Friday Fiction: Now Serving…

I was hoping to do another BBC today, but I left my notes in England and I’m not too sure I want to forge ahead without them. I’ll be back soon, though (eek!) and I’ll get moving on that again.

In the meantime, here’s something I’ve been working on. It’s probably set in the same universe as my next novel project, Salvage, and is equally about the sort of person who’s a mouse at the feet of elephants — Ellie’s not interested in interstellar politics or grand adventures…but she seems to get caught up in them despite her best efforts.


 

The waitress set down a real porcelain cup with a smile. I waited until she walked away, then reached up to tap the communicator clipped to my ear. “All right, I’m in position.” A much nicer position than last time, too. “Fancy tea-parlor on Serenity Station” beats “back-alley dumpster that smells like rotten fish” any day of the week.

“Are we sure he’s even coming?” I didn’t have to see Tag’s face to imagine his skeptical expression. I could hear it in his voice. “It’s a big station. Lot of tea-parlors.”

“But only one that serves real Rooibos, and after three weeks in FTL, I bet our friend is craving a taste of home.”

“He’d have to be real damn stupid to do something like that.”

I raised my steaming cup of tea to my lips. “The more I do this job, Tag, the  more I realize the universe is full of stupid people.” I took a sip. Citrus and spice — I could see why my mark liked it so much.

“I still think it’s a waste of time. And money. Twenty credits for that tiny cup?”

I tried not to laugh. He sounded so scandalized. “It’s real tea — imported, not vat-grown.”

“Whatever. I still say he won’t show.”

“Try to have a little faith, Tag.”

“Now I gotta have religion? Shit, Ellie, you’re demanding.”

I took another sip of my tea; tapped my finger on the table to pull of the news scrawl. Solarian Empire clears Clotho for settlement – first colony planned for April. Explosion at mining facility kills dozens. Varritech Industries CEO Howalt Robek under investigation for securities fraud. I looked up as movement in the doorway caught my eye.

Speak of the devil. He was walking in. He’d had facial reconstruction — good enough to fool station security — but my lens flagged him right away. Tag had written the facial recognition program. My tech might have been a faithless sassmaster, but he was good at his job.

“Well hello, Mr. Robek,” I murmured.

He sat down two tables over and ordered something off the menu. I kept drinking my tea. No need to rush — if I spooked him now it would only make my job that much harder.

And Robek was nervous. His gaze darted around the room, and I could see sweat beading on his upper lip. Hardly surprising – he was a wanted man, after all. The only reason he wasn’t currently rotting in a Rothi jail cell was that the Peacekeepers couldn’t find him. The smart money said that Roth had sent an interstellar arrest warrant with his name on it to every planet and station in Beta Network. They might even have sent a bounty.

But I had found him first. That kindled a warmth in my belly that had nothing to do with the tea, excellent though it was.

“All right, time to move.” I set down the empty teacup, with one last regretful caress. I didn’t spend money on myself unless it was for a job — the job was everything — and I wasn’t usually chasing down billionaires, either. Most of my jobs paid more modestly.

Finally,” Tag exclaimed in my ear. “Some of us have a social life, you know.”

“You mean some of us have an addiction to over-involved virtual gaming– hang on.” Tag was squawking in my ear, something about ‘net friends being just as good as ‘meatspace’ friends. “No, seriously, Tag, shut up.

Someone was sitting down across from Robek.

He was young, mid-to-late twenties, without the tightness around the eyes that indicates rejuv treatments. Dark hair and eyes, skin pallid like a station native. He was dressed nondescriptly and his features were plain — what caught my attention was his posture.

Tight. Angry.

This was a young man who carried a lot of rage around with him.

I sat back down. “Tag,” I murmured. “You seeing this?”

“Yeah.” My lens was transmitting video real-time back to our rooms, where my tech had his setup.

“I need to know who that is. Right now.”

The young man and Robek leaned their heads close together, talking intensely. When I tried to zoom in with my lens — read their lips — the picture was slightly hazy, as if I was watching through a heat wave. And the sound was too distorted to make out.

I looked down — there, on the young man’s wrist. A small gray rectangle on a plexi strap.

This kid had military-grade anti-surveillance technology. How the hell did he get his hands on something like that?

I didn’t like the way this situation was going. When that lawyer had approached me, he’d used the words “easy”, “soft”, “piece of cake”. Sure, Robek had a lot of flash, and that could get you pretty far. But he’d been a company man his whole life. Ruthless in the boardroom, but no criminal mastermind. Right?

Except now he leaned over to unclasp his briefcase, tilting it so his companion could see inside. And the young man nodded. And they got up and walked out together.

“Shit!”

I pressed my wrist unit against the table’s computer, transferring enough credits to pay my bill and leave a modest tip, and hurried out after them.

“Ellie, what the hell are you doing? Ellie! Don’t — come back to the room and we’ll regroup –”

At first I thought I’d lost them in the crowd that swarmed through the arcade — but there they were, passing the noodle shop and turning down a side corridor. Against Tag’s advice and my better judgment, I followed.

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