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"Where is that worthless sniveling pile of bat dung? I swear, this time he's gone too far. I'll rip off his head and stuff it--"
"We're almost there, Captain."
Jake Borenski heard the commotion in the hall vaguely. He hunched over his computer, watched the latest rumor swirl onto the display, and nodded. Commodity markets had topped. Time to sell--everything.
His finger stabbed at the confirm button feeling the tiny prick as the computer sampled his DNA for identity confirmation.
Are you sure you wish to proceed with this transaction? Since lost prehistory, computers had stupidly asked this question rather than simply obeying instructions.
Jake glanced to see that he hadn't made any mistakes, bent to send the final confirmation--and was sent flying into the corner of his room. "Uh--"
"I told you to have the cargo holds ready yesterday." Captain Trabert's face had turned a rather attractive shade of violet. Jake wondered if there was some way to capture the color and start a new fashion statement back home.
He tried to pull his full attention from the commodity corner he'd discovered and to his job. "Uh, I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"I said you cost me twenty million com-credits worth of silk tapestries. They're ruined because you didn't do your job." The captain picked him up and shook him. "Guess what? I'm taking it out of your hide."
Jake's computer beeped, signaling that it was still waiting for confirmation. Uh-oh.
He took a deep breath and tuned down the adrenalin running through his system. Twenty million would take a bite out of his profits, but it would leave plenty more. "Just let mefinish on the computer and I'll pay you back, I swear it."
"Ha, ha, ha." Trabert didn't have much of a sense of humor on the best of days. Today was a long shot from Trabert's best day. "You'll pay me back with what? Your salary?" The older man grasped Jake's ear and twisted.
"I've made a little money on commodities on the hyperboards. Let me close out my position and I'll pay you."
From the darkening shade of Trabert's face, Jake guessed he hadn't found the right answer. "You let my rugs rot while you played the commodities boards--on my time. Get out."
The old man's command didn't make a lot of sense on an enclosed space freighter, but now didn't seem to be the time to point that out. Jake stood, then reached for his computer.
Trabert slapped his hand away. "Leave that."
Jake barely resisted the ingrained reflex to block the slap and counter. From the look of the ship's guard glaring at him from behind the captain, that was a quick way to get himself shot. "But it's mine."
"It's evidence." Trabert shoved the computer into an insulating pouch cutting it off from the ship's network.
Trabert was a bully and terrible captain but Jake had never seen him go this far. A small bubble of panic accumulated in his stomach and climbed up his throat. "I've got to close out my positions, sir. You know what the Commodity Police are like." Appeal to the shared interest, he thought. Once he'd covered his shorts, he would have enough to buy this bathtub of a space freighter and put Trabert out to permanent pasture. Never mind the twenty million.
"You'll do what I tell you. And I'm telling you to get the hell off my ship. If the Commodity Police are after you, I suggest hiding."
Jake's panic grew. "You can't dump me off on New Earth #47. It's a Class 5 restricted. That's totally against regulations."
"Tell that to the Traders' Board." This time, Trabert's laugh sounded genuine.
There was no Traders' Board on #47 and, scheduled and certified ships barely made it there every year or so. If Trabert was serious, and despite his grin he appeared to be, Jake would be marooned. Of course, being marooned on some god-forsaken planet might be the best place for him if he couldn't undo his shorts in a hurry.
Jake gave Trabert his most engaging smile. "I'll admit I got distracted and fell short on my job this one time. Over all, though, I've been getting superior evaluations. I'd really appreciate a second chance." A chance to jump ship somewhere civilized, that was.