Finally Carolyn pings me, and I have to put on pants. They’ve got the money.
To Ci’s mind, I check my terminal, then get up and immediately start dressing. I don’t have any way of telling her where I’m going, or that I plan to come back.
Do I plan to come back? Eleven wouldn’t have come back. 11 will.
She doesn’t look up as I put my jeans on, or while I zip up my sexy boots. I have to adjust to the heels again, for just a moment, I throw on my jacket, and walk to her. She’s concentrating on her screen, as I pad over and run my arms down her shoulders. I give her nipples a little tweak (she hasn’t been in clothes for a while either, I think they were on the first day just for my benefit), and kiss her cheek.
Then I grab my purse off the couch and sling it over my shoulder as I head down the stairs.
The bar is doing brisk business and I can’t get Lia’s attention, so I head across the mall to the elevator, and run down to the hanger.
Big Bertha is where I left her, the mess in the corridor has been consolidated into a single set of tools. Mitch isn’t anywhere around.
I get in to the bay, turn on a bot, and have it pull my surplus crate. It follows me out of the little bay personal door, and I lock the ship back out as we go over to the freight elevator. No one gets on as I tap my fingertips on the crate and the lift stops on level five.
The bot scoots behind me on it’s mags, as we head over to Bob’s Gun’s. Carolyn as been expecting me, she’s leaning against the wall of her suite. She waves to me, then gestures into the little side alley, and the bot muscles its payload into the back entrance.
Bob is waiting for us at a little desk in the corner of the stock room. It looks like the stock room of a gun shop. There are a lot of guns around. Hanging from racks, and stacked orderly in brackets. There’s some ordinance back here that I know is very illegal, and I’m very not surprised.
Carolyn pops the crate and does a quick count. She isn’t trying to be rude, just a good business woman. I don’t mind at all. While she does that, Bob pulls some stuff up on his terminal. He swivels the screen to show me, and I see all the numbers line up.
“Just need your number,” He says.
I smile at him, and remember that he sees a sexy little woman smiling at him, when he smiles back. He has a glint in his eye that I don’t really like, but I put that thought aside as I plug my key into the terminal. 512 digit account number spills into the right field, and I tap the enter key with a little flourish of satisfaction.
He offers me a drug I’ve never used, and have no interest in, to complete the deal. Instead I dig in my purse and come up with a packet of cigars (from the promotional crate) and offer him one. He gives an expression that might be resignation, and might be regret, and I know that not getting fucked up was the right choice. In a situation in which I would normally feel camaraderie and control, I feel vulnerable.
Bob takes a cigar, and lops the tip off in a practiced slice from an unnecessarily large knife, then hands it to Carolyn, and does the same to another. I nip my tip with a little cigar cutter, and pull out a butane lighter. Bob holds out his hand immediately, and I remember who I am again.
A gentleman always lights a ladies cigar.
A plop a hip onto his desk, and we all smoke for a bit. There’s a splash of brandy.
“Are you staying up on the z-level?” Carolyn asks me.
“I… guess I am. I’m staying with some folks I met.”
“You can always find good people here,” She engages in a hint of regionalism. In my experience you can find good and bad people everywhere you go.
My cigar burns down as she tells me about what sets apart the people on dark stations from the other squares, and I finally can broach a subject that’s been bothering me. “Carolyn?” I gesture to the greater portion of the station, “what the hell is that smell?”
She smiles a little, “Never smelled it before, have ya?”
“That’s BO, honey.” She sees my confounded expression, “Bodily odor. Armpit sweat.”
“Armpit sweat doesn’t smell.”
“Well no,” she gives me that, “if you get your JGT-5.”
Everyone gets their JGT-5. “Why would anyone not get the treatment?”
“The same reason Sam has to filter toilet paper through the leach field. Don’t want government control.”
“They started putting nanites in the JGT. The feds use them to keep track of you. You should watch…”
“Hey, I gotta run. My ship’s almost fixed.”
Nanites. The bogeymen of the paranoid, as well as the dumbest method of biological change you could imagine.
Sure they exist. Yes they are useful. No, to put them in a person is a stupid idea.
For a start, the quantity of nanites you would need to affect some kind of physical change is phenomenal. They are made of atoms. There are about 600 quadrillion atoms in a drop of water. Nanites have a very limited range and minimal movement systems. Even nanites that can replicate would take a century to populate a teardrop.
For a second, we have organic systems made of atoms. They’re called proteins. We make them to feed and adjust the behavior of cells, and it takes 60 years or more to affect any kind of meaningful change.
For a finish, DNA-Virals (like the JGT-5 ointment) use viruses with DNA instead of RNA to change cells. It’s far more effective, but still takes five applications to do anything to a site.
I got my JGT-5 like anyone, to make the pores of my armpits stop producing the enzymes that make them smell like garbage. A little cream over three months, and it works like a charm.
How do I know this? Sector & Sector has been trying to weaponize nanites for over a hundred years. So far, nothing.
So I book it out of there, a little freaked out by the paranoia.
But that paranoia has just made me a lot of money, so maybe it all works out.
I head back to Bertha, to check my personal accounts. There’s some things you don’t do in range of an intergalactic hacker.
In the hanger the bot is waiting for me, he found his own way home, and I load him up and go up to the flight deck.
Mitch is on his back as I go through the corridor, grunting. I watch, calmly furious, for a moment, until he makes a satisfied noise. “Can you give me a hand up?”
I don’t say anything. He gets the hint, and climbs to his feet. My body language is doing a good job of keeping some space between us. My hand next to Nancy’s holster is doing a better job.
“Go ahead and start that up. It’ll take about an hour and hopefully the message will clear and you’ll be on your way.”
I move past him and to go up the corridor. He almost doesn’t stand aside, until I make eye contact with him. He takes a step back against the wall.
I can hear him stand there for longer than a moment, then he leaves without saying anything. I shut the door to the flight deck and lean my ass against it. I lock the door to keep the panic out of my head.
Figure yourself out 11.
I start the filter going, and run the system through set up. The little loading bar starts going through the actions.
Then I check my escrow account. Bob is good on his word. All the money is in there. Ready to spend.
I know what I need to do.
I’ve thought about this for three days, and I’m not ready. But I need to part ways with my hosts—my lovers—with a gift, and I have one of the best on board. I do a bit of research to make sure it’s not poisonous to Streya. It’ll be fine.
I have a secret stash. It’s genuine. Very rare. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.
And as I slip it into my purse I know I’m doing the right thing.
The plant that makes it can only survive on Earth, and then only within three degrees of the equator. It takes years to mature, and only produces fruit every 3–6 years. Fungus and plagues have nearly wiped it out a dozen times, and now you can only keep a couple of them on a field or risk loosing the entire crop.
You can synthesize it, of course, but the synthetics are widely poisonous to non-humans. It’s obscure, and very rare outside the human SOI. What I have in my purse is enough to wipe out the money I got from the guns, and then some.
I’m certain Ci and Lia have never had any.
On the lift up I start to cry. By the time it hits the z-levels I give up wiping tears away, and they just stream down my face. When the lift comes to a stop stand in an alcove nearby and take a long time to compose myself.
I stop in the promenade and end up in a socka cafe with my tablet, and a translator app. I spend a half hour drinking and memorizing what I’m going to say.
The socka is better than what Ci makes. I feel bad about thinking that.
Lia is closing up the bar when I come to the door. I see her finishing up the dishes through the window, and sneak in. She looks up and sees me and we make a connection.
She is adament, hands clenched, “You are not leaving here without saying goodbye to her.”
I’m a little hurt she thinks I would do that, then I remember that Eleven would have done that and I understand.
Lia puts the last glass away, comes to stand in front of me, and kisses my softly. She gives me a smile that’s equal parts encouragement and regret. She gives my butt a little squeeze, more comforting than arousing.
We head up the stairs in silence, and when we walk in Ci is sitting on the couch. She’s pretending to read a book, and she looks sad, and I start crying again.
Lia kisses my tears and gives me a little shove, and I go to sit next to Ci on the couch. She sighs and puts the book down, but doesn’t look at me.
Moment of truth. In halting and badly practiced Strey I say to her, < I have never felt so loved. >
She looks as shocked as I’ve ever seen, and shifts on the couch to give me a deep hug. After a few moments I gently push her off, and pull out the box. Curious, she watches as I open it, pull out a morsel, and pop it in to her mouth. Her eyes widen, enthralled, and her hand goes to her heart.
< It’s called ‘chocolate.’ >
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