2950-07-05 – Tales from the Inbox: A Personal Mission
Still working on that interview. I thought I had something lined up with one of the senior members of the Fifth Fleet command staff, but the officer who’d scheduled with us canceled at the last moment and I later learned that he has been reassigned to Admiral Abarca’s Seventh Fleet staff effective immediately.
In the meantime, I’ve received a series of messages from a previous correspondant, pseudonymously named Ramiro W. in this space, who sent in an account I broke down into several segments for this feed (the first two are Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Ruination and Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Tempest). Where prior events took place late last year, he claims the events of this new account took place recently – perhaps ending as recently as this prior week, though he was deliberately vague as to this detail.
While as usual with these accounts I cannot verify them, I find the events described quite plausible, and will use them in this space until either Fifth Fleet Headquarters gives me the interview I’m looking for, or something else worth immediate coverage takes place here on the Frontier.
The moment moment Livia escorted the passenger aboard, Ramiro knew he’d be trouble. The little man’s deeply shadowed eyes stayed firmly locked to the deck in front of his feet, and the fine smart-fabric clothing that had once been carefully configured to hug his stooped shoulders and wiry frame now hung limply after a recent and apparently extreme weight loss. He clutched a satchel to his chest with both hands, and a single self-powered, wheeled valise trundled behind him, unheeded. The man had the look of a thing hunted and tired of running.
Ramiro caught Livia’s eyes over the man’s shoulder and gave her the slightest shake of his head. He had let her talk him into configuring Jen Daley for limited passenger service and flying her all the way to Maribel on the understanding that they’d be ferrying well-off but boring Maribelans to safer ports farther from the war’s ravages. If they turned away the worn-out little man, they’d have five other clients lined up in an hour, none of whom were being hunted by anything worse than their own fears.
Livia met Ramiro’s gaze with a smile and a wink before sealing the airlock behind her. “Mr. A., this is Ramiro, Daley’s skipper.”
Ramiro winced, but squared his shoulders and extended a hand. “I understand you’re looking to hire passage to Allenden?”
The man glanced up at Ramiro only for a moment. “Uh, yes, Allenden. When can we leave?”
“I’ll request departure clearance when we’ve-”
“When we're done loading your cargo.” Livia held up a hand behind Mr. A, rubbing her fingers together in the universal signal for money. “Come on, Mr. A., let me show you our passenger cabin. We just had it re-done in January, you know. Right this way.”
Ramiro did his best to stare daggers at Livia’s back as she led the stranger deeper into his ship. He wanted this “Mr. A.” off his ship, and was wondering whether or not to offload Livia with him. Their arrangement had been clear – he had the final say in who came aboard, and where they would be taken.
Just as she herded the man around the corner and up to the hab deck, she flashed a sunny and entirely insincere smile over her shoulder.
Ramiro dropped his shoulders, shook his head, and headed up to the ship’s tiny one-seat command deck. Livia would explain what she was up to if she wanted the ship to go anywhere; she couldn’t fly Jen Daley even if she could hack past his access codes.
Almost as soon as he sat down, Ramiro heard Livia’s quiet footsteps in the corridor behind him.
“Poor bastard barely made it to the bed.” Livia chuckled, snaking one arm around the back of the chair to grip Ramiro’s shoulder. “How’s that departure clearance?”
“We aren’t moving. Get him off my ship, Liv. You know better than I do that he’s-”
“That he’s got all the Hells following him?” Livia pulled on the chair, turning Ramiro toward her. “Damned right I do, based on what he paid. I’ve got that covered, as long as we get out in the next few hours."
Ramiro folded his arms and shook his head. He was still Daley’s skipper. He’d gone to space so that he wouldn’t have to answer to anyone, especially not Livia Farran. “I don’t care what he paid. Give it back and get him off my ship.”
Livia reacted to the phrase “give it back” the way most people would react to a blow to the chest, gasping and stepping back into the corridor. “Ramie, you don’t understand, he’s-”
“You are damned right. I don’t understand. Next time, it might be smart to rectify that before you promise anything to anybody.” Ramiro removed her hand from his chair and spun it back to the controls. “Get him off.”
Livia stood silent and still at the threshold for some time as Ramiro initiated several systems diagnostics and checked the ship’s various security feeds to look busy. He didn’t doubt that she was trying to seem hurt and confused, but she knew perfectly well what she’d done. She’d been aboard his ship nearly seven months now, and this was the first time she dared to push their little partnership to see how far it would bend in her favor. Ramiro had honestly been secretly impressed that she’d been so well behaved for so long, but the habits and instincts of a con artist died hard.
“Look, Ramie, I’m sorry. I didn’t have time to comm.” Livia stepped forward again, leaning on one of the outlying console displays. “He paid fifty thousand up front, and he says he has fifty more if we can get him to Allenden in ten days or less. He’s only got a hundred kilos of cargo. We can’t pass this up.”
“I am passing this up.” Ramiro did his best not to let slip how impressed he was with the sum the would-be passenger had promised – it amounted to nearly a fifth of the value of his entire ship. It wasn't a high enough sum for him to surrender final say over his own vessel, but it was impressive sum for a simple passenger and cargo haul. “And you know why.”
Livia’s silence indicated that she did indeed know exactly what she’d dome wrong. Her full lips pursed and twitched from side to side as she considered the situation and searched desperately for some way out of it.
Ramiro shook his head. “If he’s not off the ship in thirty minutes, I’m putting you both on the other side of an airlock and setting a course back to Philadelphia.”
“Fine.” Livia winced and looked out forward, where the hull panels of the spaceport curved away into the darkness. Neither the stellar primary nor the planet of Maribel were visible, but Ramiro knew that in a few minutes, both would appear. “If you dump him, I’m going with him anyway.”
“I-” Ramiro shut his mouth before a traitorous thought could escape and enslave him to Livia’s will and whim, perhaps forever. He took a slow, deep breath. “What about this poor bastard’s got you so worked up? What happened to all the time you need to work your big score?”
Livia squeezed her eyes shut. “Can you just trust me with this one? Please?”
Ramiro wanted to say yes, but he knew the folly of that course. “Liv, if you knew I’d say yes to carrying him, you’d have told me the problem. You think I’d refuse to fly him if I knew what you did, so you’re making me either throw him out or admit that you own me.”
Livia straightened. “Is that what you think this is? Some petty power struggle?”
Ramiro raised one eyebrow, not bothering to agree. Livia already knew that’s what it looked like, and he had no interest in pretending her surprised reaction was genuine.
Livia met Ramiro’s gaze for a few seconds, then looked away. “Cards on the table, Ramie. This one... it’s sort of close to home. You can keep the whole hundred thousand if that helps.”
Ramiro wondered how much of her hurt expression was genuine, and how much of it was exaggerated for effect. Somehow, he knew that not all of it was fake. Making a show of thinking about the situation, he held out one finger. “On one condition.”
Livia nodded suspiciously, expecting a hard counter-bargain.
Ramiro shrugged. “Hand over your encryption keys. All of them. You can change them after we drop him off."
Livia paled, her lips parting in a quickly-stifled gasp. “You can’t be serious. You know how much that’s-”
“Trust for trust.” Ramiro pointed to the console. “Transfer them and I’ll call station control.”
Livia stormed out and down the corridor. For a moment, Ramiro wondered whether he was wrong and she was going to eject the passenger after all, but his console pinged a moment later.
After verifying that the keys she’d sent worked on all her files in the ship’s datasphere and on several items tagged to her wider digital footprint, Ramiro requested departure clearance, curious what could be so personal to Livia Farran that she’d lay bare her entire catalogue of fraud over it.