There were two of them.
They walked into my office looking as if they’d just come in on a low-end freetrader’s scrapheap and hadn’t found time to freshen up since. I’d not known they were coming and that suggested something urgent, which meant something dangerous.
The good news was I knew one of them. Halkom Dugsdall—taller than most who were tall, dark red-brown hair that always stuck out as if he’d not combed it in days, and eyes like the business end of an energy snub.
His work brought him out here two, maybe three times a year, sometimes more and we’d shared stakeouts and bar tabs enough that we’d got to know each other pretty well. Him, me and Commander Burgas who headed up the local police here until his retirement three cycles back. We’d made a formidable team.
The last time I’d seen Dugsdall must have been at Burgas’ formal retirement event. He’d missed the private party after because of work commitments. But then he was the Coalition Security Force’s ‘go-to’ operative for hunting the very worst criminal scum. His frequent visits were down to the fact that my patch attracted a lot of them. It was at the sharp end of a frontier sector on the Periphery. After you left it, there was a mess of wildcard prospecting and mining concerns, a few low-tech Protectorates and a cluster of thinly populated Independent worlds which the Coalition couldn’t be bothered to stretch its hand out to grasp. The butt end of the galaxy and all my very own.
Even though I’d already figured that this visit was far from being a social call, I mustered a warm smile.
“Good to see you again, Grim. Who’s your friend?”
She reacted with blank surprise to my use of that name. Alright. Not a friend. She was tall too, but where Grim was leanly muscled, she was just skinny. Shiny black hair with a metallic lustre and cheekbones that seemed keen to get out ahead of her nose. A challenge, as her nose was pretty prominent itself. Cold eyes scoured me from above it. Seemed she didn’t like me already. Or maybe she didn’t like the voice I’d chosen from the handful I kept on my favourites menu.
“Good to see you too, Saj.” Grim gestured between me and the woman. “Sajmar Dyep—Tak Tanka.”
We nodded to each other and, introductions out the way, I let them sort themselves out to sit down and reached over to the synth to serve up a tray of mild stimulant drinks. They looked like they needed that.
“Thanks,” Grim said, helping himself to one from the tray and passing another to his companion as he carried on talking. “Sorry to descend on you like this, but it’s one of those fast action things. You know what I do, and Var Tanka here is a specialist in matters relating to the Legacy.”
Var Tanka? So formal. Definitely not friends then. Or maybe she was just so senior, us regular street-level operatives weren’t going to make it onto her link-list of contacts.
“We don’t get much trouble with the Legacy here,” I told her. “They tried once, but those terrorist fanatics could never make any ground with the sort living on my patch. People here are all about how they would like more Coalition involvement, not less.”
“I find the facts are more valuable than speculation, Dyep. But your opinion is noted.”
Oh my! Underling know your place…
Grim cleared his throat.
“Sajmar has some expertise on the Legacy herself, Var Tanka. She worked undercover in a Legacy cell before she took on the local CSF office here.”
“Oh? Really?” The cold eyes flicked away from mine. “That must have been some years ago then. There’s been a lot of change in the Legacy’s approach recently.” She wasn’t going to give me any ground.
Grim met my gaze and held it just long enough whilst the other woman was busy pulling up screens and pinning them over my desk.
“This is who we are here for.” She stabbed a finger towards one of the screens and my heart sank. “Ozrin Walorn. He has a history of low-level smuggling, but evidence links him with a recent incident of piracy in the Varn Sector and”—she impaled another screen with her nail—“his name’s occurred in relation to a Legacy-backed attack on a planet called Kesser. We think he helped supply the rebels there, resisting Coalition integration against the local government forces.”
Oh Ozzy! What have you been getting involved with now?
“We have reason to believe Walorn is registered as a resident in your area,” Grim added.
What could I do? I moved my head forward the small amount allowed by the couple of fused vertebrae of my neck. It approximated a nod.
“He is someone who’s crossed my screens before,” I admitted. “If he’s at home, I can find him for you. Where’re you staying?”
“We didn’t get that far yet,” Grim said.
Tak Tanka waved me away. “I don’t intend to be here long. This is a courtesy call. We could have linked you for the information, in fact, instead of wasting—”
Grim cut in.
“In fact, we realised that your local knowledge would be of immense value in locating our target, which is why we are here. And as that might take a short time, we’ll take rooms in the spaceport stopover.”
Maybe she’d more sense than I’d thought, because Var Tanka snapped her mouth shut as Grim spoke across her.
“I’ll be in touch later today,” I promised him. “Let me see you out.”
Tak Tanka had already risen from her seat and was stalking to the door, her entire body from her stiff, erect spine to the set of her shoulders screaming disapproval. As I moved around the desk to be polite and escort Grim, I glanced up and caught his eye again. He was a hard man to read, his face more a mask for his emotions than a mirror of them, but I was pretty sure I could see the dislike there.
I stopped at the door and Tak Tanka turned, didn’t notice me for a moment, then looked down and her mouth opened slightly. Pity or horror? I always made a private bet on which it would be. But this time it was surprise followed by the same dismissive coldness as before.
“I’ll be in touch,” I said and opened the door to free her from having to reply. Grim gripped my shoulder briefly and followed her out.
The opening of The Invisible Event, which is a Fortune’s Fools story by E.M. Swift-Hook. One of the stories in Challenge Accepted, an anthology of speculative fiction, featuring people with disabilities who rise to the challenge.