BONUS SCENE FOR CENTRAL GALACTIC CONCORDANCE READERS
Setting: This scene takes place about nine months after the events in Overload Flux, on the first day of business for the new company, Foxe Investigations.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Luka, as he and his guests descended the bottom set of stairs. He was proud of how he and Mairwen had remodeled the unusual building into their combined home and new headquarters for Foxe Investigations. Their future was far from assured, but he felt at last like they were headed in the right direction.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” said Beva, “but couldn’t you have found something narrower and taller?”
Luka laughed. “That’s what made it affordable.” He pointed up. “It has everything we need—flitter pad, exercise room, living space, great kitchen thanks to Jerzi’s design advice, offices—just stacked on top of each other.”
“Not to mention the multi-layer security measures that put priceless antiquity vaults to shame.” Jerzi smiled teasingly at Mairwen, who was standing by the front door, hands clasped behind her. It had taken Luka some time to realize she fell back on her security guard habit when she didn’t know what was socially appropriate.
Beva stepped closer to Mairwen and patted her shoulder. “Don’t you listen to him. Be downright embarrassing for a security assessment specialist to have anything less.”
“Luka agreed.” The corners of Mairwen’s mouth twitched upward. “Eventually.”
Beva and Jerzi laughed, and Luka joined them. Mairwen usually only teased him when they were alone. He was glad he’d only invited these two people for the official grand opening. They put Mairwen at ease, and accepted them both for who and what they were.
They’d also advocated to Sesuhulla Zheer, the president of La Plata Security, for the retainer contract that would provide initial cash flow while they grew their business. Thanks to his previous jobs, he had civilian and military police contacts all over the galaxy, but damn few friends. Sooner or later, his minder talent and intuition made people think he was reading their secret journals or judging them. Not exactly the basis for comfortable companionship.
“Let’s go up. Dinner’s waiting.” Luka pointed to the stairs. He let Jerzi and Beva go up first while waited for Mairwen to check the door and security pad. He caught her hand and gave her a quick kiss. “Thank you.”
Her puzzled look made him smile. “Yes, I know you do this everyday, but your friends and I appreciate that you want us safe.”
She nodded as she took the first step, then unexpectedly turned and kissed him. “Thank you for letting me.”
Over the simple meal he’d made, and improved by Jerzi’s contribution of a mixed salad and Beva’s guest gift of wine, the conversation ranged from gossip at La Plata, including the long-overdue contract termination of Mairwen’s abusive former supervisor, to the unfolding story of how the Citizen Protection Service had been systematically using riots in hundreds of cities across the galaxy as a cover for purging inconvenient troublemakers, to the recent election that had returned a virulently anti-minder council member to office. In Etonver, it was still perfectly legal to nullify someone’s contract without penalty just for being a minder.
Beva shook her head. “I thought we finally gave up that cultural bullshit when we finally got out among the stars and realized how differences make us stronger as a species.”
A troubled look crossed Jerzi’s face as he toyed with the last bite of pasta on his plate. “Some people were raised to believe that minder talents are the dark legacy that the First Wave researchers introduced into the human genome. Never mind there’s absolute zero evidence for it.”
Luka’s intuition flared, telling him Jerzi had personal experience hearing that argument. Zheer’s strange “wishes” for the galactic new year nine months ago had mentioned people with secrets, maybe including Pico, Jerzi’s almost-adult daughter. Minder talents, hidden like Luka’s, or known like Beva’s, meant some people would always fear them. Mairwen’s secret was the biggest of them all. Too bad humans still hadn’t grown out of hating what they feared.
Luka marveled at how fast the vector of his life had changed since that midnight meeting in Zheer’s office. He’d gotten a firm handle on his useful but dangerous talent, found the perfect assistant through sheer luck, and convinced Mairwen to start their own business, away from the too-rigid corporate structure of La Plata. His only setback so far was failing to make Mairwen a full business partner, but the love of his life was a stubborn woman, and would take convincing. He could be patient for important things, contrary to the opinion of his friends.
“What has you so contemplative, cher?” asked Beva. Her native Arca-French accent became more pronounced after a glass or two of wine.
“Just remembering Seshulla’s advice.” He smiled, and held up his glass for a toast. “I’m glad I know who my friends are.”
* * * * *
Mairwen dutifully raised her glass of water to touch its rim with the others. Perhaps one had to be under the influence of alcohol for the ritual to make sense. She avoided chems of any sort, not liking what they did to her, when they did anything at all. Her genetically altered physiology, courtesy of an ultra-secret program of the Citizen Protection Service, made self-medicating a risky affair at best.
Luka looked as relaxed and happy as she’d seen him in the last three months. The excitement and stress of managing the transition from contract employee to becoming president of his own business had alternately kept him wide awake and or sleeping like the dead. She suspected he secretly expected to wake up and find it had all been a dream. She knew the feeling well. She’d often felt like that since falling in love with a brilliant man who loved her in return and made a place for her in his life.
She’d never imagined in her wildest dreams of freedom that she’d be the silent partner in owning a building or a business. Nothing in her training as a tracker gave her the right skill sets for either. Because she ordinarily needed little sleep and read voraciously, she knew the theory of all manner of things, but seeing the actual practice was instructive. She had no more ability to design a useful kitchen than Luka could hear the harmonics of a faster-than-light flux drive. She’d given up dispensing death for a living when she escaped her CPS handlers, so security was her only other marketable skill. Her financial contribution had come from her considerable savings, since she’d never had anything to spend her salary on before beyond rent, food, and knives.
“Any paying customers yet?” asked Jerzi. “Besides La Plata?”
Luka shook his head. “No.”
“Yes,” she said. Luka’s eyebrows raised. “Security assessment for a bank in Etonver. South district.”
Luka beamed. “What a nice surprise.” He nudged her knee with his under the table. “So that was your mysterious ping this afternoon.”
She nodded, pleased to be able to surprise him. They’d been counting on her line of business to be their steady income for a while. “I’ll take Sojaire.” She hesitated. Perhaps Luka wanted to be a part of the company’s first official job. “Unless you’d rather come?”
He patted her hand. “No, elskan. Take Sojaire. He’s young and energetic. I plan to sleep for the next week.”
Luka had never given up the habit of using his native language of Icelandic for endearments, and helped her practice speaking it. She liked having a secret language to share with him.
“Where is Sojaire, anyway?” Jerzi began stacking the used plates and utensils, as was his curious habit. “I’d have thought he’d want to be here tonight. Pico says he’s thrilled to be working for you.”
“Clinic hours,” said Luka. “He’s going for his C-level certificate, even if he can’t practice medicine right now.” Luka twirled the stem of his wine glass. “I don’t want to get his hopes up, so I haven’t said anything, but something is off about the patient death that cost him his license. I’m planning to investigate.”
“Count me in,” said Jerzi. “He saved Pico from a sticky situation. He’s not the type to leave a patient unassessed or untreated.” He gave Beva a smile. “In between personal security jobs, of course.” Jerzi was her increasingly valuable employee in La Plata’s new and profitable personal security division.
“You do what’s right, cher,” said Beva. “We’ll make it work.” The gleam in her eye said she’d probably help, too.
Mairwen strongly approved of Luka’s intention. He’d hired Sojaire in part because of the younger man’s conventional medical training. If he’d detected her abnormal physiology, he’d carefully never asked her about it, any more than she’d asked him about his hidden minder talent for healing.
She liked Sojaire, and considered him another friend. Now she had three, where she’d once thought that even having one was beyond her capacity. Just another one of the myriad lies the CPS handlers told trackers about what the highly illegal procedure had done to them when it gave them enhanced senses and speed.
Luka yawned, causing Beva and Jerzi to ostentatiously check the time and declare their intention to leave before spring rain turned to snow and snarled traffic. Luka asked them how they could tell the difference, considering Etonver was the Central Galactic Concordance’s cautionary example of how not to operate an urban transportation infrastructure.
“How would you know, Luka?” Jerzi crossed his well-developed arms over his muscular chest. “Mairwen does all the flying.”
“Of course she does,” Luka said archly. “She’s the company’s transportation manager.”
Mairwen tilted her head. “I am?”
Beva laughed. “I’m your witness. Ask him for a bonus.”
“My bonus is getting where we’re going in one piece.” Mairwen smiled. “Have you seen him drive?”
“Yes. Longest hour of my life.” Jerzi gave a mock shudder. “I still have nightmares.”
Luka and Jerzi traded joking insults about each other’s near-miss accidents as they all climbed the stairs to the rooftop flitter pad. Nearly everyone in Etonver had harrowing traffic stories.
Beva drew Mairwen aside and offered to help with clothing shopping, which Mairwen gratefully accepted, because she had no idea how a business owner should dress. Her idea of high fashion was a high-necked knit tunic that concealed the knife sheath she wore between her shoulder blades. Which reminded her of something she wanted to show Luka.
“I bought a pillow,” she told him as they walked together down the stairs.
“A pillow.” He gave her a sidelong glance. “Sleeping? Training? Camouflage?”
She led him to the small sitting area on the living quarters level, and pointed to one of the green-shaded lounge chairs, where her pillow leaned. “Aesthetic.” He’d been encouraging her to think of their shared space a home, not just an urban fortress to secure. He also teased her about owning nothing that wasn’t practical.
He blinked, then gave her an amused smile. “I like the coordinating blue and the tropical pink.” He pulled her in for a kiss. “Pretty soon, we’ll have you shopping in the fluffy home dec catalogs.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Not unless their window shades have built-in AI-assisted life-sign pattern detection.”
“Uh, no.” He laughed and kissed her. “Have I mentioned to you lately that I’m a very lucky man, and that I love you?”
“Yes.” She wrapped arms around him and sighed contentedly at his familiar scent, which always grounded her.
“Good. I wouldn’t want you to think I’m ungrateful.” He kissed her forehead. “It’s a very nice pillow.”
The next book in the series is Minder Rising (Central Galactic Concordance Book 2), where a covert telepathic agent must decide whether to save his own skin, or a bartender and her prodigy son. Follow the further adventures of Luka and Mairwen in Zero Flux (Central Galactic Concordance Book 2.5), and Jerzi in Pico’s Crush (Central Galactic Concordance Book 3).