Excerpt from "How She Got Her Name"

“I swear this one is true. Trust me.”

Trust you?” She raised a slantwise smile. “You don’t have a clue what’s true. We’ve already proven those damn…facts get in the way.”

“You’re not listening to me again, girl.” I said and knocked back the rest of my drink. “Those facts make everything a lot more interesting. Take your time to look deeper and always remember that it really happened to someone or something.”

She was a short, skinny blonde waif, not long unshackled from her adolescence, hypercute in a way that could be exhausting, and she snickered under her breath. Quite obviously she was trying not to stay mad at me, even though we’d only met that morning; after weeks, she’d found the first pilot who could possibly give her a ride out to the Rim and I’d laughed in her face. Then she tried to show her street cred by telling me she was a hooker on the Hachan orbital and how after getting beat up so much, finally killed a john and made it ex-orbit with his wallet, ended up on this gods-forsaken rock. I laughed again, but she sure as hell didn’t think it was funny and that made me reconsider.

Then she moped in my vicinity all day, like a kicked dog, hoping for a direct hit with those expressive green eyes too big for her face. Even if the ask wasn’t utterly ridiculous, time was ticking down on Rannyar. Kell made it clear I was not to be late.

I’d let her hang because I was in the mood to play her like a tiring marlin; what singular fortune to be the first person I’d talked to after a fifty three days benchmarking dark matter clusters! She was coy about asking me again for a hitch—and that explained why she was listening to my rants—but she was going to ask, that was clear, and I was still going to say no when Beats Working’s makeover was complete. I sure as hell didn’t need a tag-a-long because there’s no shittier duty than returning to Kell’s magic kingdom for assignment. Too bad for her that I’d wanted to talk and be an ass, but when the Multiverse rat fucks you, it all flows downhill.

 “Do you want to hear the story or not?” I looked at my Movado. “Skann will have the ramstats finished in an hour or so, and I won’t be back this way.”

“Why not?” She didn’t say anything else for a while but glanced up at me three times, a fourth, gauging how best to pitch the deal. “OK…here’s the deal. If I don’t like it, take me as far as Masaq’ orbital. I’ll stand a better chance of getting out to the Rim, anywhere other than here.”

 “I’m going the other way, so take or leave it. The Rim’ll always be out there.” I held up two fingers under a nearby lighting cylinder; even though it was midafternoon, the bar had long since blacked all its transparencies against radiation from the system’s blue giant. Two drinks appeared. “You’ll lose, you know, if you’re honest with yourself.”

“No, I won’t. Facts, y’know.” She looked around the deserted tilt-up barroom, sniffed her booze, and endorsed it with a shrug. Drank. It had to have been so much better than the sweet, fizzy, blood-orange shit she’d been drinking all day on my dime, but I also remembered Malibu Chill, Buzz Balls, hard lemonade: Earth’s crossover crap that greased the transition from pop to pops. Earthans were fucking philistines and even I, a card-carrying native, could cop to that.

“And…?” she flipped long, fly-away ash-blonde hair from her face.

“And what?”

“And if I lose, the regular? But I don’t swallow. That OK with you?”

What an orthogonal conversation. She was either clueless or trying to be overly-hip. Then I suddenly realized what she was getting at and must have blushed. “That’s just stupid. Promise me you’ll never say that in front of equally stupid people.”

“OK,” she conceded after a moment’s consideration, thumped the PVC bar top with the base of her cylinder. “Another story, then.”