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I hit perhaps two or three meters later. The ground was, thankfully, soft; I rolled to a stop in a stand of tall grass. There was a loud whine behind me as the stolen aircar lifted back into the evening sky, and I had time to wish I'd strapped my prisoner into his seat since both rear doors were now lying on the ground somewhere nearby, but the car lifted smoothly. He'd probably come to in the next few minutes; as long as he made it that far, he'd be fine since he'd be able to override the aircar's controls.

Footsteps approached as I brushed myself off. My passenger walked up, looking annoyingly unruffled. "Ah, I see you made it."

I ignored him and stood, looking around. There weren't any artificial lights directly visible on the ground. I estimated we'd made it perhaps forty klicks from Landfall before the car was overridden; a bright glow on the horizon showed clearly the way back to town. I could see that I was in a rolling grassland, with a few stands of trees visible in the fading light. Towards the city glow there were what looked like nearer glows, light sources on the ground. I sighed and started walking towards what looked like the nearest one.

He fell in beside me. I didn't look at him, but remarked "I know who you work for."

"Really." He seemed amused.

"Yes. Tell them our goals are probably convergent, at least in the immediate future."

"I'm told that that seems likely," he said. We walked some minutes in silence. I was scanning the sky, looking for approaching vehicles. Although the running lights of various aircraft were visible all over, none seemed to be headed for us specifically. I didn't imagine it would take long, however; the aircar would have reported a failure to override and, more importantly, it would have reported the emergency egress system firing, even before its passenger awoke. Then they'd have the point I set down at. The trap was closing, unless I could find a way to break out of it. Everything was time and distance; the game with the aircar hadn't directly gained distance, but it had gained time - time for them to respond to the landing spot. How much distance it would gain me would depend on what I could do in that time. The time I had to work with was now a much more certain period, as opposed to wandering around downtown where intense surveillance meant at any second my available time could drop to zero. This was counterbalanced by the fact that resources were few and far between out here, meaning I'd be easier to locate and would have a harder time getting clear.

I hadn't realized how aggressively Terzifon had either been landscaped or how carefully the original biosphere had been preserved. The nearby lights were perhaps three or four kilometers away; I had seen one set of aircraft lights land there since we'd started walking and hoped I'd be able to find a vehicle or some other means of transport. I broke into a jog. My companion kept pace.

"Shall I assume your principals have no intention of helping me out?" I asked in between breaths.

"Not at this point," he said. "Perhaps if you can get yourself to them."

"What if I don't want to put myself in their hands?"

"If you want to get off-planet, you're going to have to, aren't you?"


"With a certainty," he scoffed. "You might make it to High Port without their help, but they're surveilling the station. You won't make it from there to your ship."

"So what are you offering?"

"Get out of the net, and they'll see what they can do," he said.


"All right then," he said, and abruptly gave me a jaunty wave and turned around, heading back the way we came. I had time to hope he'd be willing to delay pursuit when they found him, but I was going to proceed as if he was planning on turning me in the moment he could.

So, as soon as he was out of sight, I turned sharply and headed for one of the more distant light sources, skirting the small cluster of homes that I'd been heading for originally.

By the time I saw running lights descending near where we'd come down, I was within a hundred meters or so of what looked like the back of a house. That looked as good as anything for what I needed, so I hurried towards it. There were a few lights on, but not many. When I reached the wall, I turned my back to it and watched the various aircraft lifting back off from my landing spot, one turning roughly in my direction.

* * *

"Who are you working for?"

They wouldn't hit me, they considered themselves too civilized for that, but they weren't above badgering me before they could get me back to their base. There were four of them in the back of the aircraft with me. I had my wrists and ankles shackled together, and the bracelets must have been sensitized to a selective pressor field around my seat because I couldn't move them faster than perhaps one meter per second. Trying to move them faster just felt like trying to row through syrup.

"What was your purpose on Terzifon?"


"Where were you going in that aircar?"

The accents were consistent and a bit interesting, Standard but tweaked gently as human populations will when they're out of everyday touch with the rest of humanity. Consonants a bit harder. The four of them (one on either side of me, two on the facing bench, would have to pass through at least a pair of them to reach either door) were wearing uniforms of neutral gray with belts holding light equipment worn across their chests, bandolier-style. The belts were beneath their light jackets, but each of the four I could see had what looked like a small communications relay set in the bandolier just at the front above their breastbone, likely relaying from implants. The shackles I was wearing had come from the two across from me, one pair from each.

I looked out the window. The lights of Landfall were starting to flow by beneath us, a regular pattern of illumination traceries around squares of darkness indicating we were still at the outskirts. The center of the city would be a riot of light and color no matter where one looked down, the tops of towers festooned with warning strobes and advertising displays.

There were only two Security centers in Landfall large enough to be called 'headquarters.' This was my worry: that they wouldn't take me to one of them. It depended entirely on what they wanted to do with me. I hadn't killed anyone, so at worst they'd want me for the assault on the security man I'd left in the aircar and suspicion of weapons charges if they could connect me to the Tzun. However, I was unchipped, and fairly easy to identify as an offworlder, which meant they'd certainly want Uplifted involved in the investigation, and the only two Security facilities with logic frames capable enough to house a resident Uplifted were the two headquarters. While they could of course reach other locations via the comm network, most Uplifted preferred local sensors - the delay (however small) and limited coverage of remote normal building systems would feel to them like looking through a narrow tube and listening to echoes.

One of these facilities was much closer to the cafe I'd been first accosted near than the other. It was also on the side of the city I'd flown out of, making it likely to be our destination. When the fan note changed, thinning as the blade pitch fined and the aircar began to settle towards the ground before passing over center city, I knew we were arriving at the one I'd hoped and planned for.

I was marched into an elevator from the rooftop volantor pads. All four of my Security handlers came with me, and I rode down the center of a large, freight sized elevator with all four of them standing near the corners, out of easy reach even though I remained shackled. When we reached our floor, I shuffled off the elevator - from the sharp limit on my speed, I gathered that the hallways also boasted a pressor tuned to my shackles. A yellow and black warning stripe pattern on the floor probably indicated those areas subject to the field.

I was taken down a large corridor and into a smaller room, with one chair in the center facing an arc of three others. The four of them bade me sit in the single chair. When I was seated, one of them (still mostly anonymous behind an oversized pair of dataglasses, as all four were) looped my shackles through a metal ring on the front of the seat, and they filed out. I looked around. The floor had the same yellow and black warning pattern around the perimeter of the room, and (I tested it) the pressor was still in effect. Shrugging, I made myself as comfortable as possible.

The lighting was indirect, coming from the ceiling's edges. There was only the one door, and no visible windows, but there could be (and probably were) full-spectrum cameras in the walls. Those could be the size of dust motes, if they were using active light gathering or simply using synthetic aperture to combine imagery from across the wall's surface. Other than my chair and the three more comfortable seats facing me, the room was bare.

They left me there for approximately half an hour, which I expected. I used the time to close my eyes; I'd been operating for quite some time without sleep, and although I wasn't sleeping now (they were likely monitoring me and would wake me if I did sleep) I managed to sink into a relaxed state, alpha waves certainly, perhaps close to theta.

Eventually, the door opened and two security types came in. One was male, the other female; the male had a datapane hologram floating in front of his head and was skimming it as he came in. The woman examined me as she moved to her chair, not staring but scrutinizing. I waited as they sat and the man banished his display.

"Standard Kunir," he said flatly. It wasn't a question.

"Hello," I said pleasantly.

"You are charged with assault on a security officer, kidnapping of that same security officer, multiple vehicle thefts, multiple air traffic violations, trespassing and impersonating security personnel."

"Really," I said. "Trespassing?"

"You were arrested on private land. The residents of the home you were hiding near were quite upset and preferred charges."

"Oh, I see. Thanks."

"By our laws, Standard Kunir, you're in quite a lot of trouble. You have several civil rights which are applicable, however. Would you like me to read those out to you now?"

"No, thank you, I'll stipulate that you offered."

The woman leaned forward slightly. "Why are you here, Standard Kunir?"

I looked her way. "Here in this facility? Or here on Terzifon?"

"Don't play games with us. Why are you onworld?"

"I've always been a tourist," I said as cheerfully as I was able. Neither of them reacted to my bonhomie. The man brought his display back up and read something quickly before shutting it down again.

"We have no record," he said, "of you passing through immigration control on High Port or at either shuttle facility onworld. How did you gain entry?"

I smiled apologetically at him. The woman was still watching me carefully. I decided she was the actual investigator; the man may have thought he was, but he was fairly obviously a Security agent who didn't know everything about the situation. He apparently had no idea that I might have arrived in-system on the Interrupt; if he'd known that, he wouldn't be going on with silly questions about immigration control. I'd made sure my drop pod had disassembled itself before entering Landfall the first time, so I was fairly confident he had no idea where I'd come from. The woman, however...

The man activated his display again, then spun it to face me. "Do you recognize this?"

I controlled my instinct to grin in relief. "No."

"It was found in the cafe you were seen in prior to your first assault on security." He spun the display back, looked at it himself. The Tzun had been laid out on a scaling mat, a 1cm grid clearly visible on the surface. At the time of the picture, it was still in the same form it had been when I dumped it - a relatively low-tech flechette pistol. The magazine power pack had been removed from the butt, and was laid alongside the gun.

"Looks nasty," I offered.

"It is a very, very serious infraction to be in possession of such a weapon on Terzifon, Standard Kunir," he said. It wasn't said sternly, but close. I schooled my face to remain impassive. "I advise you to speak to us. We have notified the Uplifted of your capture; several of them seem quite interested. I'm told an Uplifted Starship left hours ago with information on our pursuit; we have requested Uplifted assistance in your capture and interrogation."

That answered the simple question of how he knew my name. I looked down at my shackles. They were code-locked, with no visible controls, which suited my purposes. The woman was still watching me. I addressed her. "You know why I'm here, don't you?"

He looked at her. She looked back at me steadily. "I don't know, no. I suspect."

"Well then. If you suspect, why did you leave me in these?" I saw the alarm register on her face as she got it, but before she could open her mouth I shouted "STAND AND UNFOLD YOURSELF!" and everything started to happen at once and she was shouting something at the room monitors but the lights had already flickered and gone out and the myriad subliminal sounds of a working structure were dying away with the power cut and I was standing up as the pressor field died and the shackles unlocked themselves obediently and he was going for some kind of weapon so I dealt with him first, a blade hand to the trachea but pulled it short of drowning him in blood and she was running for the door.

The door didn't open for her. She bounced off it, surprised, and I walked up behind her and put her in a quick head lock, blood flow to the brain interrupted, and she slumped. I released her quickly before any damage could occur. Her colleague was making choking noises on the floor, so I walked back over to him and rolled him onto his back and checked his throat. The shock wave in the arteries had stunned him, but he was getting air, breathed in sips through his spasming windpipe. I took the gun from beneath his jacket and examined it. It was a relatively low-tech slugthrower, hard to jam, so I took the ammunition out of it and searched him again and removed three more magazines from his belt.

As I did so, the room lights flckered back up again and a speaker system coughed to life. "You really are subtle, aren't you."

"Welcome back," I said. "How's it going?"

"This is the most appallingly stupid frame I've seen in a long time," groused the Tzun over the room's speakers. "Anyway, everything in the Security system is a mess at the moment, there's corruption all over the place. I'm trying to- ah, there." The door slid back. I tossed the four magazines into the corners of the room and left, taking the man's gun with me and trying to determine how to disassemble it as I walked. I figured out the slide release and the slide mechanism popped off, so I pulled out the slide spring, dropped it and threw the slide one way down the corrider and the rest of the gun the other.

"Which way?" I asked.

"To your left, down five levels. Take the stairs," said the Tzun. "I'll talk to you when you're back in the hallway."

I turned left and jogged down the hall. There were various alarms going by this point. Several people passed me on urgent business, but nobody gave me much of a thought. The Tzun wouldn't have generally released prisoners, so at the moment they probably thought they were just dealing with a systems crash and power cut. The stairs were where the Tzun had said, and the door unlocked as I approached.

When I came out of the stairs five floors lower down, the lights were on and things didn't look nearly as confused. Several Security types were walking in both directions, but they looked more like techs and admins than field agents. I stood against the wall for a moment and looked left, then looked right. As I looked right, an emergency strobe at that end of the hall flashed once. I nodded and started walking in that direction, ignoring the confused looks on those pedestrians that had seen it.

The weapons storage facility was at the end of the hall, behind a very imposing security door which obediently opened for me. I closed it behind me and turned to face the small anteroom and its duty security officer. "Who are you?" he said, standing.

"I'm here to make a pickup," I said pleasantly as the door behind him slid back silently. He didn't notice. Not very observant.

"Where's your ID?" he asked, and then clawed for what looked like a stunner at his side. I let him get the stunner off his belt, then while he was bringing it up I trapped his hand under my left arm and spun into him, twisting the arm over my shoulder and throwing him into his desk. He lost the stunner and started to get back to his feet, struggling in the wreckage, so I spun a sidefist into his temple and he dropped. I stepped through the second door.

"Fifth cabinet on the right," said the Tzun from a speaker in the ruins of the desk. I counted five and swung the proper cabinet open. That's much better, said the Tzun over vibe as the cabinet's shielding swung away. Third shelf. I shoved several boxes aside until I found a clear security box with the Tzun in it and pulled it out of the cabinet. Put me on the table. I did so, and the Tzun waited until I'd stepped back before there was a bright flash and one end of the box blew apart with a resounding CRACK.

I gave it a few seconds, then reached in and pulled the gun out. It was already unfolding itself into a more capable configuration. That feels much better, it said.

"Where's the judas?" I asked.

It's gone. I had it set to slag itself after 64k penetrations, said the gun. I nodded and rummaged around the other gear in the room until I found a shoulder holster that carried the Tzun, even if it didn't hold it properly for fast draw. The magazine that had been shown in the display, the one they'd pulled from the Tzun, hadn't been a magazine at all, really. It had contained a power pack and a few flechettes for form's sake, but mostly it had been a storage unit and a transceiver. In the storage unit had been an elegantly nasty virus, held quiescent by the fact that the magazine was within the Tzun. As soon as they'd pulled the magazine, the restraints had vanished and the virus had started looking for network access. When it found it, it had done two things - hijack processors and hold them ready, and look for the Tzun. When it had opened a network link to the Tzun via the alarm and monitoring systems in the storage cabinet, the Tzun had flooded out into the building systems and waited for me to arrive. The magazine had self-destructed, job completed.

"Okay, let's get the hell out of here," I said.

You are on the seventh subsurface level, the Tzun said. I recommend using the stairs.

"You think?" I snorted. On the way out, I unclipped the ID badge from my victim at the desk, traded jackets with him and clipped the ID to the jacket pocket. Making my way upstairs, I blended with the flow of more-concerned looking Security, avoiding the level I'd left and averting my face as I went past it, before coming out a stairway door into the lobby. "Where do they think I am?"

I have the system telling them you're holed up in weapons storage, said the gun. They're responding to that now. I've been falsifying surveillance images of you. They haven't sealed the building yet.

"They're really out of practice, aren't they?" I muttered.

It's a bit sad, really, said the gun.

With my partner snugged under my jacket, I waved my wrist at the scanner and the Tzun spoofed the chiplant signature of the guard from downstairs. The exit gate opened, and I walked quietly out into the night air.

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