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Authors: Steve Perry

The Albino Knife

BOOK: The Albino Knife
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THE ALBINO KNIFE

The sixth book in the Matador series

 

STEVE PERRY

Table of Contents

Title Page

Contents

Prologue

Prologue One

Prologue Two

Prologue Three

Prologue Four

Prologue Five

Prologue Six

Part One:
The Albino Knife

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Part Two:
Soul Of The Beast

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Part Three:
Point Death

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

Prologue

"In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to
 
make your everyday stance your combat stance."


Miyamoto Musashi

 

"Only those defenses are good, certain and durable, which depend on yourself alone and your
 
own ability."


Machiavelli

Prologue One

DEATH CAME FOR them on electronic wings.

It came silently. No whisper betrayed its presence, no false move disturbed the intricate viral/molecular twined and interlocked essences of the ship's computer. The bioelectric brain continued to hold the Republic ship Khadaji in tight orbit around Earth, performing ten thousand functions with ease, never a pause, never an error, cupping the lives of the Republic President Rajeem Carlos, his wife and companions and operators within the shell of spun carbonex fibers and denscris, proof against the hard and cold vacuum of space.

The ship was armed as well as any Republic destroyer, crewed by the best troops available from any of the fifty-six planets or eighty-nine wheelworlds. Named for the hero of the revolution, the Khadaji was the acme of galactic technology, virtually impervious to intentional harm from without when lit, top of the line, triple backups for every system onboard right down to the toilets. But there was no obvious enemy for thedoppler guns to track, no visible incoming attacker to outrun or destroy. Death came wrapped in grinning stealth and waited for its proper moment.

President Carlos walked with his wife Beel toward the dinner at which he was hosting the new governors for the five planets of the Shin System. Just ahead of them, dressed in his characteristic dark orthoskins and spetsdods, was Jarl, one of the family's four matador guards.

Carlos had been President for nearly five years, the term was almost over, and he was looking forward to stepping down. They had come a long way since the Confederation had been toppled.Time for somebody else to continue the work. He had done his part and he was ready to rest and let history judge his actions. From Prebendary to President, it had been a far road and a perilous one.

As they entered the corridor between the dining room and the commons, the thin-sheet carbonex safety door above the hatch ahead of them snapped down from its slim tube and shot into place, forming an airtight seal over the portal.

Jarl spun away from the door, his right hand extended, the barrel of his back-of-the-hand weapon seeking any attacker from their rear.

There was no one behind the trio. Almost in the same instant, however, the safety door at the opposite end of the corridor popped into place.

Jarl came up from his crouch. Beel looked at Carlos, puzzled. The President watched the matador's jaw muscles flex as he bit down too hard on his dentcom andsubvocalized a question.

"A breach in the hull—?" Carlos began.

"No, sir. The comp says the hull is patent—"

The lights went out.

A heartbeat later the wall batteries lit the thin line of emergency beamers along the floor and ceiling. The corridor was darker, but the beamers gave enough illumination so they could see to move. If there had been any place to which they could move. They were bottled up.

Where were the warning sirens and emergency instructions?

"Rajeem—?"

The President turned to his wife. "I don't know."

It was quiet in the hallway, and it took Carlos a few seconds to figure out why that was wrong.

The air blowers were off.

Impossible. Every enclosed space on the ship had its own backup air supply, compressed tanks that were supposed to go online instantly if the main pipes were shut off for any reason. Where were they?

Jarl had already noticed it. The matador moved with easy grace to the manual hatch crank. The safety door could be opened with that, in the unlikely event of a total power failure. Not that Carlos thought there was any real danger. There was probably enough residual air in the corridor for the three of them to breathe comfortably for several hours, even without the backup tanks; somebody would come for them long before it ran out. Meanwhile, he could hurry things along by calling them.

"Intercom," Carlos said.

The ship's integrated com was silent. Very strange, that the com should go out, too—

"Damn!"

Carlos looked at his bodyguard. Jarl, like most of the matadors he had known, was usually calm and unflappable. "What is it?"

"The crank cover is jammed shut."

Carlos felt a coil of coldness grip his belly. "Somebody will miss us."

Jarl shook his head. "Maybe not. The comlink is down. Now I can't get through to the computer on my set, either."

The matador walked to the rear door and tried the manual control cover. It wouldn't open.

Carlos moved closer to his bodyguard and dropped his voice so that Beel couldn't hear. "What else?"

"My personal channel to Shum and Lil is being flossed."

That was bad, Carlos knew. The matadors had their own comlink, independent of the ship's computer, a short-range radio connection run off the dentcom's bioelectric batteries. If that was blocked, somebody was doing it on purpose.

They were trapped like bugs in amber, communications cut off.

Carlos stated the obvious. "This isn't an accident."

"No, sir.I had Lil online for a few seconds and she said the airdoors are down in the crew's quarters and in engineering. Life support is turned off there, too. Only the comp can shut that down, and then supposedly only during a coded maintenance interlock with the chief engineer and a repair dock chief working together.Can't be done in Deep with people onboard. And the comp is supposedly rascal-proof, too."

"It would seem that such things are not absolute," Carlos said. His voice was dry, but there was a trace of humor in it. They were trapped, but nobody was shooting at them. Not yet, anyhow.

Jarl nodded. If he were afraid, it didn't show. "So it would seem."

"Rajeem?What is it?"

"We are under attack, somehow," Carlos said. "They've gotten control of the computer and cut life support and dropped the airdoors. We're stuck here—unless Jarl can get us out."

The matador grinned. He reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out an oval pellet about the size of the tip of his little finger. He moved along the corridor toward the door behind them. He pressed the pellet against the base of the carbonex where the lock mechanism joined the vacuum-proof barrier to the floor, then turned and walked back to where the President and his wife stood. "It's newton-bleak, but you might want to cover your ears. About five seconds from now."

Carlos and Beel put their hands over their ears, as did Jarl.

Five seconds later the carbonex shattered under the force of the stikcap. It was only a handsized piece—carbonex was stronger than denscris or squashed steel—but it was enough to destroy the imbedded lock. Jarl moved to the door again, and used his dotic boot to pull the door upward high enough so he could grab it away from the hot spot and lever it completely open.

"I hope the pilot can hold orbit on manual," Jarl said.

"What does that mean?" Beel asked.

"It means we are going to have to shut the computer down," Carlos said.

Carlos stood in the computer hutch next to Jarl.

"Shum has got the radio working. There's a boxcar and a tug on theway, and the guard ship is synchronizing. The comp never altered the security pulse the whole time."

Beel said, "What about our children?"

"Lil put in abetydelse com to Drean. No problems on Earth."

Carlos nodded. Drean was the matador in charge of the detail watching the children. Normally Lil would be with him. "Any idea as to how they did it?"

Jarl shrugged. "It's not my field. I dropped a white cell program into the system but it came up blank.

Maybe a compdoc can find out."

"It could have killed us.Everybody on the ship."

"Not if that was the best it could do. Airdoors won't stop a prepared matador. If we hadn't gotten here first, Shum or Lil would have, soon as they'd figured it out. But that's not what worries me."

Carlos nodded again. He understood what Jarl meant. Whoever had gotten to the computer could have put a nuke under a chair somewhere instead and blown the ship into radioactive slag. Their defenses had been breached, and if whoever it was hadn't been intent on making it look like some kind of computer malfunction, an accident, they could have easily wiped out a lot of important people.

Carlos was used to enemies—the old regime had not left willingly—but this would-be assassin was very clever.

And clever enemies were dangerous.

Prologue Two

Juete left her station at the casino and strolled through the contiguous corridors toward her quarters. She didn't have to work, not with Emile's annual stipend still coming after all the years, but she had to be with people, and she enjoyed doing it in a setting she could control. As an Albino Exotic, she always carried her pheromones with her, and time had been very gentle with her. Even among her kind, Juete was still considered more attractive than average, and there were few normal humans or compatible mues who could look at any albino without feeling desire. Albinos had been bred for beauty, originally as sexual playthings, and the genes had been hardy ones. Where they were unprotected, the Dark-world albino population tended to be raped or murdered more frequently than any other ethnic group in the galaxy.

Governments changed but human nature did not. Beauty carried its price, sometimes a fatal one. The corridor wound through the upper reaches of the casino, away from where Juete greeted the wealthy patrons who came as special guests of the management. Since the Confed's destruction five years earlier, things had loosened up considerably, travel restrictions were gone, and those who had been nervous about star hopping before now came in droves to the pleasure world of Vishnu to spend their standards.

Through the denscris half of the tube, Juete watched the people on the multiple levels of the main casino.

There were dozens of ways to win or lose money operating on the floors, and the house percentage was high enough so that it never lost.

Vishnu sold pleasure in most of its acceptable forms and once, Juete would have been a more direct seller. In theory she couldn't work or even live full-time on the world, one of three large moons orbiting Shiva in the Tau System. Residency and employment privileges on Vishnu were reserved for natives.

People often made exceptions for Exotics, however, and Juete was comfortable with exceptions in her favor. She didn't work hard, got to meet rich and interesting people, and lived in a safe environment. The security in the casinos was necessarily strict; access to the corridors through which the staff traveled to their cubicles was guarded by EEG recognition electronics and full-scan electropophy gear, backed by zap-field wards. Nobody would wander in by accident and so far, nobody had been able to get inside intentionally.

Juete's cubicle was just ahead. The tell-tale and recording din built into the door showed three green diodes and one red—nobody had called, nobody had opened the door or left messages, and the alarm was armed.

Juete wore skintights, colored jet to contrast with her skin, and her pale hand flashed white against the black of her sleeve and half-gloves under the portal light as she handprinted the lock.

"Shooo-et-tay?" the din's slow and gravelly chipvoice asked.

"Yes, of course."

The viral/molecular electronic brain thought its security thoughts, scanned her for the proper EEC pattern and the truth of her reply,then opened the sliding panel door.

BOOK: The Albino Knife
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