Sister time lota 9, p.1

Sister Time lota-9, page 1

 part  #9 of  Legacy of the Aldenata Series


Sister Time lota-9

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Sister Time lota-9

  Sister Time

  ( Legacy of the Aldenata - 9 )

  John Ringo

  Julie Cochrane

  Cally O’Neal is officially dead. In her over forty years of being an active secret agent she hasn't used her real name, much less spoken to her sister. So when Michelle interrupts an important mission, by seemingly appearing out of thin air, it’s an unexpected reunion.

  This highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller Cally’s War features the return of Michelle O’Neal, the first human Sohon mentat. Sister Time is about life, love and covert operations amongst the universe’s ultimate dysfunctional family.

  Sister Time

  by John Ringo and Julie Cochrane


  For Miriam

  And, as always:

  For Captain Tamara Long, USAF

  Born: May 12, 1979

  Died: March 23, 2003, Afghanistan

  You fly with the angels now.

  Chapter One

  Tuesday 10/12/54

  Chicago, USA, Sol III

  The dark figure dropping over the edge of the building could have given lessons in camouflage to a Himmit. Well, almost. Actually, the bodysuit and balaclava she was wearing owed rather more of their stealth abilities to the Himmit than the reverse. The rappelling rope was more conventional, as were the multivision goggles. A clever observer, had she been observed, would have noticed that the better gear was old, and the cheaper gear new, suggesting that the agent or her employer had seen better days.

  She stopped at the thirteenth floor, fourth window from the north end. The tool she pulled from a clip on her web gear was something like a monomolecular boxcutter. Working with a fluidity that belied the complexity of the task, she clipped a line to the rope above her, deftly secured the two suction cups of the complicated apparatus to the window, tightened them down, and excised a wide oval of the thick glass. She pulled the glass piece free and allowed it to dangle, swinging her feet through the hole and slipping inside.

  The room she entered was dusty from extreme disuse, and she wouldn’t have braved it at all if the threadbare carpeting hadn’t been there — perfect for hiding footprints that otherwise would have been glaringly obvious. The carpeted cubicle walls, now a moth-eaten, mottled gray, had the occasional rusty bolt showing through the cracked plastic. The dusty, crumbling particle board contraptions that used to pass for “desks” for corporate underlings dated the room as being part of the postwar surplus office space. The phenomenon made the middle floors of skyscrapers in most major cities very convenient for people in her profession but, despite its drabness, it did tend to trigger a certain wistfulness for a world she’d never really gotten to know. Still, it was eerily silent, beyond the muted traffic sounds coming through the hole in the window, and that was creepy enough that she’d be glad to leave it. She was careful to touch as little as possible as she shrugged off her gear and went rummaging through for the props for the next stage of her mission.

  If the stealth suit was high-tech and inconspicuous, the little black dress she pulled from her back pouch was neither. The only modern convenience was the very light antiwrinkle coating that enabled the minimal silk sheath, with its skirt that flared out below her hips, to look as perfect as if it had just been pressed. Still, the dress was tight and she had to wiggle a bit to shimmy into it and get her ample cleavage positioned for maximum effect. She frowned down at her chest, grumbling a bit about the overendowment she’d gotten stuck with when they’d lost the slab in the Bane Sidhe split.

  Her employers had steadfastly refused to surgically alter them, pointing out the futility as it was hard-coded in her body nannites; they would only grow back inside a month. Besides, the doctors were unwilling to afflict her with the scars such primitive field surgery would undoubtedly leave. She harrumphed at them silently as she pinned her silver-blonde hair into a smooth chignon at the nape of her neck and spritzed it with good old-fashioned hair spray. She slipped a gold and diamond torq-style watch, which was unusual in having a digital instead of an analog readout, around her wrist. Damn, gotta hurry. Not quite a minute until the guard reaches this floor again.

  In the past few years, rejuv had gone from being a mark of social shame to an outlet for conspicuous consumption among the glitterati. Hence, all but minimal makeup was out of fashion. Chances were very good that she would be taken for an authentic twenty-year-old. Most black market jobs were incomplete, missing at least the individual fine-tuning that was necessary for the full effect. They left subtle signs that the gossips were quick to notice and comment on. Her rejuv, done in better times, was perfect. A light coating of lip gloss, a pair of clear Galplas high-heeled sandals that looked like cut crystal and felt like a medieval torture device, and she was ready to go. Well, almost. She tucked a small egg-shaped device with a pull ring into her cleavage. The body her own DNA originally built never would have been able to hide it. I swear I could hide a truck in there. Geez. Not like I really need to be able to blend in with a crowd or anything, not like sticking out like a sore thumb with this attention-getting look isn’t a mortal hazard for an assassin. And thank God my “real” work has been light enough since I came back to work that they can divert me more often to fluff missions like this one.

  Her rappelling gear and other nonessentials got bundled into the pack and clipped onto the line outside the window. She looked down, and down, and down to the street below and shuddered. And Tommy wanted me to exfiltrate the same way? Hell, no! Crawling around outside some skyscraper like a freaking fly was bad enough once, I’m not doing it twice in one night. She pulled her eyes away from the dizzying downward view. God, that’s a long drop. Besides, who tries to catch party-crashers leaving the party? And this way I spend about half as much time slinking around places in the building where a party guest, even a lost and tipsy one, has no business being. Okay, and I don’t get out much. Sad, Cally, really sad. Maybe I ought to make time next month to take the girls up to Knoxville to the zoo. Maybe I ought to get back into character and get my mind on the job. She shook herself slightly and got back to work.

  Two sharp yanks to the line and the pack began ascending out of sight — now it was Harrison’s problem. Once she got the glass oval seated back in the window, she took a ballpoint pen out of her evening bag. The pen extruded a thin line of silicon-based adhesive and nannites around the cut piece. The window would heal in about a day. After that, it would take a very sophisticated forensic analysis to tell that there had ever been any damage. Well, okay, there was a slightly larger bead of goo where she’d had to shake the pen. Damn thing was almost empty. Still, it was the next best thing to untraceable. When she was done, the pen went back into the tiny evening bag with her lip gloss, a pack of Kleenex, a comb, an assorted handful of FedCreds, and the ubiquitous slimline PDA that nobody who was anybody went anywhere without. The decoy nanogenerator code keys were in a hidden pocket. It wouldn’t pass close scrutiny, but then, as she wasn’t on the guest list tonight, neither would she.

  She’d chosen this office because the suite had an internal stairwell access, and the door was right outside this one. The office door was ajar, and she ghosted through the opening without needing to lay a finger on it. The door to the stairs was another matter. She opened it with a tissue, crumpling it and tucking it back in her purse. As she climbed the stairs to the thirty-second floor, she glanced briefly at her watch and sighed, slipping off her shoes so she could pick up the pace without sounding like a herd of elephants.

  The last half flight of stairs, she froze, foot halfway down onto the next stair. Talking in the hall. The Darhel was late leaving his room. The sound was muffled enough that without her enhanced hearing she wouldn’
t have heard it at all through the heavy stairwell door. With enhancement she still couldn’t make out the words. Just that it sounded like a command, followed by the shrill, piping acknowledgment of an Indowy servant. After a few moments she heard the bell of the arriving elevator, and she strained to hear the opening of the doors, and their closing.

  Cally glanced at her watch, Damn. Time’s gonna be tight. She crept the rest of the way up the stairs, pausing to slip her shoes back on before opening the door and stepping out into the hallway. This part of the building was immaculately maintained. The carpet was new, and the walls smelled of fresh paint. She passed a picture of a lighthouse, in a gilt frame, as she counted three doors down and retrieved the gas grenade from inside her dress.

  The Posleen had reduced Earth from a thriving civilization of five billion down to about one billion refugees, barbarians, and Galactics’ lackeys. The six-legged carnosauroid aliens were immune to every hostile chemical agent the humans or Galactics had been able to envision. Likely, they were immune to quite a few things nobody but the half-legendary Aldenata had envisioned. Fortunately, the Indowy were more vulnerable. Particularly, they were vulnerable to the general anesthesia agent in the grenade. She opened the door just long enough to toss it in, pulling it closed and waiting outside.

  Nonlethal and scentless except for a vanishingly faint chemical-lavender smell, the gas was harmless to humans and persistent enough to be readily detected later. The thing she liked best about it was that one of the breakdown products was a common Darhel allergen and tended to give them a very nasty rash — about three days later. She watched the second hand on her watch tick off thirty seconds before going in.

  Inside, one of the first things she noticed was a holographic display that sat on an antique mahogany table. In a display of vanity excessive even for his own species, this Darhel apparently traveled with his own portrait. The silver-black fur would have been salt and pepper except for its characteristic metallic luster. His fox ears, cocked forward aggressively, had been embellished with the lynx-tufts that were the current fad in Darhel grooming. His cat-pupilled irises were a vivid, glowing green — she would be willing to bet they had been digitally retouched. They glinted in the middle of the purple-veined whites of his eyes. The most prominent feature, however, was row of sharp teeth, displayed in a near snarl. Again, they had obviously been retouched to make the light appear to sparkle off their razor edges. He was draped in some kind of cloth that was, no doubt, hideously expensive. His angular face combined with the other features to make him look like a fatally charismatic cross between a fox and some sort of malignant elf. Half a dozen Indowy body servants were portrayed clustered in subservient postures around his feet.

  Other than the gratuitous display of self-adoration, it was a stereotypical Darhel suite. A thin layer of gold covered practically everything that could be gilded, worked in intricate patterns. Piles and piles of cushions were covered in muted colors of an expensive Galactic fabric ten times softer than silk. Some of those cushions were now graced with the small, green, furry forms of sleeping Indowy. One of them had been unlucky enough to fall on the floor. It had curled up into a ball and she stepped over it as she searched for the all-important, hideously expensive code keys that were the goal of her raid.

  The drawer was one of several hidden in one of the false columns ornamenting the room. She assumed it was the one with the expensive bio-lock worked into the hatch. Her buckley might have been able to convince it she was the Darhel owner. Or it might not. Fortunately, this Darhel had neglected to consider the hinges, which were delicate, of a Galactic material far too strong for most brute force, and exposed. The screw holding one end of each pin took the normal Indowy hourglass head. She unscrewed the top of her pen, selected the right size bit and—

  “Cally O’Neal, I see you.” The soft voice behind her was soprano, but not nearly high enough to be Indowy. The blonde cat burglar whirled and froze in mid strike, staring at a thin girl in Indowy mentat’s robes, her brown hair pulled back in a tight bun…

  “Michelle?” Cally asked, her eyes blinking rapidly in surprise.

  Since Cally had been officially dead for over forty years, including as far as she had been aware to the knowledge of her only sister, seeing the mentat was, to say the least, a bit of a shock. Especially in the middle of an op.

  “What the hell are you doing here?” Cally hissed. “And that Indowy greeting was in very poor taste, you know. ‘I see you’ sounds like we’re playing hide and seek.”

  “Is this a bad time?” Michelle could have been slightly miffed. In all that serenity, it was hard to tell.

  “Hell yes, this is a bad time!” Cally hissed. “I’m kind of in the middle of an op here. And could you please keep your voice down!” Despite feeling totally surreal from the interruption, the underdressed cat burglar couldn’t help drinking in the sight of her long-estranged sister. “Waitaminute — you knew I was alive? How the hell did you get in here, anyway?” she asked.

  “The physics is… complicated. You know, Pardal is going to be very displeased when he finds those missing.”

  “Fuck Pardal. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it sent the bastard into lintatai.” The thief fitted the screwdriver into the tiny hinge.

  “Fine, don’t listen to me,” Michelle sighed, “but don’t do it that way. You’ll break it. Someone put a lot of time into that drawer. Why don’t you just use the manufacturer’s override code?”

  “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s a hundred random characters of Galactic Standard? What do you mean I’ll break it?”

  “Those aren’t hinges. They’re purely decorative. And breakable. Also alarmed. If you attempt to remove them the real door will lock somewhat permanently. Besides, the code’s not quite random.” She rattled off a string of Galactic syllables with a glibness that made Cally’s tongue ache in sympathy.

  “How? Nevermind. Could you repeat that again, only slower?” She fiddled with her PDA for a moment, “Buckley. Give me a Galactic keyboard and pretend to the drawer you’re an AID.”

  “It wanted to tell me. It likes me.” Michelle gestured faintly towards the drawer, then began repeating syllables, pausing briefly after every group of five.

  “The keyboard’s rather pointless, you know.” The buckley’s conversational tone made Cally twitch a bit, as did the fact that it was talking again. “I understand Galactic perfectly,” it said.

  “I told you not to talk.”

  “Yes, but when you spoke to me directly I presumed you wanted that to override the earlier instruction.”

  “Buckley, is your emulation up too high again?”

  “Of course not,” it answered indignantly, “and don’t reset it until after the mission. You know it’ll all go wrong without me. Not that it won’t anyway.” It sounded smug. She hated it when the buckley got smug. Whenever it was too happy, sure as hell she’d screwed something up somewhere. Michelle reached the end of the long code, and the door slid open soundlessly as the buckley finished feeding it the correct characters. Damned if the hinges weren’t ornamental, after all. And the inner door was solid plasteel with very expensive subspace traction locks. If she’d triggered those the thing would have become more or less a single piece of material.

  “Okay, thank you for helping me get into this thing,” Cally said, checking to make sure the code keys were actually in the compartment. “Now go away. I have an egress to effect and I don’t need the distraction. Nice chat. Catch me some other time.”

  “I did not just come to nag you. It is business. I wish to engage your team’s services for a mission. Are you available three weeks and two days from now?”

  “If the money’s right and it doesn’t go against our core objectives, we are,” Cally said. “But I did mention I’m on short time here, right?”

  “Neither of those things should be a problem. Shall we talk terms?”

  “Oh, jeeze,” Cally sighed. “Fine. Whatever. We’re expensive.”

  “I had assumed as much,” Michelle said calmly.

  “If you have that much backing, I need to know who you’re working for,” Callly said.

  “This is primarily a personal venture. Although it is of course in the larger interests of Clan O’Neal and all the clans.”

  “Personal? How much do you make?”

  “Quite a lot, but I presume you mean money. Whatever I ask for.”

  “Whew.” Cally whistled softly. “Want to come over to the side of Good and Right?”

  “As members of the same clan, I thought we were already on the same side. For the rest, now is neither the time nor the place for this discussion.”

  “Well, thank you for finally agreeing with me!” Cally snapped. “Can you meet me at Edisto Beach tomorrow at seven? I’ll take a walk after dinner. We can talk privately. I can bring Granpa. I’m sure he misses you as much as I do, and we can iron out the details together.”

  “Please, it would be inappropriate to distract my clan head when he has such weighty policy matters to meditate upon as he does at this time. I would take it as a personal favor if you would grant me a private meeting between us to handle the negotiations.” She vanished, not giving her sister time to reply.

  And it was a good solid vanish. One moment, sister. Next moment, air. Cally had enough experience of holograms to be pretty sure she’d been dealing with a real human. There had been a faint smell of perfume, something extremely light. Her nose was tweaked high enough that she’d caught a faint odor of body as well. Not funk, just the smell any human gave off. Traces of heat, a breath. Michelle had been standing right in front of her and now was not. Cally waved her hand across the space for a moment, then shrugged. She didn’t have time for this.

  She lifted the code keys out and put them carefully into her purse, replacing them in the drawer with the identical-looking but worthless decoys. Each single-use key, when plugged into a nannite generator, would trigger it to make enough fresh nannites to fill an Indowy journeyman’s Sohon tank. Among the Darhel, they were the diamonds of currency.

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