Aeroterminal Central hummed with the footfalls of those well-credited enough to evade the crushing congestion of the recumbent CAV-way system, now thick with traffic to the former Kryos Industries’ hangar where accords were to be held on the bonds between The Eastern Federation and the Consortium of Aecer. The news ticker on the wall splayed the beautiful face of Astrid Sodabrucke across the voice-thick depot. “Today is the beginning of a new era…”
Illander Rehdon listened to the woman’s words with a smile until a unfamiliar voice emanated furtively across the terminal taproom.
“Surely, you didn’t think you could get away with it?”
Illander Rehdon turned slowly from the near-empty aerobar to stare at the man who had just spoken, two seats adjacent. The fellow had the eyes of an experienced hound, his frame fit, yet bent, hair starkly graying at the sides, expression weary, yet focused. Rehdon tipped his glass toward the enervated entrant.
“You’re right, too many carbs. The lonely man is apt to fall to self-indulgence.”
“I’d heard you were flippant.”
“You have the advantage of me. I’d heard nothing of you.”
The man’s mouth crinkled with displeasure, stifling a retort.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
Rehdon titled his cup, catching the reflection of a flustered middle aged woman setting her luggage down at the depot beyond the bar before running off to meet a pudgy man who emerged from a distant portal and threw his arms wide and embraced her.
“I saw you thirty minutes ago.” Rehdon responded listlessly, his eyes to the reflection of the elated couple across the lobby.
“Why didn’t you say something?” The stalker queried with genuine interest.
“Wasn’t sure you were here for me.” Rehdon reached to the bar-borne crafter, tossed a gel roll into his mouth and washed it down with his drink before continuing, “You have a name?”
“Caldwell will suffice.”
“And what can I do for you, Mr. Caldwell?”
“You already know the answer to that question.”
Illander stirred his drink. “I’m trying to make conversation.”
“Only thing you need to make is haste.”
“You have to come in.”
Illander discerned a grave wariness come into the agent’s dark, narrow eyes. Upon his girded hip, Rehdon spied a cutter of unusual make. Military grade. Custom grip. Prohibited on terminal grounds. He wondered how the man had been able to sneak it past security.
“Don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why?”
The agent leaned toward Rehdon, voice low. “Bureau wants to see you regarding the Zhu affair.” Caldwell sighed quietly, throwing his right hand up in a gesture of annoyance and confusion. “Why play dumb?”
“Oh, Zhu, yes, I’d heard. Dreadful. Truly, dreadful. I had nothing to do with that.”
“That is so. But if they want to see me, I’d be happy to speak with them. It has been some time. I’d almost begun to miss their monotonous commands, their dull, joyless faces. Mind if I finish my drink?”
Caldwell looked to his affin module then to his quarry. “No. We have time.” Then, darkly, “I hope you won’t run.”
“You’re questioning my loyalty?”
“If your loyalty wasn’t in question, I wouldn’t be here.”
“The Bureau doubts my loyalty, so they sent you. I’m not asking what HQ thinks. I’m asking what you think.”
“Does it matter?”
“Everything matters to me.” Rehdon slid the man a gel roll with a soft, pleasant smile and tilted his head expectantly.
“Its not my job to say. Never worked with you before.”
“You’re here. So you read my file. Talked with my contacts. Et cetera.”
“This really isn’t the place for this.”
“Oh, but it is. This is the oldest part of the terminal. No monitors here. Whether renovation was too expensive or simply too much paperwork, I couldn’t say.”
“What Zhu’s been saying. Its all very paperback. I think he’s gone paranoid.”
“High stress job is liable to have that effect.”
Rehdon downed the last of his drink, swiveled on his chair slowly and stood, stretching and cracking his neck with a sigh of contentment.
“Well, best be off. Would you mind helping me with my luggage? Brought a bit too much to carry by myself.”
The agent’s face fell as Rehdon pulled the hood of his coat over his head. “No terminal drones?”
“You were so busy watching me you didn’t notice? All taken.”
“Alright. You expecting rain, or something?”
“Just comfortable. Anyways, I appreciate the hand. Well, we’d best hurry if we’re going to catch the next flight.”
Caldwell nodded, stood and lumbered from the bar to the luggage cache in the lobby as Rehdon continued on ahead, straight through the middle of the bustling thoroughfare. Caldwell picked up the bag and turned to his charge, now halfway across the terminal, brows crinkling with concern as he discerned how far ahead of him his quarry had advanced. “Hey!” Caldwell increased his pace, luggage in hand, as a harried male voice cried out, “Thief, thief!” A female voice swiftly followed, “He’s got our bags. Someone stop him! Stop him!”
A curse was halfway out of Caldwell’s mouth as he was tackled to the ground by two massive security drones that had descended from the ceiling. Prone, Caldwell watched with rising ire as Illander Rehdon, neither stopping, nor sparing the downed man a glance, vanished into the caelum.