Star Train Tango excerpt — Lasadi

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Chapter 2: Lasadi

“I love it when a job comes together,” Raj murmurs.

He flashes Lasadi a grin and a wink, then sets off after the scar-eared man with the brutally shaved head who greeted them at the airlock. The man had introduced himself as Stubs — a nickname that could be for his short stature, his scarred ears, or the fact that two of the gloves on his environment suit have been folded over and stitched to cover for missing fingers. Or maybe it’s an unfortunate surname.

Doesn’t matter where he got the moniker. Stubs is now their guide to his little corner of paradise, where “recovered” ships are given makeovers and sent off to new lives with new owners who don’t care where they came from. This asteroid station is close enough to Artemis to have a convenient clientele from the Pearls, but far enough out that the Pearls Federation probably doesn’t sweep through much.

Location is everything, right?

Lasadi hangs back from Raj and Stubs, scanning for security and giving Ruby a chance to get a good look at everything through her lens. And also because Stubs is exuding that particular deep-ingrained reek which comes from spending too long in the black with no functional shower system.

Raj chats Stubs up as they walk, a lightness to his magbooted step and a looseness to his shoulders, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Like they’re just here on legitimate — well, legitimately illegitimate — business and definitely not here to rob Stubs.

Lasadi would find Raj’s enthusiasm charming if she wasn’t so focused on making sure her crew doesn’t all end up dead.

Raj had promised them a straightforward job that ticked the right boxes: helping good guys with no other recourse, taking down bad guys who were preying on good guys, and getting paid for their trouble. The plan is to talk their way into this illegal salvage op, ID a missing skiff, buy it back, then take the skiff and the evidence back to the authorities in order to get the operation shut down for good — and net a nice reward.

They’d run through scenarios until the margin of error was within her liking. Not airtight, but far better than Raj and Alex’s original version of breaking in through an abandoned airlock, stealing the skiff, joyriding it back to the Nanshe’s cargo hold, then vanishing into the black before their marks could — hopefully — muster any sort of response.

“Got it, Cap,” Ruby says through the comms. “Visuals coming in clear.”

Lasadi nods faintly to affirm — Ruby will see the dip of her vision — then follows Raj and Stubs down the short access corridor leading from the personnel airlock she and Raj just passed through. The airlock has sealed behind them, a couple layers of metal and a few meters of asteroid rock the sole things between them and the vacuum of space.

The more Lasadi learns about the marvelously balanced ecosystem of Durga’s Belt, the more shocked she is that anyone survives out in this tumble of asteroids for more than ten minutes.

It’s not only the physical mechanics of staying alive: the oxygen, the insulation, the radiation shields, the wildly fragile walls of the habs scabbing asteroid surfaces. It’s the politics. The tenuous webs of relationships that keep people mostly living together in harmony.

The main authority in Durga’s Belt is the Pearls Federation. The Federation technically protects the shipping lanes — both those between the inner and outer planets and those within the Belt. But the Pearls are one small chain of dwarf planets in a sprawl of smaller rocks circling their system’s fiery star. Stray too far away, and you’re on your own.

Ultimately, pirates are kept in check not by the Federation, but by the consequences of hitting the wrong target. You never know when that little skiff you hijacked turns out to be owned by someone with a very powerful cousin. Seize the cargo from an influential business owner from Artemis City, one of Ironfall’s neighborhood bosses like Nico Garnet, or a ship run by one of the many cartels or pirate groups making their homes on stations deeper in the Belt, and you won’t find a safe place to go to ground.

Lasadi should know. Nico Garnet sent her and Jay on more than a few hunts, back when she was still paying off her debt to him.

The consequence of crossing the wrong businessperson or underworld boss keeps pirates wary, but the system doesn’t work for everyone. If you don’t have a powerful cousin — or hijackings haven’t been happening often enough for the Federation to do a sweep — you have no recourse.

Like the Ahmadi family, whose son was hijacked and marooned while on a supply run to Ironfall from their mining claim in the family’s skiff. Another passing ship noticed his suit beacon and picked the kid up before he died floating in the black. Then the family put a notice with a laughably small prize up on the bounty boards, and that was all they could do. They couldn’t afford another skiff, not with the supplies they’d lost to the pirates. Which meant they couldn’t afford to keep working their claim, which meant they’d be giving up their autonomy for jobs in the Pearls or an indenture to one of the Arquellian corporations that swallowed and chewed up out-of-luck miners as quickly as their demolition rings swallowed up small asteroids.

No one was going to help the Ahmadi family. No one was crazy enough.

No one but Raj. And Lasadi, apparently, because here she is following him into a pirate salvage op a half-day’s flight from Artemis, relying on his grifter’s charm as their primary weapon.

The weird thing is, it seems to be working. So far.

Stubs leads them into a massive workshop chamber filled with ships in various states of dismantling and rebuilding. The salvager pirates have taken up inside an abandoned asteroid station, one of the many mined-out husks left scattered around the Belt. A four-seater docking arm juts out near a single passenger airlock, tucked among the hab shells on the asteroid’s surface. The Nanshe’s shuttle, with Ruby waiting inside, is docked there. A cargo airlock built into the side of the asteroid is wide enough to allow mining skiffs and other small craft to enter, though nothing so big as a Mapalad Lowboy like the Nanshe.

All of the ships docked outside have legal transponders and proper paperwork — Ruby checked. Everything inside this workshop chamber is clearly suspect.

“Impressive operation,” Raj says with an appropriate amount of appreciation; Stubs had stepped back to watch their reaction when they entered the workshop.

“That’s a lot of salvage,” Lasadi says, not quite mustering the same level of charm Raj had — she can’t stop thinking each one of these ships represents a family like the Ahmadis, driven into destitution by the theft.

“C’mon, Cap,” says Ruby in her ear. “Sell it.”

“Lotta operations go static out here,” Stubs says. “Somebody’s gotta clean them up.”

Pretending to be buyers to get information to shut down the operation is risky, but it’s also the real payday. This is the sort of intel the Pearls Federation will pay good money for. Even though the Ahmadi family couldn’t afford much of a bounty to get their skiff back, the crew of the Nanshe can still make some coin off this. And hopefully get some more pirates out of the sky.

Lasadi gins up a conspiratorial smile for Stubs. “Practically a civic duty.” He grins at her in agreement, and a thrill of success sparks in Lasadi’s chest. Raj and Ruby were right. There is a perverse satisfaction in a good con well executed. Maybe she’s cut out for this after all.

Or maybe Raj has been a bad influence on her.

He catches her eye and winks as he tucks back a strand of black hair escaped from his ponytail.

“Cap,” comes Ruby’s voice again. “Get him walking. We’re looking for red fins.”

Lasadi takes a few testing steps towards the ships, magboots clunky on the workshop’s metal floor. The ships are parked against the walls haphazardly, and she can’t see them all from where she’s standing. “Let’s see the merchandise,” she says, and Stubs holds out an arm to invite her in.

“What kind of scrap are you looking for?” he asks as they walk.

“Anyone can get us scrap,” Raj says. “We heard you could do something special.”

Stubs bares an eyetooth in a lopsided grin. “You heard right.” He leads them farther in, past a stack of dismantled thrusters and the stripped carcass of an antique beetle hauler. The trashed state of the hauler makes Lasadi’s stomach lurch — it’s been over a week since the Ahmadis posted their notice. What are the odds their skiff hasn’t been completely cannibalized, too?

A stash of fuel cells corralled on a table beside the hauler catches Lasadi’s eye and she crosses to them. Not generic cells, she notes, but lightning cartridges of the type that have been outlawed everywhere else in the Durga System because of their volatility.

Ruby whistles in her ear. “If you start shooting, watch out for those, will you?”

Lasadi nods in assent, shifting to get a better angle for Ruby. The Pearls Federation hasn’t outlawed these cartridges outright, because too many people still rely on the older ships that use them — but they’ll be very interested to know Stubs and his friends are trafficking them.

“Impressive,” Lasadi says; Stubs has noticed her attention.

“Already spoken for,” says Stubs. “Buyer’s on their way. But we’ve got a few specials you might be interested in over here.”

“Hold up,” Ruby murmurs. “Get me a better look at the little guy on your left.”

Lasadi turns to find the skiff Ruby means: an older model ChavKai Cormorant whose hull is seamed with careful but inexpert repairs. The fins are painted a jaunty red; Lasadi runs a gloved hand over the nearest with a sigh of relief. The Ahmadi family skiff, still in one piece.

“Flash, thanks,” Ruby murmurs. “That’s the one.”

“Some of these ships are in real good shape,” Lasadi says. She leans in to examine the Cormorant more closely, slipping a thumb-sized gadget out of a wrist pocket. She pats a thruster, shielding her other hand from view. “Thrusters seem new, even.”

“More to the right,” Ruby says; Lasadi’s gloved fingers fumble for the hatch to the thruster control unit.

“We don’t only do parts,” Stubs says. “You looking for a solid ride — even a small fleet — and we’ve got you covered. Most just need a little rehab job.” He grins at her. “You know. To get ’em properly running.”

By “rehab job,” he clearly means making changes to the cosmetics and the internal systems so they can’t be traced back to the original owners. He’s stopped pretending to run a simple salvage operation, which means he’s either bought their con or he’s not worried about getting turned in to the Federation. Interesting.

“You said ‘small fleet,’” Raj says. He elbows Lasadi, eyes wide with delight, then goes to examine another nearby skiff. Stubs follows him, talking up a few of the models he has available. Lasadi lets out a sharp breath as her gloved fingers ease the catch open. She settles Ruby’s snakebite kit on the now-exposed bundle of wires, then closes the hatch once more.

“Got it,” Ruby says a moment later. “I’m in. Alex?”

“On it.”

Alex sounds thrilled, but of course the more dangerous the job, the happier Alex seems to be. Raj, Ruby, and Lasadi had all arrived on one of the Nanshe’s shuttles. Alex technically had, too, but he’d been strapped to the outside and took a bit of a space walk right before they docked. Flew in under the station’s radar, and has been picking his way through their security systems while Raj and Lasadi sought the skiff.

For a kid who hadn’t much left the convent in all his seventeen years, Alex has taken to space crime like a pro.

“Wait for my signal,” murmurs Lasadi.

“This ship’s a beauty,” Raj is saying to Stubs; they’re examining a late-model Bixian joyrider that definitely didn’t belong to a poor mining family. These pirates are playing with fire. “You might be our guy. What kind of numbers are we talking about?”

“What kind of numbers do you need?” Stubs grins. “You said you had a buyer with a big appetite.”

“Five to start,” Raj says. “Then we’ll see, depending on quality and price.”

“Doable.” Stubs looks pleased.

“Excellent.” Raj grins at Lasadi. “We need to verify a number with our buyer, but I think we have a deal. Give us a couple minutes to make the call.”

Stubs’s smile sharpens. “You can make the call from here.”

“Our buyer is very private.”

“Then one of you can go make the call. No offense, it’s just business.”

“Course.” Raj shrugs easy, then turns to Lasadi. “Go set it up. Stubs and I will start picking out ships.”

Lasadi doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t argue with him. This is a complication; it doesn’t have to be a problem. They’ll improvise. Raj can handle himself without her.

“Pick out some good ones,” she tells him, and turns to head back to the airlock.


Stubs’s voice has gone sharp; his brow furrows as though he’s listening to someone on his headset.

“Something wrong?” Raj asks.

Stubs ignores him. “I’ve got them right here, still,” he says into his comm. He slings a pulse carbine from over his shoulder and aims it squarely at Raj’s chest. “And I’ll keep them here, no worries.”

“What the fuck is this?” Raj says.

Stubs’s answer is a glare down the barrel of his carbine.

“Cap, we’ve got a problem,” Ruby says.

No shit.

“What’s going on?” Lasadi’s question is as much for Ruby as it is for Stubs.

“Another ship approaching,” Ruby says. “Big one. Looking for ID now.”

“Got some intel,” Stubs says. “You hold tight and we’ll get this all sorted out.”

“Is this how you treat customers?” Raj says; Lasadi shifts her weight, ready for his sign. “Because there are a lot of other salvage operations out there we can work with. Our buyer — ”

“Ain’t got a thing on our current buyers,” Stubs says. “Who just showed up to say you’re trouble.” His brow furrows again as more instructions come over his comm, then he grins. “And that they don’t need all of you alive.”

He swings the pulse carbine from Raj to Lasadi, pulling the trigger as he does.


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