2950-05-10 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Partnership
While we were out of contact with Centauri during the battles at Håkøya, several entries from the account of Ramiro W. relating to his misadventures in partnership with the con artist Livia F. (both pseudonyms, obviously) were provided on this feed. As it’s been a bit of a slow week and I’ve been asked several times about that account, I’ve elected to pull the remaining section of Ramiro’s story out of the backup post system, as it might be months before it is seen if I leave it there.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hear it, Ramie?”
Ramiro took in Livia’s deliberately cocked hips, tilted head, and pouted lips, and made a show of turning his chair back toward the controls for the ship’s cargo crane. He knew her well enough by now to know that those were the markers of trouble, and that he wanted no part of whatever was about to happen. He also knew that a simple “yes” would do absolutely nothing.
“You’re walking away from a lot of money, and that’s exactly why you needed me in the first place.” Livia leaned over the back of the chair, and Ramiro scowled at the strong scent of her exotic floral perfume. “Unless you change how you operate, you’re just going to need me to bail you out again.”
“I paid you back, Liv.” Ramiro pulled down the slider and watched the crane’s hook drop down toward the netting-encased mass of crates in the middle of the hold. “With interest. And that doesn’t include your share of the profits from your little scheme.”
“It was hardly little.” Livia pretended to be hurt. “And you wouldn’t have anything to pay me back this time. Won’t you let me-”
“I don’t want to know.” Ramiro sidled out of his chair and past her through the hatchway into the cargo hold. “When we get back to Philadelphia, you’re getting off my ship.”
Ramiro could hear Livia’s fashionable heels clicking on the deck as she followed him. “Look, I know you weren’t happy about all the shooting, so I came up with something where there won’t be any trouble like that.”
Ramiro snorted. Trouble was the air Livia Farran breathed. “Anything that doesn’t have trouble would bore you to death. I want to go back to boring.”
“Look, Ramie, I’m trying to meet you halfway here. I’m talking about easy, safe money. It’s even legal.”
Ramiro grabbed the cargo netting and climbed up the stack toward the hanging crane hook. “That’s not far off what you said the last time.” The last time, her pitch had been that they were only stealing from people who deserved to be stolen from, and they’d both come far too close to being killed in the process.
Livia of course would not follow Ramiro up the side of the netted cargo shipment. She stopped at its base, though she raised her voice to compensate for the greater distance. “Just hear me out before you say no, okay? I really...” She paused for several seconds. “I really thought you’d like this idea.”
Ramiro, one hand on the dangling hook and the other disentangling the carry loops from the netting he’d wrapped around the pile of goods, paused and glanced over his shoulder. Livia was looking down at her expensive shoes, not up at him, her dark hair hiding her face. She looked disappointed and almost embarrassed, and for a moment, he almost forgot that she was always acting and started to feel sorry for her.
“Fine. Pitch it.” Ramiro looped the first few loops around the dangling hook. Livia might be a con artist, but she had never swindled him, at least not directly; the worst she’d ever managed was to trick him into being an unwilling partner in swindling someone else. “That way I know what I’m saying no to.”
Even though he wasn’t looking at her, Ramiro could almost see the reflection of Livia’s suddenly sunny smile on the opposite bulkhead. “It’s like this: my contacts say there’s profit in moving the monied people and their stuff out of Maribel. Seems like the rich parasites of the whole Frontier are off for safer hosts, and the usual services aren’t moving much cargo.”
“Don’t see how that’s any good for me.” Ramiro hooked the final loops in, then closed the crane’s hook and locked it. “Jen Daley isn’t equipped for pampered passengers, and I’m not in this business for the social scene.”
“With a few quick touches, I could make your cabin comfortable enough for a family of four. You’d have to use the second bunk in the little closet I’m sleeping in, of course. Think of how much we could charge them.”
Clambering down from the cargo pile, Ramiro glared at Livia. “Let me guess. You’ve got some angle to siphon their money off while we’re in transit?”
Livia looked away. “I, um. Yeah, that was-”
Ramiro walked past her and back toward the crane control booth.
“That was my thought too, but then I realized that was stupid. If we played it honest, they’d tell their friends.” Her heels clicked a hurried beat on the deck as she scurried to catch up. “I think the best money in this one is to stick with it and just do the job, no angle. People are scared enough to throw all kinds of credits-”
Ramiro tossed himself back into the chair and flicked the controls. Out in the cargo bay, the crane began to lift, straining the loops and the netting they were woven into until the whole mess of goods lifted slowly off the deck. He watched it for several seconds before Livia’s hurried words finally filtered past the barrier his brain put up every time she was talking. “Wait a damned minute.” He turned toward her as she re-entered the booth. “Liv, did I just hear you utter the phrase, ‘no angle?’ When is the last time you slept?”
“Very funny.” Livia tossed her head, her loose black hair briefly flopping around her face before she brushed it back. “Yes, that’s what I said. If we robbed the first customer blind, we would score big, but-”
“The run from Maribel to the Core is weeks long. If we played it straight, you’d get so bored you’d con them to avoid getting bored.” Ramiro shook his head. “Or you’d start messing with me instead, and I’d put you out an airlock. Either way, no second run.”
“Please, Ramie.” Livia raised one eyebrow and places her hands on her hips. “Do you really think I hadn’t thought of that?”
“Cards on the table, Liv.” Ramiro slid his finger across the controls, and the netted cargo slid toward the big double doors at the rear of the hold. “Play this one tight, and you play it without me or Jen Daley.”
“I’ll give you two of them.” Livia leaned in conspiratorially, and Ramiro tried to keep his eyes away from the dramatic view presented by this posture in collaboration with her low-necked, tight-fitting shirt. “First one, I think I might be onto something a lot bigger. Buy-my-own-continent money, maybe. It’s going to take time to figure out how to make it work. Might as well make some easy, safe money nursemaiding scared rich people while I’m working on it.”
Ramiro nodded. This was more like the Livia he’d come to know far too well for his liking. “Whatever that big score is, keep me out of it. What about that second card?”
Livia smiled, but her eyes avoided his. For once, it didn’t seem fake, but that somehow didn’t make it any less uncomfortable. “You... How do I put this. You look at me different.”
“I know you're bad news.”
“So do most of the people I get the better of.” Livia put her hand on the console next to Ramiro’s own. “But they see someone they can use for their own purposes. Someone easy, someone weak, someone they have an advantage over, someone they can cheat or control. That’s how I get them.”
Ramiro glanced from Livia’s hand to her face, looking for the usual signs that she was up to something, but not finding any. Was she trying to be genuine? Could she ever be genuine?
“Nobody with that look like yours can ever be a mark, not really.” Livia straightened and turned away, letting her hand briefly fall on his as she did in a way Ramiro knew wasn’t accidental. “I've always wondered what I could do with someone who can’t be a mark. Maybe a few months on honest runs would be my chance to... find out.”
“You did swindle me once.” Ramiro almost hated to remind her of that fact.
“I lied to you a little bit, and you lost nothing.” Livia smiled over her shoulder. “That’s all the cards you get. Think about it, Ramie. Only a few days to Philadelphia.”
As Livia swept away toward the ladder leading up to the habitation area, Ramiro locked the cargo crane in place and scowled past it. He tried, and failed, to tell himself that time spent with Livia Farran was, and could only be, bad news.