Author: Guede Mazaka
The green-and-gold ones serenely slipped back and forth, but the smaller black ones seemed to be deeply paranoid, starting whenever the shadows shifted. Rufus also spotted a pretty gold one hiding among the grasses and had to smile sourly: its body was tall and it clearly wasn’t built as well for fighting as the scarlet one lording it up by the front pane, so that was the right idea. “They’re all unmodified.”
“Yes,” Reeve said, sounding as if he was tucking his chin tight to his chest. That’d be something, considering how many jacks he had sticking out from that particular body part.
“Very much more expensive, isn’t it? You don’t even have an automated system, really.” Actually, Rufus wasn’t sure if it even qualified as a system. The various pieces of equipment hanging onto and seated inside of the tank looked as if they’d been hacked out of plastic excavated from the historical layers of the nearest landfill, and not a single one seemed to be hooked to any other one. The plastic tubing had a thin film of green scum on the inside, which was shocking compared to the sterility of the rest of Reeve’s office.
Reeve’s reflection in the glass nervously moved its arms, pushing around one data-screen after another. “It costs me three thousand wulongs a month to maintain, but I enjoy it. It helps keep me sharp for dealing with flow-maximized randomosity models—”
Rufus exhaled in audible irritation and stood up. “Bullshit.”
He met Reeve’s gaze, and for a moment the other man’s eyes were shining with something nearly like a backbone behind his VR lenses—thin silica sheets, transparent on Rufus’ side and showing anything from data-streams to zero-g porn on Reeve’s side. Then Reeve discreetly lowered his eyes; his hands had never stopped moving over the many virtual keyboards he had up.
The man had VR implants as well, yet he apparently donned external ones for officework. Either that was a sign of a serious and thoughtful approach to security, or one of possible internal discontent.
“I like the work involving in taking care of them myself, sir,” Reeve finally said. “They’re less predictable and simple than they look.”
“‘They’?” Rufus asked. A soft thump from the hall made him look up, but he relaxed once he noticed Reeve hadn’t reacted. He curled his fingers over his wrist where the implant he once would’ve used to scold Reno would’ve been, willing the impatient fool not to overreact again.
Reeve shrugged, making the net of wires snaking over and around him whisper in hisses. “Fish are aware enough to develop personalities, sir.”
“Curiously enough, that’s not a trait considered desirable in most quarters. If our soldiers ever broke school, then we’d be in quite a bit of trouble.” Rufus turned back to the tank, watching the air bubbles spill from one half-submerged tube. The fish seemed to particularly prefer that spot, pushing and occasionally outright fighting to be near it. “You raised some reasonable objections, and they’ve been noted, but nevertheless I’m still putting your transfer through. But you can take your fish with you. And you’ll be receiving another three thousand a month in your salary deposits.”
“Sir,” Reeve quietly said. His hands moved soundlessly for a few seconds; his pupils were dilated wide and his irises a deep green when Rufus glanced at him. But then they went brown and focused on Rufus. “Thank you, sir.”
Another sour smile tugged at Rufus’ mouth, but he ruthlessly suppressed it. “I expect that you’ll continue to remember the difference between fish and men.”
“I’m grateful that you know it, sir.” There was the slightest trace of irony in Reeve’s voice. So slight, in fact, that Rufus couldn’t reasonably call him on it. “And thank you again. I don’t think I could’ve found anyone who’d know how to take care of these if I’d had to have given them up.”
It was different from Tseng and…and whatever peculiarity Rufus had been to him, Rufus reminded himself. Which was why Tseng had left, and partly why Rufus was transferring a perfectly good administrator into the assassin division.
Fish. Shaking his head, Rufus walked out, paused at the doorway, and waited for Reno to fall in beside him.