I returned to awareness through layers of emotion. The first was aggravation, due to protests from my abused body. Second was relief that I was waking up at all. Third was confusion and discomfort from finding myself lying on pavement, staring up at young Vislin faces and the tops of buildings. The last layer was a mixture of gratitude for my rescue and appreciation that at least one of my saviors was rather nice to look at. She was… Vstktrr? Vstkrt? Something like that.
She was also part of a pack who’d
never bothered to give me their name, despite living in the same building, only
two floors above. I hadn’t tried hard to
get to know them, either. Like I
said earlier, we usually only meet our neighbors during times of crisis.
Blended into the emotional mix was
guilt: regret that I was the cause of their troubles that day. Granted, I was also the main sufferer of
those troubles, but none of us was likely sleeping at home that night. Plus, their apartment and belongings would have smoke damage and they'd be
smelling the stench for cycles to come.
wondered how much I had left. My real items of value were mostly outside of the
apartment: my compad, which had come out with me in its carry-case, and my
heater, which was in a constabulary evidence locker. I regretted the loss of my hand-carved wooden
desk, particularly since it was my hand that carved it, along with the
accompanying chair. And my coffee
table. And my living-room chair. Most of my furniture, actually.
I wanted to cry, then wondered if
that would look pathetic in front of Vstkrt.
Maybe she liked vulnerable types?
The moment passed in a haze of conflicting priorities.
I thought then of my other item of value: my
drugs. I looked around as best I could
from my prone position.
These were my kinds of kids; they
figured out what I was looking for right away.
“We picked up your medicines on the
way out,” one of the males told me. “You
look like you needed them… even before that explosion.”
I tried my voice and found it
functional. “You read that right. Thank you…”
“Rptrkch,” he supplied, “Pack
Tksshs. We live above you.”
“I’ve seen you around,” I
acknowledged, “Thank you, Rptrkch… Pack Tksshs.
I appreciate you rescuing me and my
meds. Could I have one of the blue ones,
The female ratcheted open the
correct bottle and handed me a large blue pill.
She looked at the label with unashamed interest while another of the
males helped me up enough to swallow.
The fourth of their number, a third male, handed me a sports bottle full
of electrolyte solution.
“Good stuff,” Vstkrt said, praising
the painkiller directly. “I guess
whatever’s under those bandages is serious.”
“More serious than what’s outside
of them, thanks to Ktktrz’ fast claws,” I agreed with rare, genuine piety. I swore by my family totem-goddess frequently,
but usually for ironic effect.
The male who was holding me up was
an upright youth. He nodded and echoed,
“Thanks to Her.” I didn’t know if he
meant we shared totems or he was just paying respect to mine. Either way, such sentiments were unusual in
the City, particularly in our neighborhood.
Vstkrt stuck to her area of
interest. “That was your apartment that
blew up, wasn’t it? But you came home from the hospital. Someone trying to kill you, detective?”
Why was it always the females? Supposedly, Vislin weren’t that different in
temperament across genders, but I always got more trouble from females. Maybe the answer was in the questioner; I treated them differently, after
all. The fact that I also provoked Hrotata
and Taratumm females disproportionately might or might not be related.
I braced my back against the
building where I had slumped earlier, still holding onto the sport bottle. My expression of genuine pain helped hide my
discomfort at her question, although it reinforced her reasons for asking
it. I took another swig of the briny athletic
drink before handing the container back.
It gave me a moment to think about my answer.
I decided to start with
honesty. “It seems so. Twice now in two days. First time, some commandos shot at me. I guess when that didn’t work,
they set me up a homecoming present."
The stares I got in return were
worth the confession. Hey, if I couldn’t
be young and attractive, I could be old and experienced. In reality, detective work is mostly
boring. Some of my competitors are
scrawny, pale clerks. The dashing, buff,
martially-trained PI is a rare creature outside of entertainment. Still, there are some moments I would like to be more
athletic, not to mention dashing. Besides
being more fun, those traits would make my job easier. I’d settled for being canny and tough
enough to survive, then flaunting my scars.
I had plenty to flaunt right then. I could feel the skin tightening beneath the
scales of my face and hands. I’d be
fortunate if I only lost a few scales. It
actually didn’t hurt too badly, just a dull burning like too much sun.
Rptrkch was the first to
react. He asked, “Should we be
concerned… I mean, more than just about the bomb in our building?”
“I doubt it. Especially if they think they succeeded. I should disappear for a bit. The constables are already searching for the
guys who shot me… hopefully they’re the same ones who did this or know who did
I added the last part to reassure
the pack-mates that I wasn’t working alone. Nope, I was going through official channels
and everything, like a good citizen.
Kkk, I’m a chilling fraud sometimes.
“Well… good,” the male with the
drink bottle said. “None of us is
getting back inside tonight. The fire crew
should be here soon, right? I’ll need to
get my ident if we’re renting a room.”
Vstkrt clacked at him. “If they don’t find us emergency shelter,
I’ll file a complaint myself. We’re
victims of a criminal act. That
qualifies for assistance, as does the fire.”
Rptrkch groaned. “Our insurance is going to explode, too. We’re already paying back half of what we saved by
living here on the theft premiums alone. Now
we’ve got a fire claim…”
Vstkrt cut him off:
“Seriously? You’re budgeting now? Priorities go in this order: immediate
crisis, potential threats, then
While I make it sound like they
were arguing, the sense was more like a series of in-jokes, although more drawn
out and strained by the stress of the situation. I was seeing a pack in its formative years,
when the members weren’t quite integrated into a comfortable whole, both enjoying
and straining against their tightening bonds.
For my Pack Vzzrk, that formative period also had
involved the occasional bombing, although in a different way. We were usually the ones setting the bombs,
not for murder but for arson or just a night’s entertainment.
This was a very different kind of
pack and very different kids. I felt
terrible mixing their world with mine. Still,
they’d have an interesting story to tell their families and lesser
We all recognized
that the emergency responders were being slow to respond. Ours was a low-priority neighborhood. We’d never get ignored, but the fire
department and medical crews never seemed to feel the same urgency to respond
to the fringes as they did when reports came from further inside the
City. With callers saying a bomb had gone
off, they’d be even less enthusiastic about showing up early.
I took advantage of the delay to
catch my breath, then use it to make a request: “Ttt, Tksssh, could I ask a
favor? I haven’t talked to the client on
my current case since I got shot. Given this
mess, I’d like to make sure she’s all right.
If I’m here when the authorities arrive, I’ll be held up for treatment
and questioning. They can collect me
there just as easily as here. Could I
possibly ask you to bring a ‘car around so that I can fly to her place, first?”
Rptrkch looked uncertain, while
Vstkrt seemed to be considering my request.
The third male, the one I could see, looked agreeable, like he bought
what I was selling. And I was selling. Lying, actually. I had no idea where to find Pkstzk. Even if I did, I wouldn’t go straight to
her. I also didn’t want to be questioned
by the constables, period. I did want a place to crash; not a
client’s home, but some anonymous flop.
I had one lodging in in mind, in particular:
one already searched in my compad, related to my current case, and close to
someone I wanted to check on. That
private building in Isstravil might not have a reservation for me, but I had
enough credit to potentially overrule that problem.
Finally, Vstkrt clicked her
agreement. “If we said no, you’d
probably try to go anyway and hurt yourself worse. Still, leave us the address? That way, if something happens to you on the
way, we can let the constables know where to look for the body.”
Such a cheerful youth. I had to agree with her, though. “Kzk Tsstkt, in Isstravil. I don’t remember the number, but it’s next to
the computer store.”
Rptrkch trotted off right away,
likely bound for the aircar station a few blocks down. These really were good kids. I regretted that I hadn’t talked to them
before, under better circumstances. I
regretted, again, causing them trouble. Last
of all, I regretted abusing their trust to pursue my own goals. At least I wouldn’t be endangering them
further by sticking around. For all I
knew, a Mauraug strike team was on its way to demolish the block, just to make
sure I was finished.
That idea was silly, but then, this
entire situation had become absurd. While
I waited for Rptrkch to return with the aircar, my mind went back to the
questions I was considering before I blacked out. Why target me? Who did it help to have
me dead? What was I getting close to that needed
to be kept hidden?
My decision to fly off to Isstravil
had more to it than just a desire for intellectual closure. My need to check on Tskksk was actually
fourth down on the list, just below my need to avoid more official
questions. At the top was a growing,
ignoble but honest anger: I was furious at whoever had blown up my home,
whoever was targeting me and Pkstzk, and whoever was hiding from justice by
I had not been threatened like this
before. I mean, I had been threatened,
but it was usually more direct and specific.
Someone would call, say “drop the case or die”, and maybe explain which
case they meant. Sometimes I
would get a gun or claw waved in my face.
But this… this hunting… this was new.
I was going to Isstravil because
that seemed like somewhere my persecutor would not want me to go. I’d be in
deep trouble with the constables for visiting there, but if I worked quietly
enough they might not find me until I found a lead. I intended to pry harder into the
clues I already had. If I moved into
one of the rental units in the area Vzktkk was visiting, I could talk to the
neighbors while I recuperated and see if one of them recognized his image. I could research Tskksk’s evidence
without pulling her away from her business.
I could even go over the pet import store one more time, if the constables
didn’t have it under guard.
If none of that worked, I might
still provoke the killers again by being seen in the neighborhood. Let them think
I was getting closer. This plan wasn’t
the smartest, safest idea, especially with me unarmed and only partially
mobile, but like I said: I was more angry than rational. Plus, if I didn’t pursue the case now, I’d chew my claws off from
frustration. Safety wasn’t really a
healthy choice, either.
Maybe it's just as well I’ve never
mated and reproduced. I don’t have the
best traits for self-preservation. My
continued survival sometimes seems more like a statistical quirk rather than a
product of personal merit. Even my pack
mates in jail are better off than I am some days. At least they're eating regularly, sleeping
normally, and not exploding.
I remained obediently prone on the
concrete and willed my bloodstream to cycle pain blocking molecules to their
designated nerve receptors. The effort
seemed to be working. While the burns on
my front and the bruises on my back were new contributors to my overall
agony, I didn’t feel more tortured on the whole, compared to the way I’d
felt walking into my building. During and
immediately after the explosion had hurt horribly, just like being shot had
burnt and stung, but once I recovered from the initial trauma, it seemed
like my mind established an upper threshold upon the pain it would report. My new hurts only averaged into that
pool, rather than piling up atop it.
Once again, from prior experience,
I knew that the reverse was usually the case.
Every new injury added to the whole, and there was no upper limit, at least not until shock knocked me unconscious or
frenzy overrode the torment.
Or a new, more painful injury could become the focus of
attention, if it surmounted the current high point. But the idea that I had developed a cap on my
sensation of pain was unbelievably ideal.
Maybe it was the drugs. Rather than
just lowering the overall sensation of pain, this prescription somehow held the mix at a
manageable level. While I’d prefer total
obliviousness, there were medical advantages to such an effect. I could remain more aware and avoid worsening
my injuries. I wouldn’t be fooled into
thinking I’d healed more than I actually had.
At the same time, I could balance out the multiple injuries and not worsen
one area while trying to favor another.
Well, good on Vaktrri Medical,
again. It might have been nice if they
told me they were prescribing me something other than the standard narcotics,
but I’d accept the gift nonetheless.
the time Rptrkch returned in the rented aircar, I surprised everyone by standing
up. Now that I understood that my pain
was limited to a certain level, I wasn’t sparing myself. As long as I didn’t actually fold up and
fall, I was all right.
Not once did it occur to me, at
that time or earlier, that I might be recovering
from my injuries faster than normal.
Like at the hospital, I expected neither my natural fortitude
nor medical science to spare me a standard recovery time. Instead, I ascribed my seemingly miraculous functionality to the wounds having been less serious than originally thought.
Call it luck or call it reflex, but I had avoided a broken back, serious burns, or shrapnel impalement from the booby
trap. Maybe the same fortune had spared me earlier. The idea that something else was
manipulating my luck hadn’t yet arrived, even after my series of
ridiculously minimal gunshot wounds.
No, at the time I just hoped that
I’d keep going long enough on chemicals and pure force of will to learn
something useful before I was forced to collapse and recover. I pulled myself into the aircar seat with a
little help from my new friends. I
waited until the lid closed before giving the destination address. Not that I didn’t trust my young pack of
neighbors, but what they didn’t know they couldn’t reveal by accident… to the constables
or to my hunters.
The aircar soared away. I took advantage of the travel time to catch
some actual sleep. No further
philosophical questions or hypotheses troubled me during the flight.
An automated chime woke me in
Isstravil. I spilled out of the ‘car,
blinking and stretching, only belatedly realizing how bad an idea it was to
strain my back. My body distinctively reported each of
its various insults. I took another blue pill, swallowing it dry.
Trying not to look even more
conspicuous, I checked the building where I had been deposited. It was the right address. The unassuming apartment block was older than
my own building but in better repair.
Given that maintenance and its preferable location, the rent was likely
half again what I normally paid. I was
about to find out.
I walked around to the front
entrance and tapped the comm request button on the entry pad. After a few hectads, an answering chime
acknowledged my signal and connected an audio line. I heard a rough voice, probably Taratumm by
the accent, answer, “Your business?”
“Looking for a short-term
residence. Do you have a unit
available?” I kept my replies short,
simple, and quick, hoping my interrogator would assume whichever interpretation
was most appropriate for the situation.
“We do. You have credit and ident?” the voice rasped,
worse even than a Taratumm speaking the K’khztk dialect.
“Of course. My last place was too cheap; I just barely survived a fire there.” I
figured they could see me, so I provided a thin cover story for my obvious
injuries. “I’ve decided to look for
something better while I wait on the insurance case.” There we are, a reason to seek lodging on
short notice and a promise of future
income, meaning assured rent payments. I
may not be a paragon of honesty, but at least I have a talent for keeping my stories simple.
“All right. I’ll show you what we have, but minimum is
three cycles, all paid up front.”
There went my entire credit
account. At least I’d have a comfortable
home while I starved to death. Yes,
there’s food assistance in Layafflr City, just like any civilized Great Family
settlement. But you have to register for
it, which means showing up in person and providing an address, both of which
went against my current purposes. Hiding from the constables meant going hungry. I’d have
to bend my personal ethics a bit and either beg, borrow, or steal a little credit,
at least until this case was finished and its dangers eliminated.
The entry pad chimed again, three times,
which I correctly interpreted as a signal that it was unlocked. I opened the door and stepped into a lobby of convincing faux stone. The carvings were too regular to be anything
but mass produced pressings, but the overall effect wasn’t bad. The smell was even pleasant: moisture and
limestone and warm grasses. Somewhere
inside the ventilation system was a scent synthesizer, a bit of comfort for
tenants coming home. I wished that I was
actually moving in long-term.
A side door opened up and an
elderly, hunched Taratumm emerged. He –
or she – was at that age where it became difficult to distinguish gender. Usually female Taratumm are noticeably more massive,
but some females lose weight as they get older and some males put it on. I decided I didn’t need to know and mentally
defaulted to female.
“Her” voice was just as grinding in
person as it had been over the circuit. She
welcomed me: “Let’s see the ident.”
I tried not to wince, either at her
demand or at my aches, as I withdrew my ident card and presented it for inspection. She produced a compad and waved the card over
its reader. The ‘pad’s screen lit up
with an image of my face, younger and less battered. She compared the scan with my current
appearance and grunted, apparently satisfied.
The ‘pad could now also inform her that I was self-employed, give her my
former address, and produce a background file listing any public offenses. There was plenty on that list – even without my publicly unknown offenses – to give
a landlord pause.
She didn’t seem immediately put
off, though. That was good; if I had the
right idea about this place, a few misdemeanor convictions shouldn’t disqualify
me from residency. Frost, she might not
care if I had a murder charge and prison time, so long as my credit
“Follow me. I’ll show you the open unit,” she directed,
shuffling toward elevator doors tucked into the backside of the lobby.
I obeyed. After she pressed the call button, the doors
opened, and I squeezed into the too-small car next to her. She didn’t bother with small talk, which was
a blessing. At this range, she smelled
like seaweed and cheese; I could only imagine how much her breath might reek up
The elevator spilled us out onto the
third floor landing. I squirmed out as best as
my limp would allow, jumping at the reprieve from elderly-Taratumm odor. The landing was a basic small foyer with four
doors: one for the stairwell, one for a utility closet, and two for hallways
leading to the individual apartments.
Grandmother Friendly turned to the
left and I followed. She opened the hallway door
with a small stick key, rather than a card, then continued into the hall. We went past three doors, ending up in front
of apartment 309. She was just reaching
down to unlock that door when my compad signaled an incoming call.
Pkstzk. I recognized the number as soon as I looked
at the screen. Great for her to call;
lousy timing to talk.
I waved my ‘pad toward the foyer
and explained, apologetically, to the landlady: “Friend checking up on me after
the accident. I’d better let her know I’m
“Make it quick. I need to get back downstairs,” she
I retreated while tapping the ‘pad
to accept the call. Pkstzk’s face
appeared along with her voice. Her
appearance was welcome, even if her words weren’t.
“Why are you calling me?” she
demanded, sounding more annoyed than afraid.
“I understand the situation has gotten more complex, but that’s even
more reason to avoid unnecessary contact.”
I cut off whatever she was going to
say next. “You don’t even know half of
it.” I dropped my voice to a
near-whisper. “After I called you, my
apartment exploded.” Even being quiet, I
couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be overheard, so I didn’t say someone tried to blow me up with a bomb.
She looked absolutely furious, but
when she spoke, her voice dripped with concern. “Why… why would that
happen? Who would want to hurt you? Where are you now?”
“Finding a new home. The old one is a mess. Look, I can be overheard here. Real fast: the constables know I'm working
on your mate’s case. They officially
warned me off. If anyone asks, that’s
why I called: to let you know I’m done.
But I’m not. I’m working on an
idea now. I still need to know what you
know, but I’ll have to work out a way we can meet without being noticed. I’ll let you know when I’m settled.”
She protested, “Tell me what you
know… what you can. I might know who was
waiting for me at Taburket’s, and why, but I don’t want to bias your ideas.”
I was spared a response by the
landlady’s bellow: “Hey, Unlucky! You
coming? I don’t have long… I could die
while you keep me waiting.”
I looked back her direction,
exaggerating the gesture for Pkstzk’s benefit.
“Like I said, not just now. I’ll
call again soon, I promise.”
I could practically hear Pkstzk’s
beak grinding from frustration. After a
hectad, she spat out, “Fine. But don’t
keep me waiting long. I want to know what you know about Vzktkk.”
Not: Who killed Vzktkk? Not: Who tried to kill me… and you? Her phrasing troubled me. At the time, I interpreted the feeling as
disappointment at my once-beloved’s callousness. I covered up my dismay by hanging up the
“Sorry!” I called down the hall as
I headed back.
The landlady's crumpled bulk was propped
against the wall of Apartment 309 when I entered.
It wasn’t a bad space, actually.
The area wasn’t much more than in my former apartment, but it was laid
out better, with less space wasted in the main room and more allotted to a
separate nesting room. The kitchen
appliances were more recent, and I suspected the bathroom was less decrepit, as
well. The walls showed signs of age, but
this was a mixed curse: while decaying, they also had more character than the
cheap extrusion cement of the tenements.
Actual plaster friezes in floral patterns merged the walls to the floor
and ceiling, and colored stain formed pleasant blobs of natural color
I nodded, needing little effort to
look pleased at what I saw. I was
basically arranging long-term hotel lodgings, so I could do much worse. If I wasn’t restricted by my geographical
needs, I would have chosen worse to
keep from emptying my credit account, all at once.
I made a show of looking into the
bathroom and walking the apartment’s perimeter, surveying the view from the one
small window, turning the taps and generally pretending to check for
flaws. In the meantime, my host didn’t
move, other than to shift slightly in place, rasping her age-roughened scales
against the wall.
“Well?” she finally burped.
“It looks good,” I admitted. “A little small, but all right for short
“Small?” she scoffed, “I saw the address where
you were living. This is a palace by
Frosted old-time local. She had area knowledge I could only dream of
acquiring, someday. So she knew my
neighborhood. That was a possible hazard
for my anonymity, not to mention my bargaining position. At least I hadn’t planned to negotiate
I waggled my crest a little,
feigning embarrassment. “True. But since the insurance will be paying, I had
hoped to find someplace nicer.”
“And if you abuse that benefit,
they’ll drop your payments,” she warned, with the cynical wisdom of someone
experienced in petty frauds.
“I suppose so,” I sighed. “What are you asking, since we’re at that
“Nine hundred a cycle. Half that for cleaning deposit; you get it back
if you do the cleaning. Three cycles up
front, six cycles minimum lease.” Her
recital suggested she could read me the entire lease contract from memory.
I kept up the first few dance steps
just so she wouldn’t think anything was strange. Kkk, anything else besides my appearance and
story, at least.
“Nine hundred? Thirty-one-fifty all together? That’s tough; that’s most of my savings. Could you leave me a couple hundred for the
week and I’ll catch it up later?”
She was just lowering her head in
negation of my offer when my compad chimed again.
This time the caller was Tskksk.
I glanced down then up again, looking as apologetic as I could.
“Another friend? Good to have friends,” she grunted. “Go ahead, but the price is fixed. Say yes or say no when you are done there.”
She heaved herself upright and
started toward the door. “Lock it behind
you. I will be in the office. If you agree, bring your credit chip and I’ll
trade you for the key.”
I missed the initial call, but
called Tskksk back as the landlady’s steps retreated back toward the elevator.
She started talking first, as her
image appeared. “I caught the caller
“Sss, what? What’s that?”
I couldn’t decipher her statement at first.
“The one from the recording? The calls right before and after your client’s…
your client’s mate’s death? I set my
security program to notify me if any signals matched that one.”
I was once again torn between the
urge to propose mateship and employment.
Instead I said, “So you can do that?
And you got a match? When?”
“Just now. A decad or so. Well, it’s half a match. The incoming half. Whoever called the person who was here in
Isstravil just called someone else – someone different – but near the same
I still wasn’t getting the message
clearly. “Slow down for the
elderly. You mean someone in this
neighborhood just got a call from the same person who called the possible
shooter?” My blood started to warm from
fear. I didn’t know if I should be
concerned for my safety. Had the unknown
enemy tracked me to Isstravil?
“Slow down, yourself. You’re nearby? How close?”
Tskksk asked, sounding pleasantly surprised.
“At an apartment building down the
street. It’s a long story, but I needed
someplace new to live and figured I’d move closer to the job. Are you at work? I’ll head that direction once I’m done
here. Oh, just so you know, this is all
unofficial now. That constable detective
you talked to, Nrissilli, wants me off the murder case. So we’re just talking out of personal concern…
checking on each other’s well-being.”
She didn’t respond for a long
couple of hectads. Finally, her head
cocked to the side and one eye scanned my image, probably taking in my singed scales
and dilated pupillary slits.
“Are you okay?” she asked slowly, “Should I be concerned?”
“No, I'm not, and yes, you should,” I answered with plain
honesty. “But hopefully not much of either. Keep your involvement with me and this case
private from anyone you can’t completely trust.” I didn’t tell her to "tell no one"; if she did
have bonded pack, she’d want to let them know about any possible danger, even a
“I’ll tell you more in person,” I
finished weakly. “I understand if you’d
rather have that meeting somewhere other than your place of business.”
“No,” she waved me off, “I feel
safer here than anywhere else. I can
block surveillance and throw down the security gates if I have to.”
“Not what I meant, but thanks,” I
replied. “All right, keep scanning the
waves and we’ll compare notes soon.” I
hung up before she could say anything else foolish.
Young, resourceful, and braver than
she was cautious. That combination was
familiar, but lacked my early disregard for the welfare of other
sapients. No, she was going to get
herself hurt trying to help someone – namely, me – rather than trying to rip
Lately, I was meeting a lot of
surprisingly noble characters. Even the
crusty old landlady seemed to be gruff for show but decent underneath. The bartender at Kzztkrt Tk who cared so much about Pkstzk, his coworker. The cheery nurse and skittish but competent
doctor at Vaktrri Medical. My neighbors in
the pack upstairs. Even Detective
Nrissilli wasn’t so bad, despite our inevitable professional conflict.
This rare surplus of worthies
contrasted sharply with the anonymous villains who had tried to shoot and then
detonate me, who had shot Vzktkk, and who might still be stalking me and
know much about Vzktkk yet, whether he fell into the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ category
or was a normal, slightly selfish neutral like most of us. Pkstzk clearly fell into that latter category along
with me. We wanted justice
but weren’t going to limit ourselves to purely moral lines of action.
mused, I left the apartment, locked the door as instructed, and then took the
elevator down. I returned to the rental
office and signed paperwork with some further perfunctory griping about the
price. Then I presented my credit chip,
which rested on the landlady’s ‘pad while it scanned my biodata. She handed me the stick key to my new home,
purchased at the cost of everything I had left the world minus the armor on my
back and the compad in my carrier.
had my life, too. I supposed that alone
was a fair deal. I wouldn’t
actually be getting any insurance payments, but I planned to extract
satisfaction from the scales of my prey.
Once this case started to reveal its secrets, I looked forward to ruining the lives
of some criminals as much as they had ruined mine. Vzktkk’s killer, my attackers, and anyone else
connected to them, they would suffer… legally, of course. I might be able to collect damages, but that
was unlikely. Really, my only likely profit would
be Pkstzk’s gratitude. Plus, I
still needed to know if the case had any connections to Pack Vzzrk I needed to
bury… otherwise my life could still get worse.
the office, not bothering to explain to my new landlady why I wasn’t going
straight upstairs to collapse. If she
had asked, I would have said I still needed to buy a nest pad. Actually, I was just walking a few doors down
to Tskksk’s shop. A nap would have been wise, but I had many reasons to delay my rest.
a lead, a real lead. Somewhere nearby
was a potential link to Vzktkk’s killer.
We could triangulate the newer call’s location, especially if the same
caller – or the original recipient – appeared again. If my hunch was right, the local contact would
be found in one of the buildings nearby, possibly the same building I had just
turned out, that hunch was exactly right.
Some of my other assumptions proved dangerously wrong.