In a rowdy Arab bar orbiting Betelgeuse, the blue-lipped, blue-haired jacky tapped his forehead, and a red monochrome hologram projected from his eyes. Sitting in the booth across from him, Freja watched it carefully.
This hologram was a security camera feed of an operating room. Must be a far-arm colony somewhere, Freja thought. There was a very pregnant woman on the table. The surgeon dipped scissors in an old-style steam autoclave. There were two men, dressed in samurai regalia, watching.
The jacky—rather Colonel Peters, the jacker—pulled a cord embedded in the flesh behind his ear and slid it across the table. Freja took the headset and put it in her ear.
“Hey sweetie, can I get a smoke?” Peters shouted to the waitress above the mesh of country and traditional sitar music that rattled the cups on the table.
Freja instinctively watched the doctor’s hands. Must be an unlicensed implant job, camera planted in the kid’s ear or eye for nutjob voyeurs. Or a drug-dosing, where they’d hold the baby’s health hostage for the dosage. That’s the only crime far-arm colonies ever had the tech for.
“I don’t see anything,” she said.
“There’s the rub, Freja,” Peter’s said in an electro-tinged voice. “It’s what we don’t see.”
The woman grunted and screamed. The surgeon was waiting for the baby, and then he wasn’t. There was the afterbirth, the blood, and no baby.
“Video manipulation?” Freja said, but already doubted that. Only one person could work with low-tech footage like this, but the Grey Ghost wouldn’t be caught dead on a backwater planet like Dawn.
Peters frowned. “Don’t know. We only get what was uploaded to the comsat. They’re blocking that baby’s ID for one reason or another. Unless of course…” Peters leaned in. “The kid’s invisible, and what we’re looking at is the goddamn invisible man.”
He laughed at his own joke.
“We don’t even know who these people in the video are,” Peters continued. “Facial scan doesn’t work with tech this old.”
“Slavery then,” Freja said. “Not enough AI’s to do the work there…which is?”
“Dawn’s still settling. Two generations in, but there’s a lot of forest to comb through. Still a Class-3 life-potential planet. They’re moving slower than Rigellian treacle. Gotta be careful not to disturb all that potential sentient life down there, right?” Peters chuckled. “Makes you wonder when Eden will give up the hunt and realize we’re alone out here.”
“Another thing,” Peters said, sliding a small box across the table.
It was labeled with Freja’s full name, the Old-Earth one she had tried to forget.
“Can’t believe you’d trust a jacky with a package,” she said.
“Astral Corp has good insurance. Guy that looks like this,” Peters pointed at his face, smiled. “He’s all show, no substance.”
Freja opened the box. There were plant seeds in it.
“They’re specific to Dawn’s environment. Engineered on Old Earth. Where she died.”
“Quite a coincidence,” Freja said.
“Chambers, down in the Rez Division is good about this sort of thing. Must have checked your itinerary.”
Then Peters was gone from the jacky. The red light faded from the man’s eyes, and a cough burst from his throat as his own biology came back online.
Freja slammed the box shut. What did it matter how she got the seeds?
“Hey, Baldy, where you going?” the jacky said, watching Freja slide out of the booth. “Don’t you want to get to know the man behind the jacker? We’re good for more than flesh you know.”
He looked down at the ashtray and burning cigar on the table. “Christ, told them I don’t want no smokers. Lady, was he smoking?”
The waitress’s skates shrieked on the glass floor as she stopped in front of the booth. “All done here?” She slapped down a bill.
“Fucking Eden cheapskates,” the man shouted. “Was he smoking?”