Jo Clayton: Shadow of the Warmaster

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Jo Clayton Shadow of the Warmaster
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    Shadow of the Warmaster
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Shadow of the Warmaster

Jo Clayton


1. Two hours before zeropoint-the meeting of Swardheld Quale and Adelaar aici Arash (from which events will be dated, backward and forward as circumstances warrant).

Prin Daruze/Telffer.

Sometime round midmorning on the third day of the second week in the spring month Calftime, Nuba Treviglio, Freetrader and free soul, set her ship down on the stretch of metacrete Telffer laughingly calls its star port, discharged one passenger and droned into town on the ship’s flit to see what the world had to offer her.

Adelaar aici Arash watched her leave. To the ground, Treviglio said, what you do after that is your business and by god, she meant it. Adelaar bent over her case and thumbed on the a/g-lift, straightened and looked for some means of transport.

Metacrete, flat, filthy, chalk white, seemed like there were kilometers of it on every side, reaching out to touch the mountains in the west, the blue glitter of the sea in the east, and the long dark line in front of her, the city that serviced this desolation. A brisk wind blew from the distant seashore, dragging with it pungent sea smells (seawrack, dead fish, iodine and brine); it lifted off the ’crete a heavy white grit that it drove hisssssing against half a dozen shuttles and a massive barge, against a battered wreck being stripped for parts, against two tenth-hand stingships snugged close like link-twins, against some ancient flickits gray and vaguely insectile, against Adelaar’s boots in a soft continual patter, against her tan twill trousers, the close-fitting tan twill jacket, against her face, forcing tears from her half-closed eyes. She flattened her shoulders, tugged on the case’s tether and started walking, moving with an easy contained stride toward the city ahead. Except for the diminishing dot that was Treviglio on the flit, nothing but the wind and the grit moved in all that shimmery white glare.

She was short, slight, neatly made, hovering about early middle age with the help of ananile drugs. She wore her tan hair trimmed close to her head so she could run a comb through it and forget it; the wind was teasing it, twisting it into a ragged halo about her face, angering her though she wouldn’t permit her annoyance to show except in the slight deepening of the shallow crows’-feet at the corners of her eyes, large eyes, gentian blue, cold eyes in a face adept at concealing what went on behind it.

After twenty minutes of brisk walking, she reached the edge of the field and stepped onto Telffer’s StarStreet.

StarStreet/Prin Daruze/Telffer had a fuel dump, a shipsupply store that from the look of it operated by appointment only, a short stretch of pavement and a very tall fence. Adelaar angled toward the Gate and stopped before a wooden kiosk painted black with a battered plastic window so scratched by windborne grit it had lost any transparency it had ever had. The Gate was shut, there were eyes and heat sensors soldered to the fencewire, melters perched on swivelposts atop the wire… She looked from them to the kiosk. “T’k t’k, sweet sweet.”

She located the outside palmer, a dullmetal oval freckled with old black paint, slapped her hand against it. A wall section shuddered, squealed, pleated itself until there was an opening wide enough for her to edge through. Tugging the case inside with her, she crossed to the heavyduty comset screwed onto the back wall and inspected it as the door squealed shut behind her, closing her in with an unpleasant smell, a mix of ancient sweat, dead moss and dryrot. Fungus grew in scaly patches on the greasy metal of the comset; there was an ugly olive-ocher film on the com’s thumbglass.

She touched the glass, her face rigid with distaste, rubbed her thumb repeatedly along her side as she watched a hold-pattern shiver over the plate. A minute passed. She glanced at the ringchron on her left hand, glanced again. Again. “If I was paying you, you’d be out on your ass yesterday.”

Two minutes, three, five… A loud ting. A face in the plate, male functionary, a slash of a mouth, a thin nose so long it approached the grotesque.

“Name, origin, ship, purpose of visit.” A bored monotone.

“Adelaar aici Arash. Droom in the Heggers.” She slipped her diCarx from her belt, touched it to the reader, slid it back in its squeeze pocket when the pinlight flashed red. “Passenger tradeship Niyit-Nit, owner/captain Nuba Treviglio. Business with a resident of Telffer.”

“What business? Who?”

Adelaar hesitated; as she’d built up her client list, she’d dealt with men like this and knew how unproductive annoyance was; push at them and they set their feet like mules. On the other hand, she wanted to say as little as possible to local authorities, she didn’t know what their under-the-table ties were. There was a man on Aggerdom asking questions about her the day she closed with Treviglio for passage here; the Niyit-Nit lifted before she learned more, but she had little doubt who he worked for, less doubt that there were people in Prin Daruze with the same ties. Bolodo had stringers wherever there was a market for their contractees and raw worlds like Telffer always needed more hands. Hmm, throw him Quale’s name if he keeps pushing me, no point trying to keep that quiet, soon as I hit the Directory, who wants to know will.

“That’s my concern, not yours,” she said, her voice neutral, nonaggressive, despite the implicit challenge of the words. “Should licenses be necessary, I will apply at the proper time and place.”

“What business? Who?” He wasn’t going to drop it though he knew and she knew he was going beyond his instructions.

“Swardheld Quale. I’ll let him know your interest in him. I’m sure he’ll be delighted someone cares.”

Conceding defeat with a malevolent glower, he gabbled another setspeech. “Qualified access granted, downtime coincident downtime Niyit-Nit, overstay downtime, fine one thousand telfs minimum assessed per day, business, full disclosure liabilities required on penalty locktime, locktime set complaint Telff, flake evidence, no recourse offworlder, locktime possibility conversion to fine by Camar Prin Daruze, schedule fines determined Camar, warning, altercation with Telff, presumed guilty, onus on offworlder t’ prove case, congel, madura, olhon, grao, ebeche, viuvar, tendrij woods consensual monopoly, license required for export, severe penalty for attempted removal, any questions?”


“Gate open.” The com went dark.

“T’k t’k, sweet sweet.”

She tugged on the case’s tether, slapped her hand against the interior palmer; when the panel shuddered without budging, she gave it a kick with her boot heel that sent it sliding open, squealing and whimpering as the pleats formed. Wanting to kick the functionary where he’d feel it, she booted the door again, then swore at her folly as it died on her, the opening barely wide enough to let her waggle the case through and squeeze after it.

Outside, she brushed at herself, tucked away her annoyance and strode through the Gate.

As it clanked shut behind her, she looked about. She was on the outskirts of a gridded cluster of low, blocky, windowless buildings, gray and brown, scratched, dingy, not a bush or blade of grass to break the monotony. Automated factories. Deliveries of raw materials already made, production in process, everything tucked neatly out of sight and sound. The patched, dusty streets were empty; as far as she could see there wasn’t an intelligent entity within kilometers of her. No transport. He hadn’t given her the chance to call a cab. “T’k, animated spleen.”

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