Chapter Eight; Firebird

smudge

Firebird

Swathed in a black cloak, I pretended to examine small gems in the basket, waiting.
I didn't need Ahmet's nod; by height and the way he moved, I knew the it was a
Gennie beside me.

I slipped my hood to expose the amulet on my forehead, focused on my quarry.
In a second he was a zombie and Ahmet was busy with another customer.

Nothing to see. Two cloaked figures walking to the Pier, up the helicline, along, to a
Dalmar Security ship. My palm opens the portal, we enter, along a corridor, to the
Interrogation room.

My quarry stands on the star in the raised circle, as animate as a statue. I pull the cloak
from him, check him for weapons and anything else, match him to the data, though sure the moment I saw him.

Typical Superboy, tall, beautiful body, face, long dreadlocked hair.

I step to my chair, remove the Firebird from the center of my forehead, terminating
the Edge as I on the Force Field which keeps him upright. If he weren't held by the
Field, he'd fall to the deck.

The Edge does that.

My quarry is in great physical condition because he's getting alert quick. I don't think
it cost a whole minute for sharpness to come into his eyes.

I on the engines, pull the ship from the berth, across the filthy ocean, picking up speed,
up and out into space.

I turn back to the prisoner; "You want to sit?" I ask.

He looks at me with puppy dog eyes.

"Are you Priam Zal?" I ask, leaving out two generations.

"You know the answer to that," he replies calmly as if being held in a forcefield is no
different from standing on line to get into a football match.

"I've been paid two Mill to find you. I'll get the other half when I turn you in." I explain,
tossing my legs over the arm of my big leather chair, more comfortable then he's
pretending.

"Can I be told who has paid you?" he asks in his whipped chocolate voice.

"Captain Arka of the Dalmar Army."

I could see thoughts dancing behind his eyes. He knew we were talking death here, and
not a sanitary one either.

There's no honour in taunting a prisoner.

"Do you want me to allow you to sit?" I ask again.

"Why?" he replies.

I altered the field so there was a space of about five centimeters around his body.
Nothing holding him up. He staggered a little, sank to the floor, because when I
scramble your brains, the least you are is dizzy.

Sitting, he put his arms around his knees. It's a pity to kill someone so beautiful, but
I suppose, they're all beautiful, so he's common in their deck of cards.

"You want to tell me why Arka and the whole bloody Dalmar Army wants you?" I flip.

"What difference would that make?"

I liked his style, gave him my own.

"I told Arka it would take two weeks to find you. It took two hours. I've got nearly
fourteen days to get you where he wants and collect my coin."

He thought about answering, then skimmed;
"They took something of mine, I took it back."

I've been in this business long enough to appreciate he wasn't going to give details
and they wouldn't matter anyway. Whoever he was, whatever he was, was a Gennie
of a different sect than the Dalmar.

Firebird and her Quarry

Outsiders don't know Eugenics are not a homogeneous group. Norms, (as we think they call us) are to believe these are superior beings who have solved all human problems. Untrue. Those who occupy the planet of Dalmar think they are superior to all others. Those from Tellur and Molbe consider themselves equal.

Those from the planet of Sagir are reviled by the other three. I can't mention the planet of Yangban, because those on it never leave it.

I've worked for Eugenics before, I am the only Norm Bounty Hunter they use. There's rumours my parents were renegade Supers. I don't argue. I don't mind any legend concocted. They're all good.

I let my eyes play over the prisoner, his style impressed me.

"So Priam, are you hungry?" I ask.

He gazed at me as if the language was unknown, didn't respond.

"I've already gotten a portion of my fee; what will you give me to let you go?" I pinch.

"I have nothing," he responds in that same calm voice.

I reach over, open the force field. He doesn't move. He knows it's gone as the slight blurring it produces is gone. The feeling of static is gone. He knows he can get up and walk out. But he sits as he has, looking at me.

"Are you hungry?" I ask after a minute.

"Yes." he replies.

"This is a Eugenic ship, I suppose you can cook."

"Yes, I can," he admits, then, "why are you releasing me?"

"When a man is facing certain death and he's given an opportunity to buy his freedom and instead of making promises about treasures, ships and secrets, says he has nothing, I believe him. I believe he's honest, I believe he can be trusted. When it comes to weighing his word against another, I take his."

Priam sat on the deck as if it were the most comfortable place to be, his large dark eyes soft upon me. That's how easy he was. And then he says;

"Arka won't pay you. He will kill you,"  and rises in one flowing movement steps from the containment circle, striding to the door and out.

I send one of my dummies to follow him. He goes directly to the galley.

The monitor is on, and I watch him prepare food. Sure he can toss a knife, he can kill 'me' with his bare hands. But I'm not in the room with him.

Priam is cooking. That is all he is doing. He's using the knives to cut and chop, placing them back in the wooden block, in the order he's taken them.

I like watching him. The way he moves, the details in what he does. Even how he decorates the plates. He brings the food to the table, serves 'me', realises it's an android. Then I step in.

He has a portion on his plate, a portion on mine. I watch him, he begins to eat, I wait until he's
swallowed.

My dummy gets up, walks out, I sit, switch plates with him, take a bite.

"You cook well." I say, enjoying a meal for the first in how many years.

"Thank you." He replies in the same voice he's used.

Nothing fazes this dude. He's gone from prisoner facing death, to accepting compliments on his cooking. The inflection in his voice has not changed.

I eat, but watch him. He behaves as if we are at a fancy restaurant. There's a surrealness, but I like it.

When he completes his meal, he pours non-alcho wine into our glasses, sips his, then resting his chin on his hands, looking into my eyes says;

"I may be wrong, but you seem to possess as much affection for the Dalmar as I do."

I sip my wine, and looking into his eyes, reply;

"When I was young my father captured a Superboy who looked somewhat like you. Papa had been told the quarry was wanted for particular offenses, given particulars, made his arrest, and here comes the Dalmar Army."

I'll never forget that moment. Down to the pretty tunic I was wearing, how my mother's hair had shimmered in the light, how my brother changed his posture to imitate Papa's.

"The Captain ordered the force field deactivated. We expected him to hand Papa the rest of the money and march the prisoner away. He didn't. He shot the prisoner, went to the door with his men,and just before he stepped out tossed, "You got the wrong man."

I had never seen a man die before.

"My mother ran to the prisoner, his head was on her lap when he died, looking at her with big sad eyes. She was crying, looking at my father as if he'd committed a crime. I stood, playing the words over in my mind, trying to understand why, if Papa had made a mistake, the prisoner was dead."

You might have seen my father die."

I went to grab his hands to anchor, but stop, stuck in place, staring into his face. Dizzy with the coincidence, babble;

"When I saw you, my mind went back to that day. I remembered my mother's tears, and how she refused to participate in my father's work again. How we remained home when he travelled. My brother did not take over Firebird. I did, but as you notice, I'm not much for Dalmar."

I thought we'd splash in the past a bit, but he cut to now.

"What do you intend?" he asks.

I reply; "Where would you go if you left this ship?"

He paused; "Space Station 435 where I would debark to gain passage home."

I let his words drift into the corners of the room.

"You are not telling me the truth. You say you took something from them that belonged to you. You have nothing but the clothes you are wearing. I think you would want to go back to Smudge."

"And if I am?" he teased.

"There are small flyers in the hold, not much room, though two people could fit with some cooperation."

"And this ship?" he indicated with his chin.

"Belongs to Dalmar. Though there are a few personal touches here."

"Like the androids," he notes.

"Yes. They are made of a particular polymer so can take virtually any form. Even yours."

He made a slow smile. He knew exactly where I was going with the conversation.

"Dalmar ships can become unstable," he muses.

"Especially when one fires a weapon."

For one moment our eyes were so deep into the others I felt I was walking his soul as he was in mine. I had never felt closer to any living being than I did to Priam.

"How far do you want to go?" I ask.

"As far as we can," he replies.

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