Chapter 7: A New Job


A sharp ray of sunlight pierced the office when Jekh tugged down on the blinds to look outside. They squinted at the harsh spotlight shining on their eyes from just above the horizon. Go figure, they thought. They get to live in a place where they know where the sun is all the time… and they still choose to face it. Hiding the sun with their free hand, they looked down on the city. A neat grid of perpendicular lines, all diagonal to the sunlight. Looking toward the night, they confirmed what they had already noticed about this city – no windows facing the sun. None but this fool, they thought. Is this crew as bad as the last?

“I like the sunlight,” said a voice coming from the door. Jekh turned to see a dark-skinned human with a thick mane of black hair crowning her head like a halo. “Most people hide from it, but I like to be able to face it. Bring everything in here into light. Plus, it reminds me of home.” She extended a hand. “I’m Dorella Moranthil, head of recruitment here at the USIC.”

“Aber-Jekh od Telok,” the eblian replied, pressing their own heavy and coarse hand into hers. “You can call me Jekh if you want.”

She smiled. “In that case, call me Dorella. Shall we sit?” She waved at the chairs in front of her desk and walked behind it.

Jekh gazed fixedly at her as she sat down. “Say, you’ve got that high voice, even skinnier than usual, and with those bumps… you’re a female, aren’t you?”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Well… yes. Although the preferred term is ‘woman’. And why, exactly, do you ask?” She had a stern, though contained, tone.

Woman,” they enunciated. “Gotta remember that. And oh, I just haven’t seen many of those in the military, is all. Just curious why… is it because you’re weaker than males?”

“Hey!” She leapt to a standing position, hands on her desk, and slowly sat back down. “Gods. They weren’t kidding, huh? Tact is an alien concept to you guys.”

“Tact? Oh, oh, you mean rules of protocol and such? Hey, whatever it was, I wasn’t briefed.”

“Okay then… for the record – first, women aren’t weaker than men! That’s a terribly insensitive thing to say.”

“Sorry about that. I just figured that your muscles…”

Second,” she raised her voice, “you just… don’t comment on anyone’s ‘bumps’, alright? Can’t believe I’m actually having to say this.”

“Huh.” Their memory went back to their male human comrades in various mercenary companies doing just that, but they thought it might not be a good idea to bring that up.

“And third, but no less important… I know ‘gender’ is a novel concept to you guys, but just… don’t bring it up. Not in a professional context, at any rate. It’s complicated, I don’t have time for that right now, just… safest to leave that aside. Got it?”

“Copy that, mister!” Jekh said excitedly. “I really appreciate the clarification.”

“It’s… ah, nevermind.” Dorella waved her hands in the air, as if shooing the whole discussion away. “Best get right to business, huh?”

“Well, much as I like learning human culture, I gotta agree.”

“Very well.” She pulled a file from a desk drawer. “You familiar with Bhadrapada Six?”

“The planet?” They mused for a bit. “Never been, but I’ve heard a lot about it. Lots of work, between mutants, bugs and those tentacle things. Which one is it?”

She chuckled. “Nah, nothing like that. It’s covert ops. Your CV says you’ve handled that before.”

Jekh opened a wide grin. “Oh, yes. Some of my favorite work. I like jobs that need a little brain, for a change.”

“Seems we’re on the same page, then,” she said with a smile.

“Uh… actually, not. See, I don’t have a copy of that file.”

Dorella threw her head back and laughed heartily. “Oh, Jekh… how can anyone stay mad at you guys? It’s like talking to a little kid!”

“Really? That’s good, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got no idea how.” She considered them for a bit before continuing. “Anyway, the target is a Rajvarna Group facility.”

“Hmm.” Jekh scratched their bare, grainy scalp. “That’s some big company from Chertan, right?”

“A conglomerate. Got their fingers in all sorts of pies.” She noticed their quizzical look. “Uh… I mean, they operate in all sorts of different industries. Transportation, media, food, you name it… including some heavy security work, through one of their subsidiaries, Karnati.”

“I know that name,” the eblian grumbled. “If they’re providing security at the locale, that’s some really tough work we’re looking at.”

“We don’t know that they are, but yeah. State-of-the-art protection is expected. Of course, we’re putting together a top-shelf team for this one.”

“I see. Am I to understand that my role is to watch the technical guys’ backs and bail them out if the guards catch us?”

“Exact details are up to your pointman over there, but I expect you’re right. Avoid confrontation, though – this is completely deniable work.”

Jekh threw their hands up. “Sure. Anything happens, we’re on our own. Done that before. I get it.”

“As for compensation… we’re offering five thousand, with a bonus three after successful completion.”

“Wow!” Their craggy eyebrows perked up. “That’s a pretty good sum!”

Dorella’s eyes opened wide. “You do say anything that comes to your mind, don’t you?”

“Why?” They sat up, concerned. “Was that inappropriate?”

“Inappropriate? No, not at all, just… nevermind. Are you in?”

“Exciting work, for good pay, and I get to get out of this hellhole of a planet with that stupid sun that’s stuck in place like it’s broken? Sign me the hell up!”

“Glad to have you on board,” Dorella said with a warm smile. “Welcome to the USIC.”

Continue reading in Chapter 8: Across the Night Sky