Shifts change every eight hours in Lim City. During the hour or two linking shifts, the cavern city’s lights seemingly flare even brighter as thousands of workers simultaneously emerge from their places of work, recreation, and rest. Technically no day or night exists here. When I first arrived, I learned to get used to the concept that my existence in this city, much like other places in Apostae, boils down to working and not working. Anyone not at the top of one of the dark elves’ noble houses spends most of their time making credits, and the rest of their time losing what they earn.
I wordlessly join a flock of commuters, mainly dark elves with the smattering of orc-kin and off-worlders, packing into a hover shuttle. The cacophony of thrusters, constant foot traffic, and tired chatter building up and then coming down during these commutes brings a loud peace with it. I adjust my visor and tighten the scarf around my face, concealing the cyan glowing streaks marking my face. I keep my arms wrapped around a large, rectangular case as I park beside a window.
Thanks to a gracious subsidy from the Betterment Council, most inhabitants travel through Lim City using some sort of shuttle service or by taking the covered ramps and paths linking district hubs. Using either is cheap or free, depending on employer agreements with the Council—which most companies have, even the illegal ones—and no one complains about spending less to get around.
I scan the space outside the window as more vehicles fall in line to avoid collisions amid the bustle. We zoom past skyscraper after skyscraper, separated by smaller clusters of buildings demarcated with metallic fences and pseudo-crystalline towers. Our surroundings grow dim as we pass under the shadow of House Zeizerer’s spire. This tower, as well as the other houses’, dwarfs even the most ambitious of the nearby high-rise buildings and spans to the utmost height of the cavern, though tinted glass panes and slate-colored plates block any view into the interior.
Approaching a commercial district, a sleek hover car catches my attention. Colorful decals—most especially the pattern of rippling red and purple flames—primp the black-painted body of the vehicle, an imported model from a few years back. Many workers strive for this display of wealth, though more importantly, the design matches my contractor’s provided info.
As if on cue, a text from said contractor appears on my burner comm unit: “IS IT DONE?”
I read the message but return my attention to the hover car instead of responding. The shuttle keeps pace with it until the smaller vehicle veers into a parking facility near Meseria Market.
At the next stop, the passengers almost completely abandon the shuttle, and I join them as they scatter into the shopping center. Time frame in mind, I restrain myself from ogling at the Arabani Arms outlet store, where a pair of dark elf guards flaunt the most recent Karkaken models while keeping watch over the premises. Most market establishments host at least a hired muscle or two; would-be customers, who simply come to unwind after a day of painstaking and likely dangerous work, typically pay them little mind.
Compared to other settlements, Lim City has a “generous” token system to pay for utilities—like power and water. Air too, though I never needed it. Everyone in the city can earn a pool of tokens to spend exclusively on those utilities at special rates, accumulated based on hours they work for participating companies. The system gives the average citizen some breathing room, both literal and metaphorical, which often leaves them extra credits to spend each pay day, even after deductions mandated by the Council.
Holo-boards line the walls between stores, giving contrast to the otherwise gray plating. Some advertise new commodities—a pocket decoupler eventually pays for itself. Other boards share favorable news from around the Pact Worlds. One, however, features my current employer, Almieera Zeizerer; this instance, she lends her face to an advert lauding the Betterment Council for recently adding gravity modulation to the token system. How considerate.
After all, we still live on Apostae. Lim City belongs to the dark elves as much as Nightarch does, though arguably with more even stakes as the houses divided the Council. What matters is that they give the drones—their workers—alternate ways to financially trap themselves here. There’s a Meseria Market in every corner of this city, just with different names. The semblance of comfort with their basic living expenses tempts people into spending credits for something nice, rather than something needed. Like some social experiment, the houses create new ways to keep their workers content enough to stay in Lim City and, more importantly, to stay profitable.
At first, I tried playing by these rules, but two shifts each “day” with nothing to actually show for the effort frustrated me to no end. Maybe another life could’ve taken that grind. I refused, especially when looking closely at the numbers. I knew I’d rather get the pay elsewhere than have my “legit” credits go to a pseudo-public subsidiary.
I elbow past a group gawking at the boards, ignoring the flustered swears from behind me. Then, I round the corner into the food court and head straight into a half-empty establishment called Deeplight Eats—an unassuming deli that doubles as one of the Zeizerer’s many fronts in Lim City.
The manager, a half-orc woman called Hevra, greets me. “Hey, Reverb. You here for a…?” Her gaze lingers on my case.
I wave at her. “Yeah. Be back in about an hour. Prep the usual.” I proceed to the backroom. Like digital clockwork, I take the stairs to the rooftop and then climb beyond, outside the frames of the open-air market’s bubble—I’d argue against an artificial bubble being “open air.” I dip into vacuum territory for a few minutes, where I cross multiple buildings before slipping back into the enclosed space at the parking facility’s rooftop.
After double checking my spot, I ensure that the cameras are dead like my contractor promised. Satisfied, I assemble my rifle from the parts case, giving the scope a quick polish before securing it. Then, I survey the area.
After a few minutes, I spot the target: Raxikz Veresvi, recently appointed by Zeizerer Munitions to oversee a chain of outlet stores. Silver hair sleeked back and dressed in a burgundy suit that perfectly wraps around his slender figure, he matches my employer’s description, down to the oversized purple-tinted cufflinks. Supposedly, Veresvi elevated himself by charming a certain company official. The human woman beside him, however, is definitely not Almieera Zeizerer, his supposed flame. With that, I piece together the motive for this contract, though dark elves having fickle—and vengeful—hearts seems hardly surprising.
I line up my sight.
The pair shows no indication of a relation, not even a greedy touch of the hand or an unwarranted smile. Half an hour into surveillance, the lights begin to dim, the rush from the shift change ebbing. Veresvi takes his company to a nearby restaurant. I lose vision for a few minutes, but they reappear at the rooftop. A waiter seats them, hands them their menus, and provides them each a drink. I watch him pull the chair out for her, smiling as he speaks. When he settles in his seat, I aim my crosshairs at his head. A contract is a contract.
I pull the trigger.
His body launches off the seat, but I’m already on the move before it hits the ground. Picking up my rifle and my case, I retrace my way to Deeplight Eats. I head down the staircase but stop midway to disassemble my rifle, returning it to its case.
A communication request pings on my burner. As soon as I accept, a curt, feminine voice states, “Is it done, Reverb?”
“Yes. The target has been eliminated.”
“Your payment has been arranged.” The line cuts off.
I stare at the comm unit before smashing it on a step. I seal my case, dispose of the comm’s remnants, and finally sit down at the deli for my first meal in 24 hours.
Most people come to Lim City for the prospect of stability in survival, even if it means committing to a cycle that traps them on Apostae. All the while they believe the next shift might just lead to prosperity. Then, there are those like me. I stay because I make credits gambling outside the system, so long as politics or pettiness demand someone gets offed—which will be always. I settle for a toasted sandwich now, but unlike the drones, I can look forward to a new hover car after only a few more contracts.
Eventually, I step out of the building, case slung over my back.
It takes me less than a second to notice the glint of the scope from a rooftop.
About the Author
Ianara Natividad is an editor for Paizo by day. She regularly edits and writes for Worldbuilding Magazine while also working as an editor for Swordsfall. Ianara unwinds by playing video games and tabletop campaigns, even running her own games at times. She occasionally braves Twitter at @Imachinate.
About Tales From The Drift
The Tales from the Drift series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into the setting of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. Written by members of the Starfinder development team and some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, the Tales from the Drift series promises to explore the worlds, alien cultures, deities, history, and organizations of the Starfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.