Authors: Chris Strange
She shook her head. “It was Lilian’s.”
He shot her a look, then dropped his eyes back to the novel.
What was she doing with that man’s book? And why did a writer need a gun?
“He’s looking for her,” she said.
“Gould. He’s looking for Lilian.”
A cold hand wrapped its fingers around Roy’s heart. He tossed the book down on the shelf. “Find out everything you can about him. Who he is, why he’s here, how he got to Temperance. Everything.”
She sneered. “I’m not your secretary.”
He straightened, hands curling into fists at his side. “You will be if you want your next fix. You’re exactly what I want you to be until this is over.”
She brought her cigarette from her lips with a trembling hand.
“If you don’t like it,” he said, “I can return you to the street in the condition I found you in. Is that what you want?”
Her eyes found his. “Fuck you, Roy. Fuck you.”
He stepped forward. She cocked her wrist to toss the vodka in his face. But before she could, he grabbed hold of her wrist. He could feel her soft flesh bruise as she tried to twist away.
“Find out who he is,” he said. “And make sure I’m not disturbed again.”
He grabbed the glass of vodka out of her hand and poured the burning liquid down his throat. She glared and twisted her hand free.
“Yes, sir,” she spat.
He shoved the empty glass into her hand and turned, crouching to pass through the hole separating their apartments. Hudson stared at him as he came back into the dim apartment. His stink filled the air.
“Now,” Roy said as he pushed the panel closed and picked up the wrench. “Where were we? Ah, yes. You were telling me how to get to Leone.”
Hudson began to sob.
Dom couldn’t believe how much food the tiny augment managed to pack away. He’d already been through two bowls of egg fried rice and he was starting on his third. An empty pitcher of beer sat on the small ship table in front of him. Dom folded her arms as she watched him. He was going to eat them out of the damn ship.
“You wouldn’t believe the shit they tried to get away with feeding me,” Knox said around a mouthful of rice. “No meat, no vegetables. I don’t even know what it was. Metal filings and cardboard, probably.” He nudged his pitcher. “Fill her up, will you?”
“We’re out of beer,” she said.
“Come on, stalker, don’t be stingy. I saw those bottles in the fridge.”
“They’re not mine. They’re my shipmate’s.”
“He won’t mind. Come on. We’re partners now. Share and share alike.”
Dom suppressed an urge to throttle the augment. She pulled a bottle out of the fridge and slammed it down on the table in front of him. “Here.”
He held up his fingers, the implanted wires winding around his palm. “Does it look like I’ve got a bottle opener on here?”
She gritted her teeth, jammed the edge of the bottle cap against the lip of the table, and slammed her hand down. The blow sent the cap flying across the ship’s kitchen. Foam bubbled out of the neck of the bottle.
“Better?” she said, setting it down.
“Much.” He grinned and picked it up. “Cheers.”
The airlock hissed and familiar footsteps clanged on the catwalk. She’d never been so glad to hear Eddie come home. The writer stepped through the hatch into the kitchen with his hands in his pockets. He stopped and stared at the augment.
“Freckles, why is there a midget in my chair?”
Knox slowly lowered his beer and turned to face Eddie. “I take offence to that, friend.”
Eddie gave Knox a bored glance, then returned his attention to Dom. “And now it’s talking. You know how I feel about midgets sitting in my chair, Freckles.” His eyes narrowed. “And is that my beer it’s drinking?”
“Shut up and take my chair,” she said. “We need to talk.”
“That’s your chair. I want my chair.”
She rubbed her forehead. “Since when do you even have a chair?”
“Since this little can opener decided to sit in it.” He waved his hands at Knox. “Go on. Move. Shoo. Don’t make me get the bug spray.”
Knox took a long pull of his beer and addressed Dom. “This is the writer? I thought he’d be a little more cultured. At least more cultured than you. You stalkers are a boorish lot.”
She was fed up. “You, shut up,” she said, pointing at Knox. “Eddie, sit down before I make you sit down.”
Eddie continued to glare for a moment. Then he shrugged, strolled around to the other side of the table, and plonked himself down in the seat. He leaned back and put his feet on the table, right next to Knox’s bowl of fried rice. The augment scowled.
“Are you boys done?” Dom asked. She spread her arms questioningly. “Can we get started?”
Both men were silent.
“All right, then,” she said. “So, it turns out that Reverend Benjamin Bollard never actually contacted the Feds with information about Roy Williams. Even if he had information—which he doesn’t now, because I put three rounds through his skull—he probably wouldn’t have been willing to pass it on to the Feds, because he was one of the convicts that broke out of the Bolt along with Williams. I encountered some more of them soon after.”
“And you shot them all.” Eddie gave her a thumbs up. “Nice job.”
“Not all of them,” she said, and she looked at Knox.
Eddie followed her eyes, then sighed and tilted his head back. “You know what’s worse than a midget can opener sitting in my chair and drinking my beer? A midget can opener
sitting in my chair and
if he doesn’t stop drinking my beer I’m going to shove that fucking bottle down his throat.
Knox grinned, drained the last of the beer, and tossed the bottle onto the floor. Eddie brought his feet off the table and glared.
“Enough!” Dom roared. “For the love of Man. Knox, just tell him what you told me.”
“No problem, sugartits.” He pushed his bowl away from him and tented his fingers as he locked eyes with Eddie. “Yeah, that’s right. I escaped the Bolt with Williams and his gang. Not because I was one of their best buddies. Because I was the only augment in the joint. I was the one who hacked the databases and wiped the prisoner records.”
“You’re not doing a good job explaining why I shouldn’t put a bullet in your head,” Eddie said.
“How come, bud? If I hadn’t wiped the databases, the Feds would’ve caught up with us somewhere in system space and there would’ve been no fat contract for the two of you.”
Eddie shrugged. “That’s the thing. There’s always another contract. Seems some people just can’t stop themselves breaking the law.”
“And you wouldn’t know anything about breaking the law, would you?” Knox said.
Eddie just smiled.
“Keep talking,” Dom prompted.
Knox settled back in his chair. “Williams split from the others as soon as they landed on Temperance. You’ll find the ship they used docked at airlock four-two-four. Not that it’ll be much use. It was a cargo ship we jacked coming out of a dark road near the Outer Reach. Flushed the owner out the airlock and sold all his cargo to a passing black marketeer. Plenty of cash for everyone. Except as soon as we landed on Temperance, Williams took all the money and disappeared. As you can imagine, they weren’t too pleased with that. Bones and his cronies had me working on some ancient piece of shit computer they found in that converted church, trying to track Williams. But he’s gone off the grid.”
“Hold on a second,” Eddie said. “Let me piece this together. Your fellow convicts were making you work for them.”
“And you didn’t like that.”
“Would you?” he said.
“So you contacted the Feds and told them that you were this Reverend and that you had information on Williams.”
“Out of the aliases the others were using, the Feds were least likely to investigate Ben’s. It’s remarkably easy to impersonate a preacher and get away with it.”
“You knew the Feds would be sending a stalker to investigate.”
Knox spread his lips in a grin. Dom knew where Eddie was going with this, because it’d been burning away inside her as well. She hadn’t planned to bring it up until she could be sure she wouldn’t do something she’d regret to the augment. But it looked like it was coming anyway.
Eddie looked at her. “He led you into an ambush. Tell me again why you haven’t killed him already?”
“It wasn’t an ambush,” Knox said. “I didn’t tell Bones you’d be coming. Besides, if you couldn’t handle Bones and his buddies, you wouldn’t stand a chance against Williams.”
Dom closed her eyes and tried to keep her anger in check. “It’s fine. I dealt with it.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit,” Eddie said. “He used us to save his own midget arse. You could’ve been killed. If I was there,
could’ve been killed.”
“But you weren’t there, were you?” Dom said. “You were off…where? Shooting guys in alleys? Getting drunk? For the love of Man, I can smell the pussy on you from here.”
“Ah, fuck this.” Eddie stood up and slouched over to the fridge. He popped open a beer and slugged it back.
“It’s a delight to see such camaraderie in action,” Knox said. “Truly a testament to the noble profession of the stalker.”
“Let’s turn him over to the Feds,” Eddie said. “Maybe we’ll get a few vin for him. Better than having to listen to him.”
Knox shrugged. “Sure, you could do that. Good luck finding Roy Williams without me.”
“You’ve been looking for Williams for weeks,” Eddie said. “Guess what? You haven’t found him.”
“That’s because I haven’t had access to the proper equipment.”
Eddie snorted and shook his head.
Dom sighed. “Just listen to him, will you?”
“He’s screwing with us. He knew we were coming. Hell, he was probably the one who sent one of his buddies to tail me. Some dumb goddamn kid with a hand cannon and a stupid fucking hat.”
“That wasn’t me,” Knox said. “And it wasn’t one of the other convicts. Miss Giantess over here dealt with all of them. All except me and Roy Williams.” He tapped his chin. “Could be the big boss’s men were following you. The Fed outpost is full of Feds willing to sell information on any interesting arrivals.”
Eddie paused. He looked like he was thinking. “The big boss?”
“Feleti Leone. He practically runs Temperance these days.”
Eddie’s face went cold. Dom frowned at him.
“You know the guy?”
He didn’t answer. His eyes were far away. What had got into him?
Dom shrugged and turned back to Knox.
“All right, tell him about the casino.”
Eddie snapped out of it. “What casino?”
“The Crimson Curtain,” Knox said. “It’s Leone’s central command. Right in the middle of the strip. He’s got places all over the city, but the Curtain is where all the decisions are made. He chose it because it’s big and looks fancy. But also because it’s an ex-Solar Federation command centre from before the fall of the gates. The top floors are ancient Solar tech. Control systems for the life support, grav controls, planetary monitoring, intersystem comms. Stuff that only the station governor would know how to use in the pre-Fall days. You know, to make sure us Fringe-dwellers didn’t get too big for our boots.”
“Get to the point,” Dom said.
“Leone uses some of the systems for surveillance and to monitor their businesses. Real surface-level stuff. But there’s a whole infrastructure they don’t even know exists. Half of it’s probably busted by now. But I happen to know that the systems are still networked with the Fed databases. Everything I wiped when we broke out of the Bolt, it’s all still there in the Crimson Curtain.”
“So what, a few pictures, some fingerprints, a rap sheet?” Eddie said. “That’s not much to work with.”
Knox shook his head and grinned like a magician about to conclude his trick. “But that’s not all. What the Feds probably didn’t tell you—what most of them probably didn’t even know—is that in the last twenty years the Bolt has been trialling some old tech. Tech the Radiance rediscovered. An implantable tracking device. The other convicts didn’t even know they’d been implanted. Just thought it was part of their normal vaccinations.”
“But you knew?” Dom said.
“I did. Because I was the only augment there. I grew up with the Radiance on Uriel. I knew the people who found the trackers and sold them to the Feds. Somewhere in that database in the Crimson Curtain are the identification codes to access the tracker information. If I can get into their systems, I can get hold of that information. Then the tracker will lead you fine stalkers right to Roy Williams.”
Dom glanced at Eddie. “What do you think?”
He looked like he was chewing it over. There was something dark behind his eyes she couldn’t read. He’d probably been taking too many Bluen again. He never could control himself.
“What’s his price?” Eddie pointed his chin at the augment.
That hadn’t come up yet, but she was bracing herself for it. She looked to Knox.
The augment picked at his nails. “I take all the money Williams stole from the convicts.”
“A third,” Eddie said immediately. “Freckles and I split the rest.”
“All right. But then you give me passage off Temperance to a safe harbour.”
“Are you kidding?” Dom said. “We’re not risking getting shot out of the sky by the Feds to get you out of the city.”
“You won’t have to. If I can access those systems in the Curtain, I can issue myself a travel pass. It wouldn’t even be a forgery. It’s the same systems the Feds use. It’d be indistinguishable from a Fed-issued pass.”
“I don’t care,” Dom said. “We’re not a taxi service. You can have the money, but—”
“It’s fine,” Eddie interrupted.
She froze with her mouth open. “What?”
“We need him. If he can make himself a pass, we can take the risk.”
She studied him carefully. “What are you talking about? You didn’t even want to look at him. Now you want us to risk the ship for him? What changed?”
“Do you want Roy Williams or not?” he said. “You chose the contract. You brought this guy here. I come along and I help you out and I take my cut and I get what I need to write my books. It’s your call. I’d love to hear any other ideas you have.”