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Silence Of The Heart

Part III


I had lied to Martz once again, and by the same stratagem, I thought as I left the Hunter's Guild with Racton's two thousand meseta in my pocket. By telling him the truth about going to the police with what he knew--which was clearly his best choice under the circumstances--I gave the impression that I, too, was done with this matter.

I wasn't.

For the moment, I was a step ahead of the authorities. I knew that Racton had bought Peter Martz's rifle from Takamura. That meant that Takamura was either part of the syndicate, or he could point me to someone who was. Possibly the rifle had been sold before the arrest of the kidnappers and only had made its way through the pipeline now and there really was no syndicate--but I doubted that. There were too many rumors, and what was more, they were coming from the right places, not just the Guild gossips but from people who were in a position to know.

As I headed downtown, I tried to figure out why I was doing this, but all I got out of the effort was a headache. I wasn't getting paid, and I certainly wasn't doing it for Racton's sake; I figured he deserved whatever his greed got him into. Some hunters would undoubtedly see it as a matter of Hunter's Guild honor, but I couldn't fit my feelings into that light.

The fact was, it was a tangled mess of my anxiety about Vel, my pity for Oliver, and my contempt for people like Racton, who had no honor, no principles other than the shining star of their own greed. By the time that all merged together, even I wasn't really sure why I was doing this. I only know that I was, that I would no more have walked away from this than I would have chopped off my right arm.

The trader Takamura did business downtown, which didn't surprise me. While all of Pioneer 2's city had been built to a high standard, the basic pressures of having thousands of people inhabiting it for two years had led to the general degeneration of the downtown area. Here was where black marketeers and fences operated shoulder-to-shoulder with sleazy bars and strip clubs, where the citizens of the ship could slake their need for chemicals, for sex, or for more exotic vices.

As I landed, I saw a ring of spectators surrounding a street fight between a bulky, dark-skinned man with spiky yellow hair and a lithe Newman with steel rings piercing nose, nipples, and navel. There were no Photon weapons for these two; the human wore leather gloves ridged with metal plates while the Newman had chromed claws that shimmered in the dazzle of colored lights from the storefront signs. The spectators cheered encouragement and shouted out bets while the two men circled in their waltz of death.

I shrugged and passed on. Blood sports did not interest me, and I had my own business to deal with. A blue-haired Newman girl made a number of intriguing offers as I headed for Takamura's office, but I brushed those aside as well.

It was too bad, I reflected. We'd come millions of miles to a whole new planet, but we'd brought the same old flaws with us. It made me wonder if there would ever be hole for people.

I pushed my way into Takamura's office. Like Racton, he was a "trader" in the purest sense of the word; he did not operate a retail business but dealt in consignments of merchandise--a merchant, not a store operator. Principally, he dealt in textiles, manufactured in factories located on the smaller ships accompanying the Pioneer 2. That much I'd learned from his citizen files, which I'd accessed in the same way as I had Oliver Martz's.

That was Takamura's public persona. His private business, apparently, was not a matter of record. That, obviously, was the goal of any criminal, but more difficult to achieve than most would think--especially for someone that Racton was able to find and deal with. Unless this was somehow Takamura's first foray into the black markets, I'd have expected to see at the least a notation for "suspected of trafficking in illegal weapons." But there had been nothing.

"May I help you, sir?"

The receptionist was a female android with a snow-white face, ruby lips, and dark hair and eyes. She was a custom model, and I wondered if she was supposed to represent a specific individual. The outer office itself was designed to mimic traditional styles, with walls that looked as if they were made of wood frame and paper. The decor was sparse, with only the receptionist's desk, done in faux black lacquer, topped by a computer and an ikebana flower arrangement in a cobalt-blue ceramic base.

Real flowers. The cost of growing real flowers in an artificial environment like Pioneer 2--where space needed to be used for production of food and other necessities--was prohibitive. So was hiring a hunter to fetch some from monster-infested Ragol. That told me a great deal about Takamura and his financial status.

"I'd like to see Takamura."

"May I have your name?"

"Sejanus."

The android's masklike face frowned sadly.

"I'm afraid that you do not have an appointment, Mr. Sejanus."

"I know that."

My answer seemed to confuse her.

"Tell Takamura that I'm here to see him about a shipment he recently provided. It seems that...legal questions have recently come up and I'd like to discuss them now before they become public and cause embarrassment."

"Oh! I see." She tapped a few keys on her computer and opened a connection to her employer. She passed on my words all but verbatim, and in a few moments I was being shown through a sliding door into Takamura's personal office.

Like the reception room, this room used simplicity to its best advantage, though it was paneled in wood with what might have been prints of old paintings or may have been the originals. An artificial fountain gurgled peacefully in one corner. This room, however, did not seem empty. On the contrary, it was almost full to bursting, not with anything physical but with the force of its occupant's personality.

Takamura was tall, an inch above my height, with short, square-cut hair of iron-gray. About fifty-five, his face was weathered, creased by deep grooves, though there were no crow's-feet around his eyes and mouth. He wore dark, close-fitting clothing--a man who had no need for ostentation, and probably no liking for it.

"Good day," he said politely. "May I offer you refreshment?"

It was, I reflected, precisely what I'd thought he'd say. I might be wrong, but I was sure I'd formed a basic assessment of him. Traditional certainly, with a veneer of civilization that was very important to him, a propriety in his dealings. He showed respect because not to do so would demean himself, and he expected respect from others.

The mannerisms, the expensively-furnished office located in the midst of the downtown area, these all pointed towards one conclusion: Takamura was an underworld boss of some status. Clearly, he was not a man to be trifled with. Even police authorities would tread cautiously, since he undoubtedly had influence in high places.

All of this came together in the space of a few seconds, telling me how to approach this situation.

"No," I said bluntly.

"I see. In that case, may I--"

"Let's save all that polite garbage," I cut him off, my crudeness slicing through the air of civilization, as if the filth and violence outside had smashed into his little oasis. "I'm here to talk about illegal arms sales. Stolen weapons dumped on the market into the hands of people too greedy to care."

His eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"I am not aware of who you--"

"My name is Sejanus, and I'm a hunter," I interrupted him again. "Here's the thing. Ordinarily, I wouldn't care one way or another about black market weapons sales. It's not like a little free enterprise hurts anyone. The fact is, some of those weapons have been identified as the property of hunters--hunters who went missing on Ragol. Here's the picture: those hunters are still missing, and yet their weapons got back up here to Pioneer 2."

I could see him fighting for control in the face of my complete disrespect as well as my accusations, both outright and implied. People did not act that way towards Takamura--which was precisely why I'd chosen to do so.

Surprisingly, civility won out.

"If, as you say, weapons from missing hunters are being sold on Pioneer 2, then is it not logical to believe that they were found by other hunters? After all, hunters often find weapons and supplies from Pioneer 1 on Ragol, so why not those of Pioneer 2 hunters who may have met with an unfortunate fate?"

He spoke in a calm voice, giving the impression that he was being the very model of reasonableness in the face of my lack of control.

"Yeah," I sneered, "Sure. Only these weapons were sold on the black market, remember, not openly."

"I cannot be held responsible for how individuals choose to do business. Regrettably, there are those for whom the lure of illegal profits outweighs the dictates of conscience."

I had to give him this, he was giving me every chance to back down and treat him with the respect that he believed was his due, even to apologize tacitly instead of openly so that I could withdraw my harsh words without a loss of face.

I didn't take that opportunity, though. Instead I rammed my point home so that there was no way to avoid confronting the issue.

"True, and apparently you can't resist that temptation, either, seeing as how you're the one who sold those stolen weapons."

Takamura scowled at me.

"You are an exceedingly rude individual, Sejanus, to come into my place of business and make these uncouth accusations."

"Get used to it. See, you were stupid to have sold those weapons to Racton. Did you really think that a greedy pig like that would be able to resell them and not get caught? You've got rocks in your head if that was your plan. Everybody and their kid brother now knows that you're a black marketeer and that you're tied in with the people who made those hunters disappear. Maybe you did it yourself, eh?"

That got to him. He crashed his fist on his desk, making the pens rattle in their stand.

"You are insufferable!" he roared. "I will not stand for this barbaric behavior. To come in here, to accuse me of criminal acts without evidence--"

"Get used to that, too," I said. "If you think there's no evidence against you then you're even dumber than you've been acting up until now. Consider this: I'm only the first person you're going to have to deal with. There's going to be a whole lot of other people asking the same kind of questions, and if you think I'm being rude you haven't seen anything yet. So how about you tell me where you got those weapons from and spare yourself the trouble?"

Of course he did nothing of the sort.

"Get out!" Takamura snapped. "I have put up with your insults for as long as I am willing. This is my private office and I am under no obligation to listen to your baseless ranting."

"All right, I'll go--but believe me, Takamura, this won't be the last you'll hear of this business--or the last you hear of me."

I left the office immensely satisfied with the way things had gone. He'd told me nothing, but as soon as I'd met him I had known he wouldn't. He was far too canny to implicate whomever was next in the black-market chain, and I had nothing to pressure him with.

There was even the chance that Takamura was one of the old-school syndicate bosses who adhered to a strong code of honor and would never betray his comrades, but I had my doubts about that. In my experience, among gangsters those codes of honor were followed more by lip service than by any actual sacrifice of something in their best interests.

I climbed into my aerocar--auto theft was almost unheard of on Pioneer 2 simply because the closed society made it incredibly easy to trace a stolen vehicle--and took off, skimming slowly between the skyscrapers on autodrive. Before meeting Takamura I had prepared to bully information out of him the way I would with Racton or his type, with force of character or veiled threats of violence. That approach would have gotten me nowhere with Takamura. I needed leverage to use against him, and Racton's testimony just didn't cut it in that area.

That was why I'd behaved like someone who didn't know what he was doing, played the arrogant barbarian. Hopefully my rudeness would be a slap in the face to him, an insult Takamura's pride couldn't deal with. Anger might well provoke him into rash action, not well thought out, which I could turn against him and use to force him to reveal more about the Black Paper syndicate.

Presuming, of course, that I survived it.

I'd almost gotten home when a message came in over the BEE simple-mail network. It was short and to the point: Have info about the missing hunters. Meet at 21:00 hours, 119 Valsus Street, Suite 19. Bring 2000 meseta.

I checked the clock. There was just enough time to make it if I didn't make any side trips. Coincidence, or was I being played for a sucker?

Shrugging, I turned the aerocar, inputting the new destination. Things were starting to move. One way or another, I figured I'd have some answers soon.

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