ABOUT

CURRENT ISSUE

ARCHIVES

ADVERTISING

SUBMISSIONS

CONTACT

 

Lou J. Berger lives in Denver with three kids, three Shelties, and a kink-tailed cat with odd habits. This story marks his seventh sale, and his fourth appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

 NIKKI DARK AND THE BLACK RUST

by
Lou J. Berger

Nikki Dark piloted the Dreadnought to a perfect landing on Ceres’ icy surface, shut down the small craft’s systems, and put her helmet on.

She took a moment to just lean back and relax, anxiety washing over her like rain. Whether it was running from the Space Patrol, being shot at by rivals, or being cheated by her smuggling contacts, every moment of her life was stressful. Her ship was overdue for repairs and she simply didn’t have the money. Too many things had gone wrong lately. Finally, she got up and stepped outside.

The distant sun threw stark shadows among the piles of dirty, carbonate-infused ice that made up the dwarf planet’s surface. Fifty meters beneath her feet, dark water sloshed in utter blackness.

A single yellow light gleamed over the door of a corrugated iron shed connected to the end of a long row of ag domes, where all the food was grown. She trudged across the rough ice pasture to the door, then banged on it. It cracked open, and Seamus poked his helmet out, touching it to hers.

“Got my stuff?” he demanded.

“Don’t I always?” she replied.

“Good.” Then: “I’ve got something new for you to move—a new recreational drug.”

She shook her head. “I don’t sell drugs.”

“You’ll sell this one,” he assured her, handing her the satchel. “And you’ll make more than on your last dozen produce shipments. We call it Rust.”

Nikki regarded the satchel with distaste, but she knew her son Kyle would need money for college soon.

“Rust?” she repeated. “Like on metal?”

“No, it’s a type of fungus. Our bioengineer noticed it growing on the corn plants and traced it back to the water we’d pulled from under the ice. These”—he pointed to the satchel—“are two varieties: ten packages of red, seventy percent pure with some live fungus mixed in, and ten packages of black, ninety percent pure and no live fungus.”

“What does it do?”

His eyes flashed with excitement. “A smooth high with no hangover. Stuff usually goes a kilocredit each for the red, and three kilos for the black.”

“That’s awfully expensive for a new drug,” she noted.

Seamus flashed a rare smile. “True. But it’s in huge demand in the colonies.”

All the colonies?” she asked dubiously. “What about Earth?”

He nodded. “All of ’em. And this stuff is hot. Don’t tell anybody where you got it. I don’t need any visits from the Space Patrol.”

They walked to the ship and she tucked the satchel into the Dreadnought’s external hold, then touched her helmet to his again. “Fine, add it to my bill. Help me move these inside?”

Together, they moved the crates into the shed, stacking them against an unused wall. Seamus closed the exterior door and threw a switch that started a vibration she felt through her feet. When the sound of the pump grew loud enough to hear, she unbuckled her helmet and removed it, inhaling the rich, fertile odors wafting from the connected domes. She shook loose her auburn hair, then tilted her head forward to hide the crinkled scar on her left cheek. She removed a gauntlet and poked her datapad, entered a password, and brought up the manifest.

“Here we go,” she said, then scanned each crate’s ID tag as she called out their contents. “Cigarettes, holo crystals, Earth liquor, copper tubing and silica, a case of printers, and this”—she indicated a large crate at the bottom of the stack—“is your new forge assembly. Are you thinking about changing your name to Hephaestus?”

Seamus frowned. “Who?”

Nikki took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Nobody read the classics anymore. “Never mind. It’s all here. Sign my receipt and then let’s grab some dinner.”

Together they walked through the linked domes, moving between spinning hydroponic cylinders. The warm, fetid stench of well-fertilized plants circulated throughout the mining colony’s interior. They continued walking until they reached the dining hall, nestled in the colony’s hub. Dirty prisoners, all with bar codes tattooed on their arms, stood in line, awaiting the chow bell. It rang, and each of them surged forward to grab trays and utensils. Nikki leaned close to Seamus and whispered: “Those tomatoes were a big hit on Callisto. So were the beans. Do you have any more?”

Seamus nodded. “And we also have a metric ton of potatoes crated. Ten percent upcharge?”

“Throw in fifty bushels of kale and it’s a deal.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

When it was her turn in line, she ladled double helpings of blotchy, white beans onto her tray, then added a large spoonful of pale, steamed spinach. She took three ears of corn, which prompted some grumbling down the line. The vegetables looked smaller, more pale than they had the last time she’d visited. Even the ears of corn were half-sized.

She sat down at a large table across from Seamus, staring at her tray in disgust.

“What’s up with the food?”

He ignored her and shoveled white beans into his mouth.

She looked around. All the prisoners looked a little off, as if they were medicated. The normal chatter was absent, and the only sound that filled the hall was the scraping of utensils against plastic trays.

“What’s going on?” she whispered through clenched teeth.

“Later. Eat now.”

She ate, thinking about how much things had changed. Normally, she looked forward to eating the fresh produce on Ceres; it was the highlight of her smuggling triangle. The food she bought on the little ice planet was for her next destination, the high-priced restaurants of Callisto.

Later, back in the shed, she took stock of the inventory that Seamus had assembled for her. She stared in dismay at the wilted kale, the blotchy tomatoes, and more half-sized ears of corn.

“What the hell, Seamus?” She glared.

“It’s what we’ve got. Take it or leave it.”

“I can’t sell this crap to my clients! They pay top dollar, and they expect the best. Take this junk back and bring me something I can move!”

Seamus crossed his arms, his mouth set in stone. “Don’t push it, Nikki. This is what we have to offer.”

She drew her weapon and pointed it at him. “I’m not going to ask you again.”

“I can’t give you anything better. We don’t have anything better!”

“Why the hell not?”

He rubbed his hand across his half-shaven face. “We’ve been working on keeping up with the demand for the Rust, getting it prepared. Some of it must have contaminated the grow houses. You can still eat it.”

“Then I want a discount. A serious discount.”

His shoulders slumped and he finally nodded.

“What’s the deal with this Rust, anyway? You guys have always prided yourself on the quality of your gardens.” She indicated the crates. “Are you telling me that you’ve decided to become drug dealers instead?”

“Nikki, you don’t understand,” he said. “The Rust takes you into another dimension.”

“And you’re letting hardened criminals process it for you,” she noted with a frown.

“We’ve had some trouble,” he admitted. “Been a few overdoses.”

She stared at him in disgust. Well, there goes another produce supplier down the drain.

They suited up and Seamus helped her load the crates into the Dreadnought. She retrieved the satchel, clambered aboard and pressurized the ship.

She tapped into the colony’s wireless signal to retrieve her mail, scanned her messages, and saw one from her son. She clicked it first.

“Mom?” Kyle’s recorded face filled the screen. His eyes were troubled and he kept looking away while he spoke. “I left Uncle Curtis’ house. I couldn’t stand it there anymore. I’m safe, but I won’t go back. He’s …” The young man paused in the recording. “I wish you were here.”

His image froze. Kyle was a good kid, never caused any trouble. She’d known he wouldn’t be safe in the Outer Colonies, at least in the places she could afford, so she’d made arrangements for him to stay with her brother.

She bit her lip and archived the message, then clicked on the next one, from her brother Curtis. His face appeared on the display. “Hey, Nik. Kyle’s gone, and I don’t know where. Call me.”

She rubbed her eyes and sighed. She’d been on the run for five exhausting years. Living with an unmarried uncle was no life for a kid, but she couldn’t provide a better one for him. At least, not yet.

She sent a brief message to Kyle, asking him what had happened, then recorded an angry one to Curtis. She pointed out that she was paying him quite a bit of money to raise Kyle, and she damned well expected him to earn it. Then she lifted off, keeping under the base’s radar until she’d cleared the nearby horizon.

As she made her way to Callisto, she thought about Kyle and, for the hundredth time, wished that things were different.

***

She arrived a week later and was immediately intercepted. A massive cruiser suddenly appeared as her proximity alarms began screeching.

“Attention, Dreadnought,” said a voice.

She keyed the mic and replied. “This is Dreadnought. Who is this?”

“Commander Warren Jain, Space Patrol. You’ll be boarded and searched upon landing. Don’t deviate from your flight path, Ms. O’Riley. You wouldn’t like the results.”

She blanched. Nobody out here knew her real name. She’d been operating as Nikki Dark for twenty years and everything she owned was registered in that name. This clearly wasn’t a typical inspection. They’d been waiting for her.

“Affirmative, Commander Jain.”

She guided the ship down to Callisto Station, a sprawling series of domes scattered across the blasted surface of the moon, with Jupiter looming large on the horizon. Once down, she dismantled the co-pilot’s instrumentation board and pushed the satchel deep into a recess in the bulkhead, a storage spot she’d had constructed for just such an occasion. She reassembled the board and verified that the dummy instrumentation showed appropriate readings for a grounded ship.

A pounding on the airlock sounded at the same moment as Jain’s voice came through the speakers. “Ms. O’Riley? My security detail has arrived. Please allow them access to your ship.”

She deactivated the external locks and a young soldier stepped into the cramped cabin. “Sorry, ma’am, but I have orders from Commander Jain to search inside your vessel for contraband.” He thumbed over his shoulder. “The other two will look outside.”

Nikki scowled and waved her hand, granting permission. She’d been very careful, hiding her smuggling activities with legitimate shipments of needed goods, like the forge she’d just delivered to Ceres. For five years, ever since Mercury, she’d managed to keep a low profile. She touched a finger to the wrinkled scar on her left cheek and thought about that day. For a full minute she’d been adrift in space without a suit, the Sun’s rays scorching her. It had taken twenty-one skin grafts to rebuild her face. She still shuddered at the memory.

Red lights flashed on her board as the soldiers opened the external sealed compartments. She leaped to her feet.

“Hey! I have produce in those bins! Exposure to these temperatures will ruin it!”

The soldier shrugged. “Orders, ma’am. Nothing I can do about it.”

“That’s not good enough!” she snapped. “Get Commander Jain online!”

Commander Jain’s voice filled the cockpit. “How may I be of service, Ms. O’Riley?”

“Your gorillas are ruining my shipment! I expect you to pay me for my loss!”

“Now, Nicole, why don’t you just tell us where the Rust is, and we’ll stop searching your ship?”

She sat down slowly. So that’s what the search was about. “I don’t know about any rust, Commander. I keep a well-maintained ship—shiny and rust-free.”

Jain’s voice paused, then continued, silky-smooth but with an edge. “Corporal, please continue your search.”

Nikki watched from the copilot’s seat as the young man opened every interior hatch, then crawled behind the engine equipment, looking for a hiding place. When he approached the copilot’s station, Nikki looked up at him with cold disgust, letting her hair fall away from her scar.

He flushed and turned away, ignoring the board.

After twenty minutes of fruitless searching he called Jain. “Nothing here, sir. She’s clean.”

Jain’s voice returned. “Thank you, Corporal. Ms. O’Riley, you are free to continue. I am deeply saddened by the loss of your shipment. My condolences. Please present me an itemized bill and I’ll see that it gets reimbursed, once it’s maneuvered through all of our red tape. Jain out.”

After the corporal had left, she suited up and went to examine the cargo. Not great to begin with, it had frozen solid upon exposure to Callisto’s thin carbon-dioxide atmosphere and had been rendered inedible.

She went through the Station airlock to try to negotiate partial payment on a fast resupply, but her Callisto contact was furious and demanded a full refund. With reluctance, Nikki drained her bank account and gave him everything she had. She promised to find a new supplier, but he slammed the door in her face.

She left his restaurant and mingled with the evening crowds, walking aimlessly for hours before eating dinner alone, then went back to the ship. Eventually, she turned over and fell asleep by the dim light of the chronometer.

***

When she awakened nine hours later, her message light was blinking. She stumbled to the pilot’s chair and sat down, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

It was from Curtis.

“Nik, I got your message. You really aren’t in any position, telling me what to do while you gallivant around the Jovian moons. And your kid is just as stubborn as you always were. It’s no surprise he’s the way he is, given your inability to obey the law.”

His message ended, and the transmission froze on an image of his contorted, scowling face. Nikki punched a button and the screen went dark. He’d been clean for almost a decade when she entrusted him with Kyle, but she was sure now that he was using again. She needed to get to Earth, despite the bounty on her head.

She squared her shoulders, opened the console, withdrew the satchel of rust, and left the ship. It was time for Nikki Dark to make things right.

***

She headed into the seedy areas of Callisto Station, looking for the nightclubs away from the Strip, hovels without garish neon signs where the right sort of clientele might clamor for the red rust she carried instead of more traditional forms of escape like heroin and cocaine, or the tried-and-true crystal meth. They’d have money, and if she was going to take Kyle back and find a new place for him, she was going to need all the money she could get her hands on.

She found a likely spot in the corner of a filthy dome away from the main Strip. It had a dirty facade, a burly synth manning the door, and a glowing sign that read “Shady’s Shadow” above the door.

“Can I score pharms here?” Nikki asked, sidling up to the synth.

“Who wants to know?”

She shrugged. “Nikki Dark.”

“Never heard of you.”

“That’s due to change,” she assured him. “Tell your boss that I have something he wants.”

The synth chomped on his toothpick for twenty seconds while his eyes glazed over. They grew clear again. “She says to go inside.”

Nikki pushed open the door. The interior lights were up and the cleaning robots were trying without much success to scrub the grime from the floor and walls. A young woman with bright orange hair and firefly ink tattoos sat at the bar, reading a scrolling newsfeed. She looked up, uncoiled from her stool, and walked over to Nikki.

“The real Nikki Dark?” she said, squinting in disbelief.

“The one and only.”

“I’m Shady,” said the orange-haired woman, then stuck out a hand. “You’re a legend ever since Mercury.”

Nikki took her hand. “You ever hear of Rust?” she asked without preamble.

Shady’s eyes lit up. “You got black?”

“No,” lied Nikki. “But I have ten packages of red. I just turned down an offer on the Strip. He wouldn’t meet my price.”

“What is your price?”

“Why don’t you tell me what you’re willing to pay for quality red?”

Shady thought for a moment, then smiled. “I’ll buy all ten kilos for double your best offer. My customers have been beating my door down for it.”

Nikki clenched her jaw in silent frustration. She had no idea what the drug was worth on the street, only what she had paid Seamus. Maybe she could negotiate for ten kilocredits each, for a 900% profit. “How about ten?”

Shady paled. “Ten megs? You’re kidding. They offered five? I figured if the other club offered only two megs, you’d take four.”

Nikki kept her face stony. Two megs for each package was a two thousand percent profit. Way more expensive than heroin. Had the drug become that popular in only a week? “This is red Rust, not black. We’re clear, right?”

Shady inclined her head.

Nikki sighed dramatically and said “Okay. You win. The other guy offered three megs, but I knew I could do better. Pay me six and I’ll deliver right now.”

Shady winced but agreed and they bumped datapads. Nikki dug into the satchel and handed the ten bricks of red, paper-wrapped rust to Shady.

“What’s the big deal with this drug, anyway? I’m surprised it’s so popular, given the cost.”

Shady sat down on the stool and a faraway look came into her eyes. “It’s like nothing else, Nikki. You haven’t tried it, I assume?”

Nikki shook her head. “Drugs and me aren’t friends.”

Shady smiled. “You really should make an exception. Rust—and especially the black stuff—is an entirely new experience. Hallucinations are great, don’t get me wrong, but these take you somewhere … somewhere else. Somewhere different, you know?”

Nikki shrugged. “I don’t really get it, no.”

“Trust me, you need to try it. Once. It was like I was talking to an alien version of God.”

“How much would you pay for the black if I could score some?”

Shady put the bricks behind the counter. “Black is super rare, and currently worth fifteen megs per kilo on the street—but it’s usually cut. If you can get me some pure stuff, I’ll pay thirteen each.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Nikki.

She left the place and walked through the streets of Callisto Station, clutching the satchel to her chest. If the numbers were right, she had over a hundred megacredits inside it, more than enough to compensate for her cargo loss, maybe even enough to retire. She would certainly have enough to get Kyle and bring him to the Jovian moons. He could go to school there, maybe get a tutor. No more smuggling. No more running from the law.

She hurried back to the ship and stored the satchel in its hiding place. Then she filled the fuel tanks and took off, heading directly for Earth.

And Kyle.

***

Even at full speed, it took several weeks to get from Jupiter to Earth. Exactly twenty-seven days after lifting off from Callisto, Nikki requested permission to land near Denver and was granted it, using a counterfeit transponder code.

She made her way to her brother’s apartment, hugging the satchel close. It was dangerous to have with her, but it was too damned valuable to be left alone on the ship.

“What the hell, Nik?” he said, his face going pale as he opened the door. “When did you get here?”

“Never mind that,” she said through clenched teeth. “Where’s Kyle?”

“I don’t know. He hasn’t been here in weeks.”

“Who does he hang out with? So help me, Curtis, if he’s hurt, I will personally cut your throat.”

Curtis backed away a few steps. “Now, Nik …”

She pointed a finger at him. “I’ve been pulling your fat out of the fire your whole life. Now I give you one job, pay you generously, and you let him run off!”

Curtis held out his hands as if to placate her. “Nik, come on! He’s sixteen years old. He’s probably crashing at a friend’s house.”

“For a month? What happened? Why did he leave?”

Curtis ran his fingers through his hair, averting his gaze. “I had to be a little strict with him. I didn’t give him his allowance for a couple months.”

Part of the money she sent every month was to go directly to Kyle. “What did you do with his cash?”

She glared at him and noticed the tremor in his fingers, the pallor of his skin. His shirt hung loosely on him.

“Curtis, goddammit, I thought you were clean! You’ve been using again!”

“I can explain!”

She stepped forward and sank her fist into his pudgy gut. “You took Kyle’s money to buy drugs!”

Curtis stumbled to the couch, clasping his middle, unable to look at her directly.

“Damn you!” She looked around, then walked over to his terminal. “Open this up. I want to send a message to Kyle.”

He slunk over and unlocked the terminal. She sat down and looked directly into the terminal’s camera. “Kyle, I’m at your uncle’s. Come home. I’ve come to take you away with me.” She terminated the message and sent it, then spun around in her chair to face a panicky Curtis.

“You can’t!” he cried out, wringing his hands. “You can’t just hire me to watch him and then swoop in here and take him away!”

Nikki glared. “You let him walk out of here and never tried to find him! You’ve been spending his money—hell, my money—to get high! You think this is a safe place for my son to live anymore?” Curtis blustered but Nikki held up her hand to silence him. “Never mind. Nothing you say will help your case right now. I’m going to look for Kyle.”

She walked to the front door and opened it—and did a double-take. Kyle stood there, hand raised to knock. He was taller than she remembered, his hair was longer, and his face was now sprinkled with acne. But it was him.

She stepped into his embrace and wrapped both arms around him, clutching him hard. “Kyle, I …”

His own voice was husky. “I just got your message. I’ve really missed you, Mom!”

***

Half an hour later, Nikki sat on the couch in Curtis’ living room. Kyle kept disappearing, then reappearing with armfuls of clothes, books, and other belongings. A small pile grew larger in the middle of the floor.

“Kyle, you can’t take all this with you. We can’t fit it all on the Dread.”

Curtis sat in a recliner, hunched forward, hands clasped to stop the tremors. “Why are you doing this, Nik? How can you be here? Aren’t you still wanted for that thing near Mercury?”

“They don’t know it was me. I’m here to get Kyle, then I’m taking him back to the Jovian moons. We’re leaving Earth for good.”

Curtis thought for a moment. “But what if somebody comes asking about him? What if the school wants to know why he hasn’t come back?”

“He’s my son, Curtis, not yours. He’s my responsibility.”

“Aren’t you worried they’ll find you?” Curtis sat upright in his chair. “Am I expected to lie for you?”

She stared at him and realization dawned. “For a price,” she said, her voice filled with disgust. “It’s not going to be for free, now, is it?”

He examined his fingernails and remained silent while Kyle walked into the room, dumped another load, then turned around and went back to his room. “You wanna share some of your fortune?”

“How much?” she said through clenched teeth.

“A megabuck?”

She looked into his eyes, and saw the raw, naked need. “No,” she said after a moment. “Forget it. I’m tapped out.”

Curtis stood up and stomped out of the room.

Kyle came back with a dramatic sigh, then dumped the last load on the floor. “There, that’s everything.”

“Let’s go through this mess. You can take a third of it.”

“Aw, Mom!”

She set her jaw. “Don’t make me cut it down to a fourth.”

For the next few hours, they winnowed through the pile, sharing memories, holding up old trophies, laughing over drawings he’d made in elementary school, until they finally had it pared down to a manageable size.

Kyle began taking his things to the rental, and Nikki followed him with an armful of his clothes. Her satchel was open in the back seat, and it had been closed before. One of the packages of black was missing. She looked up at Curtis’ bedroom window, then rushed through the front door. She went upstairs to check on him.

“Curtis, I …” She stopped just inside his bedroom door. Curtis lay in bed on his back, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling. The missing package of black lay beside him on the bedspread. Bloody foam spilled from his gaping mouth.

She looked down at him, tears filling her eyes, at the silent body of her little brother.

“Oh, hell, Curtis,” she muttered.

“Mom?” Kyle’s voice floated up from downstairs. “You coming?”

“Just a minute!” She wiped her eyes, then opened his phone and called the emergency number.

“Yes?” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“There’s a body here.” Nikki gave the dispatcher the address. “An overdose.”

“Thank you, ma’am. And what is your name?”

Nikki broke the connection and hurried downstairs. Kyle stood on the front walkway, waiting for her. “Come on! Let’s get out of here!”

As she pulled away, flashing lights began converging on her brother’s house.

***

They lifted off the next morning, having stocked the Dreadnought with supplies, topped off the tanks, and gotten permission for departure.

She took off and relinquished controls at 2,000 meters, allowing the automated system to guide her into orbit. A small warning signal advised her that the ship was once again under her command.

“What’s this?” Kyle said, holding the satchel she’d tossed on the floor as they’d boarded.

“Give me that.” She held out her hand.

Kyle hesitated. “What is it?”

“It’s none of your business.”

He opened the satchel and peered inside. His eyes widened. “Black? You scored some! Good for you!”

An image of Curtis’ face, slathered in red foam, eyes wide open and unseeing, flashed across her mind.

“That’s really dangerous stuff, Kyle—not to be messed with. Give it to me.”

Reluctantly, he handed over the satchel. She opened it and counted the packages. Nine. “Thank you. I’ll get rid of these when we get back to Callisto.”

“Callisto? I thought we were going to Io.”

She’d planned on selling the black rust and going to Io, but Curtis had changed all that.

She set her jaw. “No. Callisto is our first stop.”

***

They were greeted again by the same warship, which matched speeds with them.

“My, my,” said Commander Jain. “If it isn’t Ms. Dark.”

“What do you want, Commander?”

There was a long silence. When Jain spoke again, his voice was reflective. “Excellent question. I want you in jail.”

“I have another suggestion.”

Jain hesitated. “What do you mean?”

She glanced at Kyle and then at the satchel at her feet. “Meet me at Shady’s Shadow tonight at eight. Just the two of us. Nobody else.” She broke the connection.

“Mom?”

She drew in a deep, ragged breath. “It’s going to be okay. I think.”

***

Jain sat in the back of the bar, alone at a table. Shady smiled when she walked in and stepped forward to greet her, but Nikki shook her head in warning. Shady frowned and backed away. Nikki dropped the satchel on the table in front of Jain and sat in the other chair.

Jain looked at her for a long moment, then leaned forward and peered into the satchel. His eyes widened and his face grew serious. “That’s quite a gift, Nikki,” he said. “What do you expect in return for it?”

She let him see the weapon she had trained on him. “It’s not a gift just yet.” She stared at him. “You knew my real name. What else do you know about me?”

“I know everything. We linked you to the Mercury Coalition, where you damn near succeeded in stealing a billion credits worth of gold. Several agents were injured in that little escapade of yours. I believe your husband died?”

Nikki nodded. “Yes.” She fingered the scar on her face, remembering the Sun’s scorching heat, her desperate attempts to breathe in vacuum, Brian’s frozen body drifting away into the blackness.

“We also know about your brother, and the black Rust we found in his home. You are looking at several lifetime sentences for smuggling, dealing in narcotics and, because of your brother, negligent homicide.”

Nikki shook her head and pointed to the satchel. “If we don’t reach an agreement I can sell this on the street and make enough to keep you fighting me in court for decades, always assuming I don’t kill you in the next sixty seconds.”

Jain leaned forward and placed his hand on the satchel. “Maybe, maybe not—but taking this off the street makes my career. You may have just handed me a promotion.”

“Why haven’t you arrested me before now?” demanded Nikki, staring at him. “Why leave me out there if you knew all this?”

“Nikki, we didn’t arrest you because nothing you’ve done was that big a deal.”

“But Mercury …”

He waved his hand in dismissal. “Nothing worth chasing you down for. We recovered the gold, you got a helluva scar to remind you of it, and nobody of importance got hurt.”

She thought of Brian’s torn body drifting away. He’d been important.

“So, in the end, we really didn’t care what you did. Until now.” He caressed the satchel.

She placed the blaster on the table and pushed it over to him, then pointed to the satchel. “There you go. I’m turning it over to you.”

He lifted the satchel and set it on the floor beside his chair. “What is your suggestion?”

She took a deep breath. “I join forces with you and help you stop smuggling. You give me a suspended sentence for something minor, charge me some negligible fine, and drop all the other charges. My son is sleeping in a hotel room not far from here, and I’d like to go back to him tonight and wake up tomorrow a free woman, without looking over my shoulder anymore.”

Jain pondered her over steepled fingers, then sighed. “Done. Report to me at the Space Patrol offices in the morning and I’ll have the paperwork ready. I’ll talk to the attorneys and have them drop all charges.”

Nikki exhaled deeply and sank back into her chair. Tears stung the corners of her eyes. It was finally over.

“What made you decide to do this?” asked Jain.

“My son. He needs me.”

He picked up the satchel and stood, then extended his hand. Slowly, she rose and took it.

“Where did you get the black Rust?” he asked. “Who’s manufacturing it?”

She shrugged, looked him in the eye, and lied. “I got it from a woman who says it comes from a secret lab in the Sargasso.”

He turned to go, then stopped.

“I look forward to working with you,” he said. “The infamous Nikki Dark and me—partners! If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting.”

He walked through the smoke-filled bar and out the door, the throbbing music following him into the street.

After a moment Nikki left, heading back to the hotel and her sleeping son. Jain was right: starting tomorrow, her new life was going to be interesting. At the very least.

But tonight, for the first time in well over a decade, she knew peace.

Original (First) Publication
Copyright © 2014 by Lou J. Berger

 

THEIR MAJESTIES' BUCKETEERS
by L. Neil Smith


A classic closed-room mystery with a murder most foul....and most alien....

TABLE OF CONTENTS

HOME

The Editor's Word

FICTION
Zombies at Work
by Leena Likitalo

The Pain Peddlers

by Robert Silverberg
No Place for a Hero
by James Aquilone

Honeymoon
by Maureen McHugh
Fate and Other Variables
by Alex Shvartsman

Dead Worlds
by Jack Skillingstead

The Orphan Tractors
by Ralph Roberts
Cryptic

by Jack McDevitt
Song of the Sargasso
(Sargasso)

by Marina J. Lostetter
Nikki Dark and the Black Rust
(Sargasso)

by Lou J. Berger

INTERVIEW
Eric Flint
by Joy Ward

SERIALIZATION
Lest Darkness Fall  (Part 5)
by L. Sprague de Camp

COLUMNS
From the Heart's Basement
by Barry Malzberg
Science Column
by Greg Benford

Book Reviews
by Paul Cook

 

 

 


 

 

 

REASON NO. 11 TO ATTEND
THE SAIL TO SUCCESS
WRITERS’ WORKSHOP

THE
FRIENDS
YOU'LL MAKE

STARTING AT
ONLY $899

all-inclusive on a
luxury cruise ship

 

www.SailSuccess.com

 

 

 


 

 

 

   

Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2014. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.