San Pedro wasn’t really anything to write home about, Trigg Donner thought drearily to himself. He glanced at the shot glass full of bitter whiskey on the bar in front of him, wondering how many more such glasses he could have before his insides rotted and fell out.
The whiskey was locally brewed from whatever vegetation the settlers on San Pedro had managed to make grow here. The tequila most of the bars served was made out of a local plant similar to a prickly pear, but so much more bitter in flavor that even the locals held their noses when they drank. There was a drought-resistant variant of corn that could have been the source of the whiskey, but the flavor of the drink led Trigg to think it was also flavored with perhaps something else.
He picked up the shot glass and gingerly took a sip, trying not to gag. This particular vintage was obviously flavored with locally grown burnt rubber. He figured that licking old tires on pick up trucks would taste about the same, without the added benefit of getting drunk while doing it.
The first mining colony founded after Puerto Nuevo, San Pedro clung to life as tenaciously as a terrier on the hunt. Even though New Los Angeles was more productive with the natural fuels needed to power space ships, and Kentuck had all the radiation, the fuels and the firestones anyone could need, San Pedro continued to produce the soil for ceramics across the systems. And since San Pedro produced soil and ceramics from minerals found deep below the surface, Trigg, as a freighter captain, still had to make stops on the god-forsaken dirtball that these poor souls considered a colony.
Holding his breath, he lifted the shot glass and tossed back the remains of the foul drink he had ordered. He managed to swallow without either choking to death or burning out his esophagus, and felt damn proud of it. He gestured to the bartender, holding out his currency card to pay his tab.
"You won’t be having another round, then?" the barkeep asked, taking the card from him.
"God no," Trigg said. He heard his voice crack a little. "I don’t know why you think you can serve that kind of excrement and call it whiskey."
The barkeep rolled his eyes, swiping Trigg’s card under the laser grid at the register. "If I could afford to serve imported whiskey, you wouldn’t be able to afford to drink it."
Trigg felt his eyes narrow at the man as he finished the transaction. “Is there a place on this God-forsaken rock that does serve drinks safe for human consumption?”
“Rosa’s, over on Citizen Drive.” The barkeep looked up. “It’s the nicest joint in town. They only have one brawl a week over there.”
Trigg rolled his eyes. “Sounds boring then,” he said as he accepted his currency card back from the other man. He slipped it back into his pocket and stood from the bar. “Have an evening,” he said, turning and walking out the door.
“You as well,” the bartender said, his voice none too friendly. Trigg didn’t turn back around, but he figured he probably shouldn’t grace this bar with his presence again for a few months.
He paused on the sidewalk and stretched. He knew that a several hours of paperwork waited for him back on his freighter, the Rosebud, but he after four weeks in space he wanted to keep enjoying the feel of a planet beneath his feet. He stuff his hands into his pockets, turning towards the center of the little settlement that served as the capitol seat of San Pedro. Most of the buildings around him were made out a tough, dark wood that the original settlers had found near the mountains to the magnetic east. The chinks in the buildings were filled with various materials to keep the harsh winds of San Pedro at bay. In the newer buildings, the chinks were filled with brightly colored resin, giving them an artsy look and bringing flashes of happy colors to a world that was predominately brown, beige, and more brown. The older buildings made do with various types of mud and spackle in the cracks. The poorest residents lived in little more than lean-to shacks and probably felt most of the brute force of the wicked desert winds that plagued all settlements on San Pedro.
He turned on to Citizen Drive, debating whether or not to walk all the way to the planet’s capitol seat at the center of town or to simply turn the other way and head back to the spaceport. He spied a brightly lit building, decorated liberally in neon letters and bright red and yellow resin in the wood. The letters spelled out “ROSA’S CANTINA” in all capital letters. The parking lot was surrounded by flashing blue lights attached to law enforcement vehicles. He briefly considered walking in to see what the nicest joint on a dirtball like this would look like, but from the looks of it, Rosa’s weekly brawl was just finishing up and Trigg had no desire to join in the excitement.
With a sigh, he turned back towards the spaceport and started the trudge back to the Rosebud. The spaceport at San Pedro, like every spaceport on every colony founded, was built to the highest standards possible. Each building gleamed in the twilight, the white ceramic surfaces unmarred by the dirt and dust that seemed to cover every other surface on San Pedro. Trigg and the Rosebud had landed in a rare slow time for any spaceport. The Rosebud sat alone in the civilian transport section of the spaceport, accompanied only by a large space marine transport that had come in a few hours after Trigg had landed.
He glanced up at the ship as he walked towards the side hatch. The Rosebud wasn’t his, not yet at least. He had entered a lease to own contract with a shipping company based on Puerto Nuevo. After ten years of leasing the ship from the company, he would have the opportunity to buy it and become a contracted commander, instead of the fancy equivalent of an indentured slave. Most ship commanders never even considered such a contract, as it was binding and high-risk for the commander. And once the ship was purchased, the commander contracted with the company directly and hired his own crew. It was a lot of responsibility, a lot of risk, and a limited amount of reward.
He let his fingers brush the yellow rose painted next to the side hatch on the ship. He knew the risks and the chance of low reward, but he still knew beyond any doubt that one day the Rosebud would be his. After everything he had been through in the past several years, the Rosebud was practically the only home he had left. She had saved his life when he didn’t think such a thing was possible, and she had been more faithful to him than any other human he’d ever known. With a final pat on the yellow rose, he opened the hatch and headed to his office.
Trigg had just turned the light out in his cabin when the intercom pinged in his ear. He reached out with a groan and keyed it on. “It had damn well be important,” he said, hoping his displeasure showed in his voice.
“Yes, sir.” The voice was that of Benjamin Barnes, the whippersnapper left to monitor the bridge of the ship during the graveyard shifts. “Sir, we just received a police write-up on one of the hands. Sanchez is dead.”
“Aye. Shot, sir.”
“What’d he go and get shot for?”
Barnes swallowed so nervously the comm picked up the sound. “I, umm, couldn’t say, Commander,” he said.
Donner briefly considered taking his exhausted frustration out on the kid, but decided Barnes had enough ulcers as it was. “Find out what the report says, Barnes. Notify any family that Sanchez listed and forward them fifty percent of his life insurance policy to them.”
“And the remaining fifty percent?”
Trigg pinched the bridge of his nose in the darkness and tried not to snap at the comm speaker. Barnes had been working on the ship for nearly six months now – he should have known without asking what to do. “To be paid in monthly installments after any debts have been settled.” He heard irritation in his own voice.
Trigg cut off the comm and lay back down, but he knew sleep wouldn’t be coming any time soon. The Rosebud carried no extra hands – she was practically running with a skeleton crew before one of them got himself shot. She was scheduled to leave port at mid morning, local time, meaning that it would difficult if not impossible to complete the required background checks before lift-off. They could attempt to fly one hand short, but doing so could have disastrous consequences in the event of an emergency.
There was also the possibility of hiring one of the handful of passengers to get them as far as Puerto Nuevo, where they’d have a week of furlough to prepare for the next leg of the run. All of the passengers had already had background checks (presumably) conducted and vetted by legitimate agencies. They could take on one of the simpler tasks – cooking or administrative work – and the person in that role would move to take Sanchez’s job in cargo. He’d heard of it done before, so it could work.
Sitting up in bed again, he keyed his comm back on. “Barnes,” he growled, “bring the passenger manifest to my cabin along with their background check files.” His tired mind decided to replace Barnes as an administrative aide if he was going to ask such stupid questions. Trigg’s conscience reminded him that this was petty revenge, but he chose to ignore it.
“ASAP, sir,” the young man replied, his voice cracking – Trigg hoped out of a healthy fear of the commander.