Imogen didn’t have to worry about me creeping out because I crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow. Even the temptation of Valentin in my bed—still a delightful novelty—wasn’t enough to prop my eyes open.
I slept hard and woke refreshed. The dim light spilling around the edges of the curtains meant that it was still very early. The station never went truly dark, but the overhead lights were lowered at night.
Next to me, Valentin’s breathing was deep and even. Rather than moving and possibly waking him, I stayed where I was and checked the local news on the net, including the latest rumors and gossip. There were no splashy headlines announcing the arrival of the Rogue Queen or the Kos Emperor, so I figured we were still incognito.
Eventually, Valentin would be missed in Koan. When that happened, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out where he was.
I checked my messages, but none of my team had found anything new in the few hours since I’d last talked to them. It was so easy to expect instant results and forget the days and weeks and occasionally months of patience that had been required on my previous hunts.
Eventually Adams would fuck up, and I would be there to catch him when he did. I just had to remember to be patient.
Valentin drew a deep breath and rolled over, sleepily nuzzling my shoulder. “Good morning,” he whispered.
“Good morning. Did I wake you?”
“No. I’ve been drifting in and out for an hour.” He pulled me closer, pressing his body against mine. “But I’m glad that you’re awake now.” He idly caressed the curve of my waist.
I couldn’t help the grin. “Oh, yeah? Why is that?”
“Because now you can be my pillow.”
“You already have a pillow.”
I caught the flash of his smile. “You’re better. Let me show you.”
Even with the morning’s delicious delayed start, I was already deep into the heart of Block 48 by the time the overhead lights reached their daytime brightness. Imogen, Luka, and Valentin trailed behind me, all of us wearing our hooded coats.
I wore heavy makeup and the other three had painted their faces with black and white geometric patterns designed to foil face recognition. Valentin was too recognizable, even with the hood, but I needed his abilities to detect and intercept nearby neural links. He would’ve drawn even more attention if he was the only one wearing face paint, so Imogen and Luka had done the same.
I skirted around a busy early market. Mo worked the crowd, her small form flitting between unsuspecting targets. She caught sight of me and dipped her chin, letting me pass without trying to empty my pockets.
It was a moment’s work to find Ran, hidden in the shadows, watching the scene with a feigned nonchalance that did nothing to disguise his sharp attention. His eyes narrowed on my face, then flickered of my shoulder to the others, but he didn’t move from his post.
I mentally wished them both luck and moved on.
A little digging had turned up Flack’s exact address in Sector J, but rather than going there directly, I meandered my way through a dozen other Sectors first. Not only did it help my mental map, it also made us harder to track. And as far as I could tell, no one was following us and no one had tried to pickpocket us.
Flack ran a tiny little store that sold antique books. Inside, the air smelled of dust and musty paper. It looked like a volume hadn’t moved from the shelves in forty years. The man himself was stooped and wizened with age, with snow white hair and light brown skin that was wrinkled and papery thin. But his eyes were sharp and his smile was full of secrets.
He stepped out from behind his counter with a surprisingly sprightly gait. “Welcome, welcome. How may I help you?”
“I’m looking for a particular item and a young man who called himself Ran said you might be able to help.”
“I hope that boy didn’t give you any trouble. He’s full of the impetuousness of youth.” Flack shook his head with a fond smile.
“We came to an understanding,” I said mildly.
“You must have, if he sent you to me. What are you looking for?” He waved his arms at the jam-packed bookcases. “I have a little of everything.”
“I’m looking for information.”
Flack’s expression gave nothing away. “What sort of information? My books cover every topic.”
Some information brokers preferred a roundabout conversation, but I didn’t have time for that. Either Flack would be able to help me or he wouldn’t, and it was best to figure out which it was as soon as possible—while giving away as little as I could.
I met his eyes. “I’m brokering a very sensitive deal, one that several parties would enjoy seeing fail. I would like to know if any of their agents land on CP57, so I’ll have time to prepare the appropriate countermeasures.” The lie slid from my tongue as smoothly as truth.
His gaze traveled over my three bodyguards, weighing exactly what those countermeasures might be. He remained unruffled. “Do you know which ships they are traveling on?”
I let a grin tug at the corner of my mouth. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t need you.”
He chuckled. “You’d be surprised, my dear.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “Many people, especially those who don’t want to be found, come to CP57 with a numerical ID tied to their ship. They don’t use their real names or identifiers.”
He gave me and the rest of my team a significant look. I met it with an even stare of my own.
When I didn’t rise to the bait, he continued, “Finding someone who doesn’t want to be found is delicate, difficult, expensive work.”
I inclined my head. He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. “I am aware of the value of said work, but I don’t need them found, I just need information on the likely ships coming in.” My smile sharpened. “I can find them myself.”
Every piece of information I gave Flack was information that could be used against me. Until I knew if he would stay bought, I would give him only the bare minimum.
“Thousands of ships dock every day, and that information is heavily protected. I can find a few specific ships for you, but getting information on every ship, or even a large number of ships, is impossible.” He shook his head. “No amount of money could make that happen.”
There was very little that a vast amount of money couldn’t make happen, but since I didn’t have coffers that deep, I let it go.
He spread his hands in an inviting gesture. “Tell me what you are looking for, and I will have my people find it for you. You won’t find better information outside of Block 1.”
That’s what I was afraid of. I already had someone in the docking department who could run careful searches. I needed someone with better access, and it appeared that Flack didn’t have it.
I suppressed my disappointment and pulled out a credit stick with five hundred credits on it. “Thank you for your time. I was never here. If someone questionable starts asking about me, I’ll pay you ten times that much to bring me the information on them.” It was a decent amount of money, but not so much that it would be suspicious all on its own.
He accepted the stick with a calculating smile. “Do you need help getting in to Block 1? No one is allowed inside without explicit permission.”
“I don’t know if that’s where my travels will take me yet or not. But if I need help, I’ll let you know.”
“Until next time.”
I echoed the farewell and then left the shop, leading the others on a roundabout route back toward our rooms. As soon as we rounded the first corner, I linked Valentin. Anything?
No, he didn’t make any links while we were there.
That could be good news, or it could just mean he was waiting until we left. Only time would tell. I thanked Valentin and closed the link.
Once we were well away from the shop, Imogen created a group link and asked, Why didn’t you hire him?
Because he doesn’t know more than we do, and information is a blade that cuts both ways, I responded. He now knows that someone is looking for us. The more information I give him, the more valuable it becomes.
Are you going to try to find someone else?
I silently shook my head. According to my research, Flack was the best option in this block, and no one in the surrounding blocks was any better. And the more people I approached, the more interesting I became.
We will see what our teams find, I said.
I hoped it would be enough.