The man on Alicia's com screen was as civilized looking as Edward Jacoby, but Alicia knew he was the one she'd come to find. Direcats were bigger than Old Earth kodiaks, with fangs a saber-tooth would have envied, and they were not omnivorous. A carnivore that size required a huge range, even on virgin Mathison's World, and the government had regulated direcat hunting with an iron hand. Those warehouse racks contained at least a full year's pelts-and could have come from only one source.
And so she smiled at the face on her screen, smiled politely, with only professional interest, even as everything within her screamed to touch him and rip away the knowledge she must have.
"Good evening, Captain Mainwaring. My name is Lewis Fuchien. I'm glad I caught you groundside."
"So am I. Mister Jacoby said you might screen."
"Indeed. I understand my consignment falls within your vessel's capacity?" Fuchien asked, and she nodded. "Excellent. While your fee initially seemed a bit high, Edward has shared Monsieur Labin's report with me, and-"
"I hope you didn't take it at face value," Alicia interrupted wryly. "Monsieur Labin was rather more impressed than circumstances merited."
"Modesty is admirable, Captain Mainwaring, and I realize Gustav Labin is a bit excitable, but Edward assures me you'd take good care of my cargo."
"That much, at least, is true, Sir. When someone entrusts me with a shipment, I do my best to insure it reaches its destination."
"No shipper could ask for more. However-" Fuchien smiled pleasantly "-I would like to meet the rest of your ship's company. It's a policy of mine to consider the reliability of a crew as a whole, not just its captain."
"I see." Alicia's face showed nothing, but her mind raced with tick-like speed, conferring with Tisiphone and Megaira on a level deeper than vocalization and far, far faster than conscious thought. She couldn't very well bring her nonexistent crew down to have lunch with the man! But -
"Did Mister Jacoby mention my Cathcart charter?" Fuchien nodded, and she smiled. "I certainly understand your caution, and frankly, I'd feel happier myself if my purser could sit in on our discussions, but my engineer and exec are buried in a drive recalibration. I really can't interrupt them-in fact, I ought to be up there helping out right now-given our time pressure for Cathcart, but if you have a free hour or so, may I offer you Star Runner's hospitality for supper? The food may not be five-star, but I think you'll find it palatable, and it'll give you the chance not only to meet my people but look the ship over in person, as well. If you like what you see, you, my purser, and I can settle the details over brandy. Would that be convenient?"
"Why, thank you! That's far more than I'd hoped for, and I'd be very happy to accept, if I may include my own accountant."
"Of course. I'll be taking my cargo shuttle back up at seventeen-thirty hours. Would you care to accompany me, or arrange your own transport?"
"If you won't mind seeing us home again, we'll ride up with you."
"No problem, Mister Fuchien. I'll expect you then."