Metal doors swept open with a whoosh that quickly turned into ugly grinding. One stuttered and moved a little further into the wall than the other. A coated silhouette dunked out of rain, pouring down from satellites somewhere high above, and stepped around the doors. He nimbly navigated narrow steps leading into a building set in an indent in the ground. With each step, a thumping noise indicative of bad disco music trilled through the walls.
When the corridor finally ended, the man bowed through another circular door, thick as a vault. Inside was a sprawling den of iniquity that pulsed with maroon and green neon. In dim light, only silhouettes were obvious, slithering and gyrating against each other until their black shapes melded into one twisting mass on a slab of concrete called a dance floor. Above them, on a low ceiling, lights jerked back and forth in incomplete rotations. To the left, on a long counter staffed by slumped men and women, empty glasses were slid one way and returned the other way somewhat full.
So this is where humanity dies, Ajax thought bitterly, folding down the collar of his coat. And where rebellion is born.
Ajax shook the wet off his jacket and picked toward the bar. A short, lively man bobbed behind it. Twisted horns came out of the bartender’s head. Implants of some kind, the poor devil. Ajax almost chuckled at his own unconscious joke. The eccentric tapster licked his lips. The long tongue was noticeably split, almost forked at the end. How much work did this guy have done.
“How can I serve you tonight?” the character hissed.
“I’m looking for a woman,” Ajax barked over the thumping base.
“Save it. I think her name is Syzygy?”
The devil turned back to mixing drinks, sliding a glass to a customer further down the bar. “No luck, voyager. Don’t know anyone like that.”
“She might work by a different name. Anyone come in recently?”
The tapster cocked his horned head. His forked tongue slithered over his lips. “Yeah, okay, we had someone come in the other week. Looking for some fresh meat, huh?”
“I said save it. Do you know her or not?”
“Geez, feeling feisty tonight, hm? Well, the girl I’m thinking of goes by Starlight. Want a room? You can check for yourself if she’s the one.”
Ajax gritted his teeth. There probably wouldn’t be an easier way, short of spending more credits on drinks and bribes than the room would cost. “Sure.”
The bartender wagged his head. “Fantastic.” He pulled a data drive from behind the counter and handed it over. It was no more than three inches long, black, and smooth metal. “Transfer the credits to the drive, and it’ll open room seventeen for you. Enjoy.” Ajax did his best to ignore the bartender’s wink.
Shouldering his way through the debauchery to the back hallway, he crossed the dance floor. Drab doors with imposing deadlocks lined the hall, stretching into a dim hallway he couldn’t see the end of. The doors were oddly out of order, but he eventually found 17. Slipping the case off the data drive, he tapped in his credit code through tiny buttons on the stick. The object hummed only a moment and clicked. As it did, the deadbolt in the door thudded open, surprising him.
Pushing the creaky metal aside, he wrinkled his nose. A single yellow bulb hung from the ceiling, illuminating a dingy space with a ratty mattress. Even if I die, Ajax recoiled, I’ll never lay there.
He was interrupted by scuffling outside: A woman raising her voice, shuffling, a thud, a smack, and suddenly someone was shoved through the door, and it was slammed closed.
A woman landed in his arms before recoiling against the deadbolt of the door. “So help you, if you try to touch me –” she snarled.
He hastily raised his hands. “No, no I swear.” He tried to study her closer. The hazy light did not help, but her hair was the right color. Her face might’ve matched the descriptions he’d seen if it wasn’t for the gaudy makeup and braids mostly covering it. “Are you…?”
“Your worst nightmare?” She spat on the floor by his feet.
He smirked. Even if she wasn’t, she would be a good person to know from the sound of it. “Syzygy? From CL-E4?” She froze. “Word on the corridor is, CL-E4 smashed into asteroid ME-1 on its way into Phobos with no survivors. But I have a guy in the reclaiming unit that says there were no bodies recovered. That means someone might have lived.” Silence. “You were on that rock, weren’t you?”
The woman tugged at her struggling scraps of clothing and crossed her arms. “Who would care if I was.”
“I would.” He smiled and extended his hand. “I know you and your team had to cut your harvest short and couldn’t make the Count’s new toll on Phobos. And I know that working on an asteroid makes you one of the best cyber-system engineers on this backwater moon. Those tolls are devastating the people here. Money is drying up, industry is leaving. The people are searching for answers.”
“Oh yeah?” she shot back, not taking his hand. “What are you going to do about it?”
“Oh, well that’s the answer, isn’t it?” He smirked. “I’m going to kill the count.”