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He knew it was Marquel behind the black and crimson hood. He recognized the voice even though most
of the face was now concealed. The rest of the tight-fitting black clothing covered the man from toe to
neck. It was mildly theatrical, but Williams didn't laugh at its wearer. There was nothing funny about what
it implied. Besides, the slick black material had a practical use. It was highly water-repellent. It would
also shed blood.
"You know," he said conversationally while Williams tried to find another way out of the office, "when
you and your friends got rid of Jobius Trell it was a wonderful opportunity for my employers to put
someone like myself in a position to oversee their interests here. Until now, though, I haven't had to do
anything except perform as a secretary. I was hoping life would go on that way, but" he
shrugged "sometimes things don't always work out the way we plan them. However, our training
teaches us to be patient. I hadn't expected to have to practice my true vocation for the duration of my
stay on this world."
Williams had never seen a Qwarm before, a member of the assassins' guild, but like most people he'd
heard of them. They appeared so often in mass entertainment that myth became mixed with reality. As
was often the case with professional criminals, their exploits were highly romanticized, something the
Qwarm encouraged. The less seriously people took them, the easier it was for them to practice their art.
Their services were very expensive, there weren't many of them, they were scattered throughout the
vastness of the Commonwealth, and in two hundred years the government and the Church had been
unable to stamp them out. It was difficult to arouse public opinion against malefactors who materialized
but rarely and then vanished.
One had materialized now, across the room from Williams.
"I came aboard, you might say, with the new Commissioner. She's been very pleased with my work. So
have my real employers. I could have killed you and your companions before you left, but if you didn't
find Yingyapin, there was no reason to complicate matters and if you did, I expected Antal and his
people to take care of you. Your return is a minor complication easily resolved. It was very thoughtful of
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you to come straight here, without telling anyone else your story."
"The security guard downstairs saw me come in."
"That's all it's his business to do."
"The Tran who brought me here will demand to see me again."
"You think the Commissioner is going to call for a peaceforcer on the advice of a few excitable natives?"
He grinned humorlessly again. "Why do you think Antal didn't send his remaining skimmer and every ice
ship he could muster out after you when the first skimmer didn't come back? It was because he knew I
was here to look after things."
"Killing me won't save Bamaputra's operation."
"Of course it will. If your friends come back, I'll kill them, too. Right now I'm a little out of practice, but
killing isn't something you forget how to do. It stays with you, like riding a bike." He cracked his
knuckles, the sound loud in the room. "Your presence here will give me some practice. If you were that
September fellow, I might be a little nervous about not having worked in so long, but you won't be any
trouble, teacher."
This was without a doubt, Williams thought wildly, the craziest conversation he'd ever participated in in
his life. At the same time he was coldly aware it might also be his last.
Still, as long as he was talking, he wasn't dying. Maybe someone would break in on them. Stanhope he
didn't expect. That had obviously been a ploy.
"What about the rest of the scientists here? They're going to get worried when Cheela Hwang and her
colleagues don't return."
"That's Antal's problem, not mine. He's a resourceful supervisor. He'll think of something." Marquel was
starting to edge around the far side of the desk, his movements casual, assured. "Fatal accidents are not
unknown on this world. The science staff here will accept a reasonable explanation, have a bit of a cry,
then go back to their work."
"If you work for Bamaputra, then you must have some idea of what this is all about. Even so, I don't
suppose it would do me any good to appeal to your sense of morality, assuming you have one."
"Oh, but the Qwarm are very moral, my inquisitive friend. Like everything else in life, however, morality
is flexible."
"Not where I come from. So you don't care that tens .of thousands of Tran are going to die if
Bamaputra's plan becomes reality?"
Marquel shrugged. "I am in the business of death. Numbers don't frighten me. Just between you and me,
I don't like the idea, no. But being a killer myself, I'm hardly in a position to question the motives of
others for the killing they may do. In the case of the Tran who will fail to survive the rapid change in
climate, they will never connect their deaths with a specific killer. There will be no personal contact
involved, no face-to-face acceptance of responsibility. It will appear an act of nature and that's a shame.
One should know who is responsible for one's passing. There's no intimacy to the act. As a professional I
find that sad.
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"With you and me things will be much different. You will know how you are going to die and by whose
hands. You'll go to your grave without questions tickling your soul. Don't you think it's best that way?
Much better than fading away like a song in some indifferent hospital bed, or being stricken by an attack
on the way home from a job. Face-to-face assassination is a positive statement. Each of us goes to his
death burdened by enough other unanswered and unanswerable questions."
"How are you going to do it?" Williams kept sliding along the far wall. If nothing else, he'd make himself
a moving target.
"There are many ways. I'd like to be as inventive as possible, but your showing up unexpectedly
precludes that. Besides, this is a very straightforward situation. Really no need to make it any more
complex than necessary. The best thing for me, of course, would be to make it look like an accident in
case I have difficulty smuggling your body out of Administration and over to the incinerator."
His hand dipped into a narrow pocket that was sewn into one leg of the tight suit. When it reappeared
Williams saw the tiny, collapsing stiletto protruding from enfolding fingers. Like Marquel's attire, the blade
and handle were obsidian black.
"That doesn't look much like an accident."
Marquel nodded approvingly. "I'm glad to see you're taking this in the proper spirit. So many can't. They
fall down and weep and wail and plead even though they know it's all a waste of time. It'll be a good
change to kill someone who knows how to handle the inevitable like an adult." He held the stiletto up to
the light, admiring it.
"You're right. This wouldn't look very accidental. But it's traditional. Much as I would like to use it, it'll
be easier for both of us if you'll just swallow this." He held out a pill. For a change it was bright blue
instead of black or red.
"Why should I make things easier for you?"
"Because this kills in less than a minute, quietly and bloodlessly. It'll be just like going to sleep. No pain.
Efficient. If you don't take it, then I'll have to cut you. That will be slower, messier, and much more
uncomfortable for you. The end result will be the same. This office is soundproofed but I'd still have to
take the precaution of cutting your vocal cords first. Some people can get very loud."
He was moving purposefully toward the teacher now, gliding rather than walking across the floor.
"Resistance on your part is useless. I'm considerably stronger than I look, much stronger than you, and a
great deal quicker. Killing is my job. You know, I've never killed a teacher before. I'm not sure any [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]