Fiction: A boring night is looking up


The zeppelin’s white skin glowed in the city’s lights as it approached the docking tower. Rivulets of water made it shimmer, drawing Tua’s eyes. She yawned, and squinted to re-focus her gaze on the cargo hold. Her mission brief was sparse on details, but the central question was clear: a handful of freight vessels had been dropping something while on approach for docking, beginning shortly after sunset. A few dock workers had seen whatever it was, and reported it to the Shipping Council, but there were no reports of anything falling from the sky, of damage, or of unexplained waste in the canals.

Something was being delivered by people who were willing to go to fairly extreme lengths to keep their business off of any books. Half the time, when Tua was called in to run an investigation, what she found was depressingly harmless. People operating in secret because they enjoyed the challenge, or starting up a strange new business venture that drew attention from “concerned citizens”.

Those didn’t tend to involve the clandestine use of one of the city’s major shipping routes. Freight zeppelins ran constantly around the country. They didn’t move particularly fast, but there was a never-ending stream of them drifting slowly around the continent. It was effectively a massive, airborne conveyor belt, and because it depended on lighter-than-air craft, weight was carefully monitored.

The zeppelin docked with a loud thunk, and Tua closed her eyes to rest them while the vessel was unloaded above her. Waiting was the worst part of this job.

Normally, smuggling investigations required very little effort. Most items that would get a smuggler in trouble were things that could poison the water or interfere with some of the city’s vital functions. Smuggling might allow someone to avoid paying access or import fees, but those were low enough that avoiding them often cost more, even if you didn’t get caught. That went doubly for smuggling anything by air. Tua had helped a gun-running operation in her teens, but that had gone along the canals. It turned out the guns were for an ill-conceived plan by a group to gain control over the city’s common housing system through a mixture of bribery, intimidation, and murder.

Tua didn’t understand it, but there always seemed to be those who wanted power over other people, and those willing to help them for one reason or another. She shifted carefully on her perch, and adjusted her goggle magnification. The next zeppelin was just visible on its approach.

I was one of those willing to help, she reminded herself. Her current gig as an investigator had started as community service after she was caught along with everyone else involved in the attempted takeover. She hadn’t known what goods she was moving, but neither had she asked. It had gotten her better food and housing, and more than enough money to access some of the more interesting clubs around town. It had also been more fun than she had had before or since.

A bell rang above her as the zeppelin finished offloading its cargo, and glided away into the rainy dusk. The next one approached, and Tua watched, her goggles recording everything in case she blinked at the wrong moment.

She didn’t.


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