Jameson Memorial, Shinrarta Dezhra, 13Nov3304
There’s a languorous bong and the elevator door slides open majestically to reveal a plush foyer. I have the same feeling I had yesterday—that I don’t belong here. Fleck, the Services Manager, agrees with me. He’s sitting at the reception desk, barely disguising his disapproval as I approach. In his view I’m lowering the tone of his prestigious suite of offices. That’s why he’s put me in a rental unit, more like a broom cupboard, at the back and out of sight.
"Morning, Fleck, any messages?"
"No messages, Commander," he says, emphasising my title derisively, "but you do have a visitor. I let them into your space."
My office is filled with the unmistakable fug from a Kamitra cigar. A hip flask is open on the desk with a glass of brandy next to it. My visitor likes the finer things in life I see, or at least the more expensive ones. She's also sitting in my executive chair.
Through the smoke I get a closer look; the face is familiar; I'm sure I've seen her on the cover of Fortune 500,000. As a private investigator I like to follow the money—who has it and how much of it they might like to send in my direction. Her face is lined and careworn but has good bone structure and has been well pampered. Her hair is grey and styled practically to be low maintenance. Her eyes, also grey, gaze confidently at me and her mouth carries a smile that conveys either condescension or maybe tolerance of these unaccustomed drab surroundings.
It comes to me.
"Amaryllis Dood, what can I do for you?"
I try to keep my excitement under control. The Dood Corporation is a huge technology conglomerate and Amaryllis sits at its head. This woman is so rich, the difficulty for me will be in gauging how many zeroes to add to my daily fee. I'm thinking this must be a personal matter or she would surely have sent an underling.
"I hear that you find missing people, Commander Linton."
"You mean Dieter Wegener?" I say, referring to my last case. Not wanting to limit my options, I quickly add: "But that's not my only line."
"No, indeed," she says, taking another drag of Kamitra which momentarily deepens the smoker’s creases above her upper lip. She follows it with a slug of Lavian. "You also make powerful enemies."
William Auer of the Ant Hill Mob has me on a Kill-On-Sight list and is the main reason I can never go back to Maia, at least not without some serious plastic surgery and a complete change of identity.
"I know what you mean," she cuts me short in a way I imagine her doing every day with her staff. "How are you at finding things?"
"Things…what kind of things?"
She can tell by my tone of voice that my interest is piqued—I'm such a lousy poker player—and she leans back, relaxing into the chair.
"One of our many interests is antimatter containment; it's an offshoot from our atomic battery business…"
"So, you've lost some antimatter and you want me to find it," I quip before realising that quipping is not on the agenda. Dood looks at me sternly—she’s clearly not used to being interrupted—and I shrivel into silence.
"We are working on designs for a nanoscale containment unit. The research is at an advanced stage and we were shipping the blueprints to Etienne Dorn in Colonia—we contract out development work to him from time to time."
Everyone knows Dorn; he left the bubble and moved out to Colonia under something of a cloud. Nobody is really sure why he collects occupied escape pods and the fertile imaginations of some social network commentators created any number of, probably libellous, rumours. Cannibalism, robots with human brains, slavery—all these and more were among the most popular theories.
“The thing is,” Dood continues, “the designs have gone missing. We know they reached Hillary Depot—our pilot checked in from there. After that we’ve heard nothing. Your job will be to find them and carry them securely to Dorn.”
I’m genuinely puzzled. “Why me? That sounds like a job for a courier.”
“Ordinarily, yes; but I want you to do more. We have many competitors who would like to break into the containment market. I need you to find out if any of them were involved in the loss of our designs. If they actually have the blueprints, I need to know.”
“You suspect foul play?”
“Sabotage and industrial espionage are everyday occurrences in the tech spheres; we just need to keep on top of it.”
“All right, I’ll do it,” I say, not wanting to miss out on a payday. “Perhaps we should talk about fees. My daily rate is…”
“No,” she cuts me short again. “No daily rate; there will be a flat fee of five hundred million if you deliver the designs to Dorn, and five hundred million for expenses, and that includes building a ship to make the journey and salaries for any crew you need...and with that in mind, I want to send one of my own people with you.”
A billion credits for finding some documents and taking them to Colonia; I can’t begin to imagine how much they might be worth, and I can understand that Dood wants to keep an eye on me after I find them; she’s got no reason to trust me, no reason to think I won’t sell what I find. So, the billion is to buy my loyalty, I get that.
“You’re sure your courier didn’t steal the designs for themselves, planning to sell them to the highest bidder?”
Dood hesitates, and I sense this is the private part coming up—the reason she’s here in person.
“Yes and no, is the answer to your question or, rather, I don’t know.” She’s struggling to find the words. “You see, the courier was my grandson.”
She looks momentarily more vulnerable, more human, then her face hardens again. “If he is involved in theft, I don’t know if I can forgive him; but if he’s innocent and has been harmed by a competitor then my revenge will be immediate and brutal.”
The lesson for me here is that I do not want to cross this woman. “And you’d like me to find out which of these scenarios is the truth?”
“Find him if you can, Commander Linton. Bring him home, whatever he’s done or whatever has been done to him.” Again there is concern, anxiety even, in her voice.
“I will do my best, I promise. As to the ship,” I say, moving things along, “I have a pretty decent Corvette that can handle most situations. I could fly that to Colonia.”
Dood smiles. “I’d like you to be more subtle than that, Commander, and here’s my plan. There’s a Christmas Carriers’ Convoy to Colonia in a few weeks’ time. I think you should go undercover as part of the convoy, blend in with the other transport and tourist ships; we suspect there might be other agents registered on the convoy who will also be looking for our research. You should check them out as you go.”
She knocks back the liquor and screws the lid on the flask as she stands to leave.
“If you do a good job, Commander, I can see us doing more business together; I could even patch things up with Auer—oh, yes, I know all about him and I have some influence there. It might be possible for you to return to Obsidian Orbital and even go out to Stargazer and visit your friendly bartender there—Corona isn’t it?”
I’m embarrassed that she knows so much about my personal life, and think she probably already has a decent detective on her payroll.
As we shake hands she says: “My employee, your new crew, will be in touch shortly. She’ll have all the details you’ll need to get started and a line of credit to build your ship. Good day, Commander.”