QSFer H.L. Moore has a new queer sci-fi short (non-binary main character) in the Jovian Empire series: The Courier.
The job seemed simple enough: collect the package and deliver it to Europa within two days’ time, no questions asked. If only the client hadn’t lied about there being no catch…
Warning: Instance of limb dismemberment (non-graphic).
“You are the smuggler, I presume?”
Vorbote was a refined older gentleman, with a bald head and piercing blue eyes. He had come alone, as promised, and a discreet scan of his person and immediate surroundings confirmed that he wasn’t bugged.
“Courier,” Chen corrected.
The man offered a conciliatory smile. “Of course. My apologies.”
He did a good job of sounding genuine, but Chen knew the difference between sincerity and charm, and it hadn’t been the former.
“Please, join me,” Chen offered, gesturing towards the vacant opposite seat.
The client accepted the invitation. He took care sitting down, adjusting his expensive suit accordingly, and crossed his long, lithe legs once comfortable. “Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to meet me in person. I understand you usually prefer to conduct business via the Network.”
“I do,” Chen agreed. “But you were extremely persuasive, Mr Vorbote.”
“Ah. You know my name. I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”
“Call me Chen.”
They kept their voices low to blend in with the din of the bar. Vorbote ordered two flutes of champagne for the table, his eyes straying occasionally to the zero-g polo match holo-cast in the centre of the room. He seemed displeased when the match – 10-3 in Australasian Federation v Jovian Empire – was interrupted by the news, yet another update on the Sol Ethics Commission’s attempt to charge Europan geneticist Doctor Blake with crimes against humanity for unregulated experiments involving eugenics and cybernetics.
“Are you a fan of zero-g polo, Mr Vorbote?” Chen asked, reaching for the glass of bubbling champagne.
Vorbote glanced sideways for a moment, then smiled. “Less a fan and more of an… investor.”
“I hope you bet on the Australasians.”
“If you are concerned the outcome will affect your payment, you needn’t. I am merely a representative of your true client.”
Chen had suspected as much.
As Vorbote made himself comfortable and reached for his flute of champagne to sip it elegantly, Chen observed him. Every now and then his eyes would shift to the left, as if he was reading something. A cybernetic eye, perhaps, analysing facial features and running details through a database to get an invisible feed of information.
A pointless exercise – he’d find nothing on Chen, but it was still annoying.
It wasn’t that Chen was prejudiced. Chen had dabbled in cybernetics and body modification in the past – nothing that would draw the attention of the Jovian Empire’s Augmented Persons Register, of course – but there were limits to the acceptable threshold, morally and ethically speaking. There was an advantage, and then there was cheating.
“Are you finished?” Chen drawled when Vorbote finally made true eye contact again.
“Forgive me,” Vorbote said. “I was expecting someone a little –”
It was true, but flattery wouldn’t lower Chen’s fees.
Chen blended in well with the glitzy bar of the Motsepe Hotel on Mwezi Base. The outfit of the moment was a stunning red dress suit, complemented by a pair of diamond earrings. Appropriate for the setting, but not striking enough to stand out amongst the Moon-based elite.
Vorbote, too, had chosen his outfit well. His suit was dark grey and his shoes a shockingly shiny alligator-skin pattern. His tie matched his shoes, which was fashionable that week, and clipped to his tie was a small aged-white pin, carved into the shape of a rose. To the casual observer, the two of them looked like nothing more than business associates discussing a deal, or wealthy strangers who had taken a liking to each other.
“Ah,” Vorbote said, “you have noticed my tie pin. It is an exquisite piece, is it not?”
Rich people loved being complimented for being rich.
“It’s lovely,” Chen agreed.
“I used to admire it upon my grandfather’s ties, which is why he gifted it to me. It has been passed down in my family for generations.”
Chen smiled politely. “How fascinating.”
“The ivory is quite real. It was taken from the tusk of an Asian elephant in the mid-20th century.”
“They were beautiful creatures.”
“Such a loss,” Vorbote lamented.
Chen clinked their champagne flutes together. “To their extinction. Why don’t we get down to business, Mr Vorbote?”
H. L. Moore is an Australian Jewish writer. She holds a Master of Arts in International Relations (2015) and a Bachelor of Media in Communications and Journalism (2012), both from the University of New South Wales.
She has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. Her biggest literary influences are Adrian Tchaikovsky, Brandon Sanderson, and C. S. Pacat. She is the author of “Heart Of Dust” and “Soul Of Ash”, Books 1 and 2 of the Death’s Embrace series. She has had two short stories published: “The Collector” in the 2014 Future Times Award Collection “A Tick Tock Heart”, and “Entente” in the 2020 Twisted Stories Award Collection “Just Alice”.