Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I’m reading his thermo-image through the door before he knocks: average human temperature distribution, no suspicious cool patches. Something chilly in his hand.

Tucking the Sternig pulse pistol into the back of my trousers, I open the door with a smile.

“Mister Vance? Your Real-Earth Cola.”

He’s the picture of five-star service, but his eyes hold an element of curiosity. I’m supposed to be a top exec, and what they sometimes do tends to breed rumours. I zip a tip to his ID-pad and he grins at the numbers. It’s real credit, too. I never short the staff.

With him gone and the privacy engaged, I pour myself a tall glass of non-alcoholic fizz that has travelled over a hundred million miles. The bottle slips as I set it down and spills its remaining contents across the table. In my haste to grab a towel, I knock my whiskey and water over.

Working from the edge of the table, swearing loudly, I carefully mop the mixed drink spill up. As far as my watchers know, I’m a clumsy exec with very expensive taste in carbonated beverages.

The headache generated by my implant intensifies as it interprets the code picked up by the scanner in my left cybereye. It’s coming from the light emitted by the whiskey-agitated fluorescent molecules in the very unique cola sent by my agency. A method that no-one out here knows of, and even if they did, they would need the exact mix of whiskey and water to generate light in the same wavelengths.

I have a clear head by the time I leave my room, the Sternig conspicuously left on the bedside table. My watchers are scrambling to be ready to follow me from the lobby, but their timing is off.

Lucia Dedarist got a call from her contact a few minutes ago. She’s a veteran, but the message gave me her reaction and pace times. As I step into the chute, she’s floating to one side of the entrance, heading for the lobby, thinking she’s going to meet her contact. He was killed last week, but no-one will ever find his remains.

My shoe catches the corner of the doorway and I swing into her.

There’s an immediate, angry response: “Get your paws off!”

I clumsily backpedal: “Sorry, miss. Not used to these drop thingys.”

She shakes her head as she straightens her jumpsuit: “Clumsy Earther. You need a handler.”

We drop the rest of the way in silence. I exit at the lobby; she continues on down to the vehicle bays. Picking up my usual tail, I take the expressway to the spaceport. Neither of my followers have time to get a hold placed on me when I switch queues from domestic to offworld. They are still making frantic calls when I catch a fast shuttle to meet a passing freighter that’s headed for Proxima B.

Far behind me, someone will be asking Miz Dedarist why she’s sleeping at the bottom of the dropchute. There will be concern, then consternation. The eventual autopsy scan will reveal that she’s been poisoned: an anaesthetic-coated hollow needle delivered a dose of very unique cola. Which contained a nasty little something tailored to her DNA.

That being said, I didn’t drink any of it. I have a personal aversion to stuff with too many things going on at a level I can’t see.

Settling back, sipping a whiskey and water, there’s time to enjoy the trip for a while. Not that I’m actually going to Proxima B. They just need to think I am.