Sunday, March 18, 2018

Small Buisness Bites Scene 6

And the aftermath... or at least the first one...


            I waited in an interview room.   It was a drab room with bare concrete block walls, generic carpeting,  and a stout metal table bolted to the floor.  Everything in the room was standard colony grade equipment.  There was actually a company, in Armstrong I believe, that sold kits.  They provided a cargo container of fittings,  a set of blueprints, and directions on how to fab and assemble the simple parts.
            It was an economical way that meant one only had to pay to ship out what could not be built locally.   It did mean that many municipal buildings out here followed the same drab functional lines.
            That said,  governmental buildings on earth also followed the same lines.
            I straightened my shoulders and folded my hands on the table. This was a civilized place at least.  I had time to get medical attention, make a couple calls, see that Camille was squared away and then wait with a supply of water and a bowl of some type of dried fruit.
            I had worked on colonies where the proper response to an incident was to go back to the office, fort up, and then make delicate inquiries as to the level of bribes the constables and town councilmen were expecting.
            Waiting seemed to be a part of civilization.
            It gave me more time to think and clear my head.  I would have slept but despite the post adrenalin crash my apprehension as up.  Might have been for the best, a recording of me soundly sleeping before being interviewed might be suspicious.
            The door opened and a stout, strong man with a trimmed beard stepped in.  He wore dark blue pants, a buttoned own shirt, and a long dark grey coat.  A  badge was on the left side of his belt; his gun on the right.
            "Marshal Vallhun." I nodded my head.
            "Victoria." He took the seat across from me and took out a battered department issue tablet.  It was an older model that had been specifically hobbled in its capabilities to provide, at least the attempt of, a secure provenance of any evidentiary data.  "You gave quite the statement."
            "We were attacked."  I took a sip of water.
            "Yes you two really faced some nasty figures," he put the tablet down.   "Between you and me, you and your friend did a lot to clean up this city. Almost a shame you let two of them run away. If I were in your shoes I'm not sure I could have held back."
            I gave a polite note. If he were there he would have had a duty to pursue a fleeing suspect.  He would also have qualified immunity protecting his actions.  He would also not be immediately talking with an investigator about his use of force.
            "Thank you Marshal.   You have my full cooperation,  once my legal counsel arrives." I gave him a business-like smile.
             He nodded  "I've just got a few basic questions." He paged through the tablet. "Camille said the first perp was 30 feet away and that he shot first.   But he only shot her seven times.  Does that sound right to you?"
            I folded my hands.  Even for me, the urge to help, to answer a person's question, especially an authority figure's questions was strong.  However, I was familiar with these tactics.  Moreso, I knew  Camille would be even more recalcitrant than I.  But most importantly, Camille would never use "feet",  when she learned human units she learned metric.
            "Well,  we'll have quite the conversation once my attorney shows up. I'm sure we can get things straightened up."
            Vallhun sighed.  "Ma'am, I've have a busy night."
            I thought that was a bit churlish given I was the one who had to use lethal force against multiple deadly opponents.
            He turned the tablet off. Or at least he blanked the display. "A drunk sailor in a brothel hit a girl. She bit him in a tender place. He drew a gun started shooting and,  the other girls tore him apart.  at least that's what the girls say,  conveniently there's no recording devices allowed on premises and they do a sweep of any visitors."
            I sipped some water.
            "A drug shack on the north side of the island burned down we pulled out three bodies, and we're not sure if it was the owners covering their tracks, and it burned too fast for them, rivals taking them out, or a local arsonist having fun."
            "Busy night?" I asked letting my mind think on the future.  If I presumed my legal representation would get this sorted out, the next few weeks were going to have a mess of extra workload as even a justified  use of lethal force could be quite expensive and time consuming.
           I would also have to go to my replacement weapons, as my nicest holster and gun were now evidence.  Longer term, I doubted Hans had only one lickspittle remaining. I further doubted that he would hop on the next submarine off-world.
            "Above average," he dryly noted. "Two bodies  were found floating in the harbor."
            I did not respond to that.  Bodies in the harbor was a regrettably common thing.  Like Camille and I had hypothesized, someone could get the occasional source of meat in this city simply enough.  It was if someone tried to get a regular supply that it would get noticed.
            " A poor suicidal girl tied back her wings and jumped off  the observatory railing on the summit of the island's peak,  but the tie off didn't go well and her wings came undone. Retarded her fall just enough that she didn't die clean. It looks like a suicide case, but the girl's mothers said she wasn't acting strange and there's no record of her having suicidal statements."
            "And compared to that a bar brawl that spilled out and with one guy with a crushed neck and the other shot in the stomach is normal. The guy shot in the stomach claims it was self defense but camera take's not so clear."
            He gave me a grim smile.  "And then there's your escapade.  A high ranking company girl,  who she filed the intent for personal protection beforehand.   Who ended up accosted and killing half a dozen known low-lifes.  So, I'd really like to be able to put one of tonight's cases to bed early."
            The marshal flicked the screen to his tablet back on. "That way I can get to the cases where the actual items are dead and not being suck in my interview rooms."
            He had been understating things, that was a very busy night for Mooring.   Vallhun and his men did have a jurisdiction of about half a million souls. Violence was not uncommon out here,  but that was more like the overnight toll of a city on Earth, or one of the Inner Colonies,  cities that were two orders of magnitude larger.
            I leaned in, and gave a bright smile. "In that case Sir, you will certainly have my full cooperation."
            Vallhun looked up, waited for a beat.  "Once your attorney shows up?" he asked morosely.
            I ate some of the dried fruit. "As you say."


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Small Buisness Bites Scene 5

And here we go... 


            "Pity?" The gangly man in the surprisingly nice suit chuckled. "Victoria Fallbrook Executive, Willard Capabilities and Solutions. And..."
            "She's Camille Springville, Mr. Lange " his buzz-cut sidekick announced in a sycophantic tone. Motes of light started to glow along his fingers.
            "Yes,  Hans, thank you," the gangly man's smile was strained, as turned back to me with his just luminous eyes. "Quite the business you run out here.  Payroll,  insurance, protection."
            Camille's stance shifted and I could just make out her sober expression. We were out numbered, our comms were down, but time was on our side.  The more time we had the better we would be.
            Two of the goons facing her tried to loom.  Twins, over two meters tall, and nearly as wide, they loomed rather well. Though it was offset by the simple boilersuits and brown coats they wore.
            "Ah,"  I inclined my head ever so slightly in a bow. Talking was good. "Are you interested in opening an account then?"
            Lang's tie ruffled in the wind.  "Don't be so coy. I know your organization is more than willing to look the other way.  Why else are you here instead of letting the marshals deal with it?"
            I put on my negotiating smile and made a note to have words with Helen about the type of favors she asked of me. I spread my hands. "You're right."  Deescalation was the goal.  "We both make use of the... proclivities of the Descended."
            Camille growled.  And the goons around her looked between themselves.   The large bald man with the thin silver modwork along his neck and head cracked his knuckles.
            Lange leaned on his cane.  "Good help is hard to find.  But I've got more."
            I held a hand up. "I'm no shopkeep you can try to muscle in.  If you want business we can talk business."
            "What, in your office?" Lange chuckled.
            "You can bring your men," I assured, smoothly,  bringing my arms back together, one crossed in front of my torso the other near my wrist.
            Lange smiled.  It was a skeptical, mocking expression.
            Damn, he's not buying it.
            I stepped back  and heard Camille's tail slap the ground. Good.
            "Maybe the problem isn't my men, maybe the problem is your 'man'. Don't worry we can handle her." Lange tapped the tip of his cane.
            I kept from frowning.  That had concerned me, this gang thought they could muscle a bunch of Descended. They had to have taken some precautions, that is if they were sane.
            The twin brutes reached into their coats as the one with the artificial hand spread his fingers and thrust out with it.
            However, my attention was on Lange who had twisted the top of his ridiculous cane and his, sycophantic partner, Hans's luminous fingers.
            Camille flexed her hands and released her distraction.
            A weapon, fire has its limits.  People are mostly water.  Water takes a lot of energy to heat up. It takes a lot of heat to do structural damage to a person.  Now, in an enclosed space, carbon monoxide poisoning can be quire effective. 
            Historical flamethrowers were great on bunkers for that reason.  They killed more by suffocation than by burning.
            Unfortunately, we were outside. And even those devices were limited by a capacity that could be measured in a handful of seconds.
            Still, fire had one great advantage as a weapon.  Even against foes protected against it.
            It was very distracting.
            Having your face burned may not kill a person, but it does make fighting a lot harder. And even if the burns were not debilitating flinching in reaction to fire is a instinctual reaction.
            It was all about getting a bit more time.
            Camille charged right on the heels of the panicked screaming and blasts, but I had my own concerns.
            Already across my chest, my hand went in and took the butt of my gun.   The holster was more than decorative and my draw was clean.    Hans had his hand.  Electricity cracked in a flashy way, I shifted my target.   The glowing sight covered his chest and I pulled the trigger.
            Three more shots followed that and he began to fall.
            Lange changed with a thin blade in-hand.  At least that explained what he had in that silly cane.
            Ponytail-whipping, he lunged forward with the sword cane,  putting his whole body from his legs to his hips and up his arms into it.
            He was tall, and, within striking distance, a big sharpened iron bar was more than effective enough.
            Twisting my torso, I leaned to the side.  It was a small motion,  barely half a meter, but was enough for the blade to sweep past open air.
            Lange shifted and tried to slash me, but he seemed a bit awkward with that silver grip.
            I didn't give him time to get a better grip.  I released my support hand from my gun and grabbed him on the wrist.   That would only keep his sword controlled for a moment but that's all I needed.
            With my gun hand, I swung around and
            That little weasel Hans slammed into me.
            Pain flashed along my side as he body-checked me and raked my side.
            Cursing my tunnel-vision, I stumbled a bit and fell.   The sparking barbs  from his gauntleted hand shot over my head.
            The little mans beady eyes boiled with hate.   Blood sheeted down his ruined chest,  but between such possibilities as  adrenalin,  drugs,  sub-dermal armor some people would keep fighting until it became physically impossible.   Hans, for his slight size,  seemed to be one of those men.
            My tumble didn't quite put me all the way on my back,  but my side hurt and my butt was on the ground.  Thankful my skirt was something sensible, I splayed my legs so I could shoot over them and took sight.
            Gasping Lange starred at the blood sheeting down his toady.   Then his attention went to Camille and his face went white.
            Blood flew from her tail as she whipped it behind her.   One of the twin goons before her was on the ground  his head smoking,  his leg nearly torn off and a pool of blood oozing around him.
            There was a long torn crevasse-like slash down his back. 
            The other man wobbled and tried to shoot a boxy little carbine that he must have hidden in his coat.
            Her left wing went out and knocked his aim while a flickering ball of light formed in her left hand.
            Orange fire ran in an arc that splashed his arms and a face that was already an angry red from flames.  He flinched as his clothes enflamed and  pressed against her wing.
            Then the bald man,  his neck and skull glinting with a sweat and silver light her side and tore at her wing.  His mouth practically frothed.
            Carbine free, the remaining twin rotated the compact rifle and fired.  Impacts flared on her chest and some blood spilled,   she gasped and with her other hand returned fire.
            Her pistol was not as pretty as mine, but it was the same perfectly functional caliber.  And it was a perfectly functional weapon.  She was also a better shot.  Bits flew from the twin's head as she shot through his nose.
            Muscles bulged on the bald man's neck, arms and back, as  his mods continued to dump a potent cocktail into his blood stream.
            Howling, he grabbed onto Camilla's back with a maddened bear-hug and with one hand started periodically punching her in the face.  Gasping, Camille's tail whipped back and barbed fins began slicing through his thighs.  She twisted her gun back and started to fire into him.
            Then the short-haired man with the prosthetic arm rushed  in.   The bulky cybernetic hummed as he charged her.
            I fired into his chest but the brute did not slow down.   Maybe he hard armor, maybe he had combat drugs as well. My slide locked back and I put in a fresh magazine.  Sighting, I gave a brief frown.
            Between the distance and his weaving I did not trust my ability to hit his head and miss Camille.  Between that and the failure of hitting his chest, I was left with my third choice.
            My sights lowered.  Compared to the head the pelvic girdle was a far larger target.  Anatomically much of the human skull was empty cavity, mouth, and sloping, thick bone.  Shooting a person in the jaw could be quite debilitating, at least in long term quality of life,  but it will not kill them.
            In truth,  the pelvic region did not have the equivalent of a deep brain hit.   Even cutting the femoral artery would take time.  However, in addition to a pair of extremely large blood vessels, the pelvis had large bones,  and critical joints.
            And  person had far less range when it came to dodging and weaving their hips than their head, or even their torso.  And the entire body mass of body was centered on the pelvis.
            Shooting the chest, stopping the enemy's pumps, failed.  I did not have a clear shot at their brain. But I did have a clear shot at his mobility.  While his chest was likely armored,  reinforcing the pelvic region was less common.  For one, the ball and socket hip joints made armor, subdermal or other, difficult to articulate.
            I pulled the trigger.    Even with the caliber of my weapon, handgun penetration, especially here was dodgy.  There was also the chance that he was thoroughly armored.
            After a few controlled pairs, the man screamed as blood started to sheet out from his crotch.  He looked down with horror.   Ah yes, I suppose there was a slight psychological effect to repeal firing in that region as well.
            There was s crumpling as the man's left hip broke and that entire side became unable to support his weight.
            Heat shimmered around the palm of his prosthetic arm as he tottered, trying to balance on one leg.   The he fell.  His meat arm broke his fall and skittered.   Blood spurted out between his legs, down his chest, and from his broken arm,  but he pointed his other arm like it had some sort of ranged ability.
            Still on my own back I adjusted my aim.    Now his skill was moving only a little bit as he tried to crawl and it was much closer to the ground.  I had a clear view of the side of his head.
            I fired.
            After confirming, I shifted my gaze, sweeping around.   The fight had...  shifted in the moments I was tunneled in on the man with the prosthetic arm.
            Camille had charged forward and was on her knees over one of the thrashing attackers.  I could not tell which one he was, there was too much blood and too few limbs.
            Behind her were the viscera and the remains of the man foolish enough to grab a Descended from behind.    There were a few flashes as the thrashing man's weaponized implants were removed and he stilled.
            My grip tightened on the gun as I lowered the weapon and scanned again.  No movement.   Wincing, I  put my offhand down and rolled my legs back and went to a double kneeling position. 
            Still scanning, I went up to one knee and then stood up.
            A  familiar suit coat flapped as a man limped down the alleyway across the street.   To his side was a gangly fellow who was pulling him along.
            I exhaled and watched them flee.
            In the near term, that was the best option.         
            Holding someone, or multiple people, at gunpoint with only one person helping is about the most stressful thing you can do.  They were just trying to kill you,  and they know they have a narrow window until the authorities arrive.  Thus they will wait and exploit any distraction, any weakness and bide their time until they can get their chance.
            About the only thing worse was doing that task alone.
            I glanced back at Camille.
            She had risen up.   Her gun was holstered and her knife had been slipped back into a pocket.    Her loose shirt was ripped and blood dripped from the tips of her fingers and down cuts on her forehead and cheeks. She idly licked her lips ad a bit of blood dribbled down and her tail flicked its end.
            "Clear?"  she asked, stepping over to me.
            "Uh...  yeah," I blinked.
            Her features shifted.   "Holster. Arms legs, torso," she ordered as she patted me down.
            I returned the gun to my shoulder rig. "It's not-" I stopped when the pain flared on the opposite side
            I turned, looked down and swore.   More in the embarrassment of being wounded by an absurd sword-cane than in the actual pain.  I was not that shocked that I was unaware of being injured.  I had more important things to worrya bout at the time
            "Your vest got most of it," Camille noted as she unceremoniously pulled the trauma kit from my belt, opened it up, and withdrew the foamer and some sealant pads.           "Well not on the side down here," she noted as she  used a claw to slice through my shirt and then unbuckled my vest.  "Eyes out," she sternly said.
            I nodded and tried to keep watch on the street as she worked.   The gang could come back.  Also the Marshals could arrive at any moment.  And well, a bloodied Descended and a armed woman surrounded by a corpses may cause a...  counterproductive reaction.
            "Okay,  you're good," Camille said after she finished and checked the rest of my body.   By Descended standards I suppose a few inch long gash in my side was not that much of a concern.
            "Your turn," I ordered.
            Camille blinked but then bowed her horns to me.    She shifted and took a watch position while I quickly ran my hands down each of her arms, down her torso, then checked her thighs and legs. Her vest was a bit deformed where the rounds from that carbine hit her.  None of them went through so maybe it as a pistol caliber weapon.  Either way, the bruising under the vest would be unpleasant, but not anything I could do about right now.
             In deference to Descended sensibilities I did only visually inspected her  tail and my hands went nowhere near her horns.
            "You're...  not spurting," I noted as I worked the foamer's nozzle to help spread the clotting aid and sealant.
            "I was already healing," she tersely, stiffly said. As if she were more uncomfortable by the physical contact than by the trauma she, we, had just experienced.  Her awkwardness was either out of discomfort or some other Descended emotion.
            "Yes," I murmured.   "Okay, you're good."
            I exhaled and looked down the street.  Now, I could feel my heart begin to race and my hands flexed.
            A few people had poked up at the end of the main road. Their eyes curious, their wings fluttering.  Right.
            "Log the witnesses," I told Camille.
            Nodding, she took out a phone and started taking pictured of the lollygagging women. They might have been waiting to see who won before taking the spoils of battle,  or they did not want to interfere,  or they had honestly just arrived now. I noted it was not her personal device but a cheaper model that she presumably carried as a spare.
            "We have signal?"  Keeping my gun hand near my pistol, I took my own phone out and smiled.  "Ah."  Either Lange took the jamming device with him, or it was broken in the fight.
            Procedure, checklists helped.   Next was calling the marshals.  Doubtless they were on the way, but it would be nice if dispatch had our descriptions and forwarded that to the responding officers.
            "I suppose I earned tonight's money," Camille dryly noted as she started to take pictures of the bodies and their weapons.
            "The night's not over," I warned. "We still need to-"
            I stopped when the line connected and a far too perky to be human voice answered.  "Mooring Marshal's Office please state the nature of your emergency?"


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lunar Works

I'm not quite done with the next scene of Small Buisness Bites (you can guess why given how the last scene ended).

I'll likely finish it today.But I figured I can build a bit of a buffer.

But instead of leaving you with nothing this Sunday, here's an teaser I've been wroking on.

            I killed my first Moon-Man on a crisp fall evening.  It was not the kind of thing one anticipates when they wake up, and trudge off to work.
            A violent encounter with the man a few apartments down from mine was not even on my mind as I blearily, got home late from work.   The moon was high in the sky in a brilliant waxing crescent.
            The twinkling lights were scattered on the two-thirds of the moon shadowed in darkness looking somewhat like stars where no stars should be. The lights were some of the larger settlements of the politely calling itself the Lunar Republic. 
            There were bigger colonies on the far side, among other things, but they were tight lipped about that stuff.
            I was looking up at the moon when Hans strode up.  He was a tall, almost stork-like man who walked with a bit of a careful shuffle.  I didn't know him that well.  We talked sometimes in the laundry room.
            He told me had some job at the embassy down town some assistant to a secretary of agriculture. The athletic blonde man said it like it was a big deal.  And I suppose it was, farming couldn't be easy up there.
            The Moon Man grinned at me and lit a cigarette.  "It is beautiful," he said wistfully, without any of the bile and aggression that would come later.
            "Heck of a thing you guys did up there," I stated, noncommittally.  Relations between the "Lunar Republic" and the US were... strained.  After the revolt half of NASA had been fired and thrown in prison.  It was worse for the Soviets, they didn't even both with the prisons. 
            But that was almost three decades ago
            "Yes we are doing great things,  all of us," Hans added glancing at me.
            I should have noted the covetous tone in his voice,  but I was tired.  And I didn't think my job was anything great. 
            "You miss it?" I asked.

            "Very, but I'll be back home soon enough."  He spread his hands and looked out at the trees across from the small parking lot.  "I will miss the... space."

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Small Business Bites Scene 4

            After Mer Valli returned to work, Camille and I went back to the front of the shop.   We stood a bit behind the front window and watched the crowd  outside move about the impromptu food vendors. 
            "She was a bit... perturbed," I murmured in English.
            "Naturally. It's a sensitive subject,"  Camille replied.
            "Yes, yes, I know you don't like John and Joan Q Human knowing about your more exotic culinary interests."
            "You think all of us crave such things?" Camille asked. "There are humans living in Imperial Waters," 
            "Been there since your people escaped the Makers?"
            "We were all enslaved," Camille's voice gained an edge.
            "But if Valli were concerned about the reaction to flesh-peddlers then why was she more annoyed at you, one of her kind, than me,  the nosy human."
            Camille snorted. "Because I'm not her kind."
            I kept from kicking myself. "Right, she's Ferri and you're Vird."
            The taller Descended shrugged. "We Vird  make up the majority of the Imperial Navy."
            "Right, so there's a sense of 'We protect you from the Makers. Pay up.' " I ventured.
            "And Sein, B'ahn, and especially the Ferrie don't like that attitude."
            "Fine, she got twitchy about me brining in the wrong type of big demon chick."
I shrugged. "This why she doesn't go to the authorities? Imperial Authorities," I added.  We both knew that a Descended who sold and butchered meat would be less than keen to spread the rumor that there just might be an underground market in human flesh. 
            "The Navy likes to keep a clean image, especially in human controlled territory," Camille stated.
            "Controlled." I did not snort. The United States were interested in this world.  Enough was spent on this city's naval base. But that and the marshal's service were about the only real examples of visible American power on this planet.  I suppose some of the services my company provided counted,  but we tried to be more discrete.
            "What's the next step?"
            I murmured.
            "We can go to the Marshals," she offered.  "Leave Valli out of it."
            "With what?  We can name names but this crew'll deny everything."
            Camille did snort. "Please, these punks probably have the goods on ice somewhere leased under their own names."
            "If it's even on-world. If we could be so lucky.  And Valli could still get blamed."
            "Maybe it's not imported." My companion shrugged.
            I raised an eyebrow.  Mooring was a city but only by colonial standards. Even with the number of people arriving and leaving, before long such... harvesting would attract attention.
            "Valli can say it's anti-Descended bigotry and point out that it's a gang of humans who are flesh trafficking."
            The idea had its appeal.  "I have some contacts with the Marshals," I said.
            "Maybe there's some open missing persons cases," Camille mused.
            I glanced at her.  This as Mooring, people would arrive on one submarine and days later leave on another.  And the only record of their passing would be the cameras that picked up the things they bought with cash or prepaid cards. 
            Out here, there was no shortage of water.  All one needed to dispose of a body,  or  the remainder of a body was a boat,  patience, and a bit of ingenuity.
            "Maybe there's a rash of them," she amended. "Smuggling, especially on a submarine is delicate work, and it sounds like they're starting up," she said with a slight emphasis.
            I blinked.  Valli probably had not sold any of the gang's... product.   If she had,  Helen's favor would have been rather different.  I glanced at a clock on the wall for the time.  Well I glanced at the digital clock that was running local time. The hanging pendulum clock next to it was decorative, if functional, given it was split into eighteen hours, Descended style.
            "We have descriptions of the gang," she murmured.  "Including tattoos and mods."
            "Some of the gang," I reminded. Just because Valli saw a few folks trying to press her into being their seller, didn't meant that the gang didn't have more members. Still that was information we could use.
            Watching the outside, I started to move towards the door.
            "Back to the bar or the office?"  Camille asked.
            "Office if you don't mind," I stated as we entered the little yard in front of the shop.  The girls had shut down the smoker and brazier and were selling off the last bits to the dispersing customers.
            Crossing from the door to the street scattered the last of them,  the handful Descended slipping into the night with their late snacks.   A bit of sparks flew as the brazier was doused behind us.
            Camille fell in a couple steps behind and too the side.
            This time of night the Descended Quarter was especially dim, with only the red lights.   If my companion noted the route I was taking was not the most direct to the office but instead would take us to a main road the quickest, she did not complain.
            Nor would I expect her to.
            A few people passed us as we walked between the dim buildings.  Though the side street I took us down had, instead of a bustling little casino, a shuttered storefront.
             The pair of men walking ahead of us slowed.  I cut across the empty street with Camille at my heel. 
            Back on the sidewalk, I caught a reflection in a window and saw that she had glanced back.  From what I could see myself there was no one behind us. Still, a low growl rumbled in her throat.
            Unfortunately,  the men further down the street stopped and cut across back to our side of the street.
            Then a several things happened. A few more men exited an alley by the closed casino. My phone gave a chirp that ,while friendly enough sounding, was ominous.
            Stepping to the side so my back was to the wall. I recognized the seven people.   One of the two that had been leading us was the slim man in the dark coat I had last seen by the dry fruit bins.
            Among the gaggle that had come from the alley was a bald man with silver modwork up his neck and a short-haired dusky man with a prosthetic hand that were outside the store.   Not everyone in the group had obvious mods but enough did for me to suspect all of them had some form or augments.  The other four matched descriptions Valli had given us.
            Camille's stance had shifted and her hands were in what seemed to be a casual place.
            Technically they had yet not encircle us, but if we made a break for it they'd be on us.   Well,  Camille could try to fly out I supposed,  but she'd make an awfully big target trying to get into the air.
            "Gentlemen?" I gave them a sharp smile, and focused my hand on the man that was with the dried fruit-fellow. Pale, he was a reedy, gaunt fellow with green eyes that shined a bit too much to be natural, his hair was pulled back in a ponytail and he wore a suit of surprising taste.
            "You've been nosing around in our business,"  the man said in a smooth voice with a bit of  a twang.  The men around him had directed their gazes to Camille and her slowly swishing tail.
            My attention went to him.  Valli gave the impression he was the leader, or at least he talked the most.  "If you're looking to talk business, this is not the best venue," I stated.
            I held up a hand to forestall him ordering his goons.  I cursed myself for thinking I could get away with doing this with minimal resources This was not a conflict I wanted.  At least they did not have any weapons out,  yet.
            "I know who you work for, and I figure you can help us with a few other businesses that aren't with the program," he sneered.

            Meting his gaze, I nodded. "Ah, pity."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Small Business Bites Scene 3

            The humming sound of freezers and coolers greeted us as we entered the shop.   It was a long, meandering affair with two aisles separated by a low set of improvised tables heaped with cheeses,  breads, and bushels of various peppers and savory root vegetables.  Fillets, twists, and whole sections of dried fish  hung over.  More baskets of goods fanned out from metal pillars between the central tables.
            Warm amber light came from globes that bobbed up and down near the ceiling.   The walls were plastered over with vibrant posters advertising foods from regions all over the Empire. I was able to read only a handful.  Half did not even use the Otic alphabet.
            The decoration did serve to help disguise the origins of the store, and complemented the pleasant smells.
            To the left, a line of upright freezers marched halfway down the wall.  Anonymous bundles were visible through the glass doors.  After the midpoint they transitioned upright refrigeration units that contained piles of the fresher fish,  both whole and in packets of ground, blended, and spiced fish-meal.
            To the right was a cold display case with more meats, cheeses,  jars of spices, equipment for slicing, an aisle for the staff to work in, and behind that a heavy vault-like door to a walk in freezer space. Long sausages dangled from hooks behind the counter and swayed in the circulating air.
            They kept the imported, and far more expensive, products under careful watch.
            Attempting a pleasant expression, I walked up to the counter and made eye contact with one of the staff who was not busy with actual customers.
            A bright-eyed young Descended with red horns and glossy violet hair nodded and stepped up to us. The red smock she wore bore the store's logo on it and washed out her crimson complexion a bit. "Yes?  How can I help you?" she asked in Otic glancing between myself and Camille.
            "I would like to speak to your mother," I said, after reading her nametag.
            The young woman, not much more than a teenager, frowned.   Her accent was not that different from mine so she should have understood me. "Oh?  Momma-Nalsh?"  she asked with confusion, her gaze darting to another Descended with long black hair down at the far end of the counter.
            "Ah no, I want to speak to Mer Valli," I clarified, bowing my head.
            Camille managed not to snigger, but I could just imagine her tail swishing about.  Otic could be a challenging language, especially using the correct forms to delineate familial relations.  At least I made the effort to learn the language, instead of simply letting my phone translate
            Again, she looked from Camille then back to me.  "May I ask if this is a business concern?" there was a bit of nervousness to her voice, but least most Descended like to keep steady eye contact when they talked.  It was more direct.
            However the others behind the counter had started to notice us.  And I knew the right smock could hide a functional enough weapon.  It was a trick  Murphy used to keep his bar orderly.
             Of course, a Descended did not really need a gun to be dangerous at distance.   But I doubted they wanted to start a fire in their own shop.
            Our wait was not long.  A matronly, short woman with long violet hair, dark gimlet eyes and skin edging to ruby slipped up to us.  She had come from deeper in the store and was on our side of the counter.  She wore a short lavender dress that matched her apron.
            "Mer Valli," I bowed my head slightly.  Camille gave a more perfunctory gesture.
            Recognition passed on Valli's face upon seeing both of us. "I'm paid up. No more extortion today," she spoke with a bit more pronounced accent to her Otic, and her tail uncurled behind her.
            Ah, so it was going to be like that.  I smiled... brightly. "No, this isn't with your account with my company." I lowered my voice.  "This has nothing to do with my employer."
            Valli's gaze simply went to Camille.
            The taller Descended affected a casual stance.
            "Your account is in good standing with us. And we continue to provide fiscal services," I assured.  Most of the customers at least pretended to not be listening in.  The other workers in the store did not even bother with the pretense. "Perhaps we can discuss this in private?"
            Valli did not glare at Camille but she did shift her stance and her tail straightened out.
            Camille exhaled in something that was not quite a sigh, but was directed towards me.
            "Helen asked me to help you, and since you are a valued client of my employer..."
            The woman blinked. "Helen asked?  She's good customer."
            This time I did not have to remember to smile. "She thought you might be in some trouble. The kind of trouble the marshals doesn't need to know about."
            "Or the Imperial Bank," Camille murmured.  She held up a hand to forestall Valli's protest.  "I work for her, now."
            Valli exhaled.  "Fine, we talk in back."
            She turned with an irritated swish to her tail.  We followed her down the aisle and through a side door by the end of the counter section.  Some of the customers, particularly a slim man in a dark coat by a bin of dried fruit, watches us pass.
            The back room was chilled and the walls were bare corrugated metal.  There were some more refrigeration units in the room, but most of the storage place was taken up by boxes varying from pallet to shoebox-sized.
            Valli hopped up on a wooden crate that had been cleared off and again gave us that appraising look.  I noted her horns were a bit more curled than Camille's.  "What did Helen tell you?"
            I waited until Camille had closed the door behind her before I glanced at my phone. The warding program showed a nice blue bar. "She said you had some new vendors pushing something you weren't exactly comfortable selling."
            The little Descended snorted and pulled out a bottle of plum brandy. "Helen's too polite."
            "She is, and she's worried about her favorite butcher and fish shop."
            Valli nodded and poured a small steel tumbler full of liquor. She sipped, and her tail relaxed a bit.
            "Are you worried about the cost?  That you'll be stuck with goods you can't sell?" I ventured.  Forcing a supplier to buy excess goods at a ruinous rate was a way to muscle them out of business.
            Valli laughed and offered the bottle to Camille. She politely declined.
            "Oh no,  I know of plenty that would buy. Even at a good markup, this meat would be in high demand. For the right customers, very high indeed,"  Valli knocked back the tumbler's contents.
            Camille made a little gasp.  "Truly?"
            She looked to me and I saw concern breaking through her aloof demeanor. 
            I was still pondering the idea of smuggling meats.  Avoiding the revenue checkpoints of the Imperial Navy was a perennial sport among the Descended, especially in their outlying worlds.
            Not that humanity had any grounds to stand on. Goods such as cheese, maple syrup, and citrus juices could be robustly profitable in addition to the standards like  liquor, cigarettes, and games.
            That said, a Descended shop-owner, especially one this far out, would not be this nervous at taking in some meat without all the proper import marks.  There was more to this.
            Valli smirked at the purple Descended, "The Vird is right. They're always right," she added ruefully.
            "Which?"  Camille asked.
            "They offering multiple cuts, from both species. They're hinting to a regular supply well"
            "Both?"  Camille exhaled. "And they're organized."
            "Oh." I had to keep my expression even as realization hit.
            Pouring another glass, Valli gave me a level look.
            At least this was a case where my directness helped. "They want you to sell human, and Descended, flesh," I stated.
            At least Mer Valli looked a bit guilty about it.
            "And they won't take no for an answer?" I added to sound less accusatory. No need to rub her face in that she knew people who would buy such things.
            The red Descended nodded.

            Stepping closer, I took the bottle. I was careful not to accidentally brush against her hand. "Tell me about these 'suppliers'." I said half-filling a tumbler.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Small Business Bites Scene 2

            The surveyors laid Mooring out a grid. However, nothing required the grids be filled with similar rationality. The block on the North-east corner of Maple and Wraith was given over to a pile of cargo containers. They were laid out in a semi-circle that formed the city's main market. The containers themselves formed as a group of high traffic, but lower rent buildings.
            That were well-positioned to severe both the Brazilian and the Descended neighborhoods of the city. Near the apex of the semi-circle, across the market from the intersection of Maple and Wraith, was the Crook and Cow. Originally built from a single cargo-crate that served the Seabees that built the first dock facilities, the bar had expanded over the years.
            Stepping out into the night air, I was hit by the scent of salt, diesel, a bit of fish, slight acrid industrial fumes: the  smell of the port.   At my side, Camille's nose wrinkled a bit and her tail swished.  Sometimes having more acute senses was a detriment.
            Mooring existed because it was the nearest natural harbor to the Lock that lead back to Piratucu. That shared a  Lock with the inner colony of Conneaut, which had a direct line back to Earth.
            There were four other Locks scattered on this world's oceans. One went back to Imperial Waters which gave some robust trade. The other three Locks went father out to colonies that, while even rougher, did have the resources that made the long transits back to more "civilized" territories worth it.
            It all came down to trade. Trade was why this city, such as it was, existed. And trade was why I had hired Camille.
            I briskly walked down Wraith Street with Camille beside and a bit behind.  Compact white pickups down the road with the occasional compact car purring along.   Despite the massive shipping distances, the number of vehicles in the city was on the rise.             Quite a few were heavily used with fresh primer paint over beaten-into-place panels and tied down bumpers.  Only a handful had rough whines to their engines or sputtering exhausts.  This far out, mechanics were in high demand, even a new motor was far cheaper to ship than an entire car.
            The sidewalks were wide and full of people.  One could tell the newcomers from the natives, or at least those who were familiar with Descended.  The latter knew to keep a little bubble between themselves and anyone else on the street. The former had to deal with glares that progressed into grumbling growls when they inadvertently bumped into some Descended''s personal space.
            "Starting to look like a proper town,"  Camille murmured looking at the storefronts on either side of the road.  Even she kept her tail swishing out behind her, albeit with the spade-tipped end bent back inward.
            "Cargo containers are still the most common building material," I said stopping to get a better view of her and met her eyes.
            "Yeah, but now there's glass. And not the cheap multi-pane stuff"
            I nodded. Things that could be printed up locally were plentiful. Provided raw materials were available and the design was simple enough.  The problem with glass was that the good stuff required large-width fabs.  An easy solution was to  simply make a lot of small panes of glass and hold them in a tessellated pattern in a frame.
            Glancing around the street, I could see more than a few shops that had such wares.  Though, more often than not, those windows had been relegated to the second stories.
            "And, now the lights are brighter," I warmly said.
            Grumbling, Camille frowned as we resumed walking.
            That was not fair. Her kind preferred to retain their night vision.  As a compromise, the streetlights in this part of the city were red.  Combined with the very low, and often as not also crimson, lights in many of the Descended shops gave this neighborhood a certain ambiance.
            Most shops had bright trilingual signs in English, Portuguese, and Otic. Though many of the dimmer shops only bore the flowing script of the latter language.   The ratio of Descended to humans increased as we walked.
            The lighting gave everyone a bit of a ruby hue to their skin.  Even Camille looked a bit more like a Ferri than the purple-hued Vird she was.  I spotted a second hand electronics store and slipped up to the glossy black window coating.
            I gave a little smile at my reflection.  Pale, blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, minimal makeup, sharp cheekbones and pale green eyes.  Helena said I would look better if I opened up and was more approachable.
            But looking at my features in the dim red light, I was not certain about her advice,  at least in this case. Yes, compared to Camille, who wore no makeup and hardly cared about her appearance, I was only presentable enough, but that was not a fair comparison. Besides, in this light I could almost pass as a Descended.  Not to another Descended,  but a human might be fooled. However, all of that was a brief thought as I used the reflection to gaze behind me.  I even shifted my footing and idly adjusted my hair.         
            Camille did a credible job of looking impatient, but she also used the opportunity.   Though I would have been disappointed if she had not been using reflective surfaces and her other senses as we had walked.  That was what I had been paying for.
             "We're almost there,"  Camille stated when we turned down a side road after we resumed walking.
            I glanced at a building that was set a bit further back from the others.  It's frontage was also dressed up a bit nicer than the others.  You could hardly tell it was made from repurposed corrugated cargo containers.
            The open space between the entrance and street was nearly packed with little clusters of Descended. Tails and wings helped strangers keep a respectful distance, though most of their attention was on the large brazier and smoldering smokehouse that had been setup off to one side.   Each had been constructed out of a repurposed metal drum and a cluster of women alternated between working the cook surfaces,  and rotating through meats as they served customers lined up a  heavy plank that served as the counter.
           Compared to the heavy stone slab that served as the Crook and Cow's bar the little business counter was ephemeral, but fitting for a literal fly by night.
            Camille's nostrils flared a bit as she took in the counter.   She was doing the same counting as I was.  Maybe a third of the small crowd were young things dressed in party clothes getting a warm nosh before hitting some club nearer to the docks.
            Mooring had plenty of naval, merchant marine, and commercial sailors looking for a bit of shore leave so plenty of appetites could be sated.  There were also the local crews for the tugs, pilot boats, patrol boats, and the island's fishing fleet that brought in most of the city's protein intake.
            Another third were older and dressed in clothes that while not as bracingly practical as my associate's had showing off their bodies as a secondary goal.   Most of group also had broodlings with them.  The little ones scrambled about showing less of the guarded hesitation at physical contact as their mothers, but didn't stray far from their elder's apron strings.
            The remainder, about half a dozen, were human.
            Two were a pair of older, weary seeming, men simply enjoying a late meal of grilled fish in, what was functionally, a pita pocket.  There was a young man and what might have been his disinterested date, but both were trying not to gawk.
            "Tourists,"  Camille snickered under her breath as we got closer.
            I shrugged.  Being beneath notice was an excellent cover.   Something that the last two humans did not take.  Those two men were young, strong, one had close-cropped hair, the other bald.  A bit of silver modwork went up the neck of the bald one while his companion had an obviously prosthetic hand.
            Camille murmured as we slipped through the small crowd and towards the shop.
            I gave an expansive shrug.
            "I suppose this is why you fed me in the bar instead of out here?"  Camille did not lick her lips, but given the skill of the women working the brazier I would not have blamed her. There was a heavy, almost garlic spicing coming from the grills which was reminiscent of Vird cooking.
            "Check out the menu,  it's all fish," I replied giving the Otic scrawled on the chalked up board a bare glance.
            "Well yeah,  they're not going to spring for imported meat.  Even the goats they're raising on the mainland would be too pricy for a little operation like that."
            I paused.  That was news to me.  Interesting. "True enough,  let's go check out their source."  I gestured towards the shop that was behind the impromptu eatery.
           There were red lights flanking the doorway,  but the windows glowed with a warm amber color  and the interior was, by human standards, only a bit dim.
            A neon sign above the door proudly announced "Vallisur Myrs Vroz" which was Otic for "Valli and Daughters Meat Importers" or "Meat Procurers."  The exact translation was immaterial.
            There was a steady stream of people slipping in and out of the store.  Including the little Descended running the brazier and smokehouse.  It was not a coincidence that they had setup shop here.
            "Friend of a friend?"   Camille murmured  as I kept the door from closing after a large man in a ruddy cloak slipped out.
            I gave her a tight smile.  Helen was on good terms with Mer Valli and I did not want to disappoint.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Small Business Bites Scene 1

            When meeting a demon over drinks it pays to wear your nicest holster.  I adjusted my charcoal jacket. My hand brushed against a foil packet and then on the tooled leather shoulder rig.
            I wanted a smoke.  This far from Earth no one really cared, not in a bar at least, and there was plenty of tempting blue haze curling near the low ceiling of the Crook and Cow.  But I didn't want to indulge.  The neat glass of Scotch before me was enough.
            Languidly weaving through the tables and chairs scattered around  room, the demon stepped up to the scratched but polished surface of my table.  Half a head shorter than me she was striking, as was normal for her kind.
            She looked a bit older than my own late twenties, but that was by human standards.  Her tail hung loose and the spade-shaped tip gave a little flick as she spotted the glass of liquor.
            That meant I was off the clock.
            Amber eyes studied me.  Her gaze went over my clothes: charcoal jacket, matching suit skirt, and dark blouse to her own: dark jeans,  forest green halter top and grey untucked, unbottoned button-down work shirt. 
            That I was still in business clothes meant, clock or-no, this was business.
            "Miss Fallbrook,"  the demon said, bowing her head. The gesture caused the bright green hair in her braided ponytail to shift. More importantly, the movement angled her small black horns towards me.
            "Tonight, Victoria is fine, Camille," I assured, returning the bow. I then leaned forward, gesturing for her to sit.
            Camille Springville caught sight of my holster when my jacket slipped open.  The demon gave a toothy grin that almost lit up her pale purple features as she sat.
            She folded long, elegant hands on the table before her.
            The tables were made from wooden pallets that had been sanded down and polished. I was told that the few trees left on the island were too valuable for such a mundane use and with the amount of shipping going through Mooring, Murphy the bartender and owner of this establishment simply bought discarded pallets.
            I will admit it was cheaper than instead of paying the lumbermen that went on periodic expeditions to the mainland.  The native woods were a bit gummy to work and took longer to season.
            It was with this frugality in mind that then when the furniture of the Crook and Cow was burned or scratched up, the tables were simply sanded down and polished again.  I noticed that many of the deeper gouges were in parallel rows that roughly matched the span of my companion's fingers.
            Murphy approached. A middle-aged dusky-skinned Brazilian man; he had a full beard that was starting to grey.  His shirt was stripped down at the sleeves to deal with the heat of the grill, and he wore a blue butcher's apron to deal with the splatter, and had deep pockets to carry some tools of the trade.
            He plopped a metal patter with an aromatic rib-eye steak in front of Camille and then added a glass off dark beer. "You need utensils?" he asked in a rumbling voice with a slight accent.
            Camille blinked at the meat.  Inhaling, she then gave an almost feline smile and I could imagine her tail curling and uncurling in reaction.  "Just a fork," she told him.
            "Right,"  He pulled out the requested flatware and deposited it in front of the plate like it was more valuable than nearly half a kilo of imported beef.
            Camille gracefully nodded to the man, pausing to keep her horns pointed towards him.  Murphy returned the gesture then glanced at my glass.
            "I'm fine," I assured.
            The bartender nodded and shambled  back to the bar, the prosthesis that was his left leg making a purring hum that quickly vanished into the background noise.
            Spingville's hand dipped down  under the table, came up, and with a roll of the wrist flicked out a black ten centimeter blade.  She then took up the cheap aluminum fork and started to cut into the meat.
            "Rare, a bit on the nose,"  she smiled and put a thin slice of beef into her mouth.  "Though I suppose it'd just be rude to wear a BBQ gun and not offer the charred flesh of something that had parents," she gestured towards my holster with a laden fork.
            I simply took up my glass and gave her a salute before taking a sip.   Truth be told, I had a less flashy weapon in an inside the waistband holster made out of plain kydex. 
            It was a bit pricey to get belt loops, proper load bearing belt loops added to my business skirts, but one advantage of this city was that tailors of the required skill and discretion were common enough.
            "And how is the family doing?" I asked giving my friendly smile. The one that did not show teeth. We were two women, albeit of different species, just out for drinks.
            "Numerous and belligerent,"  Camille muttered.
            "That's good?" I ventured.
            Camille snorted.  "My sister-in-law been going on about Easter Vigil." The long leathery wings folded against her shoulders fluttered a bit.
            "Ah."  In a way, it was for best that Camille's species were not humanity's first Contact species.   Losing several European cities on the Atlantic coast and even more South Asian cities to the predations of the Squids, resulted of the nations of Earth became far more appreciative of species that did not open negotiations by sinking major metropolitan centers into the ocean.
            After the Squids,  the Descended Empire and the Recovery Union were seen as welcome friends, despite any... physical differences.  That was the official line at least.  Strangely enough, even after nearly half a century, many humans still had problems dealing with entities that looked like demons or giant crab monsters.
            "I can see that being a problem what with everything," I gestured to her horns.
            Camille snorted. "Please,  a quarter of the church's congregation are Descended.  No, the problem is that one of my daughters-in-law is Sein. And there's a ritual she wants us to go to at temple, that happens to be on the same night."
            I nodded along. The Sein Path was a religion among the Descended. Unlike the Restorationists, Followers of the Waves,  B'ahn Comprehensives the Sein were a bit more private and secretive.  Personally, I found it a bit amusing that a species who knew exactly how they were created  could have organized religions, but I suppose that could come from their vehement hatred towards their creators.
            Still, Camille had a point.  Earth used one calendar,  the Descended Empire another, neither of which  matched up with this planet's solar revolutions or axial rotation.
            "But I somehow doubt you're giving me a  hundred Imperial Stav dinner just to chat about family. I suppose some of my stories back when I was in the Descended Imperial Service might be worth that much."
            I gave her my smile again.  She had made a false assumption. I did not pay full price for her meal.
            Camille turned away and made a point to take a pull from her beer.
            The Descended Empire: a bit of a brashly, grandiose name for an organization that was more naval-based protection racket than proper government.  While the Empire laid claim to the protection of all Descended settlements,  extracting tithes from them was another matter.
            "You're correct, I want something else."
            Camille nodded and continued eating.  "How many?"
            "Just you should be enough."
            The demon, the Descended, looked up. "Oh?  What is it then?"
            "A favor for a friend."
            Her gaze met mine. "Miss Fallbrook, you don't have friends." Camille said, entirely polite.
            I bowed my head to concede the point. "Call it for a friend of a friend."
            Camille sopped a slice of meat in a bit of the blood that has pooled on the plate.  "And the favor is?"
            "I need someone to watch my back while I talk to said friend of a friend," I said finishing my Scotch.
            "Ah."  She resumed her meal and got two thirds through the steak and most of the way through the beer before speaking again.
            "You have security personnel on retainer," she noted, a bit of blood dripping from her blade.
            "Yes, including yourself."
            The woman leaned back a bit and made a point to take in the Crook and Cow.  Despite being a work-night in two different calendars, the tables were full of Descended and humans,  both modded and unmoded.  In one corner I saw two forms that might have been part of Camille's brood.
            "This isn't your office," she said as if coming to a dawning realization.
            I gave a dry laugh. "This isn't company business.   Hiring your services for a... personal favor. Using company resources would be wrong."  I reached into my jacket.
            Tensing slightly, Camille watched her blade turning in her hand.
            I slowly withdrew the grey envelope and slid it over towards her plate.  The planks had been evenly planed and it slid easily across the table.
            She opened it and fanned through the contents. Her lips curled into a frown. "You included an invoice."
            "Technically it's the service section to some contractual boilerplate. You have time to make a decision, the meeting isn't for an hour."
            This time she ignored my smile, the Imperial notes in the envelope, and went back to eating.
            "Well?" I asked as she neared the end of the steak.
            Her gaze swept over me. "You're not expecting much trouble," she said with wry amusement.  The knife was placed on the table and she removed a heavy brass pen from her shirt. With a flourish she signed it and passed the pink carbon paper back to me before pocketing the envelope and pen back into her overshirt.
            "If that were true I wouldn't be hiring you," I noted taking a picture of the carbon paper and sipping it into a pocket of my own.
            She gave a sharp grin and finished off the last of the steak.