Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Strange Dogs, Page 8

James S. A. Corey

  Ingray frowned. “My friend?”

  “The person you’re traveling with. Can they help you out?”


  Captain Uisine waited, still noncommittal. It occurred to Ingray that even if Captain Uisine charged for carrying the crate in cargo, it would likely be less than a passenger fare. Maybe she’d have enough to at least buy a meal or two between now and when the ship finally left. “And while you’re thinking about that,” the captain added before Ingray could speak, “you can show me the Statement of Contents for the crate.”

  For a panicked moment, Ingray tried to think of some way to argue that she shouldn’t have to show one. Then she remembered that so far the Facilitator seemed to have anticipated what she would need to bring the crate away with her. She pulled her personal messages into her vision again, and there it was. “I’ve just sent it to you,” she said.

  Captain Uisine blinked, and gazed off into the distance. “Miscellaneous biologicals,” he said after a few moments, focusing again on Ingray. “In a crate this size and shape? I’m sorry, excellency, but I didn’t hatch this morning. I’ll be exercising my right to examine the contents myself, as outlined in the fare agreement. Otherwise that crate is not coming aboard.”

  Damn. “So,” said Ingray, “the person I’m traveling with is in here.”

  “In the crate?” He seemed entirely unsurprised.

  “In a suspension pod in the crate, yes,” Ingray replied. “I didn’t expect em to come this way, I thought I would just, you know, meet em and bring em here, and…” She trailed off, at a loss how to explain any further.

  “Do you have authorizations permitting you to remove this person from Tyr Siilas? And before you mention it, I am aware that such authorizations aren’t always legally necessary here. I, however, do always require them.”

  “An authorization to take someone on your ship?” Ingray frowned, bewildered. “You didn’t need one for me. You didn’t ask me for one, for…my friend.”

  Still not changing expression, Captain Uisine said, “I don’t transport anyone against their will. I say that specifically in the fare agreement.” Which Ingray had read, of course, she was no fool. But obviously she hadn’t remembered that. Hadn’t thought, at that point, that it would be an issue. “I can ask you right now, do you want to leave Tyr Siilas and go to Hwae…”

  “I do!” Ingray interjected.

  “…and you can tell me that.” His voice was still serious and even. “This person cannot tell me if e wants to go where you are taking em. I don’t doubt there’s some very compelling reason you are bringing em aboard in a suspension pod. I would like to be sure that compelling reason is eirs, and not just yours.”

  “But…” But he’d already said that this wasn’t a matter of Tyr Siilas law. And if he refunded her money, she might be able to find another ship for the same fare, but if she went through the dock office again she’d have to pay another fee, which she didn’t have. She might be able to find passage on her own, but that would take time. Maybe a lot of time. She sighed. “I don’t know why e’s in a suspension pod.” Well, actually, she had some idea. But that wasn’t going to help her cause with Captain Uisine, plainly. “I went to pick em up, and this is how I found em.”

  “Is there some medical reason this person is traveling in a suspension pod?”

  “Not that I know of,” she said, quite honestly.

  “E didn’t leave you any message, or any instruction?”


  “Well, excellency,” said Captain Uisine after a few moments, “I suggest we open the pod and ask em. We can always put em back in if e prefers that.”

  “What, right here?” The bay wasn’t really closed off, not at the moment, and coming out of a suspension pod was uncomfortable and undignified. Or so Ingray understood. And in the time it had taken to push the crate here, she had decided that maybe she preferred things this way, preferred to delay introducing herself to this person and explaining just why she’d brought em here.

  “I don’t have oversize luggage regulations for amusement’s sake. The only way that crate is coming on board is through cargo access. And for what I hope are obvious reasons I’m not going to agree to that happening.”

  If Ingray’s mother Netano were doing this, she’d have somehow obtained whatever authorizations she would need to satisfy this ship captain. Or she’d have bought passage on some ship where the captain or other crew owed her favors, or were in her power for some reason. Danach—Ingray’s foster-brother Danach would probably find some way to threaten Captain Uisine, or charm or bribe him into doing what he wanted. Maybe she could bluff her way through this. Maybe tears would do it, they would certainly be easy to produce right now. But judging from the captain’s reaction on hearing that she wouldn’t be able to afford to eat for two days, she didn’t think that would work.

  She had to do something. She had to get herself—and the person in this suspension pod—onto that ship. She had no other option, no other available course, beyond staying on this station, broke and starving, for the rest of her life.

  She was not going to cry. “Look,” she said, “I need to explain.” Captain Uisine had already put the worst possible construction on the situation. It wasn’t going to look any better once the suspension pod was opened. She looked behind her, through the entrance to the bay, but no one was passing in the corridor beyond. Looked back at Captain Uisine. Sighed again. “I paid to have this person brought out of Compassionate Removal.” No glimmer of recognition on Captain Uisine’s face. She’d used the name most Bantia speakers would have used, on Hwae, maybe he didn’t recognize that. She tried to think what the word might be in Yiir, which she had been using here, had used in all her brief dealings with Captain Uisine so far. She didn’t think there was one—here on Tyr Siilas nearly every crime was punishable by a fine. All the language lessons and news items she’d run across discussed crime and its consequences in those terms. She called up a dictionary, tried searching through it, without success. “You know, when someone breaks a law, and either they’ve done it over and over again and you know they’re just going to keep doing it, or what they did was so terrible they’re not going to get another chance to do it again. So they get sent to Compassionate Removal.”

  “You’re talking about a prison,” said Captain Uisine.

  In the corner of Ingray’s vision, her dictionary confirmed and defined the word. “No, it’s not a prison! We don’t have prisons. It’s a place. Where they can be away from regular people. They can do whatever they want, go wherever they like, you know, so long as they stay there. And they have to stay there. Once you go in you don’t come out. You’re legally dead. It’s just, it would be wrong to kill them.”

  “So you paid everything you had—which to judge from the clothes you’re wearing, and your manner, was quite a lot—to have your friend broken out of a high-security prison with a name that sounds like a euphemism for killing vermin. What did e do?”

  “E’s not my friend! I’ve never even met em. Well, I was at an event e was at once. A couple of times. But we never met in person.”

  “What did e do?” Captain Uisine asked again.

  “This is Pahlad Budrakim.” Winced, after she said it. Had she really done this? But there hadn’t been any other choice.

  After an endless moment, Captain Uisine said, “Am I supposed to recognize the name?”

  “You don’t?” asked Ingray, surprised. “Not at all?”

  “Not at all.”

  “Pahlad’s father, Ethiat Budrakim, is Prolocutor of the Third Assembly, on Hwae.” No reaction from Captain Uisine. “A prolocutor is…”

  “Yes,” put in Captain Uisine, evenly. “A prolocutor presides over an Assembly, and represents that Assembly to the Overassembly. I’ve been to Hwae Station quite a few times, and I pay attention to station news. I know who Prolucutor Dicat is, e’s Prolocutor of the First Assembly. Eir name is on all sorts of regulations I have to follow when I’m dock
ed there. But I don’t know anything about the Third Assembly.”

  That made sense. Hwae Station and the several Hwaean outstations—and the intersystem gates, for that matter—were all under the authority of the First Assembly. It made sense that Captain Uisine would pay attention to First Assembly affairs and not to the Assemblies based on Hwae itself. Ingray blinked. Took a breath. “Well, Prolocutor Budrakim has held his seat for decades. There was an election just a few years ago. It was very dramatic. He almost lost. Which is how…Pahlad is…well, was one of his foster-children. Ethiat Budrakim is part Garseddai.”

  “Him and a billion other people who think it’s tragic and romantic to be Garseddai.” Captain Uisine’s voice was disdainful. “It’s only the most notorious out of a long list of Radchaai atrocities. The only system to resist invasion so effectively that the Radchaai destroyed every last one of them for it and left the entire system burned and lifeless. People like your Prolocutor Budrakim can claim ancestors who are either especially valorous or especially deserving of sympathy, whichever suits them better at the moment. Lucky for them there’s no way to prove it one way or the other. Let me guess, he’s descended from an Elector who managed to secretly flee the system before the Radchaai burned everything.”

  “But he is!” insisted Ingray. “He has proof. He’s got part of a panel from inside the shuttle his ancestor fled in, and a shirt with blood on it. And a lot of other things, jewelry and a half dozen of those little pentagonal tokens stamped with flowers that I think were from some kind of game. Or, he used to have those things. They were stolen. You really didn’t hear about this?”

  “I really didn’t.” Captain Uisine sounded half sarcastic, as though the idea that he might have heard about something that had consumed the attention of everyone Ingray had known, and pretty much every major news service in Hwae System, struck him as ridiculous.

  “It was an inside job. Pahlad had grown up in Ethiat Budrakim’s household, and e had been given a post overseeing the lareum where the Garseddai vestiges were kept.” There had been a lot of comment about how, while it was of course generous of prominent citizens to raise foster-children from less advantaged circumstances, or even the public crèches, it had been foolish of Ethiat Budrakim to trust Pahlad so implicitly. No one was as close or loyal as your own acknowledged heirs, everyone knew that. Thinking of it still made Ingray, herself a foster-child out of a public crèche, cringe unhappily. “Nobody could have done it except Pahlad.”

  “And for this e is cast permanently into an inescapable prison, what did you call it, Compassionate Removal? And declared dead?” He took his hand off the crate. Put it back, when the crate shifted again, even though Ingray still held her end.

  “E had betrayed eir parent! It was a huge scandal. And e showed no signs of remorse at what e had done. The whole thing had been very elaborate and cold-blooded. E managed to make copies of the things and put them in the lareum in place of the real ones, and there was Prolocutor Budrakim showing people around, you know, thinking they were the real ones, and no one knowing they were fake the whole time. And his foster-child Pahlad standing right there nearly every time, just as cool as anything, as though nothing was wrong.” And after all, it wasn’t as though e was being executed. “The copies were nearly perfect.”

  Captain Uisine thought about that a moment. “And your interest in this?”

  “They never found the originals,” Ingray said. “Pahlad wouldn’t say what had happened to them. E insisted e had stolen nothing, and done nothing wrong. But of course e must have done it, no one else could have. So e must know where they are.”

  “Ah.” Captain Uisine seemed to relax and leaned back against the airlock frame, folded his arms. “You think this Pahlad Budrakim can lead you to the originals, which you can then, what, sell? Hold hostage? Restore heroically to their proper place?”

  Any of them would serve Ingray’s purpose, really. But what she wanted more than anything was to be able to bring them to Netano. “My mother is a District Representative in the Third Assembly. She wants to be Third Prolocutor—she tried, last election, but in the end the votes tipped Budrakim’s way.” And Netano had never been friendly with Ethiat Budrakim, an enmity that couldn’t be explained by differences of faction. After all, plenty of other Assembly representatives managed to get along quite amicably whatever their differing positions on tariffs or fishing limits. “Right now I’m one of three…” Not three. Vaor had gone last year. Gone because e’d wanted to, e’d insisted, not because Netano had sent em away, but e had wept the whole time e’d packed, wept walking out the door, and e hadn’t answered any of Ingray’s messages since. “Two foster children in my mother’s household. One of us will get to be Netano eventually.”

  “And this is how you intend to distinguish yourself in your mother’s eyes,” Captain Uisine guessed.

  “I didn’t expect Pahlad to come all packaged up like this!” She couldn’t resist the impulse any more—she grabbed a handful of soft silk skirt. “I went to, you know, the usual sort of broker here, and made an offer, to whoever could discreetly bring Pahlad Budrakim out of Compassionate Removal.” Honestly, she hadn’t really expected that anyone would take that offer up. The plan had been desperate from the start.

  “Slavery and human trafficking are among the very few things that aren’t legal here,” Captain Uisine observed. “Technically, anyway. Of course they would deliver this person to you all packaged up. It gives them deniability. And I must say, excellency, the fact that that didn’t occur to you, or that you weren’t at least prepared for the possibility, suggests to me that you’re not best suited to follow in the footsteps of your apparently political mother.” Ingray frowned. She was not going to cry. Captain Uisine continued speaking. “I mean no offense. We all have our particular talents. What happens if you aren’t selected to be your mother’s heir?”

  Possibly not much. Possibly she would just continue in her job, in the family, as she had. But Netano had always said that in anything worth doing, the stakes were all or nothing. Most families on Hwae had sent one or more children out for fosterage, or were fostering children from other households, some in temporary arrangements, some in permanent adoptions. Danach, for instance, was a foster from one of Netano’s supporters. But there were always some children in every district whose parents were unwilling or unable to care for them, and had no one willing or able to foster them, who ended up as wards of the state in one of the district’s public crèches. Ingray, like Pahlad Budrakim, had been one of these. “I don’t really have a chance to be Mama’s heir. I never really did.” But if she left the Aughskold household, or was sent away, she had no other family to turn to. She would be entirely on her own. “Mama likes it when we take initiative, and she likes schemes, but she doesn’t like it when we fail. If I fail badly enough I’ll probably have to leave the household. Worse, I’ll be in debt. I borrowed against my future allowance, to get enough for the payment. So even if I don’t lose my job—which I probably will—I’ll be broke. For years.” For decades. “I know it wasn’t exactly a prudent use of my resources,” she admitted. Willed herself to open her hand, raised it to lay on the crate but instead clasped it with her other hand, a perfectly acceptable pose with no danger of anxiously clutching at things. “If I was going to borrow like that, I ought to have just invested it somewhere safe. Then if Netano sent me away, I’d have at least had enough to keep myself with. I just…” She just couldn’t stand the thought of Danach sneering openly at her. Of losing any chance at all of Netano Aughskold’s regard.

  Captain Uisine stared at her over the crate. “I am on the very edge,” he said, finally, “of refunding your passage—both of the berths you’ve paid for—and asking you to leave this bay. I haven’t made up my mind yet. But I’ll tell you one thing, there’s no way you’re bringing that person—Pahlad Budrakim, you said?—aboard my ship still in that suspension pod. And considering you expected to meet em awake and unfrozen, you won’t have any objection to t
hawing em out now, I presume?”

  “Will you take us aboard then?”

  “I’ll consider taking you aboard then. Pahlad Budrakim can do as e likes.” A moment’s thought. “If e doesn’t want to come aboard, I’ll refund you eir fare.”

  It could have been worse, Ingray supposed. It was some sort of chance, anyway. Captain Uisine put his other hand on the crate. “Step back, excellency, you don’t want your foot caught under this.” Ingray stepped back and the crate settled to the floor with a thunk. “Do you know if this person has ever been in suspension before?”

  Ingray picked up her jacket and bag and sandals from off the crate lid. “No, why?”

  Captain Uisine touched the crate’s latches and carefully slid the lid aside. “E might panic if e doesn’t know what to expect. A little help would be nice.”

  Ingray dropped her sandals and bag, pulled her jacket on, and then helped brace the lid as Captain Uisine tilted it and let it slide down to rest against the crate.

  Captain Uisine looked for a moment at the smooth, black surface of the pod, then slid open the pod’s control panel. “Everything looks good,” he said, as a giant black spider scuttled out of the airlock, nearly a meter high, a rolled-up blanket clutched in one hairy appendage. Weirdly, disturbingly graceful, it skittered up to Captain Uisine and stopped, turned one of its far too many stalked eyes toward Ingray. No, it wasn’t a spider. It was…something else.

  “Um,” said Ingray. “That’s…is that a spider?” She didn’t know why the back of her neck was prickling. She didn’t mind spiders. But this…thing was so unsettling. Its legs were jointed wrong, she realized, and its eyestalks sprouted right out of its blob of a body. There was no waist, no head. And something else was wrong, though she couldn’t quite say what.

  “Of course it’s not a spider,” replied Captain Uisine, still frowning at the suspension pod. “You don’t get spiders with half-meter bodies, or two-meter leg spans. Or, you know, not unaugmented ones. But this isn’t a spider.” He looked up. “But it’s kind of like a spider, I’ll grant you that. Do you have a problem with spiders, excellency?” The not-spider’s body trembled gelatinously, stretched to become oblong rather than round, and four extra legs slid out to touch the bay floor. “Does that help?”