“So we’re agreed then?”
Music pounds and light flares as I throw back another shot. The trio across from me is finally wrapping up their trade, and it’s a real raw deal. I got lucky this time.
The trader massages his brow. “I’m sorry, do you mind if I do the math first, figure out just how badly you’re swindling me?”
The two men fit in here like sheep in a wolf pack. They're young, both of them. Younger than me. The taller one's Zyahua, the shorter one looks Khmai. Neither are dressed like locals, and neither of them look used to the void. The Khmai keeps trying to put his glass down on a tabletop that isn't there.
“We both know this is the best you’re going to get.” The woman in the sleeveless black one-piece folds her arms. “Did you even bother to download the sector pricesheets before you decided to put in here? You should be grateful you’re not taking a complete loss.”
“Look, I—” The trader looks defeated now, and the woman's moving in for the kill. Just the moment to swoop in.
“Robin!” I call out, catching the guiderail by their cubby. “How have you been?”
The woman spins to face me, her expression of glee quickly turning to anger. “For the love of God — what are you doing here?”
“I’m saving the day, of course. I mean, not yours.” I pat her on the head and snag the brandy from between her fingers. “Why don’t you go and find something more appropriate to drink while the grown-ups chat? Bie duen juice, maybe.”
“I—” Robin’s face contorts in rage. She turns back to the traders. “I sincerely apologize for this interruption. Would you be so kind as to pardon my absence while I escort this lush to the nearest airlock—”
I take a swig of Robin’s brandy. “Or you could listen to me. How much did she offer you, by the by?”
The men glance at each other. Robin sighs with exasperation. “Gentlemen, please—”
“Six sovereigns,” says the trader, looking back at me.
“For a full hold of ration packs?” I whistle. “That’s what, half market value?”
“Yes, well, that’s what you get when you waltz into a new port without bothering to join an association or so much as subscribe to a pricesheet?” Robin jabs a finger at me. “Now, will you for once show some maturity and allow these honorable men to conduct their business in peace?”
“How ’bout twelve plat?” I swallow the last of Robin’s drink and flick the glass off into space. “I’m not exactly swimmin’ in coin at present but I can see to it you break even.”
Robin flushes. “You what? You’re trying to steal my—”
“Tryin’ my ass. I am stealing your deal, sweetheart.” I take her forcefully by the chin, angling my thumb into her jaw. She breaks off her protest with a yelp of pain. “Now, why don’t you run back to your boss and tell her all about how bad you fucked this job, alright?”
“Get your hands off me!”
Robin swings a punch at me. It’s amateurish. Bad form, hardly any muscle behind it. I catch her wrist with a lazy swipe of my hand and pin her arm in place. “Gentlemen.” I grin at the men. “How’s my offer sounding?”
The trader nods slowly. “We should talk.”
Robin tries to turn her head, her eyes widening in shock. “You can’t possibly be considering selling to this — this — this bully, this thug—”
“It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, mistress Starfrost,” says the trader, a smile flickering across his face for the first time all evening. “Please don’t hesitate to let the port-hatch hit you on the way out.”
I let go of Robin. “You heard the nice man.”
Robin’s hateful gaze darts back and forth between me and the traders. “You — this isn’t over!” she blurts as she turns away.
I give her a firm smack to the ass and she rounds on me, finger raised, face contorted in outrage. “You— you absolute—”
I smirk at her. “You’re welcome.”
“Fuck you all!” Robin turns and storms out of the club.
“I hope you don't feel too unkindly towards the poor girl.” I turn back to the trader. “She's just a touch high-strung.”
“How can I complain? She gave us dinner and a show.” The trader extends his hand. “I’m Two Finch. I’m sincerely happy to make your acquaintance. This is my partner, Amaryllis.”
I shake their hands. “Name’s Sparrowhawk, of the Chrysanthemum. And the pleasure’s all mine.” I fill myself a shot-globe of whiskey. “I gotta ask, though. Two men all alone out in the void, peddling ration packs in this godforsaken sector? How’s a queer thing like that come about?”
Two and Amaryllis glance at each other nervously. “It’s, ah— well, you see—”
The awkward babbling says it all. “Hah, I get you. ‘Partners.’” I wink at Amaryllis. “Don’t you fret. Folks as ain’t hell-bent on defying the natural order of things have swankier places to dock; I guarantee you’ve already met five people here today more degenerate than you’ve got it in you to be and you’ll meet five more by suppertime.”
The men visibly relax. “Oh, thank God,” Amaryllis mutters.
“I could tell I was gonna like you.” Two favors me with a relieved smile. “It gets exhausting telling the same lie over and over again—”
I nod. “There’s a reason I got me a policy ’gainst it. ’Course, I also got the luxury of not needin’ secrets in the first place.”
“It’s — well, it’s sort of a long story.”
I nod at Two. “True lovers eloping to escape a dynastic marriage to some sorry wench he don't fancy?”
Amaryllis laughs. “Yeah. That’s it exactly.” Two reddens slightly.
“Happens more often than you’d think.” I fish my checkpad out of my jacket. “So lemme make you a deal. Twelve plat for the rations, plus an extra fifty gold to help you cute li’l boys get back on your feet — and ten silver for the privilege of smacking Robin around. You break even and even make a little profit. How’s that sound?”
“We’d be crazy to turn you down,” says Amaryllis. “Of course we’ll take it.”
“Done and done.” I scribble the amount and conditions on the check and hand it over. “My ship’s in public bay 144. I’ll be around to take receipt come evening station time, and I’ll pay the transport crew.”
“That’s… thank you.” Two smiles at me. “This was really kind of you. We won’t forget it.”
I punch him in the shoulder. “You better not. I’m a regular in these parts, so you come look me up any time.”
“We’ll do that,” says Amaryllis. “We don’t really have a lot of friends around here.”
“I’ll have to do something about that.” I clear my throat as Two folds the check. “Word of advice, trader to trader. Look at the check before you take it.”
“Oh!” Two stops. “I — you can just tell how new at this we are, can’t you?”
“The posh accents gave that away a long time ago.” I grin at him. “You boys take care now. Good luck. And if you see Robin again, give her a smack on the ass for me.”