Her hookup was a pleasant diversion in bed, but it didn’t take long for Nyx to realize that he was lying through however many teeth he actually possessed.
He’d told her on the first night that his name was Oren, after his father, but Nyx had caught a look at his com screen and noticed that he kept getting messages for someone named Connor. That alone wasn’t proof of much. Falacerians were famously secretive about their real names. It was possible that neither was the name on his original ID chip; there were plenty of reasons why someone might choose to go by a different identity these days, and Nyx couldn’t argue with many of them.
But then there was the way he talked about art. On the first night he’d claimed to be an artist, but Nyx saw no evidence of artistic pursuits in his room. There was no paint, no canvas, not so much as a stylus for his com screen. And though he talked about his broad interest in art often, the conversation turned every time to Eridani paintings: their rarity, the difficulty of finding them on the market, and most importantly their value.
After sex he always seemed to have a bottle of wine on hand. He made sure of it. Nyx wasn’t a habitual drinker, and after a couple of days she began to notice how often he topped up her glass. Their pillow talk always turned, sooner or later, to the art with the highest price tags. He showed her pictures of the pieces he was most eager to find. They were, invariably, the ones the puritanical Eridani government had been most eager to destroy. Canvas after canvas of green flesh, some tasteful, others unquestionably lewd. Nyx, curious, played dumb and let him keep talking.
And then one night he showed her a painting she’d seen before, and something clicked in her memory. Luncheon in the Pond, he called it: an nude Eridani figure in repose, gender impossible to tell from anatomy alone, although the crumpled clothes in the left side of the frame were feminine. There were two males in the picture, both clothed, talking to each other; the female stared straight out at the viewer. Her expression was difficult to read. Oren said her gaze was sultry. Nyx thought she looked bored.
She’d seen this painting before. She’d held it in her hands; hell, she’d accidentally smuggled it. And she’d given it away to someone who claimed, very convincingly at the time, to be an art professor. So as the man who called himself Oren waxed rhapsodic about it, dropping hints about how much he’d like to see it in person if only it hadn’t been destroyed, Nyx smiled and nodded and only said, “It’s not the sort of art I usually go for, but it’s interesting.”
Oren pressed the point a little longer before giving up. When he stood up to visit the bathroom–he’d been drinking heavily, and trying to get Nyx to do the same–she scrambled off the bed and went rummaging through his drawers as soon as the door closed behind him.
She found the gun in his underwear drawer. It was a plasma pistol, compact and easy to hide, so small it could only fire a single bolt before it needed to be reloaded with a fresh battery. It was fully charged now, its indicator light glowing green.
The toilet flushed. This island still used actual tanks full of water in its plumbing, a technological relic Nyx found quaint but wasteful. She didn’t have much time. She’d come in wearing a loose wrap over a swimsuit, and discarded both on the floor at the foot of the bed. She pulled the wrap over her head with just enough time to bring the gun up as the door swung open.
The expression on Oren’s face told her everything she needed to know. He looked startled, but he didn’t look surprised.
“Hey, be careful where you point that,” he said, trying for a casual smile. A full Falacerian might have been able to pull off disarming charm while standing stark naked at the wrong end of a gun barrel, but his human side was showing.
“I think it’s time we had a little talk,” Nyx said. “I’d like to know who you’re working for.”
“I’m an art collector,” he said. “I’m just very interested in art.”
“Wrong answer,” said Nyx, gesturing with the gun toward the door leading out of the room. “We’re going to take a little walk, and then you’re going to be honest with me.”
“We could talk in here,” he said, although he took a few obedient steps forward. Nyx remembered the feeling of staring down a barrel; she’d been on the other end of a gun more than once.
“I prefer a clear line of sight.” Plasma bolts didn’t stop when they hit a body. They were hot enough to burrow through everything in their path for a long time. Oren’s room was in a larger hotel, and there was no way Nyx could know for sure that there was no one on the other side of the wall. Besides, she didn’t want to damage an innocent bystander’s property if she didn’t have to.
She didn’t want to kill Oren either. He might have lied to her, but as far as Nyx was concerned that wasn’t a capital offense. “Let’s go down to the beach.”
“Can I at least put on–”
“No.” Nyx kicked her bathing suit aside, found her com screen, and picked it up. Her wrap didn’t have any pockets, so she tucked it under her arm and held it there awkwardly as Oren maneuvered around her toward the exit.
When they were outside and Nyx was confident that he wouldn’t be making a move for any unexpected weapons. She pulled out her com screen, juggling it awkwardly with the gun still firmly in her grip, and tapped out a quick message: Meet me at the beach. Bring weapons if you have them. She set her screen to emergency alert mode, so that it would broadcast its location to the rest of the crew, and tucked it back into her armpit. Oren was still walking ahead of her, moving in an awkward hunched scuttle to preserve what remained of his dignity. He was lucky he’d decided to stay at a beachfront hotel.