Ambassador Huntington pulled a curl of his moustache out and let it go. The curl snapped back into position.
Impeccably dressed as always, the Ambassador found himself worried once more about dust. He walked resolutely toward a small “mom and pop” communications business, a tired and worn storefront out on the street.
Herman Gore and his wife Heidi ran the place, in this rundown part of Port Ryan. The couple offered secure messaging services and “eavesdrop-free” zones where supposedly even LuteNet could not listen in on conversations. The Gores were League expatriates, and Huntington remained convinced of their loyalty to StarCen despite their choice to live on a planet allied with the Republic.
Based on the grimy exterior of the building, and the loose trash blowing down the street, Huntington rather doubted all the claims the couple mentioned on the floating holographic sign out front. He especially doubted their suggestion indicating the location was “the safest, most secure communications center on the planet.” He supposed there really was little truth in advertising, after all.
Once inside, though, he appreciated the nice and clean interior. Everything was well lit, neat, and in order. The Gores obviously prized their reputation for privacy, and reinvested a considerable portion of their earnings into their shop’s interior rather than the exterior.
Based on his research, the Ambassador knew the building was essentially a giant electronic Faraday’s cage. No transmissions, wireless or otherwise, would be going in or out without Herman or Heidi’s knowledge and consent.
At least, that was the idea. Spies loved places like this, and worked hard to infiltrate them as well as use them. Not to mention, LuteNet would not appreciate being kept out of the loop as to everything happening within these walls. That rogue AI system, Huntington thought, probably kept a subroutine going that focused exclusively on this part of the city.
But somehow the Gores managed to maintain a sterling reputation. And, they somehow managed to stay in business despite a dearth of customers. Perhaps that had something to do with the quiet payments they received from the League, by way of Petra Roe. Indirectly and untraceably, of course.
Ambassador Huntington dropped a couple of tokens in a jar near the counter and nodded at Mrs. Gore. She smiled and nodded back. He knew the 5,000 credit tokens, one of the only anonymous means of exchanging money, would be gone from the jar before he left the shop.
Despite the interior’s cleanliness, the Ambassador worried compulsively about dust. If there was no dust inside (something Huntington doubted), he surely had collected some on his suit outside. The street was filthy, after all, and the 8,000-credit suit imported from Italia was practically a dust magnet.
He made his way to one of the shop’s private communication booths, entered and sat down.
The wall in front of him in the tiny booth brightened suddenly, and he watched as an electronically obscured figure came into the holoscreen and sat down. This person would actually be in another location, pre-arranged with the Gores.
“How are you, Ambassador?”
The voice was electronically altered. Huntington could not tell the person’s gender, race, age, or much of anything. It annoyed him that this person, though highly useful for his purposes to be sure, knew him yet he had no idea of their identity.
He reached over to his hypodermic bracelet, the drug delivery system filled with “Fentastic Malaysia,” a formula designed specifically for him. Touching the transmit button, he received a full dose. Instantly his body began tingling and his synapses fired up, stirring the pleasure centers in his brain.
He said, “I am doing very well. So, you will be onboard the Ultima Mule when she departs tomorrow?”
The electronically garbled voice said, “I have been chosen for the crew, yes.”
“Good. I have an assignment for you, and it is worth 100,000 credits.”
Huntington thought he heard a sharp intake of breath, but he could not be sure with the electronic obfuscations.
After a pause the voice said, “Go on.”
“It’s a two-part assignment. Kill Jillian Thrall, and bring back our digital assassin alive. Do that, and the money is yours.”
The electronically obscured face came closer in the holoscreen to the Ambassador. Huntington knew they could see him plainly on their side. He had no need to alter his appearance, after all.
He stared back at the scrambled screen with a poker face, waiting.
Finally, the person sat back in their chair.
“Ambassador, you’ve got yourself a deal.”