Cut and Run

By Perry Tratchett

The club was a high tech grotto, fashioned by lasers carving and explosives detonating back when miners were liberating a rich vein of mineral ores from the rock walls. The cavity was now just jagged facets propped by silicon fibre buttressing; all hidden behind a light show of holographic projections and strobing glare. Auditory and olfactory overload was supplied from a dance/trance deck dominating the middle of the cavern. In the heated atmosphere, a lot of skin was interfacing; much of it spaced enough so the world could end without their knowledge.

Door security stepped aside to admit a lone woman.

Elli Quinn floated across the dance/trance deck, sashaying expertly to the beat. She paused to interface with a few of the more interesting strangers, making moves designed to advertise, without contributing to any libidinous release before she managed to get free of the press. She threw a kiss to a punter that might have been of interesting on another occasion and then left them to it.

She strode lithely through the archway furthest from the entry and found herself in a smoke filled bar. It had been some sort of stockpile left hanging off to one side of the excavation that became the main club and was now the place where deals could be dealt in an atmosphere far removed from the dance/trance addicted crowd that the main bar regularly drew.

As far as Elli was concerned there was only the one novelty in the situation, the lower than accustomed G. Which added a neat line to her anatomy, while offering not much else. It mucked up her balance.

It was time to make an entrance, she decided.

Which was going to be really easy. There was a lot of Elli Quinn's skin on display, but only if a punter could filter out her laser light show, which of course was pretty difficult to ignore. And that was the point really. The show played over her skin like she was the main attraction at a performance artist presentation. It shone onto reflective smears of mirroring arranged strategically around her body.

The light show was never on or off long enough for anyone to work out just what might or might not be there. Sudden movement caused the tracking system a few moments of silicon confusion where the processor would then struggle to aim for the next reflector. The delay made her flesh visible from time to time. Back in the dance/trance bar the light show had been chancy at best, off almost as often as it was on, it's sequencing brought down by intelligent interference patterns provided by the house, specifically for that purpose.

The occasional discontinuity was part of the allure, although males among the bar crowd needed little encouragement to keep them interested in Elli Quinn. She could wear a cassock and they would still look.

Elli cast her eyes about the room, letting her iris adjust to the steady but dim lighting, taking in the atmosphere, the ambience and the attitude, building a picture in her own mind; of who, what, where and how it was on show and who was raring to go. The whole thing settled around her like a glove, or a change of clothing. Her posture changed, the 'free and easy' became 'expert professional.'

Behind the advertising smile, her mind was hard at work.

Can do this in my sleep. She decided before submerging in the role. Cyber- slut at work, oui.

More than a few eyes tracked her entrance with singular interest. She was used to the attention and she ignored it like always. Looks were easy to deal with, it was the more intimate personal contact that might set her into action, explosively if the contact was uninvited, and differently explosive when it was invited.

She judged her fellow man harshly. There was nothing on offer among the patrons; nothing that pushed any of her buttons, not tonight.

Although, in a pinch, the geek in the corner might have been an interesting prospect, she decided. If someone gave him a make over.

He was barely visible across the room, partially hidden by the density of pharmacological shit hanging in the air. Hair too long, worn in the-way- that-it-grew style, not a lot of imagination on display, either in cut, colour or styling. But.

Work to do, Elli.she reminded herself.

The smoke they breathed was a combination of mild hallucinogens, euphorics and a bit of the old nitrogen and oxygen mix. A read out from the chem analysis gear built into Elli's ear-eye piece lased the data directly into her eye. She read the atmospheric details and then she considered their consequences carefully. Breathing euphorics meant the rest of the bar crowd would be primed for the night. She wondered about its effect on her contact, decided that the assistance might make the work of the evening easy and then again.

Her silhouette had filled the archway for a while, attracting the attention of all the grotto's occupants.

Elli frowned for a moment and then addressed her comm unit. "Admiral," she transmitted back through the station comm network to the Denadrii Fleet, currently in dry-dock for a bit of armoury adjustment. Admiral Miles Naismith was actually on the bridge, for once, and he was running this operation from the command chair. He usually preferred to operate in a more hands on manner when they made one of these extraction type raids, in fact getting his hands off the operation this time was a major breakthrough for Elli and she was going to make the most of the opportunity presented. "I can't figure out which one you mean. Not among this lot. You could have given me a description. Should have."

"They wanted discretion," Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar's Imperial Security service (Impmil for short) answered through the pick-up in her ear. Since finding his way off Barrayar, Miles had spent a great deal of his time playing the role of his alter-ego Admiral Naismith. It was a role that had come upon him by accident and calamity, that he had held onto by hook or by crook ever since. Not many of his crew knew the truth, and he was intent on keeping it that way. Hardly a man or woman among them knew they were something other than genuine space borne mercenaries. "They'll contact you."

"Oh wonderful," she muttered. Only Miles heard. The noise from the dance bar behind her still overwhelmed all but the most strenuous attempts at speech. "I can't afford to wait around here all night waiting for the right bunny to hop over. We better speed the process up a bit, otherwise it'll blow up big time."

"See if we can guess," Miles offered.

"You don't have any clue either?" she scoffed. "I can't believe this. How are we supposed to do this job if we don't get all the data?"

"It's how they wanted it done. OK? We're the gumbies here. They're the customer. Who're we to argue with them. We're just the Denardii Free Mercenaries after all."

"You must have some idea."

"Not sure," Miles admitted.


"We should be able to work it out."


"Process of elimination OK? Pan the camera a round. Let me see the crowd. Give me optical recognition and I'll down load their data from the local web."

By now most of the bar-flies had taken an active interest in her, as well they might. Not just idle aesthetic appreciation any more, their brains were engaged now, speculating. Thing was, Elli would have been thoroughly annoyed if they hadn't taken an active interest. It was the sort of image she worked hard to portray. when it was required.

She completed the pan of the bar, transmitting the video image to Miles.

"You get all that?" she transmitted.

"Yeah, let you know what I find. Be a sec."

He took longer than that, but not a great deal.

"Here are the likelier ones." Miles produced an itemised list. "Need to check each a bit more thoroughly."

Elli read the report suspended before her eyes and checked the data against her surroundings. Most of the crowd was eliminated immediately, known for what they were, a few remained unknowns. Biometric recognition gave them nothing.

Embedded in the far corner was a couple of men, they appeared thoroughly absorbed in each other. Betans probably, Elli judged. The light was dim and their features were hard to make out. She focussed on them for a moment; waiting for an indication to come through that Miles had a make on them.

"You could be less conspicuous," Miles suggested. "Move into the room and make like a bar-fly."


"Yeah, that one."

"Miles, this is one thing I know more about than you do. I'm playing courtesan here, remember. Cyber-slut has to advertise," she put on an accent. "Don't get no business if no one knows you're there. Got to make an en-trance."

"Elli, there ain't any one in that bar that doesn't know that you're there."

"Then it worked." She smiled to herself.

"Got a make on those two," Miles transmitted. "Not them. Couple of holiday-makers, slumming, long term relationship, short term visit. Get more faces for me."

Elli stepped into the bar and sashayed across the floor to a slightly more secluded corner. Eyes followed her. She made another sweep with the camera. "Would have said that it wasn't them myself."

"You want me to keep helping?"

"Of course. It's always good to get a cross check."

She selected a table, alone so she could make the invitation obvious when she made it. She pulled up at a table, swung herself around so she had her back to the wall and gazed around the room again. The scan was in character. Now she just had to deal with the constant stream of hopefuls. She sat. The chair was cold and sort of sticky against the bare patches of her skin.

Around her the music and light show pounded on. Acoustic shielding separating the rooms, isolating the 'seating, selecting and dealing' bar from the 'vertical interfacing and selecting' bar, was partially successful.

Seated Elli lost a few of her audience, but not many. She was the subject of a few discussions.

A waiter broke away from the bar and headed her way. She watched his approach carefully.

"Not him," said the little disembodied voice in her ear.

"Pretty much my thinking."

"Give me the rest of the room."

Elli nodded to herself. The gesture was picked up by Miles, the viewpoint would have wobbled up and down alarmingly.

"Figuring it to be either the dolly by the bar, or the geek over by the corner," Elli said finally.

"More intuition?"

"They don't look like a part of this crowd. You know how it can be?"

"Give me something on them."

Elli focussed on the Geek. Straight brown hair combed neatly, worn too long for easy maintenance, but not long enough to be a style. His face was pale, lacked definition, although that could be a function of the lighting in the bar. His eyes darted around alarmingly. He wore a tight fitting suit in last year's cut, pale brown shade. Fit well, looked good on him.

The waiter hovered nearby, partially blocking her view.

Miles dithered over the geek.

"What's best?" Elli asked the waiter, turning on her best 'interested' smile.

"I have an offer from a customer," the waiter intoned. His voice was dead. Construct? Elli wondered, and then shrugged, she didn't care, Jackson's Whole supplied them to this sector. If the bar bought indentured people from that thieves nest, that was their business. "He wants to know what you would take."

"Tell him I'm on a break. Ask that he make the offer in a half an hour's time."

"Very well."

"Give me a juice. Grapefruit." The waiter marched away.

Miles gagged at her choice.

"Shut up. What do you think of the geek?"

"Marked as a distinct prospect," Miles continued. "Been here long enough to have collected data, but no records of any significance on him. Data- cipher. Real possible."

"OK, I'll mark him. Hey, maybe he was the one who offered to buy for me."

"Plausible. What about the dolly?" Miles asked.

The girl by the bar might as well have been naked from Elli's viewpoint. Long legs, long arms, straight back, blonde hair cropped short and fluffed. Sort of the same image that Elli was cultivating. A real cyber-slut! Although she was as pale as.

The dolly looked idly around the bar, her face set in an intent expression rather than the welcoming vacuity of the typical dolly pose. She looked toward Elli momentarily and then away.

Not happy at the competition? Elli couldn't tell.

That brief glance was enough to freeze an image of ethereal beauty, pouted mouth, wide eyes, and slender up-turned nose. The package was a testimony to the artisans who manufactured her.

She wore a large sunflower stuck to breasts impossibly full, sited too high to be natural. Elli knew the rest of the outfit. The girls on this station all wore them this year. Stick-ons, cheap, easy to get off, easy to get on, easy to get past, just the shot for a working girl in a hurry. Elli's laser show was the next level up the market, you didn't have to take it off at all, just switch it off. Too expensive for most artisans.

"Which?" Elli asked Miles

"Yeah, could be either," the gnat voice answered. "She's not on record here at all."

"Wonderful. Just what we need. Confusion in identification."

"Gotta be sure."

"We could take 'em both," Elli suggested hopefully.

"Might not even be them."

A bark escaped through Elli's lips. "Who else could it be? The rest of this crowd is either typical night-trippers out for a fantasy before going back to the same old, same-old, or they're here selling them the means, you know. The dolly's on her own. So's the geek. Neither's right. Geeks hunt in packs. Dolly's last about two seconds between contacts here, that's the nature of the place."


"They're wrong. Trust me."

"They might be wrong for other reasons."

"OK. I'll meet them, find out."

"Leave than to you."

"Done, Quinn out."

"Naismith out."