by Peter H. Solomon -
"So what's the job?" Tayla asked. She sipped her drink and gazed casually about before moving to leave when the thin wizard hesitated at her question.
His slender hand covered Tayla's and she paused. The sounds of the pub pulsed around them. Songs rang in her ears. She relaxed in her seat.
"Time is money for someone in my line of work," said Tayla. "So let's get to the point, shall we, wizard?"
"I’m Creston," he murmured.
"Creston it is," Tayla answered, though she doubted this was his real name. She drummed her fingers and looked at her glass, catching a warped reflection of her dark eyes; she sought sign of anyone spying in other images captured there. Tayla raised her gaze to the wizard, but neither asked for his full name nor gave her own, just in case questions were ever asked.
The wizard sighed, glanced sidelong at the nearest patrons and said, "I have – sponsors – who want something done. They have provided a ship…"
As a smuggler, Tayla understood the hesitance but her body tensed for action anyway. "I don't need to know what it is…just how much, how dangerous and where to get it. I have my own ship, and I like to use it."
Creston shook his head and waved his long hand, saying, "There are no goods. But you must use our ship. It's for scanning, special scanning."
Tayla's eyes narrowed. There had to be more. "I have sensors. What are you studying?"
The clatter of cups and murmur of voices melded with the song, a strangely eerie melody Tayla found it impossible to ignore. The wizard licked his thin lips and leaned closer to speak, "There are rumors my clients want confirmed. Rumors about angels." His sunken cheeks flushed, contrasting with pale hair.
Tayla eased her right hand to a hidden weapon and leaned closer to Creston. Her voice rang with challenge. "What rumors? You want to scan for angels from a ship?"
Creston motioned for quiet and whispered harshly, "Shh, shh. Not so loud. I need to know something first." He paused again to check whether anyone was watching, although Tayla supposed anyone could use a listening device. He continued, "Do you hear them? Angels – do you hear their song from here? There are rumors some people can…"
Tayla shrank back, heart thumping. Surely he couldn’t… She took a sip of her golden drink that turned into several long gulps. Then she slammed the cup down, blinked at the wizard as she wiped foam from her mouth and then said, "This will cost you big time, wizard."
It took a few moments for her meaning to register on the wizard's face, but when it did, a smile spread wide. "We expected as much." He slid a small note to Tayla.
The smuggler peeked under the note. She held onto her poker-face – they really wanted to know something. Tayla grinned sly agreement.
Creston downed the shot of sweaty, purple alcohol and stuck out his hand.
Tayla spit in her palm and smacked Creston's with a firm grip of her own. The wizard winced. Shutting her eyes, Tayla let the sweet whispering of angel song sweep over her through the babble of the pub.