Chapter 6: The Contact


“Gelondan Midnight,” Root said, slapping a credit plate on the counter.

The barman, an older, dark-skinned fellow, examined the plate for a bit. A. NAMKRATIPAR, it read, right under the First Bank of Kaldur account number. He picked it up and disappeared into the back of the bar, wordlessly.

Minutes later, as the young woman was sipping her drink – a pitch-black concoction clouded with thin wisps of white – a stocky, tan-skinned man, chain-link armor peeking out from under his overcoat, sat beside her. She couldn’t see past his forearm, as her hood was up and her head was down… but she didn’t really have to.

“Any trouble?” he said, with a deep voice, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the loopball game blaring on the holocaster in the middle of the bar.

“A bit,” she said, face still buried in her wide-bottomed cup.

A tall beer glass was slammed in front of the man, who picked it up and took a sip. “Aaah. That’s the stuff.” He shifted for a while – wiping his face and then leaning toward her, Root deduced. “Thought we hired the best, you know.”

“Didn’t say it’s not getting done,” she snarled. “Just delayed a little.”

“Not too much, I hope,” he said. “Window’s not staying open for long.”

“Relax. Your folks won’t have to help in there more than they already are.”

He drummed on the table a bit. “Not like you, you know. Flashing your plate around like that.”

She shrugged. “Well, you know my name.”

“That we do,” he said, with a chuckle.

“Would you rather I started throwing your name around, then?”

“Depends on which one you got,” he said, with an amused tone.

“Fair enough.” Root sipped from her own drink. “Look, it’s fine. You’re getting your stuff, alright?”

“As long as you know who you’re dealing with,” he grumbled.

“Wonder what you guys are planning to do with that thing… you know, being so pushy and all.”

“Hey!” He slammed his hand on the table. “That’s our problem. Thought you knew better than to wonder.”

“Relax, okay?” She whispered nervously. “Just small talk. Doesn’t mean anything.”

“I don’t like that small talk. Beginning to wonder if it was a mistake coming to you.”

“Yeah? Good luck getting in there then, jackass.” Her voice was steady, but her legs felt like jelly. “Expect it in the drop by the break of dawn. No later.”

“It better be. For your own sake.” He snatched his beer and got up from his seat.

Root sat there, hunched over her own drink, for a few minutes more, a small sip here and there. Just outside the bar, a tree shifted, as some large bug buzzed out from one of its branches. When the mood around her felt right again, back to the usual rowdiness of drunken sports fans, Root got up herself, leaving half her Gelondan Midnight behind, and walked out of the bar.

“Ack!” She had her tongue out, as she ducked into an alley half a block down the street. “That stuff’s nasty. I don’t get how she manages to drink it.”

“I take it we’re in the clear, then?” Nimban’s genial voice came up from the bottom of an empty trash bin.

“Of course. I’ve been careful on the way here.” Root held her hand out for her drone, which flew up from the bin with Nimban in tow. “How’d it go on your end?”

“Oh, he was a rather tough nut to crack,” it replied. “Strong resistance. Not just a robust psyche, either. I felt some shielding, from a channeling nexus, it seems.”

“Yeah. Urush got one. Guess he’s one of their old guard, then.” She wiped the grime off the artificial brain and stuffed it, along with her clockwork beetle, into her coat. “No luck, then?”

“Oh, I didn’t say that.” Its voice came muffled from inside her pocket. “I got in, after a little pushing. Took some effort to do that without tipping him off, but I did.”

“Well, then?” She peeked out from the alley. “What did you get?”

“His name’s Aker Menoshar. Good job, bringing that up to his conscious mind, by the way.”

“Yeah, I figured you scanned surface thoughts only.” Seeing nobody on the streets, she started walking home. “Did he take the bait at the end too, his group’s goal?”

“Yes… not that it did a lot of good. It seems well-compartmentalized. They don’t know what I’m for. There’s some contact outside their organization that’s behind it, but that’s as far as his mind went.”

“Figured as much. Hey, better than nothing, right?”

“Quite. But I was even more interested in another tidbit he let slip when you were talking about your window of opportunity. As I suspected, they do indeed have collaborators inside my company… though he didn’t know any actual details about that, other than that they had prepared for my theft tonight.”

“Yeah, that’s how you get a job done in a tight place like that, right? I think that just figures.”

“In general terms, yes, but in this specific case…” Nimban sat quiet for a minute or so. “Let’s just say that this buys you my collaboration for a while longer.”

“That’s good.” She smiled. “You know, I liked working with you.”

“Me too, indeed. You’re rather smart. Good job impersonating your compatriot, whoever she is. Did you get her banking plate?”

“Nah, it’s my own.” She took it out from her pants pocket and had a good look. “Good thing they didn’t know her account number as well… or the fact that our mother thought it was cute to give us matching names, Astal and Ashrut.”

“I see.” Nimban considered her for a while. “I don’t need to probe you to realize you must be wondering about where she is.”

She shrugged. “I know our MO. I’m sure you didn’t get to see her for more than a split-second, and don’t know any more about that than I do. She’s the tough one, you know. Probably hunkered down somewhere.”

“Regardless… I’ll help you locate her, if it comes to that. I think that’s a fair payment for your eager cooperation.”

Root smiled. “Why, aren’t you full of surprises?”

Continue reading in Chapter 7: A New Job