This one — well, I felt like writing some space opera. Which is what this would be, once it got rolling.
“The problem with you Kletti,” the Nominian said drunkenly, “is that you think you’re better than anyone else.”
Jeret smiled crookedly. He glanced at his drinking companion, then focused once more on his beer. There had been a time when he would have given the question of how best to respond to such an accusation serious thought, but some months ago he had concluded that the optimum choice was always the same. Old Sarg had always said that the truth was never believed and never gave offense if you made it sound like a joke, and Jeret’s experiences on a dozen worlds had yet to prove Sarg wrong.
“That’s because we are better than anyone else,” Jeret replied.
“Aaaah.” The Nominian waved a hand in dismissal. “You’re as bad as the Firrim.”
“Probably worse,” Jeret cheerfully agreed.
“Couldn’t be much worse,” the Nominian said. “The Firrim are really aggravating. You Kletti, the ones I’ve met, you’re just annoying.”
“So you’re saying we’re better than the Firrim.”
The Nominian hesitated for a moment, working through this, then said, “Yeah. But that’s not hard.”
“Still, it’s a start on being better than everybody else.”
The Nominian snorted, blowing foam off his beer. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess it is.”
“So tell me about the Firrim; I don’t think I know them.”
“I thought you Kletti all knew everything.”
“We’re working on it, but we aren’t there yet. So, these Firrim – where are they from?”
“Somewhere in toward the Ruins,” the Nominian said, with a wave toward the back of the bar.
“What makes them so special, then? Or what makes them think they’re special?”
“They’re cyborged. Phones in their heads, enhanced senses, all that crap.”
“So what’s special about that?”
“Ask them,” the Nominian said. “They’re the ones who think they’re so great.”
“I just might do that. Know where I could find one?”
“Oh, you never find just one,” the Nominian said. “There are always at least three of them.”
The Nominian shrugged. “I guess.”
That, Jeret thought, might be worth checking out. Networking a few brains together wasn’t new in itself, but maybe these Firrim had a new angle on it. “So where would I find some?”
“How should I know?”
“Well, you’ve obviously met some before.”
“Ha! That was here in Port, a few times over the past couple of years. But I haven’t seen any in days.”
Jeret nodded. “Fair enough.” If these Firrim had been here, they had presumably come in on a ship, and there would be records. He already had a data tap into the port’s systems; he could search them easily enough. He sipped his beer. “So you said we Kletti are annoying – how many of us have you met?”
“I dunno – half a dozen, maybe?” The Nominian gulped beer. “I haven’t kept count.”
“Of course not. I was just curious; we don’t travel much.” That was certainly true of the Kletti as a whole, but of course the exceptions, himself among them, traveled a lot.
The Nominian set his now-empty mug down on the bar, and the bar top displayed a row of options. “There’s you, and there was a woman here last year, and back on Diplodocus there was a creepy old man, and when I was a kid there was this bossy woman who visited our school.”
“That was in the Nominian system?”
“Yeah,” the Nominian agreed. “I grew up in Shaftsbury, on Seven.” He stared wistfully at his mug.
“Let me get that for you,” Jeret said, tapping his credit finger on the REFILL circle; the options vanished with a beep, and the little “Coming right up!” logo blinked.
A school on Nominia Seven – that probably would have been Zella Tarasco. She was retired now, back on Central. An old man on Diplodocus – Lenster Capor, maybe? Also retired. And a woman passing through Port could have been anyone. Odd, that a random Nominian had encountered four research agents. Odd enough to be suspicious, perhaps? He brushed a finger against his temple, and signaled for a probability analysis.
The bartender set a new beer in front of the Nominian and cleared away the empty mug, and as the Nominian picked up the mug Jeret slipped away. He thought he had heard everything interesting the man had to say.
He had not learned the Nominian’s name, but identification should be easy enough, since the entire conversation had been recorded.