A shout sounded from behind. The pound of running feet. Jani’s heart raced. Her breath caught in her throat. Then chill calm washed over her, like an old friend resting a hand on her shoulder. She reached into the inner pocket of her duffel. Her hand closed around the grip of her old Service shooter. She turned, only to see the desk clerk from the hostel racing toward her.
“Jeez, Cory, wake up!” The young man slowed to a gasping halt. “I need—to talk to you.”
Jani withdrew her empty hand from the duffel and tried to smile.
“Boy, you look wrecked.” The clerk’s voice dropped to a whisper. “You get those old farts you work for through that audit ok?”
“As always,” Jani replied.
“You know”—he leaned closer—“there’s a doe here from SouthPort Consolidated. Jammin’ blonde. She’s looking for doc techs. Pass her exam, she’s offering Registry-level jobs.”
The clerk rolled his eyes. “You, dummy! You’re the talk of the Merchants’, my manager says. All the paper you vet is so clean, it squeaks. Six months on the job, not one observation from Guv Hall. My manager calls it a miracle.”
My bosses call it something else. Jani’s smile faded. The word “verifier” hadn’t been said aloud at this morning’s meeting, but the mute accusation had hung heavy in the air. Government spy. They think I’m a government spy.
If they only knew.
Jani glanced down the street, where the crowd still gathered in front of the communications shop. “I’ll think about it.”
The clerk sighed. “Yeah, well, don’t think too long. She’s checking out tonight.” He shook his head. “Registry-level jobs. Just think. Exterior Ministry on Amsun. Maybe even Earth!” He punched Jani’s arm. “Registry—that’s the top of the tree!”
I know all about the Registry, child—my name resides in a very prominent place in that epic tome. “Thanks for the word,” Jani said. “I’ll give it all due consideration.” She left the clerk to argue with her retreating back and ducked into the alley she always used to reach the charge lot. Then her stomach grumbled, and she tried to recall what waited at home in her cooler. Cold air—damn, I need to buy food. And all the decent shops were in the opposite direction.
Jani hurried out of the alley, slid to a stop, and scurried back into the shelter of a doorway. The desk clerk was talking to an attractive blonde. His new contact from SouthPort Consolidated, Jani assumed. Try as she might, she couldn’t recall ever seeing that company name on any shipping logs that had passed through her hands.
Jani studied the woman’s neat hair and stylish clothes, both several GateWays removed from the best SouthPort had to offer. She watched as the desk clerk nodded, then pointed in the direction of the alley.
She backed down the passageway, her sore back protesting every stride. When she reached the other end, she looked up and down the street, ducking into the shadows as a passenger skimmer drifted by. She listened, until she heard only faraway street sounds and knew for certain that she was alone. Then she ran.
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