From ‘Trust A Few‘ by E.M. Swift-Hook.
The man who entered would have stood out even in a crowd. Here in the Hope, where the main colour was drab and the mood most often dour to sullen, he did not so much attract attention as cause it. One thing Jaz had learned in his time under the domes on Hell’s Breath, was how to judge people by their dress and manner. He could spot at a glance now, the kind of tourist who you could double charge on the viewing run and the kind you would refuse to allow a tab in the bar.
Jaz’s first thought was this must be one of the weirder ones. One of those who came here and talked about the mystical power of the flares or liked to make artworks in the micro-g viewing pod on Vel’s cousin’s ship. Too much money to spend, looking for something different, some new experience, to spend it on. But even as his thoughts were going over what he needed to say to Vel’s cousin over dinner – what he wanted to say to her – something kept him watching and not dismissing the new arrival as he would under normal circumstances.
There was nothing too outlandish about this man’s style of dress, although it hinted at the kind of wealth level you didn’t often see around Hell’s Breath. The fabric and cut looked sophisticated and expensive and the visible jewellery suggested he was trying for taste rather than bling. But if elegance was the effect he wanted to achieve, he failed. His hair – an untidy tangle of tawny-gold curls – ruined it, that and the addition of a very cheap looking opaque remote-link visor over his eyes.
“Ma says that funny man just came in on the hopper that took the oldies out.” Vel’s cousin’s daughter wriggled into the seat beside Jaz and started helping herself to the fruit on his plate without asking. “She said Auntie Vel said to tell you to check his luggage. She thinks he’s carrying something. Uncle Dom said the sensors were going ‘whip-woah’ when he went through them.” She licked her fingers and reached back to the plate. He gently grabbed the small hand before it could remove the last slice of fruit and then pushed the child firmly away.
“Tell your ma thanks – and stay out of here the pair of you.” The little girl treated him to one of her more scary pulled faces, then slipped out the back of the bar and through the door Jaz knew led passed the kitchens and out to the tiny demountable cabin beyond that she, her mother and Jaz called home. He watched her go in his peripheral vision, feeling a marked relief when the door slid closed behind her. But his focus remained fixed on the new arrival as it had throughout as he finished the last piece of fruit.
The newcomer seemed polite enough and Vel’s nephew’s boyfriend managed to check him in to one of the two remaining suites which were still habitable. The blond man made as if to move away from the counter to go to his suite. But then he turned back, his movement sudden, as if just remembering something.
“Oh yes, whilst I think of it, you don’t happen to know if there is a man by the name of Jazatar Baldrik staying here?”
Jaz felt a cold stillness within and flexed the muscles of one arm to feel the reassuring presence of an energy snub, linked thanks to his time in the Specials, on his inner arm. He pushed back from the table and stood up, the movement drew the attention of the new arrival who turned to look, eyes invisible beneath the visor but a wide smile now growing below it. Jaz did not watch the distracting smile, he watched the hands and the stance, but they were relaxed, nothing signalled intent to attack.
Jaz crossed the room towards the blond man, closing down the distance between them in a few quick steps, to get to hand-to-hand range, so he could be surer of control and, if needed, a kill. The blond man let him do it, still smiling and relaxed. “Jazatar Baldrik I assume?” The voice was light and sounded much too happy.
“Who are you and what do you want?” To his own ears, Jaz’s question sounded more like a snarl. The smile beneath the visor grew even wider and the blond man reached up to remove the obscuring remote-link, revealing a pair of disturbing, intent, orange eyes.
“My name is Durban Chola and I need you to help me save the soul of Avilon Revid.”