Return to Paramount

Kace entered the tavern beside the unlicensed spaceport south of New Pennet on Adenin. It was dim inside, and the twin suns at midday turned him into a silhouette in the doorway. For that brief moment, the patrons paid him no mind. He looked human enough. But after he stepped inside and the door fell shut behind him, conversations died and heads turned. They wore masks of intolerance.

The barman broke the silence, but not the tension. “I take it you ain’t here for a drink, tin man, so say your piece or hit the road.”

Back in the early days of the First Expansion, cryosleep was the only ticket to the stars. Used to call it bobsledding—riding the ice. The starships were truly ahead of their time—Kace could say that now—marvels of engineering. There’s probably a few still around. But the cryonics were rough; nothing like what would come to mind today. They were fine for getting to Tau Ceti, but once you started getting past 25 lightyears entropy would take a toll. Getting to Zeta Tucanae was pushing it back then. People would wake up…not right, and that’s when they woke at all.

But Kace was headed to Paramount. Back then, they called it Kepler-186f; an undignified name from an undignified time. It was a 582-lightyear jaunt. He had his reasons—still did—but those were known to him alone. To make the trip, he traded up from his carbon body. That sort of thing fell out of favor some time ago. The immortality left people uneasy.

The faces that stared at him now reflected that unease. Times hadn’t changed so much after all. But he still had to return to Paramount.

“Looking for a pilot,” he said with his synthetic voice. “Freelancer, with Guild credentials. Someone without much curiosity. I don’t suppose one of you fits the bill.” A heavy silence lingered, and then a smallish man sitting alone at the far end of the bar raised his hand. He had a bold face, clean shaven with parted hair.

“You have credit?” he asked. A transactional question, straight to business. Kace liked that. Half the tavern’s sneers now turned to this pilot. They didn’t care for Kace, and now they didn’t care for the pilot either. That was fine. Kace didn’t care for anyone.

“Let’s talk in private,” he said, and then produced a pair of Golsana K2 coilguns and put a maground into every cranium in the room—save for the pilot’s—severing the brain stem clean in each case with inhuman accuracy. One of the benefits of not being human. Your humanity gets in the way of getting shit done.

The pilot, for his part, seemed mostly collected, though he finished his drink in short order.

“Yes,” said Kace.

“Yes?”

“Yes; I have credit. When can you be ready?”

The pilot looked at Kace with an expression he rarely saw aimed in his direction: respect. “You’re the customer,” he said. “I’m ready now.”

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