The holidays and a head cold got in the way of posting, but I’m back now. And it’s a brand new year! That’s the kind of occasion that demands new words and new ideas,so why am I posting yet more largely unedited text from 2014? Simple. Heinlein’s second rule of writing (http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm). Yes, that Heinlein. The guy I think of as the creepy uncle of science fiction. I guess I could take a moment to whinge about Heinlein’s oddities, but it’s been done ad naseum. Instead, try this link for a balanced look at the man’s concepts. (http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/what-do-heinlein-women-want). After reading that, come back here. You won’t be getting sexy-wexy bigamist fun time on my blog, but hey, I have hovercraft.
Featured image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andromeda_Galaxy
Persephone was not relieved when she turned the handle and found that her apartment door was unlocked. The last time she’d been here had been a week ago, right after her initial meeting with Arch. She’d locked the place. She always locked the place.
She stared at the door and considered the possibilities. It could be something as mundane as careless cleaning staff, but that seemed unlikely. It could be someone trying to settle an old grudge, but again that felt wrong. Most likely it was related to the eXime situation. Not tube-fish this time. She couldn’t imagine them riding an elevator and picking a lock. No. This was a person. Either someone had been in her apartment and had left or they were still in there.
She pressed her ear against the door and listened. She could hear faint music coming from inside. Not only had they broken in, they’d left her stereo on. She risked opening the door a crack and peaked in. All she could see was a wedge of her front hallway and a tiny sliver of the living room. She squeezed herself through the gap and pressed up against the wall.
The music was louder inside, throbbing in time with her heart beat. She didn’t hear anything other than the music, but she was sure the apartment was occupied. She felt like she was breathing air that someone else had recently used. She gritted her teeth and crept down the hallway, past the kitchen on the right and bedroom on the left. She slowed as she approached the living room. She could see the coffee table, almost half the sofa, and was that a pair of legs? Someone was sitting on her damn sofa, leaving muddy boot prints on her rug.
She pictured the layout of the room, planning her strike. She’d crouch, roll to the left and then come up behind the sofa. That would give her some cover and if she was quick, a shot at the intruder’s head. It went off flawlessly and barely thirty seconds later she had her right arm around the guy’s neck and was pressing him into the sofa. He thrashed and clawed at her arm, but the couch kept him from swinging an elbow into her ribs.
“Who the hell are you?” She shouted while she squeezed.
“Ah. A-gah.” The guy said.
He had black hair, a thick neck and an impressive pair of shoulders. She was glad she’d gotten the jump on him.
“Who hired you?”
He was still making gagging noises, but she wasn’t about to let go. Better to keep going until he passed out. He could answer questions later, after he was tied up, assuming she could manage that. The man was pressing with his feet now straining to tip the sofa back and crush her. She leaned into the couch, but it was still moving. Her feet were slipping and she was starting to sweat.
She twisted to get a better grip. That gave her clearer view of the guy’s red face generous lips, and Albion racing shirt. She swore and snatched her arm back. “What the hell are you doing in my apartment!”
Arch took a few deep breaths. “Waiting,” he rasped.
“Get out,” Persephone said.
He rolled his eyes at her. “What,” he panted, “happened to no contusions?”
“My no violence policy only extends to clients who pay me,” she growled.
“Sorry. Not my call,” he said. He rubbed his neck. “You’re strong.” He sounded surprised.
“Thanks, Captain Obvious. Didn’t you see me climb up an elevator cable and push open the door with my feet?”
Arch shrugged. “Looked effortless so I didn’t think too much about it.”
The word ‘effortless’ almost made Persephone smile, but then she remembered her missing paycheck. “How did you get in here?”
Arch grinned. “Got some inspiration from your little con game at the race track.”
Persephone waited for him to elaborate, but he just sat there smirking. She shrugged, strode over the stereo and flicked it off. When she looked back, she caught a glimmer of frustration on Arch’s face. The boy must have expected her to push to hear his break-in story, show off how clever he’d been. Instead, she dialed Japeth.
“You can come up if you want. Though to be honest, your ass might be in danger.”
“What? Are you okay? Did those things track us through the sewers?” Japeth sounded worried.
“No tube fish. Just Arch.”
To her surprise, Japeth didn’t sound irritated by that. Instead she sounded relived and then concerned. “Did he say what happened at the Albion complex? Did a lot of people get hurt? Oh, never mind, I’m coming up. He can tell us both.”
Persephone got off the phone.
“Japeth’s coming up. Be nice, okay? She just lost everything she owns.”
Arch nodded briefly. His face was still flushed, but not from lack of air anymore. “I lost a few things myself today,” he said in a cold, controlled voice. “A brother, for one. It’s why I’m here.”
“My condolences.” Persphone wasn’t sure what exactly to say. She knew nothing about the Albion family other than what appeared in the tabloids and business news briefs. She found herself wishing that Japeth would hurry up and get here. The silence was becoming awkward.
Arch finally muttered, “It’s okay. We weren’t exactly close.”
Arch’s older brother Quentin was the lead engineer at the firm and Paul Albion had been grooming him to inherit the business. Quentin often worked late.
“I told him that it would kill him.” Arch smiled wanly at Japeth. Their mutual glumness had created a tenuous bond. Arch reminisced about visiting the Albion complex as a boy. Japeth talked about growing up in the Floats and losing her parents in the riots. Persephone brewed some nori-tea and tried not to fidget.
“Loosing family is difficult ” Japeth concluded and took a sip of her tea.
“And you’re sure that was retaliation for the break in?” Persephone asked in an effort to get everyone back to the present.
Arch blinked, his face hardening. “Had to be,” he said. “And Quentin was working on the eXime data crystal when the attack happened.”
“Didn’t you say it was worthless?”
“Like I said there were no engine schematics. My father was furious. He was the one who decided that you shouldn’t get paid.”
“If there were no schematics then what was Quentin working on?”
Arch shrugged. “All I know was that he sent me a text saying that he was going to take another look. That was ten minutes before the building went down.”
“Taking Quentin and the data with him.” Persephone sighed. If the break-in had gone as planned she would have copied the material before passing it off to her client. Instead, she’d been chased out by a rent-a-cop and a swarm of fish things. She hadn’t been able to skim the files herself.
Arch’s expression shifted from miserable to smug. It was the same self-satisfied smirk he’d had when Persephone asked how he’d gotten into her apartment. “I scanned them.” Arch’s smile broadened and he pulled an epad out of his pocket with a flourish.
Persephone was impressed, but kept it off her face. She pulled her goggles out and set them to network mode. “Transfer them to my account. I need to take a look.”
Arch returned the epad to his pocket and leaned back on the sofa.
“While you’re making yourself comfortable, I could be sorting this thing out,” Persephone said.
Arch nodded. “We’ll go over the files together. But first, I need you to agree to another job.”
“Am I going to get paid for this one?”
Arch looked pained. “Albion’s finances are a little disordered at the moment. And this wouldn’t be for the company. It’s a job for me. I want an eXime H-craft. I bet I can take it apart and figure out how it works quicker than grubbing through the schematics.”
Persephone was surprised by the request. When Arch said he had another job for her she was thinking it would be a revenge gig. Sneaking into the eXime complex to plant a bomb or sending in a kill drone to snuff the company execs. She didn’t take jobs like that.
“20% of profit from the sale of any resulting tech.”
“That’s a little too tentative for me.”
“I’m telling you, this is going to be big. Bigger than 60 million credits. If leveraged correctly, the eXime technology will let us get off world and restore interstellar trade. The colony will thrive again. We’ll have metal and food imports.”
“You think there’s still someone out there to trade with?” Persephone asked. According to the history zines, economic and political factors had driven the retraction of the Old Sol empire. The resulting riot and regime change had effectively isolated the colony during that period. Satellites had decayed, fallen and were scavenged for metal. No signals trickled in from out there anymore.
“There has to be someone. Pockets maybe. We can be the ones to restore the trade links!
It was difficult not to get carried along by Arch’s enthusiasm. His eyes were blazing, his hands sketching his ideas out in the air, drawing links between imaginary worlds. This was clearly a dearly held dream.
“…and I’ll name the company after Quentin. Quentin and Archimedes. Q. and A. industries. I’ll make my father proud.” He finished his narration with a triumphant flourish. Japeth was rapt. Even Persephone had been caught up in it until the mention of Mr. Albion.
“Wait. You’re doing this because of your father?” Persephone asked.
Japeth was caught up enough to get defensive on Arch’s behalf. “Persephone,” she scolded. “It benefit’s everyone! You see that, right?”
“It sounds good on paper, but if it’s so wonderful than why hasn’t eXime done it already? I mean they’ve had the tech for what? Six months now?”
“Maybe they lack vision or the technical know-how to develop a launch vehicle. I mean eXbioform makes what? Algae pops?” Arch sneered then he back-pedaled. His big brown eyes got even bigger and deeper. “Please,” he said. “For me. For Quentin. For the colony.”
Japeth gave Persephone a pleading look that mirrored Arch’s expression.
“Fine. I’ll help you steal a fuckin’ hover craft,” Persephone snapped. She didn’t believe that Q and A technologies would go anywhere. She just wanted to know what was in those files.