Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I thought the skinny functionary nodded my way. The two of them are approaching, all eager smiles, curious glances, and whispered asides.
“Are these seats taken? The server said they weren’t, but you know, they sometimes get things wrong. So, are they?”
At least there’s two of them. Hopefully they’ll amuse each other like a pair of Charni cubs. I nod.
“Thank you so much, it’s so crowded and people like their space, so it’s really nice of you. Isn’t it, Cassie?”
So the red-maned quieter one is Cassie.
“Oh, it so is. Those are really interesting tattoos. Do they mean anything? My brother has a whole back of fighting eagles over the Appalachians.”
My interlace vibrates and an answer arrives: large avian raptor.
Not quiet, just needed a cue. I shrug.
“I just liked the patterns in the book the tattooist showed me.”
Forgive me, Ettunershal, but telling these innocents they depict the history of my kills for the eyes of my peers is one of those ‘outside chance risks’ always spoken of, but so rarely encountered.
My reply seems to have stalled Cassie’s attempt at conversation.
Not so her companion.
“I can see why you chose them. They’re amazing. Must have cost a fortune.”
I nod.
Cassie puts a hand on her friend’s arm.
“He’s not interested in talking to us, Kath.”
Kath pulls her arm away and leans towards me.
“Why not? Three beautiful people thrown together by chance, but he can’t or won’t look up from his black whatever to flirt with us?”
“I’m waiting for someone. A meeting. It’s very important.”
Cassie nods.
“You need to focus. I can understand that.”
Kath makes a gesture I presume to be dismissive.
“Oh, come on. It’s not like it’s life or death, now is it?”
Not in the way you’re inferring.
On the other side of the open area, a door opens. At last.
I drain my cup in one long pull.
“How did you do that without swallowing?”
Cassie is also very observant.
I smile at her as I stand up.
All Nundargih consume fluids this way. Goes in through the vents in the roof of our mouths.
Grantom steps through the doorway, pausing to close it carefully. I squeeze the weapon cartridge in my hand as I raise my arm.
The javelin flickers into being with a muted tone. I hurl it with relaxed poise, as learned so very long ago. In another echo of my training days, it leaves a perfectly straight vapour trail as it crosses the distance and hits Grantom just below his armoured hearts and passes clean through, tearing out his aortic junction on the way. It ends its flight by exploding against the wall behind in a shower of sparks and a noise like distant thunder.
Grantom coughs and collapses, yellow blood surging from the hole through him.
I nod to the two females, then leave them staring. Kath at the body, Cassie at me.
Rounding a corner, I duck through a doorway I prepared earlier. The supplies cupboard is cramped, but there’s a narrow path to the end, and the thin section of visible wall is all I need. Pulling a gate cartridge, I drive it into a brick, then squeeze.
The tall oval portal opens silently. I’ve just stepped through when the cupboard door opens and Cassie looks in.
“Hiding in the janitor’s cup- Oh.”
Her eyes widen on seeing the yellow trees behind me.
I give her another nod. The portal collapses.
She’s a smart being. I hope her life goes well.