I hadn’t liked Aultmar Artos much when I’d worked for him in the past, and studying his flickering image now reminded me why. Something about those deep-set, hooded eyes in that long, lugubrious face resembled a serpent; and what I knew of his cold, calculating personality did not help much. Rumor said the Chairman of the StellarCast combine rarely smiled and never, ever laughed. I was fully inclined to believe it.
However, our business together had been mutually profitable despite my dislike–a sentiment I suspected was returned. I also suspected he did not care for the position in which he now found himself: supplicant to the Pantheon. But I could only guess at that, for I could read nothing in his expressionless face.
“It’s been a while, Chairman,” I said.
“The same, Athena.”
“I received a message from the Pantheon informing me you had requested my services.” A loose network for those of us who did black work and had risen to the top–the best of the best, and proud of it–the Pantheon gave those clients who could afford us an easy way to find us while preserving our own secrecy.
Those steely gray eyes blinked–eyes as gray as mine, and supposedly as artificial as they looked. Rumor had it that his eyes–along with almost every other part of his body, including his heart–had been replaced, modified, amplified, so that there was very little of him that was human.
Almost as little as there is of me. I buried the thought.
“I have a contract for you. If you will accept it, of course.” It must have cost Aultmar to ask that; he was not a man accustomed to asking if his will would be carried out.
“Details?” While I spoke, my mind accessed the starnet, pulling up background information on Aultmar: partners, associates, colleagues–not friends, for he had none. Info feeds scrolled directly through my mind, characters flashing in fully-formed, three-dimensional images, then dissipating.
His lips compressed. “There is a woman.”
That narrows it down. A little. Even cut in half, Aultmar Artos’ enemies list was truly impressive.
“Her name is Arakhne. She lives on Arcadia.”
Arcadia. Hmmm. I’d heard of the planet–a recent acquisition of the StellarCast combine–and after a moment I was able to call up some information on Arakhne. “An artist, is she not? A light-weaver?”
“Yes.” Those lips compressed further. “Find her. And kill her.”
“For a simple killing of a simple weaver, you don’t need me. Or my fee. What else?”
Those eyes flickered down toward my fingertips. “I want her memories.”
Now it starts to make sense. Perimortem memory capture was a skill very few possessed, and among those few, I would vouch with no false modesty that I was the best.
“That might be tricky. I’ve told you before, the process is not always precise or accurate.”
“I understand. Your standard fee if you simply kill her, double if you bring her memories back.”
My curiosity rose. The only reason Aultmar might want her memories would be if he suspected they contained something damaging. But what could a weaver know that would trouble him? I would dearly have loved to ask, but that would have been unprofessional.
“I’ll do it,” I said. “Usual conditions. I’ll inform you when it’s done.”
He nodded. “Thank you. And give my regards to the rest of the Pantheon.”
“I will. Zeus and Hera in particular have spoken of you with great regard.”
“That is pleasant to hear. Until next time.” He leaned forward and touched a control. Aultmar’s image winked out before me. And I was left with a mystery. Who is this Arakhne of Arcadia and why on earth does Altmar want her dead?