Xenopath

Xenopath by Eric Brown

Book: Xenopath by Eric Brown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Eric Brown
Tags: Bengal Station
accustomed
to verdant Earthly horticulture. Men and women in smart business
suits moved back and forth, barely giving him a second glance. They,
too, were shielded. He killed his implant, and the distant mind-noise
from the rest of the Station fell blissfully silent.
    Across the wide
corridor, facing the elevator, was a big head and shoulders
photograph of Gustave Scheering, the head of the organisation. He
appeared to be in his sixties, the beefy slab of his face staring out
at the world with all the self-confidence of a self-made millionaire.
Vaughan read a potted biography of the great man beside the
photograph: born in New York, he'd risen from obscurity to the status
of a major tycoon in his twenties, running a couple of Luna-Mars
shipping Lines before starting up in the colony business with his
business partner, Reb Lassiter. Scheering had assumed total control
of the company after Lassiter's death five years ago.
    To the left of
the elevator was an exhibition area given over to educating the
visitor on the positive aspects of Mallory's human colonisation.
    Vaughan browsed
the softscreens and holo-cubes, which gave condensed histories of the
planet's discovery, exploration, and colonisation. Documentary
footage was accompanied by a saccharine female voice-over, sotto voce
corporate hard sell.
    It was, he had
to admit, a stunningly beautiful world.
    Take
Switzerland, expand it, add a North African climate and gravity a
little less than Earth's, and the result was the exotic colony world
of Mallory. The fact that the grass and most growing things were a
shade of blue only added to the planet's allure.
    There was very
little on Mallory's native fauna, and nothing about
Scheering-Lassiter's ecological policy. Not that he'd expected much
in that department.
    He read
everything there was to read in the exhibit, listened to all the
anodyne commentaries, and came away knowing he'd been fed the party
line.
    It was time to
find someone who might be able to answer a question or two.
    He bypassed the
open-plan office area—the desks occupied by glorified
secretaries—and made for an enclosed office at the far end of
the chamber.
    The door was
marked: Gita Singh, Co-Director.
    He knocked and
opened the door without awaiting a reply.
    A woman in her
thirties, power-dressed in a severe black suit more like a uniform,
looked up from a softscreen in surprise. "Can I help you?"
    He'd decided to
be direct, rather than try to catch her out with dissimulation. "I
hope so. I'm Jeff Vaughan and I'm investigating the murder of one of
your colleagues."
    Singh was
suspicious. "Have you cleared this with security?"
    He flashed his
identity-pass. "How do you think I got this far?" he
smiled, disarmingly. "I know you won't be able to tell me
anything linked directly to the case itself, but I'd appreciate some
background information about the planet."
    Singh's gaze was
professionally neutral. "Mr Vaughan, I really am very busy this
morning. By the elevator you will find an informative display, which
should tell you all you need to know."
    He shook his
head, his smile sardonic now. "I think not. I've taken the tour,
and in fact I think it told me nothing about what I really want to
know about Mallory."
    She held his
gaze. "And what might that be?"
    Vaughan was
placatory. He spread his hands. "Look, I'm on your side. Someone
sliced one of your colleagues to bits and I want to solve the case.
I'm sure you appreciate my concern?"
    "Of course,
Mr Vaughan. But I cannot see how anything I might tell you about
Mallory could have any bearing—"
    "Perhaps I
should be the judge of that, Ms Singh? To begin with, I'd like some
information about Scheering-Lassiter's ecological policy regarding
Mallory, its relations with Eco-Col, and the management of indigenous
fauna."
    Discreetly, but
not so discreetly that Vaughan missed it, Singh slipped a hand
beneath the desk and applied pressure.
    The audience was
over.
    Vaughan sighed.
"Well, I can see

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