Milk Run (Smuggler's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Book 1)

BOOK: Milk Run (Smuggler's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Book 1)
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


This book and parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise—without prior written permission of the publisher, except as provided by the United States of America copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual persons, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.

Visit us on the web at:

Copyright © 2016 by Nathan Lowell
Cover Art J. Daniel Sawyer
Cover art by
Artistic Whispers

First Printing: August, 2016


Books in the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper Series
Trader Tales

Quarter Share
Half Share
Full Share
Double Share
Captain’s Share
Owner’s Share

Seeker's Tales

In Ashes Born
To Fire Called
By Darkness Forged

Smuggler's Tales

Milk Run
Suicide Run
Home Run

Shaman Tales

South Coast
Cape Grace

Fantasy by Nathan Lowell

Zypheria’s Call
The Hermit of Lammas Wood
* Forthcoming

To my friend, Kay Persichitte.
She guided me from the sidelines,
inspired me by her example,
and asked the questions that brought me here.

Chapter 1
Port Newmar: 2363, May-25

Natalya Regyri watched the teacup topple from her hand and crash to the floor. It felt like slow motion. Something captured by a high-speed camera for her later perusal in forensic dissection. Shards of white and red skittered across the smooth wooden planks as the tea splashed and stained them. Droplets of tea fell into the pool of blood. The man’s eyes stared, flat and unresponsive as it spread beneath his head.

“Natalya, what happ—” Zoya’s voice cut off with a quick, harsh, indrawn breath.

“He fell,” Natalya said, her voice faint, barely a whisper. “I touched him and he fell.”

Margaret Newmar appeared at Natalya’s elbow as if risen from between the planks of her studio. “What have you done?” Margaret’s voice echoed in Natalya’s ears.

“I broke your cup.”

Margaret snorted a disbelieving laugh. She grasped Natalya’s upper arm and pulled her back from the fluids expanding across the floor. “Not the cup, dear girl.” Shouldering her way in front of Natalya, she reached down and placed two of her ancient fingers against the side of Purvis’s neck. She waited only a moment before pulling her hand back. Not really long enough to tell, was it? She glanced up at Zoya. “Get her out of here. Wait outside.” Her voice came sharp. Used to giving commands. Used to being obeyed.

“Yes, ma’am,” Zoya said and took Natalya’s wrist. “Come on, Nats.” She tugged and Natalya felt herself being led, a balloon on a string bouncing across the floor.

“I broke her cup.”

Zoya extended her arm to take her friend’s shoulders and pushed her along.

Outside the tai chi studio, night cloaked the campus. The revelry of graduation had faded, the graduates themselves off to begin their new adventures. Natalya and Zoya should have been among them, but when Margaret Newmar—founding family Margaret Newmar,
Margaret Newmar—singled you out to have one last cup of tea, you went. Natalya went. Zoya went.

They’d found the honor had extended to a wider family of Newmar associates and students. Senior captains, sharp-faced women with hard eyes. Solid men with flat bellies and cold faces. Students like Andrew Purvis. Purvis the Pervert. The one man no woman ever wanted to be stuck in a room alone with.

The one man sprawled now on the smooth, wooden planks of the tai chi studio, a pool of blood spreading under his head, his eyes staring—the shattered remains of Margaret Newmar’s antique bone china teacup strewn beside him. The one man who’d been alone with Natalya in the tiny galley at the rear of the studio.

“What happened, Nats?” Zoya’s face floated in the darkness, a pale moon suspended above her dress blacks, her eyes dark as the night.

“I touched him. I didn’t even push him. I wanted to get to the sink and he stood in the way.” Natalya’s voice felt like it came from someone else. She couldn’t speak on her own. Someone else must have been talking.

“You touched him,” Zoya repeated.

“A hand on his chest to keep him from grabbing me.”

Zoya shook her head. “How did he fall?”

“I touched him. He just fell backward.”

The door opened. Margaret Newmar stood silhouetted in the light for a moment before stepping out to join them. Her silk dress glowed yellow in the starlight, her back stiff, her face a mask. “Is your ship ready to go?”

Natalya shook her head once to try to make sense of the words. “My ship?”

? Is it ready to go?”

The non sequitur made Natalya’s head spin. “Yes, but what about—”

“His name isn’t Purvis. He’s not a student.”

“Of course he’s a student. He was in my Orbital Mechanics class.” Natalya glanced at Zoya for confirmation.

Ms. Newmar shook her head. “That was his cover. His name was Michael Gavin.”

“His cover?”

“He was undercover. Trade Investigation Commission.”

Zoya’s eyes went wide. “He’s TIC?”

TIC,” Newmar said with emphasis on the first word. She looked at Natalya. “And you killed him.”

“But I just touched him. He fell down.” Natalya shook her head. “I couldn’t have killed him. I couldn’t.”

Margaret’s expression shifted to something unreadable. Her lips pressed into a line and the shadows around her eyes deepened. “Between you and me and Ms. Usoko here, I don’t think you did. I have no idea what happened in that room.” She shook her head slowly from side to side. “Unfortunately, one of those senior captains in there was his boss. As far as he’s concerned, Gavin couldn’t have killed himself and you were the only one with him.” Her sigh was barely audible over the quiet whispering of the night wind in the leaves above them.

“But I didn’t.”

“But you did file a grievance against him,” Margaret said.

Natalya’s stomach turned cold. “Yes. Second year. He was—”

Newmar held up one graceful hand, a white bird fluttering in the night. “I know what he was. You have a motive. You have an opportunity. You’re trained in three different forms of unarmed combat.” She paused to sigh again and smile sadly. “You’re the best fighter we’ve graduated in half a century.”

“But I don’t want to be a fighter. It’s just an exercise.”

“I know. You’re also one of the best engineers we’ve graduated in decades, but that’s all moot right now, my dear.” She paused and her face tightened again. “You killed an undercover TIC agent with his boss in the next room. What do you think will happen?”

The night seemed to spin around her. Her head felt like somebody had pulled her brain out of her ears and replaced it with wet clay. She couldn’t think. She could barely breathe.

“Is your ship ready to go?” Margaret repeated.

Natalya struggled for a breath. “I just need to get my grav-trunk and get aboard. I planned on leaving tomorrow.”

Margaret looked at Zoya. “What did you see tonight?”

Zoya shook her head. “Not a thing.”

Their hostess’s smile looked a bit thin. “Work on that answer.”

Zoya’s eyes grew wider still. “You think I’m responsible somehow?”

Margaret shook her head. “I don’t think either of you is responsible. What I think doesn’t matter.” She nodded at the door. “They’re going to go sub-orbital in about two more minutes. If I were you, I’d be burning for the Burleson limit right now.”

Natalya tried to speak but couldn’t get her mouth to move.

Zoya took a half step forward. “But where could we go? If we dock anywhere ...” She shrugged. “They’re not going to just let us walk away.”

“Where’s your tablet?” Margaret asked.

Zoya pulled it out of the holster, the pale light of the screen casting her face in a blue-white glow.

Margaret’s fingers flashed on her own device and Zoya’s machine bipped. “File for anywhere. Someplace in Ciroda, maybe. I just sent you the coordinates you need to get to and your contact’s name. Don’t tell anybody where you’re going. It’s out of TIC jurisdiction but don’t linger.”

Zoya looked at her screen. “Wait, you mean me, too?”

Margaret gave a tired chuckle. “Unless you want to spend the next ten stanyers trying to explain why your roommate killed an undercover TIC agent.”

Natalya heard a man’s voice raised inside the studio and Margaret glanced over her shoulder.

“I can give you about half a stan. Maybe.”

Natalya’s face felt hot and her head didn’t seem to want to stay solidly on her shoulders. The night kept zooming around her.

The scream of a shuttle coming in for a nighttime landing at the campus spaceport cut across the sky.

“There’s your ride. They’ll turn that bird around and you need to be on it when it leaves.”

Zoya stashed her tablet and nodded. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Margaret shook her head. “I’m not doing you any favors, but at least you’ll not spend the rest of your lives in prison.”

“But I didn’t do it.” Natalya’s voice sounded like a whisper to her own ears.

Ms. Newmar patted her shoulder. “You know it and I know it, but this is TIC. They’re not going to rest until somebody pays. Right now, that somebody looks a lot like you.” She leaned in close to Natalya’s face. “There’s nothing you can do here except sacrifice yourself on their altar of hubris. You and Ms. Usoko here get on that shuttle, take your ship, and disappear fast.”

Zoya took Natalya’s arm and gave a little tug. “Come on, Nats. She’s right. We have to be on that shuttle.”

Natalya let herself be towed and stumbled along the darkened path. “I didn’t do it.”

Zoya sighed. “I know, Nats. I know.”

Chapter 2
Port Newmar: 2363, May-25
BOOK: Milk Run (Smuggler's Tales From The Golden Age Of The Solar Clipper Book 1)
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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