Jo Clayton: Shadowplay

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Jo Clayton Shadowplay
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Shadowplay: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Jo Clayton


Chapter 1. Fun and games in a transit mall

Shadith, Shadow to her friends, ignored a determined holoa singing its jingee in her ear, flashing its busy images in her face, and glanced at the stretch of plate glass that fronted the shop the loa was trying to entice her into. He's still there.

The canted glass reflected the heavy dark figure of the Transit Guard leaning on a fauxstone wall, half hidden by the leaves of the young willow growing from the squat ceramic tub beside him, flickering in and out of the electric blues, acid greens, and hot pinks of the wandering holoas that drifted like feathers along the walkways and fell in slow spirals down the vast cavern of the atrium, their pitches silent, confined to color, glyph and image until proximity to a warm body triggered their tunes and jingees and whispered enticements. In and out, bare and veiled, the guard was there, always there. Every time he looks at me, his eyes leave prints like dirty hands. Inchling! Stinkard! If I smashed you, slug, the air would turn so foul we'd all die of it. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

Angry and upset, she eeled through a pack of big-eyed Froskans playing etherial patti-cake with a loa singing the praises of a sensaroo for nocturnals, ducked under the lower elbows of a pair of three-meter Bawangs stilling along ignoring with angular dignity noise and color, adhesive loas and intrusive shoppers, picked her way through a family swarm of arachnoid Menaviddans dressed mainly in stiff black hair 'and multiple loops of the shimmering translucent monofilament they were famous for, edged by a Clove' Matriarch with her gaggle of sycophantic attendants and stopped in the middle of a crowd of Nayids, Kakerans and assorted though less spectacular bipeds belonging to the Cousin Races gathered about a troupe of Xhenagoa acrobats moving to the beat of tenor drums and flutes and the pulsing color flows of a szimszim mixmaster, wheeling about and about slowly shifting jugglers contorting their bodies through impossible curves to pass from hand to foot to hand to head in all possible combinations small glass bowls filled with water and bright-colored fish.

For a moment she felt secure, surrounded by, so many beings, veiled from sight by layer on layer of glimmering loan, then his breath was in her hair, his hands were brushing over her body, pushing between her legs. Queasy with loathing, she slid away from him and hurried on. Gods, it's going to take sandblasting to make me feel clean. If he touches me again, I'll vomit on him. What a mess. How do I get myself out of this trap?

The Mall was closed off from the rest of the Transfer Station, access to it tightly controlled. One way in, one way out. She'd already tried to leave, but he was leaning against one of the twisted pillars framing the Gate, thumbs hooked over his weapon belt, the three fingers and a stub on his left hand tapping on the ugly black rod of the popper. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. This was a place of flux and strangers where travelers without local connections or powerful guarantors had no rights, no recourse against Transity Authority actions. She'd passed through here a dozen times at least-not in this body, no, she was a pattern in a node of the RMoahl diadem then, looking out through Aleytys' eyes as the Hunter went undisturbed about her business (no one in his right mind would fool with Hunters Inc)-but she was on her own now; as long as Aleytys was insplitting back to Wolff, she might as well be dead for all the help she'd be. No way to reach her. Anyway, she forgot me the minute she dropped me here. Pregnant and playing the happy homebody. She won't be noticing anything until she starts getting bored. If she'd just stayed a while…

She smiled at the image of Aleytys at her most imperious raising hell all over the Station, then shook her head. Ahlahlah, if I have to yell for help to take care of a shitbag like that, I'm feeble and futile and deserve what I get.

She'd have to stand on her own feet, no options, even Swardheld was out of touch, he was on his way back to Tairanna, visions of rosepearls dancing in his head. Be a year before he returned with cargo and a load of tall tales, him and his crazy crew.

Besides, even if she tried, she couldn't get a message out. The guard wasn't about to let her near a skipcom box. If she made a fuss or fought him, he'd pop her full of comealong and that would be that. She's seen it-oh, yes-sitting in Aleytys' head she'd seen it once, twice, a dozen times: a small flurry starts and is erased before it's more than a flutter in the corner of an eye. What I'd be, oh gods, that's what I would be, a flutter in the corner of a Cousin's eye.

She glanced back at him. Yes, he could do her any time, but he seemed to be enjoying himself too much to end the chase before he had to. Rot and ruin, name me species dumbiensis boneheadis. He's licking me like I was a lollypop. Connoisseur of terror, hunh!

None of the travelers around her would move a finger, claw, tentacle, whatever, to help her. Not even the Spotchallix up for a day's browsing in the duty free shops, it was their place, but not their responsibility. Why should they care? The guards wouldn't attack or harass them, they walked about cocooned in spotchala law-which didn't apply to outsiders. On the ground it would, no doubt, be different; people take a certain pride in the civility of their worlds, but up here no such assumption existed. This was not HOME and there was no need for pride in anything but the glittering surface. And travelers knew better than to interfere in spotchala affairs. They were here for a few hours, they had their own vulnerabilities; with rare exceptions, kind supported kind and let the rest of the zoo take care of itself. She glared at a tetrad of inoffensive Jajes whisper whisper whispering in the shadows, met.softcoal eyes filled with startled reproach and turned away, shamed and annoyed. All right, all right, it's not their fault. It's me. Little red ryderhood all alone. Babymeat. Sar!

She was a slender coltish girl, a kaffolay sprite with hair like an explosion of brown-gold watchsprings. A sixteener body that looked fourteen or younger. An unarmed young girl, her knives, her stunner, her other weapons sealed in her luggage by the Customs Agent.

She watched the guard grin and flip a finger at another of his kind lounging against a beerhall facade. I thought so. He's done this a lot. They know what's going on. If I went to one of those pimping bastards and complained, he'd probably hold me down for him, then take his turn at me.

She shivered with rage. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She felt the Transit Guard coming up behind her again, gritted her teeth and went into a boutique whose holoa has been whispering at her for the past several minutes. A delicate little Ptica-Pteeri in post-fertile plumage came rushing forward with musical twitters and a flutter of pale blue crest-feathers; she stopped in front of Shadith, black eyes bright with practiced pleasure, singing a lovely soaring interrogatory.

"Let me see something for the evening," Shadith said after a moment's thought. "Something simple but ele gant." She presented her credit bracelet, let the pteroid inspect it.

Fluting her pleasure at the request or the credit balance or both, the Ptica-Pteeri led her to a viewing booth.

Shadith sat in polyresponsive pulochair, leg bent, ankle on her knee, fingers on a sensor pad as a holo of her body turned and strutted in one garment after another. She thought fleetingly about asking the pteroid for help; to hide her, to get her out of here, but she didn't bother trying it. She knew better. She'd be turned from the shop before she got three words out. Ejected by 'droid bouncers. The guard was outside the shop, waiting; he knew all that His gloat oozed over her. Much more of his slobber gets on me and sandblasting won't do it. Don't let pride make you stupid, Shadow. Maybe I can handle him, maybe I can't. If he does me, I want to make it cost. I want him dead and I want him to know it's coming.

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