I tossed Pkstzk’s letter onto my couch and carried my travel case into the office. After offloading my compad and grooming kit, I decided not to take any chances, and unpacked Rtrtr as well.
Stalking back into the front room,
I moved the offending envelope onto the floor and blasted it with Rtrtr’s
lowest setting. Destroy the
evidence. Burn the writer, by
proxy. The resulting fire left a
charred mark on the plasticrete, but the property damage was worth it. I felt a little better for indulging my
need my best frenzy management strategies to deal with Pkstzk and her
troubles. Even if she stayed
well-behaved – and that wasn’t guaranteed – there would still be nosy
constables to deal with. The investigation of her mate's death
might stray into old, deep waters. My
past self, a more nervous, trigger-happy self, still lurked about, just waiting
for an excuse to leap forward… or run away.
Swimming backward against time made it easier for younger me to
influence older me.
were a couple of days yet before the next rest day. Lots of time to relax. I was glad I didn’t have to scramble uptown
right away to meet Pkstzk. I’d be able
to let go of my presently agitated state of mind. That was presuming I didn't work myself up more in the meantime.
Despite that concern, I felt like I should do
some background research. I ought to check the history on
Pkstzk and her mate. I could review public records about the murder case. Maybe I'd see what I could find about the old
I already knew that one packmate, Fzpktk, was dead,
killed by constables while resisting arrest.
Rsspkz was in prison for life,
along with Vztrrp. The three of them had
been identified on a job gone bad where sapients died. I wasn’t sure which of them, if any, had
actually killed, but as far as the law was concerned, they were all
guilty of murder.
Tklth had managed to escape the dragnet and made it off-planet. Her trail was cold. While I grabbed a drink and a snack, I
confirmed that absence of information. Her
name turned up nothing on the news media.
She wasn’t listed in any Collective death notices. I sent a query through the constabulary just
in case, using the cover story of research for a client. They might only give me a form response after a day or two, after
skimming the public files.
I already knew that search would come back empty. If I was lucky, the inquiry would
spark some interest, maybe prompt somebody to dig deeper. My search could backfire if someone linked Tklth and
Pkstzk, but that was unlikely. The two females
had despised and avoided one another, and like I said, Pkstzk never worked jobs
with the pack.
I went through the same media searches for Pkstzk, Rsspkz, and Vztrrp,
along with a few other hangers-on who weren’t part of the pack but still associated
with one of us closely: Rsspkz’ siblings Zfzptk (off-planet, asteroid miner)
and Ktchvch (diner cook), and Vztrrp’s childhood friend Ssptkt. That last search turned up an interesting story:
Ssptkt had apparently picked a fight with a Taratumm herd and was now paralyzed
from the neck down. I found nothing relevant to
my current concerns, though.
Nobody seemed to have an easy connection back to Rsspkz. Nobody was an obvious candidate for
him to use to stalk or threaten Pkstzk or her mate. I also didn’t see any indirect links between
any of the old pack mates.
That included me. Back then, I didn't have
any associations outside of the pack, other than my parents and their pack. They moved away and passed away off-planet
after I reached maturity. Anyway, Vislin don’t generally maintain lifelong
genetic family relationships like mammalians tend to. I suspect that the modicum of affection
adult children receive – or adult sibling affection – is a cultural imposition from the
Hrotata and Taratumm. Prehistoric Vislin were likely
more like our evolutionary forbears, kicking young out of the nest to form
their own packs as soon as they could hunt alone.
Pack association is the strongest
relationship in Vislin culture and society, far more important than genetic ties.
I reminded myself of this obvious fact to prepare my defenses. Even mate bonds are secondary to
the pack, although a good pack rarely forces the two allegiances into conflict. Ideally, one mates within the pack and avoids the whole issue.
Research is still trying to
untangle all the ways pack mates bond: chemically, mentally, and maybe
psychically. Those bonds helped us
survive in the past; a pack could make survival decisions and take action
better than any of its component sapients.
Obviously, a coordinated pack hunts better. Pack mates know when one of their own is in
trouble and do whatever is necessary to assist.
The pack bond can even overrule frenzy in ideal circumstances.
Even in modern times, the pack bond
is still a significant asset. The frenzy
control effects can’t be discounted, especially now that there are fewer and fewer places
where you can acceptably vent your anxieties.
Packs that work together produce superior results to mixed-pack work
groups. That truth applies to
intellectual work as much as physical labor, which explains some of the historic
technical and military advantages enjoyed by Vislin.
What all this biopsychology meant was
trouble. I had escaped my old pack
through a combination of chance and idiosyncrasy. I was fortunate to not be involved in that last job, the one that went bad and cost most of the pack their lives or freedom. I was also lucky to be absent when the
constables came to round the others up. Otherwise,
in either case, I might have been caught up against my better judgment. With pack mates present and in trouble – no
matter that it was trouble of their own making – I’d have felt obligated to help
them fight or escape.
Even afterward, if I was ‘normal’ but avoided death or arrest, I’d
have been in the courthouse standing by to help their case. I might have threatened witnesses, destroyed
evidence, even assassinated court personnel if I thought that would help…
presuming I wasn’t jailed or killed first.
Even now, I might have wanted to assist Rsspkz and Vztrrp in prison,
taking their calls and sneaking them contraband. I certainly would have identified, proudly, as
their pack mate, earning me constant constabulary observation.
I am not ‘normal’, thank sun's warmth. When things went bad, I was
actually relieved. I had been having
second thoughts about the pack’s activities for years but didn’t see any way
out. Mine was the voice that encouraged
them away from dangerous, violent jobs and sought opportunities for stealthy,
zero-casualty crimes. I wasn’t any
paragon of virtue, but I did what I could.
Maybe I should give myself credit for finding a strong personal code of
ethics. Moral objections might have been
the counteractive force that weakened my pack bonds. It’s certainly a more comforting theory than
just thinking I’m defective, unable to bond properly or capable of discarding
those bonds for my own convenience.
Where I found a ‘strong personal
code of ethics’, only the Egg-Thief knows.
My parents didn’t teach me much, except how to function socially, keep
myself fed, and to stay in school. Civics was taught in my nursery, but only as a set of dry ideals, not a practical lifestyle. My
pack wouldn’t know an ethic if it burrowed under their scales. I didn’t have a friend, mate, or even
play-mate to teach me right from wrong or look disappointed about my moral
failings. I just somehow came to realize that what the pack was doing
Not at first, either. When I first joined up, it seemed
exciting. We were pulling tricks on
society, taking what it couldn’t protect, proving ourselves clever and quick
hunters in a world going soft. We loved
rough, frontier ChtkKttp and our home
town: grim, gritty Layafflr City. Pack
Vzrrk was part of a tradition of lawlessness stretching back to our colonizing
ancestors. We had dreams of scaling the
walls of society and taking our rightful places among the high kleptocracy,
once we had amassed enough wealth to prove ourselves worthy. Our victims were pathetic, weak fools who
couldn’t defend their possessions and so didn’t deserve to keep anything.
In short, I now make a career out
of finding and capturing the type of idiot I used to be. That’s how I understand them so well. It often comes as a revelation to criminals –
especially thieves - that anyone else could be as clever and tough as they
believe themselves to be. I suppose you could
argue that I’m so amazing because of my criminal past; that I’m not really one
of the soft marks of society, unlike the clients I assist because they can’t help
themselves. I think, though, that I’m
smarter and more skilled now than I ever was back when I thought myself better than
I managed to make a clean break
from my foolish youth. I stayed out of
reach and out of contact from my pack until they were safely in prison, in
space, or in the grave. Any urgings I
felt to come to their aid were quashed by my better sense. Maybe I rationalized, at the time, that I
could do more for the pack by staying free and anonymous than I could by sticking close and
getting spattered with their same stink.
Such thoughts might have fooled 'normal' pack-sense for a while. Yet even afterward,
I could deny our bond without much effort.
Someday I’d help them
it would be feasible to step out of the shadows and risk contact. Just keep pushing that someday further into
the future. Until then, I could keep away from temptation and out of trouble.
Apparently, that "someday" was coming
up, two days from now. Pkstzk wasn’t
pack, so I wouldn’t feel those urgings toward her. Different urgings, sure, and I had to be
ready for those feelings, too.
Even so, she was still
linked to the old pack. Helping her
might mean contact with my past pack mates.
Even without direct contact, my motivations and perceptions would still be
influenced by our mutual past. I still felt the pack bond. I wasn’t
that insane, regardless of how my neighbors or clients thought of me. I could just push that bond aside better
than most. I had to hope that if I stayed introspective
and made sure my decisions were rational, I could avoid doing something loyally
Speaking of bonds, I
eventually remembered to look up Pkstzk’s dead second mate. I found both their public mating certificate and the record of
his death. The stiff was named Vzktkk. From the little I could find, he sounded
pretty dead even when he was alive.
Accountant… what a terrible job for a Vislin. Office worker. Low income, likely working his way up. Liked to play space fighter sims. When that’s the highlight of your obituary,
you did something wrong in life. Not
like me. I’m sure my death record will
be spectacular, a tribute to my wonderfully varied existence, capped off with
an explosive ending. Yeah, not boring
like poor Vzktkk.
I suspected this guy’s herbivorous
lifestyle was what had attracted Pkstzk. He
was safe, a refuge after the wild ride with Rsspkz. He wasn’t too bad looking, either, judging
from the pictures on record. Probably
would have been a great provider for her and their young. That was a shame; she deserved that
stability. Knowing Pkstzk, though, she probably had been chewing her claws off from boredom. Back with the old pack, she had enjoyed most of the craziness, at least until things turned bad and bloody. It was the messy ending that scared her
off. We had that in common as well.
Frost, to be honest, most of my
current life is pretty boring. It just
gets punctuated with moments of deadly hazard and occasional frenzy. I wasn’t as good looking as Vzktkk. I was certainly
poorer on most days. Plus, the guy had
gone out with a blast.
cause of death was listed as homicide, but the obituary didn’t go into any
details. A news article on the crime
only elaborated that Vzktkk was found dead, shot once through the head with a
laser, on a side street in central Layafflr City. There were no witnesses and no evidence on the scene. The murder was thought to be a mugging or fly-by shooting or maybe a random act of pointless
violence. These things happened. Constabulary investigating.
The article was dated from only a week ago. Not much time had passed
since Pkstzk’s visit, maybe between one and six days depending on how long she
waited before seeking me out. I didn't find
much else to go on. Even the news
article didn’t name the neighborhood, much less the street or address where
Vzktkk was found. The time of discovery
and time of death were omitted. That
suggested that facts were being kept out of circulation by constabulary
On some worlds, such 'requests' wouldn’t
matter to the media, but the press on ChtkKttp was conditioned to keep on the constabulary’s
good side. The government could still
wield the law as a bludgeon against troublesome publications, if it chose. Keeping the constables happy
also meant easier access to information… when they chose to provide any.
I wasn’t bound by such friendly
agreements. I’d get the details
myself. The first step was to see
Pkstzk, hear what she had to say and figure out what she knew. That was the logical choice, right? I wasn’t just being influenced by my own
desire to see her again. I was fairly
sure both motivations were involved. I’d
just keep it professional and not get personally involved. That resolution always works (it never works).
I had two days to
fill. What was I going to do with myself
in the meantime, if I wasn’t out scrounging for leads? Sit around the nest, hunting around the
networks? Play space fighter sims? Go tempting fate and take a walk around my
neighborhood? There weren’t many options
if I was trying to hold onto my saved credits.
Even a public aircar to take a walk in a ‘safer’ uptown park cost a bit. Actual recreation could take a
chunk out of my finances.
Just thinking about it was wearing
me out. Between my post-vacation depression,
travel lag, and the thought of enforced downtime, I was getting tired. I stripped off and curled up in my nest for a
nap. I'd just sleep for a couple of cycles, to refresh
myself before dinner and decision time.
I woke up the next morning,
confused and then irritated. Well, that
was one day down.