Killing Time
that he had an
eminently military bearing, one that was complemented by a high-collared suit
of clothes that was really more of an unembellished uniform. When he did turn
it was in a quick, wheeling motion, and what I saw next caused me to take in a
quick and rather rude gasp of air.
    Heavy brows loomed low over
penetrating dark eyes amid the deep brown skin, and the jaw, had it been any
more set, might well have shattered; but what prompted my extreme reaction was
the sight of one of the most horrific scars I'd ever encountered, running the
length of the right side of the head, tugging at one eye and pulling a corner
of the mouth down into a perpetual frown. A streak of snow white followed the
line of the scar up into the otherwise jet black hair.
    "Dr. Wolfe," Tressalian
said, "this is Colonel Justus Slayton."
    "Retired," the colonel
added in that low, almost ominous voice that made it plain I'd be well advised
to tread carefully during any contact with him.
    I did. "The same Colonel
Slayton," I asked, offering a hand, "who almost changed the course of
the Taiwan campaign?" That seemed to take just a bit of the steel out of
the man's demeanor, and he actually accepted my hand, encasing it in his own
with a force that was impressive.
    "No one could have changed
the course of that campaign," Slay-ton answered. "My men and I were a
token resistance—sacrificed animals, nothing more."
    "Offered on the altar of
expanded trade with the commu-capitalists in Beijing," I agreed with a
nod. "Still, you put up a hell of a fight."
    "Excellent again,
Doctor," Tressalian said. "Not many people understand the facts of
that campaign. What you may not know about the colonel, however, is that
after being wounded on Taiwan he became one of the Pentagon's top men in
weapons development. That, of course, was before I persuaded him to—"
    "Malcolm," Colonel
Slayton interrupted. "Before we go any further, there's the matter of the
doctor's DNA disc."
    Tressalian became slightly
embarrassed. "Oh, yes, exactly right, Colonel. I must apologize once
again, Doctor. But recent events have forced us to become a little more
circumspect in our dealings. Do you mind?"
    "Oh—no, of course not,"
I said, going for my wallet and removing my DNA identification disc.
"Hell," I went on as I quickly plucked a hair from my head and handed
both items over, "during the last few days I wouldn't have been
able to swear that I was me."
    Tressalian and I watched as
Slayton produced a handheld DNA reader (much like the one Max had carried
nearly everywhere he went), then popped in the disc and the hair. After a few
seconds he took them out again, nodding as he handed the disc back to me.
"Ah, good, that nuisance is out of the way," Tressalian said, heading
for the metal stairs that led up to the observation dome. "Now, Doctor,
I'll be happy to answer any questions you have—though I think you might enjoy
watching Larissa in action while we talk."
    I mounted the stairs next to
Tressalian, whose slow movements were practiced if not easy, while Slayton
stayed a few steps behind us, cither to make sure Tressalian didn't fall or to
keep a careful eye on me; in all probability a bit of both. One felt the
colonel's presence keenly no matter where he was, not least because of the
disturbing and mysterious scar on his face. In an age when almost any organ or
tissue in the human body save the brain could be fabricated in medical
laboratories—when the colonel's own skin could have been duplicated and run
off like so much cloth and then grafted onto his injury—the fact that he left
the disfigurement unaddressed was certainly indicative of the man's character.
The question was, what was such a character doing in the service of the
strange, remarkable man who was hobbling along beside me?
    All such cogitations left my head
when we reached the observation dome, which offered an unobstructed view in
every direction— a view that stretched the limits of my credulity even

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