SUNSWEPT

Chapter 1 "Lookin' Up"


The bar was rather empty during the second shift and she looked about the new furnishings for a moment. No one of particular note sat in the various booths or at the few tables. New furnishings, new bar, new station, and, of course, new assignments. Her graduation from the Renaissance Medical Academy was still fresh in her mind. With the completion of her residency at Serendipity Anchorage, she had hoped to put her shiny new degree to practice at one of the medical facilities within Icarus Station.

Now, standing in this bar after a week of 'networking' and 'inquiries' she found that it seemed even in a new station, it was more about who you know then what you knew. And she knew almost nobody. Once more she let out a sigh and reached for her glass.

"Why so glum?"

The voice caught her off guard; too low to have been the polite young man who had served her only moments ago. She spun to see who... and almost started as she found a capsuleer smiling back as her as he came around the bar. "I, uh, it's nothing."

"Only nothing?" An odd reply, and why had he been behind the bar?

"Just, lost in my thoughts I guess"

He seemed to look her over for a brief moment and she felt a bit strange, as though he was gathering more information than eyes could provide. "Looking for work?" Could he have looked up her file via The Network? She had heard capsuleers here could do stuff like that, maybe one eye was cybernetic...

"How did you know"

"The data files" He nodded, amused, to the small pile of data files she still had with her from several of the various medical and research labs just moving into the station. Of course, not some super-cyborg after all. She silently chastened herself for the mental gymnastics.

"Ah, yes" She blushed, a bit more purple in her cheeks than usual. "No bites though."

He seemed puzzled at the reference for a moment or two as he took a seat next to hers. Realization came to his face and she smiled again. "What are ya looking for?"

"Medical or research." But he could have gleaned that from the files. Why was she so on edge with him? "I was hoping that a recommendation from Dr. Cartwith could get my foot in the door but I guess he isn't as popular as he once was." The comment seemed to catch the capsuleer's attention and she suddenly regretted bringing it up. Dr. Cartwith, aside from being one of the preeminent minds behind Origin's cloning infrastructure, had recently been at the heart of a massive Biomass corruption disaster which had almost crippled the entire system. Only pure luck had staved off doom, and while it hadn't exactly been Dr. Cartwith's fault, he had been responsible for the system and ultimately the one to take the fall when the dust settled. That he had also been the one supervising her residency was turning out to be rather unfortunate for her. Her recollections cleared as the capsuleer across from her was looking rather smartly at her. The slight grin, she decided, was a bit unnerving.

"Dr. Cartwith then? I can see how that might close some doors." He shifted in his seat. "What is your specialty then?"

His question implied interest while the words he chose clearly screamed 'Layman'. "Genetic therapy and mutation, with addition focus in xenogenetics." What would an 'egg jockey' know about medicine anyway? She decided that the conversation was going nowhere and despite the man's gentle seeming nature, she finished her drink and started reaching for her files.

"Well, I can't say there is much use for that sort of thing so far away from the planets." He noticed her gesture to end the conversation and smiled slightly. "But I will certainly keep my ears open." He stood and, seeing her desire to leave decided to forgo the handshake. "I'm Xeph by the way, I didn't catch your name?"

Didn't catch her name? What a joke, he had likely already looked up her entire file. Oh well, doesn't hurt to be nice. "Meyan" She gathered the files, holding them to her chest and paused just long enough to produce a smile to accompany her name. "I'm afraid I really must get back out there, Xeph. Thanks for the drink?" He had move back behind the bar and with no sign of the previous tender, she could only assume he was playing at bartender for kicks.

"Come back in any time." He gave a slight wave as she moved to the door. She managed one last look back at the strange man as she passed the threshold and saw a look of deep thought, and was it recollection? She decided to put him out of her mind and moved her thoughts to remembering which floor she had been about to go to when she had decided to get a drink. Meyan stepped into the lift and selected one of the lower levels.

*******

Taking a seat at the edge of his bar, Xeph thought back to his own role in the disaster which seemingly continued to plague his hermitic friend Dr. Cartwith and now, it seemed, his students as well. A problem for later he decided and looked around his empty establishment. "Hey Jep, Can you watch the S'up? I think I'm going for a bit of a walkabout."

*******

KipTop never thought of himself as an 'orphan' so much as just a kid in his city. And to him, it was his city. Each alley or corridor, each lift, tunnel, every park and courtyard was his house. He moved swiftly from the shadowed exhaust grate smelling of fish and herbs, ignoring the sudden pang it gave his unfortunate stomach. Crouching low as he came scooting under the hovering cab he placed his movement exactly between the repulsive generators which would otherwise have pulverized him. His city was dangerous, especially in his line of work; but none of the other kids could do it, and that's why it was his city. Reaching up from just under the vehicle he slipped an almost invisible flexible disk into the passenger door's chip reader. It slipped from his finger tips and he quickly recoiled his arm back under the cab even as the passenger door began to slide open to emit a portly gentleman in a too-fine jacket. KipTop enjoyed the extra blessing of time as the gentleman stumbled to find his footing in the sudden wind this high off the ground. Again KipTop scooted along his back and rolled out from under the far side of the vehicle. He had only a few moments before the automated controls of the cab kicked in and started scanning the surroundings to pull back out into the evening air. Staying close to the ground as he went about the back of the cab he stepped quickly back into the shadows of the vent and considered the take as he scanned to be sure no one saw him. The cab was a sleek black and dark green, clearly from one of the smaller corporations that catered to the more affluent. That disk would skim every isk chip used on the passenger door until the end of the day when the garage security sweep would find it and it would be destroyed. It was a good take. More and more of the nicer cabs were moving to internal chip readers rather than the less trusting external readers. He laughed at the irony of it. The CabCorps wouldn't even let you in the vehicle unless you had money.

The light of Origin's primary had reached full peak and would soon be removing what little shadow the vent offered; KipTop had better get moving. Waiting so late into the day to make his take was very risky. He had lost out on an entire morning of fares with this one, but his shiny upscale target should make the difference in the quality of fare it took. Certain he hadn't been seen, he slipped back into the recess that hid a separate vent shaft, still open from his egress that morning. A quick flick of his lean frame and he vaulted the meter or so into it, turned , and set the cover back in place.

His journey through the innards of the building would take him right past several restaurant disposal shoots and his thoughts turned to deciding where to eat. He would have just enough time to reach the building's dorsal vent before returning to the Kinderhaus.


*******

That evening, while a young boy ate his purloined dinner scraps silhouetted in the setting glow of Origin atop his city, Xeph stepped wearily back into his study and dropped into his reclined chair. The past few weeks were starting to crystalize in his mind and if he could just find some energy he was sure he could identify what it was that was bothering him so.

The opp had gone incredibly well. Alexylva was reaching further and finding more and more resources with Icarus as the new center of operations. Capsuleer recruitment was up and more goods than ever were flowing into and out of the system. To the businessman this was great, but to the wormholer and in light of some of the recent irregularities, it was enough to flare even the least paranoid soul. He made a mental note to try adjusting the shield resonance for the most recent doctrine. It had been a suggestion made by another capsuleer but it was a good one. Item by item he cleared his mind as he gave up on his previous plans to head directly to sleep.

A routine security drone had come to investigate the dust from the malfunctioning cargo container which in of itself was only odd. Why would anyone care so much as to check; he certainly hadn't ordered it. He had checked the records and nothing seemed out of place for a security drone out of Indigo City. He'd left it at that, a mental puzzle, until the opp was wrapping up tonight. Just as the last capsuleer slipped safely back into Origin, for a brief moment, an unknown Astero was spotted on directional scanners. Unwelcome scouts were a fact of life in wormholes and Origin was no different, but this scout had been seen before, just at the end of a major sleeper operation.

For the man tasked with organizing and running highly dangerous, multi-ship operations outside of Origin space, the coincidence was yet another worry to add. He had full faith in the planetary security here in Origin, but even the best could fall victim to a dedicated space-to-planet subterfuge, especially one backed by capsuleers. Perhaps it was time to get more involved. A few words with the Coordinator should be enough to bring her in but then what? A faulty cargo container, a drone just doing its job, and a recurring unwanted scout; it was hardly anything. Certainly not enough to account for the gut feeling he was getting. There was something more to it.

He set down the manifest he had absently been reviewing and leaned back. He thought back to how everything had always been so much cleaner in his youth. A memory floated to his mind and he dwelled in it. He couldn't have been more than 12? He was chasing his sister in yet another of their childhood games the point of which was long forgotten. She slipped through the door into her father's office, a place young Xeph was never keen to go. His master and lord was not his father. He stepped lightly to the crack in the door and listed. Damn, He was in there, and not alone either. He could hear both of them acknowledge his sister then return to their conversation. Memory had not recalled the topic, only that whatever it was, it was not on the up and up. Having heard them greet his sister he decided he could try slipping in, just enough to ask his sister to come back out. His presence was noticed immediately. A rough and heavy hand came down on his shoulder with more than a little force. Not accustomed to hard labor or fighting Xeph nearly buckled to the floor. "Boy, who told you to come in here?" He couldn't see the speaker, but the look on his lord's face just on the other side of the table made it clear that there would be no safety from him.

"I..."

"You'd be getting gone if you knew what was good for you." The owner of the heavy hand was already turning him about.

"But 'Liya-" It was a last hope plea to not be ejected alone.

"She's too young to know better or understand anyway, now go Xeph, before I have your mother make you." The coldness in his lord's voice was alien to him, but the sincerity was not. Xeph didn't care for the idea of his mother anywhere near these other men, they had that look.. And feel about them. He quickly made himself scarce, abandoning the game or any hope of playing with his sister.

He could feel his memory slowly drifting towards dreaming as he was suddenly running through fields and no longer anywhere near the house. "...too young to know better or understand anyway." Those words seems to roll in his mind as the last lucid thought mused that he might head to bed right off afterall.