Exclusive Excerpt from Ashore
by Isabelle Adler
It was easy to lose track of time on a spaceship that was by no means run with military precision, but lunch hour was studiously observed by everybody. They all took turns cooking meals and cleaning up, but out of the four of them, Tony was the only one who could whip up anything worth eating. Matt and Val’s idea of fixing lunch was heating up a can of soup, and while Ryce put much more effort into diversifying the menu, his food usually ended up under- or overcooked to a degree Matt had never thought possible in a fully digitalized kitchen.
The entire crew was already gathered around the table, and they all looked up expectantly when he entered. Matt offered them as cheerful a smile as he could manage under the circumstances, and took a seat.
“So, folks. I’m sure you all already know about our predicament, and I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Until we come up with the cash to fix the engine, we’re basically dead in the water. Or stuck ashore, as the case is.”
Tony, his first mate and Lady Lisa’s makeshift medic, tugged at her braid thoughtfully. “This means we don’t actually have the cash.”
“Not enough to cover all the expenses.” It wasn’t something Matt was proud to be telling his crew, but he’d done his best to manage the finances frugally. It was just that regular maintenance was damn expensive.
“It’s my responsibility, and I’ll find a way to get us through it,” he continued. “In the meantime, I won’t hold anyone to their contract, if any of you decide to leave. I know the pay is hardly what you deserve…”
Matt trailed off as Tony made a face at him and Val shook his head. Ryce merely leaned back in his chair, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Don’t be a fool.” For all her petite stature, Tony could certainly sound intimidating when she wanted to. “Nobody’s leaving. It’s not the first time we’ve been in a jam together, and it sure as hell won’t be the last.”
“I might have to sell my body at the Freeport canteen just to pay for our meals,” Matt said mournfully. It was easier to turn this into a joke than acknowledge the lump suddenly lodged at the back of his throat.
“How much do you think your body might be worth?” Ryce asked.
“With all the crap he puts in it?” Tony scooped a generous portion of the stew from the steaming pot and plopped it on her plate. “I doubt it would buy us as much as a protein bar.”
“It’s not crap,” Matt said defensively. “It’s the highest quality caffeine and alcohol the black market has to offer.”
“Actually, the canteen is not a bad idea,” Val said in that quietly rumbling voice of his. He shrugged when everybody looked over at him in surprise. “It’s as good a place as any to scout for jobs. It’s true we’re not going anywhere, but if Captain can work out a down payment with a prospective client, we can buy what is needed and still make the run.”
It all sounded simple enough. A sufficient advance on their fee would solve their problem without the customer even knowing there was one. The trouble was finding someone to hire them before word got out about their situation. News and gossip traveled fast on Freeports, despite the stations’ impressive size. Their scoping for engine parts would definitely raise questions. Nobody wanted to entrust their cargo to a faulty ship, or risk getting scammed altogether if said ship was, in fact, out of service.
“Good idea,” Matt said, getting up. “I might as well get on it.”