I shouldn’t have taken as much pleasure in the company man’s discomfort as I did but it was hard not to, especially with his burly blonde companion standing a respectful three paces behind him.
Gran rocked back in her chair, balance steady, before she nodded at Company Man. I kept snapping beans.
Her soft voice had a way of undoing the unsuspecting. The combination of her bulk and broad brown arms scarred from burn marks from her years in the ship yards made it easy to assume she was nothing more than a grease monkey.
Company Man drew himself up officiously. “We need skilled labor, welders in particular. Anyone with experience working with high density metals.”
Gran’s snort cut him off before he could continue. “Dirty work that you and yours don’t have the hands for.” She grinned when he fidgeted uncomfortably. “There’s no shame in admitting you ain’t got a clue as to what you’re doing.”
Company Man’s companion laughed and said, “You might want to let me talk now, sa.”
He reminded me of an old lover I’d known when I was younger and feeling immortal, boosting from state to state for work. Moderns looked down on us for the nomadic lifestyle even as they envied it.
Company Man turned on his heel and stalked back to his transport muttering something nasty, but I paid him no mind. I’d heard worse by the time I was ten and laying down my first seam at my mother’s knee.
“You can’t have had much luck with that one with you,” I said. “He’s not patient.”
“Go easy on him. He pissed off another highborn and got this assignment.” Our guest sat on the stairs at Gran’s waved invitation, and then pulled a small linen bag out of his pocket. I accepted it and shook two pieces of metal bent into shallow arches into my palm.
Age and time had dulled Gran’s sense of touch so it fell to me to read our guest’s calling card. I’d come young to the craft and made Master once I was home. When I moved in with Gran she swore she didn’t need minding but welcomed my company anyway.
We both chose to ignore the pills and tinctures lining the top of her dresser.
I ran my fingers over the metal, noting the very shallow knick near the apex of one; a minimal flaw in an otherwise acceptable sample.
“Looks good,” I observed, slipping the pieces back in the bag and handing it over. “What’s the offer?”
“Standard pay plus incentives. Your grandmother’s got the way of it. Highborns don’t have the skills so they’ve come begging.”
“Metal’s metal,” Gran said sagely. “Don’t matter if it comes from an asteroid or from good old Earth.”
“Truth, ma’am,” he replied with a sly grin. “There’s a chance to teach some of the cast offs from the mid families if you’re interested. Heavy work and better pay’s reserved for people like your granddaughter.”
“Sounds fair.” I wiped my hands on my apron. “Throw in a place on the first ship outbound and we’re square.”
His eyebrows went up at the bold request. “You…” he began but I stopped him.
“Not for me. My little sister.”
I wasn’t leaving Earth, but Ytunde was looking star ward. She already was thinking about how she could score a ride to the Mojave Spaceport so she could take her shot with the rest.
“Ever since Molly escaped with the plans for her master’s dirigible sewn into her skirts, the Fancy women have always made a way.”Family lore that contained a truth: if there was a chance that I could earn my sister a seat outbound I wasn’t going to pass it up.
I went back to snapping beans. “What’s your name?” I asked absently.
Gran made a ‘tch’ sound. “I knew an Astrid Marquette a long time ago. Thought you looked familiar.”
“Think your company man will agree, Mr. Marquette?”
“I’ll lead him to it gently,” Bron replied thoughtfully.
I nodded towards the transport. “Bring him in where it’s cool. We’ll hammer out the details over dinner.”
We stood and he took my hand in his, callouses tickling my palm. “We might work together,” I said.
“We might at that. Might even make a good team.”
He let go and walked down the stairs towards the transport.
“Maybe,” I murmured at his retreating back before stooping to pick up my bowl of beans.