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I slid into the Mercy Seat an dialled back the gravity long enough to make it easy money getting Elory as was down to the lock. I was glad to see he hadn't pa.s.sworded his boards or any other such damfool talkingbook nonsense: it was enough t'worry about his comps. Down at the lock I sealed up my suit again an cycled through with Elory There was some safetylines in the lock an I took one an hooked him to the hull with it. Oob was going to want me to bring back proof, an he'd be easier to cut up if he was frozen.
Then I went back to the c.o.c.kpit an flashed the fights. I saw an answering star as Paladin lit Firecat up, an then I went down t'Main Cargo for t'unspool the Transport Tube an wait.
Most ships has a cargo bay an a cargo hatch. Firecat don't. Ships with bays an hatches-like Fortune's Girl-is set for to make transfers in caustic or airless environments, hence the Transport Tube.
Hooking it up was going to be the fun part, because no matter what they tell you in Thrilling Wonder Talkingbooks, no ship ever stops dead in s.p.a.ce. Fortune's Girl was moving, an Firecat was moving, an the money trick was going t'be matching relative velocities close enough t'hook up the Tube an keep both ships under pressure. Pally's not a Jump pilot, but he could jink my Best Girl's att.i.tude jets enough to bring her in for a kiss.
Or bobble it-even a good pilot can-an kill us both.
I watched her come in close, hoping I hadn't come up with the one-hundredth way to die that stardancers always talk about. Finally Firecat was close enough so's I could see her clear in Fortune's Girl's running lights an count every separate peeling patch a hullseal on her skin. Time to go.
I popped Elory's lock-mine now-an held on while more atmosphere bled to s.p.a.ce. When the pressure equalized, I went about the business of sealing the two ships together.
It's easier if you got a partner with hands. It's easier if you got a heavier suit with powered jets. It's easier with lots a things. But it got done, an the two ships was breathing together, fields synched. I went over to Firecat, shucked the suit, an got dressed again.
"Elory wants me t'go to Riis," I said where Paladin could hear. "Got a cargo waiting, he said."
"And?" Paladin asked.
"Figured I'd go," I said. "Iff'n you can find his Clearances." I was looking for the connect cables an not finding them, which was damsilly foolishness on account of I'd looked 'em out special on the way here.
Paladin didn't say anything in that noisy way a his.
"I don't know why!" I said. "Who knows why dead people do anything?" I found the cables an dragged them out, then had to wriggle around under the Mercy Seat to get one end hooked up to Paladin.
"Where do you want to sell the ship?" Paladin asked instead.
"I donno. Wanderweb. They don't ask lots a questions in a Free Port." Like how one person could get two ships into orbit. Free Ports can be useful that way. I actually hadn't thought things that far along; I might have t'stash Fortune's Girl somewhere nearby with a salvage beacon on her an hope she was there when I got back, but if she weren't, I'd only lost credit I hadn't invested too much in, an I'd still have the headprice.
I got the rest a the cable over my shoulder an went walking back up to Fortune's Girl's c.o.c.kpit.
Whiles Paladin farced the comps, I tossed the ship.
Elory was a tidy lad, an something was wrong.
I'm good for secrets, but in my experience, most people is d.a.m.nfool sloppy. Elory weren't. There weren't airy more t'find from his cabin than he was a kiddy who liked hottoys an held onto every credit he'd pulled on every run he'd made for Oob seemed like.
That, an the fact that the co-cabin was locked up very tight indeed. My comp-keys wouldn't budge the hatch, an that was downright peculiar. They'd opened the c.o.c.kpit, which should be the second-best lock on any ship.
Paladin's voice came over Ship Main Speakers. He didn't sound happy. "I've found something you aren't going to like."
That made two, which was two too many.
I went up to the c.o.c.kpit where Paladin could see me.
"The ship's computer system is surprisingly singly sophisticated for a vessel of this size," Paladin began, taking the scenic route through his explanation. "There were a number of safeguards against tampering. Downloading the Riis clearances was to have wiped the rest of the system and started a self-destruct mechanism that would have appeared to be a simple engine malfunction. It took me some time to disarm the safeguard systems and access all the files."
"Je?" Wasn't no point in trying to hurry Paladin when he was in a mood to lecture. I sat myself in the songbird seat an regarded infinite s.p.a.ce.
"Elory Dace was not who he appeared to be, several times over."
"True-tell?" says me.
"Officially he was working undercover for the Trade Customs and Commerce Commission."
The TC&C is what makes a darktrader's life such a home delight out here in the Outfar but usually they waited till you put a kick on the heavyside somewheres to bother you. "An plus?"
"The Office of the Question."
Was good thing I was sitting down already. n.o.body wants to meet the Tech Police. I double didn't want to meet the Tech Police with an Old Fed Library sitting in my hull.
"He didn't know about us," Paladin said, answering the question I was too creebed to ask. "His superiors had a rumor of a technology brokering rig operating in the nightworld. Dace-to be more correct, Millanuran Nanath-was sent to investigate. All inappropriate technology is proscribed, not just the technology of the Old Federation. It might even have been something new."
Because a machine that can think for itself is so d.a.m.n useful that n.o.body will leave it alone, an who knows what they're doing in the Confederacy or the Sodality?
"There's a locked cabin. Get me in."
Behind the hatch was the rest a Brother Elory-or-Nanath's life. Full grey Teaser uniform with all ID. An in a locked case-one my comp-key did open, this time-his Tech Police uniform.
I picked up the helmet. Full-face. Want t'scare you to death before they ruin your life, forbye. Pretty black uniform an cape. Heavy blaster with a stunner piggybacked on, automatic Cla.s.s D warrant for civilian possession, which it was just too bad I couldn't think of any good way to take it with me, because a Military Heavy is a very discouraging word in the circles I run in. But I couldn't take the chance of someone wondering where I'd got it, or it maybe having a talk-back on it that Paladin couldn't catch.
I went out again.
I thought about things while I farced Elory's Best Girl of useful valuta. He kept a nice galley, an his housekeeping inventories was up to date an all found. It was almost enough to take the edge off what I had to do next.
I couldn't keep Fortune's Girl. Couldn't sell her, either. Somebody'd trace her back to me, an the numbers was on the side a somebody figuring out something hadn't gone the way their boy planned it to. An there was no way I could'a arranged that without high-tech help, so people'd come looking. Tech Police people.
Fortune's Girl had to go, just like Elory planned.
When I was done an putting the cables back, I told Paladin. He wasn't happy, but he had to admit I was right for oncet. He couldn't put the comps back the way they'd was. I'd have t'jink the goforths myself.
I suited up again an untubed Firecat, then went t'take care a the rest a the light housekeeping. No matter what the former Elory did in his spare time, Oob still wanted his head. An I wanted my bounty.
He weren't near as pretty after having been freeze-dried, but I'd seen worse an done some of it. I sheared off his head with my vibro an put it in a carrybag, then went down to the Black Gang see what I could do for his ship.
Stardancers alluz say as there's ninty-nine ways t'die an one a them is getting your goforths up to Jump an leaving them there, specially if all the safety overrides happen to go walkabout first so she can't step down. Not hard t'farce mainly for that n.o.body in his right mind'd ever want to do it. When I was done, every tell-me was showing red. I flipped more switches, calling up everything she had. Fortune's Girl started to wake up. More lights went red. Some started to flash. The girl had a lot of legs.
Time to go.
I put my helmet on. This time I'd borrowed a set a Jets from Fortune's Girl. I got back to Firecat quicktime. I didn't know how long we had, but it wouldn't be hours.
Paladin started moving us as soon as the hatch closed. I peeled off the suit once there was air an dropped down into the Mercy Seat to watch the show.
We was far enough back that there was nothing to see, but Firecat's sensors showed Fortune's Girl big an hot. About a tenth of an hour later she went over. The canopy went black as the hard particles came through, but I watched it all on filters. I walked Firecat through the debris cloud afters, just to make sure. All over but vain regrets.
Then I pulled over the comp. Permits an clearances for Riis was there, all neat an legal, just like Pally'd said. I started farcing a tik "What are you doing?"
"Covering our trail." Riis was a reach, but we'd make it.
Pally didn't say nothing a-tall.
"Think. I ice Brother Elory. He gives me his Riis Run, the deadman on his Best Girl which somebody's got to know back at Teaser Home and Mother. Why don't I take it, somebody wants t'know?"
An if I didn't take it, if I did anything other'n what a poor but honest darktrader what didn't got an Old Fed Library in her hull would do, there'd be questions, soon or late, oncet people found out young Elory weren't breathing no more, which they would, legitimates being the chatty kiddies they is.
Somebody's alluz looking, certain truth. An secret's only secret if no one looks, so you can't never do nothing t'make them see you.
"When you got the good numbers you tell me, ne, che-bai?" I muttered. The numbers read out clear. I pulled the angelstick for the jump.
Riis is Closed World, which means all visitors is strictly restricted t'Port an City. It's warmer than Coldwater by a not very. You need permits to land, permits to lift, permits to trade. According to his tickets-a-leave, Elory Dace-as-was's bidness here was t'pickup a paid cargo to lift for a destination unspecified. Not unusual in our line a work. It could be true, or just more farcing, but I was supposed to believe it.
I did spare a braincell t'wonder who he'd actually been expecting to show up an kill him back at the rondaytik, seeing as it weren't me.
But talking kytes no kick, as my dear old freight-factor alluz said. I got Firecat into a ring, on the heavyside an hooked up, jacked Pally into the main banks to pull news an weather, an went looking for my maybe fantasy kick.
It was snowing Riisfall. My Coldwater gear kept me warm enough.
My first stop was Port Services office. The Portmaster wished me a pleasant downfall, an asked what cargo. I showed him my tik He suggested I try the Guildhall to see what they was holding under that number.
I went to the Guildhall an called for the cargo, but I weren't surprised to find it was all vapor-ware an computer glitches. I hung around whiles, letting whoever was watching get a good look. Then I went off to somewheres quiet to let them find me.
Bidness as usual. If it was handled all aboveboard an proper, they wouldn't call it darktrade.
I never been to Riis but didn't have no trouble a-tall finding the kind a place I wanted. A nice dark dockside bar an bathhouse, just off the Port, Intersign glyph outside for 'stardancer.' From the look a the place, I wouldn't have t'worry about running into Companyfolk here: just Gentry an leggers an gypsies an Celestials. Peaceable folk what mind their manners. I found a booth in the back an ordered something hot.
Along of when I was on my third round an thinking about finding a bath an room, I got company.
"Elory Dace usually makes this run," my new friend said chattily.
He was m.u.f.fled up in a young ransom a Riis furs, native cut, but he talked Interphon like a cosmopolite.
"He retired an left me the run," I said. I had my hand on my blaster under the table. Both his hands was in sight, but he could have anything up his sleeve. This was where I got t'find out how far Brother Elory's deadman switch ran.
My new friend pa.s.sed me a sheet a thermofax, folded small. "This has your information. Your payment's with the cargo."
He left. I waited, then unfolded the sheet. It gave me ad-dress an time, the usual amateur encouragement not t'be seen arriving, an everything but the important things: how much an what the cargo was. Maybe they thought I knew.
The time wasn't for whiles yet: well as I could work the conversion, local dark meredies. More proof, not like I needed it, that this was strictly amateur night.
I went back to Firecat.
"The address is for a hostelry at the far edge of the Port City," Paladin said, back from a jaunt through the Port computers. "One frequented both by natives and by visitors to the city."
"Not furs." I hadn't really thought it was.
"Do we leave now?" Paladin asked.
I thought about it. "Not yet. But I'm going t'get there early. An so are you."
I took a small but useful bag a tricks an left for the Accommodation of Useful Virtue-by which name my meetcute went. Once I was off-Port an in Riisfall, I did my best to look less like what I was an more like a simple-though offworld-grubber. The cold-weather gear helped. It was still snowing. The Riisfallin kept the Port clear with sweeps and shields, but not one meter beyond.
Paladin'd pulled the name an particulars of a guest at the Accommodation what might reasonably be expecting a delivery, but n.o.body stopped me at the front. Riisfall City makes what you might call your uneasy adjustment to Imperial technology; there was stairs, not dropshafts. I took them.
The doors uplevel was Imperial standard, easy to open. Wasn't n.o.body there, even though the cubie was rented an standing empty. It's amazing what information you can pull off even a dumb terminal, which same high-ticket bennie of Imperial civ all the cubies at the Accommodation had.
An I intended to make sure it was wide awake an ready to be helpful.
First I pinged Firecat. Paladin would make sure there was no record a that. Then I took the casing off the terminal an hung a few bells an whistles on it to make sure the call couldn't be disconnected short a ripping the set out a the wall. If anyone tried to use it for anything, Paladin wouldn't be noticed. But he'd have full ears.
It wasn't much in the way a backup. But it was all we could manage.
I put it back together an looked for a nice place t'hide while my host showed up. Aside from the door an the terminal, it was standard Riisfall subtech: windows that opened, a stove for heat. The stove wasn't on. The cubie was cold. I found a likely closet an made myself comfortable.
About an hour before I was supposed to arrive, I heard voices. A roomful.
"I thought it would be Captain Dace." An older man, fussing.
"Imperials are all alike. All she wants is the money. She'll do the job." My friend from the bar. I'd pegged his type now. An inbetweener. You wanted something done, he'd help. For a fee.
"But can she be trusted? I've heard they sometimes... dump their cargo." A woman this time. She sounded soft an scared.
"No!" The first man again. You'd a thought I was about t's.p.a.ce his pet goldfish.
"Ser Emeth, Sera Emeth, the woman is Guild-bonded and reliable. Captain Dace vouches for her. She'll take the cargo safely to Kiareth," the inbetweener said. I wondered why he'd brought what sounded like citizens to the handoff. For that matter, I wondered why he'd come himself.
But I'd heard enough. There was a cargo. n.o.body was planning to shoot me. An they had a wholly-unreasonable destination in mind. Kiareth is in the Outer Midworlds, a place I don't go. I could get whatever it was there if I had to, splitting fees with another darktrader. So it was time to see the pony.
I drew my blaster an came out.
Ser an Sera Emeth was native Riisfallin-tall, blond, looked like they wrestled the native wildlife two falls out a three before breakfast. They was both covered in furs.
Sera Emeth squealed, clutching a small ambulatory bundle a furs. Apparently this was a family affair.
"You're early," my contact said.
"Promptness is a virtue." Paladin says that lots. I kept my blaster pointed at all four a them.