Read The Darkness of God: Book Three of the Shadow Warrior Trilogy Online
Authors: Chris Bunch
However, very unofficial word has reached me that all contact with the team from Halcyon Ill’s Universidad de Descubrimiento has been lost. As you know, they were investigating A887-3, another of the Al’ar homeworlds, and were partially funded by the Federation.
These are unsettled times, so this might not be as worrisome as I find it, but there are two rumors I’ve heard involving the expedition that need passing along, and two very definite facts:
The first rumor is that the Halcyon III team ‘cast some extraordinarily strange messages prior to their disappearance, messages that make it appear as if they’d gone mad. The messages supposedly mention a “red death,” a “walking between the stars,” among other hysteria.
The second rumor is that two other expeditions, also projected toward one or another of the worlds formerly held by the Al’ar, have been cancelled. Supposedly these two expeditions would have gone into the “center” of the Al’ar fringe worlds — the same sector that A887-3 is in.
I’d discount these stories, except for my two facts:
The first and most disturbing is that the heirs and beneficiaries of the scientists on the Universidad expedition have had their death benefits paid in full, even though no official notice of death has been made. This suggests to me that someone at a very high level knows what happened, but no one is willing to admit to it.
The second fact is that I’ve been advised by my department head to ignore any stories about Halcyon III, and to pass along to her the name of anyone spreading such tales, for transmission to what she called the “proper authorities.”
I protested, of course, reminding her of our long tradition of free speech, but she scowled at me and asked if I remembered the necessary restrictions on speech back during the war. I said I certainly did, and considered most of them imbecilic. She told me that if I wished my annual review to go as smoothly as it should, I’d take heed of her warning and stop being silly.
I don’t know what to make of all this, Juan.
But I certainly think you should be warned. Something seems to be going wrong out there in the former Al’ar worlds, and I’d suggest you stay well clear until there’s further data.
Scholar Eliz Shulbert
L’Ecole de Science
Wolfe’s chill eyes swept the hotel lobby. “This’ll do,” he said.
The manager fawned slightly. “You mentioned you have quite precise requirements?”
“I do. We’ll take the penthouse suite in the tower for myself and my personal assistant, and the entire floor below it for my staff and the crew of my yacht. I’ll also need the next floor to be vacant. I despise noise when I’m trying to sleep.”
The manager realized his eyes were bulging and corrected the situation. “But — there’re already guests on some of …”
“Inform them that their charges to date are on my bill, and you’ll assist in finding them acceptable rooms elsewhere in the hotel — or else help them relocate to another, equally prestigious hotel.” A large bill changed hands. “If they insist on staying …” Wolfe shrugged.
The manager managed to look as if he were bowing without moving. “I’m sure with such generosity — I’m sure there’ll be no problem.”
“Good. Also, I’ll need one of your private dining rooms on constant standby, a conference room, and three of my men added to your staff to ensure proper security.”
“As you wish, Mister Taylor.” The manager spun. “Front!”
A platoon of bellboys scurried forward and began sorting the mountain of luggage, including the fourteen matched bags in pink reptile hide.
Kristin stepped close to Wolfe. She no longer wore the drab simplicity of a Chitet. Her blond hair, starting to grow out, had a slightly iridescent streak curving along the hairline above her left ear. She was wearing tight red silk shantung pants, sandals, and a bare-midriff blouse in white.
“I feel like everyone is watching us,” she murmured.
“Not us,” Wolfe corrected. “Mostly you.”
A bit of a smile appeared.
Lucian and Max were also dressed for their roles, one wearing a black-white checked silk shirt, the other a green-patterned shirt, with the currently popular white false-leather tight jackets. They wore dark trousers, short boots. Neither man bothered to conceal the bulge of a holster on his right hip.
Wolfe was all in black, a silk turtleneck, finely woven wool pants, and a black jacket.
“You’ll see,” he told the manager, “that my ship-crew is taken care of when they finish porting arrangements?”
“But of course.”
This time the bow was real.
• • •
Kristin wandered through the huge, multilevel suite in a completely un-Chitet-like manner. Everything was stained wood, old paintings, and antiques, and the aroma of money hung close. Wolfe followed, saying little. Part of him was remembering another woman, named Lil, in another hotel on another world; the rest of him was concentrating on — something else.
“You know,” she said, “I almost think you’re trying to seduce — I mean, convert me away from what I believe in. There is no rationale for this luxury … but it certainly feels nice.”
Wolfe didn’t answer. He had his eyes closed, facing one of the enormous windows that looked out over the smoky industrial city of Prendergast, Rogan’s World’s capital, toward the hills that ringed the port.
“Is something the matter?” she asked.
Wolfe’s eyes opened.
“No. I was just trying to see if anybody’s watching or listening.”
“Lucian, Max, and I all checked for bugs,” she said. “We’re
very well trained.”
“In another life,” Joshua said, “I wore both belt and suspenders.”
“What are suspenders?”
“Something to keep the chicken from crossing the road. Never mind. We’re clean as far as I can tell.”
Kristin turned away and appeared intent on the view.
“Master Speaker Athelstan told us that everything depends on finding this person,” she said carefully. “I took that to mean our charade must be as perfect as possible.”
“So if I’m supposed to be your — your popsy, then, or whatever you call it, well, then, we should …” She broke off, furiously coloring.
“You blush too easily,” Wolfe said gently, not letting himself smile. “But don’t worry about it. You sleep anywhere you want to. If anybody happens to insert a spy-beam without me noticing, well, we had a fight and you’re miffed. All right?”
Kristin nodded, still not looking at Joshua.
“Which brings up a question,” Wolfe said. “How come the twenty-four-hour-a-day watch isn’t being kept? Did somebody decide I’m telling the truth and I’m not going to cut and run from you?”
“I can’t answer that,” Kristin said. “But there have been additional measures taken that aren’t quite so obvious. And don’t think they’re trusting you any more than before.”
“They, eh? Not us.”
“Never mind. So we’re down, we made a big splash, yacht and all, and we’re in place as fools with money.”
• • •
“Rogan’s World,” mused Joshua. He lifted a snifter to his lips, sipped. “Where honesty’s a word in the dictionary between
And everything’s for sale and they have everything you want.” He considered the snifter. “I never thought I’d find Hubert Dayton again. I’ve got one bottle hidden … somewhere, against the Day of Reckoning.”
Kristin wore a thin blue robe, with a satin and lace gown under it in the same color. The remains of a lavish room service meal littered the linen tablecloth on the mahogany table.
“To success,” Wolfe toasted.
Kristin lifted her waterglass in return.
“That’s a sinful practice,” he said.
“Why? I’ve never liked alcohol,” Kristin said. “It distorts your judgment and makes it easier for you to do stupid things.”
“Precisely why I’m quite fond of it.” He spun his chair and looked out over Prendergast. “I wonder why all commercial ports get so crooked so easy,” he said.
“Maybe because when everything’s got a price tag on it, you start believing everything does have a price tag on it.”
“Not bad,” Joshua said.
“Thank you. And when everything’s just passing by,” Kristin went on, “maybe it’s easy to think you can do whatever you want, and pass on with the current, or else whatever you did’ll be washed away in the morning.”
Joshua nodded. “I’ll buy into that one, tentatively, my little epigrammatist.
“So, here we have a spaceport — shipyard — heavy manufacturing — and by the way, Rogan’s World produced half a dozen Federation politicians whose reputations, shall we say, spread a stain far beyond their reach. And at least as many artists in various mediums. Wonder if corruption is a spore-bed for creators?
“Interesting, change, though. According to the ‘pedia I scanned, nothing and nobody interesting’s come out of Rogan’s World for quite a while. Since just after the war, to be precise.”
“What does that mean?” Kristin asked.
“Probably nothing. But it could be somebody doesn’t want Rogan’s World to draw any attention at all.”
Kristin looked frightened. “Could the Overlord Stone give somebody
kind of power?”
“So how do we find Token — that woman.”
“Good,” Wolfe approved. “The less we use her name, the safer it is. For I don’t truly know what the Great Lumina could give, especially to someone who’s been using it for as long as she has.”
• • •
“How do we find her?” Kristin asked.
“We don’t. We let her find us.” Wolfe smiled. “Apropos of absolutely nothing, I like your perfume.”
“Oh. Oh. I thought the name in the catalog sounded — interesting. Thank you.” Kristin looked somewhat confused.
• • •
“How long have you been bell captain?” Joshua asked.
“Oh, seven, eight years,” the woman said. Her name tag read
. “Long enough to be able to help our guests in whatever ways they want.” She pocketed the bill Wolfe handed her.
“Supposing that I — or one of my crew — wanted company?”
“Easiest thing in the world,” Hagersmark said, looking bored. “Any variation you want.”
“What about — inducements that don’t happen to be legal?”
“I don’t know that word.”
“Things to smoke, inject, whatever.”
“Like you said, whatever.”
“Just curious,” Wolfe said. “But what I’m really interested in is action. This hotel seems a little — quiet.”
“The management likes to keep it that way,” Hagersmark said. “They figure guests can find their own joy spots. Or bring ‘em back here. As long as you pay, you can do whatever you want. But you want action. I assume …” She rolled fingers as if manipulating a set of dice.
“You assume,” Wolfe said.
He handed her a bill.
“That suggest anything?”
The woman eyed it, reacted.
mean action,” she said. “Best bet’s a private game. But you’ll need to meet some people to set that sorta thing up. Be around in the right places. Best bet’s either Nakamura’s or the Oasis. The Oasis generally attracts a little looser crowd.”
“Thank you,” Wolfe said.
Hagersmark started toward the door, then stopped. “So that’s your game, eh? Everybody in the hotel was wondering.”
“I’m just someone who mostly lives the quiet life,” Wolfe said. “But every year or so I like to vary things.”
“Of course, sir,” she said piously. “Have a nice, quiet time.”
• • •
A day later, Wolfe was waiting for Kristin to finish dressing when the discreet tap came at the door.
Max was sitting across from him, watching.
out, uncurled from the chair he was in. “Kristin. Stay out of sight.”
“We’ve got visitors. And the desk was supposed to buzz us before anyone came up.”
The knock came once more.
“I’m ready,” she said. “Shall I call for backup?”
“Not yet. Max, you get out of here, too. But be ready for life to get interesting. Don’t do anything unless I start screaming.”
The Chitet hesitated, then hurried into one of the bedrooms and half closed the door.
Wolfe went to the door and opened it. Two men stood outside. Both were young, wore full evening dress, and had cold eyes above careful smiles.
“We’re sorry to intrude, but perhaps a moment of your time might be beneficial to us both.”
“So Hagersmark didn’t stay bought,” he murmured and beckoned them in.
“A drink?” he offered.
“No, thank you. We don’t want to take up any more of your time than necessary. My name’s Henders, this is Mister Naismith.”
“I’m at your service,” Joshua said courteously.
“My associate and myself understand that you’re a man who’s interested in the sporting life.”
“Perhaps you weren’t aware that the two clubs that you might find most congenial — I refer to the Oasis and Mister Nakamura’s establishment — are, in fact, private.”
“No. The person who told me about them didn’t mention that.”