Chapter Two: Yasmin

“Killing yourself over that schematic isn’t going to get you out of here any sooner, kiddo,” Tinon said, stretching at his barely touched work station.

Theoretically my supervisor, it seemed like most of his time was spent telling me how *not* to do things.

Specifically, not to work so hard.

Probably because it made him look bad.

I glanced at my station timer.

5018 hours left.

“It might. If I can adjust this part of the mold just a bit, it’ll save me on the material fee.” I pulled up the diagram on the tablet, rotated it, tweaked it again. “See?”

He rolled his stool over, bleary eyes almost clear enough to feigning interest. “That’s clever,” he admitted. “But you know…”

I chimed in with him. “The company always gets you in the end.” Crossing my fingers, I sent the part to print.

He leaned back, pulled up the next job in his queue, started poking at it half-heartedly. “Running late with a project will wipe out any bonus you get for using less materials.”

“I know,” I muttered, pulling on the microgoggles as the printer beeped. “That’s why I’m trying to focus on it.” Zooming all the way in, I checked the thickness of each section of the finished sample.

The part wasn’t anything special, as far as I could tell just a redesigned particle flow distributor for long haul engines.

I’d done a dozen projects like it in the months since I’d accepted a contract on Station 112.

But none of them had landed in my queue with an urgent tag before.

“You hear more gossip than I do,” I said, still examining the part. “Any noise on the wheel as to why Serrup is all hot and bothered about this gig?”

Tinon snorted. “Potential new client, maybe a big one.” He spun out the program to replicate his parts, sent it to the fabricator without checking anything, and shut down his bench again. “Though I can’t imagine where in the sector they found a poor slob desperate enough to do business with Desyk.”

With a loud whoosh the door to the lab slid open.

Startled, I fumbled the sample, then stared up at the mountain of a man standing before me, who had caught it before it hit the hard floor.

“That’s likely be me,” the man said mildly, looking around.

He couldn’t have been answering Tinon.

For one thing, the labs were sound proofed.

For another, I couldn’t imagine anyone further than a desperate slob than the man who now stood in the middle of the room, filling it with his presence.

It almost looked like he was wearing an exoskelton, except that obviously he wasn’t.  He just was naturally taller and broader at the shoulder than anyone I’d ever seen. Black, ragged cut hair and dark eyes that I’d bet didn’t miss much.

And right now those eyes were fixed on my sample as he rotated it slowly in his massive hands.

“Can I have that back?” 

He turned it over again. “You modified the spec,” he rumbled. “Why?”

Alcon stepped beside him, scowling. “We’ll have her compensation docked, and another tech assigned to the project.”

The giant held up his hand. “Nope. Not until I have an answer.”

I shoved the goggles back, snarling a little as they caught in my hair. “Because the original design was flawed, that’s why.” I pulled up the specs, then my modifications. “Look at this. Your output valve was far too large to have any sort of control. You would have flooded the fuel chamber in minutes if you’d installed these as is.”

When he smiled, his entire face changed. Scary became stunning. “Good catch.”

I rocked back, studied him. Charcoal gray pants tucked into boots, khaki shirt under a black jacket. Didn’t look like an engineer, but there was something about his tone of voice.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” I spun back to my work bench, flipped through his specs again. “What sort of maniac sends deliberately flawed specs?”

“Apparently this kind of maniac,” he grinned, and tossed the sample back to me.

And at that moment, I saw something interesting enough to forget my annoyance.

In the breast pocket of his jacket a thick plastic card. Just enough showing for me to see the red stripe, running down the edge.

“Insulting important clients is a fast way to get your hours docked, Miss Joi,” Alcyon stated. “You may want to proceed carefully.”

Gripping the edge of the bench, I forced myself not to snap back. There were more important things to think about now.

The giant raised his eyebrows, watching me, but I stayed silent.

“If we’re done here Mr. Hakon,” Alcyon said, let’s continue on our way. We’ll start with the hub, the center of the worker’s social life around here.”

“I’d be happy to give you a tour, if you’d like,” I offered in my best perky voice. “Give you an actual workers point of view of things.”

Tinon looked shocked but didn’t say anything.

Smart man.

“That will be quite fine Ms. Joi,” Alcyon barked. 

The two walked out the door.

I braided and re-braided the end of my hair, thinking, finally throwing it back over my shoulder as I got back to work.

Fingers flying, I punched in the commands to start mass fabrication of the flow distributor.

I hadn’t found a flaw, the client hadn’t found a flaw, good enough.

I stood up and tossed the micro goggles on the bench.

“I think I’m calling it a day,” I announced.

“You never leave early,” Tinon said, eyes wide with confusion. “You’re always telling me the only way to get out of here is to take as many gigs as a possible, get as many hours stacked up as you can.”

“Maybe I’m listening to your advice for a change,” I said, shrugging. “You’re always telling me the company wins anyway, so why work so hard?”

He didn’t look convinced, but I didn’t really care.

Halfway to the hub I stopped the lift, glanced down at my coarse gray coveralls.

Standard wear for the station, all through the fab labs.

I hadn’t thought about bothering with anything nicer since getting here.

But maybe it was time to be a little more strategic.

“Capsule level D4,” I commanded the lift, bracing for the tiny lurches as it shifted direction, away from the hub and towards the personnel levels, such as they were.

After the door slid open on my level I went to the communal replicator, then stopped cold, lost in the options.

I’ve been away from high society for far too long. Had barely been interested before everything in my life turned upside down.

But I still would bet from the way Alcyon was happy to take time out of his schedule to escort the newcomer around the station, he was someone important.

An important meant money. Always did.

I flipped through clothing options, wincing at the prices.

Like everything else here, I’d pay for it in hours deducted from my total.

But it couldn’t be helped.

I flipped past screen after screen of short, shimmery dresses.

Not my thing. Besides, the giant, Mr. Hakon someone or other, would have seen plenty of skin before.

And to be honest, mine wasn’t anything special.

The next set of screens showed more dresses, but this time with bows and ribbons and poofs.

If that was his style, I was out of luck.

‘Cause I sure wasn’t wearing it.

Not even for a handsome man like that.

Ooh.

That would do.

I pressed my thumb to the pad to finalize the transaction and in minutes gathered my new outfit to my chest, climbed the short ladder to my capsule one-handed and crawled in.

A meter and half square and two meters deep, a shelf bed ran down the length of the wall with storage beneath.

Not exactly the most comfortable of homes, but it was expected you pretty much would be working or in the Hub. The capsules were just for sleeping, maybe watching a vid. Nothing else.

Quickly I unbraided my hair, smoothing it back and banding it, then wiggled into the long black pants. The silky, flowing fabric strangely soft against my legs.

The sapphire blue top wrapped in the front making a v-neck, not too low, just enough to be suggestive, and belted with a wide black sash. Best of all, the draping sleeves had just enough of a fold to make a perfect tiny pocket.

Once upon a time I might have outlined my eyes in gold shimmer, put more gold on my lips.

But there were only so many hours I was willing to burn on this little project.

Grabbing the last item from my nearly empty storage bin, I hurried back down the ladder.

Back in the turbo lift I braced myself.

The noise and clutter of the hub grated on my — both my ears and my nerves.

Always had.

But if that’s where Alcyon was taking the stranger, that’s where I needed to go.

Stepping out of the lift I surveyed the crowded space. Even in the dim light, surely the giant would be easy to find. He’d stand head and shoulders over everyone here.

But I didn’t see him. Not by the tables clustered around the arches of greenery, not by the booths dispensing whatever kind of relaxer you had a taste for.

Maybe they’d moved on to the games.

It seemed unlikely Hakon would want a tour of the private booths… and if so, I was out of luck.

Heading deeper into the swarm of people, my stomach growled at the enticing smells.

I didn’t spend much time here. The replicator on the capsule floor was programmed for basic dishes. They were cheaper, and nobody expected you to be social.

But they certainly weren’t good by any definition.

Suddenly a meaty hand grabbed my left upper arm. I spun, pulling away from the balding, beady-eyed man blocking my way.

“Hey pretty lady, haven’t seen you here before,” he said, leering at my cleavage. “New to the station? I’d be happy to give you a personal tour.”

The gods of irony were apparently making an appearance tonight.

“She’s not new, Urtu,” a woman’s nasal laugh cut through the air.

Maybe irony wasn’t the right word. Petty annoyance?

Irritation?

Could I make a sacrifice of someone to them?

“Hello, Grilla,” I smiled, making an effort for it not to be a mere bearing of the teeth. “How are you doing tonight?”

The blonde rolled her eyes. “You’d know if you ever hung out with anyone. But not, you’re too good for the rest of us drones.” She leaned back against the chest of the man she was obviously with. He didn’t seem to be following the conversation, too focused on what her hands were doing in his lap.

“I have never said that,” I countered.

Sure, thought it plenty of times. But never said it.

At least, I didn’t think so.

“I’m just trying to get my hours in, same as everyone else. Hours in, contract worked off, back home. That’s the deal, right?”

Urtu’s hand tightened on my arm, tugging me towards the table. “Looks like you’re taking the night off. Why don’t you spend some time with us?”

Right hand fisted in the folds of my pants, I braced, ready to strike.

Then a shadow loomed over the table.

“I don’t think she wants to join you,” my missing giant said mildly. “And I really think you should let go of her arm.”

He paused, and even Grilla’s hands stopped moving.

“Now.”

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