To Spy a Star - sample
City: Kersi | Planet: Silus-5 | Star system: Arna Major.
It was the worst possible rendezvous location.
Agent Lilline Renault sat at the popular outdoor cafe in Kersi’s premiere shopping district. Professional grace veiled her operational concerns. Everything about the site leaned in favor of the unknown contact. Flashy holographic advertisements bounced off the surrounding skyscrapers, threatening her concentration. Noisy drones darted about, their annoying jingles luring passersby to purchase trite kiosk items. Lilline’s mind worked overtime tracking the densely packed consumers hustling back and forth along the wide boulevard. The myriad species hid potential threats that she and her GAM-OPs team might otherwise spot in time to call off the handover.
Worst of all, the cafe had sold out of Gondau. She’d raised a finger to tap the holo-icon when it faded, a bright red “X” replacing her favorite wine.
Damn this whole op. Lilline swiped through the beverage screens for a suitable substitute. She decided on a G-fizz, sparkling champagne with sweet fruit. Nothing else would suit. She loathed the drink, but it was the second best fit for her undercover identity as a fashion scout hunting for the latest trends. The job came first, always.
This day is getting better and better. She tapped the “exit” icon and the holo-menu vanished.
“How are the glasses working?” Pin’s high-pitched voice came through crisp and clear in her prosthetic ear.
“Impressive,” Lilline said, lifting her napkin to hide her lips. “Although with this crowd it may overload and burn out.” We could re-schedule somewhere that wasn’t an operational nightmare.
The screen inside her chic sunglasses erupted with digital fireworks. Green, red, and yellow data fields bloomed as the lenses picked up ID chips on passersby, pulling out those with marks in the Kersian security database. There were more than she liked to see, but then again this was Silus-5.
“That won’t happen, T8,” Pin said, her tone earnest. “I intentionally calculated the amount of data knowing that it would be—“
“It was sarcasm, Pin.”
Lilline smirked at hearing the Oltari’s signature emotional response.
“I see,” Pin said. “Well, it is an odd way of expressing concern for the operational environment.”
If you’re an Oltari, it is. Lilline reached for the fizzy drink as the aerial drone arrived with her order. She took a sip and managed to feign delight.
The things I do to keep the galaxy safe.
She scanned from left to right. To anyone observing, a human tourist appeared as if people watching on break from afternoon shopping. The bags at her side, with their kinetic logos, attested to it. As did her jacket made with Fes, a local material producing a signature muted red dye popular with off-world visitors. Nothing said, “I’m not from here,” like a Fes jacket. That was just what she wanted today.
At the nearby tables, an array of galactic species raised no signals on her data feed. Alerts flashed in the crowds beyond the cafe, but all were minor level - thieves, scammers, and the occasional thug from a small-time Kersi street gang. Those amateurs were the local security’s problem.
Only one arrival would trigger the GAM-OPs database: the mystery contact handing over a coin-size piece of hardware referred to by its code name: Star Eye. What it was, Lilline didn’t know. When the GAM-OPs Director, Asher Lauden, had met with her its purpose was kept confidential.
“Your job is to retrieve it,” Lauden had said to her in his office. “Make the exchange. After you have the device in hand, provide the contact with the credit slip and return to Tavi-Prime.”
He’d given her that familiar look, with one eye narrowing as smoke from his pipe drifted up and over his milky translucent skin. The Gej-ti human variant had used the expression many times over her cycles as an agent. When politics was the major player in the espionage game, it never failed to make an appearance.
Lilline ran a hand through her shoulder-length black hair and pulled out a small mirror. A fingertip with violet nail polish dabbed at her lipstick while she checked the view. To her surprise, Pin’s glasses worked in reflections.
A well-dressed Gej-ti sat behind her, shaded from the stifling heat at a small table under the cafe’s awning. He scrolled through a holo-display of tourist packages for desert excursions, neck gills fluttering to cool his internal temperature. Pin’s glasses confirmed her swift profiling: mid-level executive. The data bloom detailed the specifics: trader for a lucrative corporation headquartered in a nearby star system.
Lilline watched a drone server deliver a glass of wine to the Gej-ti’s table.
So you took my Gondau.
The trader’s gills fluttered in delight as he took a sip.
She snapped the case shut and returned it to one of the bags at her side.
“Still nothing on the feed, T8.” Pin’s voice was back in her ear.
Lilline sipped the G-fizz and hid her displeasure as the sweet bubbling liquid ran over her tongue.
It wasn’t just the drink’s taste that she found unsettling. This op had what T# agents called the “stink” — the undeniable scent of dubious politics and double-dealing. Operational “stink” made a routine handover complicated and dangerous. The worst was a situation like this one, where she didn’t even have the contact’s face.
I can’t wait to be on the StarLiner out of this system.
Not only did Silus-5’s dry heat cause everyone and everything to sweat around the clock, but the contact’s choice of rendezvous put her and the agency at a disadvantage. GAM-OPs had no offices or assets active in the capital. To make matters worse, Kersi won the galactic prize for dubious business practices. All sorts of shady opportunists found refuge under its kleptocracy.
“Mark,” Pin’s voice said in her ear. “A Kreeli. Approaching from the south.”
Showtime. Lilline sipped her drink with nonchalance. She kept her head still, but her eyes behind the lenses veered left.
“You should have him in 5 seconds, T8.”
Lilline waited for the glasses to pick up the contact and bloom with an internal alert.
“I don’t see anything, Pin.” She dabbed her mouth with the napkin.
“Contact is close, ten meters from the cafe.”
She should be able to see a Kreeli by now. Their large physique and oblong blue head stood out, even amidst a dense and diverse crowd. Plus, he would be wearing a Fes jacket with a rip on the left shoulder.
Damn it. This location is a nightmare.
“Pin, help me out here.”
“He stopped, T8.”
A flash of a red jacket appeared through an opening in the crowd.
“Confirm mark,” Lilline said. Now get over here and make the exchange. It wasn’t uncommon for new contacts to have last-minute reservations. The truth of it was, their lives were often never the same after they participated in the espionage game.
A blue cone-like head and flashes of a Fes jacket appeared intermittently between the endless flow of passersby.
“I’m not getting an ID bloom, Pin.” Lilline sipped her G-fizz with performed calm.
“Something is interfering. The signal is scrambled,” the techie said. “I’m not sure how or why… working on it.”
The contact disappeared from view behind the throngs of shoppers.
“T8, there’s a Mangler in use. It’s blocking the GAM-OPs channel.”
Not good. Someone was on to them and interfering with the bandwidth.
“Find the source, Pin.” She had to stay focused on the mark. The GAM-OPs field team in a nearby high-rise would deal with the tech interference. Her job was to get Star Eye. And, make sure no one else beat her to it.
On top of the intel disruption, without an ID tag the contact was coming in cold. She’d have to do this the old-fashioned way, a la her Granny Kissy’s days in the field. Instinct and awareness in a game of analog cat and mouse.
“He’s moving again, T8.”
Good. Now get over here. At least he didn’t bail out. Lilline’s eyes darted back and forth, up and down, scanning the streets and buildings for signs of anything or anyone observing or interfering.
“He’s walking by,” Pin said. “I… I don’t think he’s stopping.”
That wasn’t the update she wanted. Either the contact didn’t like the look of something or they were made.
Lilline recognized the voice of a server drone hovering next to her. Her eyes danced behind the glasses,
searching and scanning the crowd.
“Contact is aborting. Heading north toward Triple Tower.”
Flickers of the red Fes jacket moved away in the crowd.
“Please accept or deny the item,” the drone said.
“Not my order.” She grabbed her bags and rose.
“Compliments of the table behind—”
Blaster fire tore through the cafe.
Lilline dove on instinct. She swatted the drone with her bags, sending it back across the table, and landed hard on the tiled floor. The pattering of blaster fire cut through nearby tables and chairs amidst screams of horror and surprise. She was up in seconds, snaking through panicked customers who bounced into one another like pinballs in a machine.
“Target down!” Pin’s voice screeched in her earpiece as she cleared the cafe and entered the boulevard. Lilline leaped over a pair of splayed out Rasps, their three-fingered hands covering small apple-size heads. Through the chaos of the fleeing crowds, she made out the face-down body of the Kreeli. Green blood ran in streams from under their red Fes jacket.
“On it.” She drew a blaster from her armpit holster and pushed aside panicked shoppers, bolting toward the fallen contact. “I can still get the—”
Pat pat pat!
Red streaks ripped through the crowd. Lilline rolled left out of the line of fire. She came up on one knee, weapon in a two-handed grip aimed in the direction of the shots. A humanoid dressed in black withdrew their rifle from the railing of a third-floor balcony and ducked through a set of curtains. Lilline’s trigger finger squeezed, clicking off three rounds. They arrived a moment too late, ricocheting off the door handle as the shooter vanished inside.
“Pin, sniper. Third floor high-rise… southeast corner above Regalia Fashions.”
“Confirm. Backup team alerted.”
Lilline swung around to make for the fallen contact. She caught sight of a humanoid through the chaos, kneeling and searching the dead Kreeli’s pockets.
The figure turned. She locked eyes with the Gej-ti who had been sitting behind her at the cafe.
You… “Mr. Gondau.”
He smirked and raised an eyebrow, pulling milky translucent skin up on his forehead. In one hand, he held up a small device and winked.
“Damn it.” She aimed her weapon. Through the crosshairs, the Gej-ti’s black pupils shifted down indicating she should follow his gaze. Amidst the fleeing multi-species pedestrians, Lilline caught sight of a canister rolling toward her.
“T8, according to the operational data, Star Eye is highly delicate,” Pin said in her earpiece. “You must not risk—”
“Move!” Lilline rose and yelled to the crowds running in all directions. “Run!”
The Gej-ti took off down the street. The tank spiraled and rose to head height, hovering and belching plumes of black smoke. It spewed outward into the boulevard like a Vortex storm rolling in from the desert hills.
Thick acrid smoke congealed and hung like tar in the air. Lilline recognized the device: a Haze Paver. A piece of off-market tactical gear used by guerrilla military groups and syndicates — filthy and lethal to those exposed and unprotected.
She removed the Fes jacket and wrapped it around her face, tying it off with the waist strap. Eyes closed, she stood motionless as panicked residents and tourists fled the noxious and blinding fumes.
Lilline conjured the street in her mind, the GAM-OPs technique of blind sight bringing back the last mental pictures of the scene. Images flashed back — the Gej-ti smirking and holding up Star Eye. The canister rolling. And the one she wanted: Mr. Gondau running away. She held onto as much as she could of the direction he was heading, the surrounding details, and the position of the body and took off through the smoke. On her eighth stride, she leaped, seeing the dead Kreeli pass underneath her in her mind.
Her shoulder collided with a muscular torso. She stumbled. It felt like a larger species, probably a Dendari, based on the impact. Stinging pain like thousands of needles filled her mouth as she involuntarily gasped. Lilline recovered her balance and bolted through the darkness, eyes and mouth closed tight. Her lungs fought her chest muscles, desperate to inhale fresh oxygen.
“T8, I lost you. Please report.”
Tingles of tar air fell away from her exposed skin. The world underneath her eyelids brightened. She slowed and gulped for air, unwrapping the coat from her head and opening her eyes. The Gej-ti dashed around a corner into a side street a block ahead.
“There you are,” Pin said. “Are you okay? Backup lost the sniper.”
“I knew this one had the stink,” Lilline said, gasping. No time to pause or she’d lose him. She took off in the direction of the mystery thief.
“What’s the stink? Is that an operational term? It’s not in the GAM-OPs manual. Perhaps I should add—”
“Field slang, Pin. Not in the manual,” Lilline said, dashing to the corner. “Gej-ti… white suit, the corporate trader from the cafe. Heading south toward Embassy Row. He’s got Star Eye. Get backup to cut him off!”
Lilline halted at the corner. She thanked her instinct that she did. A three-burst electro ring flew by, its blue shock trails perfectly timed to hit her if she had turned into the alley. Whoever you are, you have good taste in wine and you know your field tactics.
She peeked down the street. The Gej-ti was shimmying up a fire chute with the agility of a Tenki monkey. Lilline ran down the alley but didn’t shoot. The crafty bastard was using the Plextube to shield himself from blaster fire. If she went up after him he’d hit her with the electro ring while she was trapped in the tube. That would drop her like a rock. She’d be conscious but paralyzed for at least an hour.
“He’s going to the roof, Pin.”
“I see him. Drone 2 is tracking.”
Lilline ducked behind a set of waste containers. She wouldn’t have a shot when he got to the top, and risking him falling to the street meant potentially damaging or destroying Star Eye.
A distinctive hum echoed through the alley, growing louder, from the northwest.
“T8, I see a—”
“I hear it.”
The Gej-ti disappeared out of sight onto the roof.
“Screw it.” Lilline tucked the blaster into the holster under her armpit and started up the tube.
“T8, are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Then why are you—”
“Field tactic, Pin,” she said shimmying up the tube.
“Is it in the manual?”
“Not in the manual.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yeah, well… I’ll explain over lunch in the Octagonal Club. After I catch this bastard who took my glass of Gondau.”
She peered over the edge onto the roof. The Gej-ti leaped over a short gap to the next building. To her right, about a hundred meters over the line of rooftops, she caught sight of a bright yellow desert tour hovercraft on descent.
“T8, backup is heading to you from the southeast. They’ve got a RP-Stumper. ETA three minutes.”
Lilline gauged the distance of the approaching hovercraft. “That’s two minutes too late.”
She took off towards the next rooftop and sent a burst of blaster fire in front of the Gej-ti to slow him down. She needed another plan. The Stumper could stall the craft’s engine with a well-placed shot, but her mark would be gone before they got here. In her peripheral vision, she caught sight of a row of solar energy panels and networked hydroponic garden beds. Same with the next building’s roof where the Gej-ti was.
“Help me out here, Pin.” Lilline leaped over the gap onto the next rooftop. The hovercraft descended to the Gej-ti and a passenger door to aft slid open.
“Lauden stated that under no circumstances can Star Eye be destroyed. The Galactic Minister and her Secretary insisted on it.”
“Easy to say from behind their desks.” She sent off another burst of blaster fire between the Gej-ti’s hand and the ladder lowered from the open door.
“Should I relay that to HQ?”
“No!” Between Lauden’s nudges and the quirky, four-armed GAM-OPs techie’s matter-of-fact personality, Lilline almost wished she wasn’t networked for this op.
A solar panel reflected the sun’s glare, blinding her as she ran past. She stopped. The Gej-ti looked back and smiled, gripping the ladder.
Lilline focused on the solar panels.
“Tell backup to move it, Pin. I can buy them time.” She smashed a pane with the butt of her blaster and grabbed the largest shard. Her hand with the solar mirror shot up, facing toward the afternoon sun. The reflection shimmered on the roof near the Gej-ti. Lilline aimed the surface toward the hovercraft. Reflected sunlight crossed the windshield. The craft pitched left. She kept it aimed as best she could into the cockpit. The pilot adjusted, attempting to avoid the intense glare. The yellow ship bobbed left and right, like a dancing bee.
“One minute, T8.”
The Gej-ti started climbing up to the passenger section.
“Damn!” She took off, doing her best to keep the panel aimed into the cockpit. She sent off three blaster shots close enough to the craft to add to the confusion. Between the two distractions, she just might get there in time.
The pilot pulled up from the roof and rotated, with the Gej-ti still on the ladder, banking away from the building over the roof’s edge.
“We’re too late.”
“Never too late, Pin. That’s what my Granny Kissy—”
Lilline crossed the remaining distance to the roof’s edge and jumped.
Her wrist flexed and the small blade extended into her palm. She flung it toward the hovercraft’s underbelly. It penetrated the yellow shell and stuck. The cable extension swung her around in a wide arc.
An interior office full of activity approached.
The floor-to-ceiling window shattered and she plunged inside. Workers in cubicles scrambled and dove out of the way as she swung through the interior, shards falling like an ice storm.
“T8!” Pin’s voice squelched into her ear.
“Just another day at the office, Pin,” Lilline caught sight of a handsome human worker and winked at him before swinging back out the smashed window into the open air.
The Gej-ti leaned out the side door of the hovercraft as it ascended, peering down. Lilline gave him her best GAM-OPs secret agent smile.
“Tenacious!” he yelled down to her. “I’m impressed.”
Lilline could hear Pin’s voice in her ear but over the wind and the noise of the engine, she couldn’t make out the Oltari’s words. All she got was: “Crazy… GAM-OPs manual…” and something about “Lauden” between garbled nonsense.
“You made this one personal!” she yelled back.
“How so?” The Gej-ti pulled out a long electro knife and began edging out onto the railing as the craft rose higher and turned towards the desert.
“You stole my wine,” she said over the roar of the engines.
He nodded and smiled, reaching underneath the belly of the craft with one hand to cut the cable.
“And my asset!”
“Star Eye?” he said, the wind blowing his black hair. “You’re not the only player at the table. Looks like my employer outbid you. Time to fold.”
Lilline caught a glint of the reflection she was hoping to see pass below them. She retracted her index finger and tapped a small switch on her wrist. The blade shattered, releasing the cord from the craft’s underside.
“Wild card!” she shouted. The Gej-ti’s face turned to shock. Through the rush of wind, plunging downward, with Pin’s voice rambling in her ear, Lilline caught sight of the distinct trail of red liquid spewing from the craft’s fuel tank. They wouldn’t get far now.
Not the operational objective she or her boss wanted, but this wasn’t over yet.
Lilline tucked and flipped over in the air, extending her body with arms overhead just in time to cut into the cool water of Gutan Oasis.