn’s voice shrank to a whisper.

“Sorry to drop in so abruptly.” Valentin Parini riffled a hand
through his ash brown hair. His hazel eyes were large and almond-shaped, his
nose a finely molded arch, his cheekbones precipitous. Time’s passage had left
only thread-fine grooves near the corners of his mouth.

“What—are you—” Tellinn’s complexion, moontan to begin with, had
turned downright chalky.

The barest hint of recognition flickered in Val’s green-brown gaze
as it moved to Jani, then back to Tellinn. “I just punched through the GateWay
two days ago. Forgive me for not messaging ahead, but being so near, I didn’t
see the point.” Full lips curved in a cool smile. “Don’t worry, this isn’t a
surprise inspection. John didn’t send me to Felix with an agenda.”

Tellinn drew the back of his hand across his mouth. “How did you
get here? No one mentioned sending out the VIP shuttle.”

Val shrugged lightly. “Felix Central Orbital Station to the city
shuttleport. Chartered a heliskim. Landed on that new rooftop pad you installed
last year. I must say, I do like the sensation of dropping onto my hospital
from the clouds.”

“Like God Almighty himself,” Jani muttered. Val responded to the
jab with a knowing smirk, but the glare Tellinn focused on her held murder. And
something else. She looked again at Val, who winked.

“Actually, Hugh,” he said, pointing to Jani, “I’d like to perform
this physical, if you don’t mind. I checked the appointment roster at the
nurses’ station.
food allergy—my, my, they seem to be everywhere
these days. They’re a pet interest of mine—did you know that?” He waved off the
other doctor’s protest. “However, my role in all this is strictly
Keep your encode in her MedRec and draw up any scrips yourself. As far as we’re
all concerned, you’re the physician of record.” His all-business expression
softened. “I’ll explain it to you over dinner tonight.” Jani swore his
eyelashes fluttered. “But only if you can fit me in, of course.”

Twin rounds of color bloomed in Tellinn’s cheeks. “I—did have
something, but I—can cancel.” He blinked as though dazed, then handed Val the
data-recorder board he had up to that point been holding in front of his chest
like a shield. “I’ll be in my office.” He shot Val a last, stunned look, then
walked slowly down the hall and disappeared around the corner.

Val watched Tellinn leave with the discerning eye a gourmet would
direct toward the dessert display. Then he turned to Jani, and the look
sharpened. “Oh Captain, my Captain.” He pointed to the examining-room door. “In
there. No sudden moves. Hands where I can see them.”

Jani pushed the panel open; it whined under the force. “You
haven’t changed a bit, you shameless bastard. You sandbagged him.” She held the
door open while Val sauntered past. “You’re more than he can handle, and you
know it.”

“But with me as a distraction, he won’t give you a second thought,
will he?”

“He’s in love with you!”

“Yes, well. Believe it or not, after a few days with me, he’ll be
ready for six months without. I’m the white-chocolate cheesecake in his life—a
little piece of me goes a hell of a long way.” Val set the recorder on a table
beside an analyzer. “But, first things first.” To Jani’s surprise, he held out
his arms. “Just a quick hug, Jan. Because I’ve missed you. Because knowing I’d
be seeing you again scared the hell out of me.”

BOOK: Rules of Conflict
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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