Another day, another story. Well, kind of, since it's been more than a day.
I feel happier with this one. I'm not super-happy with the ending; I'd like to have a little more tension, but I feel like it develops the character well.
Eljas Korhonen is a character I made for a game I might be playing in soon, so part of the story is intended to give as much of a story-related background for him as possible; it explains what his core aptitudes are and gives some flavor for him.
Without further ado, let's start the story:
"You know, some people would say that you're not just looking for other people. I'd say you're also looking for yourself."
"Well, you can go and shove—"
"Easy, there, Eljas. Didn't mean to offend you. Just sayin' you got more depth than you let on."
Eljas ignored the bartender, reaching into the pocket of his coat to pull out a cigarette. He supposed that he was the sort of reason they banned marketing them to children; he'd seen them in the shows and they'd looked cool, so he picked them up young. Of course, the morphs now no longer cared. More of a nuisance for the air filters.
Back in Finland, his business had been all cold dark nights and bustling days. Up here, there weren’t days and nights, just shift changes every eight hours.
“Still in that cheap pod, I see.”
“Haven’t seen a reason to change. You got one?”
“Cheap pod not enough for you?”
“Resleeving is a pain.”
“Then I guess you’re stuck. Did you hear the news about the guy who got fed into the recycler?” Joe’s question was more of a statement, an attempt to change the topic.
“Have they found who did it?”
“That’s your alley, innit?”
“Not anymore. If they want me, they know where to call.”
The bartender went back to work, polishing the exterior of a bulb with the practiced motions of someone who had been tending bar back when gravity was a less expensive commodity. Eljas barely paid attention to him, his attention focused on the noise of the door sliding open and closed again and the woman who had just floated through.
She looked a little flustered, perhaps nervous. Her clothing choices were utilitarian, suggesting either that she was a life-long spacer or otherwise didn’t care to maintain the traditional look most other people in the bar went for. The way she looked straight at him told Eljas that it was a business call.
She nearly missed the “stool” next to his, but caught it at the last second. Her prehensile feet found a grip, and Eljas wasn’t sure if he was squicked by the unexpected length of her toes or jealous of their utility. He pre-empted her inquiry.
“Credits up-front before I begin, I don’t have any arrangements with station security to guarantee prosecution, and I don’t think we’ve met before.”
The woman blushed. “We haven’t. My name is Katja Stark, and I’ve heard of you from a friend. Says you can figure out what’s up.”
“Perhaps I can. Name’s Eljas Korhonen, though you probably knew that. What’s the deal?”
“Looking into some missing supplies. Manifests say we should have a couple more crates of feedstock than we do, and I suspect someone’s made off with them.”
“Sounds like something for habitat security.”
“They’re too busy,” the woman’s voice sounded almost like a petulant child’s, but with a softness that indicated defeat, “and they’re not terribly interested in dealing with something low-profile right now.”
A quick gesture over at the AR news bubble indicated what she meant.
“So you want me to look for them. I can do that, but I’m going to need more details before I give you a price.”
The negotiations continued for a few minutes, his client clearly oblivious to the impact that the pheromones were having. Once they settled on a thousand credits, he had both his suspicions confirmed and a four-hundred credit advance.
“I want you to appreciate my discretion,” he ended, “as a professional courtesy. Please don’t draw too much attention to me as I work.”
“Certainly,” she said, with her eyes knowingly mischievous.
He’d done work for criminals before. He wasn’t above it, but it always made him feel a little dirty afterward. Nonetheless, as he started another cigarette he was glad for the work.
The investigation started with a quick perusal of the security footage. His employers weren’t idiots: the cameras had been placed on a loop, but the other spimes were untouched. The audio wasn’t terribly useful, mostly just letting him hear the crates being pulled out of the webbing, but the sounds of movement suggested either metal boots or synthmorphs.
He referenced the mesh, pulling up both the publicly accessible cameras and the ones that a hundred credits had convinced habitat security to give him access to. Between the software he was running and his own eyes, he quickly spotted some interesting movements. A couple cases and a synth with some crates eerily similar to the ones found in the warehouse were taking the crates to an old storage area.
Eljas packed his body armor and a shredder into a duffel bag, pulling them behind him as he slipped out of the hole he called an apartment. The corridors were tight, since it was the low-rent district, but at least the lights worked and the air was clean enough to be polluted by his fourth cigarette in half a hour. A passerby shot him a glare, but his mind was running through the possibilities.
The section he was looking for was off the public mesh. It was officially part of the maintenance sector, and the official security grid wasn’t available for him to look at. He could alert station security, but then he’d miss out on the payday.
The yellow seals around the door served as a reminder that he was heading out of the habitation ring and toward the interior of the station. He pressed the keypad to open the door, and slipped into the maintenance corridor. Unpacking the shredder and his armor, he suited up quickly.
Habitat security had the nasty habit of turning a blind eye to anything that went on in the old engineering deck. The station had a new engineering wing added some decades ago, and the only thing left behind was empty space and stripped bulkheads. The squatters had moved in, some from scum barges, some fugitive egos that Eljas hunted when the pay was right, some desperate enough to take up the offer of near-free rent: especially the synths who were happy with a power connection and space to hibernate.
None of the miserable inhabitants of the old section cared to stop him. One glance at his armor sent them right back to their business, and he was happy to leave them at theirs. The cameras wouldn’t be much help; they were burned out or disabled long ago, but Eljas knew this place like the back of his hand.
All he had to do was watch how the patterns had shifted. If the Old Skies were hiring him, that meant that there had to be someone new. None of the established players were willing to risk a turf war. Three synths meant he could probably narrow out most of the biomorphs, but he kept tracking the pods in case the new players were just frugal.
He got lucky. One of the cases that had stolen the “feedstock” passed by only a few minutes after his scan began. Eljas almost wished he’d left the armor and gun in the bag, but mustered as much innocence as his combat readiness allowed as he pulled himself along the passages, his rifle strapped tightly to his chest in quick-release loops.
The amateur didn’t notice he was being followed until he reached the door to a storage area. Eljas held back as his quarry entered, then pushed himself along the corridor. The door was locked, but all he had to do now was wait. He slowly pulled the shredder loose, the loops undoing themselves under the deliberate pressure of his grasp. Leveling it on the doorway, he prepared to wait.
An alert pulled him from his vigil shortly before a stray bullet pinged off the bulkhead behind him. He turned and fired a short burst toward his assailant, who looked like the synth from before. An arm came off, its shoulder joint disappearing in a metal mist, and as the neurachem kicked in Eljas could hear the faint hiss of the pneumatic door beginning to open.
He pushed off the wall with all his force, floating through the opening aperture with the trigger pulled. The scream of disintegrating metal echoed in the storage room, both from the initial entry of the shards into a hapless gangster and their subsequent report against the bulkhead. The inertia brought him shoulder-blades first into the wall behind him, but his first concern was returning fire at the third synth, who leveled a railgun at him. The shot missed, its owner and the weapon’s smartlink predicting Eljas to respond to the impact by pushing himself forward. Light from the corridor outside peeked in through the hole the slug made as a stream of diamond flechettes turned a once-functional morph into future feedstock.
“Packages found. Pay me and I’ll send you the address and babysit them for you.”
Six hundred credits found their way into his account. The waiting that followed was the hard part. He wanted to start going through these guys’ stuff. His client probably wouldn’t mind if he took some stuff from other containers. Of course, the curious didn’t live very long. He weighed the options, only to be interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on the door.
[We’re here. Open up.]
Eljas shrugged. Their response had been quicker than he expected. He nodded respectfully to the criminal waiting for him, and passed down the hallway without giving a second glance to the people his client had brought to retrieve their wares.
The fifth cigarette in the hour felt like it was going to burn his lungs, but at least it was lit in celebration of a job well done.