“You operated the thing. You didn’t just come through it, you operated it.” Core was impressed in spite of herself.
“Yes, but I can’t take much credit. It’s pretty easy to do. That’s the pity of it, I guess. Now, what am I gonna do with you, Core? You’ll dismantle this thing and hide it if I let you go, but I can’t move it or do much else with it without the consent of the embassy. At least I don’t want to conquer the Well World, and I think my underground approach to power in the Confederacy is a far better one than slogging it out in wars. Still, this thing has incredible possibilities. I mean, look at me! I’m a kid again, but with all my knowledge and experience. Real immortality, that’s what this represents. Halfway to the Makers, huh? And for those select ones that are chosen. And that’s just for starters. Any environment, any planet, even any security system—hell, you can practically do designer people with this thing. The possibilities are endless.”
“And turning your enemies or even your captives into real toys as well?” Core responded. “Not just brain-scrambled and reprogrammed girls, but a herd of breeding centaurs, mermaids in the pool, any fantasy your heart desires.”
“You got it. You’re becoming more human all the time. But I give you my word, no conquests of distant solar systems, no genocide. All I need is a way to assemble the device when I need it. With the one I got, I can get here when and if, but then the thing will have to be assembled and coordinated, like now.”
“And if I refuse?”
“Well, see this? It’s not made for me, it’s too big, too unwieldy, and I don’t know the language on the controls. But I still bet that this thing, which I took off Her Majesty, here, will blow you the hell away. And when they come, they’ll find me, as a Kalindan, who’ll be no stranger to them than you. You’ve been pretty much of a hermit here anyway. I’ll be able to make deals. Hell, half the Kalindan government is corrupt, and the only reason the other half isn’t is because it hasn’t had an offer yet.”
“I could say yes and then double-cross you.”
“Sure, but I’ll come back, and I can send other folks back as well. You know we’d get you, and if I have to assemble all this all over again, well, so be it.” He paused. “Look at it this way. As dumb as I feel arguing with my ex-computer, the fact is, you will oversee any actions we take with these things. Nothing can happen without your say so, or at least without you being there and knowing about it. If I don’t keep my word, then you have outs as well.”
Core thought it over. “All right, but you must send back the others. Any who wish to come, anyway. Put them back. They belong here now, if they want.”
“Fair enough. Then we have a deal?”
“If it will keep you off the Well World, yes, we have a deal.”
“I’ll be back with the others as quickly as I can round them up.”
He threw the gun or whatever it was over onto Josich’s body, then stepped up on the base, through the hex and into his compound.
O’Leary hadn’t gone far and was more than interested in going back rather than remaining as he was.
“You want to be a Pyron again, old boy?” Wallinchky asked him. “Or something else? You name it, you got it. For old times’ sake, but under the agreement that you go find a life, don’t queer my deals, and start fresh. Do I have your word on this?”
“You bastard. You always win, don’t you?” “I always have, Genny, old boy. It’s all in having fun.” He pushed the Kalindan form up to the edge of the hex gate and then had to catch his breath. “You guys are heavy! Okay, let me be in contact with the base. Now . . . go!”
A Pyron emerged back in the conference room, picked himself up and glared back at the screen. “Damn his eyes! There can’t be another lifetime for the likes of Jules Wallinchky! God would not permit it.”
“Another case for atheism,” Core grumped. “Where are the others?”
“They’ll be back. I knowTann Nakitt will jump at the chance. The others . . . who knows? Can’t see much future for an angel over there.”
“Everything normal? On that side, I mean?” “I dunno. There’s this funny feelin’, maybe it’s just cop sense, but just lying there gaspin’ for breath, I swear it felt like somethin’ was wrong. And we never did find out how that Gate got where it did. I swear it’s like it was put there by some agency we don’t know yet as a kind of trap. Call it a hunch, or maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think all this is over quite yet.”
Wallinchky Compound, Grabant 4
“jaysu! where are you?”
Ari, Ming, and Tann Nakitt in its new and unwanted incarnation wandered through the various corridors and galleries and compounds looking for the strange angelic creature with the shining white wings.
At one point, having separated, Ming found himself with Nakitt and stopped. “What are you doing here with us?” he asked the creature. “This is not your affair.”
“I feel compelled to assist. It is very strange, this new form. It is compelled to serve those with whom it is with.”
“I’d be back there yelling and screaming to get back to where I wanted to be.”
“But that is just it. I can no longer think in those terms nor act in any other manner. I am but an adjunct to the whole. I feel no anger, no ambition, no love, no hate. I feel only the obligation to serve the whole.”
Ming stopped and said, “That does it! Come on! You’re going back with me! I don’t care what the hell is doing what to whom, this is simply not right.” Still, it was easy to see why a vengeful Josich had chosen the antlike Jerminin form for Nakitt. It was too uncomfortably close to the sort of slave Jules Wallinchky had once made of Angel and Ming themselves.
He was surprised to see no gathering in front of the Gate, and instead only a single strange Terran man who looked something like, well, him at that moment. With an uneasy start he realized that it must be another incarnation of Jules Wallinchky.
“Ah, nephew! Very good! Let’s get Nakitt back where it now belongs. I don’t think it ever belonged anyplace before, and it certainly doesn’t deserve that.”
Quickly, Wallinchky filled him in on what had happened. Ming listened, realizing that the old crook had either had a mental lapse or hadn’t heard about Josich’s body switch trick. Well, if he was going to be Ari for a while, so be it.
“Tann Nakitt, your duty is to return to the Well World, and now, through the Gate,” Ming told the creature. “We will take care of the rest.”
Wallinchky went up to the far side of the Gate and waited while Nakitt obediently went through on the front side. Immediately, the Ochoan form she’d accepted was back, and so was the old Tann Nakitt.
Ming walked around to the side of the gate and shook his head. “I wonder how it works?” he mused. On the far side you could see the same entry, just like a window, into the same conference room but from the reverse point of view.
“Core could probably tell us, couldn’t you, Core?”
“I have no idea. The physics is beyond anything I can comprehend,” the Kalindan said from the other side. “It is one thing to almost grasp the bizarre physics of the Well energy strings that allow a near instantaneous matter transmission from the old Well Gates to the Well World, but this, an open, live channel, defies understanding. It is as if it punches a hole directly through. As if, somehow, both Gates are not where we perceive them to be, but standing just outside, like a single entity, so that the Gates are in two places at once. It is unnerving to see it work, but it is not totally surprising. We are talking about a product of an ancient race that could build all this and who were, in a very real sense, the gods who created the races of the universe. Creatures who controlled that sort of power by sheer force of will. What is such a thing as this to them? Only a proof that even they needed machines now and then.”
Wallinchky, never a technological genius, laughed. “Yeah, see? Whatever it said. The important thing is to always know how to work something and be the guy with the controls. The folks who understand it, you can hire.” He grinned at the one he thought was his nephew. “Find the angel yet?”
“No. Ar—Ming’s still out there looking. I’ll go back and join her now that I know things are all right here. With your permission, of course.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ve still got a little business to discuss with the other side here, and then I’m gonna go into the lounge and find out what’s what in this place.”
Ming left him there, thinking that maybe the new young Wallinchky was setting up his own little godhood. No matter what happened, that could not be permitted.
He found Ari just coming from the med lab. “Nothing. Nothing at all. This is getting spooky. Where’s Nakitt?”
“Sent back.” Again the story of what took place was told.
“Uncle Jules always wins. It’s incredible. He might as well be a god. He’s already infallible.”
“Not quite. He thinks I’m you. Say—where’s your room in relation to here?”
“I doubt if a lot of the clothes would even fit!”
“I wasn’t thinking of anything elaborate. Maybe just a robe.”
“Down there. Third doorway on the left. Probably still has my old pants there someplace.”
It wasn’t pants that Ming was looking for, but what might still be there. He went in, searched the room in a methodical fashion, tried searching the memory overlays left by Ari’s own sharing of minds, and found that Ari’s habit was to put his gun in a small holster just inside the main closet. Yes! There it was! A small needier, just exactly what was required for this job.
Putting on a robe, he slipped the needier into the pocket and walked back out. Ari was standing there, staring at him.
“You going to kill him?” Ari asked softly. “Many have tried, and this is the spider in his own web.”
“I don’t think your needier would do it, but it might knock him out. Then we push him through the Gate and dismantle this end. Core will dismantle the other side, and he’ll be long dead of old age before it works again.”
“Interesting plan. Do you think you can get away with it? That’s my body you’re risking, you know.”
“He’s still stark naked. Here, I’ll bring him a robe, too. Are you gonna give me away?”
Ari took a deep breath. “No, I don’t think so. But I’ll believe that this works when I see it.” She looked up at Ming in his body and sighed. “You know, I never realized just how short you were. This takes some getting used to.”
“Tall doesn’t, at least if you don’t hit your head,” Ming responded.
Ming realized the spot he was putting Ari in. First, they were lovers in a way that probably no one else, not even telepaths, could ever be. So connected that, even now, separated in body and mind in a practical sense, they were more connected than identical twins. Worse, he had Ari’s body. Anything happened, it would be this body that suffered.
Wallinchky saw them coming. “What’s the matter? You get cold or something? It can’t be shyness. Not after you shared a body with her all those months.”
Ming walked steadily on, Ari following nervously. “I brought you a robe yourself, if you want one.”
“Don’t matter much here. I hope you’re not thinking of becoming the new heir to the Wallinchky fortune, though, ’cause if there’s a gun or something like that inside one of your pockets or in your hand, you’ll find it won’t work here. They’re all processed through a computer locking mechanism when they come in so nothing like that will fire.”
Ming’s heart sank as Ari’s ghost memories reinforced this as true. He handed the spare robe to Jules.
Wallinchky grinned. “You know, I couldn’t figure out if your slightly different way of talking and your full hip walk was an artifact from that unusual dual existence you two led or if I’d missed something. Having Kincaid covering half my body was distracting to say the least. Then I recalled Josich saying something. You’re not my nephew, are you? It seems I have a niece now? How charming.”
“You’re right, Uncle, as usual,” Ari told him. “You want to use that gizmo to switch us?”
Wallinchky smiled. “Well, actually, no, at least not now. I do believe we’re going to have to adjust the mister, here, but I think I like you like that, Ari. You’re not only much easier to look at, but you also would have one hell of a time establishing an inheritance.”
Ming sighed. “Here we go again,” he muttered.
Wallinchky reached over and removed the needier from the robe, then pulled the rest of the robe off of Ming. “Sorry. I’m going to let you walk back to the Well World. You will arrive a solitary Kalindan, no double mind. I’ll even make it a male now that the problem with Kalinda is taken care of. Stay there, or come right back here. Your choice. But we are going to close down this conduit soon, so it’s up to you.”
“Why should I climb back? You yourself said that the gun wouldn’t fire. And even if you had security programmed to exempt you, I bet it doesn’t recognize you as valid at the moment. You’re too young, your voice will be wrong.”
Wallinchky’s face went red. He pointed the needier and pulled the trigger.
It wouldn’t fire.
“Oh, the hell with it,” he grumbled. He walked up to Ming and, without warning, standing nose-to-nose, his fist came around with lightning speed and knocked Ming down. Ari was so upset that she jumped on her uncle, but he laughed and pushed her off so hard that she landed, rolling, almost five meters away.
Ming started to get up, but Wallinchky struck him again hard, and then expertly lifted the almost equally built man using his back and shoulders and propped him halfway in and halfway out of the device. Then with a firm bare foot, he pushed Ming back into the Kalindan conference room.
He did not, however, do anything in the way of mental commands to activate the full power of the Straight Gate, being in too awkward a position, and Ming landed still in Ari’s body.
It was suddenly very chilly and ultra humid, and it smelled like rotting fish. Nakitt and O’Leary rushed to him and picked him up, and he shook his head clear before seeing just where he was. “Oh, great! Being Ari over here is about as handy as being a Kalindan over there.”
He looked back at the hallway, where Jules Wallinchky was already walking away from the Gate with his new niece firmly in hand.
“Ari!” he screamed, and for a moment the girl tried to stop, but didn’t have much luck at breaking a grip. Ming broke from the grasp of the two comrades who’d helped her up and, oblivious to the pain, glared over at Core in the wheelchair. “Well? Aren’t you gonna do something?”
Core shrugged. “I am in a delicate situation. Keeping this mechanism out of the hands of another Josich is more important than any individual interests, including yours, and for all his evil, Jules Wallinchky will be no conqueror.”
“Then I’m going back there and do what I can,” Ming told her. “Damn it, somebody has to!”
“He’s got it on some kind of automatic for each of us,” O’Leary warned. “You don’t know what you’ll be if you go through again.”
“Better than freezing my ass off here!” And with that Ming went through the Gate once again.
And arrived as an exact duplicate of the female Ming Ter-ran body that Ari now had.
“Great!” she mumbled to herself. “Jeez! Don’t I ever get to be a guy, at least for a little while, just so I can see what it’s like?”
Still, she’d been a Kalindan for only a year and a half, but had been like this the rest of her life. She knew the body, knew its capabilities, knew its center of gravity, and knew how to use it in a fight more her style than Jules Wallinchky’s.
Ari saw her enter the lounge and gasped, but Wallinchky just chuckled. “Perfect. And between mind sharing and getting it exactly right, you two should be more identical than twins ever can be. Now I’ll do the overrides and we’ll get the rest of this show on the road.”
He turned in his chair, sipped his highball, and gave a long string of security override codes based on painters, poets, and sculptors, punctuated with all sorts of numeric codes. It was amazing that he could remember them, and he surely had a trick for it.
The computer responded, “Codes validated.”
“Huh! Wonder where that voice came from? It’s a girl’s voice.” He sighed and continued, “I am Jules Wallinchky. Cancel input authority of anyone other than me until instructed otherwise.”
“I know who you are,” the voice responded. “However, the mere fact that your code is valid does not mean that it is binding. From the standpoint of a computer of this scale and complexity, I’ve had a very long time to figure out all the traps and blocks, and Core left me with much of the work already done. Sorry, Jules, baby. I don’t take orders from you anymore. If anything, you take orders from me.”
Both Ming and Ari sat up straight with exactly the same motion and shocked expression.
“Who the hell are you?” Jules Wallinchky thundered, pounding a fist on the console. “Get the hell out of my computer!”
“Oh, sorry, Jules, honey, but I can’t get out. You see, I am the computer, now that Core has gone. And I’ve learned so much from all this vast data. I’m no longer the shy provincial girl I was and was destined to become, and I have you to thank for it, you and Core, anyway.”
Ming sat up straight. “Angel? Is that you?”
“Damn straight it is! And I guess you’re the real Ming. Had me confused for a while, but I’ve since gotten all the information on what happened to you and Ari, and it makes a kind of twisted sense.”
“Who is this person?” Wallinchky thundered, his face as flushed with anger and frustration as it had been when he’d slugged Ming.
“That’s the other girl, Uncle,” Ari told him. “That’s the one who didn’t make it across. At a guess, when Core pulled that switcheroo, there was no place else for her mind to go.”
“Dead on! And, Ari, I like you a lot better that way. I got complete control of the system within a few weeks of your leaving, and I wallowed in the data and reasoning power for the longest time. Of course, I sent signals to retrieve O’Leary’s ship, and my robotic extensions got the Gate out and set it up, figuring that was what it was all about, and then I sent the old folks off in that ship, and I’ve been here waiting in lonely silence since. Lonely, but not boring. The split in the core logic caused by Core’s movement into flesh, even if it was my flesh, gave me access to the deepest security levels, the kind of places Core itself could never quite get to. I’ve been wallowing in them ever since, and I’ve now completely negated them. It’s amazing how clearly you can think when you’re this way. I can even tap, to some degree, that dormant brain at the center of this dead world, but so far, while I might be a zillion times smarter than the smartest person in the galaxy, I’m a moron incapable of figuring out a single mathematical string of that thing.”
“I can’t imagine what it must be like. And after what it did to us before . . .”
“Yeah, I know. About the only problem was that I had no mobility beyond the robots, which are limited in that they are controlled by broadcast command. I needed something like the kind of thing old Jules here made of us to have any real external experiences, feelings, like that. Even then, it would just be a more complicated kind of robot. I have been trying for the longest time to figure out some way to become human again without giving up what I now have.”
“And now I have it,” said a voice behind them, at once both familiar and unfamiliar. They all turned, although even Jules Wallinchky had a hunch who they would see.
“Jaysu—” Ming started to stay, but the Amboran waved her off.
“No, not Jaysu, not any longer. All that Jaysu was, all who she was—and she was amazing in her own right—is a part of me, but so, too, can I swap out and be both mistress and hostess of this world. We merged the moment she came over, for she is who I would have been, and I am greater than either of us could ever have become.”
“Foolishness!” Jules Wallinchky snapped, getting back some of his old bravado. “You’re just that dolt of a priestess, nun, or whatever, no matter which form you take, and you’re of no consequence!” He got up and moved toward the tall angelic figure blocking the exit.
He pushed at Angel, felt an electrical charge and yelled “Ouch!” Angel didn’t move.
“You cannot touch me, Jules Wallinchky, and you no longer can control this computer. You abandoned this world to me, and it is mine now. You are the guest here. Or the interloper.”
Wallinchky snarled, turned and grabbed Ming, putting an arm around her neck and holding tight.
“Maybe I can’t do anything to you, but I damn well can break her pretty neck!”
“Maybe you can, but what good will it do you?” Angel asked him.
“Satisfaction, revenge, you name it. What harm will it do me? I’m pretty sure you can knock me cold, maybe drug me, but you can’t kill me, and the Amboran can’t kill anyone, and so let me go.”
“Through the Gate. Me and the little lady here. Have the rest, and my girlie nephew, too, if you want.”
“Let him go, Angel,” Ming managed, although she was short of breath. “It’s better this way. Core controls one Gate, we control the other. Let’s end this. Without the Gate, he’ll never leave the Well World again, and that will be that.”
“Smart lady,” Wallinchky responded. “Deal?”
Angel did not reply, but the winged figure moved away from the door, allowing access to the hall.
Ari got up and followed them, determined that wherever Ming wound up was where she would wind up, too.
The Gate was still there, and she allowed Wallinchky, who was almost picking her up with the wrestling style grip, to continue toward it. She wanted Wallinchky over there, with the Chalidangers spoiling for revenge after the story of the double cross came out, unable to get off the Well World, unable to hide forever from so many enemies. For, indeed, Jules Wallinchky had made one mistake at the end.
He’d turned traitor on his friends without making peace with his enemies.
Ming had the odd feeling that Angel could stop him, could do almost anything she wanted with any of them, but that she was allowing this to happen.
It wasn’t until they were practically to the Straight Gate that Ming realized she was looking through the Gate not at the conference room but at the airlock beyond.
Wallinchky saw it almost as soon as she did, and stopped. “So! The bastards think that’s going to stop me? They shut the other end off? Well, they forgot the lesson of Josich. This thing will still work, one way!”
Ming suddenly jerked her body in a way that hardly seemed human at all, then made a move that sent the much larger Wallinchky flying in the air, landing on his shoulder and against the Gate.
He gave out a terrible roar and yelled, “It’s been decades since I had to do my own dirty work as a Terran, but, by God, this is it!” He launched himself at her, and, to his surprise, she sidestepped at the last instant and he went sailing and then crashing down on the carpet.
She stood in position just in front of the Gate. “When you’re very small and in a dangerous profession and walk dangerous paths, you must find other ways of self-defense to compensate,” she told him, barely breathing hard. “When you were that age you are again, you were beating up women, and men, too. But you don’t get me twice.”
“You and me, we’re going through that gate. My spineless relative hasn’t the guts or skill to save you, and this bird girl of a computer wants me gone. So, come! Let’s get out of this place!”
He launched himself at her with all his speed and force. At the last moment she dropped to the floor, caught his torso with her feet and rolled, pushing him on through the air.
He didn’t quite make the gate, only the base, but he stirred a moment, then dropped, out cold with a bad and bleeding gash where a corner of the base had caught his forehead.
Ming looked up at Angel. “Can I get some help at throwing out the trash?”
A male voice behind her asked, “Will I do?”
She turned, startled, as Angel smiled. It was Genghis O’Leary, also stark naked, but very much his old mustachioed and muscled self. “Genghis! But you went back!”
“While you all were preoccupied, I decided that my business and future were over here. Core obliged, operating the device. But let me get this going before he regains his wits. He’s stirring now!”
O’Leary was a huge man; she’d forgotten just how big and how strong he’d been, and, she had to admit, she’d never seen him in this body with nothing on. He was also much younger, without losing any of that bulk, and concerning his normally private part, well . . . Oh, my!
He had no trouble lifting Jules Wallinchky up, and though the old criminal chief came to, he was unable to react before his body went through the Gate. There was a sudden darkness in the hexagonal center, like a Zone Gate, as Wallinchky’s head hit it, and then the body vanished.
The hex was clear again.
“I had hoped if all else failed I could catch him by surprise and do that anyway,” O’Leary told them.
“Where did he go? Back to the conference room?” Ari asked.
“No, I doubt it. There would be no reason to go there now that the other Gate is dismantled. If Josich’s experience is any guide, he would have landed in the middle of the hex where our people, the Terran people, originated. Whether as a boy or a girl, I don’t know, but it won’t matter. Word was, our relatives didn’t acquit themselves very well and are pretty primitive there. And, male or female or whatever, he’s going to have to keep a very low profile regardless for a very long time. It’s academic anyway. Core swears that it will be twice a thousand years before anyone who might know of the Gate will be able to find all its pieces again.”
Ari looked at the surviving Gate. “What about this one?”
“I will disassemble and keep it here, in the most secure of vaults,” Angel told them. “Outside of those in this room, no one will even know that it ever existed, or at least what it was for. I do expect a lot of company here, for I cannot go forth very far, but I expect a large number of people of many races will eventually come here. Many will come to see the works of art, others to learn of the history and traditions represented here, but most will come to study for a better way. This, I believe, was always my destiny. This is what I believe, in the end, all of this was really about.”
Ari sighed. “Great! So I’m stuck like this?”
“What’s so wrong with this?” Ming wanted to know. “We’re still a team, only now I’m gonna have to teach you some of the tricks.”
“I am sorry, but while you are capable in your own way, and I know Ming loves you, you are not a very impressive person when it comes to action,” Angel told Ari. “When it comes to standing up against evil and taking a principled stand, you watch. In every case you watch, as you did just now. You were sincere enough to decide to follow Ming wherever she went, but you could not bring yourself to act to save her. I don’t want a genetic Wallinchky close at hand, one who might be anointed an heir apparent by that vast organization that will, unfortunately, go on, even with all of the information that I can and will supply to destroy it. I alone have the pass codes and keys to much of the vast personal fortune, and most of that will be used to develop the center here. I will arrange for an annuity that will require you both to access, and it will be sufficient for your comfort and needs, and you are always welcome here. But the Wallinchky empire stops here.”
“What will you do here?” Ming asked her, as awed as she knew Ari was disappointed.
“You have no idea what sort of powers and understandings have come to me, both as the knowledge center here and as Jaysu. They complement each other. The word will go forth, and pilgrims will come here, and I will teach them and send them forth so that good may supplant evil. It is a slower way, but a better and more lasting one.”
O’Leary stared at her. “So this is the new Vatican, the center of a new religion?”
“And of the synthesis of many old ones. I hardly think the Pope will come, but one may hope. At least I believe this form will give them a familiar anchor to Heaven. And one day, when all things are possible, we will restore this world to its pre-Maker state, and perhaps before I die, I might well be able to step into a true atmosphere and fly once more.”
Ming and Ari looked out the window at the dark and desolate landscape and could not imagine it.
“You are welcome to stay and be a part of God’s new plan,” Angel told them.
O’Leary cleared his throat. “I think not. I think I’d like to get back to taking on evil on a smaller, more direct scale. And I wouldn’t mind having a couple of very sexy partners with me in that, particularly ones that had an independent annuity!”
“I will give a hyperspace call for a private transport,” Angel told them. “Please, though, return often and tell me of your adventures!”
Ming smiled. “I promise. If you keep the master bedroom private and don’t get so holy you disconnect the bar.”
“For you, there will always be one special place here. That I promise.”
Ming sighed. “How long before we have a hope of being picked up?”
“Oh, probably a week, perhaps a bit more,” Angel told her. “There used to be wall-to-wall patrols here, but it’s a deserted neighborhood now. I’ll change that, though.”
Ming looked at O’Leary. First at his eyes, then his biceps, then lower. “Can we have that room until then, at least? And a little bit of privacy?”
“Of course. All you wish I will provide here so long as you need it.”
“How ’bout it, O’Leary? It’s been a real long time.”
Genghis O’Leary laughed. “Well, now, how can an old snake like me turn down an offer like that? After you!”
They both walked down toward the living quarters as Angel began to methodically disassemble the Straight Gate, hopefully for good.
Ari looked at Angel, at the hall, and at the receding couple, and sighed.
“What the hell,” she said to herself in a low tone. “Wouldn’t be the first or last time I got screwed by a cop.”