Rina Hires On

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An excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, Engr. ret.

Wednesday, 04 May 2518
Jamestown Station, aka Container City
09:35 hours, local time

        … A spaceport is a world unto itself, where everything is condensed and magnified by the limited real estate it occupies. Crime and industry, poverty and prosperity, life and death—all changing on a coin toss or a turn around a corner. It makes for uncertainty and risk. And opportunities aplenty for those who keep their eyes open and their plans flexible...

                                                                                                                    --from Baedeker’s Guide to the ‘Verse, 2497 edition

        I’d touched down on Bernadette and after a bath, a bed and a restock of my supplies, I found myself running low on cash. I would have to find another job and soon, or I’d be reduced to begging. I packed my duffel, paid my hostel bill and hit the streets to find gainful employment. I hadn’t gone two blocks before a job offer found me.
        “I got twenty credits if you got twenty minutes.”
        I kept on walking. There was no way I’d earn my living on my back.
        “I’ll make it worth your time, honey.”
        He grabbed my arm, hard. I buried my fist in his stomach and put him on the sidewalk. I ignored the language he threw at me but kept my eye on the street. In my experience, roaches like him rarely worked alone and sure enough, two of his friends raised a ruckus and started in my direction. I looked behind me and saw another closing in from the rear. It was three-to-one odds and I had barely gotten any honest dirt on my boots. From the looks of it, they were about to get filthy.
        “Hey!” Rear Guard hollered. “Whadja do to Bernie, you ruttin’ bitch—.”
        He had a wicked-looking pipe and he swung it at my head. I ducked and lashed out with my heel, taking out his knee.
        Grab the pipe.
        I snatched it from the pavement and got out of his reach. That left the other two. They approached more cautiously now that I was armed, which meant one of them rushed me while the other held back. I snatched my duffel off my shoulder and threw it at him. That gave me the opening I needed to close the distance between us and hit him with the pipe. He slapped the bag out of the way and blocked the blow. He threw a punch, I saw it coming and tightened my gut. It doubled me over and he called out as I sucked air.
        “Get her, Jimmy!”
        Jimmy pinned my arms from behind and lifted me off the ground. Idiot. That left my legs free to kick Gut Puncher on the chin. His head snapped back and he fell like an ox. I went limp, making myself heavy and felt Jimmy shift for balance. I head butted him. His nose gave way with a wet crunch.
        Jimmy dropped me to grab his nose and I kicked him where it counted. It was a dirty move, but dammit I was angry. I left the bastards groaning where they lay, tossed the pipe and grabbed my duffel off the sidewalk.
        That’s when I noticed the crowd.
        And the local police.
        “Stand down, Miss.”
        I dropped my duffel and raised my hands.
        “Malinka tigr’,” said someone from the rear of the crowd. People parted and a short, impeccably dressed older man stepped forward, his dark hair slicked back in a modest ponytail. “You’ve grown, my dear.”
        “And you’re late,” I replied as if I knew him. Stranger he might be, but he’d addressed me in Russian—Little tiger. It was an unexpected show of solidarity and I grabbed the opening he gave me. “I landed hours ago, Uncle. Didn’t you get my message?”
        “Excuse me, sir. Is Malinka Tieger a relative of yours?” the senior cop asked, pointing at me.
        “Of course,” I spoke up. “He’s my mother’s sister’s husband’s brother.” Dumbass, I didn’t say. My tone said it for me.
        “I told you hundred times, tigrusha moya, don’t trust the messengers,” my ersatz Uncle chided me. “They will only take your money. Call.
        He turned to the cop.
        “She’s come from her family to work for me. I told her to wait at spaceport, but you know how young people are. So impetuous.” He pointed across the street. “I saw everything from my office. Three grown men against one little girl...”
        Don’t push it, I thought. The cops will drag out the violins if he kept this up.
        “…self-defense,” the man continued. The senior cop listened and I watched the other cops with him. By their body language, I could tell my uncle was a respected member of the community—such as it was—and the cops had dealt with him before. I caught the main points of the story he spun for the law: fifth daughter of poor relations on the Rim, middling grades in school, hard worker, he had a position in his offices waiting for me, this regrettable incident wouldn’t happen again, so very sorry to take up their time…
        All the while he was backing away through the crowd, taking me with him. By the time we’d gained free of the onlookers, our heels were against the steps leading up to his office.
        “So, as you can see, gentleman, it was merely horrible misunderstanding.”
        “I’ll have to write this up, you understand. However, we’ve had complaints about these mooks before and they’ve earned a night in the tank. If they bother you or yours again, give us a call.”
        “Thank you, I shall.”
        Goodness me, but we were being so civilized about it.
        “Nothing to see, everybody. Move along.”
        The cops sent the crowd on their way and took up their interrupted beat.
        “Spasiba,” I said once they were out of earshot. “Thank you.”
        “Pazhahl’sta,” he replied. “It was least I could do for my brother’s wife’s sister’s daughter. Although I feel strange addressing niece without name.”
        “Marina Kseniya Sebastien, ships’ engineer.”
        I stuck out my hand. He took it.
        “Josef Potemkin, Potemkin Colonial Services.”
        He eyed me up and down shrewdly. I stood still and let him look.
        “You are perhaps looking for job?” he asked me then.
        “You are perhaps offering one?”
        “I do not like discussing business in street. Perhaps we will go inside?”
        I eyed his office building. It was brick and mortar where most others on the street were board and batten and converted cargo containers. Potemkin Colonial Services declared the painted sign mounted over the door and a quick scan through the windows showed it really was an office. I weighed the circumstances of our meeting against the state of my wallet and sized up the man in front of me. I had my gun, nestled under my left arm inside my coveralls, and he and I were of a size. If it came to a fight, I felt reasonably sure I would win. He still held my hand and I shook it.
        “Da. I’d like that.”

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