Nalar City lay sprawled out over the jungle landscape of the planet and was vastly bright below, lit up like a back-lit stain-glassed stadium. As I approached my landing assignment, berth 221, the field was aglow from all its warm blinking lighting and streaks of other air traffic. We settled to the ground with a pop and a ping as the landing struts fell into their locks.
The new world air was foul with pollution already, I noted, as I stepped through the small hatch and onto the descending metal ramp after landing. I turned and motioned to Timira to shut the door, barely moving my head with a nod of chin and movement of eyes. She understood, as usual, putting machinery in motion with her internal electron’ signals. The doors hummed closed and we heard the locks angle inward and spread with thick metallic slides and clicks, echoes throughout the spacecraft and our ship’s empty main bay made them seem louder than they should be. The outer blast door geared over the hatch and slammed into place like the boom of falling blocks of stone on steel, covering the vast bay. Timira ran to catch up with me, silent as a light wind on her padded shoes, as I had moved on before completion of the ship’s sealing.
We walked together to the space terminal without the assistance of a pilot taxi. After an extended jump I needed the pleasure of moving through the air, even smelly space port/city-air like this. Factories were near the space field, adding to the industrial landscape, with a warm wind up blowing briskly. The stench wasn’t that big of a deal, at the moment. The air was refreshing in a way. I wanted the exercise of walking to clear my head a bit. What I should have done was showered and shaved and got out of my dark flight clothes. At least I’d washed my hands after replacing the surge compensater solenoid an hour before landing.
I went straight to the bar in the field’s flight restaurant and had three stiff drinks of bourbon, Timira standing near. Then headed for a city taxi outside the terminal.
We flowed up to the address I had given the taxi, the wind still gusting, and stepped out onto the drive-through car-way. The air smelled much cleaner here, like pine and grass from the vast lawn in front. Timira paid the driver, asking him to wait. We walked up the wide red brick stairs and I rang the doorbell.
“Yes?” a voice came from somewhere over an outside speaker.
“David Stanton to see Miss Yannis.”
“Yes, I recognize you, now. You look dirtier than your picture.”
I said nothing and did not look up at the surveillance cameras, wherever they were. Any negative thoughts would be held in reserve till I saw her sun-shiny-face.
After a moment, the voice said, “Are you armed?”
“Always,” I told the unopened door.
“Then keep it holstered. I have a guard.”
The door cracked open a hair with a click and I tipped it open all the way with the toe of my tall boot, checking the beautiful interior before stepping in.
The place was lavish and toned in quiet cream and greens. There was a nice little fountain in stone in the middle of the foyer and the ceiling’s where high. This woman had money, all right.
After some more waiting, she came down the marble stairs as if she were some kind of Russian Countess, which from her name, I assumed she was, sort of. She was dressed like one, too, with plenty of jewels, pearls, and finely made clothing. After the monarchy had been re-established, anyone with money and Russian ancestry wanted to be some version of royalty I had concluded, long before this encounter, but so what? They were the leading economic power in the galaxy, now, so who cared what they called themselves. I didn’t. As long as they were willing to pay for my services, I could give a rip what they thought of themselves.
I caught the hint of a sneer of disapproval at my appearance on her lips, as she came closer, but without a word she walked into an adjoining room, to the left of the foyer, a floating robotic monitor waiting for us beside the doors, though it seemed to almost ignored us.
Miss Yannis sat in an elaborately cushioned silver and white chair and motioned for me to be seated in the twin opposite her.
Timira stood in back of me and to my right. Her robotic reflexes were much quicker than mine and could see things I didn’t. I had told her to stay alert.
Miss Yannis was beautiful, obviously having gone through the tremulously expensive millennial treatments. That’s the drugs and nano-tec’ that pretty much guarantees eternal life, barring any kind of catastrophic physical damage. She was blond, red lipped, and with eyes of flawless blue. Her English was flawless as well, as was her complete appearance. A dream girl that could be five hundred years old or twenty. She looked twenty.
“I want you to find my ex-husband and kill his lover,” she began. There was a pause. “Do you have a problem with that?”
I didn’t, but inwardly sighed, though barely shaking my head, No. These Russian’s and their vendettas. As bad as Sicilian’s looking for revenge.
“It’s a woman.”
I didn’t care and showed no outward sign.
“Everything you need is in that folder,” she nodded to the black binder on the glass table between us. “I’ve doubled your fee and will triple that when you bring back his head.”
‘His--head?’ I suspected something different right there. I unfolded my hands from my lap and reached forward for the folder on the smear-less thick glass. I opened it and went through several documents and discovered my suspicions.
“Oh!” I confirmed. “He’s now a she,” I commented, more to myself than to Miss Yannis.
“Yes,” she went on colorfully, “a disgusting little slug. He’s even had children with that freak.” Her ex-husband had, and by freak she meant the man that had been converted to a woman and was now his wife. Sheeze! People.
Genetic manipulation had grown so advanced that a man could be completely reversed into a woman. Strange, stupid, universe.
“I thought the millennial treatments made people sterile?” I noted from the file, they both having gone through with them. I looked up briefly under my brows in question.
“It used to. There’s been advancements.”
I nodded, my eyes dropping back to the papers, resettling them up in my hands and resting things on my lap.
I was grateful she wasn’t one of the chatty ones. Yannis sat there till I was finished reading and shuffling papers, then putting them back in order, I closed the folder and asked, “Anything else?”
She just stared, an irritatingly long moment into my eyes, then stood and I returned the favor, staring back at her but took it to be my cue to leave and was about to.
“How long?” she inquired.
I gave it a thought, walking out. “No more than a week.”
At least she didn’t ask me how I got into this sort of work. That always pisses me off.
Outside, the wind had died down. The air smelled, again.
“Let’s go get some supplies,” I told Timira, “and get the hell out of here.”
In the Taxi, she cuddled up to me and rested her perfect head on my shoulder. She did that sometimes and I’ve never asked her why, and never wanted to think about it, but it was comforting. It made me feel strong, somehow. At least I could count on her to be on my side when things went awry. Sure as hell no one else was.
I went to a ship’s chandler, pushed in my card and the reader gave me a green. I ordered food and fuel for the ship, a few parts, and let Timira buy some pretty things in shops for herself along the way. We went for a good meal afterwards as she likes eating as much as I do, especially cereals. I know she’s a mere robot but what’s the difference these days? You can’t tell except they are usually perfect and more human than we are.
I had the local crustation closest to a lobster, which was actually better, and a full kilo at that, taking my time eating it and watching Timira and others. People fascinate me sometimes. Timira had perfect manners and a perfect conversation technique, which was very little speaking. We left feeling full and quiet of thought.
At the ship I went in while Timira supervised and loaded several pallets of equipment and made certain the fuel crew finished up properly, then signing, making sure all the inlets were sealed, we fired up and got clearance.
We taxied to one of the smaller bowls in the middle of the airfield and set our angle of attack for launch. Sixty-seven degrees, this time. After the OK we cleared the planet in a blur of rocket fire and heat, and a tunnel of smoke following the ship out of the lower atmosphere. On our way again--to another world where I would kill someone.