Magdus read through the scan results again, then sat back and scowled.
There was something very wrong with what he was seeing.
He’d run an analysis of Strangle’s residue, and it had been … normal. Perfectly normal. Stansgaard Strangle was exactly what he’d said he was. Three points off Five Species normal, for his unusual anatomical dimensions. Otherwise a quintessentially standard Molran, First Species of the Fleet.
Only that wasn’t right. He’d said three points, and Stansgaard had agreed, but that hadn’t been accurate. Magdus hadn’t even realised he was doing it at the time, but he’d known something was wrong and he’d been testing his new acquaintance. He’d wanted to see if Stansgaard would agree. Strangle’s casual agreement was what had prompted him to perform the tests in the first place. Because the anomalous size of the man, minor as it was in the scheme of things, constituted at least six points off the norm.
It was impossible for Strangle’s cellular signature to be this close to spec. But it was impossible for him to fake it, on so small a scale. Wasn’t it?
“Not impossible to get into the computer, though,” Magdus said to himself in a low mutter, and leaned forward again. “Not for a low-down despicable thief. You sleeping on the job, Mer?”
Magdus wasn’t great at the deep-down data, but he had the benefit of familiarity. He’d been at home on Big Shooey for a long time, and Strangle hadn’t. Even so, Magdus was surprised at how easily he managed to peel away the deception. It was a skillful reprogramming, but not that skillful. The most worrying thing about it was that Strangle must have made the change very recently, to have it reflect Magdus’s estimation. Had he updated his tailored information facade as soon as he’d walked away from the table? Had he known Magdus was going to check up on him?
Magdus let this possibility swirl around in his head while the machine mind mulled over the revised test parameters. It wasn’t particularly reassuring.
“Finished,” Mer announced calmly from the console.
“Let’s hear it,” Magdus settled back again.
“This is clearly an error,” the machine mind said.
“What’s the divergence?” Magdus asked, and braced himself for the worst. “Is he a Blaran?”
“No,” Mer replied, “this cellular matter is definitely Molran. It diverges massively, too massively to be Molran, but it is demonstrably not Blaran or Bonshoon. And it is definitely not overlaid with a false datafront this time, unless it’s built into his cells at an atomic level. It is … did you say it was from a member of the Fleet?”
“What – who else would it – why are you asking me?” Magdus demanded. The machine mind waited in its usual phlegmatic manner. “Stansgaard Strangle.”
“He is a registered member of the Big Shooey passenger manifest,” Mer said. “But this is not the cellular matter of a Molran of the Fleet.”
“So what is it?” Magdus said. “A new attempt to merge the Twin Species and tear up the Social Code? An infiltrator of the Cancer? There are stories about them taking on-”
“You’re way off,” Magdus spun to see Stansgaard leaning against his doorframe. “I’m not an agent of the Cancer in the Core.”
“How did you get in here?” Magdus demanded.
“Low-down despicable thief, remember?” Strangle smiled and spread his hands.
“Never mind that. What about this?” Magdus pointed at his computer display and the impossible results scrolling across it.
“It’s pretty simple, really,” Stansgaard said. “Haven’t you figured it out yet?” he let his arms drop with a soft clap. “I’m a Vahoon, Magdus. I’m a Vahoon.”