Welcome to the very first part of a not-very-short story tracking the exploits of Eve Walter in the Pleiades system, the system we’ll shortly be opening up in the alpha. If you like what you’ve read, don’t forget to checkout the previous short stories over in the Story category by John Harper, author of the licensed Elite: Dangerous novel ‘And Here the Wheel.’
Eve Walters burst through the tavern doors. Heart pounding, mouth dry, she saw the heads turn toward her and she knew she’d make a mistake:
No one would forget her entrance, forget her face. She might as well have danced into the bar covered in neon.
Lungs screaming for air she calmly walked to the bar and sat on a stool. She spent two minutes releasing the built up desperation for air – obvious to anyone watching her, then caught the barkeep’s eye. “What’ll it be miss?” The bartender’s drone spoke of boredom and monotony. Eve wasn’t sure if that would help him forget her or not. She decided to order the most common drink, undo the damage of her entrance. She glanced to her right. A man was drinking Brown.
“House Brown please.”
The ‘keep reached under the bar, his hands together and still, his eyes down – a secret communicator? – then placed a full handle of Brown before her. “Seventeen all up.”
Eve flicked through her billfold. Her cards could be traced. Did she have any Pleiades cash? Her mind was a jumble, adrenaline and fear crushing any cogent thought that dared rise to the surface. She put some bills on the bar. They were PLC currency. Too much though, dammit. She pulled a twenty back. The ‘keeps hand enveloped the cash and slid back under the bar, the cash gone with it, then he moved to the rack of empty jugs. Perfect change, obviously.
She watched the bubbles roll up the glass of her Brown. Her heart had slowed to a reasonable craziness now, Slow enough to engage in understandable conversation. She swallowed a mouthful of the Brown though her stomach felt cramped from adrenaline.
She half turned on her stool to survey the clientele. The place was reasonably bright, a far cry from the spacer bar near the Corporate Centre starport. Men in those weird three piece suits all the rage in the Pleiades system. Two women, both short hair, braided back to the skull to give the hair a strange curl. Business people, and most of them off-worlders trying to blend in. Which was a smart move, considering the Xenophobes that ran the system. None of them fitted the profile of the person she wanted however. A guy, probably. Mid-thirties, a swagger about him, but with a veneer of professionalism. Someone who didn’t quite belong amongst a group of people trying to fit in because a part of him didn’t want to.
She found him in the fifth booth. Short brown hair, a five day beard. He was wearing a two piece suit only, straining across his shoulders.
She pushed her glass of Brown away then stood. She passed a couple sharing a drink, then two men discussing import rates and stopped before her mark.
“You work at Soyuz Logistics and Exports?” she asked, too rushed for an intro.
The man was sitting on her right side, a glass of red wine in front. He didn’t flinch, didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge her presence in any way. Eve decided he was an asshole.
He grabbed the stem of his glass and Eve placed her palm over the top. “Excuse me,” she said.
“Oh, hello,” said the man, turning to her suddenly. His smile made her take a step back. “Gosh, I didn’t see you there. My deepest apologies.”
She narrowed her eyes. A wise guy. Fantastic. “Do you work for Soyuz or not?”
The man stared up at her, not checking her out, but measuring her maybe. Trying to figure out where she fitted in the scheme of things. She was dressed in a single layer of loose Terran clothing. Her blouse would have been called ‘work-casual’ back home. Here it was rags that even the lowest Corporate employee wouldn’t wear. So he’d know she wasn’t local, which would hopefully minimise his suspicion.
His gaze finished its appraisal and settled on Eve’s outstretched hand. “Is that clean?”
Eve pulled her hand back. “It’s a simple enough question.”
“On the contrary, dear lady. The possible permutations of purpose behind the question makes it very complicated indeed.”
Eve stared at this man, his sheer disinterest and aloofness proving to her she’d chosen right. She sat down opposite and leant forward.
“I need to transport something back to Terra.”
The man leant back, swallowed a mouthful of wine. “Then come by the office tomorrow morning.”
“So is this glass of Pinot.”
Eve frowned. “That doesn’t even make any sense. Look I need to transport a package – six feet long, 140 pounds. I need it out of here tonight.”
The man returned the glass to the table and slid it aside. “Interesting dimensions for your package, my lady, unless of course you specialise in high end turn-key coffin manufacture.
Eve leant further forward. She had to break through this guy’s exterior BS. “Look, my name is Eve Walters. My father is Nathaniel. He taught me a few things that made it easy for me to figure you out. You own Soyuz Logistics and Exports. The company is a respectable front for your smuggling operation. You-,”
The man’s hand shot forward, too quickly for Eve, and grabbed her wrist. “Now what is this talk for? I’m just an honest business man trying to get through his days in peace and you come in here talking in tongues putting all kinds of strange thoughts in people’s heads?”
Eve tried to pull back but his grip was strong, stronger than she’d given him credit for. “Don’t worry,” she said. I’m not with the police. Like I said, I’m from Terra.” The man’s face was caught between an expression of incredulity and suspicion, an edgey, questioning look.
“The clues weren’t obvious,” she continued. “Besides, it takes one to know one.” She paused. “Sort of.”
The man let go of her. “Good night Eve.” He retrieved his glass and took another swallow.
Eve watched him. “Excuse me?”
“We’re done here. Scram, or I’ll call the Corporate Politsiya.
Eve stared at him, unsure if it was a bluff, or whether she had gotten it so completely wrong.
She turned in her seat toward the door. They’d be looking for her on the streets now. She wasn’t safe out there. Unwelcome attention from an episode here could kill her just as fast however. She had to stay invisible and starting a fight here wouldn’t do that. She stood and marched away, hoping like hell she thought of a Plan B before the police got her.