Starship Repo is a fast-paced romp through the galaxy from Patrick S. Tomlinson.
Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go. With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).
Now she's traveling the galaxy "recovering" ships. What could go wrong?
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Patrick S. Tomlinson is a man of many hats. In addition to writing Sci-Fi novels and shorts, he prowls theaters, clubs, and bars throughout the midwest performing as a stand-up comedian. Between gigs, cons, and rewrites, he works as a pundit and frequent political contributor, with columns appearing in publications such as The Hill and The New York Times. In the little downtime remaining, Patrick enjoys hobbies such as motorcycling, model-building, and shooting. He lives in Milwaukee with his fiancee, two cats, a bearded dragon, and a 2008 Bullitt Edition Mustang named Susan.
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It was the first human ever to come through Junktion's customs portal, at least so far as Pelax knew. He spotted the frail creature standing several beings deep in the queue, right behind an Ish mother with a brood of a dozen hatchlings playing on top of her carapace. The human reached out to try to pet one, only to get her finger pinched by a suspicious claw.
Pelax suppressed a chuckle. In the five years since their escape from containment, humans had quickly developed a reputation for sticking their digits where they didn't belong. At least this time, a lesson was dispensed quickly. Being a professional, Pelax sat on his curiosity and dealt with the more mundane citizens quickly and efficiently until the human girl was next in line.
At least he was pretty sure she was a girl. He was hardly an expert. He waved her forward with a flipper. "ID and travel chit, please."
The girl reached into a cheap cloth pouch slung over her shoulder and produced the required documents. Pelax took them and ran them through the authenticator. Orange meant they were genuine or such high-quality forgeries that she deserved to pass anyway. Then, Pelax looked at the name column.
"Yeah, I know," the girl said. "It was a data-entry error. They keep saying it'll get sorted out any day now. My real name is —"
Pelax held up a flipper. "For the duration of your visit to Junktion, your 'real' name is Firstname Lastname. It's fitting, really. After all, you're the first human I've met." Pelax was not versed in human facial expressions, thus he was unsure if the complete rigidity was a sign of good humor.
"I'm not the first one to say that, am I?"
"Everyone says that. I almost said it before you just so I didn't have to hear it again."
"Okay, I get the point."
Firstname bowed her head. "Sorry, I didn't mean to bite your, er, head off. It's been a long couple of months. That is your head, right?"
Pelax rolled a flipper. "Port of origin?"
"PCB. Sorry, Proxima Centauri B. Earth space."
"I meant the last Assembly spaceport you departed from."
"Oh, um ... Lacora, maybe? I was there long enough to pee and change transports." She put her hands on the desk, then pointed with a finger. "What's that box?"
Pelax glanced over along her line of inquiry. "It's an authenticator. Please remove your hands and stand behind the yellow line."
Firstname lifted her hands and stepped back. "Sorry, sorry. Can we move this along? I'm starving."
Pelax ignored her plea and cross-referenced her travel chit's internal log against Space Traffic Control's flight records. Lacora was correct.
"And what is the nature of your visit to Junktion — business or pleasure?"
"I'm a refugee. We can't afford much pleasure. I heard there's work to be had on the docks. So I'm going to try to get some."
"How old are you?" Pelax asked, even though the information was on her ID.
"Seventeen awake plus four frozen."
Pelax grimaced. "What's that in Assembly Standard Cycles?"
"Oh, um, I don't know the conversion, sorry."
The line behind them grew restless with the delay. Pelax knew he had to get the queue moving again or the rest of his shift would be spent with grumpy clients venting their frustrations and slowing the line further.
"Temporary visa granted for two weeks. That's seventeen days." Pelax stamped the approval into her ID and travel chit.
"That's an odd number. How can it be two of anything?" First asked.
"Oh, you don't know about Hole Day? Well, that's something to look forward to. If you've found a job by the end of that time, bring proof of employment up to the immigration office and they'll get you set up with a resident visa. Enjoy your stay at Junktion. Next!"
The human smiled at Pelax and grabbed her documents. It wouldn't be until he closed his terminal and headed home he'd realize his wallet was missing.
* * *
Firstname left the customs portal behind and let herself get swept into the river of sentients moving through the arteries of the space station known as Junktion. Hyperspace station, actually, or the "upper" half of it was. The facility sat smack at the intersection of several of Assembly space's busiest trade routes, both in normal space and hyperspace, bottlenecked by a cluster of pulsars and black holes that forced ships to reroute against these threats to navigation.
Junktion was like an iceberg, with half the station floating in normal space, while the other half bobbed through a hyperspace window kept permanently open to allow cargo and passengers traveling through hyper to dock, disembark, and reload, all without their ships ever having to transition between the two universes and put cycles on their hyperspace generators, which made it very valuable to the captains and their transport companies.
It was also truly massive. The ceilings in the main passageways were tall enough to fly through, with several winged species doing exactly that, flitting about their business like man-sized dragonflies. Junktion supplemented its artificial gravity systems with a gentle spin, but from where she walked inside the outermost layers, the curvature was barely perceptible.
From where she stood among the crowd, another thing was becoming inescapably obvious. First really was the first human most of them had ever seen. All around her, curious eyes, set inside skulls or mounted on stalks, turned to steal a glance at her before darting away again like the cantina scene in Star Wars if it had been filmed on Fifth Avenue. Blending in here would be ... challenging.
Her stomach had been barren since the travel rations she'd traded for on Lacora ran out a day and a half earlier. First tried to push her way toward the far wall. Eventually, through sheer Brownian motion, she reached it and found a small alcove that would afford her a measure of privacy to take stock of her resources. She had thirty-six PCB dollars, which she might as well use for toilet paper, a few coins of unknown denominations from some backwater world on the fringe of Assembly territory she might be able to use or exchange for local currency, and the standard personal data handheld she'd been given upon achieving refugee status.
First continued to hope no one at the Assembly refugee processing center looked too deeply into her application, lest they ask what "Cleveland Browns" were and why they qualified as a natural disaster.
She had one new item to add to the inventory, however. Turning her back to the crowds, First pulled the slim wallet out of the drop pocket she'd sewn into the lining of her vest, hidden right in one of the seams, just like Helga at juvenile detention had showed her. There wasn't much in it. A couple of scripts that were probably low-value paper credits, not that she could read them yet, a couple of pictures of what looked like manatee porn, and ...
First whistled softly to herself as the overhead lights played off the holographic security access card, worth thousands to an interested buyer. All she had to do was find them.
She left the wallet and pictures on the ground, then tucked the access card into her drop pocket. The script she kept in hand as she reentered the crowd in search of a place to eat. She spent the better part of an hour surveying the promenade and markets, looking for something that her empty, growling stomach might accept as penance after almost two days of neglect.
As it happened, while she may have been the first human physically present on Junktion, human presence had already taken root. Impossibly, inevitably, First found herself staring at a sign known to all humans for going on four hundred years.
"Welcome to McDonald's," said a giant brain floating in a jar, with tentacles where a spinal cord should be. "My name is Fenax. May I take your order?"
"Uhhh," First stammered. She didn't even know which part of the creature's ... face, she was supposed to address. "Sorry. This is embarrassing, but I can't read this language yet, and I don't know how much I have here." She opened her hand and uncrumpled the local script, then held it up to the disembodied cashier.
The creature inspected the notes however an eyeless floating brain did such things. "You have a dry-cleaning ticket and an expired one- month-free gym membership coupon."
"Oh. I'm really sorry. I'm just very hungry. I just got off a refugee ship."
"Do you have any other forms of currency? We accept script from across Assembly space."
First dug into her purse and pulled out the coins and PCB bills. "All I've got is a few loose coins and some bathroom tissue."
"Those are Cimini dulos. Not enough for anything on our menu, I'm afraid."
"Right." First deposited the little plastic chips into the Ronald McDonald House container at the base of the register anyway.
"Wait, is that ... human currency?" the floating horror asked.
"What, the bills? They're Proxima Centauri B dollars."
The brain shivered in its jar. "Forgive my emotional outburst. I grew excited. I collect strange or rare currencies, you see. It's a hobby. I'll give you one hundred standard credits for the bills in your hand."
"Is that a good exchange rate?"
"Honestly, I have no idea."
"Will it get me a value meal?"
"With room to spare."
First slapped the PCB dollars down on the counter. "Deal. I want a Big Mac with fries, a large Coke, and an apple pie."
"A what pie?"
"Of course not. Forget the pie."
"Coming right up, sir."
"What did I miss?"
First sighed. "Nothing. Forget it."
Three minutes later, First set her tray triumphantly down at a small two-seat table at the edge of the dining area and surveyed her conquest. Her first meal as deep inside alien territory as she, or perhaps any human, had ever come consisted of a Big Mac, what looked and smelled like french fries, and what most definitely tasted like a Coke Classic with whatever extra ingredient McDonald's had been adding for centuries.
And to top it all off, she had eighty-three standard credits in her bag. Enough for days if she needed to stretch it. Victorious, First lifted the five-layered abomination and opened her mouth wide to accept her bounty.
"Well, now I've seen it all," came a voice like bagpipes being recycled. "A human eating McDonald's."
First spun around with the burger still clenched in one hand, ready to point a finger straight through whoever had interrupted her first delectable bite of food in days, only to stop short. Standing next to her, if the word applied, was a slug, six meters long, and somehow smiling at her despite not possessing any obvious mouth orifice.
"Big Mac, huh? Good choice, although a little predictable, isn't it? A little cliché, even?"
First's arm went slack against her side. "Guilty as charged, I guess. I just got here, and I don't know if anything else is even edible for me yet."
"I'm only joking, young human. Giving you a tug, if you know what I mean. I enjoy them myself, maybe a little too much." Four limbs, for lack of a better term, erupted from the giant slug's sides and rubbed its midsection. "Two all-bleef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun."
First nodded along to the familiar ditty. "Yes, that's right. I'm surprised you know ... wait, did you say bleef?"
"What the hell is bleef?"
"I'm Bleef!" the slug's four arms hugged its torso proudly. "My species reproduces asexually, you see, with buds. But I'm not ready to be a family man, not in this economy, so just before they hit the point of sentience, I hack 'em off and sell the meat to the local franchise here. I'm sure it's not that different where you come from."
First looked at the Big Mac in her hand, then gently set it back down in its box.
"You know, I'm suddenly not very hungry."
"You're not going to throw that away, are you?" Bleef asked, rubbing two limbs together.
"No." First handed it over. "Help yourself. To yourself."
"Much obliged, young human. Enjoy your stay."
First grabbed her Coke and strode away, sticky fingers reaching into Bleef's coin purse while he distracted himself with a stomach-churning display of autoerotic cannibalism that put more than one nonhuman patron unfortunate enough to be seated in the dining area off their lunch.
First returned to the counter to the same floating brain cashier and recovered a ten-credit note from her purse.
"Give me a spicy chicken sandwich, and I'll pay double if you promise not to tell me what's in it."
Her hunger finally sated, First left the food court behind and reviewed the newest additions to her drop pocket, unwittingly donated by Bleef. Two cryptocurrency crystal disks. She wouldn't know how much was on them until she found a cracker to break the encryption, but it was never a petty amount. Given a few hours to get her bearings and meet the wrong sort of people, and she'd sleep in a real bed in a private room for the rest of the week.
"Yes, I think I will enjoy my stay."CHAPTER 2
"Sorry, boss," the Turemok said, her red electronic eye implants dimming in embarrassment. "Soolie the Fin's squad beat us to the punch. Karkers already had their feet up on the bridge by the time we got to the gangway plank."
Every piece of Loritt Chessel twitched his annoyance at the newest setback. "Jrill, this is the third contract we've had pulled out from under our feet in as many weeks. Our expenses on failed jobs don't just disappear, you know."
Jrill straightened up and looked intently at the wall above Loritt's head. "I'm aware, boss."
Loritt's jaw clenched involuntarily. But he was a professional and a gentleman. His crew was among the best in the sector, and their frustrations at this recent run of bad luck were, if anything, even more obvious than his own. "Relax. I mean, 'at ease.' It's not your fault. You're all doing your jobs, I know that. But something's making us miss a step. What's wrong?"
"Permission to speak openly, si — boss?"
Loritt chuckled. He'd picked Jrill up after the culling of Turemok military officers who'd been in any way involved in the disastrous campaign against Earth five years prior, which had not only seen the "backward savages" destroy the Xecoron and the sitting Kumer-Vel with it but landed the entire Turemok leadership under official censure from the Assembly for their attempts to frame the humans for geocide in the first place.
The resulting face-saving purge went to extremes, ensnaring even Jrill, who, as far as Loritt had been able to tell, was guilty only of overseeing logistics at the port the Xecoron launched from. "Without the fuel you authorized," the logic of her hearing went, "our flagship would still be in its berth!"
"Jrill, how many times do I have to tell you I'm not your commanding officer? This isn't the military. It's a job. You do it well. I value your discipline, but I don't need you to be a slave to it. As long as you're respectful, you're always free to speak your mind. I insist on it."
Jrill shifted uncomfortably. It had taken almost two cycles to get her to say boss instead of sir. Hatchling steps. "We're taking on more and bigger contracts. They've grown in complexity while the interval to prepare for each has shrunk. We're being asked to do more with the same man power and less time."
"Which means bigger shares at the end of the day for everyone."
"Not if we keep missing the targets, boss. We need to replace our hacker. Zero doesn't divide by five any better than it does six or seven."
Several parts of Loritt inhaled and let out a sigh. "As I said earlier, it's not zero, it's negative numbers in my account, but I take your point. You've all grown so much and met every challenge. Maybe I assumed we'd all just keep leveling up forever. But that's not how real life works, is it?"
"Not in my experience, boss."
"You've talked to the others about this? They're okay with it?"
"Not directly, but I don't believe anyone would object too strenuously. And even if they did, you're the boss."
"I am the boss," Loritt repeated. "Short term, you know this makes things worse, yes? Training and integrating a recruit into a tight-knit group is always problematic. Getting them up to speed saps resources and man-hours and stresses morale."
"We're investing in the future, boss. And if all else fails, I can smack heads together to straighten them out."
"Well, no, obviously not Fenax, except metaphorically."
"And Sheer's head is technically located inside her carapace ..."
"I think you're deliberately pushing the limits of a common turn of phrase, boss."
Loritt smiled. "All right, Jrill, you win. Got any potentials in mind?"
Jrill tapped her beak. "Come to think of it, I just might."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Starship Repo"
Copyright © 2019 Patrick S. Tomlinson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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