Short Story

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--Planet Lothar-K2, in the Canis Major dwarf galaxy--


"Come in out of the weather." the man under the overhang shouted to the figure standing before him. "He's waiting for you."

The figure, shielded from the downpour by a thick vinyl rain slicker worn over heavy battle armor, only nodded its helmeted head. The guard stepped aside and pressed his thumb into a panel on the wall that caused the large circular door behind him to roll open.

Vanrie Kryll was trembling inside the armor; her breath a heavy continuous echo inside the newly acquired helmet that she wore. It still bore the scent of its previous owner, a combination of sweat and the musk of an outdoorsy smelling cologne. As she passed the guard Vanrie tried her best to imitate the walk of the mercenary that had, until the day before, been wearing the armor suit. He'd been a small man with a noticeable limp, but regardless one with a reputation for brutality and combat effectiveness. Indeed, those were the reasons she had selected him. His notoriety granted him access to places she would ordinarily not be permitted and his short stature meant that only a small amount of lift had to be inserted into her boots to compensate for the height difference.

She kept her head down, tried to reign in her heavy breathing. Too much effort had been put into the plan to blow it now by giving herself away. The man at the door said nothing. He either didn't notice anything out of the ordinary or he simply didn't care. His sidearm was still holstered. Had she even approached the door in her regular clothing his pistol would have been immediately drawn on her.

"Good." she thought, "They're overconfident."

The passage beyond the threshold was circular like the door and about ten meters long. It appeared to have been carved straight out of the drab brownish rock of the mountain. The outer door closed behind her as she passed it and she approached tall rectangular inner doors that were hewn from deep ochre-colored lacquered wood. These too opened on their own as she reached them. The site on the other side overwhelmed her. Through a large plate glass window she could see that the inside of the mountain had indeed been hollowed out just as rumored and to great effect. Before her was a cavern the scale of which dwarfed even the wildest stories she'd heard about the hidden city. The entire space was lit up and filled with buildings of every conceivable shape and size. The sky, for lack of a better term, around them teemed with hovering trams and aircars. All of it glittered, constructed of the finest materials and, unlike the outside world, was not caked in permanent layers of filth from decades of wildly alternating dust and rainstorms.

"Bastards." she uttered to herself.

She gawked for a moment but managed to pull her gaze from the infuriating view. She turned left down the cavernous marble corridor and headed for the lifts that would, according to the now-expired mercenary at least, take her up to Fenson Haruse's office. Approaching them she paused to remove her heavy slicker and place it onto a nearby coat rack. She then pressed the button and entered the rightmost lift. The elevator, like everything else inside the mountain, was unnecessarily ornate. The buttons were hand-carved from some type of off-world ivory and inlaid into a panel of fine brass. Pressing the one marked penthouse it illuminated with a soft warm glow.

The lift moved into action and, after a period longer than she would have expected, it came to a stop and the doors opened. Before her was another long hall with a similar large wooden door at its end. Near it stood two men, each dressed in business suits which were a stark contrast from the government-issue coveralls worn by the guard outside. Again Vanrie was mindful of her movements as she crossed the distance between them. It worked apparently, for the men said nothing as she advanced.

Wearing a helmet had the advantage of allowing her eyes to wander without suspicion. She examined each of the guards closely. The telltale bump of a firearm was visible under the jackets of both men. Vanrie fully expected them to ask for weapons and it was for that very reason that she'd concealed a derringer in her brassiere. To her surprise, however, they simply waved her through.

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