This is another short slice of the first book in the trilogy I am planning to publish in the summer…
My chicas closed up behind me.
“Rock steady, now,” I muttered, trying for friendly eye contact and receiving hard stares in return.
Someone shouted something I couldn’t catch. Whatever it was passed for wit down here. It was followed by an explosion of noisy laughter and a fusillade of crude comments from the rabble clustered around the graffiti-covered alcho bars that lined the plaza.
“Need to blue-shift our bods back up to Trader Level,” muttered Alita, treading on my heels.
“Easy…” I answered, trying to close down this conversation before my companions talked themselves into doing something stupid. Like being the least bit afraid.
These Dreggers will smell fear quicker than a miner probe can tag a seam.
“Makes you feel all warm’n fuzzy, does it? Handing out your pocket-change to our nippers?” snapped a pale-faced girl.
I raised my hands, palms out. “Hey, no harm meant, señorita.”
“For sure,” Donice added, solid at my side.
The Dreggers closing in looked even more sullen – if that were possible.
A man snaked his rank-smelling arm around my shoulders. “And where d’you call home, flower-face?”
Don’t stiffen. Remember to smile. He’s human, same as me. Even if he doesn’t smell it.
“Service Level,” I lied. “Reckon we’ve taken a couple of wrong turns.” I had to breathe through my mouth at the blasts of foul air he exhaled.
“I could put you right. For a price.” His grin looked like something out of a horrorvid.
“Gracias, but I’m sure we can find our own way back, señor.” I tried to ease away, but his arm stayed firmly across my shoulders.
“Nah. We can’t have you girlies wandering round here. Who knows what might happen?”
A tow-headed teenager welded to Bilge-Breath’s other side sniggered.
“We can take care of ourselves.” Donice didn’t bother to hide her irritation as she jostled my elbow, plunging her hand into her jacket pocket. Efra and Alita bunched up behind her, facing outwards, immediately defensive.
I tried to quell their twitchiness with a quick shake of my head.
The Cap will break orbit if he hears we drew our weaponry down here.
“You wouldn’t’ve come zoo-gazing down here in the first place if you an’ your up-swept friends weren’t so prodding stupid,” snapped Pale Girl.
An answering mutter of agreement rustled through the gang and the knot in my gut tightened.
We’re not zoo-gazing! Though I had the crawling notion it probably looked like it to this lot.
I kept trying to make eye contact with each Dregger blocking our path. “Please. Step away. We don’t want no trouble. Just let us go. We’re sorry for sullying your airspace.”
But no one moved, as they all stared back blank-faced.
Except Bilge-Breath, whose grin displayed a mouthful of blackened stumps as he finally released me. “Ain’t goin’ to happen, flower-face. We found you wandering all lost-like where you pretties got no business bein’.”
Tow-Headed Teener giggled loudly.
My stomach heaved as I caught a full faceful of Bilge-Breath’s halitosis.
He grinned wider, probably mistaking my nausea for hesitance. “An’ so we’ll take real good care’ve you, won’t we, Milla?”
“Hell, yeah. Your mamas and papas gonna be real glad to get you girlies back.” Milla finally cracked a grin.
Bilge-Breath was evidently fond of the sound of his own voice, “Bet they’ll be majorly generous, too. Where jer say you was from, again? I reckon-ˮ
“Pining for more brig-time, Norby?”
Bilge-Breath froze at the interruption. The rest of the Dreggers glanced back at the man who’d spoken. So did I.
And I was lost.