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uncomfortable as always with its weight. The right sleeve was just a bit
larger than the left to accommodate the Sin Eater and holster he strapped to
his forearm. After attaching his red badge to the coat's lapel, tugging the
fingerless black glove over his right hand and slipping on the prerequisite
dark glasses, he was ready to go off duty, though he didn't look like it. Even
without the body armor and
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Magistrate mystique, foreboding and not a little sinister, had to be
maintained, especially during his downtime.
It wasn't all for show. The lenses of the glasses allowed him to see clearly
in deep shadow, and the overcoat could turn anything from a knife to a
.38-caliber round. The glove allowed a secure grip on the butt of the Sin
Eater.
A shrill whistle cut through the ready room. Salvo's voice, filtered over the
com, said, "Kane. Report to my office."
"My, don't he sound happy," commented Pollard. "I expect he wants to discuss
that comment you made back in the zone."
"What comment?" Kane asked.
"You remember, when you made a passing reference to his canine lineage?"
Kane sighed. "Oh. That."
Grant said, "No matter what he says, keep your fuse unsparked."
That was Grant's way of warning Kane to watch his temper. Kane appreciated the
sentiment behind it, though he didn't need the reminder. He walked past the
rows of lockers, through a swing set of double doors and into the communal day
room. People hustled around him, most of them wearing the gray bodysuits. They
were arguing about duty rosters, scanning hard copies of daily reports,
forcing down steaming cups of coffee sub. There were no women, not even
filling support positions. He stayed only long enough to swallow a cup of
straight sub. He desperately wished something stronger was available.
Out in the corridor, he strode quickly toward the office suites. Taking
disciplinary action against a ville enforcer was a rare occurrence, since a
man had to be supremely disciplined to be awarded a duty badge.
Generally the worst penalty for an infraction was to be assigned a guard
station at the bottom level of an
Enclave tower, in the Pits.
The most severe punishment, outside of termination, was to be stripped of
citizenship, barred from all the villes, reclassified as an outlander. It had
never happened in Kane's lifetime, and even before he was born, barely a
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handful of citizens were reclassified. It only required a few examples to make
everyone else tread the ace on the line.
Salvo's office was shaped like a small oval with one end chopped off. He sat
behind a desk, likewise an oval. At his back was a broad window framing the
moonlit towers of the Enclaves. He was thumbing through a sheaf of papers and
didn't bother to look up when Kane entered.
"You may sit, Kane."
He gestured to a chair on the opposite side of his desk. "Take off the
shades."
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Kane restrained a sneer. Salvo wanted to assess his every eye flick. Doing as
he was told, he sat down in the hard wooden chair, crossing one leg over the
other, resting his left ankle on his right knee.
Salvo continued to consult the papers. "Yes. Your behavior tonight is
compatible with your bloodline."
Something like anger and shame rushed heat prickles to the back of his neck.
"What do you mean? Sir."
"Your father and grandfather occasionally pushed the envelope of discipline.
Your grandfather in particular, but then he was a first-generation Magistrate,
and all the parameters of duty had yet to be established."
A haunting of secondhand, misted memories of his grandfather drifted through
Kane's mind. "He was highly decorated. His service record is still held up as
an inspiration to recruits. Sir."
Salvo stopped leafing through the stack of papers, lifted his head and stared
unblinkingly. Kane met that stare. Salvo was six or seven years older than
himself. He had a flat, sallow face that was almost round, and his eyes were a
deep, dark brown like swirling pools of muddy water. His gray-threaded hair
was cut very short, and in places, the scalp showed through. He wasn't very
big, but he was big enough.
"I don't want to discuss your family tree or its accomplishments," he said
dryly. "You and I had problems in the zone tonight. Why?"
Kane shifted in the chair. "Permission to speak freely?"
Salvo shrugged. "This is liberty hall."
Kane pushed out a deep breath. "It was a triple-stupe mission. No preliminary
recce, no adequate Intel.
The team was undermanned, underprepared. It should not have gone down the way
it did. We were lucky to have gotten out with only one casualty."
Salvo's thin lips pursed. "I see. And you hold me responsible."
"As commander," Kane said tightly, "it doesn't matter if I hold you
responsible or not. You are responsible."
Linking his fingers together, Salvo said genially, "Indeed. Why do you think I
kept the team to a bare minimum, chose the men I chose and didn't hold a
debrief? Simply a whim on my part?"
Kane frowned. "I'm sure you have your reasons."
"Are you interested in hearing them?"
Kane moved uncomfortably in his seat. "I am. Sir."
"Would you agree that the welfare of the villes is entrusted to our care? That
we have dedicated our lives to check the spread of poison?"
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"Poison?"
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Salvo nodded. "Poison like slaggers, jolt-walkers, roamers. By and large,
we've been successful. Now, though, the poison is growing in virulence and
spreading from the Outlands, tainting the ville territories.
Do you understand me?"
"You're talking about another rebellion?" Kane's tone of voice was skeptical.
Every so often, rumors would float from the Outlands about the formation of an
army of the disenfranchised, preparing to stage a revolt against the ville's
cushioned tyranny.
Nine times out of ten, the rumors were simply that. And in the vanishingly
small percentage of instances when there was a germ of truth to the rumors,
the rebel militia turned out to be a ragbag gang of roamers, outlaw wanderers
of the outlands, justifying their robberies and murders by paying lip service
to a political cause.
"It isn't a rebellion, not precisely," Salvo replied. "It's something bigger
and nastier than that. The baron himself doesn't know exactly what's going on.
You know what the outland settlements are like, especially the ones near
hellzonesno 'forcer or ville spy can last a minute in them. So all we get are
the rumors."
"Rumors of what?"
Salvo shook his head. "Fantastic stuff about a self-styled warlord holding
ancient predark tech secrets.
Military materiel, supposedly. Nerve gas, maybe. Possibly even a nuke warhead.
Or even more advanced than that."
Kane gave a slight start. Salvo noticed and smiled. "See anything like that in
Reeth's place?"
Kane managed to keep his face impassive. "Beyond the computers, the gun turret
and the electrical generator, no. Damn hard stuff to get, but nothing unusual
or predark about it."
Pausing meaningfully, he added, "Of course, there's still no explanation how
Reeth got the stuff or how he seemed to know you. Sir." [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]