The place was bustling with activity, the constant comings and goings, the flight announcements and the occasional call for passengers to check in immediately. Overhead, a plastisteel dome rewarded the hectic crowds with a breath-taking view of the cargo docks with their automated load lifters and fuel limpets scuttling across the vast area where a multitude of freighters were being taken care of. At this very moment an Anaconda-class trader with the emblems of the Sirius Corporation silently glided down onto one of the big landing pads high above. The HoloSecure turned green when it finally touched down, its landing gear’s dampeners giving in to its sheer weight. Had the station more gravity and no docking restraints the Anaconda would have dropped right on top of the shuttle terminal.
All this the man noticed in an instant. He leaned against the railing of the passenger galleria of shuttle terminal six. His mind still seemed to be far away and as if to comfort himself he looked towards the ‘letterbox’, the ‘in and out’ of the huge Coriolis station somewhere on the fringes of inhabited space. The woman beside him followed his gaze, then turned back again towards the Anaconda that had just landed.
In a low voice she said: “The package is sufficient. More than sufficient, you have my thanks. And my credits.” All the noise of the terminal was about them but he could hear her.
“I am happy it contains what you asked for.” He, too, looked at the Anaconda. Three men in Sirius spacesuits were just vanishing inside the small freight terminal building. “Of course you knew I wasn’t the only one.”
“Yes,” she said matter-of-factly. Then she added: “But you know the region very well, or so I was told.” It was hard to discern her accent. She was too laconic for that. In fact, it was hard to say if she had any accent at all. At least Andrew was certain she used no voice modulator. Her voice just was too genuine for that and he had heard one or two modulators too often in his life of data handling.
He decided to play the talking game: “There aren’t so many folks around who know I’ve been to the Corona Australis region on a likewise mission before. It’s not like I really care where you got your intel from, or from whom, but amazingly you hit the mark with one of maybe ten people.”
She half turned to him. Andrew noticed how ordinary she was looking. Blonde hair, but not too blonde. Average face, barely any makeup. Average height, not too womanly features. Not exactly a vamp or bombshell. Her statue was not too delicate to suggest frailty or weakness, nor was it too robust to frighten or intimidate people. She seemed ‘right’ in her dark blue jumpsuit. Her body language was present but unobtrusive. And then there was her language. Her language was ‘selective’ but not colourful. Andrew knew that type: She was one of the ‘you must not know’ types of contractors and she had been bred for this.
“And now, Mister Gaspurr, you are beginning your search of the mind, based on your moral grounds. You ask yourself whose loyalty or friendship may be in question or who may have been compromised or blackmailed.” She raised an eyebrow, obviously determined to provoke an answer.
‘No core systems’ accent I know of,’ he thought.
“No, Miss… Johnson. Or Smith. I am beyond loyalty and I am sure you know.”
Now a smirk: “Though we bought some information from you, rest assured that we already know a lot. And although you may not have noticed we have dealt with you before. And you performed admirably. Anything else, and we wouldn’t be standing here.”
“You keep saying ‘us’ and ‘we’.”
“And you always believed it was only me? A damsel in distress, a princess in need of a questing knight or a woman on the run from her tyrannical husband, who happens to be a heavy weight in politics?”
Although they were pretty close, standing together at the railing of the terminal, she made another half-step towards Andrew, now whispering: “You run data. And you run it well. That package,” she was vaguely gesturing at her jumpsuit’s upper left pocket, “is proof. You will hear from us again. Until then, do what you must. But do it for yourself.”
She moved away from him with an elegant stride. A dozen meters away a female mechanical voice was announcing the disembarkment of planetary shuttle LA-44. The conversation seemed over. All around them, Andrew suddenly noticed, were the loud noises of the terminal, of countless voices of people coming and going: Tourists, traders, Navy on shore leave, families with bundles of holiday gifts.
She nodded softly: “Remember…” And with that she turned and vanished with a crowd of people who had just come down the galleria from the shuttle disembarkment.
“Yeah, sure…” was all Andrew could say after her. He was still standing there when the crowd had moved on, not knowing what to think.
And all the while there was a man who remembered that encounter very well. But since he was browsing the local media and downloading some Galnet newsflashes with his Neuro-Link, no one would have thought him a part of this.
But he was…