The digital screen in her desk chimed, sending a glowing pulse of pale blue through her screen. She checked the origin. Calena, Building Security. Now what?

She took the cal . Calena's face fil ed the screen.

"Claire, there are people here to see you," she said. "They say it's an emergency. They seem agitated."

Calena panned the camera to the side. Tonya, Charles, and Doreem Nagi leaning on a teenager who had to be Edu for support. Her stomach lurched. Something bad had happened. "I'm coming down."

Claire hurried to the elevator, her heels clicking on the transparent floor. A few seconds later the elevator spat her into the lobby. She crossed the tiled space.

Tonya saw her and would've ran forward if Charles hadn't caught her. Doreem's face looked grey. Edu stared at her, wide-eyed.

"What happened?"

"They arrested Kosta!" Tonya breathed.


"He got a recommendation for a job," Charles said, his face pale. "They looked at his job history and made him log into the bionet. He had no choice."

And the moment he logged in, his mind lit up with an AI's mark.

Her mind slipped into battle calm. "Where is he now?"

"The Security Forces took him away," Tonya said.

He was in physical custody. There was nothing she could do through the bionet or out of it.

"They're going to deport him. Melko will kil him," Tonya moaned.

Melko would definitely kil him.

Doreem Nagi pushed away from his grandson. His knees began to bend. "Please save my grandson..."

She caught him before he knelt. "Don't kneel. Please."

Charles helped him back up.

There was only one solution. "Come with me."

They fol owed her to the elevator. She brought them to fifteenth floor and led them to the conference room only a few feet from hal way leading to Venturo's office. It was the same room she'd sat in six weeks ago, waiting for her interview. The irony.

"Please rest here," Claire told them. "Bathroom is on your left. Wait for me. Don't go anywhere and don't speak to anyone. Refer anyone who asks why you are here to me."

Charles and Edu gently lowered Doreem on the couch.

Claire turned and strode down the hal way.

Ven's office wal s were transparent. She saw him behind her desk, watching her as she walked.

She had no idea what she would say.

Claire stopped before the door and rapped her knuckles on it. The glass slid aside and she entered the office.

"Sit down," Ven said.

She saw the set line of his jaw. His face was grim, but whether it was anger or determination, she couldn't tel .

"I need help," she said.

He leaned back. "I'm listening."

"A young man from my building on Uley is in trouble."

"How bad?"

"He logged into the bionet where he was bitten by an AI defensive protocol. The protocol belonged to a security forces instal ation. He has been arrested. If he is deported, he will be kil ed on arrival to Uley."

"Would they real y kil him?" Ven asked.

"Yes. They informed us that anyone who returned to the planet would be terminated." She leaned forward. "He is a child, Ven. Barely eighteen. He has his whole life ahead of him."

"And this is important to you?"

"Yes. His grandfather made sure that my mother didn't die alone in poverty."

Venturo's eyes were stil dark. "I can't cal to the security forces and demand they let him go. I need a reason. Can you claim that the boy is your relative?"

She was an orphan, and Doreem would do anything to save his grandson. "Yes."

"Then there is a way we can quash the deportation.

You would have to become a client of the Escana family."

She blinked.

"As a client, you become an honorary kinsman and can't be deported. Neither can your family. As your patron, I would be expected to make the cal to security forces and demand the boy's release." Venturo leaned forward, his arms on the desk. "The relationship between patron and client is complicated. The client serves the patron's family with devotion and loyalty. If the patron gives an order to the client, that order can't be refused, even if it costs the client his life. However, the patron, in turn, is obligated to use his influence and resources to take care of his client and assumes responsibility for the client's actions. Being a client is an honor. You're worth it."

He fell silent.

Claire waited. There was more coming, she could feel it.

"I dreamed about you last night," he said. "When I woke up, I had a moment of clarity. I realized why I've been trying to include you in things I like and hoping you might like them as well. I need to know where we stand. As a client, you can't be fired. You're not real y an employee - you receive a stipend from the family. You can't be deported. It would make certain things a lot easier. For example, if you want to reject an invitation from me, you could do so without..."

"Venturo," she said softly.


"What do I have to do to become a client?"

"You would have to swear an oath linking you to the Escana family. And, of course, there is a mind link."

A wave of ice-cold fear washed over her. "A mind link?"

"Becoming a client requires a demonstration of absolute trust and submission," Ven said. "A sacrifice must be made. If you were a fighter with combat enhancements becoming a member of a warrior family, you would submit to a thorough background check and then you would walk up to your patron, hand him a blade, and all ow him to stab you. You would do so without any move to defend yourself.

We're psychers. We don't stab and we don't need background checks. We enter your mind and read it like an open book."

He would see. He would see everything.

Claire sat stil , paralyzed.

She had to act. Kosta could be loaded on a spaceship by now. He would not betray her. He would trust her to stand by him. She was his officer. She had taken him on that mission. She had a duty to him.

"I understand that it's a huge commitment," Venturo said.

"I want immunity."

"I'm sorry?" His eyes narrowed.

"I want immunity," she repeated, her voice hoarse. "I don't want to be prosecuted for things you may see in my mind."

He grimaced. "In light of your exemplary service, I'm sure we can overlook the occasional theft of tea and cookies from the office. Everyone steals office supplies now and then."


He looked at her.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kinsmen Science Fiction
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