Read an Excerpt
Will headed down to the kaffe on the lower level of the spaceport, taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Habit of avoiding closed in spaces, he supposed, ingrained enough he hardly even thought about it except to wonder when mistrust had become second nature.
He had his time on the Arillia to thank for that. As pilot on the profiteering ship, he knew they weren't doing anything actually illegal, but they sort of skirted the edges of legality and that meant running into people who did far more than skirt. You lived longer if you didn't trust.
So he took the stairs.
Everything was gunmetal grey, signs painted in day-glow orange with black print. It was functional and plain, and lent an air of desperation to the place. Not every spaceport was like this, but the further away from civilization you were, the more functional and austere the places got. The more dangerous they got, too. Nice folks didn't live out here. And they certainly didn't live in the spaceports.
There was a low murmur of voices in the kaffe, people hanging out, waiting for their next ride, crew taking a break for something to eat in between unloading and loading or repairs.
Will went over to the bar in the corner. The bartender was short and thick, all muscle beneath his leather pants and tight t-shirt. His nose was pierced and there was a fierce tattoo on his neck, coming up onto his face. Will didn't have any tattoos himself; he'd never found anything worth permanently marking himself with. The scar on his left hip was more than enough, thank you very much.
He nodded at Mr. Nosering and passed a tencred chip over to the guy. "I'm looking for a guts doctor." The bartender acted as abulletin board. The creds were the standard fee for doing his thing. It was the same everywhere.
"Anyone in particular, or are you shopping?" the man asked, his voice so rough and accented it took Will a moment to work out what he'd said.
"Shopping. I need someone who can keep my wings flapping. Nothing fancy."
Mr. Nosering nodded. "Got a few. They're in the back, drinking carro and fighting about power coils. You want Tabbinsla ... Tabboslan ... you want Tab. Tall guy with weird eyes." The tencred chip vanished and the man turned away.
Will headed over to the back. The lights were lower there, the sound different--less the dull roar of a hundred different conversations and more the voices of two or three in an argument. It looked good-natured enough though, so Will took a chance and broke in. "I'm looking for Tab."
A man held up his hand, palm out. "But if you do that on a Switchback, it's taking power from the other systems. Like life support, you dumb fuck. There's a flaw in the design; do it and you die." The hand went down and the man looked up, one green eye catching the light. The other was a deep brown. "I'm Tab. Who're you?"
Will crossed his arms and leaned casually against the table, his reinforced leather creaking. "Will Pilot. Off the Arillia. My girl needs a guts doctor. I hear you're the man to talk to."
He got a long look. "Heard the Arillia got stuck in the middle of a fire fight, trying to sneak in under the Kilburn's wake and got tagged. She in rough shape?"
"She's not pretty, but she's a hard-plated bitch. And she's still running, but only an idiot flies without a doc, just in case."
"I'll assume that means you're not an idiot about the boats then." Tab stood up and pointed to another table. "Can talk, anyway." He looked down at the two men he'd been arguing with and said, "Stay off Switchbacks until you know what you're doing. Stick to cargo."
One of the men snorted, the other just glared, but Tab waved it off and moved to the empty table.
"So, tell me about your lady. If she's running on salvaged parts I'm not interested. Too much work, too little pay off."
"Nope, she's a converted marine boat. Hard as nails and maneuverable. And you can still get the parts that fit right." He was proud of the Arillia. He wasn't captain, but he'd been with Bane the longest of all the crew and he was her pilot. A man got close to his bird, came to care for her when he flew her day in and day out. "And I nearly made that wake run. In anyone else's hands, she'd have been blown to smithereens."
"Heard that, too," Tab allowed. He leaned back in his chair and looked Will over, his eyes strange and hard to read. "Got a contract or are you just setting out to surf, see what turns up? Steady work is nice. Mind, I'm not unreasonable, know how it is out there--just want to know what things look like. I don't fancy starving."
"Captain will give you a three month contract at the standard rate. You work out and want to stay, you negotiate your fees and percentage of the hold take with him. You can't do the job or don't want to stay, we leave you at the nearest port." It was a fair deal, and how Tab reacted to it would tell Will if they wanted him on board or not. Of course, it didn't look like he had a hell of a lot of bodies to choose from.
Tab looked thoughtful for a moment, staring at the table top before nodding. "That's all right. How soon are you planning to ship out?"
"We're filling the hold today. We're ready to go anytime after fifteen standard. If you can be ready before nightfall we'll save the extra night's docking fees and that'll dispose the captain nicely toward you."
Will pulled out a datapad. "I'll need your fingerprints to check against the criminal sheet." Bane would take on a murderer if he thought it would get him a better profit margin, but Will liked being able to sleep with his eyes closed.
Tab looked at the datapad with distaste. "Warrants or records?"
He raised an eyebrow. "What am I going to find?"
"No warrants. Two arrests for disrupting the peace--which were bar brawls with some fuckhead who sold me bad compression coils and a bad injector for a 305. Do you have any idea what a bad injector will do?" The man seemed more indignant than anything else, pissed off about bad parts.
"Yeah, I do." He handed over the pad for Tab to give him a thumbprint. If that was all he found, the man was hired. He appreciated the honesty, and having a temper? Well, that was almost mandatory on a profiteering ship.
Tab took the datapad and practically stabbed it with his thumb, waiting until the pad flashed at him to pass it back. "Stupid things," he growled, though Will wasn't sure if he meant the datapad or the arrests. "Where are you docked? I've got to get my shit together and take care of some stuff, but I'll be there long before night."
The only thing on Tab's sheet was the two disruptings he'd been up front about. Will saved the info to download into the Arillia's database. "6D. I'll let the old girl know you're coming. Use the thumbpad and once you're on board report to the bridge."
Nodding, Tab looked back at the other table where the two men were watching. "Out of here, boys. See you in a few months." Without waiting for any replies he brushed past Will and left the room, his left leg thumping a little heavier than the right as he walked, the limp just noticeable.
Will watched him all the way out, wondering idly about the limp. Man didn't need to be quick-footed to make the engines go, though, and they'd managed a few runs already without a proper engine doc, which was likely one or two too many. He knew how to baby his girl along when he had to, but his babying could only go so far.
He didn't bother checking Tab's engineering credentials. Either the man could do the job or he couldn't, and you didn't last long out in space if you lied about your abilities. Will nodded at the two men left at the other table and headed out, eager to get back to his girl and for them to get back into space.