1

In the cold hour before dawn, the shipping dock workers were wiping their noses and shouting, filling the blackness with sound and business. Derringer stood in a nearby alley, one hand with a smoke, the other cradling his forehead. Everything was still too loud, though he’d recovered somewhat from a couple hours ago when his client’s case had come to call. He broke up the fight by giving the intruder a solid one to the head with a coffee mug, which was worth the rest of his fee. It was just as well.

Section 1

Another ship arrived a block over. Derringer held his coat over his face, shutting his eyes against the dust billowing past him. The ship dropped a few feet onto its landing gear, the hull hitting the ground with a loud scrape. Their suspension was shot.

He finished his smoke and turned away from the dock, on a meandering path through the warehouses. A few had their lights on, but most were shut down. Derringer knew what went on behind some of those doors; the sheer volume of things he knew kept him moving. Being a decent private investigator means that eventually, people learn his face. He did his best to keep his image out of pictures and papers, but in some cases it just can’t be helped. He knew when it was time to leave a city – or a planet. He was never the only one watching.

It was his first time back on Alisandre in four years, and he was free, for now. Time to take a look around, see what had become of the place. The buildings of Alisandre Capital spiraled and curved, thrust and shone against a clear sky.

The morning brightened as Derringer turned toward his rented flat. He could see the Aquarii were busy here with their art. Colors shifted and swirled on the walls, blues and greys echoing the streets’ calm. The colors and shapes echoed the outermost level of thought, so if you had anything to hide, you’d better be good at hiding it in this neighborhood. Derringer had long ago learned how to manipulate that, like the diplomats and councillors.

Ahead of him a door opened, a small red-haired woman hurrying out of it carrying a basket. The doorway swirled purple and black around her, tendrils of color following as she hummed the tune of an old-time march. She had the look of a Capital woman, eyes forever creased in a facsimile of good intentions, lips shut tight holding back her words. As she passed him, the wall swirled magenta. Oh ho, thought Derringer. She thinks I’m handsome.

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