From Iconoclast: Not To Be by E.M. Swift-Hook, the eighth Fortune’s Fools book and the second in Iconoclast, the final trilogy, which will be published later this year. You can listen to this on YouTube.
A slight buzz told her someone was at the door of her apartment and she pulled up a screen to see who was there. It was one of her neighbours, Nilis par-Yorken. Not much older than her own body made her appear, mid-twenties perhaps, scruffy cut hair which seemed to be the fashion and a face that looked like it would smile a lot.
She had run a check on him the second time he tried to get her to stop and chat. A local. Newly qualified as a pilot and working relief for the planetary run freight company, ATG, which was the only organisation running regular shipping to Arca. Another attraction of the place for Avilon was that in order to protect its own merchant fleet, none of the big corporations were allowed on Arca and any freetraders had to purchase a license to operate there.
So she knew Nilis would have been trained locally, but the fact he’d been offworld left him open to having been recruited by the CSF or the Legacy. She let out a breath in a sigh. That was the kind of paranoia that could cripple her if she let it run unchecked.
It was late and she could use that as an excuse for not responding, if he bumped into her again and asked why, but through some sense of wanting to dismiss a phantom, she opened the door and moved to grab another drink from the synth.
“What are you drinking?” she asked as her visitor walked in. He stopped a couple of paces from the door, his way barred by the couch.
“Uhh… Mys jist jooze, plars. Narms Nylees.”
Avilon grimaced internally and began to filter out his accent. It was one of the worst aspects of living on Arca, the isolationism had led to the development of a very heavy dialect.
“Maris,” she told him, turning back to persuade the synth to produce something that approximated fruit juice. “Maris par-Kenten.”
“Really?” he seemed surprised. “You sound like you’re from Central.”
She picked up the freshly created chilled drink and handed it to him, aware his eyes were not restricting themselves to her face. She returned the compliment. He had a good body. One he clearly looked after.
“No. But I spent the last five years there studying.”
“My masters thesis was in Co-Regional Internexus Sub-Quantum Linkcast Technology.”
Avilon shook her head and chuckled.
“Mostly about how to optimise links from here to the main Coalition hubs.”
He smiled, slowly. “So, what do you do for a day job?” Avilon sipped her own drink and said nothing until Nilis looked uncomfortable. “Uhh yes, that’s a bit rude of me.”
“Not really, I just wanted to know why you were calling at my door this time of night before we got into the pleasantries too much.”
He hesitated so long she thought he’d not reply. Then he gave an embarrassed smile.
“Well, since you turned up here last cycle, I’ve been meaning to come round and ask if you needed anything, like a good neighbour should. I seen you in and out a lot so thought this time of day would work best.”
It was hard not to laugh. She put her drink down, feeling even older than her fifty-two years.
“You wanted to ask me out? Or were you just after a quick fuck?”
The sudden flood of colour into his face was comical.
“Uhh – I… Well, I mean-”
She put up both her hands in a gesture of contrition.
“Sorry. Central teaches you to cut to the chase in such things. I’m going to have to retune my sensibilities now I’m home.”
To his credit he didn’t retreat.
“I’m up for either. But I came round to ask if you’d like to come over to my place tomorrow. I got a few friends coming round, you might like to meet. Get to know some people.”
“That must be cosy,” she observed, gesturing with one hand to indicate the size of the room.
“Uhh, we won’t stay in, just meet up there and head out. Say yes? They’re all good people, most from this block. You’ll like them.”
She hesitated a moment then nodded. Better to accept one or two occasional invitations out with one young adult social group than wind up fending them all off with excuses. That would only make her stand out. This way she might be able to be accepted on the fringes of a group without needing to commit.
“Why not? I’m not busy far as I know.”
Nilis made a fist and hammered the air with it.
“Yes! Kiss that! So can I ask where you work now?”
Avilon had to laugh.
“Sure – it’s no secret. I’m doing some private consultancy work for the government.” No secret. Just a straight up lie, but one he’d find it very hard to check out. “What about you?”
“I work for the ATG – that’s the -”
“Arca Trading Group – what you do with them?”
She was regretting her earlier flippancy now, Nilis seemed to have taken it as an open invitation to hang around, he was lounging back in the seat as if taking root there.
“I’m flying shunts to some of the nearby Coalition places. Uhh, I mean, freighter runs. Works out well. I get a few days on then a few off.”
Avilon faked the start of a yawn and brought her hand up to her mouth. Then moved it away with a slight smile. “Sorry. Not you. Just been a long day.”
Nilis didn’t seem to take the hint.
“I can tell. So how did you get to Central? I mean I know a few who tried, but only one who succeeded and he got accepted on a virtual course. I mean just getting the visas and at that…”
“I got a scholarship to Central Main,” she told him, suddenly wondering if he was indeed the random neighbour being sociable or if her initial paranoia was merited.
“You did? Well kiss that! Impressive. Not just a gorgeous body, but an incredible mind.” Nilis smiled.
Avilon grimaced and turned it into another yawn
“Yeah. Well if you don’t mind, it is kind of late and I do have work tomorrow even if you’re on a break.”
She stood as she spoke and saw the reluctance in Nilis’ expression and posture, but under her insistent gaze he sighed, drained his drink and put the cup down before standing as well.
“Of course. I shouldn’t keep you up. But don’t forget – we have a date tomorrow evening.”
Avilon managed a smile and opened the door. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I could do with making a few more friends.”
After he had gone she disposed of the cups and headed for bed, shaking her head at her previous doubts. Nilis par-Yorken’s motives were very easy to read.