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Eight cups of coffee and I’m about to fall asleep.
Blade looked around the cabin, lazily glancing at the clock printout on the qomm interface panel. The led display not only gave Universal Mean Time, but a countdown of how long until the arrival at their destination.
Oh, Bugger, she thought, three hours, forty-five minutes.
The display wasn’t so much for the benefit of the ship’s three passengers as it was for the crew’s. When the readout reached forty-five, they would know they had to either wake up or sober up and get to work landing a starship.
When the readout reaches forty-five minutes, I’ll probably be zonked out.
She took a deep breath, and stretched out in the chair. Her bones gave a satisfying crack as tense muscles loosened. A shower would have felt wonderful, but she’d seen the floor of the communal lavatory. There was over an inch of black goo lining the bottom, and even the crew seemed afraid to go near it. One of the other passengers had braved it the first morning of the trip, and was the first to discover that the ship’s water heating system was off line. Rats had nibbled on the wiring and downright chestered out on the transformers. Helped explain why the ship tended to be a little cold.
Cold was something she could tolerate, even if she didn’t like to. But a cold shower was right out. She’d had one every day for eighteen years growing up in the mountains on Caandelen’s Star, and she had made a vow the day she finally left that she would never take another. She hadn’t been very faithful to that vow since then, of course. Come to think of it, she’d most recently broken it something like three or four days ago. But that didn’t count: all that was available was cold water, and a suspicious-looking mould culture was germinating under the bandages on her calf. She didn’t know what it was, but she didn’t want it growing on (or in) her. In the jungle, she had no choice; on the ship, she did.
In three hours and forty-two minutes I can take a long, hot shower.
She smiled at the thought, but the expression quickly faded to her former expression.
She rubbed her face, ran her fingers through her gray hair. It had been dyed by the grime of the ship and the slime of the jungle.
Oh, that jungle...
When she took her boots off after finally getting on the ship, she found tiny black mushrooms growing inside. The only clothes she had were what she had on, and now that the swamp water had dried, they were starting to reek.
Ah, the life of the starving artist, and a grim, sardonic smile touched her angel’s mouth. She reached into the breast pocket of her fibermesh jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. It and the coffee were the contents of her last two meals.
She considered the crumpled paper pack. Down to three. She shook one loose, removed it with her mouth. She pulled out a lusterless white everflame, immolated the tip of the cig. Gaaa; hot and sour backwash. She puckered at the taste, took a sip of cold coffee to kill it. Blade only smoked during and after missions, because she needed something to do with her hands when she wasn’t wielding a knife. Jitterilly, she took another puff, yawned the smoke out. She had literally spent all of her money getting passage on this ship, and couldn’t afford a decent pack with the spare change she had left. She didn’t even know what brand they were, or what infernal shwag-weed tobacco substitute she smoked: the printing on the box was in an alphabet she’d never seen. But for one byte a pack, she didn’t expect very much.
Hazy white smoke began to fill the air, and miraculously avoided all of the air purification filters. With an irritated cough, the room’s other occupant made a noisy display of getting up and leaving in protest. She watched him climb through the bulkhead, and absently noticed he was wearing argyle socks.
Right hand up to puff, left through her hair again. The motion caused her watchband to suddenly snap open and fall down her wrist. She looked at it tiredly, blew smoke at the watch to punish it. Yawn. It took two tries before it occurred to her that putting the watch back on her left hand would be a lot easier if half of her right hand wasn’t busy with holding that foul-tasting tobacco.
She knew she was in trouble when she almost put the lit end in her mouth.
Easy there, Killer. Calm down.
She laughed weakly, finally disposed of the cigarette properly, and slid the watch back up to her wrist. Looking around the floor, it took her a moment to find the rubber band. It had bounced under her chair, and picking it up, she felt a film of dirty grease that the rubber band had landed in. Putting the rubber band under the watch smeared the gunk all over her wrist, adding yet another hue to the canvas of her albino skin. She also had the grime on her fingertips, which made tying a knot with the rubber band an exercise in drunken dexterity. At last, she was able to tie it closed so the watch would stay on (at least until it popped again.) The locking clasp had broken—along with all of her nails—when she first fell through the ceiling and onto that hard stonework floor. She was still surprised that the only thing broken in her unexpected exit of the Swamp and entrance of the Mausoleum was her watch and her manicures. None of the others were so lucky: from what she heard through the hole above, it sounded like they were at the tail end of lost cause.
and that’s okay by me...
That attitude, of course, went a long way to explaining what she was doing here (alive on a third-rate star freighter) and what they were doing there (dead, at the bottom of the swamp.) There were many advantages to her current situation, but finances weren’t among them. In choosing the Space-Freighter Scenario over the Bottom-of-the-Swamp Scenario, Blade didn’t have time to pick up her severance pay from her employers (the Qorporation sponsoring the swamp antics.) A necessary loss, in this case: if she suddenly showed up to get her money, it would probably occur to them to wonder why she was here getting her money and not there at the bottom of the swamp. Unlike some other Qorporations she’d worked for, these boy-o’s weren’t stupid gits.
and I would be as happy as a Caandelenian husky pup if they kept on believing I was at the bottom of the swamp, too!
So if being poor served the dual purposes of keeping that little white puppy both so bouncily happy and safe from the Bad Men At That Nasty Qorporation, then poverty it would be.
Besides, she suspected that in three hours and forty minutes, she’d be able to revitalize her monetary problems. Then she’d have enough money to buy food, decent cigarettes, and get this buggering watch band fixed properly.
She looked at the rubber band currently holding it together. In tying the knot, she had left a lot of slack on the open end; about two inches dangled and bounced. She watched the slack elastic; it had more energy than she did. Amusedly, she wondered if she could tie a flit knife to the end of it and tape it to her forearm. Flick of the wrist, and flip-ha!! Blade in hand.
She formed a mental image of this, and began to laugh uncontrollably, visualizing the absurdity of it. It was so phuqing James Bondish!
“That’s the girl I’ve been looking for.”
Blade managed to look up, and was confronted with the ship’s third paying customer. He was standing by her chair, hands behind him, and leaning into her with a broad smile.
Blade felt a final chuckle wrack her body, and then all mirth was crushed from her.
Awhhhhhhhh, mannnnnnnnnnn... Killed a good mood just by walking in the room.
“So glad to see you laughing again,” he continued with calculated camaraderie.
During the laughing spasm Blade had managed to keep her mouth clamped on the filter, but the cigarette had gone out. With bizarre grace, the man swung his arms out front in an arc that landed precisely at the end of her white cigarette. Amazingly, he had an antique sterling silver lighter in one hand; he flashed it long enough for her to see that it was engraved, then struck the flint. Butane blue flame sprouted, at the perfect height to rekindle Blade’s cigarette.
Her eyes drifted up from the tip of her cigarette to the man holding the lighter. Long enough for the tip of her cig to actually catch fire. Smoothly, he made a display of turning off and closing his old lighter. As expected, Blade’s eyes were drawn to the motion. Thus she discovered that the other hand held a small glass of iced white fluid. It was still sloshing around the sides from the ride, but miraculously none had spilled. He withdrew the hand with the lighter, but the drink remained shoved in her face.
She sucked hard on the filter, and the fire at the tip reduced to smoldering. The fire in her lungs inflamed to medium rare, and she could feel the taste buds in her mouth lodging a formal protest. She quickly considered taking a sip of the offered drink to kill it, but eyed it suspiciously.
Uh-huh. How phuqing predictable. They always pick milk. Every time.
As Blade did not pounce upon the beverage, the man pulled his hand back. Pocketing his lighter, he was quick to encourage Blade to recapture her moment of mirth.
“What were you laughing about?”
Blade glanced at the rubber band dangling at her wrist. She could almost see that flit knife taped at the end. Sudden move, and flip-ha! She afforded herself a final chuckle, but refused to let her guest see it.
She shrugged. “I was just pondering the legends of James Bond.”
Suddenly interested, he inquires “Who?”
She shrugged. Explaining the term would take more time than she thought it was worth Especially since he still wouldn’t know anything about it.
“Nuthin’. It’s a load of bullshit from way back.”
Frown. “Way back?”
“Yeah,” she said absently “it’s apocryphal.”
The man’s eyes lit up into wide circles of surprise, and he began nodding to himself.
Although he had spent much time perfecting his come-ons, he had done so at the expense of his vocabulary. His name, by the way, was Jaymz, and he had just made a linguistic error that would alter his entire view of her. The benefits of a classical (post-Caandelenian) education in this case hurt her, for she used the adjective correctly, where-as he did not.
Apocryphal, as she understood it, meant ‘relating to apocrypha’, implying something hidden or (in this case) of doubtful authenticity.
Apocryphal, as he understood it, meant ‘relating to apocalypse’, implying the end of the universe.
A minor semantical misunderstanding, but with far-reaching effects.
Now intensely interested in her for a whole new reason, he pulled up a chair and sat down. With honest (and thoroughly clandestine) interest, he asked “So you know a lot about ancient history, do you? A lot about ‘Way Back’?”
Blade was getting tired of shrugging for effect, but she did it again anyway. Repetitive motions display unenthusiasm and lack of interest. She decided it would be polite to include a verbal response. “It’s a hobby.”
She said it off the top of her head, but after a moment the irony spread a cryptic smile across her face.
He took that as a good sign that his first intention still had a chance of succeeding.
“Mine, too; what a coincidence. I mean, I don’t seriously study History,” he said with a tone of intimate confidence, then broke down and admitted “I’m just a dabbler.”
Puff. “Aren’t we all...”
Far-away look in the eyes, laughing at how silly all things seem in retrospect. “Yeah, I got involved in History through something else. But it’s fascinating.”
Either he was unable to come up with any examples, or he was allowing time for her to voice an opinion (and thus start a dialogue.) He looked at her warmly during the pause. He was constantly in motion; his body seemed to ripple as she watched him. He realigned his head in such a way that his bangs fell into his face. He grew his bangs down to his nose, but the sides and back were close to buzz stubble. She shook her head in wonder, but then remembered that her hair was such a mess that she just pony-tailed it out of the way so she wouldn’t have to deal with it.
“What’s your area of expertise?” he finally inquired. He was still smiling, and readjusted his head position slightly to ensure direct eye contact.
Blade was surprised he was belabouring the point. If the initial assault failed (and with her, it usually did) she found that they would change the subject and try to provoke conversation on the new topic. Revelation of a little-known fact or piece of important topical information were favourites. But he was still plugging archaeology, and with an enthusiasm that almost seemed genuine.
“Actually,” and she realized that she mush be pretty bored to talk about this, “it’s primitive sculpture and three-dimensional art. I’m not an authority on it, but I know what I like.”
His head began to move in a slow-motion nod of enthusiasm, until one of the nods rippled down his body, causing him to lean into her even more. “Is there a specific period or culture you’re adept in?”
She shrugged (again). If she had known she was being pumped for information, she would have answered differently. As it was, she said the first thing off the top of her head. “Just whatever I happen to like.” This was true: her tastes in archaeology were dictated by her tastes in art—especially as a sculptor.
“Art was originally religious or political in most cultures, right?”
Blade was an ardent supporter of art-for-art’s sake, but realized that most earlier cultures weren’t.
“The better pieces were, because only the churches or governments could afford to patronize it.”
“So, which do you specialize in: religious or political?” It almost seemed as if he were holding his breath in expectation of an answer.
Without much thought, she replied “religious, because it’s more inspired.”
He loosed the breath, having gotten the answer he’d hoped for. This was a totally unexpected surprise, and things were moving so quickly that he realized he’d better calm down or he’d blow it. His body seemed to sway in a way he would have considered serpentine. The motion flow rippled into his arms, and he made a mysterious gesture that summoned a pack of cigarettes. He pulled one out, then asked “mind?”
Blade looked at him dumbly through the haze billowing up from the smouldering nub perched on her lips. It was close to spent: one more puff and she’d be sucking heat.
He took her silence to be a yes, and pulled one out. Then the silver inlay lighter floated into position, and flip-ha!
She took her last safe pull, and already could taste the heat. Three puffs-worth of ashes trailed the end. She’d been flicking them onto the floor before then, but she decided to make a statement: she reached over to the glass he still had at the ready and tapped. A cylinder of ash hit the surface and began to erode. She was about to drop the butt in, but he distracted her with a question.
As casually as possible, he asked, “what do you know about Marmidon art?”
Blade’s eyes locked onto his face with alertness. It seemed a casual question, but it was a little too close to the mark.
“Next to nothing,” she said, which actually happened to be true.
He smiled wryly to himself. “Really? I thought that’s where you boarded.”
No secret there: he’d been casually wandering by ever since she climbed through the freighter’s airloq in the Marmidon Orbiter.
“It was,” she said, and decided to risk a final puff of her cigarette. As she’d feared, it was particularly hot and nasty, and tasted like charred filter. It only soured her mood.
He paused, then posed The Question: “so, were you there studying Marmidon religious artifacts?”
He saw the look in her eyes as the comment struck home. He had, in fact, missed with his guess, but at that point if he knew the truth it wouldn’t have changed his mind.
Blade knew that the two Mausoleums, and especially the Temple, were not built by the Marmidons he was referring to, but by an Other Culture. She couldn’t even remember the name of that Other Culture half the time (and couldn’t pronounce it when she did), so she obviously didn’t know too much about their civilization. Which, in retrospect, was a quite unfortunate. She did, however, know quite a few things about their art. Especially their religious art.
And most importantly, its value on the Art Black Market.
And given some of the goodies she absolutely did not have in her carry-bag, she was very upset that this guy was asking questions a little too well.
She flipped the burning butt into the milk glass, and over its dying his said, “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.”
“Jaymz,” he said, encouraged that she asked. He then inadvertently cut her off by asking “Gretta, right?”
Jaymz didn’t even see the hateful look in her eyes; from the way she grinded her teeth he could tell he had made a mistake. And once again, he guessed incorrectly what it was. He actually had gotten the name right, but he still made a tremendous error.
Nobody called her Gretta.
“Excuse me,” she said, getting up, “but I think you’ve mistaken me for somebody else.” With that, she grabbed her oversized carry bag and climbed through the bulkhead in a huff. This left Jaymz very confused. After several moments of review and analysis, he concluded that he had made no other errors, and she was engaging in cat-and-mouse teasing. In a similar calculating mentality, he decided his next five moves: finish his cigarette, hit the lavatory, do a cap, check the ship’s registry again to find out what her name really was, and give chase.
Taking a puff, he smiled in thought of what an interesting development had just occurred. Indeed, he began to switch priorities.
Blade was relieved that she finally had a legitimate reason to blow the guy off. Aside from all the obvious traits, there was something about him that just chilled her from the moment they met two days ago. She decided not to devote mental energy to determining what it was, because in three hours and twenty-five minutes, she’d never see him again. Knowing that, she’d already forgotten his name, even though that was the third time he’d told her.
After a moment, she decided to remember it. His line of questioning had really upset her.
But what really pissed her off was that he’d used her name to her face. Rumours of violence resulting from that heinous sin were not too far exaggerated.
Reaching the end of the access tube, she suddenly wondered how he even knew it. She certainly hadn’t told him. Climbing through the bulkhead, she wondered if he had taken time to check the passenger roster. Although Blade owned a fairly good fake i.d., she didn’t have it on her when she decided to be on the freighter instead of under the swamp. The first thing going out was a passenger liner for New Ra’Math, but she didn’t even have enough money for a Tourist Class seat. However, a dilapidated freighter was refueling, and the captain agreed to let her on as Cargo for, why what a coincidence—the exact amount of money she had. Unfortunately, she had to use her real name. That idiot with the backward ’doo must have checked the registry. Two other people were also traveling as Cargo, and she was the only woman. Dim as he seemed, he probably could figure out who the Gretta M. Asmodeus was.
The third piece of living cargo was sitting in the room Blade entered, eating a bowl of soup. He looked up at Blade, then sank his head back into his meal. At the other end of the table, one of the crew members scanned a vidio book in one hand while eating an apple in the other. Whatever he was reading must have been good: he didn’t acknowledge her presence at all.
This room seemed much brighter. No doubt from all the light reflecting off the cargo guy’s bald spot. Since the crew actually spent much of their time in here, it tended to be in better running order than other, less-frequented parts of the ship (like the engine room). Blade decided to sit down, even though watching them eat would only make her hungrier. She took a chair away from the other two, and slung what her friends called her Wilderness Survival Purse under the table. Several of the items gave heavy thunks as they landed.
A glance at her rubber-banded watch: either it’s five minutes fast, or time’s flying. Lazily, she examined her cuticles. Six months of careful cultivation had snapped into eight pieces (two were already broken) with the fall that totaled her watch. She’d hastily clipped the splits off, but they still felt awkward. She reached under the table to her bag, pulled it up. The bottom was still coated with a coarse grease, which smeared her pants as she put the bag in her lap. There was a Caandelenian clasp lock on the zipper (one of her planet’s few contributions: a lock with no moving parts other than the qey, and thus impossible to pick.) The key was on her qeychain, which was the large misshapen lump in her breast pocket.
She pulled it out, and looked for the key amid all manner of others. She wasn’t even sure what some of them were for anymore, but she learned from experience that she would find out the moment she chucked it. Others she knew well their purpose, but would never be using them again. Sentimentality. Only a few were truly practical, such as the long, thin one with the grid of prongs on the end.
She unlocked and unzipped her bag, and rummaged around. Something flashed with tarnished luster inside, but she quickly moved something else over it as she searched for her electric emery board.
In her tired mind, she actually held it in her hand twice and discarded it, thinking it was just a knife. At last she realized her error, and sealed the pack back up. She placed the end of the board on her thumb cuticle, and pressed a button.
A soft whir sounded as she sculpted her nails into points if there was enough to work with, semi-circles if there wasn’t. It wasn’t a loud whir: you had to listen for it, but if you did it was annoying as hell. After thirty seconds the soup-eater got up in a huff and vacated her presence a second time. She caught the flash of his Argyles as he stomped away.
She looked through the bulkhead after him, then looked over at his bowl of soup. Quarter full. Back down the hall; the sounds continued to retreat. Back to the bowl.
She at least wiped the spoon off before prodding the bowl with it. She wanted to know what she was eating. Hu-mann beans simmered in heir own red juice, with little cubes of meat keeping them company. Both the crew and any passengers had to pay for their food, or do like the engineer and bring their own. Blade looked over at the display and saw that this was one of the more expensive items available. Because of the meat, no doubt. She picked those aside as the dug in, and was so hungry that it was several mouthfuls before she realized it had absolutely no flavour. Not a good sign, but she continued anyway, with a lust that spilled the red syrup onto both herself and the table.
“You spilled some on your jacket,” came the grating voice from the doorway. Looking up, she saw Jaymz saunter through the hatch, wave, and head up to one of the food dispensers.
Blade tried to decide if finishing the soup was worth putting up with The Pest. A glance at the bowl showed it almost empty, so it didn’t really matter.
“You looked like you were enjoying that,” he said, sitting down next to her, “so I thought I’d try it.” He too had a steaming bowl of Hu-mann soup.
“Nice timing,” she replied, “I was just leaving.”
She dropped the spoon into the bowl, and pushed out her chair. Realizing he was about to lose her again, he tried to hold her attention and provoke dialogue by revealing a piece of important topical information.
“Oh! Guess what I just found out?”
She allowed herself a polite mental smile: ha! called it! Still, she decided to hear this out, just in case he actually did know something important that she didn’t.
“You know the other passenger? Fat, bald, argyle socks? Well, I was just in the lavatory, and I saw him putting on a money belt.”
Blade shrugged. Through repetition, she had the motion down to perfection.
“Don’t you find that odd,” he asked her. “Carrying all that money, but he’s traveling the cheapest way possible?”
“So he’s either a Scrooge, or he’s a Mule.”
Jaymz frowned. “Excuse me?”
Blade remembered that despite his alleged interest in history, he had no knowledge of historical vocabulary. “Scrooge is an old word for miser, and...”
“You know a lot of old words,” he said amusedly.
Smile. “I read a lot.”
“Booqs?” he inquired, surprised. She nodded, and this prompted a smile from him. “I should have guessed: more historic interest.”
Back to history again Blade didn’t understand this verbal dance at all. She glanced at his squat, small face. His eyes were massively dilated, and the veins around his nostrils were swollen. She nodded: boy’s been doing caps o’ the White Freight Train. Explained his inflated self confidence. Jaymz was uncommonly short, but puffed out sideways from excessive body-building. Blade made a very accurate guess about him: he was insecure about his height, and built himself up with muscles as an overcompensation. His cap habit also indicated a need to boost his self-opinion.
Blade smiled, having figured out his weakness. His Achilles Heel. She laughed silently: there was another Arcane name.
The constant repetition of ancient history was starting to trouble Blade, especially since she had some ancient history tucked into her purse. She reasoned that if she got up and left, he’d only come after her again. Time to derail this entirely.
Jaymz took a bite of his soup to justify his being there, and she said “Not very good, is it?”
He laughed. “No, it’s not.”
She was about to make a comment about how the beans stunted growth, but his next spoonful was poorly managed, and bean juice landed on him.
“Oops” he said with half chuckle.
Blade saw that a fair amount had hit him, but just before she laughed, she remembered that she had been splashed, too. She looked at the collar of her jacket, where her spill had hit Her jacket was the only white piece of clothing she had at the moment; it was still white because she had kept it in her waterproof bag while sweating to death in the swamp. However, it’s whiteness was now marred by two colours: the red streak of bean syrup, and the yellow button it had landed on. When Blade was “off duty,” she decorated her jacket with amusing trinkets to help herself cheer up and calm down. One of them was a big yellow smiley face.
With one of her few fingernails, she chipped at the red smear on Mr. Smile. It had already dried, and wasn’t coming off. She glanced over to see if The Creep had been splashed worse: it would give her something else to laugh at him about. That was when she noticed for the first time that he was wearing expensive designer clothes. If he had enough money to buy them but was still traveling Cargo, why would he think it unusual for Argyle to do the same?
Jaymz watched her thin, boney fingers chip at the red stain on her left collar. A new tactic occurred to him.
“Is it ruined?” he asked.
Blade looked up at him, and her hand floated from Smiley the “It’ll come off.”
Undaunted by the unexpected display of primitive, painful weaponry, he continued “Good. That Smiley fits you, because you have such a beautiful smile.”
Blade didn’t answer; just put the knife back.
“Why do you have captain’s bars on your jacket?” he asked, indicating the lusterless black insignia on her right collar.
And without intending it, he once again brought up The Past. The abruptness of the question actually made Blade think about the real answer to that question. And she had always felt guilty that it was a matter that she had consciously avoided thinking about, and thus coming to terms with it. But in this case, telling him the truth, she reasoned, could help get rid of this guy.
“My boyfriend’s a captain in the Marilith Assault Squadron,” she said simply. Jack had been, of course, before going freelance and eventually shacking up with her. That was what, two years ago? She still thought fondly of him, because he’d left her before any shit happened between them. Landmine, from what she’d heard. Who knows; if it hadn’t been for that, they might still be together.
“M.A.S., huh?” Jaymz inquired, showing no reaction to the “B” word. “Is that where you got that?” He leaned forward, and touched a silver-on-black medal looped around her breast pocket button.
Blade didn’t want this creep touching her at all, let alone prodding her boobs. She had just put away the thick-edged knife when the offending tap came. Scarcely had he applied pressure when she had the knife out, and the flat of the blade lifting his hand away.
Tiredly: “do that again and I’ll remove your hand in an entirely different fashion.”
He withdrew, his pride wounded but fortunately nothing else. “Hey,” he said innocently, “I was just asking what it was.”
It was, in fact, the highest award for valour offered in the Braddendouriff Qorporate Militia. Blade had killed its former owner—with extreme prejudice and a slow, painful belly wound—and claimed the medal as a mocking prize. Understandable: Braddendouriff culture treated women as a sub-slave caste. They were forbidden to learn how to read, write, do simple arithmetic, or anything else other than serve as breeding/masturbatory machines for the Braddendouriff Alpha Males. Those who recognized the medallion and knew Braddendouriff attitudes always laughed at the sight of a woman wearing their highest honour. Blade always laughed hardest.
Jaymz was not nearly cosmopolitan enough to know that, but if he had—especially how she acquired it—then he certainly would have taken the threat more seriously. As it was, he thought this was just another step in the dance. The delicate way she held that knife and the elegant grace in which she wielded it aroused him in that special way. He had visions of her hand wielding his “knife,” and couldn’t prevent the lusty smile that surfaced on his lips.
Blade read the sick smile, knew from tiresome experience exactly what was on his mind.
“Sorry, but I have no interest in dirks and daggers,” she said, getting up, “only long swords.”
Jaymz considered defending his honour, then remembered that should The Moment actually come (and he still thought it might) then he would be lying. Still, the more sultry and hard-to-get she was playing this, the less he wanted to have cheap sex with her and the more he wanted to grudge-phuq her. He watched her disappear through the bulkhead, and studied her back as she left. That was mostly what he’d been seeing of her: her back as she walked away. He liked what he saw, decided that’s how he’d take her.
Blade noted with wry amusement the look of anguished disgust on Argyle’s face as she strolled into the room he sat in. She was beginning to see a pattern: Hair-doo bothers her; she leaves to go bother Argyle, he leaves. She wondered if he was doing anything to bother Hair-doo and thus complete the cycle.
Blade walked right up to the man.
“You may be interested to know,” she said simply, “that our other passenger has taken a keen interest in your money belt.”
Blandly, he replied “he’s also taken a keen interest in your vagina.”
Blade caught the meaning: tell me something I don’t know. She considered a shrug, decided on a simple nod, and moved on. She decided to stay mobile: keeping on the move would not only keep her awake, but keep her away from The Creep. She glanced at her injured watch. The adjustable dial was set for a twelve-hour rotation. Blade preferred the archaic dial watches to the modern digital ones, because she believed digital watches decreased intelligence. In this case, the opposite was true: her tired mind had trouble coping with the mundane task of calculating what the hand placements meant, and even more working that into a formula calculating how much longer she’d have to stay on this sodding ship. She decided three hours and twenty minutes.
Those three hours and twenty minutes crept by forever, until she made a game out of dodging Jaymz. She awarded herself one point if she ducked him, subtracted five if she didn’t, and gave a bonus of two points if she could make Argyle leave a room.
When the clock ticked to forty-five minutes, she’d scored twenty-three points.
“There you are!”
Aw, shit. Make that eighteen.
“Hey, I’ve been looking all over for you.”
They were, in fact, crouched in an access crawl space over the secondary heat exchangers. Blade was impressed that he’d gone this far in their game of hide and seek. She almost expected him to slap her and say “Tag! You’re it!” Jaymz had the look of triumph over desperate futility upon finding her. She was impressed: few had been so randy as to have pursued her this far.
Blade shuffled along on all fours to the first maintenance cubicle large enough to stand up in. She did this rather quickly, unhappy at the thought that Jaymz was right behind her with an excellent view of her butt.
No maintenance cubicles, but ahead was a six-way juncture, with a crawl-corridor heading out in each direction. Blade tumbled into it, and shifted around on the floor so she was sitting against the far wall next to the crawl tube. After a moment, Jaymz emerged from the opening, and reaching up to a hand-grip, pulled himself out into the intersection. Most people would have had to crouch; Jaymz’ squat frame fit perfectly.
Blade considered the upright figure opposite her.
“Sure is cramped in there, huh?” Blade asked him.
His first reaction was to shrug, but then he remembered to agree with her at all times. Blade was astute enough to spot his initial response. Frown, then “what, you didn’t think that was tight?”
Realizing that his shrug had been spotted, and spotting some suggestive double entendres in the questioning and imagery, he reversed himself and said “it was snug, but that’s how I like it.”
Blade saw where he was trying to take this, but beat him to the punch: “Must be your small size, then.”
His grin almost cracked. Before he could salvage this with any type of response, Blade clarified innocently, “I mean, you’re only what, five?”
The question had the impact of a whiffle bat on the gonads: you wouldn’t think such an innocuous object could cause such pain, but if it hit that dangly cluster of sensitivity just right... Well, Blade saw for herself.
She allowed herself a smile. You really did walk into that, didn’t you... She decided to watch him squirm a little more.
“So, what brings you this way?”
She was curious to hear what excuse he would make to justify chasing her through an engineering tube.
Jaymz looked down at her reclined body, smiled. “Oh, I was just making a business deal with the engineer.” He reached into his coat pocket, emerged with a small handful of nasal plugs. There actually had been a cap transaction in Engineering, though it had been hours earlier and Jaymz wasn’t the purchaser.
He held his hand out to her. “Lookee what I just bought.”
Blade looked in his face. Jaymz didn’t need a spaceship to reach their destination. My ass you just bought them, unless you just renewed your supply.
“You want to split one?” he asked casually.
Blade considered the small plastic caps and their white contents. Oh, how original: Cap & Tap, she thought derisively. Gee, no one’s ever tried that one on me before. When a man used The White Freight Train to get a girl in the mood, Blade called it Cap & Tap. When they used booze, it was Chug & Plug. And pot was Toke & Poke.
“No thanks,” she said to his offer of Snuff & Stuff. “That shit causes brain damage.”
“Yeah,” he said, putting them away, “but it’s probably the part of the brain that enables you to balance your checkbook or something. And I can’t do that anyway”
Blade shifted her weight: the corrugated sheet plating was starting to bite her butt. She’d been moving around constantly dodging this loser, but now that she was caught, she gave herself a rest. Jaymz squatted down, to help give the impression that the room was too small for him. He noted Blade had her oversized carry bag with her.
“No matter where they are, women have to have their purses with them,” he joked.
Blade reflexively rested a hand atop it. Jaymz already knew she had something valuable inside it, though it wasn’t until three hours ago that he formed any ideas about what it might be.
Seemingly changing the subject, he said “Oh, do you do commission sculptures?”
Blade looked at him, effectively masking her suspicion “Depends,” she said.
“Well,” he said assuringly, “I happen to know one of the Curates at the Holy Orthodox Acco on Overlook. He told me a couple months ago that they’re planning a major renovation of the entire Acco sometime next year. If you could get me a portfolio of your work, he might be impressed enough to have you do a statue.”
Blade’s mind was getting so loopy that she actually wondered if this might be true for several moments before deciding it probably wasn’t. Normally she’d do almost anything to sell a sculpture, but she decided to make an exception in this case.
That deadly shrug, and then “I know nothing about that religion, so I wouldn’t be properly motivated.”
That hungry light in his eyes, and then “Oh? What religion do you know a lot about then?”
She’d been expecting him to bring up either history or religion ever since she sat down; this question in particular.
“I worship the Trinity,” she said simply.
Jaymz frowned. Sounded familiar; something out of the ancient history she was fond of, no doubt.
Seeing his doubt, she clarified “The Trinity: Avarice, Greed, and Monetary Ambition.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I’ve been known to kneel at that altar myself.” With what he considered a cute grin, he pulled out his cigarettes and lighter. He lit one himself, then as an afterthought offered her one from the pack. Blade thought it over for a moment. She’d smoked her last one eighty-eight minutes ago.
“Do you have personal beliefs?” he asked as casually as he could.
,i>That’s my cue. “Yes,” she said, getting up, “I do. But I only share them with people I like.
Right before she made good her escape, he laughed. ”The back of your jacket’s a wreck.“
Blade chuckled: he’d obviously spent so much time scoping out her ass that he never bothered to look higher. She’d done a surrealist abstract in permanent charcoal on the back of her jacket; he obviously mistook art for dirt.
It wasn’t until much later that she realized he actually had been correct: leaning against the wall in there had added an entirely new coat of that thick, gritty black gunk to her attire.
Fortunately, according to her watch, she’d be able to clean herself up in a matter of minutes. Indeed, just as she reached that conclusion and the smile of quiet anticipation finished spreading across her face, the internal p.a. announced the proximity of their destination. Prepare for docking procedures.
Despite her eagerness to leave, Blade waited several minutes before disembarking. She wanted to make sure that Ace Weenie wasn’t hanging around. As she approached the airloq, she almost expected to see him having an inane conversation with the chief engineer as an excuse to wait for her.
Fortunately, she was in luck. Jaymz was elsewhere, so she wouldn’t have to put up with his transparent annoyance. Had he only one interest in her, then certainly he would have been there to meet her. As it was, his second interest in her dictated that he meet with some very important people. And this would soon cause him to stop being a Transparent Annoyance and be upgraded to a Dangerous Asshole.
As it was, Blade thought she was in the clear, and trundled into Spaceport O’Bello.
The Space Freighter had not been a text-book definition of Ambiance; grimy and oppressive, reflective of the sweaty, stinky men that worked and lived on it. In much the same respect, the Orbiter had a character that suffered from a sick lack of Atmosphere Aesthetics. It was only slightly brighter and slightly cleaner than the freighter. There wasn’t exactly the Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here sensation, but the feeling was oppressive and depressive.
And that was for the simple reason that nobody liked to be there.
Blade stepped onto the Station, and looked out the observational window. Below was a planet of methane windstorms and desolate rock, with the occasional cobalt deposit to break the monotony. She smiled. No swamps.
She looked around. Surprisingly, she noticed no security or customs to go through. She was free to roam.
Which she did.
Half the station was docking and port facilities, and the other half were services that directly pandered to the space traffic. The place struck Blade as being a small truck stop on a long stretch of desolate highway. She had no trouble discerning station employees from visitors: the visitors all had a glimmer of hope in their eyes because they knew they would be leaving soon.
She walked toward the inner levels, where the promenade would most likely be. Traffic was a bit dense, which surprised her. For a place where nobody wanted to be, there certainly seemed to be a lot of people. Three quarters of them were visitors, all commuting between their ships and the bar. They almost needed a traffic cop to monitor the flow.
She reached the central promenade, where shops and services were set up to convenience the visitors. At the very center was an open bar, with tables spreading throughout the circular commons: the hub of the station’s circular design. In between the six access corridors out to the docking areas (spokes on a wheel) were stores and shops.
Blade was getting sick of the pedestrians, so she turned and began to follow the inner circle, examining the various shops.
The one she was immediately outside of was a Pas'Qaal IntraGalaqtiq Qommunications Centre. Through the glass windows she saw several customers making vidio qalls. She snorted derisively: the station didn’t have a holo-qall system.
The strap of her Wilderness Survival Purse was starting to nibble her shoulder; she hefted it into a more comfortable position. Several things shifted tangibly inside.
A group of seven Saladrin skittled around her, hastily making their way down the corridor. The external speakers on their environment suits were all on, and they animatedly carried on a conversation in their raspy, screeching language. It made her cringe, and not just melodramatically. She was as open-minded about aliens as anybody, but that grating language of theirs had to go. She knew that all Saladrin space suits were equipped with internal transmitters so they could talk to each other in private. If only they’d use them...
Moving along, next to the Qommunications centre was a currency exchange. It didn’t look very large: the black, reinforced windows were only twenty meters long. She saw faint movement inside; something high up. Security orb, probably. Other than that, it was hard to tell if anybody was inside.
On the other side of the bank was another access tube to the docking area. Colour-coded green, so the crews could find their ships. Seeing this, Blade amended herself: it’s not a truck stop, it’s a cheesly little shopping mall. This comic revelation only lowered her spirits more. Blade was a compulsive shopper, and her painful poverty made that impossible.
People moved along her path at just enough of a pace to make her stop walking and wait for an opening. She bulled her way through, and continued along the rim.
A Hamaddi in a full atmosphere suit was coming out of a general supply store, and almost ran her over as he turned her way. Nimbly, she scooted out of the way, and looked inside the store just before the doors closed. All she saw was an entire wall display of lazer pistols.
Next door, a shop with spiky characters of the Saladrin alphabet on the door. Dark windows concealed the interior. Beyond that, a qomputer spare parts shop. Through the window, Blade saw that business was booming.
The red corridor to the docks was also heavily traversed, but Blade just barged on through. No one seemed to notice or mind. Beyond, another all-glass cubicle housing a vidio news service. This was the fullest one yet: every monitor had someone at it, studying the news. Every monitor save one: the local news channel. Nobody seemed to want to know what was happening here, though events in other parts of the universe were under heavy scrutiny.
Blade walked past to see what the next cubicle would be, and almost didn’t see the small booth set up inconspicuously between the two A young man sat on a fold-out chair behind a small stand, reading a vidio booq. The panel above his stand explained why he was the first unoccupied stall she had seen.
Ministry of Information and Touristry
Blade walked up to the booth. After several moments, the man behind the booth still hadn’t looked up. Blade couldn’t see what the booq chip was, but it must be riveting. She looked over his little booth. Planetary information booths were usually giant tourist traps: selling mementos of the planet in orbit to passengers who didn’t have time to actually fly down and visit. Or if the planet had produced a famous author, his entire catalogue would be on display and for sale. Crap like that.
Blade saw nothing that promoted the planet they circled, Sk'Gdadda Thirteen. On the counter was a solitary pamphlet, obviously for cosmetic effect. A sign on the side listed prices for various visa applications. Almost nothing else.
“I take it that this planet thrives on Tourism,” she said in a loud voice. The man looked up, surprised. He obviously wasn’t expecting anyone to bother him. He put the booq down, and took in the sight of Blade. The dim light of the station and the dim stains on her clothes made it hard to see her clearly.
“Wouldn’t know,” he said with a laugh, “never been down there.”
“Well, since you know so little about the planet, perhaps you can tell me something about the station.”
Rather than tell her that there was a Port O’Bello Information Booth at the exact other side of the rim, he nodded eagerly.
“Sure! Whatcha need to know?”
Blade shifted her bag, which was again biting into her. “Where are the lodgings?”
Leaning back in his chair, he finally began to discern the figure he spoke to, and had the same thought about her that she had of him: “kind of cute, actually.”
“Go over to the blue corridor, and take that elevator up one level. Turn right, and you can’t miss it.”
She nodded with a smile. “Great. Thank you.”
“No,” he corrected, “thank you.”
She was about to turn and walk away when he added, “Oh, by the way: Welcome to Sk'Gdadda Thirteen.”
She turned back to him and smiled a final time before moving off.
Stepping out of the elevator, she turned right and saw the neon emblazement:
Glass doors parted as she approached; she looked around for an electric eye, saw none, concluded it was a pressure panel. Beyond was a lobby that, despite every light being on, was still dark and gloomy. Several chairs strewn about, but none were occupied.
A matronly old woman with gray hair in a bun was scrubbing the front desk with industrial cleaner. The area she was power-arming was a blur of white imitation marble; the rest of the desk was various chocolate hues. As Blade walked up, she stopped her work and considered her through archaic wire spectacles.
Blade guessed that by the disapproving look she was given, she must look even worse that she felt. And she felt pretty shitty.
Give me a break, lady. I’ve been up for fifty hours, I smell like a swamp, I’m going through nicotine withdrawal, and it’s just two days ’till my period.
Indeed, the desk clerk did seem to be a bit more sympathetic with her looks after deciding that Blade didn’t like how she looked, either.
“How can I help you?”
“What are your rates?” Blade asked tiredly.
“Thirty-three a night, or a hundred a week.”
Blade was glad that they didn’t have an hourly rate; that meant this was a high-class establishment.
She nodded. “If I take it for a week, can I pay you at the end of the week?”
Looking at Blade, it was obvious to the old woman that she had no cash. But still her heart went out to her.
“Do you have any collateral?”
Blade hefted her pack onto the countertop, making sure to put it somewhere that hadn’t been cleaned yet. Jungle gunk and freighter grease smeared off. Looking around, she saw they were alone. Unlocking and unzipping it, she rooted around inside. After a moment, Blade pulled out a figure eight of tarnished gold. It was a little larger than her hand.
She held it out for display. Adjusting her spectacles, the lady picked it up and examined it closely.
“Nice detail. What is this?”
It was probably the least valuable of her trinkets, but it was probably the only one whose value was face value.
“It’s twenty-four karat gold,” Blade said simply.
The Lady shook her head sadly. She knew it was 24K the moment she saw it; she was asking its nature. Blade’s answer made the woman think she didn’t know what she had.
She put it aside; her husband could no doubt identify it for her. But it was clearly worth more than one hundred credits for the gold, let alone any archaeological value.
“Room 240 is open,” the woman said, and put the qey on the counter. She also put up the hotel’s registry, a voluminous booq open only twenty-two pages.
“Sign in, please, and I’d like to see a piece of identification.”
Fair enough. She showed the clerk her depleted credit card, and signed in. Blade’s handwriting was often delicate to the point of calligraphy when she put in the effort, but it was clearly lacking when she signed the ledger. But of course, she was going out of her way to be sloppy, and in fact had intentionally written “Gertruda Amadeus.”
The lady didn’t even look at the booq: she only checked to see that the person on the card and the person before her were the same. Satisfied that they were, she handed the card back. “I’ll just put this in our safe,” she said, and hoisted the gold amulet.
Blade grabbed her bag, and shuffled to the hotel’s elevator. It was in the lobby, awaiting with its black grille open and inviting. She slogged in and closed the door. An archaic push-button format. Tiredly, she pressed the 2 button. It didn’t light up, but the lift began to ascend.
It took forever. She got out three good yawns before she arrived. Her skin’s whiteness made her into a zombie lurching down the hall. Finally, room 240. Unlocking, it, she turned on the light and walked in. Bathroom on one side of the door, closet on the other, and a small bedroom. She shut the door, loqed it, and dropped her bag on an imitation wood dresser. Against the bathroom wall was a large double bed.
It was the best-looking thing she’d seen in a week.
Stripping off her clothes, she pulled the covers back and climbed in Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, her eyes closed the moment she reached the pillow.
She rolled onto her back and spread-eagled. Didn’t have to worry about hogging the bed this time. Drifting to sleep, she thought that it would be nice to cuddle up to someone right now: she hated sleeping alone. Buddha would be nice, and she begin to form a picture of him. Keeping with his personality, that image quickly turned libidinous. She was definitely too tired to fool around, so his face faded and was replaced by Angel’s. Anjelika was great for just snuggling, she remembered, and a smile graced her mouth as she drifted off to some much-needed sleep.
Indeed, Angel had a couple minor (and non-platonic) cameos in her thirteen hour-long dream, but it was a remembrance of Angel that awoke her. A huddled mass was cuddled atop her and something cold and moist was probing her slender face.
Blade opened her eyes, to the delight of the cat sniffing her. It began to purr, continuing to investigate. Seeing that there was no threat, Blade closed her eyes dreamily and thought of Angel some more. She shivered from the cold wetness of the cat’s nose; exactly like Angel. Anjelika always had an inner coldness to her, even in a hot shower. It took Blade forever to figure out why. In retrospect, the clues were everywhere.
Thinking about that, Blade wrapped both arms and a leg around a pillow, and purred along with the cat. The feline began kneading her in the stomach, just enough to be an annoyance. Blade opened her eyes again to examine her visitor.
Black and white tom with golden eyes and a sonic flea collar. A brass tag hung under its chin:
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
AL # 192
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
She scratched Sylvester between the ears and he promptly fell onto the mattress in ecstasy.
“Caught any rats, big guy?”
The cat suddenly decided it had had enough, and jumped off the bed. She watched it walk over to the door, look around, and press a paw to it. Blade sat bolt upright as the door swung open enough for the cat to leave. Flash of tail, and the door resealed itself.
Blade swung her hand over the side of the bed, found her clothes. In a fluid motion, she pulled out the first knife she found, glided out of bed, and went to the door. Quick glances showed both the bathroom and closet were empty. And the door loq was turned off. She reached out, reactivated it, and then turned around in dread.
The first thing she saw was that her carry bag was still there, but it was wide open.
Blowing out a breath of despair, she went up to her Wilderness Survival Purse to survey the damage. The contents were scrambled, but she noticed that the item lying on top was an ivory idol to Pazuzu (the Other Group’s fire demon of the eastern winds). It was arguably her most valuable swamp-find, but her intruder had not taken it. It’s doubtful that a thief would have taste in art, and not everybody would have recognized the pagan statuette. At the height of Other Group culture, Pazuzu worship was outlawed and hunted to extinction. Two thousand years later, Pazuzu art was more rare—and valuable—than the Other Culture’s.
She put Pazuzu aside to continue her investigation. Pazuzu didn’t mind: he’d been shoved out of the way two millennium ago in the name of theological progress. At least this time it was a beautiful, naked woman (the kind that used to be sacrificed to him every evening for dessert) who put him aside, not those obnoxious, puritanical Other Culturalists.
A quick check showed that the other items were still in there, though not as she had left them. She took a ten second inventory of a ten minute purse, and decided that everything was still there. So whoever was in here didn’t find what they were looking for.
The truth, in fact, was Blade had not yet detected the loss of the purloined item.
She quickly dressed, grabbed her bag, and left the room. Sylvester was sitting in the hall. She scooped him up and took the stairs down to the lobby.
An elderly man was filling out paperwork on a spotless white desk. Another black and white tom sat on the corner, cleaning its paws noisily.
“Excuse me,” she says, walking up to him, “I found this in my room.”
He looked up at the cat, nodded.
“The odd thing is,” she continued, putting the cat down, “he was able to get through a loqed door.”
The man’s eyes widened, immediately catching her meaning.
“You must be the girl in two-forty,” he said “Gertruda, right?”
Blade looked at him blankly a moment. He looked back expectantly.
“Somebody was in my room while I was asleep.” she said flatly.
“That’s terrible, but to be honest, I’m not surprised.” Sylvester climbed into his lap, and he promptly put him down onto the floor. Continuing, he said “My wife showed me the Marmidon Infinity Chee. It’s not museum quality, but it’s still valuable enough that if someone thought you had more, they’d probably try and get them.”
Blade decided that the old man’s lack of sympathy proved that he had nothing to do with the robbery: if he had, he probably would have played dumb and been as helpful as possible.
The old man also arrived at a conclusion: she was a paying customer at his hotel, and this was a serious concern.
“I will look into it, though.”
Sylvester spotted something of immense interest and bolted after it. After a moment, he trotted back, curiosity satisfied. A Saladrin lumbered in after it, wearing a crushed red velvet atmosphere suit. The cat returned to the desk, the alien bellboy climbed up a special stool and sat by the elevator.
“Was anything taken?” the man asked.
“I’m not sure,” she replied.
“Well, I’ll notify station security,” he told her, in a tone that indicated he didn’t expect much help from Qompany men when he was a freelancer.
Blade actually wondered if that was wise. It seemed like nothing was missing, and she wanted to lay low.
“Don’t worry about it, for now at least.”
This produced a frown, which was slightly condescending. “In the meantime,” the old man asked, “would you like another room?”
Blade thought about it for a second, decided that it probably wouldn’t make a difference.
“No, but do you have a laundry facility?”
“Sure do,” he said, with a small amount of pride.
Blade put her Wilderness Survival Purse on the floor, and began to empty her pockets into it. Then, to the dismay of the old man, she stripped down completely. Clothes went on the counter, concealed weapons into the bag.
“I’d like these cleaned and put in my room,” she said, patting the pile of filthy apparel.
He looked at her, trying to conceal the amused shock on his face. He went out of his way to keep his eyes trained on her face, and for once was actually glad that age was fading his peripheral vision. Old fashioned values and marriage were making him feel mighty awkward and guilty, but he was determined to keep a straight face. Carefully looking away, he signaled for the Saladrin to come over and take the clothes to the laundry room.
Blade realized that she was making the old man uncomfortable, so with a smile she grabbed her paq. She didn’t think nudity was offensive in itself—only what you did with it was. But she recognized that he didn’t share her attitude, so she smiled at him and returned to her room, and a long-awaited hot shower.
The Saladrin pressed the elevator summons for her, then climbed down the stool to get her clothes. It didn’t even take a second look at Blade. Saladrins were unisexual: they laid their own eggs, and had no reproductive equivalent to sex. They never did understand what the fuss was about: nakedness was nakedness.
This particular Saladrin, in fact, took that thought a little further. Sex was weakness. These Humans and Hamaddi needed both a male and a female to reproduce, and they also had to eat to survive. As photosynthetic egg-layers, Saladrin were clearly the superior species. The bellhop was part of a very large, very secret, and very subversive group that took this belief to heart, the Sl' Nag'aas (alternately translated as Saladrin Harmony or Saladrin Unity.) Their goal, as the Bellhop understood it, was a Saladrin-ruled universe. Which was why he was here: part of a long-term monitoring program to keep an eye on these pesky Hamaddi and Humans.
The Bellhop was sill fairly low in his society’s echelon, so he did not have access to all the facts and machinations. Here are some things that never occurred to it, or which it had not fully thought out:
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There might be more than one Saladrin Superiority movement<![endif]>
There might be similar elitist groups among the Humans and Hamaddi<![endif]>
The objectives of his specific group might be a little more drastic than a Saladrin-led universe<![endif]>
The objectives of his group might have nothing to do with a Saladrin-led universe<![endif]>
His placement at a relatively minor location in the long-term surveillance program might be a reflection of what his superiors really thought of him<![endif]>
There might be a totally different reason they had him break into Blade’s room last night than what they told him
<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>
Not that the last one mattered. The bellhop found her door unloqed. Entering the darkened room, it scanned on infrared and found the Human sound asleep, having one of those incomprehensible dreams of theirs. As ordered, it did an inventory of her possessions.
What it was looking for was not there, and scanning the room through a different filter, it found residue proof that someone else had been in her room recently. A glance at her bag through the lens showed that other intruder had gone through it. A grim nod: someone had beaten it to the end of this treasure hunt. Looking through the bag with its normal perception, it chuckled that it actually was a treasure hunt. It wondered if the white Human really did have a relic of Saint Gz'DIk'Cha among her pagan trophies. So far it could not ascertain if she did, but its guess was that that yes, she had, but someone had beaten it to it.
As usual, it was wrong.
It had not yet had a chance to contact its superiors about the failure of the break-in. First it had to finish transcribing a wire-tap on room 523, where the brother of the captain of the Namibbian National Honour Guard was staying. It didn’t think it’d learn anything useful, but its superiors had instructed it to include a verbatim print-out with its report; and it began to suspect (correctly) that this was just busy-work.
Even worse, it had to clean the damned Human’s clothes, plus googolplex other tasks for its human employer. And it began to suspect (incorrectly) that this was just busy work.
And it hated doing work.
“Hey, An'ton'n,” the human employer called out to the retreating bell-hop. The Saladrin turned around.
“Please do those first,” and the man pointed to the clothes, “and return them to her as soon as possible so that she may wear them as soon as possible.”
An'ton'n bowed its suit slightly, and continued down the hall. But very quickly, it was distracted from the instruction by images of accepting the Scroll of the Saladrin in honour of its superior work at monitoring the Scourge at Sk'Gdadda 13 in the quest to make it—and everything else—Sl'DRin again.