Hadad Yu "recovers" things for a living. Things, not people, not animals. Things. Until he gets in trouble and must work for the alien Gyonnese. They want a person to answer for her crimes, and they want to use Yu to get her. He reluctantly agrees, and sets off events that will change his life and the lives around him forever. A companion piece to Recovery Man, The Recovery Man's Bargain explores the motivations of one of the stranger characters in the Retrieval Artist universe.
"Rusch's story is a powerful and engaging exploration of the pitfalls of moral compromise."– SF Gospel
"… has a Golden Age vibe … (an) impressive tale."– Tangent Online
"Rusch has constructed a disturbing psychological SFnal crime thriller, set in a universe where powerful corporations and individuals can twist the laws to their own profit. Haddad Yu is a well-realized and complex character…"– Internet Review of Science Fiction
The Recovery Man's Bargain
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The fidelia plant gave off its own light. Hadad Yu recognized it by the faint bluish purple luminescence that shone like a beacon in the fetid swamp. His hands shook.
His entire future stretched before him, in the guise of a flower half the size of his thumb.
Three years. Three years and a dozen false leads had brought him here, to this thousand-kilometer swamp between Bosak City and Bosak's only ocean. He was 632 kilometers in, at the lone stand of colesis trees his scanners had been able to find.
The colesis trees, warped and twisted by the lack of light, bent over him like adults over a small child. He wasn't sure if a larger man could have fit into the space. He was wiry and thin, something that usually worked to his advantage.
Like it did now. He wouldn't have seen the tiny bluish purple light if he hadn't already stepped inside the circle of trees.
Now the key was to remove the plant without alerting the supporting vines or killing the delicate flowering mechanism. His client was paying for the flowering capability, not for the fidelia itself.
It was a miracle he had found the thing. Yu was beginning to believe that flowering fidelias had gone extinct centuries ago. He was willing to keep searching on all the inhabited worlds in this small sector because the client was paying expenses and because she was in no hurry to get the fidelia.
He had worked two hundred other jobs while working on this one, fattening his bank accounts and upgrading his ship. Besides, as he had explained to the client, work on the fidelia had to go slowly. Because of the demand for the flowering version, he had to work alone. Any lead would send an assistant to another client, offering to find a flowering fidelia for one-quarter Yu's price.
Personally, he had thought the quest for the flowering fidelia an insane one. A plant easily grown in a hothouse had become an interstellar sensation among the very rich. Why? Because the flowering version couldn't grow in a hothouse, and because old legends claimed that the flowering fidelia cast a light so beautiful that nothing compared to it.
Yu wasn't sure it was the most beautiful light he'd ever seen, but it was soft and delicate, with a strength that took his breath away.
Part of the light's beauty came from the flower itself. The flower peeked out of the fidelia like a bashful woman. Its petals were silver, the leaves around it a faint veiny green. The light seemed to come from above, illuminating the flower's center.
He crouched near the flower, careful not to touch it. The old writings said that a flowering fidelia remained in bloom for sixty nights, but would die if removed from its habitat. The only successful removals had taken sections of the habitat, and even then, the flower's bloom only lasted a week after the removal.
Fortunately for him, his client didn't want the flower for the bloom or its particular light. She wanted it for its genes, hoping to do some hybridization so that all the captive, non-flowering fidelias could be reborn into something much more beautiful.
Part of Yu's pursuit these last three years had included study with several botanists, who taught him how to work with delicate plants in difficult environments. He hadn't even started his search for the flowering fidelia until he could remove the non-flowering variety from its home tree without killing the tree, the vine, or the fidelia itself.
Even though he had the skills, he was nervous. The wrong touch and the light—that precious light—would go out forever.
He slipped on his breathing mask. Usually he hated the damn things—they smelled of cleaning chemicals and recycled air—but he was relieved to put it on now. The stink of the swamp—a combination of rot, feces, and burning sulfur—was supposed to fade the deeper he had gone. But it hadn't.
He removed his collection kit from his travel pouch. The kit had delicate steel cutters as well as plant resealers. He wrapped the container around his waist, but he didn't open the lid yet.
The bit of colesis tree inside was different than the trees in front of him. The wood was dry for one thing, and it wasn't twisted.
The few botanists who specialized in non-flowering fidelias stressed that the attached vine would need a similar kind of colesis tree or it would recoil, maybe even kill the fidelia itself.
He didn't dare toss the bit of colesis he had brought with him—no one knew if the trees, which had a hearty (albeit primitive) communications system through the roots, could communicate when they weren't root bound.
He didn't want to slog three days back to the skimmer he'd left on the closest mapped island. In that skimmer, he had four more kits as well as two empty containers.
But he couldn't risk the journey. He could travel the three days there and back, only to find that the flower was gone.
He really didn't want to camp here until the fidelia flowered again.
Because that was the other problem: No one knew how often the blooms appeared.
He had to trust that colesis trees communicated only through touch—whether it was in the root system or through the water that stained his boots. The studies of colesis trees focused mostly on whether that communication ability indicated sentience.
Like so many similar studies of other plants and creatures found in the known universe, this study proved that the colesis tree had no sentience at all. Yu had a hunch that some future crisis would show that the colesis tree really was sentient in some form or another, and the Earth Alliance would work to guard the species.
But for now, what he was about to do was perfectly legal—even if it did make him squeamish.
He stepped back in the muck and examined the fidelia's colesis. The tree was nearly lost beneath the thickness of the vine wrapped around it. He'd seen the vines surrounding colesis trees being grown in large domes, but those vines had been as thin as his fingers.
This one was thicker than he was. The little hairy tendrils seemed like whiskers or some sort of vine protection device.
He wasn't even sure his steel tools were strong enough to chop through the vine, let alone the tree.
But he couldn't use a laser scalpel. Nor could he just blast away. He had to work carefully and quickly so that nothing would sense the injury before he was done.
So he turned to one of the colesis trees behind him. A separate vine wrapped around the nearest tree. That vine was thick too.
Yu slipped on his membrane-thin gloves and gently, ever so gently, used his thumb and forefinger to touch the edges of the vine.
It was softer than the vines he was used to, and the exterior was thin. So thin, in fact, that he was afraid the very presence of his fingers would rupture it.
Which presented a whole new problem. He didn't want the vine to disintegrate on him.
He made himself take a deep breath of chemical tinged air. He had to relax. Something could go wrong. And what was the worst case?
Worst case was that he would move on, see if he could find another flowering fidelia. It might take months, it might take years, but he would be all right.
He hadn't notified his client of this find yet, so she had no expectations of success. She had warned him that he would only get one chance at getting a flowering fidelia for her. She gave him a time limit—eight years—to find one. If he found one and failed to bring it to her, or worse, killed it in the process, she wouldn't pay him. Worse, she would tell all her very rich friends that Yu was a cheat, a liar and an incompetent.
She would make certain he never had work within the Alliance again.
Her threats terrified him almost as much as the big payout attracted him. That was one reason he took so many lessons in botany. Another was that he usually avoided such large payouts. Usually, he found small items for people who had lost them.
Lost was a loose term. Perhaps it was better to say he recovered items for people who did not have them. Why they didn't have those items wasn't his concern. Sometimes those items were legitimate heirlooms, truly lost or stolen. Sometimes the items were merely things that the client wanted and couldn't have, things that might, in the strictest sense of the word, belong to someone else.
Yu's recovery policy was simple: He never asked the client for proof of ownership for an item he went after. He always assumed the client owned the item and somehow misplaced it. Such a defense had worked when he'd had a run-in with authorities, most of whom couldn't touch his clients—either because the clients had too much money, too much clout, or weren't Alliance members.
This client, Magda Athenia, had both money and clout, and she had opted out of the Alliance decades ago. She claimed to be retired, but she kept her hand in a score of businesses.
Yu had researched her before he had taken on the search. First, he wanted to know if she had the kind of money she claimed she had. She did. Then he wanted to know if she honored all agreements she entered into, even handshake deals. So far as he could tell, she did. Never once had a case been brought against her in any existing court for breach of contract. All employees, past and current, had nothing bad to say about her.
He did not take the research much farther. Some of his colleagues—the ones who specialized in large payouts like this one—often tried to find out why the client wanted an item. Sometimes the client was a collector. Sometimes the client needed the item to enhance his business. And sometimes he wanted it to humiliate a rival.
Yu didn't care why his clients wanted their items. To be truthful, his clients weren't that important to him. The importance—for him at least—was the hunt. If he were more of a collector himself, he would gather his own items. But he didn't have a permanent home, and he loved to travel light.
So he used the clients as a way to keep himself fed, and as a way to keep himself active and searching. He got paid when and if he delivered.
For the past twenty years, if he took a job, he delivered.
He hadn't missed.
It was that statistic that had brought Athenia to him in the first place. The high end Recovery Men (and all but few in this profession were male, for reasons he never fully understood) had a failure rate of about fifty percent. Some of that wasn't their fault. Sometimes they found themselves pursuing items that didn't exist. Even with the legend factor taken out of the equation, though, the high end Recovery Men failed twenty-five percent of the time.
Now, standing in this swamp, facing away from the flowering fidelia but still bathed in its light, he wondered why he had ever taken this case. It certainly wasn't for the money. He had known from the start that he might not get paid.
It was the challenge, the near impossibility of the idea.
At least one Recovery Man had failed before him. That made this particular hunt even more tempting.
Yu took a deep breath, tasting chemicals. He hadn't failed yet. Even if he killed this flowering fidelia, he wouldn't fail.
The very idea soothed him, calming his nerves.
Then, before he had a chance to think, he whirled toward the flowering fidelia, steel blades flashing. With one quick movement, he slashed a circle in the colesis tree—a big circle that cut through the vine as well as a large section of the tree's interior.
With one hand, he tipped the container upside down, dumping the dried, straight colesis into the murky water. With the other hand, he pried the circular cut off the standing colesis. As the first colesis hit the water, he moved the container, catching the twisted colesis, its vine, and the precious flowering fidelia.
The light continued to pour from the flower.
So far, it seemed, the vine and the fidelia didn't sense anything wrong.
He slammed the lid on the container and shoved it into his travel pouch. Then he scurried out of the copse of trees.
The Alliance might believe that the colesis weren't sentient, but he wasn't going to gamble his life on that fact. He ran through the swamp, hitting the summon button for the skimmer.
He stopped a few kilometers away to make sure the container was stowed properly. When he was certain it was, he took out his scanner, checking for other colesis trees. There were, he remembered, half a dozen that stood alone between here and the swamp's entrance.
He was going to do everything he could to avoid them.
He was going to do everything he could to survive.