Today's Reading

She appeared at the edge of his light, grinning, holding out a bright gloved hand. "I'm Mattie Vahn. Mother Vahn to most folk."

"Fergus Ferguson," he said, shaking it. "Pleased to meet you."

"Mr. Ferguson," she said, and he liked the old-fashioned tone she said it with. "I suggest you finish sealing up. I'm going to short the airlock."

"You're what?"

"I'm getting out of this trap," she said. "You coming?"

He pulled his goggles up into place from around his neck, swept the lower scruff of his beard aside, and snapped his face shield down. When he looked back at Mother Vahn, she tapped the side of her head, then held up fingers in sequence: three, one, five. He nodded, then set his suit to that comm channel.

The old woman was peering out the window again. "Something's moving parallel to the lines, behind the spiders," she said. "I only spotted it because it just crossed in front of the lights on Beggar's Boulder. It's either junk, or . . ."

"Or?"

"Or something meant to hurt us," she said. "You set?"

He checked his seals one last time; the status light on his suit display was green, all good. He took a moment to consider how far off his expectation of boredom the cable car ride had become. Still, Mother Vahn could be a lucky find—the information he had on Arum Gilger was thirdhand and months old, so if she could improve upon that, it was worth a little side adventure. And what else was his job if not half luck and half improvisation?

"Set," he said.

She'd already wedged open the inner door of the airlock at the far end of the car and popped the lock on the manual override. She saw him coming and pushed herself back, gesturing at what appeared to be an old-style crank. "Pneumatic," she said. "Purely mechanical system. The crank primes the emergency door release. Do you mind? I'm getting a bit old for this."

He swung himself forward. "No problem," he said.

"I'm going to herd my crates closer. Let me know when it's primed; it's best if the crates get pulled out first when the lock opens so we're not in their way when they go."

He looped an arm around one of the car's poles and did his best to himself, then began winding the crank, sending himself into a corkscrew spin he had to stop and recover from every few turns. Mother Vahn hovered between her crates, edging them forward one by one. The spin of the car around the cable made them dip gradually toward the floor, bumping and drifting toward him and the lock. He wasn't sure how he felt about getting sucked out into space, but he was certain he agreed with letting the crates go first.

"So, this Gilger . . ." he said, hauling on the crank. "What can you tell me about him?"

"He's dangerous and mean," she said. "Although most of the cutwork is done by his number two, a man named Graf. Gilger will shoot you in the face without blinking, but Graf's the one who'll laugh as he knifes you in the dark from behind. If you're really going after something of his, watch your back."

"Yeah," Fergus said. No one named Graf had been in his notes.

Resistance on the crank grew until he couldn't budge it any farther. "That's as far as it'll go."

Mother Vahn was peering out the window. "They've stopped moving," she said. "We better leave."

"Hold tight," Fergus said. He hooked one boot around a standing pole behind him, took hold of the crank handle to keep himself steady, and punched the mechanical release.

The howl of the car decompressing was a physical blow as its entire cargo of atmosphere and crates was sucked out into the dark. He closed his eyes. If I'm going to get hit, he decided, I don't want to see it coming.
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