Progress is being made on my new book, title unknown. Jirra, Toreni, and Chet (Morgan's Misfits) are on an undercover mission on Shar Burk, the sleaziest, most corrupt space station in known space. Their mission is to gather enough evidence to enable the Union Fleet to take down the station's mayor, Markus Soldar. After being elected to the post fifteen years ago, he has gradually increased his power base, so that he's the unassailable, autocratic ruler. Needless to say, he has acquired untold wealth, with his fingers in every pie on the station.
Our Morgan's Misfits trio have set up shop as independent freight carriers, using the heavily-disguised Vulsaur, which used to be Admiral Ravindra's yacht. Morgan Selwood has added a few top-secret smarts to the ship so it can actually change its superficial appearance from a sleek yacht to a little freighter showing its age, yet still have superior handling. Using their cover, the girls have been able to go in and out of Shar Burk, touting for cargo and learning what they can about the station and its dictator, Soldar. (If you glimpse a similarity with Putin of Erdogan, that's up to you <wink>.)
On one trip to the station, while they're conducting routine checks on the Shar Burk Police's system, they notice that the (female) owner of an arts and crafts store has called in a suspicious substance found in an imported artifact. The find is brushed aside as nothing, case closed, but not long after that one of Soldar's nastier enforcers is on his way to the shop.
This is what happens next – very first draft, folks, but you'll get the idea.
Romila glanced up at the chrono again. Two minutes to eight. She could probably safely start closing up shop. This sector of the Shar Burk space station tended to empty out around now. She turned around to lock the crystal cabinet behind the counter.
The door tinkled. Damn. Customers. She was looking forward to going upstairs, but that was retail, wasn't it? Fixing a smile on her face, she turned. "Good evening. How can I help you?"
Even as she said the words her pulse began to pound. The well-dressed man might have been interested in exotic crystal, and might have employed the Shuba towering behind him as a bodyguard. But the man exuded an air of menace. The half-smile on his face and the narrowed eyes hinted at a different purpose. Romila put her hand down under the counter, feeling for the grip of her laser pistol.
"Uh uh uh. Hands on the counter, Romila," the man said, stepping forward. "I wouldn't want Terkan here to have to make a mess."
The Shuba raised the Umex P-40 pulse pistol he held in one massive hand, its wide muzzle a gateway to hell. If he pressed the trigger, the shelves behind her would be shattered, and they'd have to pick pieces of her out of the wall to put them in a bag for the funeral.
Romila put her hands back on the counter. "What's this about?" Although she had a feeling she already knew.
The man made a show of sadly shaking his head. "You shouldn't have gone to the Sharpos."
Romila's stomach lurched. Her tip-off was supposed to be confidential. "I don't know what you're talking about."
The man's yellow eyes narrowed. "Terkan, why don't you see if those pieces on the wall over there bounce?"
Grinning, the Shuba swept his hand along a shelf, sending a row of carved glass animals crashing to the floor.
Romila winced. They were cheap, popular souvenirs now reduced to shards and splinters, a pretty obvious display of what could happen to some of her more expensive stock. "What do you want?"
The man stood in the middle of the shop and folded his arms. "Nice little place you've got here."
"Thanks." Romila swallowed while her heart beat set to burst. His lips had set into a predatory, mocking smile.
"We just want the crystals, darling. We know you've still got some. Hand them over and we'll be on our way."
Romila swallowed again. "The police took what I had."
The smile vanished. "I'm not sure I believe you." The man unfolded one arm and beckoned with his index finger. "Come around here."
To hell with that. She wasn't going to come quietly. Romila dived for her pistol and rolled with it clutched in one hand. Terkan swore, his feet crunching on the shattered glass. Romila poked her head around the counter and fired a long blast at him. He dodged away, out of her line of sight. But where was the Shuba's boss? Movement in the glass front of the cabinet caught her eye. She jumped up, fired, and retreated, rewarded with a hiss of pain.
"Drop the pistol, bitch." The Shuba stood beside the counter, the muzzle of the Umex aimed squarely at her. "Do it now. Dak wants you alive, but I don't think he'll mind if I hurt you."
Dak. That would be the man in the suit. He appeared now, his face twisted, one hand clutching his arm. "Give us a hard time and I might just change my mind," he snarled.
Romila put the pistol on the floor. She was running out of options, but at least they wanted her alive. For now. She didn't have any more of the statues where the crystals had been hidden. The detective had taken the other four. She'd have to make something up.
The front door slid aside.
Terkan spun around, his weapon raised. He fell backwards, raking the front of the shop with energy bolts. Romila crawled behind the counter while the air crackled and fragments of her shop clattered and boomed and splintered. A figure appeared, leaping past her and into the backroom, another figure in hot pursuit. If she was quick she might make it, too.
The firing had stopped.
"Romila? Suri?" The voice was female, coming from behind her, and sounded concerned more than anything else.
Romila looked around and saw a pair of legs lying on the ground, the rest of the body hidden by the counter. Another Shuba stood beside Terkan's body, a short-barreled rifle in her hands, but held at rest, not aimed at her. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Are you police?"
The woman snorted a laugh. "No. We heard some crashing in here and thought we'd better see if we could help."
Romila forced her trembling legs to move and clambered to her feet. "Is he dead?" she asked, gesturing at Terkan's body.
The woman glanced at the figure lying face down on the ground. "Yes. Trust me, he's no loss." She gazed over Romila's head to the open back door. "Where does that go?"
"A small service area for unpacking and what not, a little kitchen and steps up to my apartment." Romila pointed at the ceiling.
"Yes." Romila sighed. "It was open, too. I got a delivery a little while ago and didn't close up."
Footsteps sounded from outside. The Shuba woman gestured. "Better pick up your pistol and get out of line of sight of that door. I'm hoping it's Chet coming back, but if it isn't…"
Romila scooped up her laser pistol and moved to the other side of the counter, stepping over Terkan's body. He lay as if asleep, although the side of his face she could see was twisted as if he was experiencing a nightmare. Romila swallowed bile. She'd seen death before, but not like this.
The Shuba tensed, her rifle raised, as a figure approached.
"It's me." The green-eyed woman who stepped through the door spoke the words before she appeared.
"Did you get him?" the Shuba asked as she lowered her rifle.
"No. You know what those damned alleys are like."
"Just like Crossmar. Well, we'd better get out of here fast. Dak doesn't take kindly to losing, and he'll have backup somewhere."
There you have it. Romila's a girl on her own, trying to take over her dead parents' business. But women running any business except perhaps a brothel is frowned upon in Manesai society. And nobody - but nobody - messes with Soldar.
I wonder what happens next?