Silent BladeBy: Ilona Andrews
In the course of space colonization, there arose a need for humans with enhanced abilities. Men and women who could survive harsh conditions, who were superb warriors, gifted hunters, and brilliant scientists.
Some enhancements were technological in nature: an array of implants with various functions. Their effect ended with the death of the person who carried them. Other improvements were biological and these enhanced capabilities persisted, lingering in the bloodline, changing and mutating into new abilities in the offspring of the original carrier. It was quickly realized that the advantage of these biological enhancements lay in their exclusivity. Thus, the biologically enhanced united and shut down all further biological modification.
Collectively known as kinsmen, these exceptional beings gave rise to several dozen families, which now form the financial elite of the colonized planets. The kinsmen strictly control their numbers and their loyalty to their families is absolute. Like the Sicilian mafia families and feuding Corsican clans of the old planet, the kinsmen exist in tense competition with each other. It is that competition that rules the economy, begins and ends wars, and drags human civilization to greater technological and scientific progress.
“Place your hands on the panel in front of you.” The bodyguard, in a sleek grey uniform of Canopus Inc., nodded at the plasti-steel console that sprouted from the luxurious rug like a mushroom on a thin metal stalk.
Meli smiled. Four high-caliber gun turrets swiveled on their mounts on the ceiling, tracking her every movement as she rested her fingers on the panel, a thin bracelet sliding down on her right wrist. She had already passed through a number of metal detectors and submitted to a search and a chemical sniffer. Only one final test remained.
Light slid along her fingertips as a complex array of scanners feverishly assessed her temperature, heat, and chemical emissions, sampled the composition of her sweat and oil on her fingertips, and probed her body for foreign influences. A long moment stretched. A calm female voice with the crisp unaccented pronunciation of the computer announced, “Implant scan, class A through C, negative. Biological modification negative.”
The guard relaxed slightly. The tense line of his shoulders eased. A person like her had no chance against a bodyguard equipped with a combat implant that sharpened his reflexes and increased his strength.
“You may step down,” he permitted. “Follow me.”
She walked behind him to the large wooden door polished to an amber gleam. Maruvian pine, unthinkable luxury. The guard tapped a code on his wrist. The door slid aside, revealing a second, steel partition. The steel wall split in half and parted. Meli strode into a spacious office. The door whispered shut behind her.
Three people waited in the office: an older man behind a desk cut from a single block of malachite, and two bodyguards, a woman and a man, both lean and sharp, positioned at the walls on opposite sides of her.
She smiled at them as well.
The man behind the desk leaned forward slightly. Agostino Canopus, thirty-eight, a kinsman, fourth son of Vierra Canopus, Arbitrator Second Class. Of average height, he sat with the easy authority of a man completely confident in his position. His hair, a dark copper, was cut and styled with artful precision. His skin was perfect. His eyes, two dark chunks of green, fastened on her. In a split second she was evaluated, measured and approved.
“Sit down.” Agostino indicated a plain stool bolted to the floor with a casual sweep of his hand.
“You came here to become a retainer of Canopus family,” he said. “Why?”
In the financial world, where most disputes were decided by arbitration, the arbitrators wielded unprecedented influence.
Agostino nodded. The answer seemed to satisfy him. “Your test scores are exceptional.”
She accepted the compliment with a nod. “So is my reaction time.”
His eyebrows came together. “What…”
She whipped off the chair. Obeying her mental command, a long ribbon of transparent green whipped from the narrow bracelet on her wrist. The ene-ribbon slashed the female bodyguard, whipped across the door, and kissed the male bodyguard across the chest. Before Agostino’s lips shaped the next word, Meli sat back onto the chair. Behind her two bodies slid apart, cleaved in two. The air smelled of fried electronics. She had disabled the control panel on the door.
Agostino surveyed the door. “You’re a melder.”
Melders like her were an extremely rare commodity. The mutation that permitted her to operate an energy ribbon came along once in every fifteen million, and most possessing it never discovered their abilities. In the world of combat implants and biochemical modifications, melders were the extraordinary natural-born freaks.
Agostino leaned back, one leg over the other, pleating his long fingers on his knee. “What’s this about?”
“The Galdes family sends its regards.”
Ten days ago he had presided over the arbitration between Galdes and Morgans. He’d ruled in favor of Morgans, finding no wrongdoing in the hostile takeover of Galdes’s Valemia Inc.
“It was a fair arbitration,” Agostino said.