This is a free sample of Galactic Search and Rescue (A Central Galactic Concordance Novella)
* Perlarossa Orbital Space Station * GDAT 3242.333 *
Subcaptain Taloszjaril “Taz” Correa stood, hands on her hips, surveying the storeroom. Nothing distinguished it from hundreds of others on the Perlarossa space station, except for Silver Team’s name over its open doorway. And the farkin’ disaster inside.
Swirling dust tickled her nose, and a burned chemical stench seemed to coat her tongue. She resisted the impulse to wipe the sweat from her face with the hem of what had been her cleanest undershirt. The sticky stains would probably give her a rash.
The only orderly thing was the room’s exposed structural framework shaped sort of like a giant animal kennel. Precisely spaced holes marched up the verticals that curved upward on all sides. Dangling twists of metal gave mute evidence of the equipment that used to be hanging neatly from hooks. The jumbles of crates and uneven mountains of cables, gantries, chairs, and unidentifiable charred crap looked like the aftermath of a tornado.
That was what hasty shuttle launches did to carefully maintained storerooms when some asshole carelessly left the room’s blast-proof doors wide open. Leaving her and the rest of Silver Team to clean up the mess.
Would it kill the universe—just once—to let her get an entire downtime shift’s worth of sleep?
The sudden grating whine of a badly tuned skimmer engine assaulted her ears for a millisecond until her ear protection implants kicked in. To her right, the four-person, canopied air skimmer took up about a quarter of the room. More, now that it was half buried under a mound of debris.
In the far left corner, a giant brown-and-tan weasel sank his sharp teeth into the blackened corner of a piece of freight padding. The skimmer’s whine didn’t faze him at all.
Taz touched the earwire on the side of her face. “Rylando? Is it okay if Lerox bites the burned bits?”
“Yeah, he’s ace, as long as he doesn’t eat them,” said Subcaptain Rylando Delroinn, in her earwire. “I asked him to investigate the damage. It’s good practice for him to figure out how recently the burn happened.”
Taz couldn’t help but smile as the fearless beast wrestled with the two-meter-square padding like a puppy with a chewtoy. Technically, Lerox was a pet designer’s idea of what a pre-flight, long-extinct prehistoric weasel called an “ekakeran” might have looked like. That was how the zero-ethics pet-trade industry got around legions of laws against genetically altering cornerstone species like badgers, tayras, or wolverines. Lerox’s shoulders stood just above her knee. When he wasn’t exploring or nibbling everything, he was sliding into a human lap to demand a belly rub. He lived on the other side of the universe from shy and stealthy.
Taz envied Rylando’s easy camaraderie with all his animals. He trained them in rescue tasks, but his minder talent allowed him to sense their thoughts, guide their actions, and see and hear through their superior senses. The unit commander insultingly called them pet-trade rejects, but Taz knew better. They were a working team. Very non-regulation, but better than most of the human teams in their bottom-of-the-barrel Galactic Search and Rescue unit. Central Galactic Concordance Foundation law dictated that the Citizen Protection Service had to operate GSAR, but the law didn't say how well.
Turning to the corner behind her that had escaped the worst of the tornado, she stepped up into the ship-loader’s skeletal assist frame and connected to its interface. Bands wrapped around her calves, thighs, torso, and arms to secure her in place. The dented and scratched frame looked like cobbled-together bird cages salvaged from a scrap heap, but she’d tinkered with the tech so it operated smoothly and quietly.
She oriented the holo display as she cataloged the damage. After the cleanup, she planned to check the security vids. If she won the bet with herself that the careless asshole had been Franecki from Red Team, she’d reward herself with an extra thirty minutes of sleep. Lazy Franecki often raided Silver Team’s working supplies. It’d be a cold night in the black void before she’d fix any more of Red Team’s tech.
Five of the six Galactic Search and Rescue unit’s teams were responding to a mass disaster on Uttara Phalgurni, one of the seven colonized planets their underfunded, understaffed first-responder unit was now assigned to cover. A catastrophic landing accident had torn up half of the only operational spaceport and set the other half on fire. To make matters worse, the disaster trapped thousands of injured people during that planet’s peak travel season. Lucky for the citizens, their planet was only one interstellar transit day away from the GSAR unit’s home station, so they got help fast.
Meanwhile, she and Rylando had to deal with the disaster at home base. GSAR’s hand-me-down shuttles were held together with bootleg-printed parts and retrofitted salvage. A leaky system drive on one of them had acted like a giant wind-driven flame thrower, setting everything in the launch bay on fire and tumbling into the unprotected storeroom.
The engine noise stopped. Rylando climbed out of the skimmer’s control pod with the lithe, fluid grace of a swimmer. His GSAR yellow and red uniform complemented his tawny brown skin and short, thick brown hair. If he had any civilian downtime clothes, she’d never seen them.
“How’s our transpo?” Taz righted a dented and blackened three-hundred-kilo crate that blocked the wide bay doors. With luck, the unknown contents survived the heat.
“The systems say the controls and engines are green go.” He wiped his hands on his pants. “Good thing our airsled was still on Hatya’s shuttle, or it would have toppled onto the skimmer.” He gave her a crooked smile. “Then if they deployed us, we’d have to borrow glider boards from the local youth.”
Taz snorted. “Thank the universe the animal autodoc is still in the repair bay. GSAR would never spring for a replacement.”
One of the two nearly identical cats, probably Diemos, leapt to the skimmer’s flat canopy and sat, supervising humans and animals alike. She and her brother Phobos were as tall and long-legged as Lerox, but lighter and thinner. With Siamese markings, silky fur, and stumpy tails, they had regal grace in abundance. Feline lovers melted when the friendly cats asked to be worshipped… er, petted. They were likely confiscated from a pet-trade dealer or smuggler. She’d deliberately avoided asking Rylando where he got any of his team. She didn’t want to force him to lie to her.
With the assist frame taking care of the mass, lifting and carrying the heavy crate out of the storage room was a matter of angle and balance. And making sure no four-legged team members were in her path. Shen, the tan brindle-coated shepherd-retriever mix with energy to burn, sometimes believed humans needed, well, shepherding.
The two-story launch bay was an even worse disaster area than the storeroom. Everything that hadn’t been fastened down looked like it tried to climb the back wall to get away from the heat. It reeked of burned chemicals. Good thing she’d eaten hours ago, or her stomach would be twisting itself in knots.
Unfortunately, since Silver Team was currently undeployable with only two rescuers and one assigned pilot, they’d likely get tasked with cleaning up the launch bay, too.
Taz made a command decision to start a new stack in front of the neighboring unmarked storage bay. She used her telekinetic talent to brush aside a couple of badly bent equipment stands before easing the crate down.
That talent was why she’d been moved from a regular military mech-maintenance unit to the Citizen Protection Service sixteen years ago. A handy talent in rescue situations, and in cleaning up messes. Not so handy when former military colleagues had learned she was a minder. They’d instantly treated her like she was a secret jack-crew spy who’d stolen the squad’s party slush fund.
It hadn’t mattered that she hadn’t known about her talent either. None of the mandatory tests she’d been given when growing up or joining the military had even hinted that she might be a minder. No family history, either. Or none that they’d admit. They’d been horrified when she told them and quickly disavowed her existence.
Saving herself and two teammates from a runaway grav sled earned her an iridium-star commendation and pay bonus, followed by an immediate one-way transfer to the Citizen Protection Service’s Minder Corps. Still military, but with many more mission areas and very different rules.
Her regular military experience with big equipment and her new talent made her a suitable candidate for the CPS’s Galactic Search and Rescue division. She’d jumped at the chance. Helping people was why she’d joined the military in the first place.
At least the CPS valued her minder talent and taught her to use it. Of course, they’d also insisted she needed addictive enhancement drugs to make it reliable. That, she soon discovered, was the same story they gave all minders in the telepathic and telekinetic categories. The higher the level of talent, the more powerful the drugs they needed. She wasn’t the only transferee who’d quickly decided that was a mech-load of manure.
To start with, drugs weren’t required for everyone in the Minder Corps, just the so-called heavy talents like telepathy and telekinesis. Filers with perfect memories, and forecasters who could spot patterns in a sea of data and predict the future, were exempt. So were animal-affinity minders like Rylando.
He’d said he’d known he was a minder before the first round of testing at age twelve, so it hadn’t been a shock. By joining the CPS GSAR division right after his age-seventeen test, he’d gotten nova-class veterinary-medic training for free and a well-paying career working with animals. On the other hand, he’d had to put up with people calling him subhuman and worse all his life. That had to have tanked.
Stop thinking about the sexy man you can’t have, she told herself, and get back to work.
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