Theseus moved closer, his voice dropping. "I work for the Inner Worlds Council Security."
A spy? An IWC spy and here on Earth? Oh yes, that could be a problem. It was illegal for them to work on Earth without special sanctions.
"Why were you working at the company?"
"We started watching through the other offices until Brown closed them. By then we were really worried. There are too many people dependent on New Worlds for Humanity."
"Not in the Inner Worlds, though," she said. "All the New Worlds for Humanity settlements are in the fringes. You don't have authority --"
"No, we don't." He frowned. "You no longer work for the company. Does that mean you don't care what happens to those people?"
"I care," she admitted.
"We try to help where we can," Theseus said with a shrug. He led her into a small cafe and they took a table along the side; not hiding but not in the open. "We need food. Do you mind if we eat here?"
"Are we safe?" she asked.
"For a while. Better to rest and eat now."
She gave quick nod. The food smelled heavenly and she felt almost lightheaded with a moment of weakness. Emotional drain had taken all her energy, and Alicia still didn't know what was really going on.
And whom should she trust?
They ordered food. Greek dishes; it suited him and it was obvious the people here knew him. The staff gave her some curious and appraising looks which she found amusing.
"We need to get to Mars and the Inner Worlds Council HQ," he said after a few bites. Alicia suspected he had watched and listened to others, making certain of their safety. "That's not going to be easy, though I have a few tricks I can use. First you have to make decisions, though, Alicia. You've been shoved into this mess. I would have liked to prepare better, but Brown moved before I was ready."
"Ready for what?" she asked.
"People have died," he said, pushing aside his plate. "Kant here on earth --"
"But that was an accident!" she protested, even while she began to doubt.
"Kant here on earth, five other top NWFH people on three other worlds. Accidents and suicides, at least officially. If we hadn't already been interested, we might not have noticed."
"You think I would have died -- that I might die -- soon."
"If you aren't careful," he agreed. Then he gave her an unexpected smile. "Even if you don't help, I'll make certain you get to as safe a place as possible. A nice long vacation on a secluded beach?"
"I couldn't afford --"
"Money is not part of the proposition," he replied. He glanced at the door, frowned, but then sighed with relief, reminding her of danger everywhere. "I can get you there, everything paid. I'll arrange for it to look as though you've left world. All that would be easy enough."
"Oh yes, a nice, long vacation on a beach while people on Grey Station 9 are fighting for survival? No," she said.
She could read the approval in his face. She wasn't certain that should count for anything since he seemed to be a madman.
"I'll start working to get us on a ship to Mars," he said. "There are a few leaving every day, so we shouldn't have too much trouble, as long as we don't draw attention. "Then we go to Mars and you tell a few select individuals what you know and what you have heard about the company and the problems. Don't worry; everything will be double-checked. But you are someone with inside info and a good source."
"What about you? You're not good enough?"
"Oh, I can report things, but they can't bring me out in the open, partly because I shouldn't be doing this work." He sipped at his tea and then gave her another serious look. "You have worked for the company since before Brown stepped in. You are reliable."
She winced despite herself and saw Theseus look at her with one eyebrow raised, curiosity unspoken.
"That's what my ex-husband always said; I was reliable. Then he ran off with a couple girls half is age and left world. I like to imagine that being rather unreliable, he isn't as happy with them now."
Theseus grinned agreement. She liked him better for it.
They finished dinner and left the nice little cafe. The street proved to be even more crowded. She'd never been to this end of town before; a bit low end for someone in her position. It was a shame. The food was great, the buskers in fine form, and everyone seemed happy and friendly. She would like to have stayed there, but before long they were heading away from the carnival atmosphere and into darker streets. The sounds drifted away behind them, a whisper of music on the air. She wanted to go back.
Everything echoed oddly here. They walked in the line of grass, a narrow stretch that kept them from the loud sidewalk. Theseus said very little. She began to sense, though, that he was becoming more and more worried.
"That aircar has buzzed us four times now. I think we're found. I don't know how. They never should have been able to track us!"
"Maybe you're wrong," she said, more hope than belief.
The aircar swept around again.
"They're narrowing down on us. But how --"
She saw him look startled, resigned and worried as he drew out his pocket comp and swept the device over himself and then over her.
And it let out a loud chirp.
"Son of a bitch! They have you tagged!"
"Tagged me? That's not legal!" she said, as if that was going to make a difference.
The aircar circled again. This was going to make getting away damned hard.
To Be continued
for more fantastic quick reads