A pity she didn't have time to build something in so that he couldn't leer as he smiled. He'd still do that. It was an ingrained habit.
This man was going to turn heads wherever he went.
Nika's first and only boss, Hannah Tan, had specialized in DNA changes. She'd been passionate about them. "No one knows how to do them anymore," she had said. "Not like the golden days when artists like Gino Giwari were at their peak."
Hannah had lived and breathed DNA changes, and for five years Nika had too.
"I am the best," Hannah had told Nika often. "But Gino Giwari, he was...he was God. He could do anything."
Nika had learned everything she could about Gino Giwari. There was plenty to learn. He hadn't been a modest man. He'd published extensively and documented many of the changes he had made.
Over time she had come to believe that while Giwari had been more than capable of successfully changing someone's DNA, he hadn't been an artist, he'd been a technician. His changes were always in the same places. It got so that all Nika had to do was read a sequence of DNA and she could recognize Giwari's work.
In fact, the thing he should have been famous for, which had been buried under years of posturing about DNA changes, was his pioneering use of transurides in body modding. Nika was using it now, to give her skin its ethereal glow.
Giwari's DNA techniques had never taken off. Nika had reproduced some of them, but always with problems. And DNA modified that deeply didn't take well to future mods.
Drops of blood spattered onto the screen. A little tweak of the DNA, Giwari-style, and Tamati would always have trouble with genemod machines.
A perfect design for an assassin who liked to go unnoticed except when he did his kills, and a nasty surprise next time he was injured.
She set up the life support. Her calculations told her it would take twelve days.
She set the safeties.
Alejandro's meddling had taught her early that she had to build in safeties. Especially after they had started using the exchanger and she'd come back to her own body once to find that while he'd been in her body he'd redesigned it to add twenty millimeters to her bust and to remove the same from her waist. After that she'd made good and sure he couldn't touch what she'd set up. The controls were memory- based. Nothing Alejandro could use by forcing her body to the scanner. No biometrics, no prints, no DNA. Pure memory.
Once Tamati's body went into the box, nothing would let him out until the process was complete.
It was done. She triggered the locks, including the manual locks— old-fashioned bolts that you had to pull back, and chains—that stopped anyone coming into the shop but could be opened from inside. And you didn't need DNA to do it.
The exchanger had been their final fight. After she'd dumped him, he'd come back again, and again. It had terrified her that he might get into her shop while she was in the machine. He knew just enough to do major damage.
When Tamati came around he'd get out.
He just wouldn't get in beforehand.
She tubed up, and immersed herself in the mutrient bath.
The 'Hassim' was three days late. At first, Josune had only been worried because every day's delay increased the chances of discovery. If she had known how paranoid Captain Hammond Roystan was about trackers on his precious ship, 'The Road to the Goberlings', she'd have found another way to keep in touch with the 'Hassim'. Would even have risked a coded message.
Now she was just worried.
Captain Feyodor had been waiting for her signal. She should be here by now.
"You going to do some work around here?" Carlos demanded, and Josune dragged her attention back to the gear she was curing. She spared a wistful thought for the 'Hassim''s workshop, whose molder cured as it built. The gear she had just built would have been harder than tempered steel when it came out of the molder, instead of her having to cure it for an hour afterward.
"Both ends, Josune. Do it evenly. I don't want a gear breaking in nullspace."
"Teach your grandmother, Carlos." But Josune obediently switched the gear around so the heat lamp could work on the other end. Carlos might be unqualified, but he was a natural engineer, and he certainly knew his way around a molder. So did Josune, but she had spent years studying ship engineering. Those qualifications didn't show on the certificate she'd handed Roystan when she'd applied for this job. That certificate said she was a junior technician who'd gained all her experience on an old cargo runner named the 'Breadbasket', which had worked out on the rim.
Carlos watched her. "For a newbie, you're good at this."
"I had a lot of practice. The 'Breadbasket' kept breaking down."
"Thought you claimed it had the best engine in the sector."
She had to be careful, remember what she'd said. "That's because I was on it."
Roystan hadn't been able to check her credentials with her supposed former captain. The 'Breadbasket' had fallen afoul of a cattle ship. The reason Josune hadn't been with her crew? She'd been in jail, drunk and disorderly, when they'd shipped out. She was supposed to meet them at their next port. At least, that was what she'd told Roystan.
Roystan had taken her on because he needed an extra general hand. Josune being an engineer was a bonus. But he'd given her a stern warning. "Get drunk here and we won't bail you out. Don't expect to join us at the next port, either."
"You young people," Carlos said. "Always think you know everything."
She'd lied about her age too; said she was twenty-five. She'd spent time in a machine to make herself look ten years younger than she was. The hardest part was trying to act like a twenty-five-year-old.
She shouldn't have to lie much longer. But the 'Hassim' was late.
* * *
They gathered as a group for the evening meal. Roystan switched the boards from the bridge to the display in the crew room so they could eat together. Over time, the crew room on 'The Road' had been modified so much that it had become a secondary bridge. If they'd been able to connect the pilot controls and the calibrator to the crew room, Josune was convinced no one would ever step onto the main bridge except for maintenance.
There were seven crew. Josune and Roystan. General hand and de facto engineer Carlos. Chef and cargo master Jacques, who'd spent the six weeks Josune had been on board cooking and talking to his kitchen appliances. The longest time he spent in cargo was when choosing what to cook for dinner. There was plenty of cargo space set aside for food.
Cargo assistant Pol did most of the cargo work, with the help of two other general hands, Guardian and Qiang. Guardian doubled as the second pilot. Josune didn't know what Qiang's second role was, but as she was the only one allowed to carry a blaster, she assumed Qiang was the ship heavy.
She touched her hand to the welcoming hardness of the sparker strapped to her stomach. It made her uneasy to walk around on a ship unarmed. Roystan and his crew might think they were safe here so deep in the legal zone, but Josune knew from experience that when a company wanted something, the legal zone was no barrier. The Justice Department—paid by the companies to maintain the legal zone— turned a blind eye to what the companies did, and sometimes actively helped them. Weapons were occasionally necessary.
Eating together was a ritual Roystan insisted on. At first Josune had thought it strange, but she had to admit, they solved a lot of problems over the dinner table.
Captain Feyodor would hate it. She ate alone in her room, working at the same time. Josune had lost count of the times one or another of the 'Hassim''s crew had brought a cold, congealed dinner back to the galley because Feyodor had forgotten to eat. But then, they hadn't had anyone like Jacques to cook for them either.
Tonight, dinner was a white root vegetable in an exotic green cream sauce, with reconstituted rainbow chard on the side.
Josune closed her eyes and savored the smooth spices on her tongue. "This is so good, Jacques." She would miss Jacques's cooking.
"Of course it's good. I cooked it."
She wouldn't miss the arrogant certainty that he was the best chef in the galaxy.
Pol and Qiang had their heads together, doing sums. "Easy," Pol said, "and we can still have a four-day layover at Atalante." She looked up.
Captain Roystan shook his head. "We've been over this before, Pol.