2951-03-29 – Tales from the Inbox: A Profiteer’s Introduction
Sacha T. found a good seat in the viewing gallery a deck above the docking ring berth assigned to his ship. That the station had a viewing gallery above the docking ring suggested that Anonga had once been a system with significant wealth and prestige, but now the gallery was a dilapidated mess of refuse both material and human, avoided by respectable locals and spacers.
Checking the time on his wristcuff, Sacha hoped the prospective client would show up. They didn’t always, of course. Often one interest would send out go-betweens to set up several carriers, either to throw BCI off the scent or to make it difficult for someone to re-steal such sought-after cargo.
As the final minute of the shift’s third hour trickled away, Sacha began to hope that nobody would show up. There was a definite, if usually unarticulated, logic to when a client showed up to make final arrangements. If someone showed up several minutes early, it generally indicated a low risk job, with no known official or rival complications. Several minutes late was universal code for “too much heat, we’ll move this later.”
Precisely on time generally meant that the client knew of complications but intended to move the goods anyway. Sacha hated working under those constraints; he could get the job done, but he would consume a not-terribly-healthy quantity of antacid tablets in the process.
At 03:59:55, a pair of men walked out from under the gallery and approached the hatch leading to Sacha’s ship, and as the chronometer ticked over from three fifty-nine fifty-nine to to four-hour, the taller, lankier figure pressed the comms stud next to the hatch.
Sacha sighed, then opened a channel linked through a relay box on his belt back to the ship. “Yeah?”
“Hey bud.” The taller man leaned against the hatch. He didn’t look any worse for his hard-hitting drink choice barely six hours before, and Sacha hoped that meant he’d only had the one Starshine. It didn’t pay to deal with anyone who could stomach more than one pour of that stuff and still walk straight. “Got time to catch up before you head out?”
“I might have a few minutes.” Sacha scanned the length of the docking ring as far as he could, and saw no sign anyone was paying the pair any mind. That, however, wasn’t enough to satisfy him; after all, they’d shown up right on time. “Who’s your friend?”
“Just a good pal I thought you’d like to get to know.” The man, now aware that Sacha could see him, shrugged.
“In that case, come on in.” Sacha tapped a control on his cuff and opened the outer doors, permitting the pair to enter the umbilical.
As soon as they’d stepped inside, he shut the door once more and switched his relay to the speakers inside that narrow, thin-skinned tube connecting ship to station across a gulf of hard vaccuum. Sacha had played the game long enough not to let the paying customer be the only person to play elaborate games of security. “Do sit tight... buddy. I’ll be right with you.”
“Er, something wrong?” The voice still carried its genial conviviality, but there was an edge underneath it now. “I thought we had an-”
“We probably do.” Sacha stood, stretched, and headed for the stairway connecting the gallery to the docking ring below. “I just like to make very sure I keep the company of the right sort.”
The second man, shorter and broader of build as Sacha recalled, cleared his throat. “Do you have any idea who-”
“No, not yet.” Sacha shouldered past a pair of ragged vagabonds heading up into the gallery to imbibe their daily fix. “But do enlighten me. Don’t worry, you are quite safe from surveillance in there.”
“I’m Malone, Mr. Terrare.” The heavyset man snapped.
Sacha stopped. “Ah, that’s an interesting name.” Malone wasn’t his name, or at least, it wasn’t his legal name. It was the name of an adoptive family of two-bit criminals who’d made it big on unlicensed Nate-tech salvage. They were, as it were, one of the two or three biggest potential clients for his sort of services, and one which he’d never worked with before. “Very, very interesting.”
It was doubly interesting because Sacha had heretofore mainly worked with the smaller interests and with the Malone syndicate’s main rivals over at Peake-Sonnen. Normally, he would have such a deep black mark in their book that they’d be more likely to put a knife in his back than cargo in his hold.
“We are on a bit of a, er, tight schedule, bud.” The taller man thumped the inner hatch with his fist to emphasize its closed condition. “Let’s talk details, eh?”
Sacha reached the docking ring, then turned toward the bank of lifts which would take him back down to the concourse. As he entered one of the lifts, he changed the pattern of his chameleon-weave smart-fabric uniform to resemble the shabby fatigues of off-duty station personnel. “By all means, do talk details. I am listening.”
We continue with Sacha’s account of picking up war-profiteer contraband in the Anonga system. How the cargo gets to Anonga is still unclear to me (it is quite a few jumps from the Frontier, after all), but I’m sure BCI is looking into it.
[N.T.B. - And when they figure it out, I’m sure they won’t tell us how, or announce that they’ve put a stop to it.]