Not that a deathwalk was the most concrete evidence in court – not yet. After all, the deathwalker was the only one who could hear the dead. But to not even be able to give the police some clues?
“Cannot speak to them?”
An audible snort punctuated the muttering.
“Won’t, they mean,” the snorter claimed. “Not for what the ISSP can afford to offer. Ialuans don’t leave their planet for a few hundred al.”
“Which the ISSP would know,” Kith stated. “Would they not offer more?”
“Sounds like they don’t want it investigated.”
Bemused, I stopped stirring my food around and watched the huddle nod knowingly. They parted almost automatically, never interrupting their discussion, and the dark-haired woman slid through the crowd and walked back to the table. She was shaking her head. Our eyes met, and she smiled. In an ancient gesture, she motioned me to lean closer. When I did, she put her lips to my ear and whispered.
“How long do you think it’ll take for them to realize it’s a conspiracy site?”
It took a second to register. Then, I blinked. My lips twitched, abut I kept it more or less together. She had no such inhibitions and threw her head back with a rich, belly laugh.
“This is not appropriate.” But Kith didn’t frown (at least his disapproval didn’t have the same palpable force as before). And even echoing over the mutters, his comment didn’t phase his crewmate in the least.
“Screen, return to previous report at last cued moment,” she called, smiling and leaning casually back in her chair.
“Taaay,” came the complaint from the crowd.
“The scattered locations and unrelated cargos and passengers, however, leave many wondering. The two found were members of the same crew, so many leading experts insist that these are three unrelated crimes. The interplanetary police have this to say:”
The grumbling ceased as the image on the screen changed to an officer in the crisp gray interplanetary uniform.
“We are pursuing all possibilities in regards to the two disappearances that have occurred in our sector, and while I will not disregard the possibility of a link, there is no evidence to suggest it at this time. Again, we would caution interplanetary travels to follow flight protocols and take every precaution until the perpetrators have been caught.”
The screen shifted again to a fruitless discussion of possible fates for the ships. After a moment, the crew switched it off.
“They still don’t say why the dead aren’t talking.”
“Or what companies the ships fly for.”
“That says enough, doesn’t it?”
“Ya. Rich company won’t admit they’re sending small crews under the radar.”
Caught up in the discussion, and, yes, my curiosity for the different races huddled together, I swung around swiftly at the sound of my name and title.
The dark-haired woman met my eyes with that same perpetually amused expression.
“You’re missing a golden opportunity.”
I stared blankly.
“Kith is distracted, and your food may still be warm.”
Blinkng, I glanced down at the meal. There were several ingredients I had not tasted and analyzed yet. I met her eyes with a smile.
Reverently, I took a small bite of the blue plant. It did seem to be a vegetable and had an interestingly sour flavor that hinted at a special treatment before it was included in the dish. Scooping up the next unknown, I looked up again. She hadn’t moved from what I could tell but seemed entirely entertained by the argument by the screen.
“Forgive my rudeness,” I started and waited for her head to turn, “but I don’t believe we were introduced.”
“So formal,” she smirked, “Nat should’ve known you were Kaihmi.”
Not knowing quite how to take that, I took another small bite.
“I’m Tay,” she said, “I’m Nat’s pilot.”
I nearly spit out my food. The pilot and announced as casually as a dockworker! I flew to my feet to form the correct sign of greeting.
“Definitely Kaihmi,” she shook her head, but her eyes twinkled. “Sit, please. Eat.”
Sure that she was laughing at me, I sat a bit awkwardly.
“Don’t mind her,” came an unexpected comment from the side, “Tay loves poking holes in Kaihmi protocols.”
Tag Archives: Deathwalker
Not that a deathwalk was the most concrete evidence in court – not yet. After all, the deathwalker was the only one who could hear the dead. But to not even be able to give the police some clues?
For the first time, the dark-haired woman showed an emotion besides distant amusement. One eyebrow raised slightly, and her lips pursed. The rest of the crew’s responses weren’t nearly as subtle. They turned abruptly and stared disconcertedly at each other as if unsure what to do. Even Kith forgot his anger – at least, he stopped looming over me and stomped closer to the screen. He tapped the same section of the wall that Mor had hit earlier. A rectangle of light appeared.
“It is on,” he stated in an edged voice, glaring at the solid white rectangle – clearly unimpressed. I managed to turn my chuckle into a cough. Not quickly enough apparently. Either that, or he considered the diversion over and was ready to yell at me again.
“Raz, what station?” Metz asked calmly.
A moment of silence answered her. He must have already clicked off.
“A waste of time,” Kith growled, reaching out to tap the wall once more.
“Screen, display the station Raz has playing,” the dark-haired woman called out. I blinked. I’d been wondering why someone didn’t call Raz back and ask. Her way was better.
The instant she finished talking, the screen darkened to the blackness of space, broken by several swirls of light. An intergalactic map. In front of it, a fashionably dressed Ialuan spoke directly to the camera while gesturing to different areas of the map. As she did, each area she pointed out emerged from the map to form a holographic image of the area.
“…disappeared on established trade routes to and from the Riyoon galaxy. And while only 2 bodies have been recovered, I.S. detectives believe that the disappearances are linked.”
Low, muttered questions and exclamations drowned out the Ialuan newscaster as the image behind changed to several Ialuan women and men modeling the latest fashions.
“Screen, display the most informative written article on the disappearances in the Riyoon galaxy,” Kith ordered intently. I raised both eyebrows at his order and hoped their screen was better at judging what was informative than the ones I’d used before.
The rumblings died down as the article appeared on the screen. The crowd of crew members shifted closer until they formed a visual wall. I could read the headline, but that was it. That was enough to make me very nervous.
Riyoon Slave Trade Reopened? 2 Dead 27 Missing
27 missing? How could there be 27 missing? I stood quickly in a vain attempt to read over the crew’s shoulders. Nope. Straining in vain to see, I kicked myself for forgetting my compwatch again. Huffing out an annoyed breath, I sat back down and returned to my meal. Or tried to. Even the new flavors couldn’t compete with the mystery at hand. Especially not with the crew’s continued muttering.
Those 3 words together are pretty hard to ignore. But assuming those details were about the 2 bodies they’d found, the mystery became even more baffling.
Why didn’t they ask the deceased who’d killed them? That was Deathwalking 101 – our original purpose and still our number one duty. It was also the number one reason for the decrease in murders over the last century. You had to be pretty creative not to give the person you’re killing some clue to who killed them.
I stared blankly for a moment. Restraint? She pointed at the tiny bit of food I’d scooped up.
“Oh!” I was feeling slower all the time. “I’ve never had this before.”
“I see,” Kith said reprovingly. “You may get a new meal this once, but in the future, I suggest you pick foods that you know you will eat.”
“What?” I blurted. I had lost track of the conversation somehow.
“In space, we cannot afford to waste food,” he explained slowly. I closed my eyes and took a long, deliberate breath. He acted like I was 5 years old.
“I do not want more food.” I replied in the same slow, condescending tone. “The Kaihmi do not waste food.” Ever. Nomadic life simply did not allow it. Or rarely. Aunt Apikalia never allowed it.
“You are not eating.” His tone got worse if that was possible.
I held it in. I don’t know how, but I kept from snapping the obvious response (Because you’re talking to me!). But I didn’t dare try to say anything else. If I opened my mouth, that’s what would come out. I was sure of it.
Jaw locked tightly enough to twitch, I turned back to my food. My instinct was to shovel a huge bite into my mouth as a kind of “There! I’m eating!” But I was not going to let him ruin my meal. I was going to enjoy this new food, and if he didn’t like it, he could go watch someone else eat.
Deliberately, I separated another of the bits I hadn’t tried yet and took a bite. Like before, I held it in my mouth a moment to analyze the flavor and composition, and then, I slowly started to chew.
Kith growled (a sound that reached right down to the base of my spine and activated the “run” instinct in my legs). Ignoring both gave me a burst of childish pleasure as I savored the flavors. And another as I took another purposefully small sampling. His growing irritation was like an approaching storm front, a perceptible front of energy at my side. Since I was fairly sure he wouldn’t hurt me (considering the Captain’s reaction to my minor cut), his annoyance added flavor to the meal. Especially since (and maybe I really was 5 again), he had started it.
“He is eating, Kith.” The woman sounded either amused or sympathetic. I couldn’t really tell.
“He is picking it apart,” Kith snarled. “It is not meant to be tasted this way. Then, he dares to say he does not like it.”
“No.” The word snapped out before I could stop it. “You assumed I did not like it.”
“You won’t eat it.”
“I’m trying to!” I half rose to face him. “I might have a chance if you’d stop interrupting me!”
It was harder to ignore my legs when he growled this time. Maybe because I could see him leaning over me. Or because his eyes suddenly seemed metallic and cold.
“He has a point.” The woman’s voice was a calm, cool breeze. We both spun towards her, and my jaw dropped open. She hadn’t moved – she was leaning on the table as casually relaxed as she’d been at the start.
“He was eating. You interrupted.” She smirked up at him in a friendly way, not even blinking when he loomed over her.
“That is not eating!” His heavy fist landed on the table, and the scarred carbon shook. “It is a whole. Not little parts.”
“True.” She nodded. “But I imagine he’s never seen or heard of some of those parts before.” She looked at me, and I blinked and then nodded slowly. “If he wants to recognize them later, he’d need to try each one, wouldn’t he?”
“But that ruins the dish!” Kith’s expression wasn’t simply angry. He acted as if tasting each part instead of the whole was somehow offensive. Like an insult. Maybe even sacrilege.
“Nat! Mor!” A disembodied voice boomed and echoed through the room. I jumped like a startled cat.
“They’re not here, Raz.” The dark-haired woman took the sudden sound as calmly as Kith’s anger. “Try the-“
“-Turn on the screen! You have to see this!”
Lunch was an educational experience on multiple levels.
Kith guided me through the scattered crew to the microcook. Automatically, I accessed the menu and goggled at the lengthy list of exotic foods. So many! And most were foods I’d never even heard of. Scanning the list of new foods to try, my mouth watered, and I hesitated, my hand hovering over the selection screen. What to start with?
“Foods with ingredients available to you are marked.” Kith’s mammoth hand moved to the display, and I quickly jerked mine out of the way. I winced mentally, but he didn’t seem to notice. When his hand paused a millimeter away from the screen, I realized that he was pointing to a little symbol next to several of the meals. “Others require personal property.”
Personal property. That had to mean unique spices or ingredients which meant – I leaned closer. Yep. There went most of the exotic options. Oh well. With a little shrug, I picked one of the remaining mysteries.
“If I pay for the extra ingredients, would I be able to try some of the others?” I asked as the microcook lit and began to hum. There was no answer. Turning to lean back on the counter while it worked, I looked up to find Kith giving me another of those long considering glances. His eyes really were well made. They conveyed emotions better than any man-made eyes I’d ever seen before. They had to be expensive. Just how much did this crew make?
“It would be up to the crewmember who purchased the item,” he said slowly. “Are the offerings insufficient?”
“Oh, no,” I said hurriedly. “But there are foods here I’ve never tried before.”
“You do not recognize most of the available foods?”
“What?” I frowned. “No, I know most of those foods.”
“Then, what is the problem?” Kith’s expression didn’t change, but I could hear the frown in his voice.
“I wouldn’t call it a problem,” I said, blinking. “I don’t have to try the new foods if it’s too difficult.” Which, apparently, it was. Oh, well. I could always ask again later.
The microcook dinged. Pulling out the plate, I caught a whiff of strange spices and flavors I had no names for. The question of the other meals was forgotten as I carried it eagerly to the table. Something new to try!
“Sorry,” the giant said again. “I did not think.”
“There was several not thinking,” the Light One said casting a stern glare at Gri and the man on the couch. I couldn’t read Gri’s expression. The other man’s amusement was gone. Now, he looked bored if anything. He looked like he hadn’t moved at all – who stayed lazing dismissively on a couch with an angry Caldling diving at him?
And as the Light One spoke, the man raised his eyes up to the ceiling like a disdainful child listening to a familiar and tiresome lecture. The Light One’s glittering eyes narrowed, and I took a reflexive step back.
“Enough, Mor,” Kith said as he stood. “Gri has learned a lesson, and Faris cannot be taught one, whatever you wish.”
The Light One sniffed and settled his wings like an annoyed sterrling. Kith’s lips curved slightly as he extended one massive hand to Metz. Her hand as she took it was unusually thin and slender. As his hand closed around hers, effectively hiding it, I frowned. How many fingers had she had?
She stumbled a little as she stood, and her voluminous skirt twisted, outlining her lower body briefly before swinging back out. I blinked, mentally adding up what I’d seen. Fighting to conceal my excitement, I stepped casually to the side so that I could examine her silhouette. The loose skirt hung stiffly and with a very specific, deliberately stylish curve in the back. I nodded with approval. Make a fashion statement, and no one would look any deeper. The proper shoes would take care of the rest.
“Amazing,” I mumbled under my breath.
I looked up to find Kith and Metz regarding me with identically blank expressions.
“You said something?” Kith asked. Despite his polite tone, I got the impression that I had better give the right answer. Or else. My mouth dropped open on a quick surge of envy. How did he do that? If I tried that, people would laugh at me.
And now he was giving me that look again.
“I was admiring Metz’ dress,” I supplied, thinking fast. “It reminds me of a sketch I saw of historic gowns from ancient Earth.”
Kith raised an eyebrow. The Light One, however, laughed.
“More talk of old things!”
The man on the couch snorted. I tensed, hoping he would stop there.
“Enough, Faris,” Kith said in a tired tone.
“Then, give the kid a break. So he doesn’t like-”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted forcefully and loudly. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
Even with the word unspoken, the air felt suddenly heavy with the fury of a storm about to break, and the crew stood like statues, muscles tensed and giving off a energy that was downright chilling. Didn’t this guy have any sense of self-preservation?
“Hisss name isss Farisss,” came a silky sibhilance from behind me, and the temperature in the room dropped to freezing. “You were sssaying, Farisss?”
“MiniDoc off,” I ordered. There was no discernible response, but I knew the kit had shifted from autosleep to off, a distinction that could save me considerable pain and trouble if something happened before I got a chance to recharge it.
“It is finished?” Metz asked. Her eyes were aimed at my arm like a focused laser.
“Cleaned, closed, and covered,” I replied as I reached up my sleeve to remove the device. Feeling Metz’s gaze on me, I resisted the urge to inspect the wound myself. Later.
“You trust the device that much?” Again, her eyebrows raised, and again, something about them seemed off. “I had heard they were unreliable. And the captain was very concerned that the wound be properly treated.”
A rough laugh burst from the dim seating area. It sounded like gravel over glass, and the entire group started like a surprised herd. Everyone but Metz. Her focus was truly disconcerting.
“Oh, well phrased, doctor!” the deep voice guffawed. “Very diplomatic!”
I peered into the darkness where I vaguely remembered legs being earlier. About… there. I could make out was the vague impression of a humanoid. But whoever he was, he was going to give himself a hernia laughing that hard.
“Did you catch that, kid?”
“Well?” Metz’ melodious voice was calm, completely unperturbed by the noise beside us.
“Hmm?” I responded automatically, caught up in the gales of laughter coming from the shadows. “Catch what?”
Her stern tone finally dragged my attention away from the mystery man. Too late, I registered the tense expressions of the rest of the crew. What now?
“Is the device reliable?” Metz asked it calmly – as if the interruption had never occurred. As if the man weren’t still chuckling to himself. Although the outburst was dying down a bit.
“Um…,” I floundered, “well, it depends on the model.” And who modified it. “Mine’s lower-end but good enough for minor cuts like this one.” Or when I don’t have a Kaihmi doctor handy.
“Hmmm.” She wasn’t sold. Any second, she would insist on seeing the wound herself. Now that it was sealed, it would be less risky. Still.
“And as I told the captains, this,” I said quickly, gesturing to my arm, “is far too small to worry over. I would be horribly rude to monopolize a doctor’s time with such a scratch.”
This time the burst of laughter was even louder.
“Rude to monopolize the doctor’s time,” the low voice chortled. “Nat’ll love that.”
“It is no trouble.” The doctor continued as if she couldn’t hear the mocking laughter. That was a little too much. Her expression hadn’t changed since that slight smile, but the Light One’s lips were pressed together, Gri’s nostrils had flared, and someone behind me might’ve growled.
“That’s right, kid,” the man snorted. “She’ll only be in trouble if you refuse. Oh, this is golden!”
“Farisss,” Gri’s annoyed hiss sounded strangled. Judging by the low laughter, the man sprawled on shadowed couch wasn’t phased in the slightest.
“Don’t you see it? You’ve got them in a corner now, kid! They can’t hold you down and heal you, or they might hurt you. They can’t let you heal yourself, or Nat might hurt them! What a conundrum!”
Gri spun around to glare down at the man. Instead of sitting up, the man lounged deeper into the cushions – still chuckling to himself in that rough growl.
“What? Upset because you’ll have to tell Nat the kid took care of himself instead of letting her get points back?”
“Captain Nat. Doesss. Not. Hhurt. Hher. Crew.” Gri towered over the man. Rows of diamond-sharp teeth flashed as he snapped off each word.
“Riight,” the man jeered, completely unintimidated. “Just passengers.”
With a soundless snarl, Gri dove forward. In that instant, a strange, high-pitched sound blasted through the room. Wincing, I hunched over and covered my ears. A glance showed me the rest of the crew in similar positions. Except Metz. She swayed for an instant, then stumbled, and sat abruptly. Her eyes were tightly closed, and a fine shudder ran through her. I watched, dazed.
After a moment, Gri dropped his hands and straightened, shaking his head as if to clear it. Cautiously following his lead, I heard his low-hissed curse. Then, two gigantic hands covered my shoulders and applied gentle but inexorable pressure to the right. Faced with the choice of moving or being moved, I shuffled swiftly to the side. The hands and pressure disappeared, and Kith stepped past me to Metz and knelt beside her.
“Al,” he said in a soft, reproving tone that was somehow more dangerous than Gri’s snapping teeth.
“I forgot where I was.” The other giant stepped forward to kneel on Metz’ other side, concern in his chocolate eyes. “Sorry, Metz.” His voice was surprisingly high but extremely rich and rounded, even in a whisper.
Silence settled over the room, and even the man in the shadows seemed disinclined to break it. No one moved. Watching Metz with the others, I found myself holding my breath. It felt like an eternity, but I’m sure it took only a few seconds for her expression to steady. Then, she opened her eyes and dispelled the enchantment: the tableau broke, and the room breathed a collective sigh.
“A little lower next time, Al.” She turned her head and gave him a mild look. “At least in the kitchen.”
The awkward silence lasted longer this time, and there was no question in my mind as to why. Or who would have to break it. Still facing the now blank wall, I glanced cautiously to my left. All the captain’s teeth were bared and grinding together so hard I imagined I could see them sharpening each other. Suddenly, she snapped them apart with such abrupt violence that I flinched.
“Metss.” She bit off the word sharply. That was it. And as soon as she spat it out, she turned on her heel and left. The others parted for her wordlessly, and the silence returned.
I stared after her, a bit nonplussed, and filed the word away to look up later. New curse words were always handy, but I liked to know the meaning behind them before I used them.
“It is left arm.”
What? The Teg had made the statement in that overly helpful tone people used when they pointed out the obvious. Only nothing was obvious in this case – the grammar was too bad.
Turning back, I was about to ask what on ancient Earth he meant when I noticed that both he and Gri were looking down at my left side. At the same instant, I felt a presence next to me. And a tug at my sleeve. Shit! I spun away, simultaneously taking a step back. And stopped, staring.
It was the crew member I hadn’t been able to see before. It had to be. Bald head, big dark eyes – eyes that stared up at me from about the height of my elbow. The facial features were fairly humanoid, and I would’ve guessed female (If I had to guess, which I was going to do my best to avoid). Despite the neutral expression, I knew from the stir behind me that I was making a bad impression again.
Smiling apologetically, I repeated the sign of greeting I’d made originally. Wincing a little as it pulled the slice on my arm.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize someone was next to me.” It sounded weak to me, but it earned me a slight smile. I think it was a smile.
“My apologies for startling you.” It was said extremely politely in a voice that was high but sweetly resonant. Almost choral. I found myself wishing she(?) would speak again.
“This is Metz,” the Teg asserted, alighting on a chair back next to us. “She is ship doctor.” The ship doctor. I was afraid of that. And I really wanted the tell the Teg that articles were important.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, instead, smiling while I frantically tried to think of some way to get out of being treated. She nodded politely, and her serious expression warned me that my task wasn’t going to be easy.
“The captain asked me to look at your arm.” A part of my brain noticed absently that unlike the Teg, her grammar was perfect. The rest of my brain screamed to stop paying attention to useless stuff and find a solution to the problem.
“Oh, that’s very nice of you,” I hedged, turning to face her fully (and put my arm out of her reach). As I did, my hand brushed my travel kit again. That was it! “But that won’t be necessary!”
My smile beamed as I lifted the kit, dug through, and hastily removed the MiniDoc. In one smooth motion I slid it up my sleeve and over the damaged area.
“MiniDoc on.” I commanded casually. A low buzz and a dim glow of white through the fabric of my shirt confirmed the machine’s activation. “Scan and restore.” As the little machine took on a high whine, I noticed the doctor’s eyebrows raised slightly. My own furrowed. Something about her eyebrows seemed off.
“Puncture wound, semi-clotted with moderate bruising. Low levels of foreign contaminant,” A metallic, emotionless voice stated, only slightly muffled by my sleeve. “Cleaning and sealing.” There was a low hum, and the pain in my arm intensified for an instant then died off into numbness. “Operation complete.” And with one more buzz, the glow under my sleeve faded.