TITLE: In the Shadows of Darkness (working title)
GENRE: Science Fiction
The air was stale, carrying a taste of a day old smoke and metal. Smoke, in space. Outside the pinhole window, the stars and blackness laughed. The filters were old here, no doubt predating new regulations and dodging inspection for decades. A rusty hum cantering in the rafters begged the question if the outpost’s guts had ever been cleansed. It was one of the many things that made it an ideal locale. The grit in the air, the texture, was reality, unlike the tasteless vacuum of galactic politics.
Scrapes against the metal bar and chairs against the grated floor, even the hiss of the open and closing airlock door, drew barely a stir from any present. The bar was dim and eyes minded their own concerns.
“Debium flux. Did you hear me?”
Knuckles rapped on the table.
She looked up from across the way, arching a brow over the edge of dusty glass. Her companion rolled her velvet eyes, dancing them across the ceiling and all the walls before falling back to her face.
“Archon, really. I’ve been talking about this for ten minutes.” Her mouth frowned as it formed the impatient words, and she indignantly ruffled her blue hair. Her face, impish and stern, was flushed with excitement as much as irritation. “What the shit do you keep me around for?”
“You know, Colt. We all know.” This voice was gentle. The man at the other side of the table ran a finger along the edge of his plate as he spoke.
Colt spun on him and narrowed her eyes rapidly to slits.
“Do I, Jacob? ‘Cause sometimes I really wonder myself.” Colt sighed and slid the light pad across the table to rest in front of the silent Archon. “I need another.”
Still mumbling, Colt got to her feet and wove her way through crowded tables towards the center bar. A few men barked at her passage, receiving a flick from below Colt’s chin and a well placed middle finger in reply.
“Answering her would require so little effort.” Jacob Gradient leaned his chair back on two pegs, running a hand over the back of his skull. He needed a shave, again, and a bath. Places like this always made him desire nothing more than to scourge the top layer of skin from his body. He turned his dusky eyes on Archon. “So now you’re not even answering me?”
“We don’t need Debium flux. There are enough spare parts in the gut of the Helios for her to arm a damn legion.”
Archon tipped the glass back and poured the murky liquid down. It burned. Outwardly, none were the wiser. She could have been drinking water, not lexium. Lexium made most boys cry and most men used it to clean core drives. She tapped the glass against her bottom lip. To her, it was any other liquid.
“They say this new flux can enhance accuracy by over three percent,” he said, reaching out to take the flask of lexium off the table. He knew Archon saw him, but he slipped it into the inner pocket of his trench anyway and folded his arms over his chest. “So it does have some legitimacy.”
Archon turned to face him fully, setting the empty cup in the center of his plate.
“And when have you known me to miss?”
The two watched each other in a short silence until a grin finally tugged at the edge of Jacob’s lips. Her gaze didn’t break or flinch; it simply waited for the truth. Hazel eyes reading everything about him, seeking any tick or hint that might give away a lie or whatever else he might try to contrive. He knew better. Between them there were no secrets, no deceptions. His eyes traced the black line, a subtle imperfection, which marked the iris of her left eye. A few strays of her copper-blonde hair drifted across her cheek. And though he longed to brush them away, he dare not.
“Extremely infrequently, Captain.”
She shrugged her shoulders then, settling her back to the support of the chair.
“We don’t need Debium flux.”
Jacob nodded. The tone finished that conversation.
“At least answer her next time. She’s foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting to paw Debium technology. I’m sure she’ll sulk for days.” Jacob picked up the light pad, running a finger along the screen. The page turned, sending Debium flux and Colt’s hope away to the ether of the database. The next item, however, paused his hand. He touched his chin instead, his brow creasing. “C-class impulse grenades are on the market now.”
“You seem surprised.” Archon’s eyes were tracing the walls over the room. They would be leaving soon.
“These are dangerous.”
“So is Debium flux.” Archon glanced back at him, her expression disinterested. “Why does it matter? Everything for trade in the ring is dangerous. Everyone who deals in the ring has questionable motives.”
“We should secure them. The price is still low. They’re fresh.” Jacob handed her the pad. “Look.”
Archon took it from him and gave the pad a quick glance over. He was, of course, correct. Any military technology, particularly explosives, fetched high prices out here. The grenades were indeed under marked. Someone needed to purge their goods, and quickly.
“Colt would be upset. I just told her no. She’d claim I was playing favorites among the crew.” Archon chuckled.
Jacob was not amused.
“If these get in the wrong hands…”
“You can’t save the universe.” Her voice was sharp and the moment of good humor gone. She tossed the light pad on the table, hard. The image fluttered, blue lines breaking across the screen before the static settled. “That’s not our job.”
“No, it’s not.” Jacob’s cheeks flushed and he ran a hand roughly over the shadow along his jaw. “Not anymore.”
Archon’s top lip twitched with annoyance, but before she could counter his remark, gunfire screamed from the airlock.