2950-08-02 – Tales from the Inbox: A Turncoat’s Curse 

This week, we continue with the second account sent in by Ramiro W. relating to his brief career moving wealthy people from Maribel to safer locations. A number of you in the audience have sent in your claims to evidence that this story is a hoax – after all, Ramiro was always a pseudonym for someone who did not want to be publicly identified, and it would be easy to reproduce his correspondence style, or for him and his con-artist partner to fabricate a story for pure entertainment after we ran parts of the first one. 

I still suspect it’s mostly genuine for two reasons. One, the real Ramiro and Livia have not reached out to correct it, and two, it does not seem like a hagiographic falsehood they would invent, as this story does not benefit them in any way. 

Ramiro stared hard at Livia, focusing on the weight of the gun in his hand and not on the thin, nearly transparent nightgown she was wearing. Nothing she did was ever accidental, and he knew that extended to her choice of sleepwear. “How do you know he’s a defector?” 

Livia frowned and put a finger to her lips. “Keep your voice down. We sound-proofed these walls, but the things they’ve done to him, he can hear-” 

“Answer the question.” Ramiro did lower his voice to a stage-whisper, but he knew a stalling tactic when he saw it.  

“Our passenger did not tell me he’s a defector. How could he? They-” Again, Livia’s neck muscles twitched, and she winced. "He’s not... leaving with authorization. He’s off their map.” 

“How do you-” Ramiro paused and took a step back. With sudden clarity, he saw something that he’d been missing. “Damnation, Liv, you wanted me to figure this out on my own.” 

Livia nodded cautiously. “I did.” 

Ramiro leveled a trembling finger at her. “This is the sort of thing you can just tell me. We’ve been through enough that I’ll believe-” 

“Would if I could, Ramie dear. It’s-” Again, when she paused, Ramiro spotted the twitch in her neck. “It’s not... that simple.” 

Ramiro nodded wearily and sat down on his bunk. “It never is, with you.” 

Livia reached over and palmed the control to bring the compartment lights back up to their daytime level. “I wish it was.”  

Ramiro blinked and looked down to the deck as his pupils adjusted. As he did, he saw Livia’s shadow pass over his bare feet and heard her sit down next to him. 

“You can’t ask... him.” Livia leaned over until her head was resting on Ramiro’s shoulder, and he glanced up enough to see that her loose night-shirt hung low and gave him a nearly uninterrupted view of the amply-curved body beneath it. “With that many computers in his head, he’s... Not himself. Treading very carefully.” 

Ramiro nodded. “You’re saying if we trigger something automatic, it doesn’t matter what he wants.” He’d heard spaceport-bar horror stories about the sorts of things that Incarnation science could do to the human body and mind, of course; everyone had. “Some program might take over.” 

Livia made a vague sound of agreement, one hand kneading the hem of the thin coverlet. 

Ramiro did his best to have a good look at her without letting his eyes wander anywhere untoward. Livia’s invasion of his personal space was no doubt as intentional as everything else she did, and the ability to make a bold move and seeming shy and bashful at the same time was part of what made her such a dangerous con artist. The only times before she’d ever play-acted affection for him were times when she wanted something.

“I wish you could trust me.” Livia’s voice dropped almost to a whisper. “There might be rewards for us both.” 

“I don’t want... rewards.” Ramiro shook his head. He wasn’t sure what she meant by that word, but he did know that it would be wise not to want whatever she was offering, even if he wasn’t yet sure. “And I’m not helping you betray anything to Nate, no matter what they have over you.” 

Livia looked up, a few strands of dark hair falling in front of her suddenly-intense eyes. “Sometimes, Ramie, you can be so dense.” 

Ramiro shrugged. “Spell it out for me.” 

“Wish I could.” Livia shifted closer and craned her face up, arching one eyebrow. “But that’s not in the program.” 

Ramiro blinked, then stood up, his hand tightening on the gun he still hadn’t put away. Livia, who had been leaning on him, fell back on his bunk with an amused expression, making no attempt to steady herself. 

“You have it too.” Ramiro tapped the butt of the gun to his temple. “Nate put a chip in your head to keep you in line.” 

Livia didn’t answer. She didn’t even nod. The brief flicker of relief on her face was enough to confirm his conclusion.