Hats off to Eight Nineteen

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Hats off to Eight Nineteen (Terminal 0)

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the autocrat's tale
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Nicodeem, lord apparent of Onlai and junior autocrat, shivered in the easterly
wind.  he tugged at his cloak absently and scanned the street a second time,
turning his back into the wind and wrapping all four arms around his narrow
chest.  Nicodeem hunched his shoulders and tried to hide his nearly three meters
of height in the lengthening shadows.  he stared back down the ancient
thoroughfare, thick with lush green moss and clutchweed blowing in the wind.
the wispy, rootless plants wavered this way and that, pulled by the constant
breeze: sometimes southerly, sometimes northerly, but always to the east.

there was a skittering of dust in the oblong opening of what might have been a
door for whatever creatures had built the ruins, and Nicodeem flicked a pair of
silvered specs down over his eyes, blinking as the light polarized and the
street sharpened suddenly.  it was the poly.

it never ceased to amaze the junior officer how the poly managed, despite his
squat, clumsy legs and huge, bulbous skull, to leap unerringly from stone to
stone.  Nicodeem reached with a lower hand to the inside pocket where he kept
the pistola and slipped long, delicate fingers into the grip.  never could be
too careful with the thetes, especially the polys_they were unsound, and usually
addled in the skull, too.  but so far Murgo had been very reliable.

in the crisp filter of the specs, he could pick out the object for which the
effort and money of the last few weeks had been daringly spent, a thin,
reinforced, tranparent tube containing no more than two fingers of a pale,
yellowish syrup.  but if the syrup, when analyzed, proved to be the serum that
was proof against the lues plague, and poison against the luetic infestation
that had been crawling up from the ruins every night, Nicodeem's promising
career in the assembly was secure for all time.

he raised one thin arm and stepped out of the shadows, waving the poly on, while
tracking him with the specs and the snub nose of the pistola from beneath his
cloak.  a few minutes later, he'd closed the 50 meters between them with a
bounding stride and was examining the tube nervously in the light of the poly's
lamp.  he handed over the agreed sum and ruffed the misshapen head, not seeing
Murgo's sullen, embarassed glare at the familiarity.  he tucked the tube safely
away and asked about the factor who'd been carrying it: he'd bribed several
layers of secretaries in the office of a prominent autocrat to get the

he'd discovered a lone factor, the black robed priests of Aglaia and all the
known cities, hand carrying a small container of medicine: nothing out of the
ordinary about the ministrations of a country factor, seeing to the thetes and
polys working the fields.  but this factor was from off city, lately of Plataea.
the information that Nicodeem had paid so dearly for was this_the factor had
arrived from Plataea, but not before the Vaan attack that burned the city to ash
and sent its people scattering.  this factor had arrived secretly, after the
Vaan had taken the city and sent it spinning upwind, into the starved altitudes
where they flitted their twisted lives; never touching solid ground except to
raid and burn.

but what Nicodeem had ferretted out, was a plot, scarcely believable, that the
factors themselves let the plague run rampant on Aglaia, the better to weaken it
and put the city of Ithaca on the rise.  if his informers were right, the serum
was destined for a secret clave of factors hidden in the wilds outside the city,
and was proof from the spore infection which followed every encroachment by the
luetic creatures.

the greened, weathered tiles dimpled twice, sending dust and cracked mortar into
the air before Nicodeem jumped and realized he was being shot at.  the poly had
already rolled away and was running for the door_Nicodeem yelped and yanked the
trigger of the pistola, shredding his cloak and felling Murgo with a staccatto
burst.  Murgo squirted blood and struggled to one knee, whipping a monoblade
around and facing the shadow standing in the door.

Nicodeem blinked, staring at the slug-gun poised in the figure's hand, realizing
the sub-sonic bullets had come not from the poly, but from the figure in the
door, who had been watching the whole transaction.  a wisp of smoke trailed up
from the maw of the gun and Nicodeem collapsed in a heap, clutching his head.  a
pool of blood began collecting on the cold, basalt tiled floor by the side of
the poly, as the figure lept through the door way and rifled the pockets of the
dead youth, pulling the tube out and sighing with satisfaction.

Murgo grunted in pain, feeling the flechettes twist deep in his thigh as he
looked for an escape.

the assailant brushed the dust off the black fabric of his factor's robe and let
his hood slide down off his head.  an auburn mane of thick hair twirled lazily
in the eddies kicked up by the brief battle.  he threw back his robe and rested
a pair of hands on his hips, keeping the slug gun trained on the wounded poly
with another.  his fourth hand, his high left, crept gracefully into a pocket
and patted the tube of serum thoughtfully.

"okay, poly," the voice was a reedy tenor, "you're going to tell me who this
was," he prodded the autocrat's body with a long, sandaled foot.

"then you're going to tell me whatever made you think you could get away with
crimes against the faith.  and then," he opened a small aluminum valise and
gazed lovingly at the clamps and tubes arranged inside, "I'll find out if any of
it was true."
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