fiction, first meeting, Short Story

Voyageur’s Cap

I have a new story out! Naked Reader Press published my tale of space, if the Hudson’s Bay Company came back into the business of exploring, trading, and saving humanity… Well, that last might be a new thing for them. I’m including a snippet to get you interested, and you can buy the story for only $1.99 on Amazon… it will be available in multiple formats later this week at Naked Reader Press, along with many other nifty stories by authors you may recognize.

Duty was neither to be entered upon lightly, nor to be worn as a badge of honor. Yet even in her short life, Liatris had seen both. Had done the first, as a matter of fact. Which was arguably what had led her to this forgotten backwater. She liked backwaters, had grown up in one, chosen another to spend most of her adult life in. But this one… this one gave her the shudders. She squared her shoulders yet again, heaven forbid a Voyageur of the Hudson’s Bay Company show less than a bold countenance. Lifting a clenched fist, she prepared to knock at the door, only to be surprised as it swung open.

Liatris put a hand on the holster at her hip, fingering the worn leather, but not yet pulling her weapon. “Hello?” she called, pitching her voice to carry without too great a volume. “Anyone home?”

No answer came from within, and from the scents swirling about her on the air from the house, she thought no-one had lived her for quite some time. Duty bound, she stepped into the tenement hall.  The stillness in the air was almost complete, although Lia thought she saw and felt the ghostly movement of rodents in each room as she wound her way through the rooms in a circle ending back at the door.

None within. Dusty furniture and littered floors spoke of residents at some lost date. Duty had not driven Lia to inspect the food chiller. She was unwilling to inflict that on her nose. She hesitated at the threshold weighing duty. Was her long journey balanced by this empty place where her quarry ought to have been? She sighed and pulled the door closed behind her. Overhead, rain drummed on the dome and green lightning tore through the mineral-laced atmosphere that had brought humans to this planet. A whole planet, and all the men on it packed into this squalid place. Her nose wrinkled as she looked around. Narrow streets dominated with towering tenements, each floor an apartment unto itself, accessed by grav elevators. Many of them, she had been told, could only be accessed by the previous owner’s DNA, a design flaw that left landlords gnashing their teeth when renters refused to leave or to pay rent.

Lia pulled her toque back onto her head, affixing that badge of her status and livelihood firmly. Even in this misbegotten place, the voyageur’s cap would be recognized and respected. She set out for the nearest bar, sure it wouldn’t be far. Every settlement on every planet in the known galaxy had at least one bar, and her rule of thumb was that the more poor and miserable the place, the more bars there would be. Her only criteria was, where would the widow of a spaceman hang out?

It took her three bars and a few quiet questions of bouncers and barmaids to find the place. It took her longer to find the woman slouched at a table, half lying on the bench. The woman’s face was blotched and purpled with her drinking, and Lia almost didn’t recognize her from the photo feed Daz had always been streaming. Lia stood at the foot of the table for a few moments, frowning down sternly at the sodden female.

“Angel? Angel R’driz?” she finally asked loud enough to cut through the truly awful sounds that the sound system was projecting in the guise of music.

“Yeah? Who wanna know?” The woman levered herself upright and peered blearily at Lia, who knew from experience what the woman saw. A petite female dressed in soft trousers and a blousy white shirt that partially hid round breasts. Her eyes widened and then narrowed in speculation as she looked up to the red hat Lia wore.

“You’re a v’ger. Voy-ager.” she tried again.

“Yes, ma’am.” Lia replied politely.

“M’husband was a v’ger.”

“Yes, I know.” Lia sighed inwardly. The woman wasn’t belligerent, but she wasn’t all there, either. “I served with him on his last ship.”

“You see him die?” she demanded.

Lia shook her head slightly. “No. I helped bury him after…” she decided not to give the details to the drunken woman.

Angel stared down at the table, seemingly lost in thought. Lia waited patiently. Soon enough, the bloodshot eyes swung back to her. “Why ‘re you here?”

“Daz had left something with me.”

The eyes brightened. “Money?”

Lia shook her head again. “No, a voucher.” She held it out now, pulled seemingly from thin air, but in reality it had been strapped to her forearm along with another of her weapons. Angel snatched it and held it close to her face, puzzling over the words.

“This’s for the girl.” She finally announced, handing it back to Lia. Nonplussed, Lia took it.

“Yes, it is for his daughter.”

“She’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“Work, hopefully.” Angel sniffed suddenly. “Damn Daz, dying like that.”

She put her head down on the table and began to sob noisily. Lia backed away from this display of emotion and turned to the bartender who had pointed her in Angel’s direction not that long before.

“Do you know where her daughter works?” she asked. He shrugged and swiped at the bar. She grunted and slid a coin to him.

He grinned briefly, a flash of white teeth through the smoke and dim lighting. “Happen to be in the kitchen. She helps out, pays for Mam’s beer.” He jerked a shoulder in the direction of a hidden door.

Lia opened the door cautiously, unsure what she would find. The crowded room beyond was typical of many commercial kitchens. More brightly lit than the bar, it was surprisingly clean and gleamed of stainless steel and white tile. There was little room between the counters, but the floor didn’t stick to Lia’s boots as she walked across it. She found the girl, one of only three in the kitchen, around the corner bent over a cutting board. Lia stopped short and stared.

She knew the child had to be Daz’s daughter, the other cooks were small, swarthy men who spared her a brief glance before continuing their frenetic work. But the girl was wearing a dushabi, the enveloping head cover of the militant H’lallah and she was very sure that Daz had not belonged to that violent religious persuasion. Lia had had unpleasant encounters with them, herself. Suddenly duty was very heavy on her shoulders. The child wore the head cover pulled up to her nose, even here in the sweltering kitchen. The dark blue fabric draped down her back, covering her hair completely. Oddly, she wore ordinary street clothes for the rest of her costume.

Lia cleared her throat. The girl looked around, and then stood up straight and faced her. “You were with Da.”

Lia nodded. All she could see was a pair of emerald green eyes. “He asked me to find you, should anything happen to him, and to give you this.”

She held out the voucher. Unlike Angel, the girl hesitated before slowly taking the card and reading it. She looked up at Lia. “My name is Serene. I suppose we will be getting to know one another.”