(C of C) aSG: The Ladies Awe-Inspiring: Tailor's Honor #1

Eric Burns eaburns at annotations.com
Tue Jul 10 09:45:14 PDT 2018

(Part B Precedes)

     Clemmont seemed taken aback. "Excuse me?"
     "I said I pass." The Tailor looked intent. "If I were a different sort
man, I'd sell you a load of goods, charge you through the nose, and rig
them to
take you out at the worst possible moment, long after the money was
But like it or not I'm an honorable man, and I won't stake you out or cheat
you. I won't take this job."
     "Why?" Westergren asked. "Are you scared?"
     "Of Dame Marjolaine? Yes. I'm rational. But that's not why I'm passing.
Not that my reasons matter. The tea, of course, is complimentary, and I
apologize that we can't do business in this matter. I guess Master
off the hook after all."
     "We have come rather a long way under rather unpleasant circumstances,
Tailor," Clemmont said, coolly. "I'm not inclined to take 'no' for an
     "Mistress Clemmont..."
     "Wait," Westergren said. "How'd you know my name? Or her name? We
tell you--"
     "'Stupid puppy' can be a cute look, son, but that cute wears off fast.
Mistress Clemmont, I realize you're used to moving into hardball right about
now. Negotiating from strength -- knocking down the other side's
and getting them off balance. And as you say, refusing to 'take no for an
answer.' Well. This is a good time to resist that urge. You can't shove this
down my throat. You can't intimidate me through financial or any other kind
pressure. I have zero interest in being any kind of enemy to you but if you
labor under the impression that you can bring me down in any meaningful way?
I'd rethink." He looked at Handal. "And next time, don't bring the Junior
Woodchuck with you."
     "He's who I have," Handal snapped back at the Tailor. "We got away from
the last ambush -- me, him, and the boss. I don't know who else I can
trust, so
it's us. It's us and it's you. And you *are* going to be working with us on
this." He pulled his D-657, snapping the pulse chamber into place and
aiming it
at the Tailor.
     "If you shoot me? I'm probably not going to be able to do much of
anything." The Tailor didn't betray any concern.
     "Who says we have to shoot you?" Westergren snapped, pulling his own
carbine and rotating the hazer into position. "This is a *hazer,* tough guy.
This place'll burn *really* well *really* fast."
     "Well, I'm not so sure about that. I did spring for the expensive all
weather sealant on the timbers." The Tailor smiled slightly. "Friendly
neighbors--" He watched as RAMONA activated silently, a ready-prompt
showing in
his right eye. "You really don't want to pull those triggers."
     "After all your crap? I kinda do," Westergren said, pointing the
at the Tailor. "Just give me a reason."
     "Keep your hands nicely above the table where we can see them,
Handal said, eyes narrowing.
     "Mistress Clemmont -- do you intend to stop them?" the Tailor asked.
RAMONA showed active progress. The carbines needed careful regulation in
modes, and obviously had been hardened against most digital incursion... but
the Tailor had tricks almost no one else had ever heard of. Right now they
showed yellow in his right eye's assessment... different exploits being
the system adapting to new ones.
     Clemmont looked at the Tailor for a long moment. "It has been a very
few days," she said, softly. "And quite honestly, I'm out of ideas. So no,
Mister Tailor. I'm not going to stop them. They've had a long few days too.
consider making them a little happier."
     Westergren's carbine turned green in the Tailor's right eye. He took a
long breath, letting the seconds tick by. "You're absolutely certain I can't
talk you two out of this?" he asked.
     "I think we need an answer, Tailor." Handal sounded strung out. In a
the Tailor felt badly for him.
     The yellow tag on Handal's carbine turned green.
     "I understand." The Tailor shrugged. "The answer's still no. Do with
what you have to do."
     Westergren growled, pulling the trigger on his carbine. His was still
as a hazer -- it was possible he intended to wing the Tailor -- letting the
incredible heat cook a bit of his flesh and put him in excruciating pain,
as it set fire to the walls behind him. From the Tailor's point of view it
didn't matter. You pull the trigger on a weapon designed to kill? You meant
     The carbine buzzed non-functional.
     "What--" Westergren shrieked, looking at his carbine. He tried to
rechamber but it didn't respond.
     "Holy--" Handal pulled his own weapon's trigger. It buzzed the same
     "I'm disappointed in you, Master Handal," the Tailor said. "Master
Westergren was clearly a hopeless case, but *you* at least should have kept
your firmware. That's basic. Good day, gentlemen." He pushed his foot
hitting a small floor control on his side of the teamaking station.
     Both Westergren and Handal spasmed, their faces swelling slightly. They
both made a sound between a wheeze and a gurgle before Handal stopped moving
and Westergren fell out of the booth and into the hallway.
     "Wha-- *what did you do?*" Clemmont shrieked. Well, everyone had a
breaking point.
     "I gave you 'no' as an answer." The Tailor reached down -- no sense
keeping his hands in sight now -- and touched the table, spawning a holostat
window. "Juliana? Cleanup in 3B and interdict our remaining patron, if you
     There was a thunk, and the seat Clemmont was sitting in folded back,
dumping her into a shaft sliding down before snapping back into place. Her
involuntary scream was cut off completely when the seat snapped back.
     "Cleanup in ten seconds. What should we do with them?"
     "Disposal. We have no idea what happened to them. I'll be down on Lower
D." The Tailor turned and stepped down into the serviceway, then out into
hallway. By the time he was there, the two rigid things that had once been
humaniforms were being bagged by his cleaning crew. Four of them, two male,
female, all in their twenties and seasoned. This sort of thing didn't happen
much, but it paid to be ready in this profession.
     It took three minutes to get downstairs, though two of those were spent
swapping out his kit. Palm scanner, combat scanner, and high end scanners.
Weapons here and there. Making sure his own suit's charge was primed. The
with the field emitters. Life field generator button clipped in place. He
didn't expect to leave the Teahouse, but you didn't get to be his age by
     Clemmont was in a holding cell on level Lower D. Most of the private
booths on Lower B lacked the 'garbage chute' option, as one of the Tailor's
workers had called it once, but when you had minor belligerency at the door,
you took fewer chances. Said holding cell was an osmicrete cell with a thick
glassite pane that made up one full wall. The chute Clemmont had slid down
on the right side from the Tailor's point of view, though a heavy plate had
slid down there. The floor was a variable pad, able to cushion the woman's
impact on the way down but firm as a floor now. It would soften for
sleeping if
she were staying any length of time, which she wouldn't be.
     She was frantically working her comm, trying to find some connection
could make. She practically snarled when she saw the Tailor, backing up to
back wall. "You've made a bad mistake," she hissed. "If you're going to kill
me, you'd better--"
     "I'm not going to kill you," the Tailor said. "I'm not even going to
you. We'll talk for a few minutes and then I'm going to let you go."
     That took her aback. "Let me go?" she asked. "On what condition?"
     "No conditions. Well, other than our need to talk for a few minutes
Call it a debriefing, I suppose."
     Clemmont was staring at the Tailor -- incredulity seemed to be winning
over both fear and anger. "How... *why* are you so calm! You just murdered
     "Well, that's one of the things we need to discuss." The Tailor folded
arms and leaned back against the far wall. "Your bodyguards drew weapons on
I tried to talk them out of using them. They both pulled their triggers.
All of
which I have on validatable video. I use the good stuff. Either the good
at the North Shielaton Municipal Police or the even better folks at the
Constabulary would be able to establish self defense within a few seconds."
paused. "They'd also be able to establish accessory to attempted murder on
     "What? In what possible--"
     "RAMONA? Please display my question to Mistress Clemmont during the
armed confrontation and her response to that question."
     There was a three tone sound of acknowledgement. RAMONA wasn't a
digital intelligence -- barely -- but could certainly respond vocally.
by default that was disabled around strangers and clients. It was always
to keep your capabilities a mystery. The glassite wall rippled, and four
two-way holostats appeared -- the image didn't look mirrored on either side,
for convenience. Each window showed the same thing from a different angle,
though there was only one audio feed playing.
     The Tailor watched as Handal spoke. "Keep your hands nicely above the
table where we can see them, *friend.*"
     The recording showed the Tailor's comparable lack of reaction. The
found himself watching his 'performance.' "Mistress Clemmont -- do you
to stop them?" His voice was mild, with no sign that he had been waiting for
RAMONA to confirm compromising the maintenance hacks on the two carbines.
     From the different angles, the Tailor could see how tired Clemmont
She had tension throughout her body. "It has been a very long few days," she
said, the mic increasing its gain to make her soft words clearer. "And quite
honestly, I'm out of ideas. So no, Mister Tailor. I'm not going to stop
They've had a long few days too. I'd consider making them a little happier."
     The Tailor watched himself take a deep breath -- almost like a sigh.
"You're absolutely certain I can't talk you two out of this?" the recorded
Tailor said--
     "End playback and clear screen."
     The holostat windows vanished, leaving the Tailor and Clemmont facing
other through thick glassite. Clemmont looked even more tense now.
     "I was one person. There were three of you. We were in close quarters
you had no way of knowing I had any kind of failsafe. Under Cloister law, I
justified in using lethal force to protect myself. In fact, legal precedent
suggests I could have just cut all three of you down without giving any of
a chance. But, I am an honorable man, and I don't think that's very
He lifted his chin. "Still. Your bodyguards were trained professionals --
more than the other, admittedly -- and just disabling their firearms
stop them from pulling less easily negated weapons out or just attacking me
hand to hand. Legally, I was justified in the level of force I used." He
half-smiled. "On Cloister, at least. And just as legally, *you* were asked
you intended to stop them, and you said you weren't. That makes you an
accessory." The Tailor looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure whoever's actually
trying to kill you would have an easier or harder time if you were in jail
prison here on Cloister."
     Clemmont was still staring. She slowly shook her head, as if in
"So why didn't you kill me too?"
     "Like I said. I'm an honorable man. I extended my hospitality to you
your bodyguards. That included protecting the three of you while you were
Your bodyguards violated that hospitality -- they actually tried to kill me,
Mistress Clemmont. Let's not forget that. They lost my protection in that
moment. And, to be frank? They *offended* me in that moment. Good manners
important, don't you think?"
     Clemmont had no answer for that, so the Tailor kept talking. "Now,
*legally* I could have killed you, too. There's no question about that. But
while you declined to stop your guards, you yourself didn't violate the
of hospitality. You were willing to let them kill me, and that's hardly
*civil,* but that's not the same as pointing a gun at me, much less pulling
trigger." The Tailor shrugged. "You're still under my protection as my
guest. I
couldn't very well kill you, could I?"
     "That's... insane," Clemmont said. "You're a madman. An inhumane
     "*Inhumane?*" The Tailor smiled a bit more broadly. "Mistress Clemmont
you've already surmised I was born a Stationer, largely through appearance.
Bwaha had adaptive genetics, and pre-Union humanity had an almost
frighteningly flexible genome when it came to interbreeding xenologically.
Thanks to those two factors, Bwaha and baseline human didn't even need
medical intervention to interbreed. I can easily trace a quarter of my
to Bwaha sources. I acknowledge the big, happy family that is
humaniformity, but of course I'm *inhumane.*" The Tailor chuckled.
"Besides, my
'insanity' is keeping you alive and will get you set free in a few minutes.
Maybe this isn't the time to be poking at it."
     Clemmont paused at that. She took a deep breath of her own, and
herself. "You're right," she said, spreading her hands in conciliation. "I
appreciate that you didn't... what *did* you do to them, anyway? They just
rigid after making that horrible *sound.*"
     The Tailor was impressed with Clemmont's ability to recover. He'd
she'd seen death before in her career. She probably was responsible for some
all on her own, and was undoubtedly culpable of others. The fact that her
business was clearly in part criminal would have ensure that. "A little
something I came up with. In effect, all the cells in their body coagulated
instantly. That horrible sound came from the air being forced out of their
lungs while their vocal cords were distorting. It sounds horrible but their
neurons were affected at the same time. It's actually hard to get a more
instantaneous death." He shrugged. "In a case like this, making someone
is uncouth. They attempted to kill me and they died for it. Since I could
that death painless I did."
     "And... before that... you disabled their weapons remotely. You said
something about firmware--"
     "Mistress Clemmont -- I'm called the Tailor for a reason. I'm a
an armourer, and a weaponsmith. Quite frankly, I'm in the top four of all of
those categories in the entire Planetary Union. People forget that automated
and digitally guided weaponry have operating systems and firmwares that can
exploited. I keep on top of these things, in part to make sure the weapons
armor *I* provide *doesn't* have those vulnerabilities." He chuckles. "By
reputation if nothing else you and your bodyguards must have heard that I'm
older than I look. And there's a reason you came all this way, hoping I
give you gear to even your odds against the Lady's Paladins. It never
ceases to
amaze me that people rationally know I *must* be the best armed, best
person they've ever met and yet think they can bully me or threaten sixteen
year old girls who work for me."
     He leaned forward, serious now. "Mistress Clemmont, I don't intend to
anything more of this matter. As far as I'm concerned, your bodyguards
stopped existing. I have no reason at all to have any kind of grudge with
If you decide to pursue this further, out of pride or anger or God and Lion
knows what? I will turn everything over to the authorities and let them take
you in. Do we understand each other?"
     Clemmont glared, but then looked down. "We do. Trust me, I don't want
U.P.s involved any more than you do."
     "Probably quite a bit less. All right. I'll have you seen out."
     "Tailor -- what about *Warden?* All right -- you won't take my
commission. Fine -- there are other armourers, and at this point I probably
need to find a mercenary company to boot. But... they've been hounding me
weeks. It took a desperate gamble to make it *here.* I know you have no
to help me, but I have no one else to ask. What do I *do?*"
     The Tailor paused. He knew better than to get involved. At the same
     Well, he was an honorable man. And as little as he ever wanted to
speak to
Terrilyn Marjolaine Warden again, honor still had its demands.
     "Mistress Clemmont... Marjolaine Warden isn't trying to kill you."
     "We've verified--"
     "It doesn't matter what you've verified. I'm not speculating. This is
absolute fact. Marjolaine Warden isn't behind whatever you've been dealing
with. Honestly -- if her name and reputation's being used to mask the
of some other party, I'd recommend going straight to her. She'd probably
you in and fight this battle for you sheerly as a matter of honor and her
good name. Plus... she's a bit of a sucker for hard luck cases. And somehow,
despite being an executive vice president, multi-millionaire, and nefarious
consigliere at the very least you've turned into one of those."
     Clemmont was staring at the Tailor again. "How can you be so sure?" she
asked, finally.
     "I'm a Stationer. What's more, I... know quite a bit about Paladin
philosophy and the mixture of personality cults, Bwaha warrior culture
and Christian apologetics that make it up. I *know* she isn't behind this...
because if she were she would have told you why, directly."
     Clemmont blinked. "What?"
     "Warden's not a fool. She wouldn't endanger herself if she didn't have
to. But, she'd absolutely contact you. She'd explain why you had to die in
uncertain terms. She'd let you rebut. And then she'd do whatever she felt
had to do. I asked you directly how you *knew* it was her, and the response
circumstantial. Ergo, it's not her."
     The Tailor had seen a lot in his time. He was a moderately good judge
temperament and character -- certainly nothing that had happened today had
*surprised* him, beyond hearing Warden's name come up -- and he had been in
lot of situations like this. A lot of people, when told they were wrong, dug
their heels in regardless of hard evidence -- much less what sounded like
personal speculation of some mad scientist who made tea and railgun-equipped
hardsuits in equal measure. They argued. They couldn't be wrong. And the
had gotten very good at washing his hands of those people. He was an
man, but honor didn't demand he educate fools who refused to see what was in
front of them.
     Clemmont, on the other hand, had gone a bit pale. She looked away, her
body language a bit more vulnerable. "All right," she said. "You've done me
service. Thank you for that. I..." she almost laughed. "I'd ask for a more
generalized commission to be made, but I get the feeling--"
     "That moment's rather passed, yes," the Tailor said, smiling slightly.
"Come back in a few years and we'll see, but as for today--"
     "I understand." She paused. "And... thank you. For not killing me, and
telling me this. Though... I still think you could have stopped my guards
without killing them."
     "Oh, I could. I don't claim otherwise. And if it had just been them
hitting their limit after I turned them down? I might have. No promises,
He narrowed his eyes. "They *threatened my front hostess,* Mistress
And you didn't stop them then, either. No one does that. Not under my roof.
you do nothing else for me? Make certain you pass that tidbit around at your
soirees, while you talk about the madman with the tea fetish and the crystal
     "I have no intention of ever telling anyone about any of this,"
said, dryly. "I wouldn't want word to get out and cause those vids to get
released, now would I?"
     "We understand each other perfectly. Now. Would you like to be brought
back to your hotel or the shuttle port? Or do you have a vehicle?"
     "I have a skimmer we rented. Through a couple of third parties, mind.
not stupid enough to put my name on a rental's tracking beacon while
trying to kill me."
     The Tailor half-smiled. "I'm glad to hear that. Though... mm. All
Perhaps a bit more for free."
     Clemmont raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
     The Tailor touched the glassite. "Holostat window," he said, and one
resolved. He tapped a few commands, then keyed for vocal -- he'd already
that he could just speak and things would happen, but again. You played down
your capabilities where you could. "Launch eye. Track and trace
rental, backtracing to use and door-keying to Clemmont, Cassandra. There
may be
one or more aliases involved."
     There were the multiple tones, and a series of text windows opened,
scrolling information. About four seconds later another window spawned. This
one a panoramic showing a holocast from the eye that had just been
launched. It
swept out and down the street then over two cross streets, before panning
view to show a six-person groundskimmer parked on the street. Decent but not
too flashy.
     "Is *that* your card, Mistress Clemmont?"
     "...so quickly..." she murmured.
     "I don't know what specific division of the old bar sinister you work
under, Mistress Clemmont, but it's worth noting things like this can be
more easily than you think, if your opposition has the resources and the
     There was a flash of light on the vidwindow, interrupting the Tailor's
     The groundskimmer exploded.
     There was a general four tone alarm. "Heavy armor deployed in area,"
echoed through the level -- and anyplace non-public facing. The heavy armor
question seemed to be a heavy hardsuit -- four meters of retailored
metal, and glassite in the rough shape of the pilot wearing it, the haze of
gravitics on its elbows, back, outer thighs and boots letting it slide
the air even as it tracked. Active scanning was detected even as a second
hardsuit slid into view.
     Both were running hot, and both had scrambled recognition signals. Fast
interpret showed them as Stationer -- specifically Paladin recognitions.
     And the eye tagged a symbol on one. The Bwaha Star and insignia of
the First Commander.
     "Blow the eye," the Tailor snapped. The holostat window flashed and
closed. "General alert three. Go to full lockdown, pull all staff in.
calm among the patrons though let them know there's a civil disturbance. Let
any leave who want but don't throw them out. Open holding D3."
     RAMONA announced the basic orders in the private areas of the Teahouse,
even as the glassite slid down into the floor, opening the holding cell.
Clemmont looked spooked and angry at the same time. "What do I--"
     "Follow me," the Tailor said. "Decide right now if you want to be
or if you want to let me extract you. And either way, unlock your comm and
it to me." The Tailor turned and began to stride down the corridor,
that Clemmont would follow.
     After all, where else would she go?


        The answers, like dust in the wind, are airborne mini-dirt.

                      With thanks and acknowledgement
          to Mason L. Kramer, Chris Angelini, and Matthew Gerber.
                       Special Thanks to Jesse Taylor

 Notes and Comments at https://superguy-list.livejournal.com/38069.html
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