Author: Alastair Millar

They could be watching him already.

He eyed the roboserver winding through the tables towards him. It was a bipedal, not rolling, model; the Ares Lounge had tone. The performers and escorts were human, even. No class or no money? Then you could slum it at Marvin’s downtown, with its androids and holos. Nobody would look for a subversive here, but he couldn’t let his guard down.

He had no idea who was collecting his drop. Operational security was a way of life for the Arean League; Mars Administration served the corporations, and didn’t recognise Earther concepts of privacy or subtlety. Get caught, and they couldn’t force what you didn’t know out of you.

The server bowed, approximating a smile, and deposited a carafe in front of him. Two glasses; management would prefer him to engage a companion. As it wandered off, he felt the pendant under his shirt vibrate; someone had triggered the payload transfer, and the nearfield microcircuits had slagged themselves. He’d keep it as a souvenir; it was useless for anything else now.

He was just pouring when a woman slid into the seat opposite.

“That glass for me, handsome?”

“I’m not here for company,” he said, keeping his eyes on the stage magician. Never encourage them.

“Nor am I, Danny. Strictly business. What’s left of your honour’s safe with me.”

That got his attention.

“Why, Detective Ames… what an unexpected pleasure. What brings Marsport’s finest to a humble establishment like this?”

She laughed. “Checking up on you, of course. Just because you’re not using corporate wires to bet on Earthside races any more doesn’t mean you’re off our radar.”

“C’mon, I paid the fine. I’d get a swift trip Downside if I stepped out of line now. And I’d never get used to the gravity again.”

“So I can check you for drugs, weapons and datachips, right?”. She laid a sleek sniffer on the table; nicer than Security’s standard issue, and probably more sensitive.

“Of course,” he said, taking a sip of the suddenly bitter wine. Rule one: never show fear. Please god the circs really had wiped.

She pressed a button and the scanner bulb pulsed for a few seconds.

“All clear. Well done.” She winked. “Always had a soft spot for you, glad you’re staying clean.”

“You know what,” he said, rising. “I just realised that I’d rather be somewhere else. No offence.”

“None taken, obviously.” She watched him head for the exit, and used the table screen to order a juice. No nerve-steadying booze on duty, alas. She’d logged their conversation for her boss, cover for being here, but couldn’t leave yet.

The server bowed, depositing a glass in front of her. As it left, her bracelet tingled as the nearfield downloaded a data packet. She wondered briefly who the source was; she’d pass it on at Marvin’s later. A strange kind of revolution when you didn’t know who you were working with, but a step towards freedom for Mars!