When Eve got this way, the sort of nausea that permeated every inch of her body and scorched her innards in a dry heat, she did the only thing she could to relax. She sat in a dark room and turned her mind off.
It was a meditation technique she learned when she was young. Eve left her body behind and became a diffused conscience. She imagined herself spreading across this planet, the water and plants and mud and Enyoni. To vanish without dying, to cease as a continuous being, to instead become part of something so much greater than herself. To become unthinking, to attune to magnificent wisdom, to cease to feel but to become part of f this world’s burbles and tantrums and processes.
When she returned to her body, her ass was sore from sitting perfectly still for… over three hours.
Eve stretched her legs and torso as she returned to the hallway. She had to figure out what to do about Peitho’s offer. It was obvious that Eve needed someone down here to help cover her tracks, take care of the problem of Cressida, and keep Nysa at bay. There were two options: spacey and amoral Coronis or cruel and charismatic Peitho.
Eve’s mind was clear after the meditation. She’d give Coronis one last chance to impress her. The worst thing Eve could do was vacillate: she had to make a decisive choice and live with the consequences.
She found Coronis in a corridor outside the mess hall, but not alone. The neo_SMOKE smuggler was in a heated argument with a dark-eyed male agent Eve hadn’t seen before. They both kept their voices low.
“There’s no point in a partnership if one of us doesn’t respect the terms of it,” the male told Coronis, his voice cold.
Coronis scoffed. “Boo hoo! You’ve never once cared about if you were stepping on my toes or not.” A weeping woman appeared at the side of her mouth. “Did I ever say anything?”
“At a certain point, a difference in scale becomes a difference in kind. I can’t work with someone who refuses to show me the basic respect I am due as a colleague.”
“Will you shut up?” Coronis rolled her eyes. “There was no disrespect- it’s a sensitive situation. But if that’s how you feel, maybe I’ll be more anal about which of us does what. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’m the one who’s supposed to handle drugs?”
The tall man’s eyes flashed and he bit his lip. “Then perhaps it’s time we renegotiate the terms of our partnership to better reflect reality.” He looked up at Eve, who had been standing around awkwardly to listen to the conversation. “Speak of the devil. There she is.”
Eve had little choice but to approach. “Hey Corey,” she said, trying to sound casual. “Who’s your friend?”
“Dis.” He offered his hand. Eve didn’t take it. “Senior Docent and Acquisitions Officer. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Docent Oread.”
Dis was tall, straight-backed and confident, matinee-idol handsome with neatly-cropped hair and a sharp, prominent nose. His hair and eyes were jet black, and his dark pupils gave his stare a vaguely insectoid vibe. He reminded Eve of a tightly wound, delicately constructed wristwatch.. “Nice to meet you,” she said with a small smile. “You guys fighting over me?”
“No, no, not over you,” sighed Coronis. “May, there’s something I should tell you. I’m not the only neo_SMOKE agent in this base. Dis here, or Von Neumann as we call him online, is the other one.”
“Ah. Okay.” Eve didn’t say anything more.
“So, I helped fake your death…” Coronis gave Eve a meaningful glance. “And now Von Neumann is annoyed with me for not including him.”
“It’s not that I wanted to be included, Kelvin. It’s that an operation of that size demands my attentions. That’s part of our charter, isn’t it? Trust no one but your fellows in neo_SMOKE. And yet you exclude me.”
Eve quickly took stock of the situation. Dis, or Von Neumann or whatever he wanted to be called, was a neo_SMOKE agent alongside Coronis. Unlike her, however, he didn’t know that Maia Oread was in fact Eve Volcanis. Coronis had instead lied to him and told him Maia had faked her death and transferred here. “I’m sorry to hear that you two are fighting,” she said neutrally. “I can’t say I know enough about the workings of neo_SMOKE to offer an opinion.”
“That’s okay, May, you don’t need to play peacekeeper between us. neo_SMOKE handles its shit.” Coronis glanced at Dis. “Can we discuss this later? Maybe someplace more private??”
Dis’ eyebrows went up. “Private, eh? Hmph. I’ll be waiting.” He skulked away.
Coronis ran her hands through her hair and exhaled as if to shed an invisible suit of armor. “So…” Eve said conversationally. “You and him, eh?”
“Ugh! Don’t remind me!” Coronis stuck her tongue out and went blegh. “Look, I was young- really young- and stupid.”
“There were piles of bricks with more sense than I had.” A falling brick squashed a little man next to her mouth. “It’s a purely professional relationship these days, I swear.”
Eve quirked her mouth up into a smile. “Didn’t seem all that professional to me. I wonder where that private talk will take you…?”
Coronis’ nose turned pink, but she smiled back. “I assume you want to talk about Cressida?” Eve nodded. “In that case, follow me.”