We're still at Attenborough's Watch wondering what our next move should be.
"It seems like Eldrin found what he was looking for," Tay says, "and it doesn't have much to do with taking containment designs to Etienne Dorn."
"No, I've been thinking that myself. The mission was a cover for him to make this journey. But why would he need an excuse?"
"Well, Amaryllis keeps a tight control over expenditure. Eldrin would need to justify the journey," Tay says.
"And there may actually be some new designs that Dorn is waiting for," Mai says. "It's just that he has this other agenda at the same time."
"Antimatter is the connection, though," Tay says. "Didn't you say his manifest included an actual containment unit, not just designs for one?"
"True," I say, "so maybe he's planning, somehow, to pick up some free antimatter at Thequa."
"So, what do we do?" Jaquelyn asks. "We need to keep following Eldrin's trail, but we have no leads."
There's a pause.
"I have it," Tay says, "but you're not going to like it, Andy."
"Oh?" I say, slightly worried.
She continues: "Eldrin was at Amundsen Terminal, right? And what do we know about his predilections? Easy–we only need to follow the trail of W."
"Huh?" I say.
"Women, Andy; he can't go a lightyear without satisfying his libido. We need to go back to Amundsen and hit the dating sites. We find whoever he hooked up with and see what they know."
"And why wouldn't I like that, Tay?" I ask innocently.
"Well, it has to be you who makes contact; the first approach has to be credible, then when we have their confidence we start the enquiries." She pauses. "And you do have that starved look about you. When was your last time?"
Is it good or bad that Tay feels close enough to me to make such a personal remark?
I sigh. "Well, it's been a while…in fact, I can't remember."
"There you go; two swamp rats with one stone."
We dive into the seedier side of life at Amundsen Terminal. It seems that for the right price you can get someone to do whatever you like, or get them to do it to you if that's what you prefer. I'm appalled by the cheapness with which some people value their dignity.
I try to imagine what Eldrin Dood, in his mid-twenties, might be looking for. He has unlimited resources so maybe he prefers the elite type of escort. I browse the quintuple A services. There's not that much demand at the expensive end of the market so the number of contacts available is relatively small.
I bring up the screen that lists available escorts. I think I'm being clever by sorting their names in reverse alphabetical order. I start skimming through the images.
There's Zena and Xena, Myshka and Michelle. There's Salomé–no, not that one…or that one. There's Deluxe and Aimée. That's it, but where to start?
It's unlike me, but I have a spark of genius. I look closely at Aimée. Yes, she's the place to start. I choose her because she's closest in appearance to Tay, Mai, and Jaquelyn who, I've already observed, are very much alike.
The leap I've made is twofold; first, this is Eldrin's taste in women: tall, lean, slightly sad beauties with high cheekbones, full lips, and brimming with self-confidence. Second, I'm thinking it's no coincidence that the three women I'm travelling with, who are of very similar appearance, are helping me to track down the man they all know and, I'm stretching it now, have little respect for. Some time soon we'll have that conversation.
I call up Aimée and make an appointment. I choose her place rather than mine; I don't need my travelling companions to cramp what little style I have.
Afterwards, I take a shower–one in which the water falls vertically for a change, and I casually mention Eldrin Dood while dressing.
"Did you happen to meet him? He's a friend of a friend and I heard he was coming this way."
"I don't ever
discuss my clients, Frank."
Why did I feel the need for an alias? Will I be embarrassed if my mother hears what I've been up to?
"That's okay," I say, "it was just something to talk about when we meet up."
"Sorry," she says, "I can't help."
I return to the ship and all three women are looking at me expectantly.
"Only one swamp rat, I'm afraid," I say, and head to my bunk for a lie down.
When we're together again, sharing a meal, we discuss what to do next.
"Are we too far behind to fly straight to Colonia and get there before him?" Jaquelyn wonders. "There are four of us to fly the ship; in one-hour shifts we could be there in what, five hours?"
"I suppose that's possible," Mai says, "but what if he's not going to Colonia? I think we should stick with the trail."
"I agree," Tay says. "If we lose the trail, we lose everything."
"But we don't have a trail," I say. "Aimée was a dead-end."
Can you look smug and despondent at the same time? I'm trying my best.
"Hold on a minute," Tay says, "do we know how long Eldrin was here at Amundsen? It must have taken some time to find Kelly Hale and set up the meeting with Bungaree. If he was here more than one night there will have been more than one W. Andy, it's back to the dating sites for you, my friend."
I groan unconvincingly. "It's dirty work, but someone has to do it."
Deluxe is not quite as luxe as Aimée and she commits to lower levels of confidentiality.
"Sure, I met El Dude," she says. "What a guy; big tipper; a good time."
"I'm trying to catch up with him. Do you know where he was headed?"
Deluxe takes some time to recall.
"Oh, yah, he said he needed to do some outfitting and asked if I knew the closest place. Well, I said, I'm not some sort of mechanical; the only outfitting I do is online fashion shopping on CVQ."
I think it's another dead-end, then she adds: "He used my terminal to do a search. Omega Mining is it? Sounds disgustingly dirty to me–and not in a nice way."
She looks surprised at the speed with which I take my leave.
"Come back soon; tell your friends," she's saying as the door closes behind me.
"Rat count?" Tay asks when I get back to the Orca.
"Two," I say triumphantly. "We're going to Omega Mining Operation."
"I'll fly us there; you must be exhausted."
It's twenty-six jumps from Amundsen to Omega, so we're there in no time.