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Chapter nine



“I think it’s morning.”

“What?” He sat up, disoriented. The clock said he’d slept ten hours without even rigging his wires around the bed. His clothes were strewn across the floor. On the sink, the glasses and pitcher sat, dry and crusted.

Inea had one arm flung carelessly over her face, her eyes buried in the crook of her elbow. The ends of her fingers brushed his shoulder. They were shaking. He kissed her palm but his touch didn’t trigger the expected response. It wasn’t just his sated condition, either. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just a nightmare. I hate watching the news before bedtime. Damn Abramovitch, anyway.”

Abmmovitch? It was an incredible effort to dredge up the association, but then he had it: the Russian who wanted to prove Earth was vulnerable to attack from outer space aliens. Her xenophobia! Cold sweat broke out all over him. Had he misjudged her? If she hadn’t changed her attitude, though, why was she on the Project at all?

Inea turned to sprawl over the edge of the bed examining the apartment’s master controls on the bedstand.

“Do I use the shower first?” she asked. “And how do I charge the water bill to my apartment?”

Alarm lanced through him. Abbot could trace her to him through bills. All Abbot knew for sure right now was that Titus would like to feed on Inea. He had no idea how very much Inea meant to Titus, and so if casual checking turned up no other connection, Abbot would have no reason to look closer at Inea, no reason to consider using her as a weapon against Titus, and thus no reason to discover that Titus had broken the Law of Blood by not silencing her with Influence.

Striving to seem casual, he palmed sleep out of his eyes. “Never mind, my water allotment is generous. Go ahead and shower. The boss can be late.”

She rolled off the bed gathering her neatly piled clothing. “Actually, the boss is too zonked to move.”

“The boss is replete for the first time since leaving Earth. Maybe for the first time ever.” He lay back and flung his elbow over his eyes as she dialed the lights up. “Just let me enjoy it another five minutes.”

She passed the mess on the sink without a glance. Squinting under his elbow, he watched her, fascinated by the effect lunar gravity had on her buttocks and breasts, lazily toying with the idea of writing the equations to describe that tantalizing motion: a Song of Songs written in physics, celebrating the similarity between the surging foment of stellar plasma and the incendiary effect of semifluid flesh.

He drifted into the abstracted state in which he did physics, letting the delicious relaxation steal over him.

It seemed only moments later when Inea emerged, dressed, combing her sleek wet hair and carrying something in one hand.

I borrowed your comb. I’ll bring my things up here tonight-“

She saw the mess on the sink. “And when I move in, we’ll have to do something about this sort of thing.”

Abbot. How can I warn her about Abbot? If Abbot ever did investigate her mind, he’d find that Titus had endangered not just himself, but his own father and all luren, by letting her go unsilenced. Worse yet, if he so much as hinted that Abbot was any sort of danger to him or to her, she’d immediately take steps to investigate Abbot and so attract his attention. But if Titus threw enough of a scare into her to keep her from deviling Abbot, then she’d betray herself through sheer nervousness. No, he didn’t dare say anything to her if he valued her life-and his own.

When he didn’t answer, she turned, her expression mirroring Titus’s consternation. With wild alarm edging her voice, she said, “I can’t believe this is just another one-night stand!”

Before he knew it, he was off the bed and hugging her. “No! This is forever. Permanent. Exclusive. I’ll marry you-any vows you want-as soon as we get back to Earth.”

She stiffened. “Why wait? Or at least, why not live together if we’re sleeping together?”

Searching frantically for a way to say it, he led her to the table and sat her down. “Wherever I am, there’s always danger. Always. If people notice I’m-odd-I might not know until it’s gone too far. It happens to those of my blood, and most often in small communities. If it happens to me here, I don’t want you hurt.”

Absently, she put a small brown vial down on the table, his blood pressure medication. “What makes you think I wouldn’t stand up for you now that I know the truth?”

“I wouldn’t want you to. When things get that bad, anyone who defends one of us gets burned too. I don’t want to risk you.”

“You don’t want to risk me? If you think I’m going to wait until Earth to do this again, you’re very-”

“Just until tonight. Your place. Okay? Nobody will know I’m there except you. And you’ll know. I promise.”

He kissed her, but as he got involved, she pulled back, studying him. “I’ll be late for work. What’ll my boss say?”

“He won’t say a thing,” he teased. “But your boss’s boss may scream at us all.”

“Carol? She never screams.” She extricated herself and moved to the door. “But Shimon will yell at us if we don’t finish tomorrow. Besides, what would Abbot say if we blew it now? He’ll go down in history as a genius for reconstructing this system in record time.”

“Of course. Records are important.” He moved to kiss her temple, but she withdrew slightly. What’s the matter with her?

She cocked her head to one side, studying him in that way that made him nervous. Then she tossed her wet hair back and added archly, “Besides, you had me train to do this job for Shimon, and I’m going to do it! just remember that the next time you come up with a brilliant idea to send me away. I don’t waste training, even training I don’t need.”

With that, she spun out the door. A moment later she popped back in and added, “Eight-hundred, on the nose. B.Y.O.B. I’m getting pizza and beer.” And she was gone.

B.Y.O.B. could mean Bring Your Own Blood. Her quip made him smile despite his sudden uncertainty about her. At least Abbot didn’t know what she meant to him, and she didn’t know what to make of Abbot. But how long could he keep it that way? Scheduling time with Inea without making her suspicious about his absences, as he chased around looking for Abbot’s unMarked stringers, would be a colossal challenge.

When he arrived at the lab, the reassembly of the system was well begun. Shimon had set a pace that both allowed step-by-step testing and kept up the progress rate, spurring everyone on. The man definitely had earned a raise, as had his whole staff. Knowing the thought would get lost in the affairs facing him, Titus called Colby immediately.

“Oh, Dr. Shiddehara!” answered an assistant. He was a lanky, lantern-jawed Black with a vaguely Oriental cast to his features. Titus had heard he’d given up a high post with Consumer’s Union to take this job. “I’ve been trying to reach you. Dr. Colby wants to speak with you.”

Uh-oh. “That’s good. Put her on.”

After a long wait, she came onscreen flushed and breathless.

might well have been screaming at somebody. “There you are, Titus. It’s about time.”

“Yes, indeed. I-”

“Don’t talk, just listen. You’ve been following the press coverage on that assassin? Well, that wasn’t the first infiltrator we caught. But the publicity has impressed the highest government circles with the size of the anti-Project movement. We’re going to lose our appropriation, and our scientific reputations, unless we convince the public we’re spending their money wisely. So Nagel was forced to accept terms-I’ve fought, but I’ve had to capitulate, too.

“Twenty reporters will be here day after tomorrow to tour the station and report directly to the people. If we handle it right, this nonsense will die down, and the terrorists will be criminals, not heroes. But if we look wasteful or deceitful, that’s the end of the Project.

“Now, I need your help, Titus. You’re right at the focus of all this because of your computer’s cost overrun. It must be up and running day after tomorrow-and it’s got to do something spectacular they can take pictures of.”

Titus digested that. Abbot must have had wind of this days ago-and that was why he was so eager to help. Abbot, whose mission was to send an SOS., had nearly scuttled the entire Project with his retaliation at Titus that first day.

Abbot the invincible. Ha!

“What are you so happy about?” asked Colby.

Think quick! “Carol, let me get Shimon on the line.”

He buzzed Shimon’s desk without response, then resorted to the oldest method of office communication. He stuck his head out the door and called, “Shimon! Pick up on Two!”

When he got back to the vidcom, the screen was split, showing Carol briefing Shimon. In the end, Shimon studied Titus’s image deadpan. The silence stretched until Titus said, “Shimon, I know we won’t need Nandoha’s help on this one.” His eyes met Shimon’s. Shimon knew Titus had fought Abbot’s presence as much as he could.

Titus could almost see the wheels turning in the man’s mind. He had swallowed his resentment of Abbot’s arrogance with professional stoicism, and he even respected Abbot’s ability. But he disliked the man intensely. He had, however, grasped early on that Colby’s primary measure of an employee’s value was the employee’s loyalty to the immediate supervisor as well as to the Project. Nodding at last, Shimon declared, “No problem, Colby. We finish tonight, even we go into overtime. We test tomorrow and set up something visual for the press.”

Colby beamed. “I see why Titus has such faith in you. You give me a good show day after tomorrow, Shimon, and you’ll get a big raise, retroactive.”

“You got it.”

Colby signed off, and a moment later Shimon stormed into the office. “Mochrotayim! She’s got to be kidding!” He paced a furious circle, one hand on his head.

“Thanks for backing me, Shimon. I know it’s going to be hard. Just tell me what you need and you’ll have it.”

He paused, hands on hips. “Titus, if you didn’t sent Inea to be trained for this, we’d never make it. Can I tell the crew they’ll get double-time for overtime tonight if they’ll stay until we’ve finished?”

“Yes, that’s a good idea.”

“It could be all night. Just one defective part-”

“I know. Meanwhile, I’ll get a demo program written.”

Shimon pursed his fingers at the ceiling in the typical Israeli gesture. “Rega, rega! Inea’s project! It would be perfect! For fun, she wrote this program for a holographic projection of the Taurus region-complete with an animated, stomping thoroughbred bull. The thing rotates so you can view our sun from the other side of the constellation. Then you get an animated closeup of each of the stars-she said it’s just a toy because she used ancient data on the starspots. I don’t pretend to understand it all. Ask her.”

He nodded. “Great, but do we have a projector for it?” “No, but before the chemists arrived we were using their tank. Maybe we can borrow it again?”

The chemists used a three-dimensional viewing tank to manipulate complex organic molecules. “Is it in color?” Yes, and so was Inea’s program. She added that last.“ It would make an impressive if irrelevant demonstration, say, we’ll make a couple dozen copies of a broadcast quality and be sure Inea’s copyright is on it.”

It took Titus three hours to organize everything, but at last he took Connie’s black box out to the lab. Inea and half the crew were in the observatory, arguing over the schematics, steaming coffee mugs abandoned behind them.

Working fast, cloaked by a minimum of Influence, Titus spliced the communicator into its circuit and replaced the boards that surrounded it, hiding it from view. If it didn’t malfunction in the first test, he’d get his message out the first time they contacted Earth. He had already reinforced the entire crew’s blindness to the black box. Only Inea could see it, and she wouldn’t say anything.

He returned to his office and coded his message to Connie into his desk unit. The moment this system linked to the Project’s system in Houston, Sydney, or Beer Sheva, the black box would call out the text from his desk unit and send it to a similar black box on the other end. He only hoped that one of Connie’s people, not a Tourist, would pick it up.

In his report, he apprised Connie of his blood situation, and tersely reminded her that, despite his successes to date, he couldn’t handle Abbot alone. He also warned her of the clandestine Project, and sketched his plans.

He wished it were all as simple as it sounded.

Idly watching Inea, all he wanted to do was write poetry in physics and make love. But he shook himself out of it, and breezed out of the lab, telling everyone he was going to the ship. Then he went in search of Abbot’s stringers.

He’d already checked everyone who ever had access to his own lab and had found no trace of Abbot’s meddling. He hadn’t expected to. Now he strolled the halls, examining every passerby. He searched refectories and snack bars, and detoured through the gym. His most valuable quarry would be someone Abbot had Influenced but left unMarked, and that was hard to spot. So he moved slowly, and triggered belligerent reactions by staring-Mirelle could do this without upsetting people!

With nothing to show for the hour, he headed for Kylyd.

From early in his post-doctoral years, he had learned the only way to keep up on the branches of a complex project was with frequent personal appearances. The other department heads did the same, so he was not at all conspicuous.

Having legitimate business on the ship, he donned his suit openly and accompanied a group of workers on the ride out. While the sun had been up, he had dreaded his open trips, but now they were in shadow again.

He wandered about the ship, unsure if he’d recognize Abbot’s Mark on a suited human. The life-presence was blocked by the suit, but he had Influenced suited humans. Something wasn’t blocked by the insulation. Fractured particles dancing in the moonlight, speeding to oblivion.

Poetry stirred in his soul, poetry and magic, magic and Inea. There’s no such thing as magic. There’s a rational explanation for everything. Sure. He clomped up a slanted floor through a mangled airlock with an arch cut in it.

He squatted to peer at it. The last time he’d been here, they’d despaired of cutting that metal. Progress.

“Something wrong, Dr. Shiddehara?”

The suit beside him bore a familiar technician’s name. He rose and asked about the cutting while he studied the man.

“Oh, Dr. Gold did that yesterday with the magnetic scissors he made in the Biomed lab. You apply a shear planar magnetic field and the stuff falls apart. I guess it’s not exactly a metal– well, that’s not my field.”

He bore no trace of Abbot’s touch, but Titus’s neck prickled. Biomed. That was one place he couldn’t wander freely, but Abbot could. “Magnetic scissors. Fascinating.” Next thing you know, they’ll make a sonic screwdriver!

“I saw Dr. Gold going that way,” the technician said, Pointing. “He loves to explain it, but I don’t think he’s found anyone who understands what he’s talking about yet.”

Titus followed the man’s directions and climbed into a wide Place where bulkheads had been wrenched open on impact. Two technicians were wrestling a device that looked like a scissors large enough to snip down a maple tree. When they had it positioned, the scissors sliced through the twisted bulkhead, and cautiously removed the large panel.

Through the new opening, Titus saw Abner Gold’s and Carol Colby’s suits, and a smaller suit with a Biomed blazon.

Gold gesticulated so emphatically his feet left the deck, and he stumbled. Titus picked his way toward them, mindful that sharp edges could damage his suit, and searched the communications channels until he found Abner’s voice.

“. Sisi, that’s not what you told me! Colby, she’s lying, but I know what I know. You owe me answers. There are certain things I won’t be a party to!”

“Calm down, Dr. Gold,” admonished the Director. “We are all under a lot of pressure, and it’s going to get worse, if we’re forced to work in a spotlight. In a few days-”

“Few days! Now or I quit! Think about that, Colby! Can you afford to have me quit after what I’ve accomplished?”

“Abner, no one is indispensable. And your attitude displays a certain lack of loyalty which-”

“Loyalty to what? Or doesn’t that matter to you? You just do what you get paid to do and never think about-”

“Dr. Gold, you are hereby terminated, your security clearances revoked. Your final pay and-”

“Terminated? You can’t fire me. I just quit.” He whirled and stalked away, coming toward Titus.

Titus stopped him. He was burning with curiosity about what had ticked Gold off, but he only asked, “Abner, are you sure you want to do this? Think! I didn’t hear what it’s about, but this Project is history in the making.”

Gold took a deep breath and straightened, looking at Titus with a strained smile. “Thank you, Titus, but I stayed up all night considering it all.”

“Well, I want a copy of your paper on the magnetic scissors. Brilliant work.”

Gold beamed. “I’ll see you get one.”

“After the reporters get through with my lab, I’ll come see you off. I assume you’ll be leaving with them.” Maybe then hell tell me what’s so terrible he can’t countenance it.

His face fell. “I suppose.” Abstracted, he pulled loose. “Good luck, Titus. You’re a good man.”

The offhand compliment made Titus feel inexplicably good as he turned toward the group watching them. Interestingly, he could perceive the misting pattern of Abbot’s Influence around Colby, despite her lack of a Mark. The same signature appeared in the aura around the Biomed tech.

He went up to them. “I’m sorry, Carol, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop.”

“That isn’t the first time I’ve fired someone, but-damn, I wish I hadn’t had to do that!” Deeply disturbed, she grasped at formalities. “Oh, I’m sorry, Titus, have you met Sisi Mintraub? She runs the Biomed maintenance shop. Sisi, this is the famous Dr. Shiddehara.”

“Honored,” she offered in a sweet soprano.

“Likewise,” replied Titus. “Medical hardware, huh? Would you happen to know where the chemists’ tank is now?”

“It’s not my jurisdiction, but I saw it yesterday. Why?”

He told Carol about the demonstration idea, and she nodded. “Sounds good. Sisi, tell whoever has the tank that if they’re not using it, astrophysics needs it for the demo.”

“I’ll tell them.” She flashed a dazzling smile at Titus. “But chemists are a possessive lot.”

Colby added, “If necessary, tell them to call me.”

When Mintraub had gone, Colby prompted, “Fill me in on this brilliant idea. I think it’s the best any department’s come up with so far.”

“It’s from Inea and Shimon, really,” he protested, and elaborated on Inea’s visuals. “What worries me is that it’s not relevant to our work.”

“It does look relevant, though. On the other hand, you’re right, some of the reporters know some science. Could you come up with something they’d appreciate?”

“Well, that’s what I came out here for. To see if there’s anything new on the lighting system. With the system up, I could use a standard star catalogue to pick out some stars with the correct spectrum, at least show them how it’s going to be done when I have all the data.”

“There was nothing new as of yesterday. But it’s worth checking. Lindholm, Rubens, and that Dutch woman whose name I can never remember were down by what we think is the drive chamber. They found a light panel they suspect is still operative, but they won’t admit to knowing anything.”

“Can’t fault them for being cautious. Nothing about this ship follows expectations. Magnetic scissors! Where did Abner ever get that idea?”

“Titus, forgive me, but I don’t want to talk about Abner now. And I’m late for an engineers’ meeting. If they can solve just one of the power-supply mysteries, we can energize that light panel and discover its output spectrum. Our power just burns them out.”

As she walked off, Titus went to chase down the intact light panel and see what could be learned from it.

Hours later, Titus returned to the lab, with very little to show for his afternoon but the appearance of the chemists’ tank. Shimon had ordered pizza brought in. People ate while monitoring screens as the test programs ran.

Inea waved Titus over. “I got my pizza. But I’ve no idea when we’ll be finished. There’re a million glitches.”

“Well, look, I’m glad you volunteered to stick with this tonight. Afterwards, well, we’ll reschedule afterwards.”

“I hope so,” she replied firmly.

He was already hungry, but he had to keep his mind off it. “Carol is pleased with your demo.” He related his encounter with the Director. “I didn’t get any new spectral data, but I’m going to go work up something using ”best guess’ data based on the work done decades ago on the first orbital telescope and some of the guesses based on clues found in the ship. I can run a simulation for the reporters using that, and just show how we’ll plug in the actual data when we get it.“ He had most of it set up on his calculator.

“Sounds good. Want some help?” She started to rise.

“You’re more valuable where you are.” Cloaking the words, he let his voice drop to a caress. “What I want has little to do with it. Later, Inea, I’ll fulfill my promise.”

With icy calm, she asked, “What am I to you, a decorative possession or a person?”

“That’s unfair. Have I ever given you cause to-”

“Yes.” She kept her voice low, but ferocious. “This morning you wanted to protect me, and expected I’d stand by and let you get ripped apart by a mob rather than speaking up for you. And your only reason was you didn’t want to risk me, as if I were an object you own. Now you order me to a technician’s job when I could be better employed doing astronomy. Okay, I have to sub here because of the reporters. But you didn’t know they’d be coming when you sent me off to learn this stuff. Whyever you did that to me, it wasn’t to advance my career. It wasn’t from professional respect. So I rubbed your nose in it a little this morning, flouncing off like that, but I didn’t really mean it and it was in private. Now, right in the middle of the lab, you start telling me what you really want me for. And it isn’t to write astronomy programs. A person writes astronomy programs.”

Stunned, Titus shook his head.

“Person or object,” she reiterated. “That’s the rock on which all my other relationships foundered. I want it straight from the beginning. What am I to you?”

“I don’t want to make love to a decorative possession. I’ve never understood men who did. You don’t know how it turned me on to discover your toy program may save this Project’s funding. You don’t know how I’ve searched for a person like you, but you’re one of a kind. I should have known that. I should have gone back to you years ago.”

Her lips trembled and her eyes sparkled. “I hope you mean that. I hope you know what it means to say that.”

“You’ll teach me. And I promise-as soon as this job is done, you’ll be back in the observatory. I never wanted to send you away. It was an administrative decision, and you did admit you needed some space to think it all through.”

“Titus, I’m not going to kiss you here. No matter what. Understand? It wouldn’t be professional.”

“I suppose that’s best. I’ll see you late tonight.”

After that, he couldn’t concentrate on his model calculation. It was as boring as concocting exams for undergrad courses. It simply wasn’t real. But Inea’s presence out in the lab was so real he couldn’t keep his mind off it. He wondered if she’d considered that treating her like an object-like an orl. It was the most disturbing thought he’d ever had.

When he’d finished his program, he used the Brink’s code key to check on Sisi Mintraub. He found nothing of great interest except that she was in charge of the equipment that kept the dormant luren in an isolated and chill environment.

He could see why Abbot cultivated her with as light a touch as he used on Colby. It would be dangerous if she became suspicious, but even worse was the way Security monitored her. They’d notice any inconsistent behavior.

He looked up Sisi’s apartment number. It was in the same dome as the shopping mall. She was the only one of Abbot’s spies he’d yet found, and since she wasn’t Marked, it was no crime for him to use Influence on her.

From his desk, he gazed out his door at Inea working beside Shimon. If he Influenced Sisi, would Abbot retaliate on Inea? But Inea bore no trace of Titus’s Influence. Abbot couldn’t conceive of any luren feeding on a human without Influence. That might be all that will save her if Abbot discovers I’ve been at one of his humans.

Still-if he Marked Inea, Abbot couldn’t touch her. No. I won’t Mark her without her consent. For that, he’d have to tell her the whole story so she’d know why she had to be Marked. But he was scared of losing her. It was worse since he’d tasted what they might have. But which was the greater risk, Abbot taking her, or him alienating her by being too hasty? Either way, he’d lose her. To protect her, he’d try to approach Mintraub without arousing Abbot’s suspicions. At least that’s not treating Inea like a possession!

Decisively, he went to Mintraub’s apartment, but she was out. Deciding he’d rather go hungry until Inea was free than go home and drink dead blood, he went to the shopping mall.

The lift doors opened on a curving mezzanine with an arch of sky blue overhead. Large, lush green bushes were set along the promenade. A sparkling fountain splashed over moon rock at the far end. Leaning over the railing, he saw a Skychef doughnut shop with tables set on a transparent floor, lit from beneath. He didn’t believe his eyes when he saw the first fish. Then a school or large ones flashed by, and he realized he was looking into the breeding tank where Skychef bred all the fresh fish served on the station.

He went down the broad steps, aware that the architects of the Station had designed the public areas to be lavish and the private rooms spartan so people would socialize.

He browsed through some shops. He had heard about the prices, but he was surprised at the small selection, and how the stock was crammed into the tiny shops. In one store, robes hung from shoe boxes stacked up to the ceiling. In another, tables were crammed with swim suits and underwear. Under the table, shirts were stacked by color and size. The clerks wore Skychef uniforms, and minded the shops as second jobs. They all looked very tired.

Titus remembered how, on arrival, he’d been threatened with a kitchen assignment. He’d escaped that only because now there was staff for the extra duties.

Titus scanned the crowd for any sign of Abbot’s Mark or Influence, and noticed many familiar faces. There, strolling with Suzy Langton, was one of the cooks from the Gourmet Lounge near his apartment. The ebony statue of a weight-lifting instructor was leaving with Abner Gold.

In the back of the fifth store, Titus found an array of cooking utensils for microwaves, and some picnic equipment.

He bought a dark gold Thermos and mug set, with a case. It was rated for microwave use, but apparently the people who had no kitchenette used them for take-out food. He wouldn’t be conspicuous carrying his blood from his microwave to Inea’s place. Somebody else bought a plug-in warmer, saying that a group of techs were chipping in for it so they could all eat hot pizza while watching tapes.

In a lingerie shop, he found a filmy thing so nearly massless it hardly cost more than it would on Earth. He thought of Inea walking into the bathroom this morning. Though he’d enjoyed we view, he thought she’d appreciate a robe. He chose one in her favorite shade of pink-he hoped it was still her favorite-and a berries set. “Wrap it and deliver it tomorrow morning,” he told the clerk.

He was examining a rack of Glynnis brand sportswear when he spotted someone who looked like Mintraub just leaving the doughnut shop, munching on a long twist. He’d only seen her in her helmet, and then later in official photographs. But it looked like her. He worked his way closer. She was wearing a green gym suit, and had her hair bound up in a pink band. She strode along as if following the shortest path to a goal.

But he lost her when she squeezed into a full elevator. He took the next one and got off at her apartment, but she wasn’t there. Back in the elevator, he tried the most popular stop, the connecting corridor to the other domes. She’d been dressed for the gym, so he headed that way.

Signing in, he circulated through the busiest areas, and checked the swimming pool from the observation lounge. He was turning away when he noticed Abbot’s Mark. Other than Mirelle, it was the first he’d found.

The woman in question was a slender, statuesque blonde wearing a white bathing suit designed like a plain tank suit. She climbed the highest diving platform and sailed off it, taking advantage of the gravity to execute a marvelous series of maneuvers before slicing cleanly into the water.

“Do you know who that is?” asked Titus of the man beside him, who was wearing a space suit-liner, not gym clothes.

“They call her the Diving Belle. I don’t know her name, but she’s here every night putting on a show. They say she’s really one of those stuffy doctors of something or other.”

“Oh. Thank you.” Titus asked others, but got only the nickname, that she spoke with a Georgian accent, and that she was a physical anthropologist. It was enough to enable him to find her file, but he didn’t have to. Abbot had collected another one with clearance to study the alien “corpse.”

Since she was Marked, he didn’t dare touch the Diving Belle, so he moved on around the gym. Gold was in the weight-lifting class with the ebony statue, working as if taking out a rage. He has a right. Have to talk to him.

As Titus passed, the class broke up, but Gold didn’t register Titus’s presence. He headed blindly for the locker room. There was no trace of Abbot’s Influence on him. After that, Titus noticed the ebony statue twice more as he circled. But there was no sign of Sisi Mintraub. He was about to leave when he remembered he owed time in the centrifuge. If he just signed out of the gym, Medical would be after him immediately.

But when he logged into the centrifuge, there was Sisi’s name on the waiting list right above his. The attendant handed him a suit, saying, “Number three will be ready to roll in five minutes. And don’t forget the telemetry.”

The five separate centrifuge units started on a regular schedule, but with staggered times so there was no wait.

He changed quickly, determined to get into the same unit Sisi entered. The pale green suit made his complexion more conspicuous, but he set a low grade of Influence around himself so people would perceive his dusky pallor as normal. His human ancestry had blessed him with dark skin, so he didn’t seem as stark white as some luren.

When he emerged, he again noticed the ebony statue lingering nearby, but thought nothing of it. Inside the cylindrical chamber, he found his quarry, strapped in with the elastic safety bands, ready to walk the treadmill. She was the only other one on this ride, though the chamber could accommodate eight on treadmills and six more seated.

Titus took the treadmill beside hers and secured his towel to a bar. Attaching the straps, he called, “Don’t I know you? We met out at the starship today, didn’t we?”

She peered at him. She was quite pretty, and no doubt used to every line in the book.

“I’m Titus Shiddehara,” he added.

“Oh! Yes, Dr. Colby introduced us. Did you get the chemists’ display tank?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

“Amazing you’d recognize me. I didn’t know you.” The warning chime sounded, and she gripped the handles of the treadmill. “Here we go.”

Elegantly muted sound heterodyned up to a pleasant, multi-voiced hum as the tank began to rotate, and the platforms swung up onto the sides of the drum. They flexed their knees and blinked away the slight disorientation from the Coriolis force and then they were both walking in place.

Titus had attached his telemetry monitors to a device that would feed it good human data, so he didn’t have to worry about the duty tech noticing anything odd about him. He could concentrate on Mintraub.

Chapter eight | Those of my blood | Chapter ten