Kor Part 15
A phantom of a frown tugged at one corner of the security agent's mouth, as if she'd just found a bug in her soup. No, that didn't work. She'd brought noodles, and some species considered arthropods a delicacy.
"Be seeing you around, Kor," she said, turning to leave.
"Not if I see you first, Agent Toseroxt."
The door slid open, and she stopped on the threshold, said back over her shoulder, "Lovely chatting with you, Laren Qivan. I do rarely get any girl's time."
"Eat shit and die, auntie."
"Glad to see the younger generations are still keeping the art of conversation and witty repartee alive," she said before stepping out into the hall and leaving both Kor and Qivan to enjoy their dinner.
"What the fuck was that?" Laren asked between noodle slurps.
"Not sure." Kor wiped his fingers down the wall immediately next to the door, looked at the almost imperceptible residue sparkling on the pads of his fingers. "Eat now, talk later. Think our friend brought more than noodles as a gift."
EcAdren's was one of a thousand hole-in-the-wall joints on Varis I, almost indistinguishable from every other smoke-filled, graffiti-covered, stale booze smelling bar on the planet. Laid out like a shotgun bar, the serving counter ran down the left side and a smattering of tables and booths filled the right. The lighting was dim enough that the sight of the other patrons didn't make one question their life choices, and the music was turned up just this shy of too quiet, so no one felt like they were drinking in silence.
Bloodshot eyes peered out of sallow faces, turned away from the half dozen flat panel displays behind the bar and towards Kor as he stepped in from the building courtyard's third floor mezzanine. The door slid shut behind him as he searched the purple and grey smoke, the faces of the drunks bellied up to the bar, a back row of booths next to a lowrent VR booth. The patrons' eyes moved right back to their bottles like Kor was just any other wage slave.
A familiar form filled the back corner booth. It was the most defensible position in the whole place, giving full view of the entrance and not allowing anyone to approach from the rear.
Kor skirted the drunks bellied up at the counter, strode down towards Max, who was lounged back in the booth. Drink on the table in front of him and one arm outstretched across the back of the bench, Max eyed his hand terminal, the blue light illuminating his rough features. He wore a dark three-piece suit, the kind of thing that looked less out of place on a corp exec than on a Menelaun mercenary.
It had been a few cycles since he'd seen Max. They'd served together in an orbital drop team, had ridden down the well in an armored drop pod more times than Kor could count, had each saved the other's life enough times that the idea of who owed who was ridiculous at this point. He'd even carried Max's dead weight ten klicks through enemy terrain when the vector hopper coming to medevac them had gone down in a ball of fire and slagged metal.
It wasn't that Max owed him. No, never that. It was that Kor couldn't imagine pulling this off without him. Even if the stories about his old comrade were true, and he actually had gone soft.
Now, looking at his old friend, bunkmate, and pod co-pilot, he didn't know whether he should believe the stories, or not.
After all, here was a man Kor had once trusted with his life. Someone who would have had eyes on the door, known Kor was coming before even Kor did. He'd been one of the best, that was damn sure. But now? Now, he didn't look up from his damn terminal even as Kor's heavy bootsteps approached.
Frowning, Kor came to a stop next to the booth. He went to speak, to say something about how Max wasn't half the soldier he remembered. Before he could, Max raised a hand and cut him off short.
"Always punctual. Worst damn habit you have. You know that, right?" He turned his paper-thin terminal around, showed Kor the screen. A digital readout of the time, done in amber. 22:00:00, then 22:00:01, and the numbers kept rising. "Wanted to watch how close to on the dot you were going to get. Turns out I could set this thing by you instead of an atomic clock."
Kor grunted, slid into the booth across from Max. A mild pang of shame twisted in his gut at having thought his old partner had lost his edge. "How you been, Max?"
"Less predictable than you," he replied, took a sip of his drink. He grinned, set the glass back down. "But, can't complain."
Kor grunted. "Still working?"
Max nodded. "You? Or you sticking to retirement?"
Kor frowned across the table at his old friend. The men Max worked for were the worst dregs of society, the type who'd started as the lowest of the low: pimps, drug dealers, extortionists. Over the centuries, they'd turned their racket into a cartel that spanned whole sectors of their arm of the galaxy.
Organized crime. The Syndicate.
"Thinking I'm going into something for myself," Kor said. "More of a cooperative venture, though. Going to need partners."
Max raised an eyebrow. His eyes glanced quickly around the bar, made sure they weren't being watched or eavesdropped on. Not that you could really stop anyone from listening in, not if they really wanted to. You could never be completely silent.
"Take it you've come to me in the hopes that I can find some investors?"
"Something like that. Need someone familiar with the terrain, too. Already have a local, but I need someone with better connections. And you're definitely high on my list."
"What kind of investment?"
"Finance, actually." Kor said, being almost completely truthful. "Going to have a great lead on an opportunity soon, but need help to put the wheels in motion."
Max took another sip of his drink. "What if I say no?" He pushed the drink away from him. "You thought about that?"
"I have." Kor leaned forward over the table, looked his old friend in the eyes. "But you won't. Know why?"
"Please, Kor, tell me what I think. You've always been good at that."
"Not think. Feel. You're here on Varis for the same reason I am."
"How do you figure?"
"You're from a good house and good gene stock. But you ended up here, on Varis instead of going home to crack the seals on your samples. Most of your brothers and sisters survived to retirement, too, more than most. Six of you, right?"
"Seven. Counting me."
"Seven . . . seven? Even for a house your size, seven is quite a few ways to split. Especially when you're the youngest and each sibling that came before gets a bigger piece than you."
There were three laws in the universe: Nothing could exceed the speed of light, gravity was a constant, and Menelauns were more prone to die in war than they were to drift away in bed, old, infirm, surrounded by family. But, Maximilian Reaver? Well, his family was the exception to third rule.
Max had retrieved his glass from the table, taken another long drink from it. No, this one was more than just a normal sip like before, wasn't it? His friend's drink was nearly gone when he set it back down.
Kor didn't want to manipulate Max. But, from time to time, some people needed a nudge in the right direction. "This thing," Kor said as he leaned forward again, "would be enough to make you a Lord on Menelaus, Max. You could live whatever kind of life you chose, wouldn't have to bend to scraping by with these merc gigs. Why protect pimps and dealers, Max, when you can be the one that's hiring the security? When you can take a trip down to Aphrodite's grounds whenever you want?"