Chance Encounter

He appeared from the desert like a mirage, as conspicuous as a rain cloud. He wore a Colonial officer’s uniform, but he was no officer. Didn’t have the swagger. Lyric knew; she’d been an officer herself not so long ago.

“You lost?” She stood slowly, wiping sweat from her forehead with the back of one grease-covered hand. It was early, but the heat was already oppressive. “Don’t get many visitors out here. Especially you Colonial types.” She kept her expression soft and friendly. Her acting was much better than his.

“Took a hard landing over that ridge back there.” He thumbed over his right shoulder without looking. The ridge was on his left side. “Saw your airship. Thought it might be a town.” Lyric’s zeppelin, Moonset Sprinter, hung large over her little camp like a 12-story barrel jellyfish. “Think I could get a lift to…what’s the nearest town?”

“Silverguard,” she said. “More than 50 kilometers; you won’t want to walk it. Give me just a minute.” The man nodded, and Lyric disappeared inside the large pop-up she’d been working out of for the last month. It was littered with reassembled fans and valves and busted lengths of hose. The Moonset Sprinter, like all the airships on this planet, only flew at night when the air currents were strongest. But for now it wasn’t flying at all. Almost ready though.

She returned with a canteen and handed it to the man in the uniform. “Must be awful thirsty.”

He seemed momentarily perplexed, but then smiled, took the canteen with feigned gratitude, and drank down a few healthy gulps. The puzzled look returned, and he staggered for a step and keeled over.

The coolant for the Moonset Sprinter‘s helium tanks was odorless, tasteless, and clear. It was popular in the local moonshine. He’d be out for a while.

Lyric checked him over. No dog tags, but she hadn’t really expected any. No other identification either. Empty pockets. She grabbed some wire ties to bind his wrists, but when she rolled up his sleeves she paused in shock. A small tattoo glowed on the inside of each forearm. This star activated ultraviolet ink in a way that most stars didn’t. On one arm was a crescent moon with three small circles, and on the other was an eye surrounded by a starburst.

This guy was a member of the Noctum.

Good thing she didn’t kill him. He probably had an implanted antimatter bomb hooked up to a heart monitor.

Lyric finished with the wire ties and contemplated her next move. She was sure she could use him to her advantage. She just had to figure out how.

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