2. Star date June 5, 2170: 5:10 PM
Location: Earth’s Moon Colony, Terra-Port Docks
I’d only seen a ship this big the day I moved from Earth to the Moon Colony. Not quite as sleek as the Niña — yes, they named a few of the ships after the same ones that colonized America — the Freya clearly didn’t meet the regulations of a government transport vessel. Grungy, gray, and littered with startlingly intricate, brightly colored graffiti, it might’ve docked up more comfortably with a crime lord’s crew.
Other space craft filled the hanger around it. Those belonging to The Federation shone sleek and silver in the sterile light. Uniformed officers strapped with guns guarded these. I kept my back to them, skin prickling under their stares, my mind coasting back to the day they accused my father of treason.
Hands in the pockets of my jumpsuit, I quirked a brow at the Freya. “Stellar. How does she run?”
“For that, I’ll let you talk to my mechanic.” Captain Sodhi whistled between a forefinger and thumb.
A young man around my age poked his head out from under the belly of the ship. Upside down, all the blood throbbed against the surface of his dark skin and made the eyes behind his goggles bug. He flipped around and landed light on his feet. Though he wore coveralls, not a single grease stain interrupted the khaki material. In fact, the thing looked straight out of the vacuum seal.
“Yeah boss? This the criminal pilot you were researching?”
I glared and scanned him from his spotless shoes to the top of his curly head. “In the flesh. No way you’re the mechanic though. Not with those pristine duds, pretty boy.”
“Not only am I the mechanic, but I’m the best in the system, about every system actually. I just happen to be fastidious. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” He tapped the side of his goggles and his eyes magnified, making him look even more bug-eyed. After he returned my up and down sweep, the mechanic extended a hand. “Oliver Rey.”
I stared at his far too neat nails, then shook the offered appendage. In spite of the lack of muck and grime, calluses roughened the pad of his palm and lower portions of his fingers. Clean freak or not, Oliver definitely worked with machines.
“Quincy. I go by Q.”
Oliver grinned, then looked beyond me at Captain Sodhi. “They spelled her name wrong.”
I tugged at the braids on either side of my head. They made me look years younger, but also required way less futzing than a ponytail. “Seriously? It’s not that hard to do a little fact checking! For the love of Mercury there is no ‘e’.”
Captain Sodhi chuckled. “Oliver, why don’t you tell Q about The Freya. See if you can’t convince her to accept my offer to fly her.”
“Yeah Ollie, tell me about this space junk.” I wiggled my brows. Though I actually kind of liked the look of the dinged up ship, the expression on Oliver’s face made the jab worth it.
Like one of those old ladies with blue hair and pearls in the movies, his eyes grew about eighteen sizes and his mouth flopped open, scandalized. “Space junk?” He spluttered the “s” and waved a hand over the ship. “This is a decommissioned Galaxy War I fighter. The only one, in fact, that still exists. It outran every ship in its class at the battle for Jupiter and every enemy ship it ever faced. She might not look like much but she’s reliable and solid and gets you where you need to go.”
No wonder The Freya sounded familiar. Back in History of the Galaxy, my teacher quite literally sang its praises. Ms. Ricks — a brilliant historian and former opera singer — believed music made facts easier to remember. The tune played through my brain again, if not the exact words, something about the ship that liberated a planet from space pirates.
I smirked at Oliver, then lifted my hands and clapped. “Okay, you’ve got me convinced of her prowess. Think you could trust me with your mistress?”
The scandalized look faded from Oliver’s face and a smirk took its place. “Mind if I introduce her to everybody, boss?”
Captain Sodhi dipped her head, then joined the mechanic to lead me aboard The Freya. I expected one of two things in terms of smell, either Moon Colony sterile, or metallic rust and gunpowder. Instead, I entered a world of spice. Filled with warm light, the entrance opened into a wide hallway attached to the storage bay. White pods lined three of the walls and more continued to slide in through the back. A man and woman directed them through the bay doors and into their slots with batons similar to the one Captain Sodhi zapped me with.
The woman, a redhead with unjustly perfect skin, a sharp nose, and a gun strapped to her hip ducked beneath one of the pods to type something into the smooth surface of its belly. Holding a baton up to stop the flow of merchandise, the man steadied the crate with one hand. This guy had ridiculous blue eyes, a strange and freaking gorgeous contrast to his dark skin.
Legs dangled from a walkway on the far side of the bay. The young man attached to these legs squinted through black rimmed glasses at a metal plated screen in his hands and wore a silver doctor’s badge on the collar of his rather wrinkled buttoned up shirt. He continued to frown at the screen when Captain Sodhi led us into the bay. The man and woman below him, however, turned.
“Q, this is the rest of our crew,” Ollie said. “Millie and Tal, both technicians, slash security.” He paused, then maneuvered around a hovering pod to swat at one of the dangling feet. “And this is Doctor Gage. Resident quack.”
Millie and Tal snickered, and Gage — without any preamble — leaned over the railing and smacked Ollie over the head with the metal screen.
“Hey! I thought you swore to do no harm.” Ollie lifted his arms against another blow.
Gage wriggled his brows, then turned his smirk on me. “This the chick who nearly out ran the Mahina?” He looked me up and down, starting with my combat boots and ending on the goggles tangled in my curls. All the while that smirk remained. “Did Sodhi use the baton on you?”
Arms crossed, I arched a brow. “If she hadn’t I would’ve outrun the Mahina and the cops.”
Metal screen still in hand, Gage gripped the railing and hopped down next to Ollie. Like Millie and Tal, he wore a gun strapped to his hip, odd for a doctor.
“Well welcome aboard The Freya, ace.” He extended a hand across the line of moving pods. When I shook it, he winked. “Come on, better check your head out. That baton’s no joke.”
I took a step back. “Hold up now, buddy, my head feels just fine. I don’t need you poking around in it. Beside, I haven’t right made up my mind to take this job.” I’m not afraid of doctors, I just don’t like their bright lights and personal questions and infatuation with sharp needles. You’d think with all our advances in technology they’d find another way to draw blood.
My theory is they’re sadists.
Captain Sodhi set a hand on my shoulder. “If you want to fly my ship, or any other ship without potentially crashing, you’ll let him give you a once over. While the baton does keep you hovering to avoid blunt force trauma, it still can have an effect on the brain.”
“And she’ll kill you if you wreck her baby,” Ollie said. “Kill you dead.”
Gage tilted his head toward the door. “Come on, Sodhi’s cured me of biting for the most part.”
I grimaced and rolled my eyes. Couldn’t expect to steal any ships if that damn thing screwed up my head, might as well let the doc check it out. “Fine, but if you come at me with a needle I can’t promise I won’t bite.”
That smirk morphed into a grin. “I don’t mind a little fight in my patients.”
“Then we’ll get along just great.”
I followed him to the med bay, so not prepared for what I found that it steered all my thoughts off course. The same intricate graffiti tattooed on the outside of the ship laced along the walls like some kind of street mural. What at first looked like utter chaos, upon closer inspection sharpened into intense colors, deep stories, and complicated themes. I got so wrapped up in one of the newspaper flowers I didn’t hear him saying my name.
Gage nudged me with a shoulder. “Epic, huh?”
“Whoever painted this is a genius.”
“Well I wouldn’t call myself a genius. If you want to use the phrase, though, I won’t argue.”
“Did you do all this?” I would’ve been annoyed by his confidence except it was clearly justified. Most graffiti looked trashy, adolescent, but this? Sheer art.
“Took me years and still not done. Once I run out of room here and in the halls I’m going to try to con Tal into letting me decorate his cabin. It looks like a military barrack, which makes sense but still, super depressing.”
I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. “Tal? The tech dude? Is he military?”
Gage grinned. “Ex-military. Dishonorable discharge.”
Dishonorable discharge. Like my dad. I swallowed what felt like sand. Did he say that on purpose? Captain Sodhi knew my dad, did Gage know him? Know about everything? I wanted to ask all this, but the thoughts couldn’t make the leap to words. Typical. A live wire lives in my throat, ready to shock the nearest bystander, but I tend to lose my spark at the worst possible times.
Mostly where my dad’s concerned.
Gage waved a hand. “Ask him about it sometime. After I check your brain.”
He winked, then tilted his head to the exam table at the center of the room.
Grimacing, I dragged my feet the whole way. Memories of my last encounter with a doctor panned through my brain. I’d always distrusted anyone with a medical badge. None of them ever believed what I told them, whether it was about taking my vitamins when I was a kid or if there was a chance I could be pregnant before they prescribed antibiotics. Their skepticism irritated me.
As I sat on the exam table, banging my heels against its hard frame, Gage pressed a button on his screen and the metal case slid out to form handles around the glass. Then, he lifted it to my face and proceeded to scan my head.
“So, Captain Sodhi. What’s her deal?”
Gage’s lips twitched like he was attempting to stifle a smile. “What do you mean?”
I rolled my eyes to the ceiling. “Well, she’s friends with Governor Christie, hires thieves, graffiti artists, and dishonorably discharged military. What kind of ship captain does that and isn’t an outlaw?”
Gage shifted the screen to the top of my head. “You left out doctors who lost their licenses and mechanics who blew up their last ship.”
“Seriously?” I swatted at the screen. “You lost your license? For what?”
He swatted back, then snapped the cover in place again and grinned down at me. “I replaced a human brain with a sheep’s brain.”
“Ask me later.” Gage winked and tucked the screen under his arm. “But if you want to know about Sodhi...she’s big on second chances. Ask her about it some time. Probably way after you ask Tal about his discharge or me about my license.”
“I can’t ask you now?” I cocked my head. “After all, I did just let you scan my brain. If that sheep story’s true…” I let the sentence hang.
Gage’s smirk returned. “Okay ace, you’ve earned that much anyway. ‘Specially with that knot on your head.” From a pocket he pulled a small vial filled with blue gel capsules. “Lost my license because I was smuggling drugs like these. Take two before the headache sets in.” With another wink he headed for the door. “Come on, I’ll take you back to the cargo bay. Millie can show you to your quarters. That is if you’ve decided not to attempt to hijack our ship.”
I fought to keep my face neutral as my heart skipped into overdrive and leaned back on my palms. “What makes you think I’m of a mind to do that?”
“Educated guess,” Gage said. “Not to mention you’ve been checking out exits and weapons and the like since you walked into the cargo bay.”
“I know thieves.” He adjusted his glasses. “Take my advice, don’t try to rob Sodhi. It won’t end well. She’s got of touch of mercy to her, but she protects her crew like family. I’d cross the Mahina before ever crossing her.”
Finding the exit in the corner of my eye, I lifted my chin. “You’re right sharp, Good Doctor.” My lip curled on the word “good.”
Time to bust out of this tin can before they tossed me back to the police. With the pill bottle clenched tightly in my fist, I dove off the exam table, ducked around Gage, and sprinted out the door. He shouted something after me, but with all my focus on my mental map of the Freya, the meaning didn’t get through.
I hugged the corners and barged past the techs, Tal and Millie. They shouted too and like Gage I paid them no mind. My vision rippled a little, probably a side effect of that damn baton, but I kept balance good enough until I charged into the hanger and toward the entrance. If the stars shone on me, I could outrun the Federation guards, I just needed to nick hovercycle.
At the entrance I staggered to a stop, heart on its way to pounding through my sternum as a blue light zinged past my face. I swung back behind one of the open doors and peeked around the side. Members of the Mahina took cover at the buildings near the end of the street, each taking turns to aim at me.
Damnit to Venus. They sure know how to hold a grudge.
I tucked an errant curl behind an ear, wishing I’d stolen one of those guns from The Freya before I turned tail. Lunar Police still had my piece. It probably sat in some airlocked container in an evidence room unless some corrupt officer nabbed it. Hands balled into fists, I turned to look around the hanger for another exit.
Federation officers ran toward me, along with Captain Sodhi and that tech Tal. They formed a sort of horseshoe and blocked off any escape. I shot my gaze upward, considering the advisability of climbing, but the smooth surface of the dome left zero handholds. Again I leaned around the door and laser fire lanced across my face.
Damnit to the farthest galaxies.
In desperation, I squatted, preparing to try and make it to the street without getting fried. A hand clamped down on my shoulder. It pulled me back before I could attempt a defense. Ignoring my wriggling, he lifted an arm. Transparent blue light extended from a cuff on his wrist and formed a circular shield in front of us.
Laser light ricochet off of it as Captain Sodhi crouched at the edge of the door and aimed her gun at the Mahina. “Attempting to get the other half of your money? There are easier ways to accomplish this.”
I rolled my eyes, but didn’t have time for a snappy comeback as another barrage of laser fire burned the air. One just missed the edge of Tal’s shield and sliced through my pant leg. It grazed my skin and I cursed the galaxy again. Teeth gritted, I snagged one of the guns out of Tal’s holster and fired around Sodhi.
A Mahina thug dropped, his body jerking like I’d tazed him. I eyed the weapon in my hand as Tal shifted next to me and blocked another shot. “It’s in stun mode. Seeing how it’s my piece, keep it that way.”
“Long as it drops ‘em I’m good.” I squinted an eye and took out another.
In spite of the sheer number of Federation officers now crowded near the doors, the lunar gang didn’t scare easy. Their tech rivaled the police and made them near impossible to stamp out. They fought with their rivals like the Federation warred with the Freedom Factions during Galaxy War 2 and used them against lunar police when necessary.
One of them lobbed a metal sphere at the hanger doors. My gut twisted and I sprang out from behind Tal’s shield. Under heavy fire, I grabbed the small bomb, wound up, and chucked it as hard as I could toward the false atmosphere surrounding the lunar colony. As it lifted above the building tops, it exploded and knocked me backward.
As I skidded across the smooth concrete, the Federation soldiers surged forward, blocking the ongoing altercation. Head spinning, I stayed put until the explosions died down and Sodhi and Tal leaned over me. I shoved out a sigh and lifted my hands, wrists together.
“Guess I blew that one. Get it?”
Sodhi’s nostrils flared ever so slightly. “What do you think, Tal?”
He rested both elbows on his knees and rubbed his jaw. Those blue eyes drilled into mine, unearthing faint memories of the way my mother used to stare me down when she knew I’d done wrong. It shifted me fast from age eighteen straight back to four, a child, full of mischief and easy to dismiss.
Then Tal smiled. Not the broad bursting sort, but a slow burn associated with eternally kind souls. “Actually, I think she redeemed herself and deserves another chance.”
“Agreed,” Sodhi said with a nod. “That is if you’d like another chance.”
I scanned the hanger, considering the Federation soldiers, imagining the Mahina survivors, then finally huffed. “Long as I get to fly that ship, I’m in. You got yourself a pilot.”