Coffee Break Read – Joining The Team

There was a tap on the door, breaking into his thoughts and Jaz got up from the bunk to open it.
Marche Taram. With that larger than life painted-on smile. Chola would have loved it, even he never managed to keep that kind of dental display going on for so long.
“Just making sure everything’s alright for you, Vor Baldrik. And to let you know we’re now in FTL waiting on your further instructions.”
Jaz nodded and moved to the door. She stood aside so he could make his way back to the cramped social room. Her team was all there, around the small table, heads turned towards him like he was some visiting head of state. The respect in their eyes was real. Then these people had no idea he had been coming apart for the last year or more. It was like they still saw him as he had been at his height. Then he could have named his own terms of employment with just about any class merc unit operating out of the ‘City.
It was a weird kind of feeling, almost like their thinking it about him made it a reality. And maybe it was. Because whatever else those bastards in that clinic had put in his brain, they had also taken out much of the poison that five years of living hell in the Specials had injected deep into his system. That and the gruesome time he had spent in the ‘City afterwards, trying to make people more afraid of him than of their own death.
That was a very long walk from the kind of things these people were going to be admiring him for. They would be thinking of his mercenary career and that had been spotless. He’d always run with the best. Shone amongst them.
The Marche woman and the three sitting at the table were still looking at him expectantly. He shoved the nagging thoughts down in the back of his mind.
“Thanks. You did good.”
Their nods were curt but Jaz could see they absorbed the praise like parched ground in rain.
“Gil, Cran and Ruse,” the Marche woman introduced the others briefly.
It was a small table with room for four around it. Marche took the last space and made a small gesture to one of the two men, Ruse, who scooted to his feet and stepped back, making room for Jaz. It would have been rude not to take the seat.
“So, where you people based?” he asked as he sat down.
It was clear there was some kind of family connection here. Two of the team—a man and a woman, Cran and Gil—both shared the same look as Marche and both looked younger than she was. But at least neither seemed to smile as much. The fourth, Ruse, was a man who seemed kind of attached to the woman called Gil, from the way he stood in so close to her, hands on the back of her chair. It was almost as if he thought Jaz might want to make a move on her.
“We have a bay rent on Invercallus,” Marche was saying. “That’s for the ship and our gear. But we stick in the ‘City mostly, ‘cos that’s the best place to pick up work, even better than the underlink.”
Jaz nodded. He knew Invercallus. In his earliest mercenary days, when he was fresh out of the regular forces, he’d run with a couple of teams based out of there. It was a low-pop mostly desert world that made its sole living from being a cheap abutment to several nearby well-to-do Middle Worlds with more expensive docking prices. It was where you went if you were a merc team just starting out and couldn’t yet manage the cost of being based even in one of the dreg areas of the ‘City’s spaceport—or maybe could afford that but had too much pride to be seen in such a place.
“Then how ’bout you take me there? I need a quiet place for a bit and if you need me to pay rent,” he gave a slight shrug, “I can offer you consultancy or hands-on assistance with whatever you’ve got running.”
That made all their eyes go big. It was like a professional sports star had just offered to play with them in their local amateur ballgame.

From Not To Be, the penultimate book in both the Iconoclast trilogy and the Fortune’s Fools series, by E.M. Swift-Hook.

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