58.3 \ 240

“What is it you’ll do from here?” Claymore asked Derringer. “Your payment is forthcoming when the situation restabilizes, whatever the ultimate results may be. I acknowledge that you have done your part, as contracted.” He left many degrees of uncertainty unspoken.

Derringer grasped the unspoken. Claymore was probably the only one who knew what he was owed, and who had access to that particular security. He may not continue to possess access, after this next set of actions. Princess Soleil might at some point be able to pay him to satisfaction through some other channel, in a different position. He could be mad right now, but getting mad before getting paid wasn’t the best way to get paid; he’d had the premonition, anyway. With this economy, under these conditions, it didn’t seem like a great market for finding other gigs – or even floating, though of course he could float wherever and whenever. He didn’t mind this person, the Princess, she wasn’t bad to work with. That was not insignificant credit. The General, too. “I could stick with you. Be handy. Keep doing the job. Get us to our checkpoints.”

Eyebrows raised. “He’s useful,” summarized Soleil with wry simpatico. Useful on their side, working for them, not at loose ends with potentially bitter tendencies. Useful, skilled, competent, good in situations. Her sidelong look at Draig confirmed her approving tone. Though that might sound cold, she knew the investigator would appreciate the compliment, and Derringer did salute that.

“He is,” corroborated Draig. He was very, very good; which could be very bad in opposition. He’d be worth it. “Okay, I have a ship for us. But, I have to do something first. It won’t take long. Come with me. You’ll be fine, just stay on your toes.” He wanted to empty some rooms.

58.2 \ 240

Eyes still on the General, Dalib raised a finger to his lips. Derringer seconded the motion. General Claymore followed with the same, showing he copied the message. Keep quiet, now or about the information to be revealed, or both.

It was too weird to be expected, the way a real person shimmered away to reveal a different real person, like a reflection on the water disturbed to show something beneath. Even Derringer, who had half expected it but hadn’t seen the change with his eyes, startled in his chair the way the General did, recovering from the eerieness. Draig returned his finger to his lips and and concentrated on it for another moment.

As soon as they had a hold of themselves and before any surprised questions, Princess Soleil delivered her priority matter of import. “Where is Arkuda?” She knew she was very vulnerable here, that this moment was fragile.

Draig fell into step with her like in the days they played as children. “I miss er a lot.” He waggled his finger from one of them to the other. “More than either of you, I’d bet. My job right now—“ Cutting off his statement, he raised a hand to pause time. Soleil and Derringer let him process the request from behind his raised hand. This went on for a number of measures.

Draig suddenly knew things, one after the other. He would back her up, right now, with everything. Few minds in existence could sway him thus, and he decided to allow it completely. He swept aside his heavy moral greys. He would let her influence him to do what felt right, and seemed difficult. Their arrival at this moment made it simple. He understood everything more, now. He knew that he could find Arkuda, as though it just hadn’t been important or clear until this situation. He knew he could do it using his Viridian Phasing connection. The Princess was asking him to connect her to someone in removal; that determined their course, and his. “I can help you find er. If that’s what you want.”

“Yes,” replied Princess Soleil, in her familiar tone bearing the weight of much consideration.

General Claymore looked at their faces. They looked ready. “Then we have to go somewhere else. Now.” All three of them stood. “I can take us somewhere appropriate. No, not the library,” he said, throwing in the last line to invoke an old in-joke. “I’m going to disappear with you to do this. They will start looking for me.” He turned to look at Derringer. “Do you understand why I cannot pay you now, as the last thing I do before embarking on this course?”

“That payment is for the return of the Princess. But we are not returning the Princess.”

58.1 \ 240

Draig waited alone in this room that was passable by very relaxed motel-going standards. He had gotten two extra chairs, one for each incoming visitor. The afternoon light cast a modest glow around the edges of the closed exterior curtain. He felt restive, antsy beneath calmly-held posture. With all that had happened, the investigator had not yet had occasion to report in person, now uncharacteristically with someone who he termed his associate. It could be something, or something else. A lot was happening at this moment in time, and it was almost a getaway to do this shadowy errand himself. Still, this was his sole responsibility.

This motel looked halfway to a halfway house, with not very many guests judging by the vehicles. As clandestine as anyplace. Dalib’s arched eyebrow was eloquent as he glanced over at his partner. Derringer evinced a steely smirk before tucking it back under a serious clarity. Even when he thought his job was done, he made a practice of no assumptions – except that the security here was probably better than it appeared.

The pair approached the place casually, in their office workday attire. Derringer led them to the correctly numbered room with a closed curtain. He examined the edge of the doorway before he did the traditional thing and knocked. The door opened inward with the obscured opener behind it. They went ahead and walked in, eyes adjusting to the dimmer indoor lighting.

Shutting the door softly, General Claymore glanced between the two men. All stood looking at each other for a quiet moment.

Three chairs in the room. With a wordless outstretched hand, the General offered them the separated pair. Derringer took a few relaxed steps over to them, where he paused standing. He offered Draig the third chair with the same gesture. Might need it, huh? The still-unintroduced bowler hat partner stared mildly, continuously at the General. Poised by their chairs, all three of them nodded to each other before sitting.

57.3 \ 239

They found a bench at the edge of a small neighborhood park, where they wouldn’t look suspicious. Derringer used his cheap disposable communicator, the same one that had been riding in his pocket while on a planet still uncharted. There was a mysterious and short conversation, where he specified that he had a new investigative partner who was intrinsic to his operation, and he obtained a meeting point.

“Well, we’re not going in there,” said Derringer, indicating the towering eight-sided skystabber looming over the scenery, “so it’s good that we didn’t try. The location’s nearby, though. Just a tram hop and skip away. In a dramatically-contrasting neighborhood, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean, and I’m guessing which one. I have actually visited every neighborhood in this city.” Chip Soleil’s voice was mild and even.

“Good, so you’re not afraid to go.”