By Robert Lynch
I rubbed my new thumb. The aching had stopped and the dexterity was as good as my old one. It had been a long six weeks since the bolt cutter incident; it’s hard to investigate with only one good hand.
I was waiting in a dank little bar deep in the underbelly of Sagan City. Humans weren’t rare, but they weren’t in the majority here. In the hour I’d been nursing my drink at the table I’d seen two Ulmite spice deals, three solicitations – one of which reeked honeypot scam, and an assault. The poorest class of a city looked the same regardless of how many antennae you had, people just doin’ what they have to do to survive.
I checked the time, it was getting close to midnight. Horus shouldn’t be too far away, I ordered a fresh whiskey for me and a Kratassian Ale for Horus.
On time as always, Horus entered the bar and shrugged off his raincoat, letting his wings flick about and settle as he hung his coat on the wall. I pushed the ale toward him as he sat at the table.
“You really know how to greet a man,” Horus said as he grabbed the ale and took a long pull, “That can only mean that you want something from me.”
“Same as always, if you’ve got the info I’ve got the credits.” I told him. “Either way the beer is on me.”
“And what is it the Frank Mason wants to know today?” he asked.
“I’m looking for an Ulm named Felka. Used to be a reporter before the fall.” I said.
“Hmm…” he nodded. “Came out on the first transports, she started the spice trade. Couldn’t stand the homeworld restricting births.”
“That’s the one.” I said.
“I doubt you’ll find anyone willing to tell you where she might be.” Horus said. “She’s regarded as a hero by all the mothers and every Ulmite boy knows to listen to his mother.”
“I’m not going to collect a bounty on her.” I said. “I got a contract to find the source of that dodgy black market spice that’s cut with sodium fluoride. I figure Felka’s got some leads, even if she doesn’t she can cut down a lot of leg work I’d have to do.”
“You make it sound like the cops might actually care about Ulmites.” Horus said.
“Department of medicine, actually.” I said. “The cost of treating the women that have taken the bad spice is skyrocketing. I suggested that I might be able to help drop the costs, for a fee.”
He smiled, or what passes for a smile when you have mandibles. “Ahh. It’s capitalism, not compassion, that makes sense. I can’t help you… but my sister might.”
“Could you set up a meeting with her?” I asked.
“We can go now if you like.” He said.
“She’ll be up?” I asked.
“The pupae need a lot of food at this stage, she’ll be up.” He told me.
He finished the beer and I followed him out of the bar. It was about 15 minutes walk to the spire where Horus’ sister lived. He grabbed me under the arms, and allowing me no dignity at all, flew me up to the fourth level where she lived.
“Horus why are you barging in here at this hour?” A female Ulmite voice came from the darkness. “And why on Ulm would you bring a human here?”
“Hashet, this is Frank.” Horus said. “He was the one that got the invertase you needed last month. I trust him”
“With your niece and nephew’s lives it would seem.” She snarled. “But you’d not be coming here just for a visit, brother, what can I do for you?”
“He needs to talk to Felka.” Horus said. “He’s trying to find the sickos selling the poison spice, he needs to know what she knows.”
“She’s nothing to do with that dark business.” Hashet said.
“He knows that, but he thinks Felka can help him and maybe he can act in a way that she can’t.” Horus said.
“I’ll need more from you than that boy.” She said to me. “Without the spice no children can be born. I’ll not jeopardise that because you found an enzyme for the little ones.”
I instinctively reached for my wallet to negotiate, then thought better of it. She wasn’t asking me for money. “Cesi is my home. I was born here; I grew up here. Over there, fact.” I gestured to the old apartment I grew up in. “I hustled my way out of that place and I’m still hustling; I’ve made no secret of it. I know the hidden places in this city, and I know many hidden things. I could have sold them to the right buyer. But a man that hustles like that doesn’t make it out. He hurts a lot of folk and ultimately ends up face down in the mud. I’ve seen it plenty of times.”
“I’m not here because I couldn’t find Felka.” I continued. “I found a dozen haulers, warehouse, distribution centres; but I’m no closer to approaching Felka. For that I need a trusted lieutenant. As it happens I did some business with a brother of one such lieutenant a while back. That’s why I’m here.”
“And I should lead you to Felka because you can blackmail me?” Hashet asked.
“You should take me to Felka because of this.” I held up my notebook. “I’ve kept my notes on paper, on my person. Not on a communicator where every word is backed onto the cloud. Paper. The kind that can be destroyed just by walking out into the rain.” I threw it out of the balcony into the rain. The notebook thrashed in the wind and hit the ground with a thud in the mud. “I’m back to square one. The question is: do you want to help those girls who keep eating poison or should I leave?”
Hashet looked at the notebook as it dissolved in the gentle rain.
She looked at her brother. “He’s a bit melodramatic.”
“He’s harmless.” Horus said.
“Fine.” Hashet said. “I’ll set up a meeting.”