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The mustachioed one brought concealed exterior vehicle weaponry into plain sight. “Ohhhh, are we doing this?” Karma asked, sled-bracing herself in the rider’s seat. “Is this also something you do, one of your hidden qualities…”  She flashed the whites of her eyes at him. “…a propensity for space dust?”

Derringer did a little dance in his seat and shook a few sparkles out of his hair. “Cloudbuster’s League.”

Karma swallowed behind a playfully dubious look. “That sounds real.”

Looking like a master, Derringer picked a sweet target, a little lone rock. Its blast radius was already clear. With the most minimal fiddling, he loosed a clean shot. Karma inhaled smoothly with appreciation, her target-seeking eyes relaxed and happy as the beautiful shatter occurred before her direct gaze.

She turned to meet his dear look with a honey smile. “Oh, it’s real,” he said. “I knew the moment I made Cloudbuster’s League.  I know I’m not the only one.”

40 \ 128

Arcta Hydraia joined the others amongst the fold-down seats of the equipment chamber, remaining in the doorway. She wore loose high-collared jams in uniform grey. She felt a small, painful bond with this ship that saved three lives from a hatching dragon. She looked at the two she brought with her, wearing their Pan-Galactic Imperial uniform. The shorter woman with chestnut skin and deep brown hair pulled back in a ponytail wore a nametag that said R. ARRIBA. Her counterpart, tall, dark-haired, rail-thin and sallow, was labeled T. VADR. Their faces wore the look of stored answers after having talked things over between themselves.

Arriba focused on the guy in the corner who’d been addressing them. He stood feet planted shoulder width, arms across his chest. He had an unusual way of looking like nobody from behind sharp, blank features. “So, we can take our ship, the one we’re used to, with all our things in it?” As Arriba inquired, she waved her hands to indicate everything around them.

His black turtleneck and grey slacks didn’t appear to move a micrometer as he gave a one-inch nod. “Sure.”

Vadr raised his head from where it hung in contemplation. He looked up from beneath his eyebrows. “But now we’re ghosts, right, Trosper?”

“Not really,” said the man explaining. He swung an arm out to indicate the other three with them. “You have some people who care about you.” From her leaning spot inside the doorway, Hydraia curtseyed with gentility. Her shadow of a smile was rueful yet accepting. “You know, if it makes you feel any better, I’m a ghost too. But I guessed it was coming.”

Former Alpha Technician Arriba released a slow puff of breath. “New best friends. I’m glad.” She continued to ponder her answers, chin up. She fiddled with a seatbelt and used it to indicate her and her partner. “And the two of us will be on retainer?”

Trosper nodded again as he answered, “With none of the paperwork.”

A strange light kindled in Arriba’s eyes. “No paperwork?”

Trosper shook his head to the same degree as his nod. “No paperwork. A special bonus for being undead.”

T. Vadr looked at the ship like it wasn’t even floating around him. “Then why do I feel so alive?”

R. Arriba gave him a cagey look. “You might want to have that checked.”

Trosper let a smile grow by an exact inch. “It’s your choice. Choose your company, choose your consequences.”

Both ex-soldiers narrowed their eyes at each other, looked mean, and knocked on metal. “We’ve had a lot of those,” said R. Arriba. “He says, and I say, that this is okay.” Arriba put her fingertips on the ship’s walls, appearing to absorb life force from them, and become one with them. “We’ll just do this.”

Trosper did not nod or anything as he replied, “These are unusual circumstances.” Arriba thought she saw a flash of regret. “We’re unusual people.”

Vadr showed the depths of unrest beneath his eyes. “How lucky,” he said.

Trosper jerked his head down a fraction, sharp then slow. “All kinds of lucky.”

The two actually smiled. “The deal is good.”

39 \ 127

With the motion of the ship at stable velocity, the redhead in a skirt suit felt like she was sitting still; maybe a few hairs wafting.  She looked at the driver to her left.  “How long am I trapped in here with you?” she asked with dry amusement.

Derringer smiled serenely.  “Until we reach your destination, or something terrible happens.”

Karma’s head rolled back along with a smooth yet sudden acceleration.  “I wasn’t aware that this is how you drive.”

Through his mustache and dark curls, he beamed in no particular direction, then swiveled his head to look at Karma from an angle. “Right now is special!”

Her smile bloomed into a grin beneath astonished eyebrows. “I’m thrilled! And… so on.”

Derringer blinked softly, like a unicorn. “Good.”