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Book: Paradox by John Meaney Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Meaney
earned respect by proxy, from Zhao-ji's mad bravery.
    But I was too scared to help.
    Always the same. Always the bigger ones, the strong ones, abused their strength.
    But in the puzzle world of his downloaded code, such concepts did not apply. THERE IS NO LEADER , it had told him, rejecting his first solution. THE DINERS ARE EXACTLY EQUAL.
    That evening, Tom went alone to feed Paradox, while Zhao-ji lay alone in the dorm, silent in his pain.
    Magister Kolgash Alverom—known as “Captain Kolgash” or merely “the Captain” to the boys—was hook-nosed and possibly one-eyed: a black inverted-triangle patch was permanently fastened where his left eye should have been.
    â€œAgain, boy.”
    â€œBalakrane,” Tom recited. “ Balkerina, baelkrenitsa …” He rattled through a hundred Laksheesh terms for cargo: nuances bespeaking dumb containers or smartbugs, small bundles or large sacks, their mode of transport and stacking-algorithms.
    Tom was in the alpha group, and that meant logotropic enhancements, administered in the Captain's study. Always, it was the Captain's clawlike right hand, from which three fingers were missing, that held out the femtocyte injector for the boys to take.
    White fingerbone, toppling into the swirling liquid—
    â€œAnd the rest?”
    An ancient equation:
    â€œConcentrate, boy.”
    The sound of waves, breaking against a shore.
    â€œTalk to me, Tom.”
    Sapphire sky, and a lone bird flying.
    A screech as it descends, falling upon its prey …
    Burst of light, pungent fumes inside his nostrils. He snapped back into reality.
    â€œAre you all right?” The Captain's hawklike features showed concern.
    â€œYes, sir.”
    Synaesthesia flash: he knew what it was. Caused by his sessions with the downloaded code?
    â€œKeep visualizing, or the routines lose plasticity.”
    â€œâ€”a disgrace.” The woman's voice, coming from the doorway, was familiar. “What are you doing to that boy?”
    Tom whirled.
    â€œTom…I can only stay for a while.”
    They chatted, in fact, for hours, while the Captain served daistral but otherwise remained unobtrusive. Finally, at Trude's invitation—her expression becoming grim—he drew an old graphite chair forward and sat down to join Tom and Trude.
    â€œYou're dispensing logotropes.” She brushed back a long, white-grey lock which had escaped her mandelbrot scarf. “Do you know what you're doing?”
    Tom held his breath. No-one talked to the magisters like that.
    â€œBelageron Class-4 protocols.” The Captain's voice was matter-of-fact. “With quick-dispersal tetani matrices and bipolar potentiators.”
    â€œWhat?” Trude's tone was scathing. “You'd put the fear of death into—?”
    â€œOh, no.” The Captain shook his head. “Not military grade: I've reduced the apoptotic inhibitors. Weakened the time gradient.”
    â€œYou tailor them yourself?”
    â€œQuite.” A grim smile. “I learned how, under pressure…some time ago.”
    Trude looked at him, expressionless, then turned away. “These boys aren't fighting for their lives.”
    â€œNo,” said the Captain. “But for their futures, even this far down. For the lucky ones.”
    When her time was up, Tom escorted Trude as far as the outer court, where she embraced him.
    â€œFor this stratum—” she began. Then, “The school's better than I thought.”
    â€œIt's OK.” Tom smiled, deliberately. Trude had done her best.
    â€œNow I've two reasons to come and visit,” she said, surprising him, then turned and walked away without a backward glance.
    â€œHow many times d'you pull the weasel, Kreevil?”
    Rainbow dragon, writhing in the air above the lanky boy's bed.
    â€œIn one

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