Founder’s Landing, Day One, 0115.

Old House, Dust, Must, Distant Thunder

“I see; that’s fair enough. Very well; another fifty thousand added to the initial deposit, available immediately.”

Quick decision; no consulting anyone. That meant he was my principal; either that or he was a person so highly trusted it made no difference. More importantly, it meant he wasn’t government, not the normal kind. No bureaucrat ever forks over money he doesn’t have to. Curiouser and curiouser.

We fenced a bit more about terms for the look of the thing, but there was no real doubt: He was the sort who hired a professional and trusted him; I wasn’t about to turn down a fee that big. After a little while we reached agreement and shook hands. I took the case and went back out the way I’d come in.

Which, if you hadn’t guessed, was over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. The adjoining mansion had no working cameras, no monitors, and more importantly no private security watching the entrances. I could stroll in and out by the front gate if I’d a mind to.

Right now, that was the last thing I was going to do. What I needed was a minute to think, plus a bit of privacy. Fortunately, another thing this old house didn’t have was residents; presumably, they were at the country estate right now, or maybe even off-planet. Who knew? I’d checked it out earlier in case I needed a bolt-hole, and it had been clear nobody had stopped by for months. The alarms had been a bit tricky, but unless I forgot myself and left by the front door they were now only window-dressing. Which, if you think about it, is all they ever were to begin with. Burglar alarms only ever catch honest men — and the occasional idiot.

I sat in the dark in someone else’s dusty living room and tried to think. This was definitely not my kind of job. I mean, sure, up to a point — moving a package from one place to another, and nobody notices, definitely my cup of tea right there. But this was no ordinary package; it was politics. …Or was it? Hm. It might just be clever camouflage. I had to make sure.

One problem with a house that’s been closed up is, unless you want the local constabulary stopping by, you want to be very careful with things like flashlights. That shouts “burglar” in much the same way clanging alarms do. On the other hand, I wouldn’t get very far by tripping over a dust cloth and breaking those lovely antique lamps I’d noticed when there was still daylight. I risked a little light and found my way to a nearby pantry. Inside door and no windows; perfect. Now I could use my flash safely. I braced it between some expired canned goods and inspected my parcel.

Matte black, pebbled surface, slightly cool to the touch. But where your normal briefcase had catches, this had nothing; there wasn’t even a seam. Instead, if you knew where to touch and how, and twist just there… yes. A universal data port behind an irising cover, invisible when closed, and impossible to use without uncrackable access codes. This case was designed to carry secure information of precisely one type: Money. This was an interstellar bank courier module, the sort used to move planetary treasuries. We’re talking megacredits here, all converted to a long string of ones and zeroes.

And someone had handed it to me, on a simple performance bond. Hunh.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad a risk as it might seem. There was no way for me to get the codes, so the cash couldn’t be stolen. And if the worst were to happen and I failed to deliver, a simple reset would put the money right back in its original account. No, that wasn’t the strange part.

Here’s the thing: It’s called a courier module for a reason. Generally speaking, these things are carried by, well, bank couriers — bored, faceless men in neat grey suits. They were reliable, punctual, and completely discreet; breaking bank confidentiality was considered high treason and carried an instant death sentence. The only reason you wouldn’t use one would be to hide things from the government, and once the transfer was made the bank would automatically tell the tax man anyway, so there didn’t seem to be much point.

I turned that thought over and over in my mind and didn’t get anywhere, so I shrugged and filed it under “Later”. The important thing was, it was either the real thing or a near-perfect copy… and why make a copy, anyway? Who were they trying to fool — me? No, I had to assume it was real. That, plus my employer was willing to pay one hell of a lot for secrecy; something to bear in mind, that. Clients have tried to permanently silence me before; I’d need some insurance. Fair enough.

I locked the window on my way out, and after a moment’s thought I reactivated the alarm. My unknowing hosts had been kind to me, and it would be a shame to let a real burglar in.

Hm. Now that was another thought. The beginnings of a plan were coming to me. I reached back in and unhooked the alarm wire. After all, they hadn’t been that kind.

Then I slipped over the far wall and out onto the street. Time to set some things up, and maybe grab a quick bite to eat while I was at it. Fortunately, I knew a place that never closed.

Still more questions than answers. Maybe we’ll learn more next time; tune in and find out!

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