To celebrate, here’s an excerpt from the book. Enjoy!
Els stood in the cargo airlock with most of the crew. Austin and Kasli remained on board—Austin by choice and Kasli by rotation. Freya’s Tears was never left empty; at least two people stayed aboard to secure the ship whenever they made landside. A ship was sovereign in its own right, but only as long as it was occupied. An empty ship was salvage, no matter where it sat.
As soon as the inner doors clunked shut with a metallic thud, Els scanned her companions. “Breathers on?” Only after everyone gave her a thumb up did she trigger the smaller airlock door. No need to drop the ramp when there was no cargo to load. At least, not yet. A slight breeze ruffled her hair as the exterior atmosphere blew into the airlock. The air caused her eyes to sting a little, but she couldn’t smell much through the breather strapped across her nose and mouth. Considering the tainted atmosphere on Bertuin, that was a good thing. Sunlight was dimmer here than on other planets, and it made Els’s eyes ache until she adjusted to the fact that the orange ball in the sky wasn’t setting but giving off its full illumination. She swung out onto the ladder rungs embedded in the hull of the ship and climbed the two meters to the ground. Her landing was light, the Bertuin gravity being slightly below Terran norm. Above her, she saw the shapely rear of her lover descending and couldn’t help but admire it a moment.
Els turned. Two men stood a few meters away at the info kiosk by the star port airlock. One carried a portable datapad, and the other the demeanor of a Terran bulldog. “Yeah, that’s me.” She approached them, not making any sudden movements. Port Security everywhere had a tendency to be paranoid, and she didn’t want to set this one off.
The official gave a curt nod and accessed the kiosk panel. “Your ship is Freya’s Tears out of Sadal Suud, 300-ton-hull cargo handler?”
“Yep.” She looked over his shoulder at the readout. “We just transported some goods for Evan Hyland. Would you like to see the manifest?”
“Certainly.” The man stepped back, allowing her access to the control panel.
He shied away to avoid brushing against her brown canvas jacket, and she bit back a smile. The more populated the world, the more pronounced the chasm was between bureaucrats and the general populace. On most days she’d have played with him, done what she could to subtly offend his sense of propriety. She had too many worries, however, and he had a stolid-looking armed goon at his side. Instead she keyed in her security code and accessed the ship’s computer, pulling up the cargo manifest. “Here it is.” She stepped back, biting her tongue against the desire to comment that she ran a legal business. Such a statement smacked of inherent guilt, and she didn’t want the goon to decide a shipboard search was in order. She didn’t think there was anything illegal aboard, but who knew what the members of the crew had squirreled away in their cabins.
The official scanned the data, uploading it to his datapad. “Everything appears to be in order. How long do you plan to stay on beautiful Bertuin?”
Beautiful? Els smothered her snort, unable to help but scan their immediate surroundings. Dirty and grimy, this part of the star port served independent merchants and showed a lack of care and cleanliness. Through the clear plastisteel dome that protected the port from the planetary atmosphere she saw dockworkers lounging as they waited for ships to arrive for loading or unloading. A sign down the way blinked crude neon, proclaiming a pub for incoming crews to rest their bones. The orange-lit sky held hints of what appeared to be smoke which Els knew to be the corrupted air itself. In the distance, scrub trees and crusty ground rose into hillocks, covered with the airtight dwellings necessary for living on this rock. “Three days, maybe less.” Gods, I hope it’s less.
He keyed something into his datapad. “I have you listed at Dock 78 for three modular days. Full hook up?”
She quickly debated her answer, weighing the ship’s dwindling financial situation against the luxury of having all power, communication lines and hydro covered by the star port. With a sigh, she shook her head. “No. No hook up. We’ll boondock it.” She heard a grumble behind her and glared at Robb. He and the others had made it out of the ship and now stood clustered nearby.
The official made another adjustment, looked up at her and stepped back once more. “That will be four hundred seventy-five credits with an additional forty-five credits in port taxes a day. Please upload a method of payment.”
Five hundred twenty a day? Tyr’s gut, there’d better be work here, or I’ll have to sell the ship to make the payment.
A sense of dread washed over her as she inserted a credstick into the appropriate slot of the kiosk. She keyed in her password, and the correct number of credits transferred out of the account. The sooner they found work, the better. She pulled the stick, pocketing it quickly as if doing so would somehow negate the loss of precious funds.
“Welcome to Bertuin, Captain Ulfarsdottir.” The official appeared to think twice about offering a handshake. He gave her a tight smile, visible through his breather, and walked to the port airlock. His burly security goon followed after a single warning glare.
“Boondock it?” Robb’s rich voice sounded tinny through his breathing mask. “Really? I was looking forward to using the holographic game deck while we were here.”
Before Els could respond, Hrothgar gave the gunner a light punch on the arm. “Suck it up, grunt. It’s just ’til we get work; we’ve been through worse.”
Robb grumbled and backed down, Hrothgar’s reminder of their shared service time enough to distract him from his complaint. Els gave her brother a nod of thanks. Robb was becoming more irritating as time went on, and Hrothgar had just saved him from a humiliating beating at the hands of a woman. Els had always been slow to anger, but Robb’s descent from crew asset to querulous nuisance was beginning to try even her strength of will. It had been a long time since she’d exploded and it was taking too many of her emotional resources to remain calm these days. “All right, everybody, you know the drill. Stay safe, don’t be stupid and check in once a day. Don’t go drinking without a partner to see you home. Hrothgar, you have ship watch tomorrow and Robb the next day. Be back on board at your scheduled time. We’ll put the word out on your tachcom units if our timetable changes.” Everyone gave general consent. “What’s everyone up to?”
Kolodka scrubbed a gnarled finger behind one ear. “Hrothgar and I are going to see about refueling. We can use some parts for the generator too—it’s been runnin’ kind of hot lately. I’d rather have spares on hand than be stranded in space.”
Els nodded. There was always some part or other that was needed. Freya’s Tears was almost twenty-five years old and well past the blush of new systems. “Okay, but pay attention to price. We’re not made of money.” She thought she heard Robb mutter something derogatory, but he stared off in the distance when she turned to look at him.
Bennie tugged on her arm. She’d cooled down from their argument the previous day, but her expression remained on the edge of exasperation. “I’m going to check in at the hospital. I know some people there. Maybe I can find a job for us there.”
They both knew how Els felt about the sort of jobs Bennie promoted, but Els couldn’t deny her. She’s only trying to help keep us out of the red. “Thank you.” Els felt a moment’s pleasure as a flicker of uncertainty crossed Bennie’s face before returning to annoyance.
“Yeah, I’ll look for work too.” Robb held his hands up in a full shrug. “If that’s what it takes to get paid in this outfit, so be it.”
Els scowled but didn’t argue. “All right. Take off.” She watched the others cycle through the star port airlock and walk away. Robb and Bennie strolled together down the wide avenue circling the port, and she shook her head. What the hel happened to him? Back when he’d first come aboard with Hrothgar he’d been fun to have around, always joking, playing pranks. As time had passed, he’d become this sarcastic rabble-rouser. She had vague recollections of him on Ipaya several years ago but hadn’t spent a lot of time with him. She was officer, he and Hrothgar were grunt. Still, something fundamental had changed within him after she and Hrothgar had transferred off world.
Yet again unable to come up with a reason for the change in Robb’s personality, Els turned to look at the landing pad. Freya’s Tears crouched there, her metal hull glowing orange in the dwarf sun’s rays. From this angle, she only saw the nose, but she knew that the ship stretched back a hundred meters with sloping elegance. Unlike most merchant ships, Freya had been initially designed as a mid-range scout with berths for a hundred scientists. She appeared less ungainly than those ships designed specifically for the purpose of cargo handling. She’d been decommissioned from the Sadal Suud Exploration Consortium after only three years of service when planetary politics had brought economic disfavor to the organization. Her decks had been stripped and opened for cargo hauling, and Adolpho Bercini had purchased her twenty years ago. Since then, she’d plied the lightless paths between planets and spaceports, carrying goods back and forth.
Els saw the windows of the bridge ten meters above her and Austin puttering around inside. She raised her hand to wave at him, but he didn’t see her. Feeling stupid, she dropped her hand, glancing around to see if anyone else had noticed her brief spate of sentimentality. All appeared the same, and she breathed a sigh of relief. She reached out to access the tachcom unit on the kiosk and found a message already waiting for her.
To: Elsibet Ulfarsdottir, Captain, Freya’s Tears, registry #AG-3512227
From: Nahmed Melakozian, Owner, Franking Machinery Company, Fica Starport
Subject: Payment Due
Capt. Ulfarsdottir, you currently owe Franking Machinery Company a total of c67,450. As agreed upon between us on 16.30.3103, your payment of c600 is due. In fact, it is past due by one modular month. Please contact me or my secretary at your earliest convenience to make payment or make other arrangements.
“Ugh.” Els deleted the notice and shut down the system. Another bill. Damn. She lightly thumped her forehead against the plastic edge of the kiosk box. The temptation to walk away, catch a flight with another ship out into the lightless expanse and forget all her financial woes swept over her.
Looking up at the ship again, she saw Kasli in the cockpit. Their eyes met, Kasli cocking her head with a questioning expression. Something indefinable passed between them, something Els refused to examine too closely for fear it would disappear. I can’t let her…these people down. Els forced a wry smile and waved. Kasli waved back as Els turned away.
“Time to find some work.”
I’ve never written a space opera before, and Freya’s Tears will definitely be of that genre. This should be the first in a series of tales about the intrepid crew of the mid-range hauler, Freya’s Tears. I’ve got two or three ideas lined up to continue their adventures.
What did you think? Comment below and be heard!