2951-05-10 – Tales from the Inbox: A Midnight Emergency

“Pull the other one, Damien.” Noxolo L. ejected the battery from Damien’s railgun and kicked it across the room, then tossed the weapon onto the table in front of him. “Why are you really here?”

Damien shrugged, his eyes flicking between the gun and Noxolo. “I really wish it was just an excuse, but it’s not. My superiors-”

“The people you chose over me, you mean.” Noxolo pointed her scattergun at the floor in front of his feet and made a show of inspecting the sights. The holographic reticle it projected above the barrel was a bit fuzzy and needed a bit of adjustment; even when she did practice, it was with the side-arm she took with her to the shop. She kept the scattergun in the bed, and it clearly wasn’t getting enough attention.

“Don’t say that, Noxie. I can’t-”

“Fifty credits and I’ll say it whatever way you want.” Noxolo pursed her lips and winked. When she’d met Damien, she’d been contracting as a vocal and holovid performer. He’d been looking to hire a pretty woman to play a minor part in a sophisticated sting operation. She still did a little vocal contract work on the side for her old clients, but she’d mainly left that line of work shortly after he’d left. “But it’s a thousand up front before I pretend to believe it.”

“Do you think I just wanted to leave like that?” Damien balled his fists on the table. For a moment, it looked like he was going to get up and do something stupid, but he let out a heavy sigh and every muscle in his body seemed to go slack. “Never mind. Help me for two shifts, and I’ll be gone again. I’ll make them send someone else out here next time.”

Noxolo raised one eyebrow. She’d half expected the old Damien; back then, he would have swept her off her feet and carried her to the nearest bunk, and left his explaining for the afterglow. She wasn’t even confident she would have shot him if he’d tried it.

Damien slowly reached into one pocket, then dropped a handful of silvery objects on the table. They clattered in that bright, eager way that only money can. “There. That should be about what you make in a month running that shop of yours. You can close up for one day.”

Noxolo counted at least three thousand credits on the table, mostly in the two-hundred-credit denomination that only spooks generally used. It was actually more like two weeks’ profit from the store, but it was more than enough to pique her curiosity. “I’m listening.”

“Santi and I were supposed to meet with some smugglers who think we’re dirty customs men. You remember Santi?”

Noxolo nodded slowly. Damien’s partner had a weasel-like aspect that she’d never liked, even though the man had been nothing but professional to her. “That’s what’s with the official-looking disguise.”

Damien tapped his wristcuff and the square-jawed, stern face he’d been wearing when he stepped in returned, along with the official markings on his clothing. “Danny Nicolov. The bastard actually is a dirty customs officer back on Maribel, so I have to look like him.”

“Let me guess.” Noxolo pointed toward the door. “Something just went wrong with your little meeting?”

The stranger’s features screwed up into a familiar wince. “Santi’s dead. So are the smugglers. I never saw the shooter.”

Noxolo couldn’t be bothered to care about Santi, but a man Damien had worked with for half a decade was dead. “I’m sorry.” The big oaf was probably hurting, but he’d never show it.

“Not as sorry as we’ll all be in about fourteen or fifteen hours.” Damien disengaged the disguise, and his face reappeared. “The smugglers told us they put a deadman switch on their cargo; if neither of them sends a particular code every twenty-four hours, a thermite charge chews a hole in it.” He shook his head ruefully. “Those idiots had no idea what it was they’d gotten their hands on. Thermite will cook it off and probably destroy the whole station.”

“What is it?” Noxolo finally took the opposite seat and started stacking up the cred-chits.

“It’s a Nate weapon. No idea how they got it.” Damien gingerly touched his bruise with two fingers. “We were hoping to find out.”

“Well, I listened.” Noxolo divided the cred-chits into two neat stacks and slid one of them back into the middle of the table. “Call station security. They’ll find that bomb in an hour or two.”

“Why do you think the smugglers were stashing things here?” Damien lowered his head into his hands. “Station security arranged our meeting. They’ll let the place blow to cover their tracks. We’d be lucky if they arranged a proper evacuation.”

Noxolo, who’d never had a terribly healthy relationship with any lawful authority, wondered if she’d missed opportunities by treating the station security team with dismissive contempt since the day she arrived. Maybe they could have gotten her in contact with suppliers for a few hard-to-get commodities. “You really think they’d let people die to protect themselves?”

Damien nodded. “They already have. I never saw the shooter, but I know what he was shooting. Only a Volkov MR28 does that kind of damage without punching holes in pressure hulls.”

“This is a model used by station goons?”

“Volkov only sells them to security agencies and a few mercenary outfits, Noxie. If it wasn’t a security man pulling that trigger, then it was one unlocking the armory.” Damien smiled wearily. “The two of us have to find that bomb.”

Though in her account Noxolo never says what agency Damien works for, I have surmised that he is a BCI operative. It is possible he is an agent of one of the regional civilian enforcement agencies as well, but I find this unlikely.

I cannot answer most of the questions you all have sent in about the Nuisance, unfortunately. I have seen them only a few times and never had a chance to talk to one. The reason I use this somewhat derogatory spacer name instead of the official transliteration of their name for themselves is that it seems the standard designation in Sagittarius Gate, and also, from all accounts, the creatures themselves don’t seem to mind the name, if they mind anything at all. Most people here would not immediately recognize the term Yixhari.

The degree of popular curiosity about this one species of many found in this region is interesting to me, but if there is demand for additional entries featuring them, I will see what can be done.