Tag Archives: Lucky

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Seven

Mike Plested’s office was austere. The space was certainly large enough, but there were no decorations or comfortable furniture. He was a man that thought on the move. Motion was a near constant for him, much like a shark. Four tables just above waist height held vid screens, models of the station, images of the processing plants and mining operation. Some of them were actual physical models, others creations of light. As they entered he moved from one to the other, tweaking things and thinking out loud.

Music that owed a great deal to the Asian continent on their planet of origin, played in the background, nearly sub-audible. There was also a man speaking in a language she didn’t recognize. Lucky stood watching him and waiting to be acknowledged. That was the protocol and as much as it rankled her, she knew that it would do no good to buck it.

Finally satisfied with whatever it was he was doing, he looked up. “Ah, Ms. Goldstein, a pleasure to see you again.” There was a slightly manic twinkle in eyes that were so brown they were almost black. He crossed his arms. “Jeff, give us a moment alone, would you?”

A swirl behind her was the only acknowledgment that the order was obeyed.

Lucky walked over to one of the tables and looked at a hologram of the processing plant. It was there that they took the gases from the planet below and turned them into the stuff that allowed man to cruise the stars. It never ceased to amaze her.

“So, Ms. Goldstein, I’m glad you made it back to our home. I’m guessing that your latest adventure went less than smoothly.”

Lucky frowned slightly. It wasn’t a surprise that he had caught wind of it already. The information network at his fingertips was considerable. The frown came more from his insistence on using her last name. Her father’s name on his lips wasn’t something she cared for. “Unfortunately, no.”

He came around to the other side of the table from her. “A shame, but that’s the way of business.” The orange light from the model glinted off his silver hair. “I’m just glad that you’re safe.” Anyone who didn’t know him might take his concern as genuine. “You’re in a dangerous business. Maybe you’d like a place in our company. We have a new station we’re putting in place next year and they need a security chief.

She wrinkled her nose at it. Being a corporate cop didn’t appeal to any part of her. Sure in theory it would be safer, but working along side a man like Plested, and in her experience most corporate men were just like him, was not her idea of a dream job. That and it would mean she was out of his hair. “I appreciate that Mr. Plested.” She tried her best to hide the contempt for the offer and the man. She wasn’t sure that she had covered it quite as well as he did his. “I’m perfectly happy doing what I do right her. This is a great base of operations. There are some great people here too.”

A divot between his eyes deepened, the nearest thing his face would come to a frown. “Indeed there are. Well.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I called you hear for more than a job offer. It seems there was a little unpleasantness here tonight.”

“Really?” She cocked her head, genuinely surprised by the tack that this conversation was taking.

He clicked his tongue. “Now Ms. Goldstein, don’t play innocent with me. There was an altercation between you and a few of my employees.”

That’s why he called her here? “Oh that. Yeah it was pretty unpleasant. Your employees need to learn some manners. I saw fit to teach them.”

“Those men will be out of work for a few days thanks to your lesson.” His voice didn’t raise an iota, but the temperature in the room dropped three degrees. “I’m within my rights as the head of this station to put you on the next shuttle out of here.”

Lucky put her hands on the table and leaned in. “All due respect to your position.” Her own tone heightened the chill in the air. “Those men had it in for me and a friend. Had I not stood up to them I would likely be the one out of commission. Permanently. And truthfully, isn’t this a matter for Asplund to handle?”

“Ordinarily, yes. Believe me, were it anyone else and I would have him do just that. The truth is, given the… relationship you two have I decided that it would resonate more if the message came from me. You have gone too far this time. Whatever those men had in mind for you and your friend is your word against theirs. Naturally given our history and the fact that these men are my employees and employees in good standing I might add, I am inclined to believe them.”

She bristled. This whole thing stunk to highest heaven. The trio in question weren’t anything like the model employees he described. The idea that the chief security officer would compromise his morals because of some sort of relationship issue was equally ludicrous. Richard didn’t bow and scrape to this man any more than she did. Thankfully the company did do one thing right. The CSOs weren’t directly under the station chief.

Still, as bad as this smelled he was right. He would be within his rights if he played it this way. Mae and Kent could squawk, but she’d tell them not to. She paused for a moment. He hadn’t actually given her her walking papers though. There was more to this. He had hedged in a few places.

“So what do you want?” She stood and crossed her arms under her breasts.

His eyes flicked momentarily down.

Surely he doesn’t? No, sex wasn’t it. For him that would be more about the power. He would enjoy dominating her in that way, but he wanted to defeat her in some other way first. She waited for his answer.

“I want a favor to be named later.” He locked eyes with her. “You’re mixed up in something interesting. I don’t have all of the details, but I do know that there is a lot of money tied up in it and somehow I’m going to get a piece of it. So when I call in my marker you’ll do it. You don’t and you’re out of here, off my station. Fight me on this and it might get ugly for us all.”

Things were suddenly getting even more interesting. If he had caught wind of what she was involved in then there were some bog things at stake. She already knew that there was a big deal around these shipments, but more than that there was something deeper than just a few thousand Vregonian embryos. The fact that Plested didn’t know the details, if he was telling the truth, was even more interesting. There wasn’t much that went on here that he wasn’t privy to. Even more interesting was his last statement. If he was really willing to go to the mat on this one, then there was blood in the water.

She nodded. “One favor to be named later.” She reserved the right to refuse of the favor was too much, but she kept that to herself. She did have a sense of honor and even if the favor in question was somewhat excessive she’d still do her best. A promise given to a man like Plested didn’t trump her life or her dignity.

The placid face moved again, this time surprised. “Very well. For now your place on this station is safe, but no more incidents or I may forget myself.”

“Now there’s something I need to do.” She began to walk from table to table scoping things out. She wasn’t comfortable with where all this was going and the motion kept her from thinking about it too much. She wondered if this was why he moved constantly. The guilt couldn’t catch up with you if you moved fast enough. “I need to pay a debt.”

“Hmmm. I see. Mr. Minkus’ debt I presume?” He practically purred. “He does owe a considerable sum. Do you have the money on hand? I won’t take a marker from you or shift his debt to your back. Cash only.”

She nodded. “Oh I’ve got it.” Absolving Dave of the debt would take nearly all of the liquid capital she had, but it was there to be used. “I can transfer it to your accounts whenever you’re ready.”

“You’re a good friend, Ms Goldstein. A better friend than he deserves.” Plested moved to one of the tables and retrieved a small glass full of dark liquid. He sipped at it.

Lucky was excellent at reading folks. She thought she detected a note of jealousy in the man’s voice. “I guess that’s for me to judge Mr. Plested, not you. Maybe you’d have friends like me if you weren’t,” such a snake, “so closed off.” She wasn’t sure that her spoken words were any softer than the ones she thought.

“I like the friends I have well enough, thank you Ms. Goldstein. I’ll take those funds now.” He waved a hand at the table and pulled up a number. “Transfer them to this account.”

Lucky pulled the e-harp out and used it to get him the money. It was easy enough to go through the motions, but watching the numbers change pained her a little. Dave would pay her back every cent. “There you are.” The smug look on his face as the money showed up under his control made her skin crawl. The amount was probably nothing to him. This whole business left her tempted to pull up stakes anyway. There was no way she would though. She’d stay here just to spite him, though there was more to it than that.

“A pleasure doing business with you Ms. Goldstein.” He extended a hand to the door. “Now if there’s nothing else I have some business to attend to.”

“No. That’s all I have, for now.” She walked to the door and it opened as she approached. Jeff waited for her on the other side. The door slid shut behind her as the killer escorted her out. This time she was careful to stay abreast of him. She doubted he’d cause her any trouble since it sounded like his boss wanted her to continue drawing breath, but better safe than sorry.

He didn’t say a word as he walked with her out of the building. When they reached the exit door he stopped. “You should join up with us. I could use you.”

The thought of working with Plested or someone like him made her skin crawl. The though of working with Jeff nearly made her want to vomit. The various connotations of that final sentence weren’t lost on her, though his tone of voice was neutral. “Not today Jeff.”

“Maybe not today, but soon. You’re gonna need to make a decision. Either you stick with the kinds of friends that just milk you dry, the week, useless ones. Or you find some real kindred spirits. Maybe you and me can’t ever be friends, but you’re like me. Got a killer’s eye. Riding security is a waste of your fine abilities.” His eyes crawled over every inch of her.

“That’s a decision for me to make, Jeff, and I’ve made it. Nothing you or your boss can offer will change that.” She worked hard to keep her tone as flat as his.

“Don’t know ‘bout that. If the boss calls in his favor it could mean a change of heart is called for.” He smiled, a disturbing sight.

It surprised her a little that he would risk eavesdropping. Why would Plested ask the man to leave if he knew that his office was bugged? So she could be pretty certain that he was doing it without the boss’s knowledge. On the one hand that didn’t seem smart. Still a hired killer like Jeff could never assume that his employers had his best interest in mind. The kind of person that hired a man like Hite wasn’t exactly a font of loyalty.

“We’ll see. Now be a good little cur and head back to your master.”

Jeff balled a fist. He wasn’t used to taking abuse like that and letting the person live. His smile disappeared replaced by a hungry look. “Be glad you’re wanted in one piece for now.”

She didn’t wait for him to finish the thought, if there was even any more to it. She left the lobby of the corporate offices and as soon as she was out of site began double timing it for Mae’s. There was a lot to consider and not much time to consider it in.

This time she actually made it all the way back to the bar. She was exhausted. Her nerves were more than a little frayed and she was ready for a good night’s sleep. Mae’s was at its lowest ebb. No one paid her presence any mind.

Once in her room and changed into some comfortable bed clothes, she crawled between the sheets. It was so good to be home, even if the circumstances were far from ideal. Sleep wasn’t long in coming and mercifully there were no dreams.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Six

Once everything with the station security agent was cleared, and Lucky knew that in spite of them being let go this was not the last she would hear about it, the two ladies resumed their walk to see Aces. She was a little surprised to be taken to a flop house, little better than the coffin sized cells in the detention center. His ordinary place of residence was quite a bit more upscale. This was a good place to lay low though. They didn’t cost much, spacers where the typical residents and Bifrost didn’t encourage ones with little money to stay any longer than necessary. They weren’t exactly picky about getting your right name so long as you had a method of payment, Finally they charged by the hour so if you did have to leave in a hurry you only paid for what you used.

Each unit was one meter high, one and a half wide and two meters long. They were double stacked on each long hall and there were three floors in this unit. Over all there were six hundred units. She knew there were permanent residents that lived here too. She couldn’t imagine it herself, though if all you needed was a place to crash and maybe heat up a meal or watch something on the station net, there were worse places to live. They were clean, though somehow everything managed to feel grimy.

Kim led her to a top unit on the first floor. A red light on the outside indicated that the occupant was at home, telling the cleaners to skip it and letting any potential thieves know the same. Lucky nodded at her to let her know to push the buzzer. She did, and after a few seconds the door popped open. A pleasingly aromatic smell wafted out. Aces had been cooking. He slid out of the hole and landed feet first on the deck.

Dave “Aces” Minkus was well dressed in a navy and white suit. His jet black hair was a little sleep mussed and his slightly slanted eyes had that fresh from a nap look. He and Kim were close in height, be Aces was almost painfully slight. Lucky knew that was a little deceptive. The man could take care of himself in a scrap, though he preferred to talk his way out. At first he only had eyes for his lady, but then he noticed Lucky.

“Uh… hey there Lucky.” He nodded a little sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand. “Good to see you.”

Lucky stood there quietly. She found that silence was a wonderful tool for softening someone up. After a slightly too long pause, she spoke. “Hi Aces. I think you’re forgetting something. Don’t you mean it’s good to see me… alive?”

Aces looked from her to Kim and then back to her. His glance toward his betrothed was a little peevish. When met with a ‘what do you want me to do?’ shrug, that look melted. He knew Lucky better than quite a few people and understood. “I’m not gonna deny it Lucky. It is good to see you alive and unhurt. When you left I had no idea…”

Lucky cut him off. “That’s part of the problem. You should have had some idea. And if It was that sketchy you should have let me know. I recall the words ‘piece of cake’ and something about babies and candy’. I should have smelled something off at that point, but I trusted you. Was that a mistake?”

He rounded on her, hackles raised. “Now look here, we’ve worked together for years and never, not ever have I steered you wrong.” His anger didn’t hold. “At least not on purpose.” He knew as well as she did that this wasn’t the first questionable call he had made. It was, to his credit, the first time in a long time though.

“Look me in my eyes and tell me there were no warning bells in this deal for you.” Her dark eyes widened, demanding honesty.

His own gray irises locked on her and stayed there for a full fifteen seconds. Then they slid to the ground. There was a loud thud and he listed to one side briefly. His hand flew to his right shoulder and he turned to look at Kim. “Owww. What’d you do that for? That hurt.” It wasn’t a whine. For his faults, Aces wasn’t a whiner. There was some genuine pain there though. She had gotten him in a good sucker punch.

Kim’s voice was sharp. “You know damn well why I did that. You put your friend in harms way. If you treat her that way, how’re you going to treat me?” The question ended on a hurt tone.

“Now Kim,” Lucky couldn’t let her beat up on him too badly, “in his defense and to steal his next words from him, I’m an old pro. I should have asked a few more questions. I’ve been in this business in one form or another since he popped out of his mother. I think he’d take care of you as well as any of us are truly able of taking care of someone else.” She backhanded him on the other shoulder, eliciting another yelp of pain, more surprise really. “But I’ve taught you better than that. You communicate to me any reservations you have about a job. At least give me a chance to do some of my own intel.”

Aces stepped back, well out of reach of either woman. His eyes were resigned. “You’re right, of course. I was stupid. I thought that this one would be an easy one. The money was good, really good, compared to what it seemed to entail. That did set off an alarm, but I needed the money.” He took another step back.

Uh oh. Something else was going on here. “You needed the money, why?” Lucky’s eyes narrowed to slits.

He took another step back. “There was some trouble.” He took another step back.

Lucky didn’t move forward an inch. She saw what he was doing. She squatted and looked at the ground between Aces’ feet. Her forearms rested on her thighs. She could have her baton out and extended in a flash. She didn’t want to assault a friend, but there were to many things at stake right now, not the least of which was her neck. His too probably depending on who was behind all of this. “So talk to me about this trouble.”

Kim looked back and forth between Aces and Lucky. “Yeah baby, tell us about the trouble.” She moved toward him, intending to comfort him.

It was too much. Aces took a double step back. He wasn’t cornered. The stairs where only a few meters away. Beads of sweat popped to the surface of his skin. His eyes darted around. Then, realization seemed to come to his eyes. His shoulders slumped and then his body followed. He was on his knees in the next second. His hands cradled his head and his fingers splayed in dark hair. He wasn’t crying, at least there were no sobs or visible tears.

Lucky stayed where she was and watched Kim move to comfort her man. After a minute or two of shushing, platitudes, petting and patting, she came to her feet. “Tell us about the trouble Dave. It’s important to know why you put me, your fiancee, yourself, and everything you and I have worked for in jeopardy.”

Kim’s eyes flashed over to her. She was now in full on ‘defend my man’ mode. “You’re not interested in me or in him. All you care about is your reputation.”

Lucky hated to be wrong, but she was really beginning to reassess Mae’s hiring process for these new girls. The ones that had come on in the early days were generally bright and hard workers. Maybe that had colored Lucky’s perception of this particular one. Because she wasn’t all that bright. “Kim. I’ve know Mr. Minkus there a lot longer than you and I could argue a lot better.”

Kim gasped.

“No, no, no. He’s not my type. I just mean when you’re in a partnership that’s based on the sort of business we’re in you get to know a person pretty well. He has to know what I’m capable of so that he can pick the right jobs for me. I have to trust that he has my best interests at heart so that I feel comfortable letting him find jobs for me. So far it’s been a very lucrative partnership.” Her eyes went to the suit. It was a little thinner and threadbare than the clothes the man usually chose. He had always been a flashy dresser. He was also missing some of his favorite jewelry. She took in her surroundings and then cast her mind over what Kim had said. “Money trouble. Dave, what have you gotten yourself into?”

She took four long strides forward, stopping short of the couple. “Help him up. I want to look in his eyes again.” She wasn’t angry. Okay well that wasn’t entirely true. Emotions were complex things. She was certainly angry that he had done something so incredibly stupid as to put money troubles in front of their respective reputations and well being. So yes she was angry, but more than that she was concerned. If he had money issues why hadn’t he come to her for help. He knew that she had plenty. It was probably nothing more than stupid pride, something she herself certainly wasn’t immune to. Still, she wanted to hear it from his mouth.

The tone wasn’t to be ignored. Kim helped him to his feet and Aces stood, damp faced and managing to meet her gaze.

“Tell me Dave.” Her tone was softened. The haunted look in those eyes demanded it as much as her own had earlier demanded answers.

“It’s stupid.” He stopped. A firm squeeze form Kim got him started again. He nodded. “Gambling. I started gambling about six months ago. I had this system all worked out and rolled most of my savings into it. It worked the first few times and then the bottom fell out. I panicked. Borrowed some money and tried to get back on top. Then that was gone. This job came along. No questions asked and there was a lot of money. It would have been enough to pay off my debts and restore some of what I lost originally. I jumped at it.” He spewed the words out and would have deflated had his substantially endowed girlfriend not kept him up.

Gambling was certainly pretty stupid, Lucky nodded. “How much are we talking here?”

“A million.” His eyes went through the floor.

Lucky’s moth dropped open. That was certainly substantial. Mid six figures was usual and then they would split it. After expenses she managed to put away a comfortable amount and as far as she knew so did he. That didn’t make sense though. He had told her before she left that her cut on the job was going to be two-fifty. They always split fifty-fifty. That meant he was holding out on her in a major way. Another thought occurred to her. “You were going to skip out on me, weren’t you? Collect the money and jump before I got my cut?” She balled her right fist.

He nodded slightly.

“That’s why you were bugging Kent so much. You wanted to know the second I got back, right?” The temperature of her voice dropped several degrees.

He shrugged. “I had to Lucky. But there’s … more.” He looked up.

“Go ahead.” She said it through gritted teeth. Any matronly feeling she had for the man were an icy ball in the pit of her stomach.

“Well you know how we’ve got insurance on you, right?” His eyes went back down. “I tripled it a few weeks ago. I figured either way I’d be covered.” His last words were barely audible.

It was Lucky’s turn to step back. “You double crossing son of a …” If she didn’t step back she would hit him. They had both agreed in light of no real family or significant other that he should be her beneficiary. It didn’t hurt her feeling any. She’d be dead and he would benefit. Besides, it hadn’t been a whole lot of money. Then she heard his last sentence for real. “You bumped my insurance up to?” She whipped around and planted her fist into the nearest metal wall. Thankfully it was pretty cheap construction and was really low grade synthetic covered by even thinner metal. The resounding crunch didn’t come from her hand, thankfully. His face wouldn’t have faired any better than the wall had. It had been quite awhile since she had taken her anger out on an inappropriate inanimate object or against a friend. She felt like she made the right choice.

Kim let Aces go and ran off the way they had come from.

Aces just stood there, looking for all the world like he was awaiting the noose.

“Well I’m back and I’m alive and the cargo is under the control of the Vregonians. I’m guessing that you didn’t negotiate for us to get paid even of the cargo was lost?”
He shook his head so weakly, she wasn’t sure she really saw it.

“So we get no money and you’re still in the hole for at least a million?”

He swallowed thickly. “Well we might see some money If the ship’s insurance comes through, but that would just be a per diem for you. Wouldn’t amount to much. Our real payment was based on delivery.”

She walked over to him and grabbed his jacket. It threatened to give away. She hoisted him to a near attention posture and put her lips inches from his face. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to pay your debt. I am going to forget for the moment that you were a complete fool and we are going to continue to work together. Once we get past this mess, we are going to reevaluate our personal and professional relationship. That may be a painful experience for both of us. Do you understand?”

He nodded, looking completely bewildered. “But… but… Why?”

She let him go and he worked hard to stay upright. Looking down on him literally and figuratively, she answered his question. “Thanks to this little job that you set up, the whole crew is being held by the Vregonians. I barely managed to escape.” She was sticking with their cover story for now. It pained her, but there was no way she could trust her ‘partner’. “I need two things. One I’m going to restore my reputation after this little escapade. Two I’m going to figure out a way to get that crew rescued. So here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to tell the people who we did this job for that their cargo was compromised. Please tell me you didn’t know what it was?”

He shook his head.

“I was guarding a shipment of their eggs or embryos or whatever through their space. They were not happy. So we’re going to tell the people you got the job from that we know. We’re going to see if they have any other shipments for us to guard. You are going to do whatever you need to to make that happen. You’re also going to find out who they are. Here again I’m guessing you don’t know that either?”

He shook his head again, looking more miserable and a little confused. “Why would you want to do another job for them? Especially knowing what you know now?”

“Oh, I have an angle. You let me worry about that though. I’m guessing that these people will have another shipment.”

He nodded, looking grateful that he knew something useful at least. “I was in touch with them recently. They wanted a status update. I was able to bluff them off. It didn’t surprise me that your ship was running silent. I didn’t know what the cargo was, I swear.” He swallowed again. “But I figured it was illicit, somehow. Don’t know if they’ll know you’re back, but since I don’t know who they really are… There’s no way to be sure.”

“Fine, whatever. Make contact. Make the deal happen. Just tell me who you owe the money to and I’ll settle your debt. Once you’ve got the deal hammered out, you come meet me at Mae’s.” She paused and looked at him meaningfully. “And this should go without saying Dave, but don’t run. Do this thing and we’ll be square. Make me have to track you down again and I’ll remember what I’m trying very hard to forget.” She didn’t think he’d be able to make it off the station without her hearing about it. She’d talk to Kent as soon as she got away from Dave and tell him to keep an eye on all outbound for the man. She hoped that fear or remembered friendship would make that unnecessary.

“Okay. Lucky. I… I’m sorry. And thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And I’ll forward you a few hundred to get some decent clothes and a real place to stay. You’re not going anywhere until this whole thing’s over and while I’m away you need to line us up some real, legit jobs so that we can get your money back to the right place. You’re gonna make that Kim and honest woman.” A smile tried to crawl back on her face and almost made it.

He looked at her, uncertain. “Do you think she’ll have me?”

“I don’t know why she would. I know if I were her I wouldn’t. Then again, at you’re best, you’re handsome, charming, and apparently good in the bunk. That’s enough for some women. And I’m forgiving you, though I know I shouldn’t. So who knows. What I do know is it’s gonna take a long time to get anything like the trust you had before back up again. Think on that while you’re getting this straightened out.”

He nodded. “Thanks. I will.” His voice was low, thoughtful without being cowed. Then his face shifted. There was a look about him that Lucky didn’t much care for. “Now, on to the unpleasant part. You want to know who I borrowed the money from.”

She nodded and steeled herself for the news. Whatever it was she doubted she would like it any more than he apparently did.

“Plested.”

Lucky unleashed a particular colorful swear. After a pause she repeated it, letting it roll off her tongue.

Mike Plested was the boss of Bifrost. The station was by no means a democracy. He was the company’s representative and was equal parts mayor and chief executive officer. She and Mike had a history. He didn’t like anyone that didn’t kowtow. She didn’t like his disregard for what she had begun to hope was common human decency.

Thankfully she had friends on Bifrost, influential friends. They couldn’t really keep him off her back entirely, but if he pushed her too far or kicked her off the station, they could make life difficult for him. Mae’s establishment was popular among the visiting dignitaries, kept the miners happy, and brought a fair amount of jobs and revenue. Kent knew where some major bodies were buried, literally and figuratively. Lucky didn’t want to use them and she never pushed things so far that the two had to get involved, but their presence was a diffusive buffer between the two powerhouse personalities.

It made sense really. Plested was the only person on the station that really had the liquid cash that Aces needed.

“Sorry, Lucky.”

She shook her head. “It’s okay, Aces. You did what you had to do.” And it was. She would go and pay him the money. She wouldn’t like it one bit. The thought of lining his pockets with the usurious interest he was charing was only balanced by the notion that she was helping a friend. “And I’ll do what I have to do.”

The use of his nickname broke a little bit of the ice that had formed in the air. He held out his hand. “I will. I’ll see you tomorrow at Mae’s.”

Lucky took his hand and the two friends hugged. It was brief, broken early by Lucky. She ordinarily wasn’t one for extended displays of affection, particularly in public.

She nodded. “Alright.” And with that she turned and walked down the steps to street level.

A few mintues later and she was about halway back to Mae’s. She picked up the tail quickly. A combination of light foot traffic thanks to the lateness of the hour and absolutely no vehicles made it easy. Of course the person wasn’t really doing anything to conceal himself. It could be done by a pro.

She stopped and spun on one heel. She wasn’t terribly shocked by the person her quick movement revealed.

“Lucky.” The tall dark haired man nodded at her. Blue eyes, hooded by the respect of one predator for another, bored into her searching her for any obvious weapons. He wore a long black coat at least three hundred years out of style. She knew that he also wore at least two slug throwers and a beamer, along with a hadful of other weapons underneath it. Jeff Hite was Mike Plested’s right hand man. He did any dirty work necessary and probably a piece or two of unnecessary work as a hobby.

“Jeff, I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.” Her tone was actually legitimately pleasant. She had wanted to get back to Mae’s and get some sleep. Tackling Aces’ money problems in the morning had sounded really good. Seeing Mike tonight though might be just like ripping off an old bandaid, painful but satisfying.

He was a little taken aback by her attitude. “Good… to see you too.” As he nodded again she could see the silvery scar. It was a memento of their first run in. She had certainly earned her name that night. “The Boss would like to speak to you about something. I need you to come with me.” It wasn’t a request. When Plested wanted something it usually happened.

“Sounds good to me. I have a thing or two to talk to him about myself.”

He held his hand out, gesturing for her to take the lead. She did, certain that he wouldn’t shoot her only because the Boss wanted to see her. If he wanted her dead it was likely she’d already be cold. Jeff had no qualms about shooting someone in the back and once the business with Mike was concluded she wouldn’t be so cavalier about letting him have the advantage.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Five

By the time Lucky got back to the Mae’s the restaurant had gone into low maintenance mode. It never really closed, but the lights were dim over certain sections and out completely over others leaving an unspoken no man’s land. In the darkest hours of the night people could still be found there doing what people did in the dark so long as it wasn’t illegal and they caused no ruckus. There were knots of people at the bar and a few small groups occupying tables. She could tell who the working girls were mainly because she knew them as individuals. There was also a certain body language, a confident sexuality even if the clients wanted something more meek. There was a chance she would be wrong even with these preconceptions, but it wasn’t like she was looking even for herself.

Kim was nowhere to be found. That meant she was either in a room working or just in her personal room relaxing or studying. There were no formal hours and no quota so long as the girls were able to pay for their spaces and general upkeep and expenses. Much like the bar, restaurant and hotel, that part of Mae’s house never closed either.
She chose a stool a good distance from anyone else and caught Tee’s eye. The flame haired bartender sauntered over to her, pulling a pint of bitter as he passed the rank of taps. Sliding it in front of her he winked rakishly. “I get off in a few hours.”

Lucky smiled at the familiar ritual. “Really? I heard it was a few minutes.” She took the cool glass and drank deeply of the hoppy brew. The hurt pout on his lips almost made her spew liquid in his face. The man was a natural born thespian and loved mugging for the customers as well as his friends. Most regulars fell into both categories.

“Is that any way to talk? You could damage my reputation.” His eyes flicked towards a statuesque brunette down the bar. “Or my potential for a date when I really do get off.” The woman was staggeringly beautiful and not one of Mae’s.

She didn’t want to hurt his potential liaison, but didn’t know whether or not to take him seriously. “Sorry, oh great one.” There was no sarcams in her tone, though it danced its wicked dance in the well of her eyes.

A deep sigh came from the man as he drank deeply from the look. “I could think of a way you could make it up…”

She stopped his words with a finger. “Tee, I love you deeply as a friend and that’s as far as our relationship is fated to go.” She did love the man dearly, but any romantic interest, any at all, was on the back burner until she was ready to retire. If he was still interested at that point then perhaps she would entertain the thought. She took her finger back only after he kissed it lightly. “Now be a darling and tell me you’ve seen Kim.”

“The Goddess? Yeah, I believe she’s around here somewhere. Last I saw her she was working a tourist.” He glanced around. “He’s not here so maybe they’re upstairs?”

A tourist and upstairs meant some serious money. The only real tourists that may be coming through these parts would do so strictly for the travel through the deep dark in search of adventure. That was expensive. She shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to wait and enjoy the scenery.”

A low whistle tore Tee’s attention away. “Hold that thought.” He turned to see what customer was hailing him.

Lucky took a longer pull from the bitter, getting the glass to a halfway point. She was thirsty, but moreover a little nervous. About what she couldn’t say exactly. It likely had something to do with the ticking of a clock. She was used to working with a deadline, but usually forfeiture just meant a loss of money. There was a lot more on the line this go around. Se pushed the beer away just a little, not wanting to rush it and wind up impaired. The right pill could counteract that but even those had side effects that could be unpleasant.

Tee glided back up to the spot near her. “Now, I’m sorrry. You were saying something about needing to see Kim?”

“Right, and she was upstairs with a guest you thought.”

“Yeah.” He looked down and then back up again. “That’s an affirmative. I see her on my magic crystal ball that she and the gent went upstairs about twenty minutes ago.” He looked back down. “The gentleman in question’s average time visiting is about a half hour.” Satisfied with what he saw there, he met her gaze again. “Any man that spends less than an hour in the company of one of Mae’s women is either too poor to do what he knows, or too inexperienced to know what he’s doing. A real shame that and a waste.”

“I’ll wait. Hey you haven’t seen Aces have you?” She looked hopeful.

“Not lately. And given Kim’s current state, I doubt she’s expecting him.” He looked down and tapped at something. “I see here that the two love birds haven’t enjoyed one another’s company in two days. Not on the record anyway.”

“And we know that the madame doesn’t like things to be off the record where paying customers are concerned.” Mae was a lovely gentle soul, but she could be a hard boss. She expected only the best from her people and complete honesty and loyalty. If you slipped up once all was forgiven, though not forgotten. A second infraction lost you what would likely have been one of the best paying, safest jobs on station.

“Indeed we do.” Tee had been caught once watering down the customer’s drinks and skimming from the till. Fortunately for him he did it in one night and Mae counted that as one infraction. Eight years later he was still working for her. He had learned his lesson. He saw the pushed away beer. “I hope that wasn’t an editorial comment?” Tee, in addition to being the barkeeper was also the bar manager and brewmaster.

“No, not at all. Just need to keep my head clear. It’s great as usual.” The vegetables from earlier hadn’t stuck with her. “Bring me whatever today’s soup is while I wait. I need to see her.” It looked like one way or another a stake out was going to be called for. At least she didn’t have to be under cover for this one and had a comfortable spot to sit.

Fortunately Lucky didn’t have to wait too long. She had finished her bitter and was about to gesture over to Tee for another one when Kim came in. She was a buxom thing, blond hair cascading down her back. She moved with an assurance that was shared by the ladies in Mae’s keeping. If you wanted a meek thing for your bed you didn’t come to the Chop House.

She scanned the room, whether she was looking for Aces or another customer or just checking the place out Lucky couldn’t really tell. Perhaps it was a mix of the three. When her eyes met Lucky’s they widened in surprise. that assurance nearly evaporated and she turned on her heel.

Lucky was off the stool in a shot and after her. Not two dozen long strides passed before her short nailed hand landed on the golden silk that the other’s body was wrapped in. Her strong fingers dug in to the flesh beneath, more due to the speed with which the two moved than out of any cruelty or desire to really harm her.

Kim gasped at the contact and then swore softly under her breath. She turned slowly, keeping her hands where Lucky cuould see them. That was wise. Lucky wasn’t trigger happy by any means and didn’t have that reputation, but maybe Kim didn’t know her that well and just maybe Kim knew something that may make her reconsider her usual MO.

“Hi there Kim.” Lucky worked to keep her tone neutral but the barest hint of sarcsasm crept into it. “Why are you in such a rush? Didin’t expect to see me?” Her eyes narrowed.

Kim lowered her head under the gaze. “Not sure what I was thinking really. it’s just that, well, Mink told me to go right to him if I saw you around. He seemed pretty adamant that I let him know quickly. He didn’t seem to want me to have any conversations with you first.”

That story didn’t make a whole lot of sense. There shouldn’t be any reason for Aces, she held back a snort at the appelation ‘Mink’, to be that cagey about Lucky’s return unless he knew more than he had any right to. “Say there Kim, where you and ‘Mink’ planning to be leaving the station any time soon?”

“What sort of question is that?”

Lucky, whose hand had relaxed enough for the young lady, little more than a girl really, to turn around now tightened. “Don’t play games with me Kim. I am not a person to fool around with.” He voice dropped and became husky. “Now tell me, were you and Mink planning on going somewhere?”

Steel resolved itself in Kim’s cornflower eyes. She didn’t like being pushed around. The two women locked gazes for a full and very quiet thirty seconds. Finally it was Kim’s eyes that sought the floor first. “I wasn’t. Mink said that hw would go first, find a place for us to honeymoon.”

“Honeymoon?” The incredulity practuically dripped form her tongue. All the thoughts she had about Kim being so smart flew out the window. “You two getting married?”

Kim looked back up. “Well that’s usually the cause for a honeymoon.” her tone got defensive. “Mink said he had a big deal on and he was going to make enough money so that I didnt’ have to go with any more men. I don’t mind the life. This is a good place, but he’s such a sweet man and he want’s to take care of me.”

“I don’t know who’s the bigger fool, him for thinking you’re one to need taking care of or you for thinking the same.” She let Kim go and scrubbed at her face with both hands, growling in frustration. “But then that’s not really my problem or my business.” She dropped her hands. “What is my problem is finding Minkus and getting to the bottom of a few things. You’re going to take me to him.” There was no question, just a tired hardness in her voice. She would take no foolishness from this girl, one surely no more than a third of her age.

The blue eyes that met her gaze were now chips of sapphire. “You’re right, it’s not any of your business and I will take you to him, but not because I want to.” The protest was weak but it was all she had. In spite of the hardness in her eyes, her body seemed to collapse on itself like a soufflé gone off.

Lucky nodded. Playing the heavy wasn’t something she ever really minded. If she did then she was in the wrong line of work by far. If you folded the first time a cute, innocent looking face got weepy or insulted, you might as well stay home. That didn’t mean she had to feel good about it. “I’d thank you Kim, but I know it’s not welcome. I do want you to know that I like your finace. He’s a good man and if you two do get married then he’ll make a good husband.” Not a great one by any stretch. “Once he and I are done with our business, I won’t stand in your way.” She did hope to still do business with Minkus, but if they were really going off station then it was time to find someone new and groom them.

Silence stretched between them. Just as it was about to get really uncomfortable Kim turned and started walking. They left through a side entrance and came out in one of the alleys. These narrow side streets were not really alleys in the old sense of the word. They were safe enough, though at night you probably still wanted to pass on the main thoroughfare. They were lit and clean. The station patrols made sure that anyone passed out was taken to where they belonged, be it a company flop house, a personal residence, or as a last result one of the coffin sized boxes that served as a jail cell.

There was a chance of getting mugged, but like it was in most places except for the true cess pools, if you looked like you knew what you were doing you could at least carry the illusion of safety with you. This wasn’t going to be one of those time.

A lanky figure detached itself from a wall. He was tall, at least two-tenths of a meter taller than lucky, herself no small woman. He wore the gray coveralls common to someone who worked on one of the lower levels of the station. The grease stains and general air of unkemptness around him though wouldn’t have been tolerated by most station bosses she knew.

She could smell the mixture of body odor and booze before he got anywhere close. If she hadn’t been so distracted by the tiff with Kim and the general poor state of her sleep habits for the last month she probably would have picked him up before the door closed behind them. Unfortunately, she knew without looking that the side doors don’t open from the outside. If they turned around they would be greeted by smooth beige metal.

“Evenin’ ladies.” The dim light revealed stubble and a look in his eyes that was an ugly mixture of desperation and hunger.

There were no weapons immediately visible on his person. That should make things easier. They were two women against one man. Kim should know how to take care of herself fairly well so no dead weight there. Then she heard a slight hum behind her. The nearly sub-audible noise told her that it was a stunner of some kind. Projectile weapons were a big no-no on station and even blasters required a special permit. If Asplund or one of his law keepers caught you with an illegal weapon you might be put in the mining operation or even ‘accidentally’ spaced. They didn’t take kindly to people putting the integrity of their physical world in danger. A stunner though, that was easy enough to get and keep. It was also easy to amp up to something lethal. She couldn’t tell just from the noise if this had been rigged.

“Good evening.” Lucky nodded. “What can we do for you?” The palm of her hand itched for either her baton or her hold out blaster. Not with an unknown at her back though.

Kim chimed in. “Look, why don’t you just leave us alone, Job.”

The man looked startled. “You remember me?”

“Of course I do. I have a knack for remembering faces. Especially faces of people who try and short the house.” She snapped at him.

Lucky reckoned she probably hadn’t heard the noise behind them. Kim must be running on the assumption that it was just Job. Unfortunately for them both, Kim also thought she could tough her way out of this. Lucky for one noticed the subtle shift in body language and the glare of an eye that the desperation became anger, a dangerous sort of rage that meant things were going to get ugly.

Job pulled something small from a pocket. A blade flipped out from his fingers. The knife was short and ugly, utilitarian and meant for cutting really tough synthetics. It would do messy things to flesh and bone. “Maybe if you didn’t overcharge. I think we’re gonna have us a real freebie this time.”

Kim didn’t have anything to say to that. She stepped back, eyes on the knife.

“Look, Job is it? Job, you and your friend back there just need to move on. This is not a fight you really want to pick.” Lucky’s voice stayed even.

“Friends.” A voice from behind her said. It was higher pitched than Job’s, but at the same time more intimidating. “And fight implies that you ladies,” the word was said with as much contempt as only a career misogynist can successfully communicate, “are going to put up a struggle.”

Lucky looked over her left shoulder. She saw two men who must have come form another cross street. A short, stubby looking man, the source of the second voice if she really had to guess, held what was little more than a glorified cattle prod. The third offender was average build and held something that sent a small shiver through Lucky. It was a homemade scatter gun. Yeah this crew was just begging to be put out an airlock.

“I’m not going to do anything stupid, but you really need to think about this.” Lucky held her hands out even with her waist, palms down.

“We’ve thought about it a lot.” Scattergun had a gravelly bass. “Why don’t you go ahead on and follow Job. He’s gonna take us some place a little quieter.”

That wouldn’t be good. There were access hatches to lower levels and those were places that you definitely didn’t want to go. Screams would get lost in the echoing pathways and bodies could be disposed of easily.

Job looked a little disappointed that he couldn’t deal with it here and now, but he gestured with the knife. “Yeah, follow me.” He turned his back, trusting his mates to watch the women.

That was when Lucky moved. She was fast. There was no artificial augmentation in her body. All the speed and strength came from hours spent in practice. There wasn’t a lot to do in the deep dark other than working on whatever it was you wanted to excel at. She excelled at hurting people.

She clipped Kim on the shoulder as she passed, bouncing her into a wall and knocking her down, out of the line of any fire. There was none, at least nothing immediately forthcoming. Not even taking the time to be thankful for that little blessing, she through herself forward into a low tackle. As she moved she did here a shout, but the thundering of blood in her ears made even that a distant murmur.

Her shoulder caught the lanky man just at the back of his knees and he fell backward landing on her. Their bodies tangled together and his sudden weight on her made her breath rush from her lungs. It wasn’t the prettiest thing, but she had the pleasure of hearing his knife go flying and in knowing that unless he wanted to kill or maim his partner there would be know metal pellets forthcoming.

Job yelled and fought, trying to rid himself of this mad woman. She still had a good hold on one of his ankles, but that was precarious given the heavy boot it was shod in. She slipped her hand down around his foot and with a hard push and a grunt flipped them both sideways. The roll continued and his foot rotated faster than the rest of him. A loud snapping noise and a scream satisfied her that he wouldn’t be using that ankle until it got patched up.

Being free did mean that she could move and go on the offensive, but it also meant that one of his friends could get frisky. Lucky had managed to roll to one knee and half sat upright trying to keep her frame as compact as possible. The dim light helped make her a bad target, but if that was a true scatter gun the pellet filled air would make that less of an issue.

In the brief time that had elapsed since Job turned her other opponents hadn’t moved far. They really had expected the two women to just come along. The man she thought of as Scattergun just stood there with his mouth open. Shock, as much as if not more than his friend’s proximity, kept his from firing. The guy with the electric prod moved towards Kim’s prone form with purpose.

Distance prevented her from pulling the baton and going to town on them, as satisfying as that might be. Instead, she reached for her hold out. The slim metal and plastic device didn’t look threatening at all if you didn’t know what it was. The act of freeing it activated it and in milliseconds it was ready to fire. She pointed it and pressed the firing stud. Nothing appeared to happen. There was no pulse of light or noise to give her location away.

Cattle prod dropped his weapon and grabbed his face. He screamed as it turned bright red and blisters raised instantly. The concentrated blast of microwave radiation cooked a good portion of his head. It wasn’t enough to be lethal, not at this range, but there was a good chance he’d need a new set of eyes.

Scattergun looked conflicted. His weapon was still pointed in her general direction, but he glanced around as if looking for a way out.

She didn’t want to give him any chances. The holdout only held enough charge for a couple of shots. He was farther away which diminished the effectiveness, much like the weapon he carried. She took two running steps from her crouch and hurled herself forward holding down the stud. A spray of sparks leapt from his gun and he dropped it as the moisture in his hands flashed to near the boiling point.

Lucky landed roughly, grunting in pain. The holdout clattered in front of her, spent. After a second of trying to regain her breath and mostly succeeding, she came to her feet. There was no sign of Scattergun and the other ‘gentleman’ had fallen to his side, still holding his face and sobbing.

Kim rolled to her back, groaning and managed to sit up. She rubbed at the spot on her shoulder where her body kissed the wall. Her eyes looked from one man to the other and then to Lucky. “Thanks.” Was all she could manage to say. It was enough.

Lucky helped Kim to her feet. “You’re welcome.” She reached down into her boot and pulled it the baton. It went from hand width to forearm length with a flick. Neither of the men seemed like they were in a position to threaten anyone, but better safe than sorry.

“I’ll call security.” Kim tapped at her bracelet, but it didn’t seem to be working.

Lucky pulled her e-harp out and tapped at it with a thumb. The readout came to life. “One of these guys has a portable jammer.” She tapped at the surface again. “It’s not very strong though. Good enough to block most commercial communications devices.” Another tap and a signal went out to the automated security net, letting it know that there was a citizen in danger. The nearest deputy would be around soon. It wouldn’t have been soon enough had they needed to rely on one for their salvation, but good enough for a little cleanup.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Four

Martyn was glad to be on his own in a strange human settlement.  He enjoyed Lucky’s company.  She was the only human he had ever spent a significant length of time with by himself.  While he had taken part in a number of interrogations and consulted on other communications this was his first field assignment and it was exciting.  It was that, rather than any feelings he had toward the woman, that filled him with happiness.  The only thing that clouded his bliss was the idea of visiting the consul. 

Perhaps it was something in the personality of the few Vregonians like him that had been chosen as students of human culture, but he found himself not liking his own people very much.  He would defend them to the death of course, metaphorically speaking, and would trust them over the humans’ every time, that went without saying.  Truly enjoying their company though was a different matter.  He supposed that the immersion training he had received from his earliest days was also to blame.

Even if those factors didn’t weigh in to the equation paying homage to the consul was something to dread.  The misfits that they sent to posts like this were almost always unpleasant or so he had heard.  Anyone willing to be so cut off from the rest of their people could hardly be any different.  The irony of that thought wasn’t completely lost on him.  At least he wasn’t doomed to the banishment, self imposed or by legal fiat, that some of these so called consuls were.  No, he could come and go from one world to the other as he had between water and air for his first few years of life. 

The humans that worked with the consul, if there were even any that payed him any heed, probably didn’t even realize that he wasn’t much more than an outcast.  They probably also wouldn’t understand the social pressure that was placed on someone like Martyn to go and see him anyway.  If it weren’t for their cover story, truthfully, Martyn would probably skipped the visit no matter how wicked that might seem to prior generations.  One thing humans did get right, a thing he admired them for, was their rugged individuality.  Lucky couldn’t possibly know the pressure he was under to fall in line.

He had looked in to the life of this particular consul before setting foot on Bifrost.  Sid was a real rotten egg, a religious zealot.  The belief system he represented, though bits of it were valuable to the collective, was painfully out of date and insulting.  One things humans did get right, perhaps the only thing and even that a little overblown, was the philosophy that the individual was the pinnacle of society.  That was going too far, naturally.  It was almost as bad as what he was likely about to hear from his fellow Vregonian.  Still, at least the humans erred on the right side.  The truly sad thing though was that their current ruling council was on board with this slop, at least in word if not deed.  It had been toned down for the general populace, but many of the council still worried about what the Mind would think.  That representative of their collective unconscious couldn’t think its way over a stump, but you couldn’t tell that to most.

He was nearly oblivious to the humans around him. Most of them had seen a Vregonian, but there will still gawkers since one or two was all most had seen. Before docking Martyn checked the public station net and knew the layout of the place. He knew where he would find the consulate and his feet took him there without error. Even off planet there was an acute sense of his surroundings and an innate direction sense that carried over from some migratory ancestor. Much like the humans he admired, his own species came from a prey animal that developed higher brain functions to survive. They travelled more in groups than the humans though and from that was born this group mind that many of his people still clung to with a religious fervor. The link to one another was once incredibly strong. Nurturing that dormant ability now that they had advanced so far, climbed into the very stars, seemed a step backwards. Still it was that, as much as any map, that drew him to his fellow.

The house that he arrived at was much like the ones on either side, low and beige with curtained windows. There was no marker to indicate that the beings that lived there weren’t humans except for a metal sculpture hanging from the doorpost. To a human’s eye it was almost amorphous, swirls of some malleable element. There were subtle colors present, but in the shifted spectrum that Martyn could see a pattern popped out. The whole was representative not only of the mind, but of the primordial soup that they had come from. There was a lot of cultural baggage tied up in it and even he wasn’t completely immune. He stopped up to it and tapped each piece once. It produced a resonance that again was so subtle any human would miss it. His host’s species were certainly gifted with a finer sense of smell and touch than his but they had their own advantages.
Satisfied that his presence had been made known, he waited. After a few moments the door opened. Martyn was more than a little shocked by what greeted him. The being was almost a full meter taller than he was and had green, heavily mottled skin and a broad head. It was a member of their warrior class and judging by his skin and stance, a very old member indeed. He wore the gray body sleeve that most of his class wore under their armor. There were no weapons present that he could see, but that meant little. In any case he could easily break Martyn in half bare handed.

The behemoth blinked slowly, stupidly. His movement were sluggish and he hesitated before speaking. “Welcome to this house.”

The formal greeting was in their own tongue and the fetid breath was tinged with alcohol. Martyn crossed his arms, palms outward at shoulder height. “I come in peace.” He returned the formal response. “I come seeking Faiwu. Is he within?” The human syllables nearly tripped over his tongue mixed in with those of his native language. He didn’t know the consul’s birth name.

“He is. You may enter.” He moved back, opening the door wide enough so that Martyn could come in. “I am Lowmaster.” He continued in their native language, but also gave his human name. “You have not given your own.”

Minor annoyance flashed thorough Martyn. To be reminded of a simple breech of protocol by what was no doubt a piece of flotsam washed up here on this station was a nuisance, but a stinging one. “Martyn. Martyn Darkly.” He entered the house. It smelled of home and not artificial scents either at least not so he could tell. The deep, complex smell of rot and standing water was comforting after the canned air on the ship. The anteroom that he now stood in was much more humid than anywhere else he had been recently. It was as close as the station could provide for them to their own atmosphere. The floor covering simulated damp, loamy soil. He removed his boots and let his feet squish. It was relaxing.

“Wait here.” Lowmaster extended a hand for him to stay put. A door slid open into a much darker room beyond where the smells and moisture were even more intense. That was promising and at the same time off putting. It would be enjoyable to fee so at hime, but it meant that Fiawu was not integrated into his host’s environment. That struck him as more than a little rude. It also meant that the consul might be even more seperationist than he read.

After two minutes the door reopened. Lowmaster stood there blocking the way. “You must remove the synthetics. Only then can you enter.”

Martyn bared his mouth ridge in annoyance, but did as he was told. He removed the khaki suit careful to hang it so that none of the contents of his pockets would come out. Now completely naked and weaponless, Martyn moved through the door. It was dark beyond, even by their standards. He could see well enough to avoid bumping into any walls and completed the complex maze of halls that seemed odd and pointless. Finally, Lowmaster lead him through a door and into another small room. It was done like his great grandparents’ bungalow, reed flooring and low wooden furniture with a low domed ceiling over all. At the center of the dimly lit room sat the holy one, or so Martyn’s elders would have called him.

The source of the light was an artificial fire just a meter in front of Faiwu’s chair. Four others surrounded it. The small black and red amphibioid gestured for Martyn to take one. “Welcome to my home. Please join me in the sacred space.”

It was like he had stepped back over four thousand years. Nothing here was artificial or so it seemed. For everything to be truly natural would be difficult and expensive. That would be in character for one like Faiwu. He wouldn’t even tolerate artificial clothing in this ‘church’. Vregonian’s really didn’t have anything like a religion. They worshipped no gods like the humans. Perhaps in the dimmest recesses of their history they did, but this wasn’t about a higher being. It was about the potential of the many becoming one being.

Respecting the wishes of his host, Martyn took a sit across and to the right. Lowmaster took the similar position to his left. Martyn tilted his head sideways. “My thanks for your welcome. I will only be here for a few days, but I wanted to give you my respects.” He brought no gifts. That was a human tradition he was fascinated by. They didn’t al do it, but it seemed to him that humans didn’t believe that someone could provide for themselves. That was the message a gift of any sort communicated to his people.

“What brings you here Martyn?” Faiwu continued to look into the reddish light source.

“I am with a human. She and I escaped our security forces and together we came here. We are business partners.”

Fiawu looked up. “You add your work to a human’s? What is the point of that?”

“I needed a contact among her people. She and I were in the same cell. It was expedient.” Most older Vregonians believed that humans were non-entities. They simply hadn’t evolved to the place where they were anything worthy of consideration. If it weren’t for the other sentients in the galaxy or for the danger that some said humans represented they would have simply ignored them. Martyn didn’t agree, recognizing some worth in the odd looking species.

“Interesting.” The warrior Lowmaster rumbled. “And now that you are here will you still work with her?”

“So long as she is useful.”

Lowmaster let out a long low groan, a thoughtful sound. “Well, if you need information on anything about this settlement, you only have to ask. If that will relieve you of your burden. The humans think I am as one of their drunkards.”

That explained the alcohol smell. Vregonians couldn’t actually metabolize it and it had no effect on them. Humans likely didn’t know that. He looked over. “I thank you Lowaster. That may be useful.” Humans tended to ignore things they didn’t understand, even more so if they thought they did. “At the moment we are looking for a job. I need funds since I was unable to acquire them prior to our escape.”

“What crime did you commit?” The question came from the consul.

This would be a little tricky. Crimes against a human would be considered no problem. You couldn’t really commit a crime against a non-person. Any crime against his own people may bruise the relationship he wanted to build here. It could be useful, especially if Lowmaster had overheard anything about the shipment of eggs. “A brother and I conspired to collect an excess tax on trade between us and some human settlements. We would keep the difference.” That wasn’t a very severe crime against his own people. Most of the harm would be on the humans and it didn’t ultimately harm their own. Still it was likely that the more modern government would treat it as a crime since it would harm long term trade agreements.

Faiwu looked disappointed. “Ahhh greed. It would seem that this has become our peoples greatest sin. We mar the face of our great mind with it. We want everything that our technology can bring us.”

Martyn interrupted. “No disrespect intended sir, but what is the point of having all of these things if we aren’t to use them. Your house is no thatched hut from one of our home worlds and yet here you have all of the comforts you could possibly desire. It is as though you never left home.” The sort of backwards thinking Faiwu was displaying was ultimately more harmful than any petty greed. He couldn’t help but be a little disappointed himself and his words bore from that seed. “Not that you left home precisely. If you are here then surely it’s because whatever ‘sin’ you committed was no less egregious than my own?”

The larger one began to rise, seeming to grab for a weapon that wasn’t there.

Faiwu raised a hand. “Be at ease Lowmaster. He is right in a way. We three are here not of our own free will. We have been sent here and must make the best of things.”

Lowmaster took his place again but shot a warning look at Martyn.

“I agree.” Martyn nodded his head in the human gesture. “And as I said, I mean no offense. I want my time here to be pleasant and my time with you two mutually rewarding. I don’t know how long I will be here or what is in store for me.” He paused. “In fact I am hoping perhaps you can help me with that.”

Faiwu leaned backwards. “I am listening. I would be glad to help a brother with any problem he may have.”

That was one bonus of working with someone who believed as Faiwu did. When he called Martyn a brother it wasn’t in that way that humans seemed to use. While there was not doubt a significant amount of separation between them genetically, he did genuinely view anyone of his species as a brother and extended a certain level of trust that humans would find hard to extend to a complete stranger. Martyn felt no similar compulsion. He didn’t really trust Faiwu or Lowmaster, but could mimic the ancient customs well enough and take advantage of them.

“Good. You see the human I am working with was arrested for being in charge of a shipment of some of our eggs.”

Lowmaster hissed violently and Faiwu grimaced. Imagining the fates of a large number of their people in the hands of the clumsy humans was unsettling to say the least.

“Patience my friends, patience. I too was angry at her until I realized that she had no knowledge of the shipment. She did not know what she was guarding. The law makers of course did not trust her word and there was talk of sentencing her to death.” There was no death penalty for Vregonians themselves. The did occasionally carry it out against other sentients. This was a bit of a problem with their allies so they tended to keep it quiet. It was only used in the most extreme cases though and smuggling eggs could qualify.

“That is why we felt it necessary to escape. She is seeking those who were behind this smuggling operation and bring them to justice. Personally I don’t think she will be able to do this on her own and it is a worthy goal to seek the persons behind it, so I will help her. In the meantime we are both also looking for meaningful work. Anything you could do for us in either arena would be useful.” He stopped and looked back and forth between the two, gauging their reactions.

“You are very trusting of this human. Why?” Faiwu looked puzzled.

“Ah, well you see I was trained to be an agent for the Collective and as such am a good judge of their character and whether or not they are lying.”

Lowmaster rumbled. “And yet you use this training to deceive the very ones you are sent to work with? I do not understand this. It seems a breach of trust.”

Martyn felt some pity for the large warrior. They weren’t widely known for their intelligence or quick thinking, outside of a battlefield at least. “Sometimes my work called for deceit. it is the way of things. You understand how to use the blades or massive energy catapults that your calling leads you to master. This is simply one of mine.
Lowmaster nodded slowly, seeming to understand.

“It all serves the ultimate purpose of those I once worked for. Unfortunately they did not see my activities in that light and I lost my status as an agent when I was put in jail.” No such thing was likely to happen. Losing your status as an agent was difficult at best. You almost had to kill the wrong person to do so and there weren’t that many wrong people. The Collective was such a large and convoluted organization by its very nature that even its own higher ups didn’t entirely understand its purpose, much less all of its by laws. Every agent he knew and there weren’t that many he knew, used that to their advantage. That and the number of missions and agents made identifying his fellow operatives difficult to say the least which was why even killing a fellow wasn’t an act that would get you much more than a stern reprimand.

“Well, if it is a job you are seeking I do not think we can be of much help. We both have our contacts here but very little in the way of pull.”

Martyn cocked his head in submission. “I know. It must be difficult here for you.” He sympathized with the consul. As much as he disagreed with his worldview it couldn’t be easy living in the midst of this artificiality, cut off from his kin. “You must feel so disconnected.”

“No. No not at all.” He gestured at the room. “I have all of my needs met. And I am very much connected with the mind. Our ancestors and my connection with them knows no physical boundary.”

Martyn nodded again. It wasn’t a spiritual phenomenon. Even the consul didn’t believe in life after death as some humans still did. It was the wealth of experience passed down through teaching and genetics that he spoke of. But there was something more, a component too esoteric to be passed around outside of the true believers that was almost that ethereal. “Well as I said, whatever help you can give would be appreciated.”

The big one shifted in his seat. Martyn looked over at him. Lowmaster was as old as Faiwu, that was certain. Both were well into their second century at least. The warrior caste was far more pragmatic than most others and as a result, since there weren’t many large wars they had to fight, they had become more bureaucratic. Sitting on this station with only Faiwu for company was grating on him. Martyn needed to find out why he was here and leverage that. It could only be done in private though, it would seem.
Martyn stood. “I hate to leave, but I have some other business to attend to.” It was slight breech of social protocol. The whole meeting had been rushed, that was certain.

Faiwu stood as well. “Nonsense. You should stay. Have supper with us. I can only provide an approximation of a real meal for you, but it’s the least…”

“No, I’m truly sorry. I must go.” They would chalk it up to his youthful carelessness That was true, as far as it went. He didn’t want them to think him completely without manners. That might reduce their level of helpfulness. Still they were somewhat hostage to him, since as he said he was free to come and go, criminal or not. His exile was self imposed. He could use that and planned to.

Lowmaster saw him back out and as Martyn dressed, he spoke. “So, general, why are you on this outpost?” The question was abrupt and presumptuous.

The bulky militarist looked down on him with the equivalent of a smirk. “You are a brash one. I will answer your question though. I ran in to one such as you on a mission. I determined that he was standing in the way of the betterment of our species and I snapped his neck like a rotten branch.” There was no subtlety in that message.

It took Martyn aback, though he worked hard not to show it. “Ordinarily that would not end in a banishment.” Martyn was no expert on law an their judges had quite a bit of latitude, but killing someone alone with malice didn’t end in much more than a long imprisonment or perhaps a reprogramming. It sounded like he may have actually had a reason, though a gray one at best.

“He was the brother of an influential politician. It was only thanks to a friend that I got off planet at all. My long term of service to our people made the friend sympathetic.”

“You must miss home?”

The general made a guttural sound, near laughter. “That place has become a cesspool. The word and life of a general means nothing compared to the life of one barely more than a hatchling and a hatchling with poor manners at that.” His dark eyes twinkled. “I have no desire to return. There are other plans though. If you find yourself unable to return home and you find yourself missing the comforts of it, return here and perhaps we can talk about it.”

Other plans? The general didn’t feel a need to elaborate and Martyn was now sufficiently intimidated that he didn’t want to press the issue. “I will. Thank you.” Intrigued by the offer, it was more than a casual dinner invitation, he nodded and turned to the outside door. It was then that he remembered that he didn’t tell them where he was staying. He turned back. “I’ll be at Mae’s Chop House if you need me.”

“We will talk soon.” The general turned and went back through the maze entry, leaving Martyn to help himself out.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Three

Fourteen and a half minutes latter, smelling of faintly of jasmine and wearing soft, black slacks and a silky long sleeved white blouse, Lucky exited her bedroom. With a hold out blaster holstered in the small of her back and a retractable synthetic baton in the left low topped black boot, she felt dressed for the occasion. She intended Martyn no harm, frankly expecting some fancy dead man’s switch on his bracelet would send her to the same place she sent him. That was if she could even get the drop on him. No, it was just that without a weapon of some sort on her person she just didn’t feel right.

The smell of a vegetable curry, redolent with exotic spices from three different planets filled her living space. A covered dish sat at one place on her table and a goblet of red wine waited just above her silverware. “Ah, civilization.”

“I’m sorry? You did not find my civilization satisfactory?” Martyn stood at the small book case across from her couch, perusing her compact selection of literature.

“No offense intended Martyn, but a jail’s a jail and I hardly think it was representative of you people or how they live.” She made a bee line for the table and sat down, uncovering the dish and inhaling deeply.

Martyn walked to the table. “I must work on my inflection for sarcasm, Lucky. I don’t appear to have it quite down yet.”

She took a bite of the vegetable medley along with a healthy amount of rice. There were some synthetic elements, but there were also a few legitimately dirt grown vegetable in here. It was lovely. She swallowed and took a sip of wine, nodding. “Yes, yes you do.” She looked up at her guest and captor. “So, you going to see the consul?”

He nodded. “I wished to wait until you were done bathing and changing before I left. I will return later this evening and more than likely shall simply retire to my room. We shall convene to the restaurant tomorrow morning and … compare notes?” He tilted his head.

Lucky chuckled. His look reminded her of a quizzical dog. “I like that idea. If you don’t see me down there by eight hundred hours have them buzz my room. I’ll be here, but I intend to catch up on some natural sleep. The drugs your people gave me,” she felt a twinge of annoyance at the memory, “are still doing a number on me.”

“My apologies.” This time there was a note in his voice that was familiar.

“By George I think you’ve got it.” She looked up at him and winked.”

Martyn nodded curtly. “Excellent. Well until tomorrow then.” He turned without another word and walked to the door.

Watching him go was almost amusing. He had a waddling gait that she had missed by being in front of him since their arrival. If she didn’t know how quickly he moved or that he carried a small arsenal of lethal and non-lethal arms on him, she would have seriously underestimated him. Whether that was simply the way most of his species walked or if it was just him, she couldn’t say. What she did know was that he was more polite than any of the other Vregonians she had met and was positive that that was a front.

His agenda would be served and if he wanted to kill her she would most assuredly be dead and there would be no apologies or second thoughts. She needed to keep that and the fact that he was an alien, well versed in the ways of humans and a representative of an organization not well known for its friendliness to humans. Maybe that was earned by human actions, maybe not, but that hardly mattered. The results would be the same if he decided to take her out and if that time came she needed to be ready. To anyone not in her line of work that may have seemed paranoid. No doubt she was a functional paranoiac, but in a world where there were people out to kill you it was better to err on the side of caution.

Once he was gone, she tucked back into the plate, determined to enjoy Scott Breakall’s fine cooking and the fruits of his sine cupboard. She willed herself to slow down and enjoy the repast, but before she knew if every scrap of food and drop of wine was gone. She was left with a full, warm belly, a tingle on her lips and tongue, and a brief wisp of disappointment that it was all over already.

There was no lingering on that that, because as soon as she finished the buzzer on her door chimed. She checked that the blaster was ready and called, “Who is it?”

The speaker recessed into one wall cut on. “Satan, herself.” Mae’s voice called.

Lucky stood and walked towards the door. “Come in!” At her words the door clicked and slid open revealing Mae. At two meters even and built like a cross between a Reubens painting and an Olympian, she was an imposing figure. If it stopped there it would have been one thing, but she was a more than able business woman and possessed a joy of life that wouldn’t be impaired by any situation. In all the years Lucky had known her, there was no situation she hadn’t been able to handle, except when it came to matters of diplomacy.

Mae swooped into the room, dressed much as she had been in the painting only in red. Arms wide open, she practically scooped Lucky up. The two women embraced for minutes, the two friends enjoying the missed togetherness. Satisfied, Mae pecked her on her forehead and placed her back on the ground. “I hear interesting things Lucky.” Her full lips made a moue. “Why did I have to hear about them second hand?”

Lucky crossed her arms. “Mae, I’ve been on the station for all of what, a half hour? Give me a break already.”

With a mock scowl that creased her smooth forehead, Mae pressed. “You couldn’t call me or send a message.”

Lucky laughed. “It’s amazing that Scott will stay with you if you badger him like this.”

Mae’s face broke into a beaming smile. “Scott stays with me because I’m so damn good in bed. And I’ve made us both rich.”

“Sit, sit. I have a lot to tell you.” Lucky gestured towards the couch. She watched the woman cross over and marveled again at how striking her friend was. It was a shame that there wasn’t a violent bone in her body. A soldier like that would be welcome any time in her group. She was glad that their cover story was simple and so close to the truth. Lying to Mae was going to be hard, but it had to be done.

Mae sat and curled her legs up underneath her. She crossed her arms and waited, not so patiently.

“Can I get you a drink?” Lucky crossed to the little bar.

Mae swiveled and watched her. “Not if that means it’s going to take you a half hour to get to the point.” Her voice raised on the last three words. The mock annoyance was increasingly real.

“Okay, okay.” She poured two sherry’s and walked back to the couch, handing one to Mae. “The Vregonian you’ve already heard about is Martyn. I owe him my life…”

“I like him already.” Mae took a sip of the sweet wine.

“Quit interrupting or I won’t finish the story.” She sipped her own sherry. “The last shipment I road shotgun on got into some trouble. We were stopped by Vregonian Security Forces. Apparently, there was some illicit cargo on board.”

Mae punched a couch cushion. “Jackson. That idiot. I’ll wring his neck for getting you in troub…”

“Mae darling, relax. I don’t think that Jackson even knew about the cargo.” That wasn’t entirely true. He probably did know, but she needed Mae to turn her ire somewhere useful. If it could be harnessed then it was like having a hurricane at your beck and call. “But that’s not important. We were stopped, the Vregonians found it, a shipment of their eggs.”

Mae’s face went dark. Not a look that the faint of heart would want directed at them. “Taking that through Vregonian space is a damned stupid idea.”

“I know that and Jackson knows that, which is why I don’t think he knew. Anyway, we were captured and thanks to Martyn I was able to escape. We boosted a fast ship and here we are. So. I need to find out who was behind that shipment. Aces didn’t tell me, said that the client wanted to keep it hush, hush.” That wasn’t all that unusual. If she pressed him now and he still didn’t tell her that would be strange and she expected it, franky.

“So you need to find Minkus?”

Lucky nodded. “I do and the sooner the better. I want them to know what’s going on with their cargo and I’d like to find out why they’re shipping a cargo like that. More important that that is seeing if they’ve got another shipment that they want guarded and if they want me to go after the original shipment.” That thought had just occurred to her. There might be money in an extraction. It wouldn’t be the first job like that she’d done, but it would be the most challenging. “After all they still have the crew and I doubt the Marshall’s or anyone else will go in after them.

“True. If they haven’t killed them already. Well, all I can tell you for sure about Minkus is that he owes on his last tab and I heard from Taylor”, there was a warmth in the way she said the dock master’s name, “that he was sniffing around yesterday asking some questions. He hasn’t been by here in two days.”

That wasn’t good. Aces hung out here nearly as much as Lucky did and he didn’t live here. Though there was one woman in Mae’s organization that he stayed with as much as he could afford to. Checking with her might not be a bad idea. She would chat up Taylor too. “Are you still crushing on the dock master Mae?” She loved to give her friend a ribbing about her love of older men, particularly the crotchety hangar hound.

Mae nodded vigorously. Her whole body got involved. “If I wasn’t a one man woman.” She left the thought unfinished and drank the rest of the port, her skin flushing all over.

Lucky laughed again, while shuddering at the thought of leathery hands on her own skin. It was an odd sensation, the simultaneous horror and humor. “I don’t see it. Well thanks Mae, for the info. I’ve been properly fed by your lovely husband, and I have a bit of liquid courage in me. Now I need to go find my fixer.”

Mae sat the glass down on the nearby coffee table and stood. She walked over to Lucky and took her in her arms again. “You be careful, sister. I know you walk some dangerous lines. I just think that what you’re dealing with is worse than the mess you’re usually in.”

Lucky rested her head on her beloved friend’s ample breasts. She felt like a child, safe and loved by this amazing person. After a moment she looked up, a few tears tracing her cheeks. “Thanks Mae. I appreciate that. I’ll be careful.”

“Good.” She nodded firmly. “Cause if you get hurt I am so gonna kick your butt.”.” She let Lucky go and stepped back, scrubbing her face and sniffling. “Good luck.” And with that, much as she came, she rushed out without looking back.

A few minutes later, her own face scrubbed free of tear tracks and with a black cape thrown over her shoulder, Lucky headed out into the station’s pseudo night.

Her first goal was to head back to the hanger bay. Kent didn’t exactly live there, though she knew he slept there on occasion, so there was a chance she would miss him if she didn’t go right away. There was activity on the docks at all hours, shipments arriving and departing and being repaired. He felt like he had to oversee it all. His staff was certainly competent, but the old man was like a giant balding mother hen.

She had time for her thoughts as she walked. There were layers to this problem the longer she thought about it. It was possible that there was no brains behind the operation on Bifrost itself. Aces liked to handle all of his business in person. Some thought it was because he was some sort of Luddite. To the contrary he loved technology. He just didn’t trust people. In his line of work it wasn’t advised. Still if the money was right, and in a deal like this it almost had to be, he might be convinced to relax his rules.

Aces had been talking for the last year about quitting the business and just retiring. He had eyes on that young lady and was convinced that she was ‘the one’. He and Lucky spent a few nights with him begging her to explain women to him and crying into his beer when she told him it just wasn’t that simple. Knowing how Mae liked to run things, Lucky knew that Kim, the girl in question, was cagey and was being taught to start her own business. Maybe not quite the same business she was in and in fact probably not that at all, but a real career. Leaving the ‘school’ that she was in early for some middle man even as nice a guy as Aces wouldn’t be the smart choice. Lucky tried to tell him the way of things but he wouldn’t listen and no doubt Kim was taking him for everything she could.

She stopped and thought about how cynical that view was. She shook her head. Even if she was wrong and the girl did want to leave everything behind, that didn’t change the fact that Aces was pulling out all the stops to build his nest egg. That could lead to some really bone headed, amateur hour stunts even from a pro.

She stopped again, getting tired of these revelations. Of course this was the first time she had really possessed the freedom to noodle over the finer points. She was no longer in survival mode. There was some hypocrisy inherent in her accusing her long time friend and co-worker of rushing off half cocked. She had done a fair amount of that over the last few years herself. The tightness of her current schedule precluded her from too much introspection, though. She really needed to find him and deal with the here and now and not the personality failings.

The rest of the walk was spent neither contemplating nor planning. She picked a tune and whistled as she walked. The lift was empty and her whistling bounced off the metal walls ringing back hollow. Once in the hanger proper she walked towards the air control tower. It was a true tower at the center of the hangar. Spiral stairs wound around the column and she took them two at a time, suddenly in a rush to get this thing over with.

The door at the top stopped her cold. There was no glass to see what was inside. Armor glass on three side let them see out, but even that was one way. She pressed the buzzer to let the men inside know that she was waiting. They probably already knew and may have even actively scanned her for weapons. It wasn’t so much paranoia really. Occasionally they had to impound a vessel or its cargo and many an angry spacer got drunk and came up here to pick a bone with the dock hands. No one who was sober even considered it.

“Who is it?” A voice, not Kent’s but one of his lackeys, asked. The sound was tinny and hollow.

“Lucky Goldenstein to see Taylor Kent.” She crossed her arms and waited. They would have picked up her plaster, though probably not the baton in her boot. That didn’t’ get picked up on most scans, the reason that she carried it. She had actually killed more people with it than with her guns.

“Half a minute, Ms. Goldenstein.” The speaker clicked and a few seconds later the door cycled open.

The large, portly chief waited just inside. He was more a grandfatherly figure than any sort of truly imposing man. That may have been because he was smiling though. She had seen him angry and heard him let loose with a tirade that would peel bulkheads.

“Lucky, come on in.” He gestured her towards him.

She came through the door and it cycled shut behind him, hissing as it sealed against any exterior gases or hard vacuum. To her knowledge the shields had never failed and even if they did blast doors would come down in pico-seconds, but extra layers of safety were more than just something to give you warm fuzzies on an orbital.

The circular room had six men, manning various readouts and scanners. Most of them were probably playing cards not thirty seconds ago. Lucky knew that if everything ran smoothly there was really no need for more than one or two people here. The artificial intelligences, though they weren’t truly self aware, that ran most station operations could handle this part as well, but the chief was more than a little distrustful of that level of tech. It was a healthy amount in her opinion.

Kent ushered her to his little office at the back It took up a part of the tower that had no glass. The side nearest the hub of Bifrost where few ships parked and which served as more storage than anything else, was a partial blind spot. Cameras overlooked it, but she knew that there were holes even in those precautions.

He took a seat behind his desk and flicked his fingers at a chair opposite. His gaze fixed on her, nearly boring through. That was partly an optical illusion. The man had no pupils or irises. His eyes were solid gray. You could get vat grown eyes in just about any color or configuration. Most people opted for their birth color, though a few changed iris color and even pupil color. The chief was the first man she had seen with anything quite this odd. It was unsettling and that was probably why, though when pressed he just said it was cheaper.

“So what brings you to my little corner of Bifrost?” His voice held an unaccustomed smile, though it was tinged with wariness.

“So I can’t just visit one of my favorite people on the station? I have to have a reason?”

That earned a laugh. “Sweetheart, don’t try and pull anything like that on me. I know better. You’re too much like your dad and he and I…”

“I know, I know. You and dad pulled more stunts that I’ve even thought about.” Kent and her Dad had gone to Engineering school together. He had been called Lucky too. “So yes, I need something.” If Kent insisted on continuing to think of her as the teenaged daughter of his best friend, rather than the capable adult she had become that was his choice. She had tried time and again to prove to him that that time was behind her, to no avail.

“Let’s hear it. What can I do for you?” He was serious now.

“I need to find Minkus. Mae says that you might know where he is? Says he’s been nosing around her quite a bit lately.” Her voice held a note of hope.

Kent nodded. “Yeah, that layabout has come through here nearly every day. He’s looking for the next big score. He’s also been looking for you.” He paused significantly. “By the way, what was that that you landed on my deck and where have you been?”

That the chief didn’t know what sort of ship they were in was interesting to say the least. Taylor Kent would tell anyone that listened that not only had he forgotten more about ships than most people knew, he relearned everything he had forgotten. “You don’t know what kind of ship that is?” She avoided the second half of his question. Lying to Mae had been hard emotionally, but easy otherwise. Lying to this man would be a near impossibility.

The way his eyes narrowed, he hadn’t missed the dodge. “I’ve consulted some things and done every scan I have and nothing about that space frame or what’s going on inside it is in any of my records or experience.” He sounded both angry and disappointed, with just a hint of intrigue. “So I know what it’s not. It’s not human and it’s not anything alien that we have any record of.”

She smirked at the way he used the word alien. It was a word trained out of most young people’s vocabulary. She herself was just at the age where she knew that using it in certain company was frowned upon and she could usually catch herself. “It’s Vregonian, or at least that’s what I’ve been told.”

Kent made a deep nasal sound, not quite a snort. “Not likely. Not unless the,” he paused, probably about to use an unkind word for the species in question, “not unless they’ve changed their ship design dramatically in the last year or so.”

“Fine. Let’s just say that I don’t know then. My companion says it is and we took it from a Vregonian port.”

“Took it? Is it stolen?” His voice was edged with mock horror.

She nodded. “But it was my only option. Otherwise I’d still be sitting in a swamp somewhere. Don’t worry, it’s not like Asplund is gonna know and even if he did there’s nothing he could do about it.” The head of Bifrost’s security was a stickler, but she knew that even he was a little scared of Kent. “We took the ship and made it here is fast as we could. The job I was on was compromised and so here I sit.”

Kent stroked his face. “So you need to find Minkus and let him know. He’s not going to be thrilled.”

Lucky rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to tell me, but he’s partly to blame. He needs to check his sources and what they really have him shipping and me protecting. If he didn’t ask the right questions or if he looked the other way, I’d snap his neck before I’d let him accuse me of falling down on the job.” She didn’t really sound angry, but she meant every word. Her professional reputation was her currency. So far everything she had told Kent was the truth. “So you don’t know where he is?”

“Nope. I tell you what though, I’m sure he’ll hear through the net that you’re back. When he does he knows where to find you.”

That was true, but then she didn’t know if the man’s head was screwed on tight enough ot be looking. “Did he seem… okay to you?”

Bushy eyebrows crawled together. “A little manic, more manic than usual I mean. If he’s got a big job then maybe that’s a good thing. He’ll want you on it even if you did screw up the last one.” He winked at her.

“Haw haw. You’re funny old man.” That made her feel both better and worse. If he was manic it meant that he was on to something. If he was too manic, that meant something else, though she didn’t know what. She stood. “Okay, well I’ve got one more lead to chase down and then I guess I’ll just wait for him to get me.”

“Why can’t you just message him? I mean he’d respond to your hail wouldn’t he?”

She nodded. “Oh sure, but I want the element of surprise on my side.” She waggled her eyebrows. “So if you do see him, don’t let him know that I’m looking for him. Please?”

“Okay Lucky, I won’t. If I do see him though I’ll let you know.”

Satisfied, she stood. “Thanks for this. Come on over to Mae’s tomorrow and I’ll buy you dinner. We’ll catch up.”

“Sure, sure. You say that about once a quarter. We never do it.” There was a little softness in his words. They weren’t quite sad, but there was regret tingeing them.

“No, I mean it. I know I’ll be on station for a few days at least.”

“Okay ‘Nica.” He was the only one still living even allowed to come that close.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter Two

A gentle buzzing woke Lucky up from a deep sleep. It was the acceleration couch that had been her bed for four days now. Thinking about that fact, the length of time she had been on board this ship, made her feel scuzzy. There were no shower facilities, naturally. Vregonians apparently didn’t have the need for such things. There was a basic head, though it was different in configuration that she was used to. It served it’s purpose and fortunately that had only been necessary one time during the trip. The first three days under the influence of the drug cocktail, her system had been so depressed that all of her bodily functions were depressed. That explained why in spite of the three days of “sleep” she still felt tired.

She ran one hand through her short dark hair and looked over at Martyn. “What’s going on?”

He looked up from his control surfaces. “Oh, we’re approaching Bifrost.” He punched some virtual buttons.

The holographic technology that this particular ship used was nice, but Lucky would always prefer the tactile feedback of a mechanical device. Most human vessels still used actual buttons and dials for some functions for that very reason. They were cosmetic, but served a deeper function. A flickr in the corner of her eyes caught her attention. An image of Bifrost snapped into being on the smooth expanse of wall that she thought of as the forward part of the ship.

The space station orbited around a gas giant that was referred to by the natives and informally on star charts as Asgard. It was all part of some ancient mythology she knew little about. Against the backdrop of color bands and seen in relation to the planet, the orbital looked insignificant. The display zoomed in sufficiently to show off the seven rings stacked one on top of the other spaced at regular intervals and held together by a central column that ran through the center of them. Arms, lost by the hologram’s insufficient resolution, radiated out from that spire and into the inner circumference of the rings. Truthfully the whole thing was massive.

In spite of that it was sparsely populated. Only about five thousand human beings and a few representatives of the Vregonian race called Bifrost home. Most of the space was taken up by factory levels and other operations to keep the space station viable and mostly self sufficient in terms of food and atmosphere. Only two rings possessed residences, one of those two also being set aside for docking and cargo operations.

She seen this particular view more times that she’d care to think about, but it amazed her every time. That her species would have made it out this far from their point of origin and set up this amalgam of metal, ceramic, plastic, and other unknown bits to make a place to live and work, seemed impossible. Yet , here it was.

The view jittered and then zoomed in. Lines flowed and boxes filled with the Vergonian’s written language, as objects were scanned and identified. She could see a couple of ship classes that she recognized, the ones that were big enough to be picked up at this level of magnification. No doubt there were dozens of personal and pleasure vehicles as well. Anything as small as the ship they were in would be docked inside.

Lucky stopped. She really didn’t know how big this ship was. It was capable of traveling at supra-light speeds, on the order of ships that were typically much larger. Ships that large also ordinarily carried more than four crew. Still it was small enough and simple enough to be run by one person and had provided everything they needed for the duration of the trip. There was more to this vessel than Martyn was letting on. She would need to talk to Martyn about that at a later time. She watched as he tapped more commands in.
A voice seemingly came from the view screen. “This is Dockmaster Kent. Please transmit your manifest.”

The gruff voice of Taylor Kent filled Lucky with a sudden warmth. There had been a brief period of time where she hadn’t been sure if she would ever see this place again. It wasn’t the first time she had felt that way, but it had been the most acute in at least a year or two. Until that moment she hadn’t realized just how acute. She fingered a tear out of her eye.

“Of course Dockmaster.” Martyn set up the transmission.

The station would have received most of the data they needed through automated systems. The ship would have been scrutinized by every sensor the orbital had and if there had been anything out of kilter weapons would have locked on. Kent was big on formalities though. He asked for things that the computer already knew and Lucky suspected it was because the man was feeling out the, usually human, traveller just in case something wasn’t jake about the whole thing. In at least one instance that Lucky knew of it had saved the station from direct harm.

Several things emitted beeps and lights flashed. Kent’s voice came back. “Welcome ‘Portia’s Tears’ to Bifrost. Stay out of trouble. You’ll be docking in bay two, slot C. Follow the coordinates as I’ve give them to you. Do. Not. Deviate.”

Lucky chuckled. It hadn’t been the first time she’d heard those words and she knew what deviation, at least significant deviation, would mean. The high powered tractor beam would snag you and your vehicle would be impounded or shot down depending on your reaction. This far out you took your job seriously. At least Kent did and no one blamed him, except the occasional greenhorn. She knew that the identities of all passengers would be included on the manifest.

Without waiting for an answer, Kent’s voice rang out again. “Put Lucky on the horn.”

Martyn gestured for her to speak. “Hello Dockmaster.” Her tone was suddenly that of a junior speaking to a superior officer.

“Lucky, what in the universe are you doing on this… thing?” There was an undercurrent of concern in his voice, one that most people wouldn’t be able to pick out.

“Well Dockmaster Kent, it seems that there was a problem with the last shipment I was guarding. Can we talk about it at Mae’s?” She really wanted to talk to the man alone. Sh had built a relationship with him over the years and she wanted to bend his ear.

“You’re buying.” His tone of voice changed. “You’re doing good ‘Tears’. Bring that ship in and park it. I’ve transmitted the standard ship’s order. Once again, follow them to the letter. Bifrost out.”

Lucky resisted reiterating the orders to Martyn. While he didn’t know Kent like she did, the Vregonian wasn’t an idiot by any standards. She watched as the hip came in to the dock and eventually saw some of the station and docked ships through the porthole. They eventually passed through a force shield that both kept the vacuum at bay and killed most known contaminants that might be found on the exterior of a ship. While not much could survive the vacuum of space, thorough decontamination was protocol. An active scan also looked for ship sized armaments and anything else that looked out of place. They weren’t stopped short, proving to her that any present ill gotten gains were small.

The display now gave them what a fisheye view would look like if one could see out of the bow. The ship, that she now knew had a most beautiful name, came to rest on the dark green landing pad in the midst of a few neighbors. In the neat distance she made out Mike Plested’s personal yacht. He was for all intents and purposes the head of Bifrost. It was like a company town, almost anything permanent really belonging to Decagon Mining and rented or leased by residents. The sleek silvery vessel was one of those that she felt certain would come closest to matching the ‘Tears’ capabilities, but the human craft was twice as big and came close to being half as fast. The view came to a rest at what she would guess was three meters off the deck. All view screens vanished and the steady background hum died. She and Martyn both stood, nearly in unison.

“Now Lucky, I don’t think I need to remind you.” He brought his wrist up and gestured to the black bangle there. It nearly blended in with his glistening skin. “You will stick to the plan. I won’t hesitate to do what I need to do.”

She couldn’t help but be slightly annoyed at the reminder. She was hardly a child and there wasn’t an impulsive bone in her body. He won’t trust you just because you want him to. The reminder to herself was ten times more necessary. She wasn’t dealing with a client, but with a kidnapper. What he was doing really wasn’t legal on any human home world, but it wasn’t really illegal either. In any case if she went off like a loose canon, she would be dead and the lawyers would be left ot hash it out.

She simply nodded agreement. “I’ll stick to the plan. Deboarding usually takes five minutes or so. From here we’ll get a place to stay. I have a suite at Mae’s Chop House, a local… restaurant and hotel.” There was so much more than that to the place. She wasn’t sure that he would appreciate those differences though. All she knew was that she would rather live at Mae’s place than anywhere else she’d been in space. “You can stay with me if you like, but I think they might have quarters you’ll find more suitable. You’re not the only Vregonian guest she has had. If they’re not already occupied.”

Martyn waved a hand. “It does not matter to me. I will be happy either way. As soon as we are done with securing a place I need to go see the local consul.”

“But you’re a wanted…” She caught herself. “Being. Is it safe for you to check in?”

“Yes. The consul is like a neutral territory. I think in most human settlements you consulates are more like miniature replicas of the government they represent. That’s not so with us. Criminals, expatriates, visitors, are all welcome. No doubt the consul will check on my status and might even report me back to my home world, but they can not come and get me, even if there was reason for them to. More important, he can not arrest me or report me to your authorities.” He looked at the bangle and it lit up in a few places. “Besides, as you have said I am not going to see many of my people here. I will stick out as you would in my home.”

The lack of real sleep and stress had her rattled. Otherwise she would have thought of that, or so she told herself. “That’s true.” She patted her own beige jumpsuit and found the only thing they had let her keep. It was really the only thing that was hers that couldn’t be easily replaced. The small metal bar looked a lot like a harmonica, but the guts weren’t reeds. Microcircuitry made the little instrument much more useful than its ancient cousin. If they hadn’t arranged this deal she may have even been able to use it in what would have no doubt been an ill fated escape attempt. She pulled it out and blew through it, producing a very traditional sound. Checking for it and making sure it still worked after a flight was as habitual to her as combing her hair in the morning. Satisfied, she put it away in a slit pocket on her right thigh.

She looked around the space. There was only one door. They hadn’t been given the all clear to get off, but she really wanted to breath air that didn’t smell faintly of old aquarium water and her own body odor. The environmental system on this thing didn’t seem tuned to human olfactory senses. She remembered reading something about the Vregonians having an inferior sense of smell. “While you’re checking in with the consul I’m going to go looking for one of my contacts, Dave Minkus. He got me the first job and maybe he can tell us who gave it to him. Probably not, since I imagine whoever’s behind this paid him off on top of telling him a pack full of lies. Even if that’s a dead end, he’s our first shot at getting a job with the same bunch.”

Dave, known to her when she was in a good mood as Aces, was actually there only real chance at getting that second job. Most other recruiters were strictly on the level. Aces usually played things straight too, but he wasn’t above finding some riskier cargo. Ninety percent of the time he even knew and communicated that risk accurately. After all, a dead client was almost as bad as an unsatisfied client in his book. Not quite as bad since dead clients didn’t tell bad stores on you down the road. “Once I’m done with him we’ll get a decent meal in us and compare notes.” The thought of Scott’s cooking made her mouth water. Mae’s common law husband, Scott Breakall, was the best cook in this sector of space.

A chime sounded from the bracelet. “Crew of the ‘Portia’s Tears’, you are cleared to debark.” The voice, only vaguely artificial and likely an AI, gave them their perfunctory permission.

Lucky looked at Martyn significantly. Either he took her hint or simply went his own way. He walked towards a wall behind where they had been laying. It irised open and they both continued down a short featureless hall. After a few meters they came to another dead end. Martyn was only two steps away from walking into the bulkhead when it too opened into a small room. She followed him in and the door closed behind them. There was a light hum for a second and when the door opened again it was on to the tarmac of the docking bay. The room had been an elevator of sorts.

Lucky inhaled the orbital station’s air. It smelled flat, a little metallic, and held a hint of the gas that most human faster than light ship used to achieve their speed. This wasn’t how the air on the residential level, but it was definitely home.

Martyn gestured for Lucky to lead the way. They walked the hundred or so meters to the moving walkway that would take them to the central lift. Mae’s and anywhere else they were interested in going were all one level up. She considered stopping by Kent’s office before heading up, but he was a busy man and she wanted a shower and a clean set of real clothes before attending to any business.

She looked around the hanger deck as they walked. There was plenty of activity, though no more so than on any other day. She wasn’t sure what the local station time was so she pulled out the electronic mouth harp again and touched a few hidden sensors. The surface came to life. The display was small but crisp. After a second it brought up time, temperature, and a few other pertinent details. According to this it was just past eighteen hundred hours.

Another few seconds passed and it chirped at her. There were over five hundred messages waiting for her. Most of them would be junk and would be discarded, but she felt sure there would be a few nuggets of gold tucked in among them. Now wasn’t the time to check though. She put it back to sleep and tucked it away in a slit pocket on her hip.

“Quite the little device.” Martyn remarked behind her. “We probably should have confiscated that.”

Lucky nodded and shrugged. “Probably.” She didn’t feel the need to hide its less obvious capabilities. “But don’t feel too bad. It was designed by a friend to look as innocuous as possible. He’s good, very good, at what he does.” She almost purred. Now that she was on her home turf her whole attitude shifted slightly. Her walk had a little strut to it and her head was held high.

There were a few familiar faces around, but no one she considered a friend or acquaintance. Some of the people in the hangar and on the lift area looked at her and stared at her companion. Vregonians weren’t completely unknown on the station, but a new one was news worthy. She gave it fifteen minutes before it was all over the station net.

The lift doors opened on the main residential level and another moving sidewalk stretched out to the ring. Here the ceiling portrayed an image of what the space outside would look like. A scattering of stars and the gas giant the orbited made a huge moving mural. Every fifteen meters a display at average head level played through station news and other points of interest.

The air on this level was spicier, the mix of body odors and smells from restaurants, even though they were still hundreds of meters away, mingling. The atmospheric plant kept the oxygen levels right and scrubbed anything nasty from the air, but the feeling was that if you were going to live your life off planet it would be unpleasant for there to be no characteristic smells. Every station she’d been on had a distinctly different ‘flavor’.

Gravity on Bifrost was kept at point eight gees. That was standard across the board for orbitals. It made going back to Earth easier, though truthfully there were few people that would ever actually visit humanity’s point of origin. Travel like that wasn’t cheap. Vregonia III was a slightly higher gee than Earth standard so she imagined that Martyn would enjoy the difference. His race was used to a slightly higher oxygen level so in some ways that balanced out. Lucky definitely noticed the difference herself, her step bouncier not just thanks to being free. Or free-er at least.

The rotating belt deposited them on the ring. Since Bifrost didn’t orbit a habitable planet, everything was set up to be as near planet like as possible. There were images projected on the distant roof of darkening sky, appropriate to the time of day. Grass and trees were planted in tremendous boxes of soil, flush with the decking. There was no street as there were no vehicles, but moving and stationary walkway divided the inner and outer circumferences. Buildings that looked for all the world like stick built structures rather than the pre-fabbed clones that they actually were lined the boulevard.

There were no side streets, though alleys did separate buildings and there were back alleyways for service bots and trams to traverse, along with what usually went on in such places. Lucky had been planetside in a few systems and what the engineers pulled off here was amazing. The viability of long term orbital stations were a testimony to that. If you had never lived on a planet you likely wouldn’t know the difference.

She looked back at her shadow. He was looking around, though whether in amazement or simply in a coolly calculating way, she couldn’t tell. “So, ever been to a human station?”

He nodded once. “Yes. I spent a few months on Diamante in the Centauri system. It wasn’t quite this… pleasant though.”

She filed away his tone of voice. If his nose had been capable she thought it would have wrinkled and she couldn’t blame him. Diamante was a sucking black hole of nastiness. Why in the galaxy he had ever gone there, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. If there were a worse hive of scum, she wasn’t aware of it. “I can imagine. You’ll find your time here nice enough. Hopefully it will be brief, but if everything goes well here then you have an open invitation to come back.”

“Thank you Lucky.” His eyes swiveled to meet hers. “I hope that is the way it goes.”

“Right then.” She looked around for anyone she might now. Traffic was light since it was the dinner hour. This section of the ring was mostly made up of businesses. Mae’s Chop House was just a few blocks clockwise. “This way.” She opted for the stationary walkway, eager to stretch her long legs. Martyn had little difficulty keeping up, his much shorter limbs having to move faster.

The curve in the street was subtle so it felt like a straight shot. The sign for Mae’s was easily made out. It flashed its message in a variety of human languages all in bold red letters at least two meters tall. Structures on the station were limited to three stories, so the restaurant/hotel was much wider than it would have been planet side. Lucky knew that there were a hundred fifty rooms, about half of those true residential suites like hers. Some of those rooms were dedicated to the ‘hospitality’ that she offered her adult clientele.

Prostitution was legal on Bifrost and in some ways encouraged. The men and women that worked the gas mines and refinery were as rough and tumble as miners had been for thousands of years. It was also widely recognized that letting them have a number of escape valves was better then trying to tell grown people in the fringes of the universe how to live their lives. She had been a few places where the practice was still illegal and while she herself had never felt the need to pay for companionship, she saw what trying to control that urge with laws often lead to.

They walked through the two and a half meter high doorway and right into the restaurant and bar that served as Mae’s hub. The doors at Mae’s literally never closed because there were none. Not everyone was on a diurnal schedule here and every time Lucky came by there was always a crowd. As a result the designer, Mae herself, decided to go non-traditional that way.

There were scanners mounted in the doorway that looked for weapons and the security system could even tell if you’d paid your bill or not and if you had any of Mae’s wares on your person so doors and locks would have been redundant anyway. Lucky knew as she’d had a hand in designing it.

The large dining area was a circular recession and held a wide variety of table configurations. Most of them were large rectangles suitable for huge parties. There were more intimates settings as well and even a few booths that were curtained off for more private dining. It appeared that the place was about eighty percent full. The dance of wait staff from table to kitchen to bar and the movement of customers was coordinated chaos.

The bar itself was a massive affair that appeared to be made from real oak and brass. Even Lucky wasn’t sure about that. If it was then the cost would be outerageous. Behind the bar was a wall of mirrors and central to the whole affair was a painting of a beautiful woman with milk pale skin and bright pink locks in repose on a sedan chair. Whisps of white silk made her both demure and sexy, hinting at what lie underneath. That was the mistress of the house.

Lucky nodded at the maitre’d on duty and while she didn’t recognize him, he did recall her. The sharply dressed man nodded and stepped past other waiting customers to her side. “Good evening ma’am. Your usual table or would you like something sent to your room?”

The tang of beer and liquor and the smells of fine food whetted Lucky’s appetite. “I think I’m gonna head up to my room thanks, just send up whatever’s today’s special.” She waved a hand at Martyn. “And if you have an appropriate room available for my companion here I would appreciate it. Put it on my tab.”

He spared a cool glance for Martyn and nodded crisply. “Of course ma’am. I shall let the Mistress know you’re here.” He looked up and a little to the right for a half second. “There is a room for the gentleman as well. He can check in to number two-twelve within the hour. It shall be ready for him.”

That satisfied Lucky. It was on the same level as her suite but in the opposite wing. “That’s great, thanks.”

Rather than head down in to the pit, she turned and walked parallel to the restaurant and though a pair of large bat wing doors. Carpet the color of a fine red wine cushioned her steps. She longed to pull off her pointed boots and run her toes through the nap. That would come later, once in her room. The hall stretched out for a good distance numbered doors alternating every five meters. She took the firsts door on her right.. It was unnumbered and a proper steel door as were the rest, though they were covered in a plastic veneer that passed easily for wood. Fire on a space station wasn’t a good thing.

The spiral staircase that lay beyond wound upwards and she also knew that there was a section that went down, concealed behind a clever floor plate. She stepped quickly up the stairs not looking to see if Martyn followed. She could hear the soft footfalls behind her, though only barely and only because she was listening for them.

Once on the proper level, she went through and hung a left. They were above the restaurant now and behind the sign out front. One way glass let people see both outside and down into the eating area. She’d spent hours here watching people pass on the street and others entertaining themselves at the bar. Finally the couple arrived at her door. It was suite two hundred forty-seven.

She set her palm against the door and it read the lines there. “Helenica Goldentsetin.” The name that was rarely heard aloud and almost never from her lips was the second half of the key. The door clicked and slid open, recessing into the wall.

The red carpet continued into the room, a spacious seating area with a sofa and two recliners. Cream colored wall held a few prints; a still life and two fields of flowers. There was also a small dining area to the left, suitable for four people, and a corner bar with four ornate bottles and a small array of crystal glasses. The door opposite the main entry led to her bedroom. She turned to Martyn. “Come in and make yourself comfortable.” She moved out of the way, sweeping her arm out.

He bowed smartly. “I thank you my fine hostess.” And with that came in and began looking around.

Lucky closed the door and made sure that it locked. “You have a seat. Food should be up in a few minutes.” A thought occurred to her. “Oops, I forgot to get you something. If you’re hungry, tell the man that brings the food to bring something up for you. I’m sure they can rustle up something.”

Martyn sat gently on one of the recliners. “I do not require anything right now Lucky, thank you.”

“Suit yourself.” He tone was chipper. “I’ll be out in fifteen minutes.” She went to her bedroom door and was already unzipping her suit as she moved. It wasn’t enough time for a proper bath, but it would have to do.

Lucky is a Lady – Chapter One

Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein stared out of the armored glass window and into the eternal night that only the deep dark could offer. A lesser women would have been fuming at her predicaent. She’d been everything from a bounty hunter to a high paid security officer on a deep space exploration vehicle though and and didn’t get as far as she had with a short temper or without a sense of humor. Part of the reason she was sitting her in a little four person space hopper instead of lounging on a beach somewhere was her own fault. Her ship, at least the ship she had been responsible for on the security end had been captured by the Vregonian Security Forces in their territory with an illicit cargo. Illicit that was in Vregonian space. The shipment of five thousand of the bipedal amphibioids’ “tadpoles” was something that you just didn’t haul around without the proper authorizations. Naturally the ”Ghidorah”, the long haul freighter she had been on, didn’t even have them on the manifest much less have the right paper work.

The choice had been put to her. Either she shipped out with one of the Vregonian’s special agents to find out the origin of the shipment, or they cash in on the “Dead or Alive” warrant she had on her head. Naturally they would take her in to the sector that had a beef with her in the former state. She didn’t much care for that option so her she was, sitting within arm’s reach of one Martyn Noire. That wasn’t his real name. Their language sounded roughly like a sink that was backing up on too much oatmeal. Their names weren’t easy on a human’s soft palate. So as a concession most of them adopted human names. They were often a bit odd since most Vregonians didn’t understand human culture any better than humans understood theirs. Trade was making that change very gradually, but there were a number of fundamental differences that kept the process slow going. That was true of all four of the non-human species that humans had encountered in the last hundred and fifty years.

That’s where beings like Martyn came into play. He had been schooled in human culture before he could even breathe air by an organization known to humans at least as the Non-Human Sapient Collective. From their brief time together Lucky could say one thing, it hadn’t helped anything much other than his language. He had as many stereotypical outdated notions about what it meant to be human as she likely did about what it meant to be Vregonian. At least they were both willing to admit that early on. Neither of them had an ego when it came to that at least.

The Collective was a loose organization that served to try and integrate humans in to the wider universe’s already busy culture. They also served to investigate those cases where humans were “interfering” in business that they just didn’t understand. Apparently she and her people were still in some probationary period. The only ones that really held it over their head though were the Vregonians. A lot of humans complained, especially those in the sectors closer to the amphibioids’ territory, about ill treatment at the hands of NHSC agents. Little was ever done about it though, thanks to a history of trade embargoes against perceived whiners.

She changed from looking out the expansive viewport above them and turned to look at what would be her near constant companion. He was about one meter four tall and all of his visible skin was nearly as black as the void. Light seemed to be sucked into its surface, only the moisture ruining the illusion. He wore a khaki one piece suit that covered everything but his hands, feet, and head. It kept moisture in without wicking any of it away. The suit had a variety of pockets and pouches that she had seen produce food, a weapon, and both the spray foam restraint and the dissolving agent that he used to remove it.

Looking one of his species in the face was a challenge thanks to the wide spaced eyes and nearly invisible irises and pupils. She was still trying to learn where exactly to look and not seem to be staring. It seemed she still had much to learn, because he turned his head.

“Yes Lucky?” The lips such as they were didn’t curl and the bony, gum covered ridge didn’t look anything like a smile. The tone seemed light enough.

“Oh I was just thinking about the little gift your people gave me.” She gestured one one long delicate finger at her ankles. The gift in question was a little insurance policy that had been taken out against her running. Implants fed her current coordinates and vitals back to a node on Martyn’s person. If he didn’t like what he saw there he had three options. The push of one button would detonate the small anti-matter charge in either of the two limbs. He could also release a sleeping agent into her bloodstream that would render her unconscious for twenty four hours. The final option, very final indeed, was a neurotoxin that would kill her painfully in less than ten seconds. At least, that was what they told her. She had no reason to disbelieve them, since it wasn’t an uncommon practice or difficult technology to get. At least there was no visible indication that she had been “hobbled”. Tattooing was a common way of letting people know that you were a prisoner. Given the under cover nature of their mission, they saw fit to leave her unmarred.

Martyn nodded. “Yes, I can understand that it would be upsetting.” He twitched his head back, the nearest thing Lucky knew to a shrug that they had. “It’s nothing personal.”

Lucky returned the gesture. “I know. I mean, I’m as upset about this whole situation as you guys are. I know your bosses back there didn’t seem to believe me, but this whole business is a bit of a black mark against me professionally. If you let me go I’d track them down personally and deal with them thoroughly.” Her left hand chopped the arm of her lounge, light brown skin contrasting against the gray synthetic material. Her tone stayed neutral, but even for someone who didn’t know anything about her or humanity, the solid thwack indicated how thorough she would be.

He nodded again, the gesture drilled into him by countless hours of body language classes no doubt. “I don’t think any of my superiors doubted your passion or desire to get to the bottom of this matter.” His stilted, formal speech helped him form the syllable properly in an almost parody of an accent ancient by Lucky’s standards. Martyn had apparently fancied videos from what had once been known as the British Isles for his speech practice. “They just want to ensure that their own financial interests are looked after.”

That truth irritated Lucky more than just a little. The Vregonians really didn’t care that their people were being sold to the highest bidder. Slavery, at least how the humans defined it, wasn’t at all uncommon among them. They were more upset that whoever was doing it hadn’t cut them in on a piece of the action. There were a lot of credits on the line and she couldn’t certainly understand that and they had gotten their embryos back, but the principal of the matter had nothing to do with lives.

She sighed, wanting to try and understand that. “Look Martyn, help me with something. Vregonians buy and sell their own like any other commodity. Slavery was something my people outlawed over a thousand years ago.” She gestured at the ship around them, high tech stuff by her standards. “How can a race as,” she chose her words carefully, not really believing them, “advanced as yours still sell their own people?”

Martyn hit a few keys on the readout in front of him and waved the holographic screen into invisibility. He swung his legs off of the long low couch, identical to the one she occupied , and sat up in one liquid motion.

The quick movement didn’t have the aggressive markings of an opening to combat, so she kept her place, seeming to recline comfortably. In actuality, she could be up and ready to fight in less than an eye blink. Even that wasn’t quick enough against a trained Vregonian warrior, though perhaps Martyn wasn’t quite that well trained and modified. She was in no hurry to find out.

He grunted. “Lucy, we don’t sell our own people. We are only selling,” he seemed to be searching for a word, “non-people.” He grunted again. “Those that we sell have not been imprinted, augmented, or in most cases even hatched.” He came to his feet and moved about the humid cabin’s tight quarters. “It’s not quite the same as slavery you see. These beings have no purpose and no thoughts. Once they are in the care of their new masters…” He shook his head, apparently dissatisfied with the word. “No, it’s not quite like that, but neither is ‘keeper’. Once they are where they belong, it is little different from what would happen if they were hatched on one of our home worlds.”

The caste system, something that wasn’t unheard of even now among some human cultures, was still a thing she didn’t quite understand. Free will was as vital to her as air, water. She shook her own head, dark brown bangs brushing her forehead. “But it is different. You sell these eggs to other species. They come out to live on a world so hostile that they might not even live a decade.” She had seen that herself on a few colonies. She sat up slowly and placed her feet firmly against the deck, shoulder width apart. Pins and needles shot through them, circulation suffering from being hung over the edge of a too short acceleration couch.

Martyn’s head twitched backwards again. “That is true and such decisions lie in the hands of leaders far wiser than I am. Were it up to me?” He swung around to look at her. “Perhaps I would make the same decision, perhaps not. Lucky, you don’t understand everything about me and I don’t understand everything about you, but surely you can see that going against our traditions and our laws without our permission, near our own home sectors is wrong.” There was no hint of a question there.

She nodded. “I can. I just wish you would trust me. I have a good reputation.”

He cut her short. “Among humans.” A great deal of emphasis was put on the last word. “With my people complete trust is something that may take a century or more to earn, if you ever do. You won’t live that long at the speed you are going.”

He didn’t seem to be threatening her, but she wasn’t sure. What he was saying certainly made sense. She didn’t trust quickly either and in her line of work he was right, living a century or more wasn’t likely. A hundred and fifty or two hundred years was common enough among the well to do and most folks got their six score if they just kept their heads down, ate right, and exercised. Not so soldiers, cops, and security for hire. At fifty and with twenty five years of good hard work under her belt, not to mention that which had earned her her nickname, she was a curious mix of young and old. What did catch her by surprise was the realization, or reminder really, that she was dealing with an alien culture.

Most of her life Lucky had only been among her own kind. Even on the fringes of human space, there weren’t a great deal of aliens. Even the word had lost most of its real meaning. Out in the deep dark, they weren’t exactly natives. That word was hard coded into most human’s vocabulary though. The subconscious notion that they were the center of everything, not just known space, still made it hard to get along with others. She chuckled at the thought. Even with five hundred years of relative peace among their own kind they still didn’t get along very well with each other on an individual basis, much less with the other known sentients.

That much needed wake up call received, she tried to change the subject. “So, how much longer ‘til we get to Bifrost?” She wasn’t even entirely sure how long they had been in transit. Her captors had made sure she was good and unconscious before loading her on to Martyn’s ship.

A sweep of his fingers brought the readout up, hovering in midair. After a brief consultation, he looked at her through the nearly transparent grid. “Just about another eighteen standard hours.”

That answer was far short than she expected. The surprise registered clearly on her face. Either she had been out a lot longer than she thought or this vessel was at least twice as fast as anything its size had a right to be. She threw pride out the porthole. “How long have we been traveling?”

The look on his face had to be the Vregonian equivalent of smug. “About four days.” He gestured at the wall. “We only steal the best.”

“Four days?” She paused. “Steal?” Lucky really hated being caught flat footed. The fastest light frigates she knew of couldn’t make this run in less than nine. Even some of the trim military vessels would take at least eight. And what was that about ‘we’ and ‘stealing’?

“Our cover story. Now that you’re awake and alert enough I think it’s time we go over our story.” He sat back on the couch and looked at her. They were almost on eye level even though she was a good three decameters taller than he was. She was mostly leg though.

A cover story, that made sense. If she was to stand any chance of finding out who was behind all of this then she would have to have a good reason why she was returning without cargo, ship, or crew. Right now she didn’t even know exactly where any of those things were. A few crew had died when the “Ghidorah” had been taken, but she had been able to see the Captain and what crew remained before they knocked her out. They all pled ignorance to the cargo and that was the last she spoke to them. Her company and their means of transportation would also be of interest to a number of her associates. It would all mean that her mission had failed and the aforementioned black mark would make finding work on the orbiting space station Bifrost or anywhere else in the nicer parts of human controlled space difficult to say the least.

She nodded. “Sounds like a great idea. I’d like to know what to tell folks when they ask where in space my ship is at.”

“Well naturally you won’t be giving them coordinates to either. We have kept it simple for you.”

Lucky bit back a short reply. He’d likely miss the sarcasm, though then again maybe he wouldn’t given his choice of vocal coaching. It wouldn’t help her case either way.
He cocked his head and one of the nictating membranes rewet his left eye. “No offense intended Lucky. It is just that easier stories are by their nature easier to keep track of. You and the ship were captured by the Vregonian government. You managed to escape with my help and we stole this vessel. If anyone checks they will see warrants out on both of us, only applicable in Vregonian space.”

She nodded. So far so good. Whatever crime they were likely to have been charged with extradition, was still a rare thing between the different cultures’ home worlds. Gray space, not really settled by anyone, and the very sort of place occupied by Bifrost was by no means lawless. The human Marshals ‘patrolled’ huge swaths of gray space keeping their ears out for any major doings, but she and Martyn would have needed to commit something just sort of genocide to earn their attention. There was a local ‘peace keeping force’ on every station and settlement depending on the nature of the place, but most of them only had real jurisdiction on the planet or station of origin. That was part of the reason that Lucky kept a home base on Bifrost. There were a couple of places she wasn’t expressly welcome and a few more that would like to take a significant number of years or credits from her. So far she had avoided angering anyone at the mining operation.

“None taken. Go on.”

“We need to find out who was responsible for the shipment that you were guarding. None of the crew or the ship’s records indicated who was behind the ill gotten goods.”
Lucky didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked at his word choice. Alien culture. She reminded herself.

“So your job will be to find that out and to see if they are going to try and make another shipment in the near future. You must sign on to guard it. This time you will be successful and we will discover who is on each end.”

It took no small amount of self control not to laugh like a mad woman. He made it all sound so easy. Just get a job doing the same thing you got busted for in the first place, working for the same people, and ‘find out who is behind it’. The assurance that this time she was going to be successful also rankled just a little. The only reason she hadn’t been successful the last time had more to do with the unknown cargo and and under manned, under gunned, under powered transport. She had recommended that Aces, her liaison, get a different hauler for the job, but cost was an issue as was timing. The cargo was hot, in more than one way it turned out, and it needed to go out as soon as possible. Warning bells had nearly blown her head off, but she had taken it more as a favor to Aces. They would settle up when she got home. She was certain he knew something.
Though not easy, what he proposed wasn’t impossible. Lucky had plenty of connections and more than a few favors owed to her. It would take calling some of those favors in certainly, but wasn’t that worth her life? It was also a challenge and she was a woman that relished a challenge.

“I reckon that story will hold up. I don’t think that what you suggest is outside the realm of possibility either, but it’s going to take time and money.” She traced her jaw with her right index finger and her eyes rolled up to look into the vast darkness. “How much of either do we have?”

Martyn reclined again and ran short fingers over the left arm of the couch. A nearby panel opened and he picked a mossy green square from a platter inside. He popped it in his mouth and slurped and chewed for a full minute. “Our access to any financial resources will be limited. In fitting with our cover. We may be able to sell this ship, but I see that as a last resort. In any case my superiors have given me one standard month from time of departure to get this resolved. At that point I am to return if it is not.”

She didn’t miss the import of the singular pronoun. One month to get the job done. No, she stopped herself. That would be down to less than twenty-six days by the time they got to Bifrost. That wasn’t a great deal of time. If the people behind this had already found another hauler, or if they pulled out of the system… Any number of ifs or buts could ease a descent into functional immobility. She would have to deal with the facts on the ground. A few things were in her favor.

Money wasn’t a big issue, really. She hated to use her own, but she wasn’t hurting for cash or equipment. Information was the real commodity in this case, as in most, and that took time to get. Accurate intelligence often carried a high price in man hours. Weighed in the balance, that was still better than dying back on that swamp planet. “That should be plenty of time.”

“You are a confident person. That is quite good, quite good. My superiors and my own sources make me think that you will live through this. It will be a true pleasure to work beside you.” He took another mossy square and offered it to her.

She took it without hesitation. Her stomach rumbled eagerly, though her nose told her that she wasn’t going to relish what happened next. She popped it into her mouth and bit down. There were crunchy bits that reminded her of going through fried shrimp shell. Something popped in it and warm thick fluid oozed between her teeth. The flavor was truly awful, reminiscent of rotting garbage mixed with a metallic tang. She got it all down though.

She felt something slither down her left shoulder and nearly twitched away from it. It turned out to be a clear supple tube. She put it in her mouth and sucked, clear, blessedly cool water filled her mouth. She swished and swallowed twice. Her stomach thought about rebelling, but her will was strong. Whatever it was couldn’t be poisonous. They wanted her to live. Maybe it was a test or maybe the cultural divide made him as blind to her taste preference as she was to his facial expressions. Either way, she was hungry and once the water was down, the growling abated.

The temptation to compliment the chef was strong, just to be nice, but Lucky was no liar. “That was awful.” Still the hunger wasn’t gone entirely.

Martyn laughed, a gurgling thing, and gestured. A panel opened near her arm. “I hope you find this nearer your liking.”

The smell was reminiscent of the good fried squash that hear mother made. Her mouth watered. It was still a mossy green square, but the taste and texture were identical to the battered yellow summer vegetable. Looks like she passed the test. With two down the hatch, she nodded. “Very much.”

There were many more questions to be asked and details to be worked out. She needed to make sure that her new partner was up to speed on everything Bifrost had to offer. It was possible that his own ‘sources’ had already clued him in on a few things, but she had lived on the station off and on for eight years. There was no replacement for long experience. A more detailed game plan was in order and with over half a day transit time left, they could get a good start.

She rubbed her palms together. “Well Martyn I can’t tell you how much I hate the way all this has worked out. I don’t like having a ‘keeper’, but so long as you give me a fair amount of rope to do what I need to do and follow my lead, we’ll come out of this just fine. You can tell you bosses that will have this whole thing wrapped in three weeks.” This was a job like any other. So long as she looked at it that way and could ignore the twin bombs in her legs or the potential for being poisoned and the fact that he life in general hung by a thread finer than one of her leg hairs everything would be just fine. She allowed herself a little laugh that might have had just a touch of madness about it, but it was a madness that anyone who knew her was familiar with. The game was on and it was time to lock and load.

Lucky and Company

These are the characters that will appear in Lucky’s story.

Helenica “Lucky” Goldenstein – Security expert extraordinaire. Human, 1.7m, lightly built, dark brown hair, light brown skin, well trained in a variety of weapon and non-weapon combat arts, good reputation for protecting “sketchy” cargo both personally and as the head of a security team

Meredith Matthews – AI that controls the intraspace communications network. “Mer” is more than a little mad. She fancies herself a human soul implanted in the ‘net. She’s able to handle the data transfer for the known “settled” galaxy though and no one’s found a way to get her out…yet.

Dave Avila – Captain of the freight hauler “Pugnacious” Human, 1.6m, stocky, short cropped steel gray hair, ex-space marine, built his ship into a successful business that handles high risk cargo

Richard Asplund Jr. – In charge of the station police unit on Bifrost, an orbital in the Upsilon Andromedae System, Human, 1.9m, Long blond hair, pale, pure law dawg with a soft spot for Lucky

Brand Gamblyn – Engineer on the freight hauler “Pugnacious”, Theonid (a gaseous life form, able to interact thanks to a sort of reverse scuba gear, excellent techs especially on FTL class ships), 1.8m in suit, intelligent, worked on Marine class ships with Capt. Avila and joined his crew upon retirement

Martyn Noire – 1.4m, Vregonian (amphibioid), looks roughly like a humanoid black newt, Agent for the NHSC (Non-Human Sapient Collective, not their name for it but the closest translation) a sort of reverse “Indian Agent” trained to interact in and investigate human affairs for the NHSC

Dave “Aces” Minkus – Human, 1.45m, black hair, gray eyes, vaguely Asian features A fixer/loan shark/font of information on Bifrost, Lucky frequently uses him to get jobs

Jeanette Marsh – Ofc. Asplund’s deputy, 1.3m, red hair, rail thin, crack shot

Mae Breakall – Human, 2m, Pink hair, milk white skin (not albino), Owner of Mae’s Chop house restaurant, bar, and brothel

Jen Avila – Human, 1.4m, Brown curly hair, green eyes, astrogater/first officer on the “Pugnacious” and the Captain’s wife

Estevene – The ship’s AI for the “Pugnacious” prone to breaking out in song (usually Spike Jones) at a moment’s notice, but otherwise very functional, Capt. Avila is constantly threatening to reprogram him, but never will

John Wilkerson – Human, 1.7m, Close cut brown hair shot trough with gray, hazel eyes, This Sector’s martial

Justin Lowmaster – Vregonain 2.2m, greenish, heavily mottled skin, consul on Bifrost, an older member of their warrior class, has a reputation for being a bit of a drunk and cultivates that, but very canny

Taylor Kent – Human, 1.7m portly, bald, vat grown eyes solid silver, Dock master for Bifrost , Takes no BS and knows everything that goes through the port.

Alison Day – Human, 1.45m, shoulder length white hair (though not from age), blue eyes The primary physician on the Bifrost, though there are robotic doctors, people still want that “human touch” so she performs primarily a human interface function and occasionally actual medical procedures

Mike Plested – Human, 1.75m, swept back graying hair, marathon runner’s build, a bit obsessed with appearance/health, The on site representative for the Decagon Mining Corporation, he’s part mayor, part CEO, part used car salesman. Mike is very upbeat and has a reputation for being a really nice guy, almost too nice.

Jeff Hite – Human, 1.8m Black, shoulder length hair, blue eyes, prominent scar on rt jawline, well built, Hired gun/bodyguard for Mr. Plested. Doesn’t care much for Lucky as they’ve crossed paths more than once.

Sid Faiwu – Vregonian, 1.1m, Bright red with black spots, Sid is the closest thing that Vregonians have for a holy man/shaman. They don’t worship a god per se but believe in a collective unconcious among their people and they are more in touch with that. Things that go against their philosophy are said to mar the collective and that’s the closest thing to a sin. Since most Vregonians don’t believe that other races are as evolved as they are there is nothing that you could do to them that would be marring. This belief system is on the wane.

John Payne

Ben Wassink

William Paul