Excerpt of Fair Trade

Jexa’s eyes popped open. She heard something. Something so faint, she wasn’t sure it wasn’t all in her mind. There it was. She turned toward the wall of her bunk. The low hiss of water in the mister, just barely audible. There could be a leak. A water leak now could have deadly consequences.

She sat up, rubbing one hand down her tired face. The cargo hold was dark as pitch in places, but she knew where everything was even in the dark. She headed with confident steps toward the water holding tank. That was when her glance fell across the open cask in the corner. The lid hung haphazardly down and the barrel was empty, begging the question of what had been loaded onto her ship.

She unhooked her side iron, a pulse pistol given to her with the ship by her father years ago. It wasn’t much to look at, but it made a hole where she told it to. That was all she needed.

Something was wrong. That cask couldn’t have been carrying wildlife without her knowing. She wasn’t sure it could hold any animal at all. That left the two legged variety. A man could conceivably hide there and wait.

She moved slowly toward the water tank and listened. She had augmented her hearing years ago. It was the shower, she realized. Her stowaway had stepped in for a quick shower.

“I’ll be damned”, she whispered.

Creeping as lightly as possible, she felt the tension in her body, the increase in her breathing, and she took one long inhale as she approached the shower. She aimed her weapon, staying behind the door for cover, and hit the hatch with a hiss.

It slid away to reveal the shower full to bursting with a naked man. She aimed at his head. “Hands where I can see em”, she shouted. He stilled, and she waited to see what he’d do. He turned slowly, raising his hands as he did so.

“I know what this looks like, but I can explain.”

She pursed her lips in her trademark expression of annoyance. Her father had pointed it out to her enough to know when she wore it. She wore it now. “It looks like you hid out and slipped onto my ship, then moved in on my shower like you own the place.”

“Okay, it’s what it looks like, but I have my reasons.”

“Don’t we all, Sugar. Go on. I haven’t heard a good story today.”

He pointed to the opaque door where a towel hung waiting. “Can I dry off first?”

“Open the door when you do. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m feeling a bit nervous over here.” She raised the pistol a fraction.

He did as he was told, revealing a sinfully lean body, almost pale as a moon. His red hair draped into his face, too long for the haircut and dark with water. He quickly wrapped her towel around his hips before she embarrassed herself entirely by checking out the whole package. As he moved, she noticed the thin, flexible green band around his neck fastened at a box on the side.

“A slave.”

“A captive”, he growled. “An escaped one.”

Well, shit. She thought. “Whose captive?”

“My name is Joss Bandalau. I was taken three months ago from a transport en route to Dorenda.”

“By whom?” She enunciated carefully so he’d understand she meant it, raising the weapon.

“Calypso”, he muttered.

“Fuck”, she said. Her voice echoed in the empty shower room. “You escaped from the Syndicate right into my fucking shower?” She shook her head. “This could only ever happen to me. No one else.”

“Are you taking me back?”

She sighed the most long suffering sigh of her life. “Godsdammit, no. Those mercs are animals, but what in hell do I do with you?”

“You could drop me on Dorenda. It is where I was headed.”

She stared at him. “You don’t know where you are, do you?”

He swallowed as she watched him. Fear filling a pair of blue eyes bright as jewels. “You’re in the Pisces Nebula. There’s only one way in and out, the jump. You can’t just stroll up to the port wearing a slave band and get on a one way.”

His astounded face broke her resolve to be the tough girl. HFairTradeKindlee just looked so… lost, which she supposed he was. Her threat level dialed way down.

She lowered the pistol and then holstered it. “We’ll figure something out. You need clothing? When was the last time you ate?”

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