2951-09-13 – Tales from the Inbox: The Councilor’s Arrangement
Nestor Palazzo slid into the corner booth in Lawrence’s and rested his elbows on the table. The figure opposite, a slight woman wearing a hooded brown cloak, barely raised her head. “Settled up with Mendelsen.” He gestured to the empty bowl in front of her. “Do they have food recipes here that work for you?”
Drase nodded. “The owner already arranged a data transfer to Macie Kurtz.” Her voice was barely loud enough to be heard over the hubbub of the establishment.
“Good.” Owen Lawrence, the proprietor, was… well, “friend” was probably not the right term for the relationship. But Nestor knew the man well all the same.
“He did not ask for payment.” Drase gestured to the bowl. “Not even for the food.”
“I sent him a message to let him know you were with me.” Nestor called up the table menu and punched in an order for beer and the closest thing to beef stew anyone was likely to get on this side of the Gap. Though each of these items had a listed price, the tab at the bottom of the display still showed a zero tab when he had submitted his order.
Drase leaned over the table to scrutinize the menu, and its bluish light cast her elfin, not-quite-human features into harsh relief. She seemed far less alien now than she had when they had first met, even though a still image would show no change. “You do not pay here?”
“I pay Owen, sure. Just not with credits. Credits can be tracked and taxed.” Briefly, Nestor wondered whether the place – one of the seedier eateries in the Sprawl – was a bad place to take a Gilehdat, even one who had, for reasons he still did not understand, inserted herself into his routine. Even if Drase was telling the truth when she said her kind was not telepathic – and he was not entirely convinced of that – there were plenty of people who reacted poorly to their presence.
Drase nodded, and Nestor disliked how knowing this simple gesture was. “How do you pay him, then, that the authorities do not supervise?”
“Odds and ends. The sort of thing people offer when they want something done fast and don’t have the credits to match.” Nestor pointed up at a glass ornament hanging on the wall over the booth. “Half the art in this place fell off my ship. Sometimes it’s booze, or real food.”
Drase sat back, her huge eyes seeming to drink in the light from the menu. “I understand.”
This was a phrase Nestor had come to dislike intensely, because it never meant just one thing. He had still not gotten used to having someone around on the ship in transit; he was too self-conscious about what she was concluding from every little mannerism and tic he’d picked up in his years of flying solo.
A hatch in the wall opened and Nestor’s order slid out on a tray, the foamy head of the beer sloshing wildly within its sealed glass, and steam seeping out from the covered bowl of stew.
“How long does it usually take to find work?” Drase looked across the establishment, and her eyes lit briefly on every slouched back and huddled conversation.
“A standard day, maybe two.” Nestor peeled back the flexible seal on his beer and took a swig. It was barely alcoholic, as usual, but it tasted almost good enough not to have come from a food-fab. Owen’s machines carried hand-tweaked recipes for most everything on the menu; it was one of the reasons Nestor liked eating at Lawrence’s every time he made port at the Sprawl.
Drase sat up straighter and turned her ruby gaze on Nestor. “May I assist this process?”
He met her gaze, equally unblinking. He’d learned not to let her unblinking attention unsettle him at this point. Those red orbs were more like fine gemstones than proper eyes, and their facet-like pattern of striations had already become familiar, even pleasant to look at. He hadn’t before considered the value of a trained Gilehdat diplomat negotiating his contracts. Even if she said nothing, her ability to read people would be quite useful. “You’re welcome to help, Drase.”
“That is good. I will need one moment.” Drase pulled her cowl lower over her head, then slid out from the booth and threaded her way across the lounge. Nestor watched her for a moment, appreciating how effortlessly she navigated through the room without ever drawing anyone else’s attention. She was the only female of any species he’d ever seen do that. The mainly male spacers and local ruffians who frequented Lawrence’s tended to fixate on even the barest hint of an attractive female in their midst, even if no trouble usually came of it.
As he popped the cover off his stew and began to stir it, Nestor wondered, hardly for the first time, what he’d gotten himself into, allowing Drase aboard. She was tolerable as a crew-mate, and certainly easy enough on the eyes. She knew when her presence was becoming bothersome, and when it was accepted, and that was something no human ever seemed to know.
Most likely, she’d jump ship after a few weeks, he figured. Macie Kurtz was a good ship, but it was not the vessel for someone sent to make a study of humanity, if that part of her story really was true. Then he’d be alone again, and things would go back to normal.
Just as Nestor lifted the first spoonful of stew to his lips, he saw Drase returning across the room. This time, she was making no attempt to avoid notice; instead, she was using that swaying gait human women used when they wanted every head to turn as they passed by. Behind her followed another figure equally likely to draw attention, a towering creature with long, muscular arms hanging from a strangely narrow but still solidly built torso. Nestor had seen Cutters at the sprawl a few times, but he’d never seen one in Lawrence’s; they didn’t eat human-compatible food.
Drase glided back to the booth and sat down lightly, gesturing up at the big creature. “Hoyr, this is Captain Palazzo.”
The Cutter pressed its long hands together in front of its chest. Its somewhat triangular head dipped in some sort of bow.
Nestor set his spoon down slowly, glancing between Drase and this Hoyr creature. “Friend of yours?”
“Councilor Drase indicated that your ship is for hire.” Hoyr’s voice was quieter than Nestor expected, and raspy. “Is this still true?”
Nestor shrugged. “Sure. But I don’t do passenger service. Cargo only.”
“That was conveyed.” Hoyr reached into a pouch at its belt and withdrew a black, metallic token. “Necessary data. Time sensitive.” He held the object out to Drase, who took it with a bow of her head. With one last look at Nestor, the big xeno turned and picked its way back across the room toward the exit.
Feeling half the eyes in Lawrence’s on him, Nestor scowled at Drase. “What did you promise him?”
Drase clasped her hands together over the Cutter’s token. “Nothing at all. I did, however, negotiate work, if you wish to take it.”
We covered a previous account from Mr. Palazzo some weeks ago, before events elsewhere necessitated a change in focus back toward reports from action areas. I said at the time that I would not be publishing more stories about the Gilehdat, and that I found the Kyaroh, commonly known as the Cutters, to be a far more interesting subject.
It was Palazzo himself who sent in an account featuring interactions between spacers and Kyaroh, as well as the Gilehdat envoy Drase. The figure of Hoyr in his account is probably a minor diplomat sent by this people to Sagittarius Gate; most of those present on the station are more like military liaisons and observers.