I admit, it’s kind of cool to be putting up some of my older work. This is mostly stuff that I never expected to get published or even publish myself, just playing with different genres and tropes. 

This particular story is kind of long, so I’m going to break it up over a few posts.

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Passage to Dalabyth — Part 1
by Christopher Kellen

The noise in the saloon made it very difficult for her to eavesdrop on the conversation of the two men sitting at the table behind her. They had been arguing for the better part of an hour, and kept slipping into languages that she didn’t recognize. Much of their conversation, though, was in Interstellar Confederate Standard, and sounded just as proper to boot.

She kept her head bowed low over her table and over the steaming drink in front of her. There was no doubt in her mind that the two men were Confeds, but of what sort, and what they were doing well beyond the White Zone was a mystery to her.

One she intended to solve in short order.

Casually, she stood up, smoothing her short skirt out where it had started to ride a bit high. She turned to them and gave them a room-brightening smile.

“Couldn’t help but overhear your… conversation,” she said. The two men suddenly stopped talking and turned to stare at her. “Sounds to me like you need a pilot, and quick, to get you off this rock.”

“What business is it of yours?” one of the men, sporting a heavy coat that was obviously concealing some sort of body armor, asked coldly.

“Not a bit,” she said, trying to disguise her anxiety as best she could. “I was just thinking that if you needed a quiet way to leave without being noticed by the Bregedern security forces…”

The first man started to say something angrily, but was cut off as his companion laid a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe we should hear her out, Frern.”

She sized up the second swiftly. He had pale, sharp features that looked as though they were stretched over his skull in what would have been quite unnatural for a human. His cranium was completely devoid of hair, and he stared back at her with his vaguely luminescent eyes.

“We don’t get many Sinjerns out here in the Gray,” she remarked casually, as she noted that each of them were carrying heavy-caliber weaponry that was hastily concealed at best. “Most of ‘em stay safe and sound inside Confed space.”

A low growl came from beneath the table, and she stepped back to take a look. She gave out a low whistle as she smiled. “That a real Terra-wolf? Ain’t seen one of them before.”

Frern started to say something again, but his Sinjern companion cut him off smoothly. “Unfortunately not. It’s just a kamrin.”

“Can’t win ‘em all, I guess,” she said with a shrug. The beast had a heavy electro-collar around its neck.

“What were you saying about a way off of this planet?” the Sinjern said politely.

She proffered her hand with a grin. “Name’s Amytha Evenstar, and I’m the best damn pilot you’ll find this side of the Confed line. I can get you anywhere you like, as long as you ain’t lookin’ to cross any borders. Stay inside the Gray Zone, and I’ll make sure you get where you’re going nice and safe.”

“We need to get to Dalabyth, and we need to do it quickly and quietly,” the Sinjern said.

She arched an eyebrow. “Dalabyth? Ain’t that a Confed outpost?”

“It’s inside the Gray Zone,” the Sinjern said, inclining its head slightly. It might have arched an eyebrow, if it had one.

Amytha leaned over with a conspiratorial wink. “Now what would you good folk be doin’ heading to a Confed outpost?”

“She’s asking too many questions, Parn,” Frern said, a warning tone in his voice.

Now she had both their names.

She suppressed a grin.

“So… Parn,” she said, rolling the Sinjern’s name off her tongue.

“We have our reasons,” Parn responded levelly. She watched him carefully, but there was no reaction at all. Damn, Sinjern were hard to read!

“Fair enough,” she said, taking a step back from the table and raising her hands in mock defeat. “I just provide the ship and the flight. You boys don’t got to tell me nothin’. I assume you’ve got money to pay for passage?”

“Of course,” Parn said. “We’ll pay you twenty marks; ten before we take off, and ten more when we reach Dalabyth.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Twenty marks’ll barely put enough fuel in my tank to get us to Dalabyth. You can do a girl better than that. How ‘bout we make it forty – twenty now, and the rest when we get there.”

Parn stared back at her impassively. “Thirty.”

“Done.” She thrust out her hand once more, which the Sinjern accepted diplomatically. “You won’t regret it. When d’you boys plan to be leaving?”

“As soon as possible,” Frern grumbled.

“I assume the kamrin won’t cause you any trouble?” Parn asked.

She regarded the wolf-like creature skeptically. “I don’t usually go haulin’ animals from place to place across the zones.” The beast let out a low, rumbling growl that might have been a sigh.

“I assure you that it will cause you no trouble,” Parn said, his luminescent eyes shining. “If it should cause anything… unfortunate, I will gladly pay you extra to cover whatever you need.”

She brightened immediately. “Well that makes me feel all better. I’ll go get the ship started up. She’ll be ready for takeoff in ten minutes. Don’t you boys be late now, or I’ll have to leave without you,” she said teasingly, waggling a finger at them.

“Don’t forget this,” Parn said from behind her.

She turned and deftly caught the coin purse from the air, hardly missing a stride.