I crossed the lobby of the station as casual as could be. Even managed a whistle. But I could not shake the feeling that I was being watched.
I really hadn’t meant to be here, smack in the middle of the wealthiest colony, where straight-dressed people stared at me. I knew it. I stood out like a yellow lizard on an asteroid. So that, I told myself, was why I felt I was being watched.
Stuffed my hands in my coat pocket, grasping the old heirloom letter-opener between two fingers of my right hand. Superstitious. That’s what I was, taking comfort in such an odd piece of family history as I walked up the hallway, under the big window. I looked out at all the structures being built across the surface of the planet. They stretched like concrete spiderwebs.
I was the fly.
The car picked me up out front, just as Evan told me. The driver stared at me, but said nothing. They were expecting Evan.
Well, he wasn’t there, and I knew whoever I spoke to wasn’t going to be happy that he’d sent me in his place. But the bounty on his head had just run too high. So, here I was, doing an old friend a favor.
The car whizzed away, taking the mag-rail east. I watched the construction, out the window, wondering if I could get myself back to my ship without a problem.
I had to.
When the car stopped, it was under a hill. A long old-fashioned slate walkway, a tradition held over from old Earth, wound down the hillside. Halfway up, a metal gate warned off intruders. Well-trimmed hedges tried to hide the harshness, but only succeeded in conveying wealth. Who had the access to water needed to keep those plants so green?
Guards appeared at my side. They must have been waiting for me, but I only had eyes for the massive pile of concrete and glass.
“Come,” said the guards, and led me up the walk. I didn’t really use my legs that much. There seemed to be vehicles to carry a person everywhere. so I ached by the time we reached the gate.
It slid open, and before I knew it I stood in a pristine white room with tile everywhere. One glass vase with purple flowers stood in the center, between two white chairs. I gravitated to the color.
I almost didn’t see the man, in the chair.
“You’re not Evan,” he said. He didn’t even stand.
“Evan couldn’t make it,” I said. I looked at the empty chair.
If my host wasn’t going to get up, I wasn’t going to sit. He’d at least have to insist.
“I suppose the bounty did become a bit of a concern for him.” He steepled his fingers and stared at me over them. “Well, you’ll just have to lead me to him.”
“What? I came here because he said you had goods for transport–”
The man’s grin turned wolfish. I wasn’t a fly, I was a hare. Or, perhaps I was the snare.
A guard stepped up behind me, and before I could move, he jabbed something in my neck.
“Now,” said the guard in my ear, “This is slow-acting. Chronic illness in a needle. You’ll lead us back to Evan or you’ll never have the antidote.”
I cursed. Long and loud, even as my legs started to seize. Evan and I carried all sorts of things, I’d have to bet that someone, somewhere had the cure and owed us one.
I slid toward the ground, losing the ability to hold myself up. It would pass. I’d heard of this before.
I reached in my pocket, not merely for good luck. Though I knew I needed a lot of that in the next few minutes. I kept it sharper than an ancient Earth letter opener had any right to be.
I jabbed it in the guard’s foot on the way down. He fell, screaming and cursing, while I rolled over to his side and snatched his gun as I did. One of his hands clutched his foot, the other reached for me. I brought the makeshift-weapon down again, on his hand. I elbowed him right in the nose, traded my grip on the heirloom for a better handle of the gun.
My host got up. I pulled myself onto my knees, aimed the gun and bam! The recoil made my teeth snap shut. The host was knocked backward, into the chair. Wood and limbs and blood.
I stared at the weapon. “You’re not what I expected,” I informed the hunk of metal.
I stood all the way up, on my shaky legs. When the second guard approached, I was more prepared for the gun’s power. Knocked him clear back, red blood pooled on the white tile.
When I stumbled out of the house and down the walk, the car was about to leave. I hailed the driver, and he waited.
“You pay me double what Evan does, got it?” he said when I slipped into the back.