Lilly and Imogen do not get their security deposit back on their apartment—Sunshine’s fault—but their landlord gives them no hassle about ending the lease. There is not much to clear out either. It was rented with the furniture, so mainly they just need to collect their mementos and whatever is left in the fridge. That turns out to be two cans of beer, half a bottle of kombucha, and some wilted celery.
Lilly grabs her MRE stash and the knick-knacks she has accumulated as presents for her friends. She tosses them in the box that operates as Snowball’s bed, along with her sweet tea supplies. She has no real memorabilia from her army days, just her military-issue duffle bag and dogtags. If she ever had any medals or other decorations, she did not take them with her when she deserted.
After clearing out the fridge and the counter in the bathroom, Imogen gathers her personal effects from her bedroom. The main ornamentation there is the handful of empty whiskey bottles with interesting labels. She gathers those up, wrapping them in her digital Umojan blanket so that they will not break on transport to Saffron. The blanket is the only keepsake she has from home, since she left hurriedly. It is programmed with images of unspoilt wilderness, same as the art prints on her walls. Imogen figures she can paper the walls of her quarters aboard Saffron with the posters. The whiskey bottles may end up smashed in their next crash, but in the meantime they can occupy the shelves in the work area alongside the specimen jars of zerg samples.
As they walk down the stairs with their boxes, Imogen slyly suggests, “So, I was wondering… did you think Durian might be good to put in touch with Spearmint? I know he doesn’t really want to work for Grom specifically, but he did seem interested in helping people and fighting zerg. This is about restoring Spearmint’s home to him.”
“Good point,” Lilly acknowledges.
“You should totally—totally—give Durian a call,” Imogen nudges.
“Yeah, I can introduce them. That’s a good idea.”
“Give him a call!”
Lilly balances her box with one arm and pulls out her comm and places the call. Durian answers with his business greeting, “This is the Endurians Mercenary Company. We’re here to help.”
“Hey, Durian, it’s Lilly. How the hell you doing, man?”
“Lilly! Great to hear from you!” Durian tells her that he has gotten a few jobs. He is still building up his reputation, and he thanks her again for being his first client, jokingly addressing her as Ms. Washington. He marvels again over how crazy what happened at DORF was.
“Yeah!” Lilly agrees. “That’s not why you go to a museum, am I right?”
“So is everything all right?” he asks. “One part of me hopes you don’t need to hire me, another part of me hopes you do need to. Don’t take that the wrong way. I hope that’s all right.”
“I get it, I get it,” Lilly assures him. She proceeds to tell him a little bit about the referral she has for him. He is familiar with Antiga as an old fringe world back before the war, but as far as he knows it has been abandoned for years. Lilly asks him to meet her at Local Beer Shop so she can tell him the details over drinks. He agrees, and Lilly hangs up. “You can come with us to the bar,” she tells Imogen.
“No, no, I’m just going to go to the starport,” Imogen replies, patting her box. Lilly might be intending to go network, but Imogen would not be surprised if it turned into a date.
* * *
After dropping off her box of belongings at Saffron, Imogen goes to see the starport attendant. Elaina’s transport left from this part of the city according to the docking information that Grom provided. Armed also with the date of departure, she asks the clerk if they keep records on ships that have come through.
The clerk is an older brown-skinned man, less greasy than the attendant Imogen and Lilly dealt with in Old Man’s Port, but just as bulky. His voice is a little raspy, but thankfully he does not blow cigar smoke into her face. “We keep logs on the ships that have come through because we have to, but it’s not the kind of information we just hand out,” he tells her.
What does this fellow actually want? Imogen wonders. Is he looking for a bribe here? Or is he the kind of person who would be scandalized by the offer? She could take cues from the environment—this is a pretty bargain-basement starport—or… she could try to apply what she has learned to do. Imogen opens up her mind, trying to skim his. He could be thinking about what he wants, and if she can just get a whiff of it…
Information costs money. Money. Money. Money. The word reverberates in Imogen’s mind uncontrollably, and then tangential thoughts from all around bleed in. I don’t have the money to pay for this crap. It is like she has tapped into the minds of anyone thinking about money in the entire spaceport. How much do you think I could get for it? People are worried about cargo, about their wallets, about their bills. About other people’s things. That ship would be a nice ride. Probably costs a lot of money. The thoughts swirl around, and Imogen tries to mute them, but then one set catches her attention. Science vessel? That’s got to be worth something. I bet I could boost that ship.
The realization that this starport is probably not the best place to park is enough to yank Imogen back into her own mind. Now that they have quit FRAWD and given up the apartment, they really will be screwed if anything happens to Saffron. When Imogen mentioned that to Lilly in their discussions on Browder, she had envisioned the ship taking damage on a job, not it being stolen. They might need to try to fix up some better security on it.
Right now, though, is not the time to worry about that. Imogen does not think she lost much time to that feedback loop, given that the clerk is looking at her expectantly rather than with confusion or alarm. “I realize I’m asking you to do additional work beyond the duties required of you,” Imogen says as smoothly as she can. “I’d certainly be willing to compensate you for the effort.”
“Uh, sure, there’s just this form and the twenty-five credit fee,” he replies. He takes her money and looks over the request form, then pulls up the specs on the corresponding ship. He tells her it was a dropship of an unusual style. He describes it based on the notes in the log, and Imogen’s stomach sinks. It sounds a lot like Neiman’s ship, all right.
“Yeah, and I was doing my rounds, saw the guy took some cargo on, three of those standard-sized crates. No labels or nothing. Also had a woman who seemed like a passenger going with him. She had a duffel bag packed.”
Imogen asks a few more questions, verifying that there was just one passenger. The crates would be large enough to hold restrained people, though. That is enough to account for all the missing witnesses. The records of the ship’s movements from its berth also jive with when Imogen knows some of the abductions happened. The submitted in-city flight plans do not go to those quarters or to Rose Corp, but a cloaked ship can get away with a lot more than a visible vessel can.
There is still the slim possibility that this is some other UED ghost, so Imogen asks one last question, casually inquiring about superficial damage on the ship’s exterior.
“Oh, yeah, it looked like it had been patched up a little bit, but there were some lava scorch marks on it. Don’t know where that guy’s been!” the clerk says.
Imogen knows, though, having been aboard the ship on Redstone III. And she has a pretty good idea of where he went from here, though the logs do not list Chau Sara as his next destination.