A Rake by Starlight

A Rake by Starlight: Chapter 22

A Rake by Starlight, by C. B. Wright

WHEREIN a Business Partner Experiences an Unwelcome Change in Status

Amys walked into the Wardroom to find Grif and Baron Tyrelos locked in the middle of renegotiating their business relationship. This renegotiation consisted of Grif and the baron trying to drink each other under the table: so far, two bottles of Varkavian Whiskey and half a bottle of Stellis Blue had been sacrificed on the altar of Trying To Get the Upper Hand.

Grif looked up, saw Amys, and raised his glass in salute.

“Apparently,” Amys said, voice dry, “today was a bad day to go out.”

Baron Tyrelos half-turned in her seat, not quite turning far enough to actually see Amys—just enough to acknowledge her presence. As far as Amys could tell, neither was unduly affected by the alcohol. Grif, she knew, had a pretty high tolerance for it, and the baron probably had tiny machines in her bloodstream scrubbing it clear of toxins. That meant she would eventually wind up the more sober party. Whether that would give her a negotiating advantage remained to be seen.

They weren’t the only people in the room. Cutter sat to Grif’s right, leaning back in his chair with his feet propped up on the table, looking on in amusement. Standing off to the side were three armed Station Authority guards—part of the larger complement she’d found waiting outside the ship itself, which hadn’t been a pleasant thing to discover.

And, of course, there was Stebil Tanz.

The doctor sat to the baron’s left, his drink only half-empty—a drink she was certain had been filled once and only once. His expression was a mixture of caution, tension, and weariness. Amys wasn’t entirely sure what her expression was, but when the doctor saw it he flinched.

“It’s okay, Amys,” Grif said. He wasn’t slurring his words, which was a good sign. “I think it is, anyway. Meet Stebil Tanz, legal clone of Stebil Tanz.”

“How do you do,” she said flatly.

Cutter grinned, which was only reassuring if you knew him. “Next time you and Cyrus go off ship at the same time, I’m going too. I don’t much like the number two spot.”

“It has its moments,” Amys said. “Though coming back to find a squad of Station Authority guards parked outside the Nadir lock isn’t one of them.”

“Sorry about that,” Grif said. “I couldn’t use a comm to warn anyone in advance, because those channels are monitored. Nobody’s supposed to know they’re here.” He gestured to Baron Tylaris with his glass as he reached for the bottle of Stellis. “We’re renegotiating our business agreement.”

Amys’ eyes narrowed. “Why are we doing that, exactly?”

“Baron thought we were double-crossing her,” Cutter said. “On account of Dr. Tanz apparently still being alive. Well… a version of him, anyway.”

“She was going to shoot us all, or something,” Grif continued. “Lieutenant Adyt there is still getting over his disappointment.”

One of the Station Authority guards—Adyt, Amys assumed—glowered, but said nothing.

“Don’t be such a baby.” Baron Tyrelos was slurring a little, but Amys was pretty sure it was an affectation. “I already agreed to pay extra for your inconvenience. But I would like to be able to leave with the synaptic map today. I mean, if it’s here, that’d be the most convenient solution for all parties. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Grif shook his head. “You’ve learned too many secrets today.”

Amys raised an eyebrow and looked at Cutter questioningly.

“We had to prove Dr. Tanz was dead,” Cutter said.

“Oh,” Amys said. “Well, damn. That’s another one gone.”

“I know,” Grif said. “We haven’t finished negotiating that particular point.”

Baron Tyrelos spread her hands wide. “I feel I’ve been more than generous there. I want to talk about the synaptic map.”

“So do I,” Tanz said, leaning forward suddenly. Both Grif and the baron turned toward him, twin expressions of annoyance on their faces, but he brushed them aside. “Yes, I lied to both of you. And you, Baron, know better than anyone in this room why I did. You knew Mogra rather well. Better than most.”

The baron narrowed her eyes, but nodded once, a sharp, staccato motion. Not, Amys thought, the reaction of a tipsy woman. Normally she would assume Grif noticed this as well, but he had something of a blind spot in situations like these.

A very narrow focus is probably more accurate.

“Captain Vindh.” Dr. Tanz turned his attention to Grif. “If you won’t show me the synaptic map, will you at least confirm that you have it?”

“That’s what our doctor says it is,” Grif said, nodding to Cutter. “I take his word on it.”

Dr. Tanz studied Cutter carefully. “You’re a doctor? Where did you study?”

“Texas,” Cutter said.

Dr. Tanz frowned. “I’ve never heard of it. Is it prestigious?”

“All the Texans I’ve met seem to think so,” Grif said. Cutter chuckled.

Dr. Tanz closed his eyes, deflating slightly. “I’m out of options. Baron, if your offer still stands—I understand if it doesn’t—then I accept.”

Grif blinked slowly, looking from Tanz, to the baron, then back.

“It does,” the baron said.

Amys did her best not to scowl. They were witnessing politics, and it made her feel dirty.

“Very well.” Dr. Tanz stood, stretching his legs, and walked to the end of the table where he could face everyone in the room. “I am, obviously, a legally authorized clone of Dr. Stebil Tanz, personal physician to the late Baron Mogra Tylaris. Since I was activated in accordance with a number of very strict protocols, I had assumed when I… woke up that I—the original me—had died. That has very recently been confirmed.”

He looked at Grif, then shuddered.

“A strange thing, seeing your own corpse. But it confirms beyond a doubt that I am now, according to all Trade Baron treaties, the real Stebil Tanz.”

Amys snorted. “You sound defensive about that,” she said.

Tanz shrugged. “I am, a bit. I thought I knew how I’d handle it on the other end. Rationally, I knew I was creating… well, me. At the very least, as complete a proxy of me as it was possible to have. But I still thought of it as someone else, and when I woke up… I don’t feel like another me. I feel like the original me. As a doctor and a scientist I know, rationally, that I am no more than two weeks old, but I have an entire life’s worth of memories—not just recalled memories, but reflexive ones. This body—my body—has every ache and pain it’s always had. It has all the unconscious tics and mannerisms of a body that developed them over a lifetime spanning seventy-eight years.”

“I don’t understand that part,” Grif said. “As expensive as this process seems to be, I’d think you’d at least arrange to have some of that fixed. Clone yourself into a younger model, with substantially less wear.”

“It’s certainly possible to do that,” Tanz agreed. “However, it’s prohibitively more expensive—when the mind and body don’t match you run the risk of tissue rejection.”

Amys walked over to the bar, looking for something to drink that wasn’t Stellis. “The tissue being your brain, I guess?”

“Yes,” Tanz said. “I didn’t want to pay for that. Still, maybe that would have made things easier. I was expecting something to feel different. Nothing does…”

His eyes unfocused as he mused on that for a moment, then he shook it off. “Apologies. But to your point: I am, in fact, a bit defensive about it.”

Amys pulled a bottle of scotch out from behind the bar and set it on the counter. “So what were you doing in Oobachi? The other you—first you—however you want to think of him.”

Tanz hesitated a moment, then smiled slightly. “I assume you already suspect. I was to take Mogra’s synaptic map to his cloning facility in order to create a legal clone of the baron, in an attempt to reclaim the Tylaris Barony from his idiot son.”

Amys saw a hint of a smile on Grif’s face—it was one of the dangerous ones, the one that looked amused but actually meant he was curious. Not always a bad sign, but she didn’t like seeing it here.

“I’ve heard that before,” Grif said. “About Rolis, I mean. Baron Tyrelos didn’t think much of him either. But he seems to have held your counter-insurgency’s feet to the fire pretty well.”

“Yes.” It was not a happy admission, and Tanz looked like he’d rather choke on the words than say them. “’Idiot’ is not an accurate choice of words, Captain Vindh, it’s simply a satisfying one. Rolis has never been stupid, but he is extremely undisciplined, remarkably short-sighted, and more interested in his own comfort and amusement than anything else. This makes him extremely unfit to assume the duties of a Trade Baron.”

“Sounds like he’d make a good smuggler captain,” Amys said.

Grif choked on his Stellis.

Tanz appeared unaware of the exchange. “I don’t know where he suddenly found this knack for planning and self-discipline. If he’d shown it earlier in life, his father wouldn’t have felt the need to plan for a clone.”

Grif glanced over at Amys, and she could tell they were thinking the same thing.

Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he has someone doing all the long-term planning for him.

“Tell me more about this cloning facility,” Baron Tyrelos said. She’d dropped any pretense of inebriation. If Grif noticed, he didn’t mention it.

“Mogra had it built on one of Uru’s moons,” Dr. Tanz said. “The system belonged to the Tylaris Barony, but it was very underdeveloped, and Mogra took great pains to keep it that way. He wasn’t generally a fan of security through obscurity, but this was an exception. My job was to get the synaptic map there and oversee the cloning process. A few days before we left I made a synaptic map of my own, in the event we… didn’t make it.”

“Sorry,” Grif said. “We saw your ship in close combat—with a Tylaris gunboat. It crippled you, then got too close to your drives when your engines blew. It blew itself up soon after.”

“How did you find me?” Tanz asked. “And the map?”

“You escaped in a squib,” Amys said. “Unfortunately your squib was damaged. You crash landed on the eleventh moon.”

Dr. Tanz thought. “Ogo?”

Amys nodded. “You were killed by pieces of your ship. Probably during the crash.”

“Or… not you, obviously,” Grif chimed in. “And this is making my head hurt a little.”

Dr. Tanz nodded again. “I did commission a squib for the ship. Captain Vindh, if you truly have the synaptic map—”

“I have it,” Grif said, sounding cross.

“Then Baron…” Dr. Tanz turned to the baron, beseeching. “If you truly intend to purchase it from the Captain, I beg you to help us try again.”

“I’m willing,” the baron said. “If you agree to my terms.”

“Mogra Tylaris gave me power of attorney until his cloning was complete. That power is not currently accepted among any but the loyalists in our cause, but Mogra will recognize it.”

The baron considered this. “I knew Mogra well enough to accept that,” she said finally. “For now I’ll agree in principle, with the understanding that official terms must be negotiated and signed before any direct assistance is given.”

“Agreed,” Dr. Tanz said. “Captain Vindh, assuming you and the baron can come to terms soon, is there no way you can agree to—”

“I’m not handing it over while you’re here,” Grif said. “I have a professional interest in people not knowing where it’s currently kept. When you’re completely off my ship, we’ll make it available for pickup. The sooner the better.”

“I agree,” the baron said. “Sooner or later, someone is going to—”

At that moment the intercom beeped, and without waiting for a response Fadlyth’s voice cut in. She sounded distressed—so much so it was almost impossible to understand her over the gurgling.

Grif hurried over to the intercom and punched in. “Faldyth, slow down. What’s going on?”

There was a final, low, rumbling gurgle, then Faldyth replied in a much clearer tone: “Turn on the Station Authority news broadcast.”

Amys felt a vague prickling of alarm on the back her scalp as Grif went back to his chair and keyed in something at his place on the big table. The panoramic viewport went opaque, and an image of the official Station Authority news broadcast appeared on the screen. An attractive Invagi stared out at the display, her facial spines fully extended in a display of unguarded agitation.

“—Minerva Tyrelos is reported dead,” the Invagi woman announced.

The baron stiffened. “What?”

“The attack occurred at the Khorlumis Charity Ball in the Second City Bellows,” the announcer continued. “A small fusion bomb was detonated, incinerating everyone within the vicinity. Among the reported dead are Baron Tyrelos, her security detail, some key members of the Tyrelos Industries board, as well as representatives from various Trade Baron interests.”

Grif turned in his chair to stare at the baron. “Are you a clone, too?”

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