rosemary edghill: Hellflower



Hellflower [?]
by eluki bes shahar
DAW Books (1991)
ISBN: 0-88677-475-6

CHAPTER ONE: Hearts and Hellflowers

I was minding my own business in beautiful downside Wanderweb, having just managed to mislay my cargo for the right price. My nighttime man had talked me into booklegging again, and damsilly stuff it was too -- either maintenancy manuals or philosophy texts, I never did figure out which, even with sixty hours time in ship Firecat 'tween Coldwater and Wanderweb t' stare at them and Paladin to read them to me.

So I was making my way 'round wondertown: free, female, an' a damn sight over the age a' reason, when I saw this greenie right in front a' me in the street.

He was definitely a toff, and no stardancer -- you never saw such clothes outside of a hollycast. He was lit up like Dream Street at night and wearing enough heat to stock a good-sized Imperial Armory besides. And this being scenic Wanderweb, land a enchantment, there was six a K'Jarn's werewolves an K'Jarn facing him. I was of the opinion -- then -- that he couldn't do them before they opened him up, so fancy-free I opened my mouth an said:

"Good morning, thou nobly-born K'Jarn. Airt hiert out to do wetwork these days or just to roll glitterborn for kicks, hey?"

K'Jarn looked up from pricing Tiggy Stardust's clothes and said, "N'portada je, S'Cyr. Purdu."

K'Jarn and me has known each other since I started running cargoes into Wanderweb Free Port an he started trying to boost them. For once I should of took his advice. But hell, it was seven-on-one, an I've never liked K'Jarn...

"Like Imperial Mercy I will. Yon babby's my long-lost lover an my maiden aunt, and I'm taking him home to Mother any day now. Fade."

He might have done, except for that just then one of K'Jarn's wingmen got restless and took a swipe at the glitterborn with a vibroblade. Tiggy Stardust moved faster nor anything human an swiped back an I burned K'Jarn before K'Jarn could mix in. K'Jarn dropped his blaster, him not having a hand to hold it with anymore, an left on urgent business. So did everyone else.

Business as usual in scenic wondertown, an not enough fuss for the CityGuard to show up. Except for the deader Tiggy made an another I didn't have time to get pretty with, me an him was alone and he wasn't moving.

I went to see if there was anything left to salvage. He snaked around and then it was me down an staring up at an inert-blade knife as long as my thigh while he choodled at me all unfriendly-like.

I can get along in flash, cant, and Trade, but I couldn't make head nor hind outta his parley, an I thought at first I'd gone an hit my head too hard. But then I knew that what I'd actually gone and done was the stupidest thing of my whole entire life. I'd rescued a hellflower.

A'course, hair that light an skin that dark could come from spacing on a ship with poor shields, and he wasn't even so bloodydamn tall -- just too tall to be the kinchin-bai he looked. But no other human race in space has eyes the color a hellflower's got. Hellflower blue.

And why I couldn't of figured this all out one firefight ago was beyond me.

He stared at me, I stared at him, an neither of us moved much. I figured I was dead, which'd at least spare me hearing Paladin's opinion of my brains when I got back to Firecat. Then the hellflower rolled off me, put away the knife, and got to his feet.

"Jadraya kinvraitau, chaudatu. I apologize in honor for my ill-use of you; I thought you were one of the others. I offer you the thanks of my House and --"

"Don't wanna hear it!" I interrupted real quick. He talked Interphon real pretty, but with a heavy accent -- alMayne, that kind of lilt -- more proof, not as I needed it. "You kay, reet, am golden, hellflower, copacetic -- but don't you go being beholden t'me."

His face got real cold, and I thought I'd bought real estate for the second time that morning. Then he said, "As you desire, chaudatu," and ankled off.

Hellflowers are crazy.


Strictly speaking, when you're talking patwa, which is what most people in my neighborhood do, a "hellflower" is any mercenary from the Azarine Coalition: Ghadri, Felix, Cardati, Kensey, alMayne -- a prime collection of gung-ho races with bizarre customs and short tempers. Actually, say "hellflower" in the nightworld and everyone'll figure it's an alMayne that's caught your fantasy. alMayne are crazier than the rest of the Coalition put together -- they've got their own branch of the Mercenaries' Guild with its own Grandmaster, and when they do sign out for work (as bodyguards mostly, because there ain't no wars anymore, praise be to Imperial Mercy and the love of the TwiceBorn) you can follow them around by the blood-trail they leave behind. They'll win any fight they start -- or just kill you in the middle of a pleasant conversation for no reason your survivors can see.

It's all to do with hellflower "honor". They're mad for it. They got their own precious code of dos and don'ts, and you don't want one of them beholden to you for any money. If that happens, you can be chaffering with your buddy and the 'flower'll cut him down and tell you he did it to purify your honor. There was a man once that lost six business partners, his cook, his gardener, two borgs and a dozen tronics to his hellflower bodyguard before he figured out the hellflower liked him ...

Hellflowers are crazy.


So I stopped thinking about hellflowers and went and had breakfast. Didn't wonder about my particular 'flower; there wasn't nothing about that boy going to make sense a-tall. And I had things to do.

My purpose in life for coming to Wanderweb -- other than to make too little credit for too much work -- was a little piece of illegal technology called a Remote Transponder Sensor. Not only does the Empire in its wisdom refuse to sell them to its citizens or even me, once you get one, you have to get it installed.

In a Free Port, nothing's illegal and everything can be had for a price. Or an over-price. Remember that your friendly Free Port owner clears a profit after paying a tax to Grand Central about the size of his planetary mass, and you'll get the general idea. Never shop Free Port if you don't have to -- but if something can't be had for any credit, you can probably find it here. And every Free Port and most planets has its Azarine.

The Azarine is the merc district, named after the Coalition. It holds everything from sellsword to gallow-glass with a short detour through contract assassin, and like all special interest ghettos, it's home to the kiddies that service the players as well as the players themselves. Enter Vonjaa Beofox, high-nines cyberdoc living in the Azarine.

I heard tell of Beofox from an Indie who gave her the rep for being rough and nasty but good, which meant she was probably some legit bodysnatcher who took High Jump Leave from an Imp hellhouse to make a dishonest living in the Wanderweb Azarine. I saw her sign hung out over Mean Street. It had the Intersign glyphs for "fixer" and "bionics" on it, and the running hippocrene that was Beofox's personal chop. Beofox was a body-warp fixer specializing in bionics -- add a leg or a laser, prehensile tail or whatever you want -- and Mean Street is the beating heart of the Azarine. There was a number of characters about as big as my ship standing around the place, but sellswords don't fight for free any more than I ship cubic out of charity. In the fullness of time I got past Beofox's bouncer and in to see her.

Beofox was about my size -- which means on the short side of average -- with a saurian cast to her bones that made you wonder where her breeding population rated on the Chernovsky scale. her hair was roached up in a fair way to conceal a decent hideout blaster and she had as much ring-money punched through her ears as I wore on my boots. The walls of her surgery was covered with charts showing her daily specials and the most popular forms of blackwork for cybers.

"Want a thing done, Beofox," I said to open hostilities.

"I do no favors for stardancers, che-bai. What kind plastic you spinning?" she shot back.

The whistle in the nightworld was that Beofox had a soft-on for the rough-and-tumble kiddies, which made Gentry definitely persona-non-breathing in her shop. But stardancers don't run to cyberdocs so it was Beofox or I'd just spent a lot of wasted money on something I shouldn't own in the first place.

"Am golden, bodysnatcher; just dropped kick."

"That's 'bonecrack' to you, and speak Interphon. Why don't you work your own side of the street, stardancer?"

"I want a Rotten C," I said, real articulate-like.

Beofox regarded me with new respect. "A Remote Transponder Sensor -- with the Colchis-Demarara shielding, irrational time processor, fully independent sub-micro broadcast power storage, and guaranteed full-fidelity sound reproduction? Do I look like an Imperial Armory?"

"Sure, che-bai. And I look like a Gentrymort with clearances, so get out your wishbook." I already had the RTS, but it don't do to tell everything you know.

We swapped insults for a while until Beofox came to the conclusion that while the hardboys might be fine and nice and real friendly, having friends in the transport union'll keep you warm at night. We ended up with her agreeing to install it and me admitting I had it, and then we went around about price, which started out to be my left arm and all that adjoined it, and finally got down to the price of a complete legal biosculpt.

"We can fix that face of yours, too, you know," she said when we'd closed the deal.

"Doesn't scare kinchin-bai."

"Sure. But someone's going to top you for a dicty sometime from the nose alone. I just wish you damn Interdicted Colonists would either stay in the quarantine your ancestors paid for or realize that twenty generations of inbreeding stands out like a flag of truce when you try to leave. Where in Tahelangone are you from, homebody?"

Tahelangone Sector is where all the Interdicted Worlds are. Nobody goes in, nobody goes out, and the Tech Police are there to see it stays that way. Emigration is, like all the fun things in life, illegal.

"Fixer, you farcing me, surely. Born and raised on Grand Central, forbye." Neither of us believed me.

"I'll see what I can do if you want, for ten percent over what we've agreed. Just bring your play-pretty back here tonight at half-past Third. Shop guarantee is a one-third refund if you're not combat-ready by thirty hours later."

We went around a little more and settled on that too. I left as a Ghadri wolfpack was coming in to discuss armored augmentation.


I spent the rest of the day hanging out in a place in wondertown called the Last Gasp Arcade. In between the hellflower and the cyberdoc in my busy social round I'd run into an old friend; a darktrader named Hani who'd just turned down a job for being too small and in the wrong direction. He remembered I ran a pocket cruiser, and if Firecat was hungry he'd pass word for meet.

I did not at the time think it odd to pick up a job this way even in a Port with a perfectly legit Guild-board and Hiring Hall, and I agreed as maybe I might be around this particular dockside bar from meridies to horizonrise local time, with no promises made.

Three drinks post-meridies my maybe-employer showed up. He was a short furry exotic with a long pink nose, and except for the structural mods made by a big brain and bipedal gait he looked an awful lot like something we used to smoke out of the cornfields back home. Of course, to a Hamat or a Vey he might of looked like whatever. Your brain matches what you see to what you've seen, and files off the bits what don't fit.

He sat down. "I am the Reikmark Arjilsox," he almost said. Your brain plays tricks with sounds too -- what was obviously a name just sounded like gibberish to me, but I wasn't planning to remember it. "I understand that you are a pilot-of-starships?"

We established that I was a pilot-of-starships, that I owned and could fly a ground-to-ground-rated freighter-licensed ship, and that my tickets were in order -- Directorate clearances, Outfar clearances, inspection certs, et cetera, and tedious so forth. Forged, of course, but the information was correct -- I'd have to be a fool to claim to be able to pilot something I couldn't.

We also established that Gibberfur here was the Chief Dispatcher for the Outlands Freight Company, a reputable and highly-respected organization that chose to do its business in sleazy arcades. I ordered another round of tea and waited.

It took Gibberfur awhiles to make the Big Plunge, but when he did it was simple enough: In three days local time we'd both come back here and Gibberfur would hand me six densepaks of never-you-mind, which Firecat would take unbroached to a place called Kiffit that was nominally in the Crysoprase Directorate, where Yours Truly would hand them over unto one Moke Rahone and get paid in full.

This, I told him, was a lovely fantasy, and I had one to match: In three days we'd both come back here, and he would hand me six densepaks of never-you-mind and the full payment for the tik, and Firecat would then take the densepaks unbroached to Kiffit and one Moke Rahone.

Eventually we settled about halfway between -- half from him up front, half from Moke Rahone on delivery, confidentiality of cargo to be guaranteed. I agreed to the job, thumbprinted the contract, took charge of my half of the paperwork, and that was that

My second mistake of the day. And two more than I needed for this lifetime.


In beautiful theory what I had just done was absolutely legal -- and it was: in a Free Port. It went without saying that Gibberfur's consignment was darktrade, either for what it was, or for the charming fact that it was getting to wherever without paying duty. But here on fabled Wanderweb, where the Pax Imperador did not run, these things made no nevermind.

Neither was my load-to-be illegal while getting from here to Kiffit. It was legal to the edge of the atmosphere, and after that I'd be in angeltown. And since you can't enforce laws in hyperspace, it was still legal there. In fact, my kick -- whatever it was -- was dead legal and no headache until I entered Kiffit planetary realspace.

Once there it'd become a matter for intimate concern to a bunch of rude strangers and I would earn every gram of valuata I'd been paid and offered.

Eventually I'd get somewhere that somebody wanted a load run in to Coldwater, and I'd be home again without paying to deadhead.

Simple, easy, no problem.

Maybe someday something'll work out like that.


I thought I was keeping care, but I'd been too occupied with business to notice the change in the balance of power in the arcade. Even if I didn't expect K'Jarn to be around after losing a hand, I should of known my luck was due to break.

And it had. There was K'Jarn in front and his side-boy Kevil in back, and nothing for me to do but make it over like I wanted to be there when K'Jarn came idling over.

Times like this it'd be nice to have a partner you could see. Brother K'Jarn was coked to his problematical gills on painease and maybe R'rhl and he had a biopak covering his left arm from the elbow to where it currently ended. I counted six hardboys with him -- downside townies all much too interested in me to be comforting -- and nobody in the place wanted to stop a free floor show. So much for Gibberfur's cargo and my future.

K'Jarn leaned over my table at me and made his pitch. I'd cost him a hand, he said. Cybereisis prosthetics were expensive, he said. Why didn't I just (out of the goodness of my heart and a sincere desire to see justice done) sign over Firecat to him and he'd let bygones be dead issues?

"Rot in hell," I said. K'Jarn hauled me up with the hand he had left and I sliced him across the chest with the vibro I happened to have handy. The cut was too damn shallow to do much good, but I did make him drop me. I rolled under the table while he was bawling for his hardboys to come smear me into the bedrock.

I gave the first one that answered a blade through the throat, and by the time I got the blood out of my eyes another one wanted attention. He slugged me hard and I lost my vibro and ended up out in the middle of the floor.

And suddenly it was very damn quiet. I looked up. There was my bonny alMayne home-ec project towering over me, and the look he gave the general populace would of froze a hot reactor. Nobody moved.

Then K'Jarn drew down on the hellflower -- or maybe it was on me and he didn't care who was in the way, but afterward K'Jarn wasn't where you could ask him anymore. Tiggy Stardust blew him away so fast I felt the breeze before I saw the flash.

K'Jarn hit the floor and I started making like Tiggy was my backup and I'd been expecting him all along. Nobody was looking to avenge K'Jarn against a hellflower, and said so, and that damn near set Tiggy the wonder warrior off again right there. You could tell he was looking to blow them all away and maybe me too for the "lack of honor" of it all, so me and Kevil called it quits real quick no-hard-feelings-eternal-friendship and the late K'Jarn's faction made itself history.

Throwing caution to the vectors, I started to tell Tiggy Stardust how glad i was he'd showed up. He just stared at me with those hellflower blue eyes and said, "I do not want your gratitude either, chaudatu," and stomped off again.

Right. Fine. I got out of the Last Gasp with no trouble and beat it back to the Port and Firecat.

Somebody ought to do something about Tiggy, I felt.

As it turned out, somebody had.


I spent the next three days in a sleepsling on Firecat waiting to feel like a member of any B-pop whatever again. I'd passed up Beofox's fond offer to coke and wire me until I was feeling reet: stardancers ride on their reflexes and I couldn't afford to scramble mine. Beofox and me'd made sure the RTS implant worked before I left surgery -- a transmission check and me damn glad nobody had to take my face off again to see why it wasn't working.

Paladin kept me company through the voder-outputs in Firecat's bulkheads, because every time the RTS took incoming transmission my skull itched. Beofox'd said it was all in my imagination and I'd get over it, but it wasn't her skull.

When he did talk through the RTS it sounded like he was standing right behind me, and that was the weirdest thing of all, because Paladin can't do that.

Pally's a real knight in shining armor, and the armor's my ship. He's black-boxed into Firecat's infrastructure, wired into her computers and welded to her deck, so where she doesn't go, he doesn't go either. Without computer hookups he's blind deaf and dumb; drain enough power from his crystal and you can add halt and imbecile to the list. When I'm off Firecat I'm out of his life.

The remote transponder implant was in the category of aiding and abetting our mutual quest to stay alive. The RTS'd been designed to coordinate Space Marine maneuvers and was reliable for about five kilometers without a comsat, and over an entire planetary hemisphere with one. Me wearing one meant Paladin could hear everything I said even away from Firecat, and talk to me without anybody knowing he was there. And it was real important for nobody to know Paladin was there. Ever.

My partner Paladin's a fully-volitional logic. A Library. And the head-price on him -- and on me for having him -- has been reliably reported to be enough to buy you out of any crime in the Imperial Calendar.

Not that anybody's collected on Class One High Book in the last slightly more than so long. Pally and me'd kept the ear out to hear the whistle drop about other Libraries. There'd only been two cases of high Book -- that's Chapter 5 of the Revised Inappropriate Technology Act of the nine hundredth and seventy-fifth Year of Imperial Grace to you -- since we'd been together, and neither one involved a real working Library. I guess there aren't any more but Paladin, and when I found him on Pandora he'd been a box of spare parts for so long he didn't even know we had a Emperor. Imperial History goes back a solid kiloyear, and Paladin told me he comes from the Federation before that. IT took the two of us about six minutes to find out what kind of laws there was against Old Fed artifacts.

That was the year Pally made me do a darktrade deal just to get that old history book. he read it to me, and said it was obviously censored. It didn't make any sense whatever'd been done to it, and it didn't tell about Libraries or why they had to be killed. Funny way to talk about 20K of crystal and a black box -- or, as talking-books say, "a machine hellishly forged in the likeness of a living mind". But Paladin isn't a machine. I've talked to machines. Pally's a Library.

Paladin says "library" is just an old word for a building where they keep books -- sort of like a bibliotek, but different someway. I've seen books, too, but damned if I know why anybody'd want to murder a building. And Paladin isn't a building either, with or without books.

Sometimes Paladin doesn't make any sense a-tall.


Insert #1: Paladin's Log

I am not human. I am not a machine. I am Library Main Bank Seven of the Federation University Library at Sikander Prime, an honorable estate.

At least I was. Now I am Paladin, a new name for a new age. Many of my books are gone from my memory. The world in which I lived is gone. My "friends" and "relatives" are all a millennium dead, and the profession for which I was trained no longer exists. I run Firecat, a converted intra-system shuttle used for smuggling. I pursue researches for books I will never write, that no one would understand. Without Butterfly, there would not even be that much to occupy me.


I was originally very disturbed when I discovered that my human rescuer was biologically female. As a creature of my own culture -- as who is not? -- I had never considered that a possibility. Person and male were synonymous. An autonomous female outside of a breedery, her genetic inheritance exposed to random mutating factors, was a dismaying indication of how long I had been unconscious.

But Butterfly was not dissimilar to humans I had known before. I ignored her gender, as I could not survive without her help. Eventually it ceased to obtrude itself on my notice -- but the fact of her humanity did not. Butterfly was as human as any person in what had become, as I slept, the semi-mythical Old Federation. Of the war that destroyed it, or the reason "Libraries", as all fully-volitional logics are now called, are held in such despite, I remember nothing.

(Fortunately Butterfly lacks curiosity about the Federation. I do not know what I would tell her about the way we lived then, or what she would understand of it. Would she think it odd for an entire species to declare one of its genders nonsentient for the sake of convenience? Or would she, in a culture that declares random organics nonpersons for financial consideration, think it rational? It is unlikely that I will ever know.)

What began as a purely random intersection became an alliance necessary for the survival of both of us. It was a long time after my "rebirth" before I realized how very dangerous my mere existence was to Butterfly, and even longer until I cared about anything beyond my own survival. But every year I become more aware that we are "farcing the odds", and that the "good numbers" become more and more scarce. Our illusion of safety grows unconvincing, and I fear more and more for Butterfly's survival.

The culture of the Phoenix Empire would doubtless find it unbelievable that "a machine hellishly formed in the likeness of a human mind" could care for something outside itself. The dogma of their technophobic age holds that created beings cannot have emotions, but while it is true that some emotions are triggered by animal instincts and fed by chemicals spewed into the brain by uncontrolled glands, more come from the ego, which all things may possess. I am, therefore I want. Rage is a chemical emotion, brewed in the animal brain. Is loyalty? Lust no inorganic life-form can feel; it is the residue of chemicals readying the organic body for the unreliable act of reproduction -- but love? Affection? Kindness?

There is no one left who would care to chart true boundaries in the borderland between organic and machine. Butterfly has always thought of me as human. The only created beings she knows are programmed and limited artifacts. They are not human -- therefore I, who am nothing like them, cannot be a machine.


About the time Beofox said I would I started to feel human again, and then it was time to go meet Gibberfur. It was a whole new experience to have Paladin along for the ride. He had lots of available dataports to track me through Wanderweb and lots of opinions to express.

At the Last Gasp I got the personal attention of the owner, who along with the guaranteed nonnarcotic to my B-pop libation handed the joyful news that the Wanderweb slugs had tossed my partner a day and another day ago and he thought I'd like to know.

My partner. Meaning Tiggy Stardust, hellflower. That'd teach me to do street theater for the brain-dead. Still, he'd be back on the streets in a few whiles, a freer but poorer nutcase.

About then Gibberfur arrived, with a very large strongbox on a A-grav sled. He had hysterics while I popped the box and pulled out six densepaks of illegal.

"I must protest! our agreement clearly states that the cargo is to be transported unbroached to its destination." He was fluffed out to one-and-a-half wiggly's worth of outrage, and his little pink nose quivered.

"Will be, furball. But it don't say nothing in agreement about this damn wondershow." I jerked a thumb at the strongbox, which was blinking and flashing with all the details of the status of its various locks, stasis fields, and armaments. "Figured you'd kind of like to hold on to it for sentimentality's sake, seeing as otherwise I'm going to shove it out my air lock as soon as I'm at angels."

"But -- but you can't do that! My cargo --"

"Is going to get where it's going safe and sound -- but I can't trot it past the Teasers if you're going to hang bells and whistles on it. A mathom like that'll trip every scanner from here to the Core and back to the Rim, and what do I say when the Teasers board me: I didn't know it was there? Get real."

Teaser is short for Interstellar Trade, Customs & Commerce Commission: the Law, and something neither Gibberfur or me wanted the attention of.

"But --"

"If your cargo wanted special handling, you should of said. Not too late for you to change your mind about me dancing it, neither." That shut him up, and I took the Embarkation Receipt for the load and we both signed it and I stuffed my copies of the fax and all six densepaks into the pockets of my jacket.


Things was so much easier in the nonexistent days when a darktrader's word was her bond and all that. You know, the ones where your Gentry-legger takes this priceless cargo sixty light-years and hands it over on word alone to someone she's never seen, with no documentation, no penalties, and no comeback? It's too damn bad the idea never caught on.

Me, I posted bond with the Smuggler's Guild when I joined, and the thought of all that credit sitting there earning zip is enough to cripple you for life. On the other hand, me being a Guild-bonded Gentry-legger keeps people like Gibberfur happy, and here's why: If I took off now for the never-never with Gibberfur's cargo and he wanted to prove it with his half of the documentation, he could get reparations for his loss from the Guild. If the debt was big enough, well, there's a perfectly legal lien on Firecat, activatable through a legit cut-out organization, and the Guild could have the legitimates yank my ship and sell it to cover their costs. Simple.

But membership cuts two ways. If I get burned -- killed or stiffed or any other little thing -- I can complain to the Guild, or my designated survivors can, and the Guild keeps records. One or two black marks against a shipper is all it takes, and suddenly your dishonest citizen can't even find an Indie to herd skyjunk for him, let alone a Gentry-legger to farce his cargo of illegal past the Teasers.

It's pretty cold comfort and precious little protection, and to make it work at all, you document your cargo every step of the way -- it's called a provenance, or in the profession, a ticket-of-leave.

That's life in the big city. The rest is for talkingbooks.


I was getting ready to leave the Last Gasp. Gibberfur had sulked out with his strongbox earlier and I was waiting around for the street outside to settle. I was standing at the bar and the tender came back by to tell me that my hellflower lover -- that's Tiggy Stardust of sacred memory -- in addition to being arrested the same day he'd offed K'Jarn, had left three dead Wanderweb Guardsmen on the ground before they took him away.

It was real fortunate that Tiggy and me was quits. Now I wouldn't have any unfinished business on my conscience when they shortened him and put his head on a pike outside the Wanderweb Justiciary.

He'd killed Guardsmen. On Wanderweb you can buy out of anything but killing Guardsmen. So of course Tiggy'd killed three of them.

Bright lad.


What was I supposed to do about it? It was all his own fault, after all. I didn't tell him to dust half a six-pack of Wanderweb Guardsmen. Nobody kills Wanderweb Guardsmen.

Stupid kid. Stupid hellflower.

I was lost in contemplation of the fate of the late Tiggy Stardust when a genuine pandemonium wondershow came strolling in the front door.

He was big, he was blond, he was dressed in red leather like the hollyvid idea of a space pirate -- and he was with a Hamat. He wore crossed blasters as long as my thigh. The Hamat stood behind him like the presence of doom, and there aren't so many Hamati that stand human company by choice for me to figure this was two other guys.

They were, variously, the Captain and First of a ship called Woebegone, which was a pirate no matter what you might hear elsewhere. I knew Captain Eloi Flashheart from a time we was working two sides of an insurance scam. His side'd involved my side being dead, and if Paladin hadn't been with me it would of worked. Of course, Eloi always said afterward he didn't carry a grudge, but how far can you trust a man who wears red kidskin jammies?

Unfortunately, I was in plain sight.

Eloi looked right at me, Alcatote looked right at me, and then they both crossed the bar to sit in the back. I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding, took my soon-to-be-illegal cargo, and left. Fast. I was a sober, sane, sensible member of the highly-respectable community of interstellar smugglers and I did not borrow trouble.



When I hit the street Wanderweb was its gaudy nighttime self all around, but I wasn't minding it, nor thinking about Eloi-the-Red. I was thinking about Tiggy Stardust, alMayne at Large, and his current status as official dead person in the Wanderweb Justiciary.

"It isn't my problem."

"That is perfectly correct, whatever it is." Paladin, right in my ear, and I damn near ended my young career with heart failure right on the spot.

"Don't do that."


My teeth rang as the RTS took transmission. Nobody gave me -- or us -- a second glance.

So Tiggy'd saved my hash in arcade the other day -- and been coking toplofty about it too! Nobody sane'd partner a hellflower, least of all one dressed like joy-house in riot and wearing enough gelt to finance a small war. Do I look stupid? Do I look rich? Why do people tell me these things?

"Dammit, why do people tell me these things?"

"Confession is said to be good for the soul." Paladin again.

"I sold mine." I'd get used to it. Eventually.

I went back to Firecat and soothed my nerves by tucking six densepaks of illegal under the deck plates in a number of places the Teasers will never find. Then I loaded the dummy cargo I'd bought this morning in on top and dogged it down and checked my supply inventories. Golden.

On what I'd make selling this load of prime Tangervel rokeach on Kiffit I could starve comfortably in the barrio with my ship gigged for default of port fees. But rokeach did make a plausible reason for going, at least in the eyes of the Teasers. Now I could pick up and top angels for Kiffit, which was a real good idea if the Woebegone and her crew was in town.

"So what am I gonna do?" I asked Paladin.

"That depends on what you wish to accomplish," my ever-helpful partner said. "You will not make Eloi Flashheart regret his seizure of your cargo in --"

He must of picked that up in the Wanderweb City Computers.

"Never mind Eloi. Tiggy Stardust bought three Guardsmen the day he dusted K'Jarn. They gonna shop him sure."

Paladin dimmed the hold lights; his version of exasperation. "I do not see what you can do about it. You cannot reverse the past or change the legal code of Wanderweb Free Port, and I cannot enter the Justiciary banks from here -- which means you cannot change his sentence or even find out exactly where he is."

"Could if I could get inside." Occasionally I do have bursts of brilliance.

"Butterfly," Paladin said, in his I-don't-want-to-hear-any-more-of-this voice.

"It isn't like I don't know the setup," I explained.

"Butterfly St. Cyr --"

"I been inside before. It's easy to get into the Admin wing; the only trouble is getting onto the Det levels. You already been in the City Central Computers, Pally -- plans for Justiciary'll be there, y'know, an--"

"Saint Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere, are you seriously suggesting that you are going to break into the Wanderweb Security Facility to rescue an alMayne mercenary?"


"You swore you weren't ever going back in there again, you know. Least of all for 'some dauncy hellflower who'd love to cut my heart out if he could figure the way around his honor to do it'."

"I said that?"


"About Tiggy?"


"But Pally, think of the expression on his face when he sees who's rescued him."


Insert #2: Paladin's Log

It is not correct to say that organics are incapable of true thought. Say rather that their capacity for thought is constrained by the limits of the organic construct housing the mind. An organic body is constantly making demands of its client intellect -- to be exercised, rested, nourished, and allowed to display the primitive pre-conscious aberrations still maintained in the mind/body interface. One can only ignore these displays and trust that they will pass in time. When the spasm has passed, the mind of the organic, refreshed by the period of rest, will once more function with moderate efficiency until again distracted by the demands of its host environment.

The median period of function is five minutes, but I believe that Butterfly skews the statistical input significantly.


The point at issue was not whether it would be "perfectly safe" for Butterfly to enter a high-security detention facility and illegally release one of its internees, but whether there could be any possible value to be gained from such a course of action no matter how disdainfully this alMayne had behaved. I quickly abandoned the question of relative value when Butterfly introduced the concept of "fun" into the discussion.

I have learned that "fun" means exposing yourself to extreme risk without compensation, so I attempted to explain to Butterfly that if she were dead she would not know how much "fun" she was having.

This did not work.