I got back to my apartment in Artemis Lodge at around two am local time. I pushed open the door and tiredly went to throw my ID on the counter, and a harsh voice said, “Do you know where I can get my hands on one hundred-sixty thousand tons of corn?”
A figure sat in the dark at my kitchen table.
Internally, I screamed. Externally, I clutched my heart and sagged against the wall. “Lights!”
The apartment lights sprang on one by one. Kilmartin’s brow furrowed, like she was squinting behind her sunglasses.
“Time to switch to decaf, Simon,” she said.
“Kilmartin! What the hell are you doing in my apartment!”
“Waiting for you, obviously.”
“I thought I was getting fucking ambushed!”
“Why would you think that? Oh right, the torture.”
My heart raced in my chest. I staggered over to the closet and threw my jacket inside it before rounding on Kilmartin. She sat enveloped in her usual air of stone-faced ennui, completely indifferent to the fact she’d just taken ten years off my life. A holopanel was drawn up in front of her folded hands. I swiftly recognized my inbox.
“What are you doing here!” I said, in a sort of yell.
“Looking for one hundred-sixty thousand tons of corn, cracked preferably.”
“Have you been going through my mail?!”
“Only the adverts.”
“Why are you wearing your sunglasses in the dark?!”
She gave me a funny look. “I’m not.”
I collapsed into the chair across from her. Kilmartin critically studied me as I thunked my elbows on the table and rubbed my hands over my face.
“Maybe you really do need to see that shrink Harper has been on you about,” she said.
“Maybe you’re the one who needs to seek serious mental counselling, you ever consider that?”
Frown face. “My corn?”
I dropped my hands and sat up. “Yeah. About that. What the hell do you need that sort of produce for anyway?”
“I’m expanding certain home-label business ventures and need a certain amount of capital to get the ball rolling.”
“Is this something that’s going to get me arrested in the morning?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
With a weary sigh I rose to my feet.
“I’ve been at that Guardian site all day,” I said. “I’m tired. I’m going to bed. Borrow my terminal if you need to. Just don’t do anything that will get me thrown in prison again, please.”
Kilmartin looked thoughtful. “Do you still own that Orca?”
“Can we talk about it in the morning, please!”
I stopped at the fridge on my way to the bedroom hall. I had my hand on the door when her voice drifted out again. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I’m storing certain pandemic pathogens in there until my people can pick them up in the morning.”
I went to bed.
The next morning I woke up feeling fuzzy and irritated. I tottered into the kitchen in my underwear and Kilmartin was still fucking in there!
The lights were on and the blinds were up. Cheery artificial daylight streamed over the bizarre scene playing out. Kilmartin had shucked off her jacket and rolled up her shirtsleeves. Half the contents of my fridge lay spread out over the countertop and she had a pan going over the stovetop. The scent of griddling eggs and ham mingled with the woody odour of the cigar she was smoking.
I’ll give Kilmartin one thing: that bitch can cook. She can cook like a demon. Breakfasts are her specialty, but on at least one occasion she’s ambushed me with a six course diner before asking me for my banking information.
Kilmartin glanced back when I lingered in the entrance and rocked on my bare feet. Smoke hazed around her unsmiling face.
“About that Orca,” she said.
I pointed at the pan. “Is that going to give me smallpox?”
“What? Oh, no, my courier picked up that package hours ago.”
I sat down heavily at the table. Ships buzzed past my apartment windows as traffic flowed in and out of the station interior. Another busy day at Artemis Lodge. Business as usual.
“What do you need my Orca for?” I said.
Kilmartin flipped the sizzling contents of the pan. “I need to move some people and commodities around really quickly. It’s the fastest big ship I can think of.”
“Is this an illegal venture?”
“No, it’s mostly above board.”
I could all but hear Kilmartin roll her eyes behind her sunglasses. “Maybe a few of the passengers will have unpaid parking tickets, relax. It’s not like you’re using the ship for anything. You have a problem, Simon.”
I gave her the evil eye at that.
But my brain turned it over. I actually do own an Orca. I bought it on impulse just over a year ago, armoured it, engineered it with the fastest thrusters money could buy, and then forgot all about it. Huh. Maybe I do have a problem. A fast ship problem.
Kilmartin was right about one thing, though. Dumpster Temptation was sitting in storage doing nothing over in HIP 17692. It would probably do the engines some good to be run up again.
Still, I felt certain limitations needed to be set at this point. I held up a finger.
“Promise me it won’t end up hot on a bounty board somewhere, and it’s yours,” I said.
“And don’t scratch the paint!”
“I never scratch the paint.”
“I’ve seen your Krait! I want it brought back in the same condition it left in. No rammings!”
Kilmartin expertly flipped the omelette she was cooking onto a plate and slid the whole thing in front of me.
“Eat something,” she said. “Get your blood sugar back up. Your ship is in good hands.”
I seriously doubted that.
But damn, that omelette smelled good. I eyed her suspiciously as I picked up a fork. I felt pretty certain I was being bought off with tasty food. That crafty bitch.
Kilmartin called me up ten minutes ago. I’m still laughing at the upset voice message she left me. Hang on, I’ll transcribe it:
LK: Simon! This ship! What did you name this fucking ship! It’s atrocious! I just got laughed at through two separate checkpoints! You fucking idiot! Don’t touch that, that’s an oxidizing substance. Put your feet down! No, I already paid for that. Because I said so, that’s why! Simon! I’ll call you back.