This is a free sample of Escape from Nova Nine
(A Central Galactic Concordance Novella)
* Shenyan Surkai Space Station * GDAT 3243.101 *
Zade Lunaso hunched, cramming his shoulders into the shadowed corner of a painted metal support pillar, struggling to hide his gasps for air. The lumpy backpack jabbed his kidneys. Under the hood of his winter long coat, sweat dripped down his neck, magnifying the heat rash already prickling on his chest. He swallowed hard against the tickle in his throat that threatened to explode into a coughing fit. Regular use of a starship’s creaky treadmill hadn’t prepared him for a desperate dodge and dash through the automated cargo loading area of a space station.
Once again, Zade found himself in urgent need of a new job. His soon-to-be-former crew didn’t know he’d slipped past their security and off the ship. However, once they did a physical check instead of relying on their tech, they’d come after him. And know where to look, too.
Every station in the galaxy had unofficial areas for in-person hiring. According to his research, Shenyan Surkai Station’s spot was the commons area behind tourist shop row and in front of several independent trader company offices. It was his best bet for getting off the station fast.
The adrenaline that fueled his run was no longer helping. He took four slow, deep breaths, imagining he heard a bell tone, visualizing calm, cooling air saturating every cell in his body. With each slow exhale, he eyed the commons area for entrances and exits.
Purposeful people crossed the commons like they were late. Loiterers leaned on pillars or sat on benches, watching the action.
In out-of-the-way stations like Shenyan Surkai, recruiters were likely hoping to fill an unexpected staffing gap. Smart ship crew usually chose high-traffic hubs to look for a new job. Maybe someday he’d be lucky enough to do the same.
Cautiously, he reached out with a feather touch of his empath talent to gauge the mood of the loiterers. Emotions came to him like flavors. A few hints of bitter fear, a few more of acidic anger. Some salty annoyance and minty impatience. The fishy flavor of smug condescension near the open door of the largest trader association. To his right, the over-sweet taste of bliss, possibly the result of a visit to the local chems and alterants shop. Nothing out of the ordinary.
His minder talent for sensing and influencing emotions was a part of him, and he wouldn’t give it up if he could, but it closed doors. The Central Galactic Concordance traditional military detested minders and force-transferred them to the Citizen Protection Service. The CPS was still nominally military, but with its own rules. The CGC High Court had struck down minder registration laws decades ago, but far too many of the CGC’s five hundred member planets had subtler restrictions woven throughout their statutes. Interstellar trade guilds and associations found many ways to relegate known minders.
That attitude spilled over to less-traveled star lanes. Both indie traders who worked the fringes and freelance jacker crews who hunted commercial ships often shunned minders. Rumors said the secretive pirate clan, who competed with interstellar jackers for juicy slice-and-hauls of fat freighters in deep space, had more minders than nulls. He snorted with momentary amusement. He doubted the clan would openly recruit in CGC territory, no matter how backwater the station. Besides, a stint with the scourge of the galaxy wouldn’t add luster to his qualifications record for future job searches.
The elongated hexagon on the back of his left hand vibrated. With casual movements, he read the percomp’s holo display. Thank the universe! His earlier anonymous query to the station’s official job bank was paying off. An indie trader needed a cargo handler, one of the many shipboard jobs he could do. They were leaving within a few hours, and from a loading bay on the other side of the station from the ship he’d recently exited. To top it off, they claimed to be a minder-friendly outfit.
It sounded too good to be true, until he looked at the pay. Meals, shift-share quarters, and a backend share of the unspecified cargo’s sale. Funny how those jobs never seemed to make a profit. No wonder they had to take minders.
Easing out from behind the pillar, he sized up the recruiters. He ruled out the woman in menacing black with weapons to match. Avoiding conflict topped his life-lessons list. The blissfully chemmed recruiter might not remember anything they promised.
He pushed back the furry winter hood. After a few moments of letting the sweat on his neck evaporate in the station’s dry air, he eased into the crowd, headed for the smug pair of indie traders in matching colors. His damp black topknot of hair and the long coat probably made him look like a solo scout or a hothouse noob who hadn’t acclimated to cooler ship temperatures. Hopefully, his twenty years of quals would encourage them to take a second look. He’d only taken a few steps when the sulfuric stench of rage brushed the edge of his talent.
He knew it all too well. His former employer, interstellar jacker captain Fazhian.
Quelling the urge to run, he pulled the hood back up and turned right to merge into a clump of fast-walking pedestrians. He only had a small window of time to escape.
Fazhian was dangerous when on a rampage, but prone to tantrums. However, once her anger subsided, her cunning would be back online. She lovingly nurtured grudges. He’d seen her go parsecs out of her way to exact retribution against one of her long list of enemies.
Staying on the station wasn’t an option. Concordance foundation law said space stations had to provide breathable air, a liter of water per day, and gravity. Everything else had a price. His funds were tied up, so even if he miraculously eluded the captain and her crew, she’d make farkin’ sure to destroy his chances of finding another ship before she left.
A split-second decision took him to the corridor toward the Y-axis dock. If the no-pay cargo handler job checked out, that ship was his best hope. He used his percomp to send his quals to the ping ref in the job listing. With luck, they’d take him before Fazhian poisoned the well. All he needed was a little time to regroup and get back on his new path.
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