The Bretton Katt Alliance-Chapter One
On a January morning in 2441, Letsa Lorrondon drove her mother, Anna Helsak, Chancellor of the Bowman Pact, eighty kilometers through a snowstorm for a secret meeting. That same morning, in the city of Bretton Katt, police constables pulled the body of Geoffrey Slater from an icy creek. Few people knew of both events, and no one thought to connect them.
Fifteen years later, Letsa (her family called her Lily) told her stepbrother Enrik Ratt that if she had known what was coming, she would have done anything to prevent it, even if it meant crashing the car into a tree.
January 24-March 13
Anna did not say whom she was meeting or why, and Lily did not ask. The request was not unreasonable; Anna did not like to drive, she was ill, and the weather was bad. They spoke little. Anna was not a casual talker. The only sound was the hum of the car’s battery. The snow was thick and wet, more like slushy rain. The woods were dense in this remote end of the province. Lily kept her attention on the road, watching for the turnoff to the hamlet of Melbourne. Anna slumped low in her seat, staring moodily at nothing. She glanced slyly at her daughter, hoping she would ask questions. She had done this for most of the drive and when Lily refused to play the game Anna grew sullen.
"This is the most important meeting of my career," she said at last. Lily said nothing. Anna scowled and lapsed back into silence. Lily did not take it personally. Her mother had always been prickly, a quality that had grown more pronounced since the death of her second husband, three years ago.
By the time they reached the turnoff the snow had stopped except for a few stray flakes here and there. The road twisted deep into the forest, leaving the highway far behind; it rounded yet another bend and they were in Melbourne. It wasn’t much, only a dozen prefabricated buildings forming a half-circle in a clearing. This morning all were deserted except for the largest one, where warm lamplight shone through partly-open curtains. Lily parked the car and got out, hugging herself in the cold as she looked around. The trees were huge, ancient giants reaching for the sky while the huts crouched at their feet. Some of them were almost thirty meters high, marching back from the clearing in row upon row until they melted into darkness. Lily thought hobgoblins must live in a wood like that.
An icy gust shook her from her daydreaming. How silly, a mature woman standing here shivering, looking for mythical creatures in a snowy forest. She opened the door for her mother and helped her to stand; Anna shook her off and walked into the house. Picking her way across the porch she looked small and frail. Lily followed closely, in case her mother fell. Anna resented it, but she saw Lily’s sense and did not wave her off again.
Once inside Anna stood up straight, projecting more height than she had. She lifted her head with pride that bordered on haughtiness. For the first time that morning she looked like the Chancellor of twelve planets, who now sought to ally herself with twenty more. A man hurried to the foyer and bowed low.
"Madam Helsak, it is an honor."
Anna smiled graciously and let him kiss her hand. "The gentleman is here?"
"Yes. Follow me, please."
Anna walked off down the hall without a word to her daughter. Lily sat down, feeling resentful. Don’t mind me. I’m just the driver. She had consented to drive her mother here with a small feeling of rebellion. She had business of her own that needed attention. Accommodating Anna had called for some hectic rescheduling; she might at least say thank-you. The man who had greeted them brought her a cup of coffee. His smile was wry, commiserating. Lily felt less forlorn.
Anna walked into the private parlor where Theo Walsam stood with his back to the room warming his hands at the fire. He was tall, almost two meters. His pure white hair was trimmed neatly above his collar. Anna suppressed a shudder, glad he didn’t see her. She remembered he would know of it anyway. Turning, he smiled and made a courtly bow.
"You came alone," said Anna.
"Only myself and two staff," he replied. "As you requested. And you?"
Smile or no smile, he didn’t trust her. Nor should he. "Only my driver. She has no idea why I’m here."
Walsam pulled some papers from a briefcase. It was time to make final a plan Anna had conceived months ago. Twenty minutes later the meeting was concluded.
"One thing more, Mrs. Helsak. The Neoran Confederation. They’re not part of this, are they?"
"No, Mr. Walsam, they are not."
"Until June, then."
"When Bretton Katt becomes our new capital."
Anna offered him her hand. He shook it, then discreetly wiped his hand on his coat. He hated humans; touching them was revolting.
Anna left the room and Walsam stopped smiling. He returned to his orbiter and sent a message to Gamma Perseus. Went smoothly. Plan for June. Will keep informed. W.
Lily pulled up in front of the Chancellor’s House, a rambling Tudor mansion where she and her brothers-and Anna herself had grown up. Last year Anna had shown her plans for a new house, a large sterile monstrosity with tiny windows. Lily had talked long and hard; Anna dropped the plan. The house was left alone.
"I’ve lived here my entire life," Anna had said, after promising to leave things as they were. "Maybe I just wanted something new."
Nothing wrong with that, but ‘new’ didn’t have to mean ‘ugly’.
Lily jumped as Anna grabbed her arm and said, "You might as well know, I’m not renewing the treaty with the Confederation."
"What! Why? After a hundred years?"
"They may have some trouble with the Bastian Union. We don’t need any part of that. It’s for the best, honey."
Lily only stared, bewildered. What would her grandparents have said? What did she think herself? This was such a shock that she could think of nothing to say except, "If you think it’s best, Mama." Now, there was an intelligent response.
"And, honey, keep this to yourself. At least for now. Please."
Lily nodded. She saw her mother safely into the house, then she drove home. It was almost lunchtime. Her family expected her.
In the foyer of her small stucco house she took off her coat and inhaled the scent of hot soup and fresh bread. Voices came from the dining room, her husband and her sister and her two boys. George came out to meet her, carrying the baby. Lily smiled and dutifully let him kiss her.
"Where were you this morning? I called your office and no one had seen you."
"I took Mama on an errand. Nothing important." She looked at the floor and hurried into the dining room. Missy stood at the counter, slicing bread. She had been christened Maria Sophia, the only one of Anna’s children not named for anyone, but from the start everyone just called her Missy. Her face lit up as Lily came in. Lily kissed her hello. "How are you, baby?"
"I’m all right." She set the breadbasket on the table, pushing one of her long pigtails out of her way. Lily looked at her and worried.
No three of Anna’s children resembled each other. The likenesses were in pairs; Lily and Rob looked like their mother. Doren and Anden looked like their Neoran father. Aubrek and Missy looked like their Terran father. A stranger would never think the woman and the girl at the table were sisters. Watching them, George thought Lily behaved like Missy’s mother. They were further apart in years than Lily and Anna (and didn’t Anna have staff people to drive her around?). George sighed. He was glad that Lily was devoted to her family, but she might pay some attention to her husband occasionally. He sat down and ladled out the soup.
"David called this morning," he said blandly.
"How is he?" Lily liked her young brother-in-law, even though, like four of Lily’s brothers, he lived in Bretton Katt and they seldom saw him.
"He’s a bit down. He discovered a body this morning in Kings Creek, while he was on duty. It upset him."
That happened at least once each winter. Some poor wretch, usually drunk, would short-cut through the park, lose his footing, and tumble into the ravine. "Is he still coming next month?"
"If someone with more seniority doesn’t bump him." George wiped Melisande’s face; she was ten months old and had not yet mastered eating with a spoon.
Lily turned to her sons, Sinclair, who was nine, and Felix, twenty months younger. Felix was full of his usual mischief, but today Sinclair was almost as bad. They were both restless. Sinclair had no school and the cold kept both boys indoors. Finally their father spoke sharply to them; they were quiet for the rest of the meal.
George cleared the table and set the housebot to cleaning the floor. Lily carried the baby upstairs.
"I’m going to drive sis back to school and then I have to go to the office. I should be home by four." For a split-second she thought of taking Melisande with her; she could sleep and play in her basket while her mother worked. George was often impatient with her; he must learn not to be.
In the car Missy burst into tears.
"Baby, what’s wrong?" Lily took her sister in her arms, forgetting her own thoughts in the face of Missy’s distress. "Is it so bad for you at home?"
"It’s awful. I hardly ever see mama anymore. She spends all her time in her room. She leaves me to Doren and he’s such a bastard!"
"What’s he done to you?" "He won’t give me any privacy. He makes me leave my door open. He puts too much food and my plate and makes me eat all of it. I got sick last night. He stands over me while I do my schoolwork and won’t let me move until it’s all done. I can’t have company and I’m not allowed to go anywhere after school. And he’s just so cold! I can’t stand it, sister!"
It was no surprise that Doren should torment his half-sister; he had hated his stepfather. How could Anna permit this? "I’ll call him this afternoon and straighten him out," said Lily.
"Oh, Lily, would you?"
"Of course. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?"
"I didn’t want to bother you."
"Baby, you’re no bother." Lily wiped Missy’s face with her glove. "Would you like to spend April in Bretton Katt, with Enrik? Some time away from here would do you good."
"Do you think he’d agree?"
"I think so. I’ll call him tonight."
Missy threw her arms around Lily’s neck. "You’re so good to me, sister!"
Lily dropped Missy off at school, wondering if the girl would not be happier out of the Chancellor’s house altogether. With the other children gone (Doren hardly counted) it must be terribly lonely. Lily hardly knew what other arrangement could be made. She would discuss that with Enrik too.
Lily was an architect, a partner in the firm of Allenby, Lorrondon and Pierce. For five years the three of them had argued that the capital of the Bowman Pact should not resemble a pile of warehouses. Each had striven in their own specialties-Lily in homes, Miller Allenby in public buildings, Patrick Pierce in landscaping-to bring some character and even beauty to the dreary, boxy town of Birchvale. They were beginning to see some results; they had won unanimous praise for the new Chamber of Parliament. But more work was needed before the place stopped looking like a provincial backwater. Miller was gone for three days, but Lily heard Patrick in his workroom, humming.
She called to him; he poked his head through the doorway. "Hello," he said brightly. "I thought I would be alone all day. What’s wrong?"
"Nothing. A lot of little things." Lily hurried to her own office and shut the door. Her thoughts were rushing to the surface. She wanted privacy to sort them out.
She could not understand what Anna had done. Not renew the treaty with the Neoran Confederation because they might have some trouble with Victor Bastian? It was out of character. Last summer Anna had said she would love a chance to tangle with Bastian; if he came after the Neorans she would damn sure come after him. What could possibly bring Anna to make such a drastic volte-face, ending an alliance that had lasted for a century?
It was Anna’s grandfather, Jacob Velvet (trader, diplomat, anthropologist and possible pirate whose early career would stand no scrutiny) who established the first real ties between the Neorans and any Terran world, in those early decades after the first meeting. ‘Retired’ from running around the galaxy, at the age of fifty he had got himself elected Governor of the Northcoast Province. Within ten years he had brought all of Bowman IV into planetary government. (After fifteen years his wife, Portia Helsak, decamped across the channel to found the city of Bretton Katt).
His elder daughter Elisabeth Helsak succeeded him as Chancellor. With her Neoran husband, Sonen Lorrondon, she presided over the Bowman Pact for forty years. Sonen’s position as the son of two distinguished families-his mother Anosara Karrsymon was a noted scholar and his father, Tamen Lorrondon, a Commander of the Neoran Fleet-allowed Elisabeth to renew and expand the alliance, cutting better deals for trade and ease of travel. And her affinity for her husband’s culture ran deep.
Lily sighed. It was an affinity Anna apparently shared no longer, if she was ready to end an alliance that had endured for four generations. And she had no real heir. Only two of her children might want the job; the others had built lives outside of politics. Lily couldn’t see her leaving it to Doren, and Aubrek was too young. The choice must fall to a general election, or perhaps the Bowman parliament would name someone from their own ranks. Not that most Bowmaners resented the present set-up. Lily doubted many people even knew that Pact Chancellors were supposed to be elected for a six-year term (‘read the bloody constitution’ Enrik often said). They could be reelected to as many terms as people would give them. Jacob Velvet had been elected four times and then never left; he had handed the office over to his daughter, who in turn handed it to her daughter.
Perhaps I am overreacting. Anna’s break with the Confederation hardly amounted to a rejection of her Neoran blood. She switched her computer to design mode and began working on a coastal house for a prosperous importer. It was rugged country; the client wanted something that complimented the terrain. Absorbed in her work, Lily began to hum. Anna’s new policy might be the end of an era. It didn’t mean the end of the world.
"24 Jan, 2441. Snow. Temp 2 degrees. L. drove me to meeting this morning. Wals was there. Signed the agreement. Showed no sign I knew him. Or he me, the pig."
"Didn’t tell L. of plans. Thought of it, but no. Best say nothing yet. Rus. comes in March. Not telling her either. Hope she doesn’t think I’ve been sitting here waiting for twenty years. Because I haven’t. Don’t need her or her confed."
"L. will support me. L. is a good girl, good to her mother. Miss. too young to worry. Boys, don’t know about them."
Anna shut her notebook. She would write more later. She had kept this longhand journal for three years now, since Daniel’s death. She would not keep it on the computer. It would not be difficult for someone to break into her database and steal everything. She hid the notebooks in a locked desk in her office at the top of the house.
Chaos choked the small room. Books, boxes, clothes, and assorted junk lay in dusty heaps against the dingy walls. The air was stale. Anna kept the windows and vents shut, sealing the room off from the rest of the house. She spent most of her time here now. She even slept here most nights, on the old sofa beneath the window. Few people even knew this room existed, connected by a narrow staircase to the office two floors down. Her grandfather had built it. Her mother had forgotten it. Five years ago, Anna had found it again. Her refuge, calm and quiet, not like downstairs at all.
Downstairs were the obsequious clerks and bureaucrats and other nobodies, seeking favors from Madam Chancellor. Downstairs were Doren and Missy, and their war of wills that grew worse each day. She must see Parliament tomorrow. She wished she could dismiss them until June.
She wanted to be bothered with none of it. This time was for herself. She looked through the dirty windows. Birchvale was barely visible. In June she would leave this place forever. A buzzer sounded; Doren was outside her office with her lunch. Anna went downstairs, took the tray, murmured her thanks, and shut the door in her son’s face.
It didn’t bother Doren. He was proud to be the only one of Anna’s children to follow in her footsteps and serve his government. All the others had jumped ship at the first chance, Lily with her business and the younger boys all gone to Bretton Katt. That was to be expected of Rob, of course; he was a selfish brat. Doren had expected better of Anden and Aubrek. But they had left home, left mother behind. Not good sons at all. Doren knew himself to be a good son. He would stay here in Birchvale as long as mother needed him.
Anna nibbled on a cracker and gently stroked the portrait of her brothers. They had been so young. Anden, for whom she had named her second son, was twenty-six at his death, Felix was twenty-seven. Her three eldest children were all older than that.
They had been gone now for forty-five years, and still they cried out to her. Anna had not had a restful night’s sleep since their deaths. She must be the one to give them peace. When her plan had succeeded Anden and Felix would sleep at last, and then so would she. She laid the portrait on the desk. Slumped in her chair, she tried to doze. Outside the snow resumed.
Rusorin stepped into the clearing and surveyed the sky. The forest was wholly dark; thick clouds hid the moon, but somewhere up there her ship burned as it fell through the atmosphere. The Pipes would think they had killed her at last and run to tell their master. Let them think her dead! They would be off her back for a while.
The night was bitterly cold and the wind was a shock after the still air of a starship. Rusorin pulled her heavy coat and gloves from her satchel. She switched on her atlas and called up the program for Bowman IV, narrowing the field from planet to continent and at last to district. If she had plotted correctly she should be within ten kilometers of Birchvale.
"Present location," she said softly. Her voice sounded strange to her own ears. The coordinates popped onto the screen. Birchvale was only twelve kilometers away. She had only to hike to the main road and straight into town. Tucking the atlas into her pocket she shouldered her satchel and set off through the woods.
She walked quickly, huddled deep into her coat. The wind blew stronger, clearing the sky to reveal a setting crescent moon and millions of stars. Red, blue, gold, and hot white, they shimmered so brightly Rusorin felt she could reach out and touch them. She felt less lonely in their company. Space had been her home for three hundred years; in her travels the stars had often been her only companions. She walked with her head up, watching them until they faded into the dawn. Lights blinked on all over the valley. Rusorin heard the humming of cars in the distance, but the road remained empty. She reached Birchvale just before eight and found the hostel Anna had named, glad to be among people again. She had not seen or spoken to another person in more than two months.
The desk–clerk showed her to a private sitting-room. "The Chancellor asked us to provide breakfast. She will be here at nine o’clock."
Rusorin thanked him and dropped her satchel. On the table were a pot of tea, a hot-tray of eggs and bacon, and a plate of cheese muffins (how sweet of Anna to remember those!) She ate heartily, leaving nothing, and washed it all down with three cups of strong, unsweetened tea (Anna remembered that too). Then she stretched out on the sofa for a short nap.
She woke at ten minutes to nine. No time for a bath, but she could wash her face and fix her hair. Standing before the mirror she pulled off the snood she always wore to keep her hair out of her way. Briskly she brushed the thick dark mass and again swore never to cut it. With her lean features it was better to keep it long. It made her look less severe. Rusorin laughed at her own vanity and rebound her hair. She washed her face and sat down on the sofa, folding and unfolding her arms in anticipation.
How wonderful to see Anna again! They had not seen each other in twenty-four years, when the last war ended. Rusorin had missed her very badly. She understood why Anna had gone home; she was newly widowed, with three children who needed her and a fourth on the way. Her parents naturally wanted their only surviving child close to them. Rusorin had brought Anna home and they had said good-bye. Anna had wept when they parted and told Rusorin she could always count on her.
Rusorin knew she could count on Anna now. Bowman’s treaty with the Confederation would be renewed in April, but it was not enough. Victor Bastian’s threats to the Confederation were becoming more specific, his crimes against Neorans in the Bastian Union more violent. The Neorans needed a full military alliance, something Bowman had never given them.
Three months before, Ryset Kessanon, the Rapalak of the Confederation (and Rusorin’s one-time lover) had told her Anna would not agree.
"She’s grown cautious," he said. "We’ll be lucky if she renews with us this spring."
"Let me go to her," Rusorin had replied. "She’ll listen to me."
"If you think so," said Kessanon. Rusorin departed for Bowman IV two weeks later.
The last war. She was thinking as if another war were coming. No, she would head it off here. Then she would resume hunting for her enemy (everyone’s enemy). He had not died in the siege at Telemas, as Rusorin had hoped but never believed. He was already hunting her. Last night’s encounter with the Pipes proved that. She had been watching her back ever since she heard he was still alive.
Anna must help her! Anna had always been a friend, an equal, never a subordinate who feared her. Anna would talk back to her and tell her when she was wrong. Anna was brave and intelligent. A good companion. True, she had been ill-she had not answered Rusorin’s last two letters-but Rusorin could use her counsel even if Anna could not actually come with her. Dear Anna, my good friend.
The intercom beeped. "The Chancellor is here. She’s on her way back."
When Anna walked in Rusorin held out her arms. "Hello, Anna."
"Hello, Rusorin. What was so important that you dragged me all the way into town on a cold morning?" She sounded impatient. Clearly she was here at great inconvenience.
Rusorin dropped her arms. Why did Anna behave so? Perhaps she was ill. "You know why I’m here, Anna. We need your strength and your influence to check Victor Bastian. I’m empowered to discuss terms and sign on behalf of the Confederation."
Anna grimaced, savoring Rusorin’s uncertainty.
"You’ve wasted your time," she said at last. "I signed a declaration of neutrality back in January. I will not renew the treaty with the Neorans. You’re certainly not getting me into a military alliance. If you want to tangle with Bastian, you must do it alone. It’s no longer anything to do with me."
Rusorin started to speak but Anna cut her off. "If you’re going to tell me John Hyde is still alive, I already know. I found out four months ago."
Rusorin could only stare at her.
"I have my sources," Anna went on. "I’m sorry that yours aren’t as capable."
"And knowing this, you won’t help me?"
Rusorin picked up her satchel. "You’re selling your people out."
"They’re not my people," Anna said proudly. "I’m not a Neoran. I am a Terran. I am a Christian. English is my native language. I was raised in Terran culture. I am a Terran!"
Rusorin shook her head. "He wouldn’t care about that. He did not make those distinctions then and he will not make them now. You’re human, either way. You are being foolish."
Anna’s eyes lost color. Then she attacked. "At least I’m not wasting my time on people who call me an outsider. What has your precious Confederation ever done for you? I’m not going to be your errand runner again."
Rusorin looked Anna squarely in the eye. She could accept Anna’s refusal, but not the insults. Where had this bitterness come from? From long practice, Anna quickly veiled her mind.
"I never thought of you as an errand runner, Anna," Rusorin said sadly. She left before Anna could say anything more. Out on the street she inhaled the fresh air. The meeting had taken five minutes
She began walking aimlessly. What a mean, ugly little town this was. It reflected neither pride nor purpose. She sat on a bench and tried to calm down, staring at a patch of melting ice. If she had done something to provoke such anger from Anna, she had forgotten it. And now Kessanon’s second plan must go into effect. Rusorin had little hope of success.
Someone called her name. She looked up, half-expecting to see police officers coming to arrest her. When she saw who it was she smiled.
"It really are you, isn’t it?"
Lily held out her hands. "What are you doing in Birchvale? I hadn’t heard you were coming."
"It’s unofficial. I saw your mother a few minutes ago."
"Oh. She told you she’s not renewing the treaty?"
"She told me she was going to stay neutral." Rusorin scanned Lily’s face and knew she could speak freely. "There’s something she wasn’t telling me."
Lily squeezed Rusorin’s arm. "You should know this. A few weeks ago I drove her to a meeting in a small weather station up in the woods. As soon as we got back she told me she was dropping the Confederation."
"Any idea whom she met?"
"Do you remember the date?"
"I don’t remember exactly. The last week of January. What will you do now?"
"Can you keep secrets better for me than for your mother? I’m going to Bretton Katt."
"I’ll be there in a few weeks myself, to see my brothers. Will I see you?"
"I hope so."
They embraced. Lily’s warmth was welcome balm after Anna’s cuts. "You’re going to have a baby."
"How could you tell? I didn’t think it was that noticeable." Lily had seen the doctor only three days ago. She had not even told George.
"But it is." Rusorin kissed her. "Take care of yourself and that child. And the ones you have already." Rusorin headed for the railway station. Lily returned to her office. Whatever business took Rusorin to Bretton Katt, Lily wished her well. *
Burry lay seven kilometers out to sea, the largest of a dozen islands clustered off the North Provincial coast. Formed by volcanoes, buffeted by strong winds off Oceana Europa, the windward side was sparsely populated. But in a natural bowl among the hills of the leeward side Bretton Katt, built of red brick, blue glass, and timber, nestled serenely among the trees. Independent of the Bowman Pact, it called itself the Free City.
It was only a prefabricated fishing town when Portia Helsak came here with her friends Mary Gloucester and Malcolm Black to found a university and thwart Jacob Velvet’s ambitions. The city refused to join a united government; Jacob and Portia spent the next thirty years bickering across the channel, a situation their younger daughter, Charlotte, described as ‘an adolescent boy trading insults with his nine-year-old sister’. Like her sister Elisabeth, she found the whole thing very amusing.
The title of Free City had stuck, primarily because the Brettonese thought it sounded good. Some Bowmaners who did not consider themselves slaves resented the title, but the Brettonese refused to drop it.
Their pride ran deep. Bretton Katt boasted the largest spaceport in the sector, enriching the city with the commerce it brought. The university attracted students from fifty other worlds, both Terran and Neoran. The Conservatory of Music ranked with the best in Terran space. The Institute for Neoran Studies taught Terrans the history, language, customs, and economics of the Neoran people. But the city’s chief treasure was the Library, with its huge collection of books and art, and its database, assembled over fifty years, the sole remaining source of countless archives, memoirs, and other records of Terran history; the work of Mary Gloucester’s life.
Much of the city’s wealth came from this database; the city guarded it jealously, permitting no one to copy more than a small section at a time. Scholars, students, historians, and ordinary people who liked to read willingly paid the fees to scan the base; people who came in person paid more in lodging and food. The Brettonese were pleased to share, responding with a mix of snobbery and egalitarianism. ‘Of course you may use the d-base. Now, cross my palm with olives’, referring to the color of Brettonese paper currency. But they had never signed a formal alliance with anyone, preferring to stay on good terms with the entire galaxy. Over the next month Rusorin would try to change their minds.
She sat in the rail-carriage brooding about the morning. What did Anna think she was doing? She was almost sixty, and not in the best of health. People in those circumstances should seek out old friends, not turn them away. Rusorin could think of nothing she had done to make Anna turn on her. It hurt more than she could admit. Lily’s partisanship eased part of the sting. Rusorin bit her lip and wondered if Anna would reconsider. The whole visit had been a waste of time. No, that wasn’t true. Anna had met someone five weeks ago. Rusorin must find out whom
She mourned for her ship too. It was her only physical link to her brother. Ospek had built it to last centuries; it had served them well. She had thrown it to the Pipes for nothing. Their master would never take their word that she was dead; he would continue looking for her. And now she had no way to get off this planet without depending on someone else. She looked out the window. The landscape was a blur as the train sped by at two hundred and forty kilometers an hour. The train crossed the channel, cold, gray and choppy. She would be in Bretton Katt in twenty minutes.
Their master. Her bitter enemy, the only living person she feared. She closed her eyes and saw the blood and heard the cries of those left to die, gasping for breath. The memory attacked her whenever her mind relaxed its guard. Rusorin cursed her fear. She still had work to do before she left Bowman IV. She must stay focused.
The train glided into Katt Station and slowed to a halt. It was quarter past two in the afternoon. The trip from Birchvale had taken a little more than two hours. Stepping from the train Rusorin searched the crowd for Eresenna, thinking that for once the girl might be somewhere on time. As she handed her passport to the customs officer, someone tugged at her coat.
"Sorry I’m late, Tose. How are you?"
"Tired." Rusorin looked up at the great double doors that opened onto downtown. Carved into the stone in letters a meter high was the greeting The Free City of Bretton Katt Welcomes You. Below was the motto Veritas est Cognita, Cognita est Potentia
"What does that mean?" she asked
"I don’t know. It’s Latin-an old Terran language. They use it for official stuff."
After three years in this city Eresenna might have asked someone what it meant. Rusorin sighed quietly as she shouldered her satchel.
Eresenna led her through the crowd to the street, where a car from the Neoran Consulate waited. In a few minutes downtown lay behind them.
"Where are we going?"
"Rap Karen gave you the Consulate’s apartment."
Rusorin had asked her nephew to provide lodging for her. She had expected at best a room, or more likely someone’s couch. Karen was stingy; he must want something from her to provide her with an entire apartment. She must remember to sweep it for bugs.
They drove almost to the top of the hill and pulled up before a small four-plex built around a courtyard. Rusorin surveyed the street. Most of the block consisted of small apartment buildings, with a few houses. Yards were large and neat; much of the original vegetation had been left in place. Tall evergreen trees ranged along the sidewalks. It was quiet this time of afternoon. Eresenna dug the keys from her pocket and led the way to the upstairs front apartment.
Rusorin walked to the large front window and opened the curtains. It was not yet three o’clock, but it was already twilight. Lights shone in the windows of neighboring houses. Rusorin looked further down the hill, over the rooftops and through the trees to the great triumvirate of City Hall, the University, and the Library, built of imported marble, dominating the skyline. Bretton Katt’s pride.
The blue-green and silver banner atop city hall fluttered in the waning daylight. Would her luck here be better than across the channel? The Brettonese had always been friendly to the Neorans, if not actual allies. Right now she was glad to be in this lovely little city.
She fell onto the sofa, took off her boots, and rubbed her feet. "Tea, please, Era."
It felt good to stretch her legs and flex her toes. She rummaged through her satchel for her pistol, a Pummer 30 with a silencer and a fully-charged laser. Rusorin inserted a fresh clip holding two hundred rounds. These weapons were illegal in most places, including Bretton Katt. She had not used it in a long time. She slipped it into her pocket and assembled her rifle, inserting three charges and tightening the short barrel. She set the rifle in the front closet and hoped she would not need it. Eresenna returned with the tea.
"I have a letter for you from your sister," said Rusorin.
Eresenna put the letter in her pocket. "More of Kanta’s nagging. She wants me to come home."
"She misses you."
"She never wanted me to come here in the first place."
Rusorin had no time to take up Kanta’s argument. "Tell Karen I’ll need your help while I’m here. If he complains tell him to talk to me."
"I thought you were leaving in a few days!"
"Anna Helsak won’t renew the treaty. We need an ally in this sector. That means Bretton Katt." Rusorin pulled a comslip from her pocket. "Give this to Karen tomorrow. It has the Confederation’s offer of alliance with Bretton Katt and my diplomatic credential. Karen must endorse it and send it to City Hall."
Eresenna blinked. "But the city’s already voting on whether to join Bowman or not. They can’t do both!"
"I don’t see why not." Rusorin refilled her teacup. "I have to meet someone. One of our Observers contacted me just before I left Remelan. Do you know Geoffrey Slater?"
Eresenna‘s dark-green ayes faded to the color of sage. "He’s dead," she whispered.
Rusorin grabbed her. "When?"
"A few weeks ago, drowned in Kings Creek."
No. "Are police records on public access?"
"I think so," Eresenna whimpered. Rusorin ran to the computer and called up the police report. It said little; Slater had been discovered in the creek bed at four a.m. on January 24. Death by drowning, ruled an accident. The case was officially closed. Rusorin swore quietly and rubbed her temples. "I need to think. Go home and come back in the morning. Eight o’clock."
"But I thought we were working this evening!"
"So did I! Right now I need to be alone. Please, Era." She stroked Eresenna’s cheek. "I need to clear my head."
Confused, Eresenna kissed her aunt and left. Outside fog rolled in off the ocean, over the island and down the hill in shreds that crept between buildings and among the trees, bringing damp, numbing chill. Gradually they converged into one huge sheet that hid the city from view. Rusorin shivered and shut the curtains.
Anna’s betrayal. How it hurt! Anna’s grandfather, Tamen. He had betrayed her too. Kissed her hair and swore his love, then married Anosara Karrsymon. Pastera had defied him, siding with her mother. Spermorig, dark and sterile, with its huge fortress of metal and stone. Ospek had designed it. The Neorans had built it. Seized and corrupted by their enemies, the place acquired an evil smell. There Pastera had died in her mother’s arms. Tamen shrugged. His wife wept.
"Why?" Rusorin asked her.
Anosara replied, "She was my son’s sister, wasn’t she?"
Absently Rusorin traced the scar that ran from above her left eye along the edge of her face to her chin. 2416, a year of siege and bloody skirmishing. The final campaign at Telemas. The explosion had left more scars on her body. Four months of pain and rehabilitation. The frustration of a body that could not obey the mind. The leader brought low, the healer in need of others’ care. She had allowed no one to see her except Anna, Ryset, and the medical staff. She had not fully recovered when she brought Anna home. Her shoulder still ached occasionally….
She shook herself angrily. She was sliding into self-pity. ‘Clear my head,’ she had said. Her mind was cloudier than before. She needed her music. She brought out her flute, thinking of her mother as she fitted the mouthpiece. Sitting cross-legged on the floor she began to play.
The music was ancient. Never written down, it passed from one generation to the next from memory. Rusorin had learned it from her mother. It told stories of the things her people cherished for millennia; love, knowledge, peace, exploration, contemplation. The flute sang of the old houses where men and woman had spent their lives in study, learning their universe. It was a musical history of a people who longer existed, except for two mortal enemies, pursuing their blood-feud far from home, in the world of humans.
Rusorin fell into a trance. The music knew where to go, telling her where to place her fingers. The flute needed only her breath. All night she played, gently rocking back and forth. She was still playing when Eresenna returned the next morning.
Rusorin saw her standing in the foyer, bound up in the music. She smiled sadly and put the flute away.
"Don’t stop," Eresenna begged.
"Later. Have you eaten?"
"I brought some muffins." Eresenna held up a sack. Rusorin jumped up and went into the bathroom. She scrubbed herself thoroughly and changed into fresh clothes. She took a huge bite of muffin and washed it down with a cup of tea. Grabbing her coat she strode from the apartment. Eresenna ran after her, catching up only when they reached the tramstop.
"Where are we going?"
"The police station," Rusorin said shortly. She put her finger to her lips. The tram was full of morning commuters; Rusorin’s business was none of theirs. Instead she listened to the conversation around her; everyone was talking about Bowman IV, how the city would join the Pact ‘when hell freezes over’. She wondered what they would say when the Neorans got into the mix.
"Slater needed to see me on urgent business," she said bluntly as they walked through downtown. "Five weeks before I arrive he’s dead in a creek. That’s not an accident."
"You’re not telling the police who you are, are you?"
"Of course not!"
Only a small plaque reading ‘Municipal Police of Bretton Katt, Founded 2348’ indicated the plain brick building; Bretton Katt’s pride did not extend to law enforcement. The lobby was almost empty. A few constables passed back and forth; a couple of people sat in stiff chairs and waited. Rusorin told the desk-sergeant her business. When he asked her to wait his tone was barely polite. Rusorin took a chair, She knew she was kept waiting for no reason. She folded her arms and frowned. Nothing to do right now except put up with it. Eresenna sat beside her, fidgeting. Police made her nervous. She squirmed in her chair until Rusorin stilled her with a look.
Twenty minutes passed before a portly constable called her alias. "Professor Tennant? Come with me, please."
Telling Eresenna to wait, Rusorin followed the constable down the corridor to a small office. He offered her a cup of coffee. "Hello. My name is Grenith. I’m glad someone’s finally asking after Mr. Slater. We thought he didn’t have a soul in the world. Are you a relative?"
"No. Geoff was an old friend. We were supposed to meet last night, at the Neoran Institute. We’re both working there. Well, I am. They told me he was dead. I don’t understand what could have happened."
"As far as we can tell, a ma’am, he slipped off the bridge and drowned. It happens. It gets icy, people lose their footing and fall in. The bridge there is very bad. The city keeps saying they’ll fix it, but…"
"What bridge is that?"
Grenith looked uncomfortable. "In Wright Park. Do you know it?" he asked hastily.
Rusorin shook her head. She could tell he was relieved. "What happened to his body?"
"It’s been cremated. He had no next-of-kin, and no one claimed him, so we went ahead. I’m sorry."
Damn! So much for doing her own autopsy. "His things, clothes and such. Has anyone come to get them?"
Grenith shook his head. "If no one else steps forward, would you like them?" Clearly he wanted to get out of there. Rusorin wanted to shake him until he stopped lying.
"You’re certain it was an accident?"
"Absolutely. There’s no evidence of foul play, no wounds or signs of a struggle." Grenith smiled condescendingly and broke eye contact. Rusorin took his hand in a crushing grip.
"If there’s anything else you want to tell me, you can reach me here." She thrust a card with the address of the Neoran Institute under his nose.
Cowed, Grenith put the card in his pocket. Rusorin knew she had frightened him. That was not her problem. If he lied to her he didn’t deserve her sympathy.
Outside she asked, "Do you know where Wright Park is?"
"About three kilometers from here, on the west end."
"Take me there."
Eresenna shivered. "Right now?"
"Yes!" Rusorin’s patience was gone.
"But it’s sleeting!"
Rusorin pulled up her hood. Eresenna shrugged. They were in the middle of the commercial district, north and east of City Hall. They walked the three blocks up Fourth Street to Mary-and Malcolm Square, empty on this bleak morning, then up six more blocks to the park. The small creek ran through the middle, slow-moving and rimmed with ice. The bridge itself was about four meters above the creek, an old-fashioned wooden span with shoulder-high railings. It probably dated from the island’s first settlement. Rusorin ran her hand along the rail; it was open enough to stick her hand through, but that was all. "Oh, Mr. Grenith, you are new to this."
"It’s not possible, Era."
"Falling over this rail. Slater was a bit shorter than I. He didn’t fall through that carving unless he melted. Someone killed him and dropped him here."
"How would I know that, Era? I don’t understand why that cop bothered to lie to me. He must have known I’d figure this out."
"Maybe he was trying to drop hints or something."
"I don’t think he’s that clever. Let’s go home, Era."
Safe in the apartment, Eresenna made a pot of tea. "What will you do now, Tose?"
"They’ll give me Slater’s things in a week. I’ll look over them, then I’m going to search his house. I must send a message to Kessanon." She ought to have done that yesterday.
"About Anna Helsak?"
Rusorin nodded wearily and fell into the armchair.
"Why won’t she help us?"
"I don’t know. Her daughter didn’t approve. I wonder if her sons do. Do you know them, by any chance?"
Eresenna nodded. "The oldest works for the city. The other two are students. One lives in the same house as my boyfriend."
"I didn’t know you had a boyfriend. Tell me about him. Is he good to you?"
"Stuart? He’s wonderful. He’s got a full scholarship to the University. He’s smart." Eresenna’s eye’s glinted. "Rob Lorrondon almost got expelled last year."
"And you were expelled two years ago," Rusorin said dryly. "Did he send a death threat to the Regent, like you did?"
"He got into a fight with another boy and choked him until he passed out. Besides," Eresenna looked sheepish. "I wasn’t really going to do anything. It was just a joke."
"Next year you can petition to get back in." Rusorin changed the subject. "You don’t like him."
"No. The other boys are nice. Why do you ask?"
Rusorin smiled. Eresenna made no effort to hide her jealousy. "I’ve known that family a long time. You know that."
"And it’s done you no good," said Eresenna.
Rusorin sipped her tea. Eresenna had a point. Her involvement with that family had had mixed and messy results. She thought of Anna’s anger and Lily’s warmth. She went to the computer and sent her message to Kessanon. It would take four days to reach him.
He had warned her, but in her pride she had dismissed him. Ryset was too gracious to say ‘I told you so’, but she would see it in his face when they meet again. She yawned. She had not slept a full night in more than a week. "I’m going to bed."
"But it’s barely ten o’clock!"
"So?" Clocks meant little to Rusorin. Her people never measured time at all, things needed to be done when they needed to be done and it took as long as it took. Simple observation told them when to plant crops and when to harvest them; personal needs told them it was time to marry and have children (children knew when it was time to be born). They needed no clocks to tell them when to sleep and when to watch the stars. Rusorin never understood why humans plotted their lives around such mundane little blocks of time. "I need sleep. I’m going to take it."
She patted Eresenna’s shoulder and went into the bedroom. Eresenna trotted after her. "Would you like a hot bath, at least?"
"Please." It sounded wonderful.
Eresenna drew the tub. Stretched out, the heat sinking into her body, Rusorin inhaled the steam. "Thanks, Era. I’m glad you’re here."
"I like doing things for you, Tose." Eresenna took a cup and poured water down her aunt’s back. Rusorin closed her eyes and relaxed. She would have peace, if only for the next few hours.
Rusorin slept for fifteen hours then went to work on the computer, retrieving articles on Brettonese history, politics, trade agreements, and criminal law. She combed both of the city’s newsoffices (the Times and the more conservative Courier) for any item from the past year concerning Anna, the Bastian Union, Bretton Katt, or all three. When she was through she had a thousand pages of printouts. She spent the next week sorting everything into piles and reading through each one, underlining things and making notes in the margins.
Recent events were discouraging. The liberal Progressive Party, always hoping to make Bretton Katt a major voice in galactic affairs, had steadily gained power in every election this century, eroding the majority of the isolationist Bretton League (they would hardly want to break Bretton Katt’s long tradition of neutrality). But in 2432 the Progressives suffered huge reverses, losing their majority in the City Council, hanging onto one-third of the seats. What could have happened to throw so many people to the Bretton League?
Rusorin thumbed through another pile for the answer. Two years before Victor Bastian began squeezing the Neorans from his territory, stripping them of every legal right except the right to leave. As the largest port in the Bowman Pact, Bretton Katt became a way-station for Neorans on their way home to the Confederation. Most stayed a week or two, got their visas in order, and took ship for home. But the Courier was full of editorials warning of ‘galactic unrest’ and ‘dangerous off-world entanglements’. Rusorin found such language simplistic and silly, but it had worked. The city was firmly in the hands of the Bretton League. Fewer Neorans came through the city these days, but new laws made it harder for them to leave (on the theory that if it were harder to leave, they would not come in the first place? But if the only passage home was through Bretton Katt, what choice did people have?).
It was painfully clear from the city’s own records of its history that isolation was the norm. It was nearly impossible to move to Bretton Katt unless you were descended from an original settler. Visitors were welcome as long as they came a few at a time and didn’t linger.
It would not be easy to make an alliance with these people. Had Ryset asked too much of her? She was no diplomat. By education and instinct she was a physician; she healed wounds and cured illness. She understood the human body thoroughly. The human character had always eluded her understanding in spite of living among them for more than two hundred years. Damn all of them.
She heard Eresenna coming up the stairs. Opening the door she saw her tiny niece staggering under a large box. Rusorin took it from her. "Any trouble getting it?"
Eresenna sank to the sofa. "No. I think they were glad to get rid of it. There had better be something good in there." Her legs ached. It had snowed that morning, making walking difficult. "Have you seen this?" She pulled a crumpled paper from her coat pocket.
It was a leaflet, short and strident, haranguing the Brettonese to reject both the Neorans and the Bowman Pact. At the bottom was a list of names, prominent citizens, including the Regent of the University and several professors. Rusorin raised an eyebrow when she saw the name Enrik Ratt. This leaflet must be a joke; Rusorin doubted that Anna’s stepson had become a reactionary. "It’s nonsense, Era."
Eresenna was disappointed. She was happy to believe the worst of the people who had expelled her.
Rusorin looked through the box, surprised the police had not ‘lost’ Slater’s things. Clothes, a wallet with two dollars in it, and a set of keys. Rusorin put them in her pocket; she would need them when she searched his house. At the bottom of the box was a coat. Rusorin tried it on. It was too small. Slater was shorter than she; this wasn’t his coat. She dumped everything back in the box and shoved it to the back of the closet. Slater’s house must yield more clues.
It was time to go. Rusorin adjusted her scanner and put it in her coat pocket with her flashlight and the Pummer.
"Why are you taking the gun?" Eresenna asked. The idea of a search terrified her.
"Habit," Rusorin said shortly. She picked up a sack and stood in the middle of the room. "If I’m not back in two hours, come after me."
Eresenna hoped she would need to do no such thing.
Rusorin patted her cheek. "Nothing is going to happen, Era." She stood erect, holding her arms close to her body. Closing her eyes she inhaled deeply and vanished in a burst of blue static.
She landed in Slater’s living room. The glow from the single lamp startled her. She dropped the sack and looked around. A sofa, a coffee table, two armchairs. A small bookcase held travel books, general histories of the area, nothing personal. There was nothing personal in the entire room. No pictures on the walls or tables, no knickknacks. Only a light jacket hanging from the back of a chair in the dining room.
The rest of the house had the same generic look. The bedroom was tidy and cold. The window was cracked open, probably to air the room. The opening was too small for someone to crawl in. Rusorin moved to shut it, then changed her mind. The smaller bedroom was set up as an office. Here at last was some imprint. Papers covered the desk and spilled into the floor. More papers were stacked on top of two filing cabinets. Leafing through the jumble Rusorin found the same information she had collected. Exasperated, she flung the papers to the floor.
"Help me, Mr. Slater," she whispered. She looked through the desk and the filing cabinets. All the drawers were unlocked and empty except the bottom drawer of the left-hand cabinet. Rusorin looked at the keys. There was one small grooved-metal key that slid into the lock. The drawer was crammed with notebooks, Slater’s records of his two years in Bretton Katt. Rusorin put them in the sack and checked the computer. Two messages blinked on the screen, both from the night Slater had died, asking him to call the Institute. The database itself had been erased. By Slater or someone else, it was impossible to tell.
An hour had passed. Rusorin returned to the bedroom. There was nothing in the dresser or the closet but clothes with empty pockets. The closet in the foyer held only a jacket and an overcoat with loose change in the pockets. It was the same with the jacket that hung over the chair.
Rusorin examined the keys again. Along with the file key were two key-cards that opened doors automatically when the bearer walked through. One was marked Neoran Institute; perhaps the other went to the front door. Rusorin peered through the curtains. The street was heavily wooded and no neighboring houses were visible. She stepped through the front door, locked it, walked a few paces away from the house, then turned around and walked back. The door slid open. The remaining key was a blue-plastic rectangle with a dot-code running along its length. Rusorin had never seen such a key before. Presumably you fitted it into a slot. Nothing in the house had such a lock. Maybe Eresenna could tell her.
The house was quiet except for the soft electronic buzz. Everything was neat and undisturbed; the master was due home at any time. Slater had lived here for two years, but how much time had he actually spent here? Rusorin wanted to get out of here, back to where there were people and lights and traffic. She shouldered the sack and left through the front door. She could return later if she needed to.
Eresenna fretted. The two hours were almost up; must she now go to Tose’s rescue? She had decided she must try when Rusorin walked in. Eresenna sighed with relief.
"Did you find anything?"
"A few things. I don’t know how helpful any of it is."
Eresenna had tea and a sandwich waiting. Rusorin smiled gratefully; she was famished. "Anything happen while I was gone?"
"Rap Karen called. He wants you to speak to him right away."
"I’ll call him tomorrow."
"And a secured report came in." Eresenna handed her a printout.
The report confirmed part of what Lily had told her. Someone in a blind orbit around Bowman IV had shuttled down to Melbourne on the morning of January 24; they had left that afternoon (the very day of Geoffrey Slater’s death). Neoran Intelligence was tracing the ship; they would contact her when they had something. So, Anna had met someone from off-world. Grimly Rusorin set the report aside and dumped everything out of the sack. She picked up the most recent journal, dated from the first of June the previous year to the twenty-second of January.
It made dry reading. Slater had taken the directive ‘to observe everything and report clearly and accurately ‘ too seriously. He had recorded everything thoroughly without injecting any opinion or insight. But his observations were telling
"Oct.7, 2440. Conservative Brett Leaguers mad at party bosses. Accuse them of making overtures to the Neorans. Not entirely true. League pres. said she’d be willing to open trade with the Confederation. People began yelling and walking out. The progs. watch and wait. The League is in trouble. Mr. Bloom thinks the progs. can split the League and regain control of City Council."
Sidney Bloom, editor of the liberal Times, along with his wife, Meredith Champion. It might be worth Rusorin’s while to contact them. She flipped to the last entry.
"Jan 22, 2441. Talk of the town is proposed annexation to the Bowman Pact. Mr. Smith told me this question comes up every few years and the city always votes it down. Judging from the talk, it will lose this time too. Nobody wants an alliance with anyone. NTL mad at League. Nobody is sure why. They held a hushed meeting for their leadership last night. I should attend their meeting next month."
That was all. No sign Slater had felt himself in any danger. But he was dead, two days later. Rusorin flipped through the empty pages; a small leaflet fell out. It advertised meetings of a group called the New Terran League of Bretton Katt. NTL. An offshoot of the Bretton League. What would their platform be? Rusorin folded the leaflet and put it in her pocket. Perhaps she should attend their next meeting.
She had hit a dead end. The only thing left was the blue key. She showed it to Eresenna. "Do you know what this is?"
Eresenna shook her head. Rusorin sighed and put the key away. She loved Eresenna, but the girl’s lack of knowledge and concentration were becoming liabilities; she only kept her around for company. And Rusorin could not forget the foolishness that had gotten her expelled. She could not risk her mission for the sake of personal affection. Eresenna must return to the Consulate.
"You don’t need to come here tomorrow," she said. "Karen must have things for you to do."
Eresenna understood. It was her own fault; she couldn’t blame Rusorin. She kissed her aunt, put on her coat, and went home.
Clouds rolled in overnight. The next morning was warmer and very muggy. It was not yet full daylight; the city was just beginning to stir. Rusorin got another cup of tea and called the Consulate. Karen kept her waiting for five minutes.
"You’re not in too much of a hurry," Rusorin remarked. "Era said you had an urgent message."
"I would not call it urgent," Karen drawled. "It might make things more difficult."
"What has happened?"
"The Mayor’s office called me yesterday. The City Council has decided to vote on the alliance by plebiscite. The vote will be April 20."
That meant they must persuade the entire city, not simply the council. "If that’s their decision we must accept it," Rusorin said calmly. "Now we must take our argument to the public. Work on it, will you?"
The com went quiet.
"All right, Tose," Karen said at last. Rusorin could well picture his expression.
"We’ll meet in four days, " she said. "Come to my office at the Neoran Institute. Nine o’clock."
Karen huffed and broke connection. Rusorin sighed. Her great-grand nephew. Her closest blood-kin. She loathed him.
She would worry over that later. She needed answers about Geoffrey Slater. She must return to the police and drag the truth out of them. She hated the idea of intimidation; at one time such a thing would not have occurred to her. This is what came of living with humans so long; her standards had come down. She hoped they would talk freely; if they didn’t she was prepared to stop being so damn polite.
She called the station. If Inspector Grenith were there she would go downtown and corner him. Failing that, she would find the medical examiner. To her dismay, the desk sergeant informed her that both of them were gone, left the city for extended vacations. Rusorin thanked him and broke connection.
Swiftly she called up the Passenger Lists for the past week. Grenith had gone to Fordham two days ago, on the eighth. Fordham! That was hardly a place for a vacation, a huge mechanized sprawl on the East Coast, more of an industrial complex than a place anyone might actually choose to live. It was also as far away from Bretton Katt as a man could get without leaving the planet. There was no record of Dr. Wang. Tracking them would take more time than she had; perhaps the apermenyk, Neoran Intelligence, could do it.
She scraped up a meager breakfast; her provisions were low. Her remaining cash would get her through the week. After that she must ask Karen for a grant (how he would gloat). She took a large tote from the closet and headed to the market.
When she returned a message from the Institute blinked on the computer screen "Constable David Galway wishes to speak to you about the matter of January 24."
The policeman who had found the Slater’s body. She clicked to the city directory and found his address. He did not answer the com. Probably he had just finished his shift. She left a message and fell asleep on the sofa.
It was dark when she woke. From across the room the com blinked at her. Two messages, one from Eresenna, screaming that Rob Lorrondon had beaten up her boyfriend. The second was from David Galway.
"I must talk to you. Come to my house at nine this evening. If this is not possible, please call me."
It was already past eight-thirty. Rusorin grabbed her coat and picked up her pistol. Galway’s duplex sat back from the street in the middle of a large lot thick with trees. Lights shone from both units, but Rusorin was uneasy. She went up to the door and reeled back as a wave of psychic energy struck her mind. She caught her breath and grabbed the doorknob. This was worse. Terror, pain, brutal pleasure. She closed her eyes and saw red.
She ran around the side of the house to an open window. She hoisted herself up, saw no one inside, and slid feet-first into the kitchen. Silently she crossed the room and put her ear to the door. Nothing. But they were there, two of them. Rusorin drew her gun, kicked the door open and fired, hitting one of the men in the throat. The other fired six shots and dove behind the sofa. Rusorin threw herself to the floor. A body lay in the foyer. It was David Galway and he was dead.
The man behind the sofa cursed, calling Rusorin every filthy name imaginable. The one lamp in the room threw shadows rather than giving any real light. Rusorin edged closer to the wall, careful of the mess on the floor. Her enemy had not moved. Lying flat on the floor she shot out the lamp, sending the room into total darkness. The man dashed for the door, shooting at random. Rusorin fired once and hit him in the head.
She lay still and waited for her heart rate to slow. She got up and activated the lights. The room was awash in blood. She stepped over to David Galway. He was not much more than a boy. His throat was savagely cut, almost severing his head. The body was still warm. Rusorin closed his eyes. Had he any family?
She turned to the killers. Their faces were plain, nondescript. Turning up their collars she found the tiny insignia from which his followers took their name. What were they doing here? She took her scanner and swept the room, finding the bug tucked into the cushions of an armchair. She crushed it flat and threw it aside.
Feeling desolate, she slid to the floor, letting the pistol drop from her hand. In disgust she picked it up and tucked it back into her belt. She must not linger here. When these two did not return the Pipes would send others, possibly more than she could handle. She found some towels and blotted up the worst of the blood, then took a clean cloth and wiped every surface she had touched. When she finished she wadded them up and dumped them down the recycler.
She stood in the foyer, her clothes stained with blood, looking at Galway. "Forgive me," she whispered. She could stay no longer. The Neorans must be warned. And she was tired of death, of looking through dead men’s houses, poking through dead men’s things. She left by the window and ran all the way to the Neoran Consulate.
Suromekyk. The word spread quickly through the Neoran community, passed over the computer, whispered from ear to ear. Suromekyk. Throat-cutters, once again coming out of the dark to murder Neorans and their allies. They killed in secret, too cowardly to face their prey in the open. Sorumekyk, bringing deep visceral fear to the surface, a fear matched by an equally deep hatred and a will to fight. All across Bretton Katt Neorans brought pistols and daggers from hiding; the Pipes must not find them unprepared. Knowledge of their enemies’ presence was their strongest defense.
There must be more than two. There always were. Most Terrans were suspect; coworkers, neighbors, even friends. The Neorans hated their own suspicion, but it was there nonetheless. Their survival depended on it. They hated the Pipes for that too. Terrans who found Neorans dour and terse often wondered why. The Pipes were the reason.
Rusorin did not fear them. She had killed every Pipe who had ever come against her. He never sent them. They came of their own volition, to prove their love and loyalty to a master who didn’t care if he got either from them. Probably it amused him when they died trying to kill her, his greatest enemy. She could not pity them. If they chose to serve such a master they deserved no sympathy.
She spent the remainder of the night and the next day moving back and forth between the Consulate and the Neoran Institute. In this emergency she must be here, among her allies. Along with their fear came new courage. ‘We must not worry so much; the Commander is here'.
She called up the Police Personnel Files (as much as was on public record); neither Pipe was a cop (which didn’t mean there were no Pipes in the Municipal Police; it was common recruiting ground). Their fingerprints were not on file in the city, or anywhere on Bowman IV. Technicians were tracing their DNA.
A clerk brought Rusorin a cup of tea. "Thank, you, Anatsa. Any news on that constable yet?"
It was almost three in the afternoon. Someone must have found him by now. The police were probably keeping this quiet. "Tell me the minute anything comes through. Have you seen my niece?"
"No, Rap. She’s probably with her boyfriend. No one has seen her in two days."
"Thank you, Anatsa."
Anatsa bowed and left. Rusorin called Eresenna’s apartment. No answer. She was anxious for the girl’s safety. If there were Pipes in the city Eresenna should be here, with her own people around. Rusorin spent a worried night pacing the floor, gulping down tea, frustrated because she could do nothing but wait.
Peren brought her a report. "Intelligence found that ship. It’s a small merchant craft, from a company on Gamma Perseus."
"What? That’s right in the middle of the Bastian Union."
Peren frowned. He already knew that, but he couldn’t talk back to the Commander.
"What do we know about this company?"
"It’s called Smithson and Associates, a small trading company."
A front. "Tell Intelligence…what’s the matter?"
Peren looked uncomfortable. "They told me they must concentrate on other things. Their orders came from Remelan yesterday."
"I’m overriding those orders. They must be at my disposal."
"But, Rap, only the Rapalak can override Rap Serben!"
Peren was right. Rusorin did not have the authority to assign Intelligence officers to anything. Damn Pammallon! The only reason he would not cooperate was because she could not force him. Damn Ryset too, for not telling him to shut up and help Rusorin any way he could. No Intelligence officer would move without orders from Pammallon. She must contact Ryset and that would waste a week. "Send a message to Remelan. Tell the Rapalak I want full use of Intelligence and if I don’t get it he’s going to tell me why when we see each other again." Surely Ryset must see the importance of this.
"Yes, Rap Rusorin."
The implication of Peren's report fell on her. Anna had met someone from the Bastian Union. A rebel group? Bastian’s territory was full of them, but few had the resources to contact the Bowman Pact-or the Neoran Confederation. And if that were the case, why the secrecy?
This must wait. She went down to the laboratory.
"We found the DNA match, Rap. The data’s coming up now." Slowly the faces rolled onto the screen. Both men were serving life sentences on Devil’s Island for murder and assault. There was no mention of an escape. "There’s more," said the technician. "But it’s encrypted."
"Not my field," said Rusorin. This time Intelligence was going to help her.
They were hard at work, the three young men in their dark uniforms, monitoring every communication in and out of Bretton Katt. They came to attention when they saw her, giving her the respect due a Fleet Commander. But they disliked her almost as much as she disliked them.
Rusorin told Captain Tassapron what she needed. He slowly shook his head.
"We have our orders. Until Rap Serben sends us new ones, it is those orders we must obey."
His lieutenants stood behind him, giving Rusorin look for look. They were not sullen; their attitude went much deeper than that. It came from pride, from sense of purpose-and from exclusivity; the apermenyk permitted no panoran, no outsider, in their ranks. Rusorin wasn’t one of them and never could be; they saw no reason to accommodate her.
"Rap Serben is not here," Rusorin said coldly. "You may tell him any tale you wish, but you are going to assist me."
Their defiance turned to dismay. They had not expected her bluntness.
"Your job," she continued. "is to ferret out any information that has any bearing on the security of the Confederation and the safety of any Neoran anywhere in the galaxy. Read your own charter. You serve the Confederation, not Rap Serben. I want you to find that ship from Gamma Perseus. I want you to hack into those prison files and tell me what it says about those Pipes. I want you to be quiet and do exactly what I tell you. What Rap Serben wants, or what you want, carries no weight with me."
"Yes, Rap," Tassapron muttered.
"Yes, Rap," said his companions.
Rusorin sat down and closed her eyes. David Galway heaped on the floor of his own home. He was no Pipe; she was certain of that. A colleague had betrayed him and set him up to die. The sheer evil of that act chilled her. Now the Pipes knew they were discovered; they would go to ground. She must wait for them to make the next move. Is that why Slater had wanted to see her, to warn her of Pipes in Bretton Katt?
That made little sense. He would not have needed to see her secretly to tell her that. He would have informed the Consulate. Her best guess (and it was only a guess) was that he had information on Anna. That ship from the Bastian Union. He was there somewhere. John Hyde. If she is tracking him on her own, why didn’t she tell me?
She was angry at Ryset too. He ought to have seconded Intelligence to her from the beginning. Her two closest and dearest friends were now determined to thwart her. Anatsa and Peren and the other clerks (and Eresenna) meant well, but Rusorin could not call them friends. They never considered themselves to be on equal terms with her.
Wearily she sat at the computer. She still had much to do before she was ready to argue before the city for an alliance. She told the clerks to leave her undisturbed unless they had news of Geoffrey Slater, the Pipes, or the ship from Gamma Perseus.
In the morning Anatsa brought her a message. David Galway’s funeral was set for eleven o’clock. Rusorin thought about going; there was no real reason to. "Any news of the death?"
"Only a brief mention in the Times. They call it a suicide."
More lies from the Municipal Police. Rusorin returned sadly to her files. When she finally took a break, it was late in the afternoon and Anatsa was knocking on the door. "There’s someone to see you about Mr. Slater. I think you must know him." She handed Rusorin a slip of paper with the name Roben Lorrondon. Anna’s son. Anna had been pregnant with him when she returned home in 2417.
"Send him up."
Rusorin would have known him for Anna and Doren’s child. He had his mother’s wide cheekbones and his father’s large dark-blue eyes and intense expression. Grave and polite, he took her hand. Then his nerves mastered him. His eyes lost color; his thoughts moved too quickly for Rusorin to read.
"Please, sit down," she said kindly. "What do you know about Geoffrey Slater?"