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"Hey," he said, "I'm unconventional. I like getting things done in
unconventional ways. The Art of War says that the best way to win a war is
never to do what they expect you to do."
"I'm sure," she interrupted. "That may be all very well for someone in
Military, but this is not a war, and I should be reporting you for this." Tia
let a note of warning creep into her voice, wondering why she wasn't doing
just that.
He ignored both the threat and the rebuke. "Your supervisor said you hadn't
picked anyone yet," he said instead. "Why not?"
"Because I haven't," she retorted. "I don't like being rushed into things. Or
pressured, either. Sit down."
He sat down rather abruptly, and his expression turned from challenging to
wistful. "I didn't think you'd hold my being late against me," he said
plaintively. "I thought we hit it off pretty well. When your supervisor said
you'd spent more time with me than any of the other brawns, I thought for sure
you'd choose me! What's wrong with me? There must be something! Maybe
something I can change!"
"Well, I, " She was taken so aback by his bluntness, and caught unawares by
his direct line of questioning, that she actually answered him. "I expect my
brawns to be punctual, because they have to be precise, and not being punctual
implies carelessness," she said. "I thought you looked sloppy, and I
don't like sloppiness. You seemed absentminded, and I had to keep bringing you
back to the original subject when we were talking. Both of those imply
wavering attention, and that's not good either. I'll be alone out there with
my brawn, and I need someone I can depend on to do his job."
"You didn't see me at my best," he pointed out. "I was distracted, and I
was thrown completely off-center by the fact that I had messed up by being
late. But that isn't all, is it?"
"What do you mean by that?" she asked, cautiously.
"It wasn't just that I was, less than perfect. You have a secret ...
something you really want to do, that you haven't even told your supervisor."
He eyed the column speculatively, and she found herself taken completely by
surprise by the accuracy of his guess. "I don't match the profile of someone
who might be interested in helping you with that secret. Right?"
His expression turned coaxing. "Come on, Hypatia, you can tell me," he said.
"I won't tattle on you. And I might be able to help! You don't know that much
about me, just what you got in an hour of talking and what's in the
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said lamely.
"Oh, sure you do. Come on, every brainship wants to buy her contract out, no
matter what they say. And every ship has a hobby-horse of her own, too.
Barclay secretly wants to chase pirates all over known space like a holo-star,
Leta wants to be the next big synthcom composer, even quiet old
Jerry wants to buy himself a Singularity Drive just so he can set interstellar
records for speed and distance!" He grinned. "So what's your little hidden
She only realized that she'd been manipulated when she found herself blurting
out her plans for doing some amateur archeological sleuthing on the side, and
both the fact that she wanted a bit of archeological glory for herself, and
that she expected to eventually come up with something worth a fair number of
credits toward her buy-out. She at least kept back the other wish; the one
about finding the bug that had bitten her. By now, the three desires were
equally strong, for reading of her parents' success had reawakened all the old
dreams of following in Pota's footsteps, dealing with
Beta had given her more than enough of being someone else's contract servant,
and her studies of brainship chronicles had awakened a new fear, plague. And
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what would happen if the bug that paralyzed her got loose on a planetarywide
As she tried to cover herself, she inadvertently revealed that the plans were
a secret held successfully not only from her CenCom supervisors but from
everyone she'd ever worked with except Moira.
"It was because I thought that they'd take my determination as something else
entirely," she confessed. "I thought they'd take it as a fixation, and a sign
of instability."
All through her confession, Alex stayed ominously silent. When she finished,
she suddenly realized that she had just put him in a position to blackmail her
into taking him. All he had to do was threaten to reveal her fixation, and
she'd be decommissioned and put with a Counselor for the next six months.
But instead of saying anything, he began laughing. Howling with laughter, in
fact. She waited in confusion for him to settle down and tell her what was
going on.
"You didn't look far enough into my records, lovely lady," he said, calming
down and wiping his eyes. "Oh, my. Call up my file, why don't you. Not the
Academy file; the one with my application for a scholarship in it"
Puzzled, she linked into the CenCom net and accessed Alex's public records.
"Look under 'hobbies', " he suggested.
And there it was. Hobbies and other interests. Archeology and Xenology.
She looked further, without invitation, to his class records. She soon saw
that in lower schools, besides every available history class, he had taken
every archeological course he could cram into a school day.
She wished that she had hands so that she could rub her temples; as it was,
she had to increase her nutrients a tad, to rid herself of a beginning
"See?" he said. "I wouldn't mind my name on a paper or two myself.
Provided, of course, that there aren't any curses attached to our findings!
And, well, who couldn't use a pile of credits? I would very much like to
retire from the Service with enough credit to buy myself, oh, a small
"But, why didn't you apply to the university?" she asked. "Why didn't you go
after your degree?"
"Money," he replied succinctly, leaning back in his seat and steepling his
fingers over his chest, "Dinero. Cash. Filthy lucre. My family didn't have
any, or rather, they had just enough that I didn't qualify for scholarships. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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