Big Fish, Little Fish
His upper lip was sweating again.
Throughout the academy years, through his stint with the Legion, through every shady encounter and back-handed double-deal, Monk Dubois had been haunted by the vagaries of his nervous system. He could wrest all the conviction in the world out of his voice, jump into whatever role was required with chameleon-like aplomb, talk his way into the record books and hatch plots with a winner’s smile, but always his body screamed chemical murder, tendrils of bridled conscience playing havoc with his processes. Many a time had a rogue twitch or a freak stutter come perilously close to destroying a sweet deal, and more than once they’d sent him scrambling for his life. Fate had seen him through so far, though, and as long as he had fate on his side, he figured, this damnably honest body of his wouldn’t get the best of him yet.
Wiping the sheen off his lip, he waited patiently for the lift to reach Hangar Ingress 3C wherein, suspended in this battered station complex in the middle of nowhere, waited the love of his life, her capacitor humming. Bad Ike’s Rumour – the fastest frigate in this backwater region and then some. He’d held on to her longer than any other ship, and with a little help from old fate they’d seen each other through a lot of tough spots.
Chiming its arrival, the lift opened into the ingress. As he got his first glimpse of the corridor beyond, a twinge of fear-laced anticipation took hold of Monk’s gut. Suppressing thoughts of the enormity of what he was about to do, and the hatred it would inspire in the people he was about to do it to, he steeled himself and marched into the hallway. An Intaki maintenance tech passed him on his way to the Rumour, shuffling along in brooding silence. As they met there was brief and swiftly-averted eye contact, and in the instant it happened Monk felt sure the young man could see right into him.
Maintaining his stride and steadying his breath, he kept walking. Coming to the end of the corridor a few steps later, he keyed in his sequence for Hangar Bay 3C and was admitted to the vast cylindrical space where his ship lay, suspended and motionless. Approaching the bay’s main control panel, he stopped for a moment and wondered how much longer he was going to keep doing this. All those assumed names, all those forged identities, donned and discarded like so many theatre rags, and it all came down to this. After months of planning, of worming his way inside, playing his role to perfection, he now had only to press a few buttons, and in one fell swoop turn himself yet again into the vilest of all things vile.
Every time, Monk had relished this exact moment, this one second where acid-tinged self-loathing mixed with intoxicating joy as he watched the number rise with giddying alacrity, saw his personal account swell with his former compatriots’ hard-gotten gains.
A sound from the ingress corridor brought him out of his reverie. Striding over to the doorway and leaning in, he saw the unmistakable silhouette of the small Intaki in the jumpsuit heading back towards the hangar bay.
Time to work fast, he thought to himself as he ran back to the control panel. Seconds later, the dizzying rush of figures, the pistonic whirr of immense wealth, indicated that his corporation’s accounts were dry. Now, all he had to do was get out of here and he was home free. Discard the fake credentials, hack his registration, chuck the fixer his cut, then spend the next year or two on some paradise world or other before doing it all over again.
He was halfway up the stairs to the capsule landing, musing on the ridiculous ease of the whole thing, when he heard the sound of steps on the main platform below him. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he saw the tech enter the room and, without a moment’s hesitation, stride over to the bay panel and key in a sequence, lightning-fast.
With a low hum, Monk’s pod began to detach from the landing. The bay’s bright lights dimmed to a metallic dusk. Monk could feel the leaden silence descend on him as the near-subsonic warble of the station-wide intercom died abruptly.
He turned on the stairs, ready to put up his most indignant mask for the tech, now a shadowed figure on the platform. Just as he realized, somewhat sheepishly, that the small Intaki couldn’t see his face, he heard the voice:
“Much better. A far more peaceful environment to work in.”
The last word had scarcely fallen when Monk heard a low clap and felt his knees buckle like jelly. As he tumbled down the stairs onto the platform, the crazed thought came to him that finally, fate had decided to tip the scales out of his favor.
He landed in a crumpled heap on the platform, one leg twisted unnaturally beneath him. The tech was already by the main control panel, fingers working with an almost supernaturally assured swiftness.
“Wha—who…” began Monk.
“Quiet,” said the Intaki matter-of-factly, finishing up his keystroke sequence. He took the parapistol from his jumpsuit pocket and turned to face Monk again. Setting down on one knee, gun cocked inches from the terrified man’s face, he began to speak in calm, measured tones.
“Mr. Dubois, your funds have been wired through an easily traceable route to a corporation with competing interests to your own. When discovered here, you will confess to being an agent of theirs, working to undermine your current associates’ position on your real employer’s behalf.” The easy command of his tone somehow managed to convey unspoken threats that sent Monk’s gut whirling.
“Events should unfold within the next two days that will give you ample opportunity to escape the associates you so callously betrayed – after, of course, they have meted out whatever punishment they see fit.” A hint of a smile played at his thin lips.
“Why? Why do this?” asked Monk, bewildered, after a few seconds had passed in silence.
“Consider it your price, Mr. Dubois – your karmic price, if you will. And be grateful that you’re playing a role, however inconsequential, in something that goes beyond yourself. A month from now, should you still be alive, you’ll be able to look back and see the little mark you’ve made on history. All told, I’d say I’m doing you a favor. I’m sure you’ll agree that’s more than any corp thief deserves.”
As he had spoken the words the small man had stood up, pocketed his pistol once more, and, with another rapid-fire keystroke sequence, set the hangar bay to its regular configuration.
As he passed wordlessly through the doorway back to the ingress, Monk caught sight of his name tag: N LEUTRE.
A screaming express of neural connections blazed its way to the forefront of his consciousness, memories of legendary tales told through whispered voices in smokey smuggler dives congealing in his mind.
Niques Leutre. Aeron Assis. The Broker.
Cold sweat didn’t begin to describe it.