Code of Conduct
First Book in the Jani Kilian Chronicles
by Kristine Smith
The aliens called her Kièrshia. Toxin.
Captain Jani Kilian’s life should have ended in front of a firing squad. Instead, she evaded battlefield justice by dying in a transport crash. End of story, according to official Commonwealth Service records.
But doctors repaired her in secret, using the most advanced Service Medical technologies available, or so they assured her. In the last days of the idomeni civil war, she escaped their homeworld of Shèrá, and spent the next 18 years on the run.
But someone like Jani leaves a trail no matter how hard they try to hide it, and she soon learns the Service hunt for her never ended. When Interior Minister Evan van Reuter, her former lover, tracks her down and begs her help in finding his wife’s killer, she has no choice but to agree.
The search takes her to the Commonwealth capital of Chicago, a hotbed of political intrigue as dangerous as any warzone. As the danger mounts, so do Jani’s struggles. Her rebuilt body is breaking down, and memories long suppressed are flooding back. Of one horrible night 18 years ago, and the gut-wrenching decision that changed her life forever.
First Book of the Jani Kilian Chronicles
“Smith’s tightly plotted SF thriller debut is an ace–sure to appeal to readers who appreciate well-drawn characters and sophisticated milieus…Smith balances a taut mystery with vivid characters and a complex, ever-evolving plot–a feat more experienced authors don’t always achieve.”
“Impressive and entertaining . . . perilously fascinating.”
“[An] extraordinarily solid first novel . . . Smith creates a complex and deftly shaded background populated with vivid, memorable characters—a universe of power politics, commercial and political espionage, and personal and interpersonal relationships . . . Code of Conduct is a novel for adults who have lost their illusions but not their love of story.”
-Elizabeth Moon, author of Once a Hero
“The most fascinating alien culture since C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner . . . Code of Conduct gives SF fans who demand strong characterization something wonderful to read when there’s no new Bujold or Moon novel.”
-Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, author of Night Calls
“Code of Conduct is good science fiction, good suspense, and an all-around good read.”
Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and a number of short stories, and is a winner of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. She worked as a pharmaceutical process development scientist for 26 years, but now writes full-time. Find out more at her website: www.kristine-smith.com
Read a Sample
The frigid morning dampness seeped through Jani’s weatherall as she hurried out of the charge lot. She jammed the notes from her crack-of-dawn meeting into the side pocket of her duffel; as she did, she quickly surveyed the scene behind her. Rain-slick skimmers hovered beside boxy charge stations. Trickle-charge lights glimmered like distant stars. A single streetlight bathed everything in a cold blue sheen. No movement in the ice-light. No sound.
Jani took a step. Stopped. She could feel eyes follow her, could sense their probing like a skin-crawl across her shoulders. She turned.
A few meters away, a feral cat regarded her from its perch atop a discarded shipping crate. It stared at her for a few moments, then poured to the ground and vanished into an alley. Seconds later, Jani heard the scatter of garbage, followed by a strangled squeak.
Sounds familiar. The poor mouse. It probably never knew what hit it. Jani could sympathize. Her meeting had gone much the same way.
It’s like everyone’s forgotten Whalen’s Planet exists, girly. Commercial traffic at the docks is down sixty percent in the last two weeks. That’s six-oh.
She trotted down a side street that led to the main thoroughfare. Her right knee locked as she turned the corner, and she stumbled against a pair of mutually supportive inebriates who had emerged from one of NorthPort’s many bars.
One of the drunks shouted as Jani disentangled herself and hurried away. Something about how her limp made her ass wiggle. She looked over her shoulder, caught glimpses of brightly colored ship patches and a slack-jawed leer. She felt the heat creep up her neck and kept moving.
She entered the lobby of a hostel that catered to merchant-fleet officers, tossing a wave to the desk clerk as she hurried to the holoVee alcove. Several employees already sat on the floor in front of the display screen, their positions carefully gauged to allow them a clear view of the front desk.
On the lookout for the manager. Jani kept quiet until she entered within range of the holoVee’s soundshielding. She knew an unauthorized break when she saw one. “Is this it?”
One of the cleaners nodded. “Hi, Cory,” she said without looking up. “It’s the CapNet broadcast. It’s just getting started.”
Jani did a quick mental roll call of the small group, counting faces, uniforms. She didn’t know their names—she tried to avoid the complication of names whenever possible. “Where’s the garage guy?”
“He’s still out sick,” the cleaner said. “Should be back tomorrow. He’ll be mad he missed this.” The young woman grinned. “I’ll tell him you asked about him. He thinks you jam.”
Jani responded with her “Cory” smile. Quiet. Closed. A smile whose owner would blush and keep walking. She leaned against a planter and surveyed with satisfaction the lack of fuss that greeted her arrival. Yes, Cory Sato, documents technician, had settled quite nicely in NorthPort over the last six months. Jani Kilian had never seemed farther away.
Until her morning meeting.
Business has dropped over the side these past two weeks, girly. NUVA-SCAN annex won’t answer our calls. Even the Haárin are complaining. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?
An overwrought voice interrupted Jani’s troubled meditation. “A great honor is being paid the Commonwealth,” the CapNet reporter gushed, “opening a new and exciting chapter in human-idomeni relations!”
Spoken like someone who has no idea what she’s talking about, Jani thought as she watched members of the Commonwealth Cabinet walk out onto the sheltered stage that had been erected in front of the Prime Minister’s palatial Main House. Steam puffed from their mouths. A few of the coatless ministers shivered in their formal, color-coded uniforms. Chicago in winter looked even less hospitable than NorthPort, if that were possible.
Treasury Minister Abascal, ever-flushed face glowing in lurid contrast to his gold tunic, trundled to the podium “to say a few words.”
“Where’s the ambassador?” someone grumbled.
“He doesn’t come out till later—you want the poor old bastard to freeze to death?”
“Never get to see him at this rate.” One of the day-shift waiters checked his timepiece. “All fourteen ministers gonna talk—it’ll be hours.”
“Not all fourteen,” said the restaurant hostess. “Van Reuter’s not there.”
Really? Jani studied the rows of faces, looking for the one she knew. Had known. Long ago. “Too bad,” she said. “He’s the best speaker of the bunch.”
“You like him?” The waiter glanced at Jani over his shoulder and sneered. “He’s a Family boy nance.”
“He knows the idomeni,” Jani replied. “That’s more than you can say for the rest of them.”
“You don’t see him much since his wife died,” the hostess said. “Poor man.”
“You hear about him, though,” the waiter muttered. “Nance.”
On-screen, Abascal finished to scattered applause and gave way to Commerce Minister al-Muhammed. Jani leaned forward, straining to hear the commentary over the buzz of multiple conversations. Commerce controlled trade and transport schedules—maybe something al-Muhammed said would shed light on the slowdown around Whalen.
“Is al-Muhammed the ‘A’ in NUVA or the ‘A’ in SCAN?” someone piped, drowning out the minister’s voice.
Oh blow! Jani shouldered her bag and walked through the middle of the huddle. “Al-Muhammed’s the ‘A’ in SCAN,” she said, bumping the speaker in the back of his head with her knee.
“He’s another nance,” griped the waiter.
“Cory, I thought you wanted to see this,” someone called after her. “You’ll miss the ambassador.”
“I have to go. I’ll catch it somewhere else.” Somewhere quieter. She should have known better than to try to watch the program with others. Some things needed to be studied in private. Pondered. Mulled.
We’ve officially reopened relations with the idomeni. Jani rubbed her stomach, which had begun to ache. Wonderful. She walked past buildings of black-and-yellow thermal scan-brick toward NorthPort’s Government Hall. The elegant twelve-story edifice loomed over all like a stern but forgiving patriarch, offering numerous types of guidance to his wayward children. Audit assistance from External Revenue Outreach. Documents counseling from the Commerce and Treasury Ministry annexes. By all appearances, family relations appeared very close.
Appearances, as the old saying went, could be deceiving.
Why you always hang about with the nances at Guv Hall, girly? What goes on there so interesting you need to see it every day?
She increased her pace as she headed out of the business district, monitoring her stride in shop windows and mirror-glazed brick. She had only become aware of the hitch in her walk over the past couple of months, and had attributed it to a combination of the NorthPort weather and a cheap mattress.
Among other things. Jani took a step. Right foot down. Another. Left foot . . . down. She had to assume that. She hadn’t much sensation in her left leg. Or her left arm. The lack of feeling sometimes made quick movement an adventure, but she maneuvered pretty well for a half-animandroid patch job. And my ass does not wiggle—she glanced at her reflection—not much, anyway.
Block after block fell behind as she tried to walk off her growing apprehension. She passed warehouses, long-term skimmer charge lots, then a three-hundred-meter stretch of sand and scrub before coming to the houses.
The facades of the one- and two-story polystone homes would have appeared familiar to most humans, but a careful observer would have noticed the subtle alterations. Smaller, fewer windows. No doors opening out to the street. Blank walls facing the human side of town. For humanish ways are strange ways, and godly idomeni avert their eyes.
The low clouds opened. Cold rain splattered down. Jani yanked the hood of her weatherall up over her head, but not before looking around to see if she was being observed. She wouldn’t be welcomed here. The made-sect Haárin, like their more disciplined born-sect counterparts, preferred that their humanish neighbors keep their distance.
Except when it comes to business. The Haárin were non-violent criminals and other idomeni social anomalies, their manufactured sect the pit into which the born-sects dumped their misfits. Even though Jani understood the Haárin better than most, she still couldn’t be sure whether they settled on human worlds because they enjoyed aggravating their governing Council or because they actually liked the neighborhood. They definitely enjoyed learning concepts like float-rebound accounting. They liked dealing, and possessed a disrespect for Commonwealth rules and regs that was almost colonial in its fervor.
They’re probably all at the gathering hall, waiting for Tsecha’s speech. The reopening of formal diplomatic relations between the Commonwealth and the Shèráin worldskein, and the subsequent reevaluation of trade and taxation laws, concerned them as much as it did Jani’s bosses in the Merchants’ Association.
I foresee busy times ahead for documents technicians. Jani squinted as the rain pelted harder and thick fog wended around homes and down the empty street. Then a shadowed movement in the murky distance caught her eye; her stomach clenched as it always did when she saw a NorthPort Haárin. Their born-sect forebears had been Vynshàrau, and the skeins, their familial lines, had remained undiluted. The approaching Haárin was rope-muscled, slender, and two meters tall. His yellow-orange skin, which screamed jaundice to humans, in idomeni reality marked the sects that originated in Shèrá’s desert regions.
It’s only Genta. Jani’s anxiety subsided. The shuttle dealer walked toward her with long, loose-limbed strides. His dark green overrobe clung wetly to his matching belted shirt and trousers, the hem catching on the fasteners of his knee-high boots. Clothing drenched, fine brown hair plastered to his scalp, the Haárin appeared completely at ease. With his narrow shoulders, age-grooved jowls, and wide-spaced yellow eyes, he bore more than a passing resemblance to a bored cheetah.
“Nìa Chaw-ree.” Genta crossed an arm over his chest in greeting. His right arm, palm facing inward. A sign of regard, if not respect. “You ar-re noth ath a holoVee, watching speeches? That is wher-re all idomeni ar-re, watching speeches.” The English words tumbled from barely moving lips, all trilled r’s and fuzzed hard consonants. “Insthead, you ar-re her-re in the rain.”
“Yes, ní Genta—I don’t like speeches,” Jani replied as she returned Genta’s greeting gesture. And I have some nerves to walk off. But a Haárin wouldn’t know a nerve if it reared up and bit him in the ass, so no use mentioning that. “Why aren’t you in the gathering hall? Tsecha’s born Vynshàrau—they’ve always been friends of Haárin. You might like what he has to say.”
Genta held a spindle-fingered hand to his face and brushed water from his hairless cheeks. His stare pierced Jani. She, of all people, should have been used to it by now, but the direct gaze of idomeni eyes, large dark irises surrounded by more lightly colored sclera, could still disconcert. Looking strangers in the eye was taboo for all born-sect idomeni, but the NorthPort Haárin were adopting the custom as a matter of good business. The fact that it rattled the hell out of most humans had nothing to do with it. Of course not.
“I did not wait for Vynshàrau to tell me to live with humanish,” Genta said, “and I do not need what Vynshàrau say now to work with humanish.” As usual, he became much more intelligible when he had a point to make. “NìRau Tsecha is not for Haárin. He is not for Vynshàrau, or even for idomeni. He is for something here”—he thumped the middle of his stomach, where most idomeni believed the soul resided—“and to fight for such does not extend GateWay rights or alter contract law.” With a distracted gesture of departure, he started back down the street.
“It will be bad for business,” he continued, his rumbling voice deadened by the fog. “Bad, as it was before. Even now it starts—where are all the ships these past weeks? No good can come from this. No good.” With that, Genta disappeared into the swallowing mist, leaving Jani alone in the rain.