Cassandra Luckenbach was ready to put San Pedro behind her for good. What had started as a nine-month internship on her way to her Master’s degree had turned into three years of being stuck in the filthy mining colony, trying to make a living and praying for rescue.
Her trouble had started…well, she’d always had trouble, honestly. Her trouble had come into focus when she lost her research grant and tuition assistance from the Earth-side Vanderbilt University. It had been her degree and her research that had gotten her to San Pedro and her tuition debts that had left her stranded once the assistance was removed. She’d called her parents for help, but with four kids at home and an economic downturn, she’d been out of luck.
She hitched her backpack higher on her shoulder and transferred her suitcase to her other hand, nervous energy causing her stomach to flip. Even with the improvements to the catapult system that had been enacted by the government from Earth, the journey to Puerto Nuevo would still take nearly three weeks. She wouldn’t admit to being claustrophobic, but she would rather not be trapped in a flying tin can hurtling at thousands of thousands of miles per second through space that might or might not involve asteroids, comets, debris, pirates or space ghosts.
She entered the ship through the narrow side hatch where she was greeted by a short man with shaggy blond hair and wire-rim glasses. “Welcome aboard, miss. Name?”
“Cassandra Luckenbach.” At his surprised look, she sighed. “Family name. Call me Lucky.”
At that the blond guy grinned. “That’s awesome. My name is Stubb.”
He held up his left hand and she could see that his fifth finger ended early after a long, puckered scar. Lucky frowned. “May I ask…?”
He grinned wider. “Gator, when I was eighteen. Don’t worry, though – I ripped the bastard’s eyeballs out.”
“Mister Williams!” A stern voice wiped the grin from Stubb’s face and made Lucky jump. The man who approached was a powerful presence: six feet of solid, compact muscle that was clearly livid. His gray eyes were as hard and as sharp as silver as he glared at the shorter man.
“You will apologize to Miss Luckenbach for your profanity, Mister Williams. And then you will arm yourself with a toothbrush and make sure the galley is spotless.”
Stubb – or Williams, which was apparently his real name – snapped to attention. “Aye, sir,” he said. He turned to Lucky. “My most sincere apologies, Miss Luckenbach. It won’t happen again.”
She shrugged. “Honestly, Stubb, I’ve heard worse.”
The gray-eyed man shook his head. “His action was still rude and against the operating bylaws of this ship.” Gray Eyes took Stubb’s clipboard. “Show Miss Luckenbach to her quarters.”
“Lucky,” Lucky said. “And I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure either.”
Gray Eyes held out his right hand. “Commander Edmund L. Donner, III,” he said.
Lucky shook his hand. “What would you prefer to be called, Commander?”
“Donner with suffice.” He held the clipboard towards the innards of the ship in invitation. “Welcome aboard the Rosebud, Miss Luckenbach.”
“Lucky,” she said again, hitching her backpack higher and following Stubb.
As they neared the cabin section, Stubb slowed. “I really am sorry for my language, ma’am,” he said. He stopped in front of a hatchway labeled 11.
“Stubb, seriously? I don’t care. I’ve worked with men for the past three years. I’ve heard profanity that even you would blush at.” She keyed open the door. “I’m sorry you got in trouble. It was never my intention.”
Stubb shrugged, a faint smile showing. “The commander’s just a bit on edge today. Typically he wouldn’t have snapped like that. We lost a crewer last night in a bar fight. It’s got him…stressed.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”
“Commander has a short list of passengers that he may try to hire to fill a spot. I dunno who’s on it, though.” He shrugged again. “I best be going. See you at the briefing.” And with that he was gone.
“Okay…bye,” Lucky muttered to his retreating back, closing the door to her bunk.
The room was small and utilitarian – the narrow bed looked hard and uninviting, the lavatory doubled as a night stand. The head even doubled up – the toilet folded into the shower space from the wall. A stray thought skittered through her mind that it must be a great set up for those preferring to multi-task. The second thought was an image of a certain slate-eyed freighter commander in such a shower cubicle and of water running across pale skin and hard muscle. The sudden excitement that thought caused shocked her almost as it aroused her curiosity…
The thought was banished with one of the more inventive invectives she’d learned on San Pedro. Firmly ignoring her curiosity, she began to arrange her belongings in the bunk for the long trip home.