Today's Reading

"If it's the Asiig, you want to keep your head down and stay hidden," the old woman continued. "If you're out in the open, you might get taken."


"Still, I don't think that's the problem," she said, tapping at the display panel on the left forearm of her exosuit. "No alert has gone out."

He watched as she finished with the last of her crates. She snapped a pair of goggles down over her face, and clouds of shock-white hair puffed out around them. She grabbed hold of the window frame and peered out. "Ah," she said. "Something's coming down the line towards us. Minimal heat signature."

"Another cable car?"

"No. Hand spiders. Around a dozen." People free-riding the cable. "If they see you're not one of my people, there's a chance they might let you go," she added, "but I wouldn't count on it from that pestilential den of half-wits."

Obviously there was a lot more going on here than he understood. "You know who's out there?"

She gave a short laugh. "Yes. They've been coming after me for standards now. Haven't caught me yet."

"They're after you?" He pointed at her crates. "These aren't all full of teddy bears, I gather?"

She floated back toward him, pale green phantom hands in the dark. "Lichen," she said. "I'm a lichen farmer. These cases are a quarter-standard's worth of produce."

"So . . . these half-wits want to steal your lichen?"

"Not really, no," she said. "Hard to believe, respectable elderly woman like me, but they seem to find my existence a matter of personal offense."

"Really? That doesn't sound reasonable of them."

"It doesn't, does it?" she said. "If you're of a mind to take some advice, I suggest you let me get you out of that harness, and you get your suit sealed up. It's up to you, but after coming all this way to Cernee from"—she sized him up in the green light—"Earth, is it? It seems a waste for you to get yourself dead before you've seen the place."

Not Earth; not in a very long time, he thought, but it didn't matter. "I got it," he said. Sliding a small pick out of a pocket on the front of his suit, he popped the lock on his own harness. Five seconds.

The old woman raised one eyebrow in appraisal. "Now your suit," she said.

Fergus wrangled his travel pack over his shoulders. He could see the old woman fastening up the last few seals on her suit. He turned his own cupped palm towards his chest and used the green light to work on his own. "So," he said, "since I seem to be in danger here too, can you tell me more about who's coming?"

"Men who work for a junk warlord named Gilger," she said.

"Arum Gilger?"

There was a pause before she answered. "Indeed. Surprised you'd know that." She must have closed her hand, because she vanished into the dark like a ghost, and he was suddenly keenly aware of the advantage she had over him. That she was also very, very old was no reassurance at all.

Fergus resisted the temptation to close his own hands. "I don't know him," he said. "He and I have some business. That's why I came here."

"What sort of business, if you pardon me asking?"

He answered carefully. "Not a kind he'll be happy about."


If she knew about Gilger, she could be a source of useful information. And out here, who was she going to tell? "I've been contracted to locate an item not legally belonging to Mr. Gilger," he said, "and secure its return to its—"

"A repo man!" she interrupted.

"More a professional finder," he said. "But essentially, yes."

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