Coffee Break Read – ‘The Freetrader’ from ‘No More Valour’ – A Fortune’s Fools story

'No More Valor' has yet to be published and this is an exclusive, previously unpublished extract from it. Names of people in the story are purely coincidental...

The small storage area he found empty,  built into the bulkhead between two of the cabins. It was a snug fit to squeeze himself in and he was grateful that the door was not airtight. This would be used to carry personal luggage for any passenger but he had seen the freetrader and she was travelling alone. He was fairly certain the vessel was not sophisticated enough to have weight sensors for the human occupancy area, so Durban was not too concerned that the storage might be investigated before take off.
It was uncomfortable, but he was exhausted. He had little rest the night before and then been up before dawn to travel to Keran from the port town of Vinbrith. Closing his eyes meaning to let himself relax a moment, Durban woke to the light of the open compartment hatch shining on him. His first thought was that he had made it off Temsevar but the voice he heard shattered that illusion immediately.
“Man, I could have done without this today. Alright, whoever you are, come out and keep your hands in clear view.”
The voice was male and Durban placed it as belonging to the individual in charge of the spaceport, Agernilio Tavi. Blinking a little he eased himself out of the cramped storage locker.
The freetrader with Tavi, a woman in her middle years, was wearing a slightly exasperated expression as if faced with a naughty schoolboy. The spaceport supervisor had a much less friendly expression, but it seemed ill-fitting on his round face, not something he was used to adopting. He spoke again, a hardness in his voice.
“Your stowaway, Ducky, what do you want to do with him?”
The energy snub the man held was aimed unwaveringly at Durban’s midriff. He would be fully within his right to use it. There was no ambiguity in the laws of space – a stowaway was classed as a potential hijacker or pirate and as such could be executed out of hand. For a moment Durban wondered if he had made the biggest miscalculation of his teenage life.
The freetrader shook her head. “I can’t say I blame anyone from here wanting to get off this planet. I would if I were born here. But this is not the way. What’s your name, kid?”
She didn’t sound as if she planned to order him shot, so he instinctively dropped into a bow, and spoke quickly.
“Durban Chola, Honoured One. And I had no intention of bringing any harm to you or your ship. And you are correct, I just wanted to get off world.”
The woman nodded, her gaze holding his own for a few long moments. Durban looked up at her from his kneeling pose and thought he could see some trace of amusement in her eyes.
“You can put the snub away, Gernie, I don’t think our stowaway is that dangerous.” She touched the man’s arm as she spoke. “And you can get up, youngster, it’s a bad look. You need to stop doing that grovelling if you really plan to get yourself off world. Good thing I spotted you as I’m not leaving for a couple of days yet and you would have got hungry fast in there.”
Hoping that meant he was out of the fire, Durban got to his feet, a smile of relief already creeping onto his face.
The man called Gernie still held the snub, but no longer looked quite so inclined to use it.
“So what do you want to do with him, Ducky?”
The freetrader smiled.
“I think we should go and get him a good meal in Micah’s and find out a bit more about him, what do you think?”
Gernie studied Durban for a few moments more then gave a slight shrug and put the snub away under his jacket.
“I think that could be a good call.”

A short time later Durban found himself sitting in the corner of one of the more luxurious taverns he had seen. Pinned, politely, in his seat by the two people sitting at the table opposite him. The food, when it came was good and having not eaten a full meal since before he boarded a ship in Harkera on the Western Continent to cross the Lesser Ocean, two moons before, Durban had to restrain himself from over-indulging. It was only as he cleaned his plate with a piece of bread and was eating that, he became aware that his two companions were watching him with amusement.
“Man you were hungry,” Gernie said shaking his head and grinning. Durban, hand half-lifted to his mouth with the last morsel of his meal managed to make himself look a little guilty.
“So where are you from?” Ducky, the freetrader, wanted to know.
Durban took a drink wondering how to answer. He put the goblet back down and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before replying.
“I came in by sea, from the Western Continent. Rode up from Vinbrith with a trader.”
“Big place the Western Continent,” Gernie observed. “Which bit of it did you come from?”
“I took ship from Harkera.”
Ducky nodded.
“What were you running away from?”
Durban decided the freetrader was much more perceptive and intelligent than he had first believed. He favoured her with his sunniest smile.
“If you are asking if I am a fugitive then the answer is no, not in any legal sense of the word at least. I am not running ‘from’ anyone – I am trying very hard to run ‘to’ somewhere.”
“To somewhere?” Ducky echoed.
“I want to go to the worlds beyond the stars,” Durban said without any hesitation. “I’ve heard there is a planet where there is high technology and not too much interest in who you are or where you came from.”
The other two exchanged looks and Gernie shook his head.
“Man, that is just talking crazy. You could never – I mean, ” he laughed briefly. “No. Just no. You would not survive ten seconds in that kind of place.”
Ducky had sat back in her chair and was looking at Durban with a very different expression.
“I agree with you there, Gernie, but what interests me a bit more is how this youngster even know that such places exist?”
Durban let his smile widen, keeping his tone benign whilst silently cursing her sharp mind.
“Temsevar is not completely without knowledge of what goes on beyond our atmosphere. There are tales in the taverns of the amazing wonders out there, the traders bring us news. News of places like Starcity.”
“The ‘City? Shit, kid you are out of your mind.”
Gernie and Ducky looked at each other, two grown-ups in a room with a child. Durban
worked hard to keep his expression ingenuous and open. Ducky shook her head.
“I give up my claim on this one,” she said. “He’s your problem, Gernie. And good luck with that.”

E.M. Swift-Hook

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