Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto
As much as the search called for her attention, it was a couple hours before Kim could get the time and privacy to shut herself alone with the computer and her black book.
The book was real, not a name tacked to some crystal or a little corner of the data base. Drawn from the bottom of her storage trunk, the little book smelled of earth and old leather. Kim tossed away the brittled elastic bands that held it together. A smile cut her serious expression, made of equal parts longing and nervousness. It was like finding her sister’s diary, curiosity pulling her explore even though the sensible part of her knew there were things about people she wouldn’t have wanted to know.
She eased apart the pages and glanced through the mess of field notes, sketches and clipped printouts. It was strange to read those old thoughts, exotic in ways she didn’t see herself to be now.
The strings of numbers she found scattered about, difficult to see them appart from the rest of the data. She found the first tucked between the final records of nameless, dead race and a doodle of one of the popular anime of the time. Respect for the dead wasn’t her strongest suit then.
But then her chosen employment wasn’t stellar either. Interplanetary Expeditions did employ a great many scientists, but like within any corporate business, science bowed to commerce.
IPX wasn’t really supposed to deal in stolen goods, but when it came to the good (and profits) of the company, a lot of rules could be bent, with the right excuses. They hadn’t stolen the artifacts, after all. But since it was there, why let it disappear uselessly into some alien’s horde, or destroyed for their raw materials? Governments couldn’t hope to keep up with the black market traffic in relics. They were over their heads as it was, just trying to keep a hold of the trade in weapons, slaves and drugs. Put it back where it came from, and it’d just get stolen again. All useful excuses that had worked for generations of curators, collectors and businessmen. While IPX kept producing “new” technology to strengthen and delight the human race, the people were perfectly willing to overlook a few shady dealings.
Years removed from the practice, Kim still wasn’t sure of her opinions on the subject. The problem just couldn’t be separated into black and white. Shrugging off the old debate, she swivelled to the com and began the old chase. In this case at least, her motives were clear.
Several hours later, the book had gained a couple new pages and smile that was almost smug curled Kim’s lips. She still new how to rope them in. She had the new number of her best contact in the area. A little doodle of one of the relics came to life beside her annotations, while she waited for the communications link to establish itself. With any luck, this would be the last call she had to make.
The waiting silence was broken by a clatter and Kim looked up to see a darkened room on the screen. A moment later a squat, pale human dropped into view. His hair — what there was of it left– had gone grey, and he took up more space than he used to, but the little man was still recognizable. Kim was surprised, though, when she saw immediate recognition in his eyes as well.
“I thought you were dead,” he said.
“Well all your dreams can’t come true. How’s business Mosad?”
“Terrible. Just terrible.” Not that he’d admit otherwise. “These wars. Do you know what they do supply lines?” He threw out the demand as if it was her own fault and responsibility to fix.
“Maybe you should find a different line of work.”
“There’s already plenty running guns and the rest. *Food* even, can you believe it? Making a killing. Not that I’d want to get into that work. I’m an art dealer. I don’t do anything else.”
Kim resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Things really didn’t change much. “Well, that’s good news to me, at least, if not your profits.”
Mosad’s eyes narrowed. “I know that thing you’re wearing.” Kim could feel his eyes on her shoulder, where her Ranger’s pin gleamed. “You don’t work for IPX anymore, and you’re not an independent either. I don’t work for any government so you and I don’t have any business any more.” He lifted a hand to close the link.
Kim blinked in surprise at his quick brush off. Then she smiled. It wasn’t a pleasant expression. “I don’t think you should hang up, Mosad. As you pointed out, I’m not really in the business anymore, so what use do I have for you in the future?”
Mosad’s hand froze over the disconnect button and Kim closed the noose. “Even after all these years, it would be terrible if Ank’ti found out about your little side venture.”
Mosad started to turn a particular shade of green-grey. Ank’ti business was in weapons and protection, and in his little corner of space, he was the only one. Ank’ti didn’t believe in healthy competition. There’d been plenty who tried to change that, but none could be counted among the living today.
Except for Mosad.
The short of it was, Mosad had somehow gotten a hold of a shipload of weaponry in trade. Instead of going to Ank’ti, he’d dared to sell them off himself. At the same time he was doing business with IPX. Nervous as he was, when he brought Kim to his ship to give over an artifact IPX wanted, he’d inadvertently opened the wrong crate right in front of her. It was still a wonder to Kim that he’d survived the sale, and Ank’ti hadn’t found out somehow. In his one and only frightening venture into arms dealing, Mosad had given Kim control over him in ways she couldn’t have gained with flattery or money.
“Ank’ti’s dead,” Mosad said. He smiled, but it was a sickly one. Even Ank’ti’s name made the little man ill.
That made Kim pause, but she reestablished her hold quickly. “I’m sure a few of his sons are still around. He had rather a lot of them, you know. Do you think they’re going to be more forgiving than Ank’ti?”
Mosad scrounged in his pockets, producing a rag to wipe at the sweat that had popped out across his forehead. “All right, you don’t have be like that. I can be a reasonable man. What do you want?”
Control reestablished, Kim sat more comfortably. “I’m looking for Abbai artifacts. These, to be specific.” She held up copies of the drawings she’d been shown, shuffling through them slowly. “Have you seen them?”
“Very nice… Religious pieces, aren’t they? There’s been a lot more Abbai work on the market lately, but I haven’t seen those in particular.”
“Yet, anyway. If you get them coming through–”
“I know, I hold on to them. Damnit, do you have to do this to my business?”
Kim ignored the griping and pressed on. “Here are pictures of our main suspects.”
Surprisingly, Mosad laughed.
“What?” Kim demanded.
“Oh, I’m not going to see them through my shop. It’s just not how it’s done.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You don’t know about the Llort’s little games? No, I guess not if you’re talking to me.”
Kim was beginning to loose his temper. The man was being far more difficult than she remembered. “Explain.”
“The Llort are thieves. They could be the best thieves around, except they’ve got this odd game they play. What they steal, they keep for their own collections. Trophies to their skill. What’s even stranger is, if you found out they stole it, and you confront them, they’ll give it back! Just like that.” He shook his head at the insanity of it. What was the point of stealing if you didn’t make money from it? “That’s why I won’t let them in my shop. They aren’t in to buy. Scoping my place out, and try to swipe stuff right off the tables if they could. Like I have time to chase them down every time they take an interest in something.”
Kim hid her amazement this time behind a bland face. She wasn’t sure that she could believe it. “Even so, if you see them or the relics, you talk to me first. They can’t all fit the stereotype.”
“Whatever you say.” Mosad was cheerful. Impossible business was at least not lost business, in his eyes. Kim’s calls almost always meant he was going to pay. It now looked like he could go on with business as usual. In a moment of magnanimity, he added, “By the way, one of those Llort looks familiar. I think I know where you can find him.”
Kim’s interest was immediate. “Where?”
Kim closed the link and shuffled her pages back to order in a burst of edgy excitement. She was trying not to hang too much hope on this one lead, but it felt promising, and worth pursuing. Immediately. She stood, tucking her book into one of her uniform’s many hidden pockets. With a slap to the combadge on her hand, she requested a direct line to Yoshino.
“Yoshino, I have something.” She couldn’t quite keep the excitement from her voice. “Meet me in the docking bay ASAP. We’ve somewhere to go.”
Copyright © 2000 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.