Not Our Kind, Darling

by Executrix



When you're twenty years and two months old, it is possible to look good even in the greenish light of a transport café at four in the morning, right after being thrown out of one's lover's flat after a conclusive argument. At that age, a sleepless night accentuates the hollows of the cheeks. The greenish café light casts a magnolia tint on a pale complexion that still retains a bloom, and sets off any unfashionable tangle of long dark hair that has been allowed to stray past coat collar and college scarf.

This was by no means the first flat the young man had been thrown out of at unsociable hours well after curfew. He had already established a modus vivendi. It never took him long to adapt to a new circumstance. First get something to eat, because dinner often gets omitted between the bout of rancorous sex and the quarrel.

He always kept some cash in his pocket for such emergencies. Places like this only took cash. They wouldn't want to alert the authorities to after-hours operations by debiting a bank account. The tram would start running at six. Plenty of time to get back to college, clean up, and get to his eight o'clock lecture.

Despite the lack of immediate emergency, he was a man with problems. There was a balance of a hundred and forty-one credits on his card, twenty-six credits in his pocket, three hundred and ninety credits' worth of textpax to buy for next semester, and the electrical system of his car had packed up again.

Of course he could fix it himself, but that would take time away from studying for exams. Bad exam results would mean termination of his scholarship. If he didn't get a good degree, he'd never get promoted out of Beta-III grade, and he would probably be assigned to some barely terraformed planet at the arse end of nowhere to process VAT forms until hell froze.

Later in life, the situation would have depressed him. At that stage, however, he found reasons for contentment. He still had half-a-dozen American cigarettes left, and three FlameFlowers from the last batch. He wasn't sure about the raspberry flavour. Probably he should have made them pineapple, like the batch before. He put one of the pills under his tongue, and waited for it to kick in.

The teapot was still warm when he touched the side of his hand to it. He poured milk into the thick china mug. As far as he was concerned, tea never really tasted right out of thin china cups. He poured out the tea, and stirred in a couple of spoons of sugar.

When the waitress handed him his plate, he bit into the first chip. It was perfect, cooked to an underlying uniform gold, browned just a little at the edge, cut into a lozenge shape. When you're twenty years and two months old, you can eat as many plates of chips as you like, and at first the susceptible will still wonder if they can get their hands around your waist. (Later, the susceptible will be reassured that they can get their hands around your neck.)

He stared at the next chip. They were fairly uniformly shaped -- the equation to generate a prism with two trapezoidal faces was trivial enough. But what curve would bound the rest of the potato, after the neatly cut chips had been quarried?

The waitress said something he didn't quite catch.

'Pardon?' he asked, and the pretty blonde girl who had just stumbled through the door sniggered. The girl -- she was very young, about fifteen or sixteen -- had tangled long hair. She staggered coltlike on thin legs turned into stilts by extra-high-heeled shoes. She clasped a large red leather purse in one of her hands, and a can of lager in the other. She wore some kind of short sharp evening dress, but it was hard to tell anything else about it because she was wrapped in a greatly oversized black leather jacket.

She leaned over his plate, took a chip and dragged it through the yolk of one of the fried eggs. 'You've put HP Sauce on it,' she said querulously. 'I put tomato sauce on mine.'

'Buy your own plate of chips. Then you can put muriatic acid on them for all that I care.'

'What are you doing out after curfew? I've been to a rave.'

Rich girl naturally, if she got picked up for curfew violations, the record would simply disappear. He had made the record of many of his own infractions disappear, of course, but he had little respect for those who relied on others in this important matter.

The girl waited expectantly for a waitress who would never materialise. 'You've got to go to the counter,' he said. 'Then the waitress will bring your order.'

She went to the counter in a tangle of limbs, tripped back and sat down on the edge of the table. 'You're staring at me. Do you want to get into my pants?'

'Sooner get into your jacket,' he said with a candour that surprised him. 'They don't have any like that in the shops around here, and I couldn't afford it anyway. Whose is it -- brother? Boyfriend? Strict games mistress?'

'My brother's. When I've had something to eat, I'll call him and he'll come and get me in the Range Rover.' She took out her communicator, gazing vacantly at the input stripe. 'What do they call you?'

'Most recently, "bitch" leads the league tables. More generally, Avon.' She waited for him to hold out his identity card. It was no more forthcoming than the waitress.

'I'm Jenna Stannis. My father owns a resin company. We're awfully rich.' With a disconcerting lack of transition, she leaned forward, the jacket almost flopping into his plate. Tenderly, he caressed the smooth leather as he moved it out of the way.

'Are you holding?' she asked.

Although it was no business of hers, he opened up the tin where he kept the cigarettes and pills. 'A couple of FlameFlowers.' She took both of them. What a paragon of chivalry I am, he thought. Giving my last two bombers to a damsel in distress. 'For Christ's sake don't take both of them, you'll blow your head off.'

'Save the other for later, then.' She subsided into a chair. 'Nothing's happening, these are crap. Anyway, they're supposed to be round and green.'

'They're excellent. And it's easier to get this shape of pill blanks than the round ones.'

A little later, she said, 'No, you're right, these are champion. What do you do, make them yourself?'

He nodded.

'I could get a credit apiece for these, off the girls in the Pony Club. Don't know about the raspberry flavour though.'

'I can make sixty at a time. You can have three batches for -- call it a hundred and twenty. Fifty percent profit for you.'

'And what for you? Probably knock them up from a credit's worth of chemicals.'

'Look, if you get caught, they'd just send you to Switzerland to be finished, and me -- to be finished.'

She started to laugh. 'Come for dinner on Friday, that'll drive my mother right round the twist.' She held out her ID card again. 'Aren't you going to swipe it?'

'I'll remember. I have a very good memory.'

'I haven' fact I didn't remember to bring any money.'

Avon sighed a little, as he paid the bill for both of them. Rich girls never remembered to bring any money.



By six forty-five (he took the six o'clock tram), he was climbing over the fence and into the open window in the basement of his dormitory.

'Were you out all night, Kerry? Your bed wasn't slept in.'

Avon sat down on his bed. 'David, the beds in town I haven't slept in are legion. Known for it.'

'You'll get in trouble.'

'Don't worry, the surveillance is less a security system than an initiative test.'

Avon was surprised at how much he liked his roommate. The worst you could say about him was that he had orange-red hair and pasty skin, a girlfriend named Jodie to whom he wrote letters twice a day (couldn't afford calls), that Jodie knitted him Fair Isle jumpers and argyle socks, and that he was reading Agriculture and making little headway at it.

That would normally have been enough to trigger a subtle and extensive campaign of psychological warfare. But something about David's very guilelessness -- which usually would add flame to the fire -- made it impossible to wind him up. He was an enthusiast, like Brian's Welsh corgi. Avon regretted it, a little, when the yappy little bastard came in a bad second in a race with a moving van. Brian, on the other hand, hadn't manifested any redeeming features in the preceding twenty years.

If the photo on David's dresser could be trusted, Jodie had pale blue eyes and fluffy yellow hair like a day-old chick. She also had buck teeth and was plump. Their children would probably be translucent, if there were any risk of their living long enough to have any.

David's one unusual characteristic, and the source of Avon's fascination, was that he was a Christian. The fool persisted in reading religious books (Avon practically had to hang upside down from the ceiling like a bat to keep that out of view of the surveillance cameras). The prize prat even had a small gold cross, on a chain, in an envelope taped to the back of one of his dresser drawers, where it was flagrantly visible merely by checking to see what was taped to the back of his dresser drawers. It was like watching an accident trying to happen. You couldn't look away.

'Can we go for a walk, Kerry? What time's your first lecture?'

'Eight o'clock. Yes, if you want.' The request was surprising, but the nice thing about David was that you didn't have to worry about the lunge, the grope, the seductive entreaty. Restful that way.

A certain amount of privacy could be obtained (for understandable reasons) at the Ag campus, around the swine barns. Avon leaned against the barn wall, lit a cigarette (David didn't smoke, so it was also restful not to have to share precious American cigarettes) and waited.

'It's the most wonderful news, Kerry. Some of our brothers and sisters have a whole box of Bibles and they're going to give them to our church. But the only problem is that... well, naturally they aren't going to mail them. And they're there, and we're here,'re the only person we know who has personal transportation. They're probably going to make you get rid of it, so we have to do this soon.'

'I've got a barely operable car and a strong desire to see my twenty-first birthday.'

'But you want to do the Lord's work, don't you? You went to church with me, and you seemed to be interested.'

'David, I went with you once. And I was interested because it was illegal. I'd probably go to a sheep-shagging competition, once.'

'Have to be a sheep-shagging competition, though. Solo performance, you wouldn't bother. Anyway, we can pay you lots of money.'

This, Avon thought, I have got to see. 'How much?'

'The whole church had a collection! Sixty-five credits!'

It was almost worth it for the pure gormless idiocy. 'Where and when am I supposed to do this?'

'Friday, a field near Preston Magna. It's about thirty-seven kilometres from here.'

And Jenna's house was more or less in the middle. Pills up, Bibles back, get paid at both ends. 'All right, but I'll have to work out the transport.'



Seeing a Federation staff car parked outside the door is seldom cause for celebration, but Avon couldn't have been happier. David would certainly hail it as a miracle. He opened the door, kissed his mother on the cheek, and took himself and duffel bag in the direction of the washing machine.

'Don't forget to separate out the white things.'

'There aren't any, Mum, everything's black.'

'What about the underwear?'

'That too.'

'How do you know when it's clean?'

'Because I know when I washed it...' Hopeless. This had been going on for years. 'Where's Tel?'

'Swimming practice. He's their number-one diver and number-two man in the butterfly.'

The tall young man with close-cropped sandy curls looked up. 'And here, over in the corner, being ignored, is the newly promoted Second Lieutenant Brian Avon, home on three days' leave.' Yes, Avon thought, that's perfect. We have a result.

'Oh charming. Promoted for serving the Vice Admiral in a liaison capacity?' You could always wind Brian up, it was so easy that it was hardly worth it. But habit exacts its price.

'No, for honourably serving my country doing a man's job. Which you might know something about if you didn't have that girlie haircut to go with that girlie name.'

'Complain to Mum about the name, and I like the haircut.'

'If you can't cut it, at least you could comb it. People start to talk, you know.'

'And that's bad for an ambitious young man like you. You've got nothing to worry about, though. I'm not political, just insubordinate.'

Jean Avon sighed. 'I keep wishing that I had my boys all together again. Then you lot come in here and give me a bracing infusion of reality. Kerry, you're just nothing like the other two.'

'Don't go too far with that, Mum, it doesn't cast the best light on you.'

'Nonsense, you were just like your Dad.' Families. Three tall ones, with light curly hair; two shorter dark ones. Two sons with cabinets full of sports trophies. One who independently discovered his father's tactic (join the cross-country team, you can bunk off for three hours every Wednesday afternoon) and sat on the hillside, downloading the same science fiction stories to the same communicator that his father had used more than thirty years before.

Three sons who loved and liked their father, but never wanted to duplicate his life of papers pushed, worn-out cardigans, thinning hair and thickening waistline. They certainly didn't want to drop dead, at fifty-one, while pushing a lawnmower. They agreed about that, squabbled over everything else.

For at least fifteen years, to Avon's certain knowledge, the succulent chocolate digestive had been the biscuit of choice in the Avon home, preferred by all except Terry (fancier of the cream sandwich). As ever, Brian had snagged the last digestive biscuit. Bastard. For Christ's sake, they sold packets that had nothing in them but chocolate digestive biscuits, but Mum kept buying the assortments.

We've been having this argument for fifteen years. Families. But let's be fair, Avon thought. I've been living in a dormitory for three years, and I've never brought home a packet of chocolate digestives either.

'Want to go out?' Jean asked. 'It's karaoke night at the Queen Vic.'

Her two older sons, united at last, rolled their eyes. Jean was sparky, sweet, sarcastic, and generally an embarrassment. She grew gladioli. She did macramé. 'Do you have any of those American cigarettes?'

They sat, passing a cigarette back and forth, companionably squabbling.



Jenna would probably prefer for him to slouch in wearing greasy overalls. Maybe a yokel's smock frock. Avon put on his only and therefore best suit and the sole expensive one among his four neckties. He took the tram to his mother's house, and drove Brian's car to Jenna's, or more accurately her father's, immense house. Resins had been heavily deployed, in proof of origin of the money. There were perspex partitions and perspex furniture and bric-à-brac scattered among the antiques.

'Can you play bridge?' Jenna's father asked Avon after an excellent dinner. Avon didn't see what the bother was about which fork to use. If you couldn't see everybody else, you just started outside and worked in. But there was always a minefield somewhere.

'Yes,' he said, with a startling simplicity that made it impossible to doubt.

'How well?'

'My team finished third in the sixteen-and-under regionals. Then I quit, I had a lot of revision to do for exams. But I'm afraid I didn't bring much cash with me, if you're going to play for money.' He had the fifty credits Jenna had just paid him; he settled for fifty in cash plus the leather jacket.

'Not much fun otherwise, is it?'

Well, there was the first minefield. Did that mean that he was expected to cheat, or not cheat? Luckily, the other two guests, a couple of paunchy industrialists, were such awful card players that Avon was able to win a hundred and seventeen credits without cheating at all. Vincent Stannis, who of course had also won a hundred and seventeen credits, was pleased. 'I've got just one word for you, young man,' he said. 'Resins.'



'Black or white?' asked Caroline Stannis, pouring coffee out of a glass contraption sheathed in metal into tiny, translucent cups.

Well, what was he supposed to want? He didn't think the honest answer -- rather have the pitcher of cream and a spoon -- would get him anywhere. 'Black, thank you.' Next, she held up a cube of sugar, shining between the sugar tongs. Beautiful piece of 28th Century silver, using it nonchalantly as if the takeaway threw it in with the curry.

It was the most wonderful coffee he had ever had. At Mum's house, coffee came out of the kettle and the jar of instant. At the dormitory, evidently it came out of the Petroleum Engineering offrun.

'Would you care for an Armagnac? We have a rather fine one. Have you ever had it?'

These people never stopped drinking, and there was something different you were supposed to do with everything. Sniff it, spit it out, sip it, bolt it. Avon usually didn't drink much -- it took off the edge, and if you wanted to get off your face, there were other ways for that. 'You know bloody well I haven't. Mind, though, Mum and Dad brought back a bottle of brandy from Tenerife, eleven years ago, and it must still be about somewhere.'

'Jenna's wrong, isn't she? She thinks you're a bit of Delta rough, and not an ambitious little grammar school git. Go to art school?'

'Computer science and maths. I thought about reading ancient languages and literature, but there's no money in it.'

'That's hardly an engineering school haircut.'

'Oh well, last year, I didn't have time to get it cut before exams. It seemed to give some people such pleasure, and the majority such matchless annoyance, that I've kept it ever since.' He realised that he was perching on the edge of the sofa, and leaned back to appear more relaxed. 'Where's Jenna?'

'Up in her room with those pills you sold her. It'll be a miracle if there are any left for her to traffic in. I'm afraid that men don't get much of a look-in with her when there are drugs about.'

'It's all right. I don't go for kids.' He realised, uncharacteristically late, that it could be taken as a chat-up line, and wondered if it was.

She laughed instead. 'A very wise policy at your advanced age.' She stood next to the sofa. She was as beautiful as genetics, good luck, relentless exercise and discreet plastic surgery could make her. Her dress was a column of black crepe, set off by a modest line of thin fire at the neckline and a watch with a diamond band. 'You're just like me, aren't you? Ambitious, resentful, pretty and vicious with it. But you'll have to look out for yourself. They promoted me when I got married, but a wife -- or a protector -- can't do that for you.'

'Why should it be an insult for you to say I'm pretty? If you like the way I look, that should make you happy.'

'There's a very short step from wanting to not having to resenting.'

Oh, Christ, the worst was happening, and he could feel a flush spreading across his cheekbones.

'The Snow White colour scheme is very flattering. You should keep it -- or perhaps you should learn not to show your feelings so vividly. And Kerry -- no one will ever take you seriously with a ridiculous name like that. You should change it at once. Kerr sounds plausible.'

But call me love, and I'll be new-baptised.

He felt it was safe to open his eyes. The tears hadn't sprung to them. 'No doubt by the time I reach your age, I'll learn to be more opaque.'

'Well played, well played!' She turned away, went to a marquetry secretary, and opened a small drawer. She walked back to the sofa. 'Now, what can I get for this?'

Avon's rapt gaze was held. He couldn't look away. He had never seen anything nearly so large...

There were five one-hundred-credit notes in the hand with the three-carat engagement ring and diamond wedding band.

'Shall we consider it an advance one-time blackmail payment?'

'What do you think I am?'

'It doesn't matter what I think, Kerry, it's what you know. That's a cheap suit, your Mum bought it for you. That's an expensive tie. Someone else did. And I'm sure there were nights when instead of eating dinner in the dormitory you ate in expensive restaurants and someone else picked up the bill.'

'No one is allowed to speak to me like that.' He closed the distance between them, tilted her chin up with his left hand, and fixed her eyes with a compelling glance.

Because, if people are concentrating on what your left hand is doing, they don't notice your right hand.

'When you have money,' she said, 'You can speak to anyone any way you like.'



Two minutes later, he had stormed out of the house, had put on the new jacket and his driving gloves, and was driving, very fast, towards Preston Magna. It was wonderful to be at the wheel of a car with an actual, functioning electrical system. He could feel the car respond. He could feel Caroline Stannis' diamond wristwatch shimmering in his pocket. Not because of the diamonds. Whenever he stole something, anything, he got a glimmering feeling so wonderful that he had to ration it.

Kerr, he thought. Kerr. Has a cur money? Can a dog lend you so many and so many ducats? And if I am a cur, beware my fangs.

A fast car. A dark empty road. Stolen gear. He could feel the darkness that usually enveloped him rolling away. A couple more FlameFlowers -- yes, there. Perfect.

It took half an hour to get to Preston Magna. In an empty field in the middle of nowhere, a man and a woman stood next to a cardboard box. The cardboard box looked damp and about to yield. They looked damp, cold, terrified and exhilarated. A flashlight beam spilled out at him when he stopped the car. 'I'm David's friend,' he said. 'Kerry.'

'I'm Alec, this is...'

'Oh, for Christ's sake, the less you say, the less anyone can get out of me. David just told me to come here, get the contraband and leave as soon as possible.'

The woman spoke for the first time. 'God bless you, brother. Will you say a prayer with us?'

He wanted to say something unforgivable to her, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Another corgi. So, for a long moment, they stood in the field, with their heads bowed, two of them praying.

Another dark empty road, the accelerator floored, and for a moment he felt so wonderful that he considered just aiming for the nearest large concrete object. But he had thought about that often, before, and rejected it as an amateur's soft option. Gun to the head, one shot. That was the way to do it.



'Irene dear,' Caroline Stannis said (three syllables -- Ihr-ree-nee), 'Got a chap for you to watch out for. Kerry Avon. I'm sure he's already got a file.'

'Why?' the young second lieutenant asked. 'What's he done?'

'The son of a bitch stole my watch.'



Well before dawn, he had already accomplished a good deal. Another muddy field in a misty cold rain. Two more people waiting for a soggy cardboard box. Two girls this time. When he saw the way one of them looked at him, he put his arm around her back, leaned forward, and kissed her hard but with his mouth closed. That was probably her perception of the way such things were done.

He had also stopped to wake up his second-favourite fence (his favourite was too far out of the way) and traded Caroline Stannis' watch for six hundred and fifty credits. Highway robbery, but what could you do? Then he stopped to get breakfast, left the car (with one slight addition) in front of his mother's house, and took the tram back to college.

David was awake this time too, looking strained and drawn with anxiety.

'Walkies, David!' So they went back to the swine barn.

'Are you all right?'

'Never better.'

'That's a nice jacket. Where did you get it?'

'Hard work and honest enterprise.'

'And the...?'

'Just where they should be.' He turned and looked into his friend's eyes. 'All except for one. I didn't think you'd mind if I kept it for...well, someone who could really use it.'

David's eyes swam with tears. It didn't seem to bother him when that happened. 'Praise the Lord.'

'Who works in startlingly mysterious, or at least amusing ways. Oh, by the way, a secret sympathiser of yours wants to give you this.' He had already counted out five hundred credits in stained and dirty notes, and he gave the roll to David. David, completely overcome, crumpled to his knees and prayed loudly enough to constitute a risk if any of the livestock worked for the Security Service.

'Aren't you going to pay me?'

'Well, why didn't you just take it out of the money?'

Avon had no intention in the world of ever mentioning the other hundred and fifty credits. 'Matter of honour, isn't it? You promised to pay me...'

'Of course I will, I just don't have it with me.'

Avon went back to the dormitory, leaned over the dresser, and looked at himself very intently (and hardly for the first or last time) in the small, dim, foxed mirror. Then he took a pair of paper scissors and edited some four inches from his hair. It was still long enough to operate somewhere between a challenge and a provocation, but he felt that a change was required.

Later on, Avon reflected that it was lucky he did keep the one-fifty, otherwise the whole affair (so richly rewarding otherwise) would have been a dead loss financially. Because, very soon afterwards, Avon got back from his eight o'clock lecture (lovely, beautiful, austere differential equations) to find that all traces of David -- even the cross taped to the back of the dresser drawer -- had vanished. Presumably, then, the poor bastard got the chance he had always wanted to witness for his faith.

Twenty-two years old and died screaming. But then, Avon reflected, really being brave might have to do with putting yourself in the situation in the first place. The way you carried it off was simply a matter of style.



People who expect that, sooner or later, a Security car will turn up to take them away, always wonder how they'll react. So when the car pulled up a couple of days after the events already narrated, Avon was hardly surprised by the fact, and not too displeased by his response.

'We must ask you to come with us,' one of the Security men said, and flourished -- no, that would imply a little flair, not his dull resignation -- a pair of handcuffs.

Avon wanted to point out him that, if the point was to inconvenience him, they should have cuffed his hands behind his back, and if they didn't want to inconvenience him, they could skip the whole thing. But he was able to restrain himself from sharing his opinion.

'What am I supposed to have done?' So many things were illegal in the Federation that even ordinary honest people found themselves in a more or less chronic state of law-breaking. That way, once the Security Service found some reason to intervene, the target was almost certain to be guilty of something.

'We can't discuss that.' They bundled him into the car, drove to headquarters, bundled him into an interview room, and went away.

It wasn't too difficult to reach the tin in his pocket. Disposing of illegal drugs as expeditiously as possible seemed like a matter of simple prudence. There were four cigarettes left in the tin. He lit one, and leaned forward with his elbows on the table.

Amphetamines. Terror. A magic combination. He felt his heart hammer, tasting the contrast between how wonderful he felt then and how he was going to feel in the very, very near future.



The young man behind the one-way mirror was shocked. Kerry was sitting at the table, calmly smoking a cigarette, tapping ashes onto the tabletop.

The bent bastard was enjoying himself.



Avon wanted to be ready when, at last, the door to the interview room opened. When he heard the doorknob turn, at first he sat up straight, put his shoulders back, and tilted his chin forward. Then you could see him thinking: the hell with them. Give them a two-fingered salute. He deliberately sprawled backward in the chair.

Later on, with more experience, he would be able to make such transitions more fluidly.

When Brian walked through the door, he was startled. God damn it, Brian, I should have expected that the Federation would send my own brother to take me apart. But I didn't think you'd have gone. I suppose I would have, if I were you. Advance my career and get rid of an embarrassment at the same time. But you and Tel are supposed to be the good brothers.

Brian took a measure of satisfaction in the shock on his brother's face. He had gone that kind of sick white colour he always turned before scholarship examinations. 'If you don't start being more careful, then someday this is going to happen to you for real.'

'You mean this isn't?'

'No, I had a couple of the chaps pick you up to throw a good scare into you.'

'Wound me up at last! I suppose I deserve it after everything I did to you when we were kids.' Kerry started laughing, then made himself stop when he heard the edge of hysteria. 'What am I supposed to be more careful of?'

Brian fell right into it. Astonishing. 'You've been associating with known subversives, Christian elements. That David, for instance.'

'Brian, of course I've been associating with him. He's the roommate that the college assigned to me. I don't see how I could have avoided it.'

'Well, it looks bad. It causes talk. At least I'm glad to see you've taken a step in the right direction about your hair.'

Never ends, does it? 'Bri, those two fellows really are Security Service men, aren't they? Not just a couple of blokes you met in a pub?'

'They're real.'

'Well, then, you fucking idiot, you've dropped both of us right in it. How are you going to explain this when the surveillance tapes are reviewed? The best you can do is say that you wanted to wind up your brother, and that won't buy you much.'

'Jesus Christ, I forgot about the tapes.'

'You would.'

'God damn it, Kerry, I'd like to slap that smirk right off your face.'

'Well, here's your chance. Handcuffs are not always stocked in Today's Ideal Home.' Kerr Avon (in his first appearance on any stage) looked around the interview room, then looked at his watch. All right, fifteen minutes should do it, unless the room had been in use before then. No, the chair hadn't been warm, and the room had had an indefinable air of emptiness. 'Get me something to write with -- no, not your communicator, something that won't leave a trail.'

Brian looked daggers at him (it ran in the family) but produced a notebook and ink stylus from his uniform pocket. He craned his head: in a minute but clear handwriting, his brother was writing something utterly incomprehensible. And, of all things, he was whistling. Brian took one of the last three cigarettes out of the tin and lit it. After a couple of drags, he absently passed it to his brother, who put down the stylus, took a couple of drags, passed it back to Brian, and picked up the stylus again.

Families. They share one of your cigarettes with you. And don't bother to unlock the handcuffs. Just his luck the idiot was tone-deaf as well as thick as two short planks.

'Figure out where the surveillance camera control computer is -- probably in the room in the basement with the air conditioning, it usually is. Find a way to go in there when nobody else is there and you're not supposed to be anyplace else where they'd miss you. Then whistle exactly this sequence of tones. That'll convince the computer to trust you. Speak to it in a normal tone of voice, and say exactly what's written down on this piece of paper. And get the piece of paper extremely disappeared when you finish. That should get the security camera to rewind the tape and overdub it with a nice safe fifteen minutes of sod-all. Now get me out of here before I miss my plasma physics tutorial.'

'I'm a Federation officer. I've got a job. I've got a gun. I've got a handcuff key and you don't. Why are you ordering me around?'

'As it happens, Bri, when I was driving your car on Friday night...'

'You stole my car?'

'No more than you stole my antepenultimate cigarette. We're brothers, after all. And come to think of it you've still got the car but I haven't got the cigarette. But the point is that when I borrowed it, I also left something in there. You'd be very well advised to give your car a good checking-over -- in private -- before anyone else sees it.'

'You fucking put a bomb in my car?'

'I wouldn't do that. This is physically harmless, but you wouldn't want an unsympathetic person to find it.' Avon, who habitually carried all sorts of things that might come in handy, always carried a small tube of instant-bond glue. This time, he'd glued a couple of magnets to the back of the strayed Bible, glued a few more magnets inside the right rear wheel arch, and stuck the Bible inside.

He had seriously contemplated keeping the Bible as a souvenir, so Brian could pull a Federation staff car to bits in order to find...exactly nothing. But that would hardly seem fair. He was family, after all.



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