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Her Instruments, Book 1
“Why?” Reese asked. She wanted to pace; she wanted to shout, wave her hands, something. But Hirianthial’s body remained coiled on the floor and she couldn’t bring herself to wake him. So instead she sat, hands folded so tightly her knuckles hurt, on the stool just vacated by Sascha. “That’s what I want to know. The client’s given us enough money to make three boxes worth all the cargo we could stuff into the bays. He knows they were living—” her voice quivered, “So my question is… why?”
Kis’eh’t sighed as she rubbed her lower back. Then she removed the specimen and traced its flaws and cracks with delicate fingers. “I’m not sure. I’ve been examining them for several hours and all the tests I’ve run have been inconclusive… but that might be completely meaningless. This isn’t my specialty, but on the other hand, this isn’t exactly organic chemistry, either.” The Glaseah studied the read-outs scrolling across the screen. “Maybe he just thinks they’re pretty.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Reese said.
The Glaseah nodded. “I do too. This… this is a body, correct?”
“And we were not contracted for a specific amount of bodies, were we?”
Put that way, Reese couldn’t help but flinch. Nevertheless, she said, “No. Just to fill the boxes.”
“Then this specimen won’t be missed,” Kis’eh’t said and pulled a set of goggles over her eyes.
“Stand back, Reese.”
“What are you—”
The Glaseah whacked the crystal with chisel, shattering its base with a sound like claws on glass. Most of the column remained unmarred but from the broken middle oozed a translucent sludge. Kis’eh’t captured it in a vial and slid it with practiced motions into the sample station. She started a test running and washed her hands while waiting. “Let’s see what that wins us.”
“Was that a good idea?” Reese asked, stunned. Somehow the ruined remains of the crystal evoked a body far better than it had as a whole.
“It was a hunch,” Kis’eh’t said. “We look different on the inside than we do on the outside, and only our most advanced medical equipment can fully itemize those differences.”
The test ended with a high-pitched ping. Kis’eh’t examined the resulting list and touched the top-most entry. A holograph of a molecule appeared and rotated. “Well how about that. Nudge it just the tiniest bit and you could roll in the money.”
“I don’t understand,” Reese said. “What is it?”
“Wet, Captain,” Kis’eh’t said. “You can use its innards to make wet, far more quickly than you could piece it together in a lab.”
“You must be kidding,” Reese said. Her heart faltered. “We don’t have three trunks full of dead aliens because if you break their bodies up you can make braindead from them.”
“It’s either that or he really is looking for objects d’art,” Kis’eh’t said.
There were very few illegal drugs in the Alliance, given the number of member cultures that either believed in the responsible use of recreational substances or used them in religious ceremonies. The few outlawed drugs had earned their places on the blacklist. Wet had a slew of other nicknames: ‘braindead’, ‘zombie’, ‘mindmelt’. Users didn’t live long, but they paid well for their final days of addiction.
“How much of it can you make with that sample?” Reese whispered.
Kis’eh’t squinted at the read-out. “Mmm. Dose per person is what… less than a milligram? Maybe two hundred doses from what I have here.” She glanced at the shattered crystal. “That’s probably only three-quarters of what’s in the body.”
She was carrying almost a quarter of a million doses of one of the deadliest street drugs in the Alliance in her cargo holds, acquired by the murder of unresisting aliens because she had been willing to sign anything to get herself and the Earthrise solvent and off Harat-Sharii. Her own thoughtlessness had brought her here… and now centered her in the sights of some of the worst criminal elements in the Alliance. She was in danger. Her crew was in danger. And a crime lord who’d wanted to drag money out of people dying in the worst ways possible had used her to do his dirty work. Reese had spent much of her adulthood angry, but this… this rage was so consuming, so towering her entire body trembled and her vision bled crimson.
“Reese?” Kis’eh’t asked softly, touching her shoulder.
“Just go,” Reese said, not seeing anything, not even the wall on the other side of her eyes.
The door slid shut on the Glaseah, leaving Reese shaking on the stool. What did one do with so much anger? Where could you put it? She slid carefully from her perch and bent over the remains of the crystal corpse, counted the shards around its body, tried to imagine what it was like to think, to grow, to live life beneath a sky without a day.
She would have to tell the crew. They’d have to tell Fleet. They’d have to find a way to tell Fleet without bringing down her employer’s enforcement.
A little more of the crystal’s inner fluid pooled from the break.
She’d tell Fleet even if it did bring the enforcement down on them. And if Fleet gave her a chance, she’d kill her employers herself with her bare hands, for dragging her and so many innocent lives into their sordid crimes.
The meeting first. Then they’d figure out how to call down help. Everyone could make it… except the person who’d warned her in the first place. Reese walked over to the blankets and dropped down beside them. The Eldritch was unconscious, as he’d remained since imparting the information. The skin around his eyes was delicate, almost translucent; tiny creases wove a fine gray net at the edges of his eyelids. He still looked unhealthy despite the water, and against his side Allacazam remained stubbornly pressed, refusing to leave even to eat. Sascha had brought his sunlamp from the mess hall.
Reese brushed the Flitzbe first, long enough to see that the wound appeared to be held closed, though its puffy, angry edges disturbed her. She wasn’t well-versed in wounds, so she wasn’t sure where Allacazam was drawing these images from… perhaps Hirianthial’s mind. She hadn’t really thought through the implications of the Flitzbe being able to bridge minds by selecting images from someone else’s and overlaying them.
It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was unconscious but better and only likely to wake if she touched him… so she did, resting a hand on his shoulder.
That listless eye opened, but this time she could see more wine than black.
“Our employers,” Reese said, and the anger rose anew. “Our employers knew, Hirianthial. They knew, but the insides of the crystals can be used to make wet, so they didn’t care.”
His pupil dilated visibly, and he tried to lift his head. She stopped him with a hand hovering in front of his face. “Don’t. You’re too weak.” She bared her teeth. “We’re going after them. We’re calling the Fleet and by the time we’re done with them that fire you set to the slaver’s house will look like someone playing with a candle.”
He closed his eye and at his side Allacazam’s colors flowed to a muted, pulsing blue. Warmth and pleasure radiated up her arm from the hand that still rested on the Flitzbe’s body.
He’s getting better, isn’t he? she asked him.
A swell of blue clouds, of rain and the smell of wildflowers.
And knowing we’re going to kill our enemies makes him happy, she said. To that, Allacazam did not respond. Perhaps it was the notion of bringing their employers to justice that pleased the Eldritch, and it was her bloodlust that she felt in her mind.
But she remembered the look in his eyes when she’d first met him in that cell. She remembered how clearly he’d indicated that he held to the Kelienne Oath only while employed as a doctor. It made her wonder what he was hiding.
It made her think that gentleness and weakness were not the same things.
Reese pulled herself to her feet and tapped the intercom. “Everyone to the mess hall. We’ve got some things to discuss.”
Reese is the mistress of anger.
Mirrored from MCAH Online.