“Did Audra give you any more leads?” Bat’s voice is difficult and grunting, barely humanoid. He’s a creature like me, born of Amerov’s cold and metal. It was the only constant place he’s known beside the tiny halls of this ship.
Audra is my contact from Amerov who tipped me off on this job. She’s been unusually quiet these past few months, I hadn’t heard a single word since the last job nearly half a year ago. Hearing from her was unexpected, especially to tip me off on such a large job.
“Nothing new. She hasn’t talked to me since.”
When the comm beeps and I set the ship toward a docking station, Bat’s big ears pop up from the little cot hung over the viewport. His snout appears over the edge, looking down through the window.
“It looks cold.”
I pulled up info on the spinning piece of space rock a few hours ago. “It’s mostly snow and tundra. Gets some pretty bad storms but apparently this time of year is calm enough on this side of the planet.”
Bat makes a disgruntled noise somewhere between a growl and a snarl and stuffs his head back in the blankets of his cot. He’s a tough little thing, but doesn’t like the freezing cold. Not with all his hairless skin.
“I could find someone to knit you a sweater.”
Two black eyes glare at me—a round little face with a squat snout, each ear larger than his face—a disconcerting sight. Bat in a sweater would be a sight. Still, I’m going to pack some extra blankets into my pack if we have to leave the ship for any extended period of time.
Streaks of red-hot atmosphere surround the ship upon entry, irritating the heat-sensors in my eyes until everything is just a blur of red. If this bounty pays out, I’m going to find someone to replace the stupid things. Blackmarket cyborg parts are difficult to get ahold of and not all that trustworthy, but it’s better than going back to Amerov.
If I can get back in touch with Audra after all this, maybe she’ll know a reliable source.
Finally, the ship drops through, drifting in an arc through the clouds and toward the surface.
<Welcome to Yayth. Population: 63,000.> The comms read off an automated welcome from the station I’m heading towards. 63,000 on the whole planet. Not much to see here.
From this height, the south of the planet is visible, entire continents of ice and snow where civilization hasn’t spread. There isn’t much commerce in a place like this—the computer told me most settlements are small farming and fishing communities, or cities that run huge fishing operations off the frigid oceans.
Space is cold, but not in the same way as walking on this planet will be. Like Bat, I prefer the heat.
On the other hand, the sparse population means there aren’t many hiding places for the bounty we’re hunting. And the nastiness of the climate means they’ll have to return to civilization eventually even if they take off into the wilderness.
On a planet this small, a ship a little over the size of mine isn’t impossible to hunt down.
Better yet, there aren’t likely to be any cyborgs out here. Not a single one.
I love jobs like this.
“You can come out if you want. The docking station is probably heated.”
“And there’s probably food.”
Bat drops from his cot to my shoulder to the floor, waddling to my bunk room on mechanical legs. Those contraptions are, by far, the most expensive thing on my ship.
The docking station is a mess of ungainly metal protruding from the earth. Apparently, up here, there’s actual ground beneath all the snow, not just more ice. Not that I can see it. In every direction, there’s nothing but pristine white. At least the air is clear, the sky a dark blue. No storms to block visibility or mess with the sensors on the ship.
The station perches on the bank of a choppy sea. Strange, flat gray ships swarm the harbor and head out into the deep ocean. I don’t know how they fish here, but ocean ships at their ports are emptying huge nets of sea life into holding tanks. There must be equipment on the undersides of the ships that does the fishing. From this height, it’s difficult to tell.
I’m the only space vessel in sight. And the hanger is small.
It might be real easy to find another ship out here.
Bat leaps onto the panel beside me, backpack clamped in his jaws. He drops it on my hands, crawling inside. I’d call him a dog with a leash if he wasn’t smarter than most people.
This is the usual routine. It’s easier to deter attention when he hides in the pack, and he isn’t heavy.
“Spoiled,” I tell him, and pet the huge ears that earned him the nickname that eventually stuck.
He gives a low growl.
The hanger is so small I ease the ship in manually, not trusting the autopilot, careful not to ding the wingtips against the doors or the one other ship taking up space. Any larger and I’d be parking out in the snow.
I don’t need to pull up the bounty charts to know the neighboring ship isn’t the one we’re after. The bounty is for two people, and they’re sharing an old junker of a thing a little larger and a little older than my own craft. The thing next to us is small, shiny and brand-new, painted a solid white.
Because apparently there isn’t enough white around this place.
A woman is operating a booth on the other end of the hanger. I try not to look cold as I head her direction, Bat’s nose sticking out of the pack, resting on my shoulder.
The lady takes one look at me through the glass and glances at the door like she wants to bolt.
Wonderful. Not everyone is skittish about cyborgs, but when you look the way I do, people can tell something’s incorrect with the situation. Should’ve put my hood up to begin with. Most are tactful enough to avoid eye-contact and get through the conversation as quickly as possible. Which works fine for me.
I tug the fabric up over my hair until it shadows my face.
The door to her booth is sealed, but I can see her through the glass paneling. When she doesn’t open it, I knock.
The door slides open. A wash of heated air drifts over me, but I don’t think she’d like me stepping into her space.
“Do you keep logs of all the ships coming in and out?”
She squints. I can’t imagine a more average, forgettable face. I suppose most people are a little forgettable when they don’t have metal protruding from their bone structure.
“Um, yeah? It’s in the control station who gave you permission to land.”
“Can I get access to that?”
Her eyes do a quick dart over me. I’m not wearing an Amerov uniform. I’m not wearing any uniform. Catching sight of Bat’s snout over my shoulder, she turns a funny shade of pale.
“Bounty hunter?” she asks.
“You can, uh—you can ask, I’m not in charge of that kind of thing. In that door, two doors down to your left, then up a flight of stairs.”
I follow the direction she points, feeling her eyes following me through the window, burning a hole in my back.
Leaving the hanger takes us to the main market of the station, workers ferrying goods in and out of stalls and the clatter of the massive ships just outside making my hearing aids start up a faint buzzing sound. If it gets any louder, they’re going to start shrieking at me.
There’s enough hustle and bustle no one takes notice of a cyborg slipping in from the hanger door, even if everyone here is remarkably human and unaltered. Enhancements are the cornerstone of Amerov, and those with plenty of money can pay for them. But they don’t look like mine.
“I smell fish,” Bat whispers.
He’s right. The farther I walk in, the less it smells of fresh and gutted sea life and more like fried and roasted meals. My mouth waters.
“After the flight logs.”
“What if we piss someone off before then?”
“Don’t piss anyone off.”
“I meant you.”
Sure, we’ve gone running from situations plenty of times. That doesn’t mean it always happens. And he’s just as bad as I am.
Two doors down behind vendor booths and workers of all shapes and sizes, I head up a stairwell. The whole building here is metal—I hop each step on my toes to keep from echoing too much throughout the place. There’s another sealed door, painted a lighter shade of gray than the metal walls, marked with Records in blocky letters. The metal sounds so flimsy when I knock, I’m pretty sure I could tear through it like paper with my bare hands if the need arose.
Gotta love out-of-the-way, backwater planets. Low tech and people who won’t bother you.
A manual little peep-hole slides open and the warm hum of a pistol flares to life against my forehead.
Hello lovely readers!
This series is now available on Amazon! As of 2023, this In Dying Starlight novella is available to read only on KU.