“We have a buyer,” Atom reached for the bowl of mashed potatoes. “I told you we’d get a good price out here. Our broker takes seven percent and we net eighteen-three. At four cuts that’s just shy of five thou apiece. And that’s after we fill our hold for the next run.”
“Four cuts?” Shi asked around a mouthful of fresh braised beef.
Atom scooped a pile of steaming potatoes onto his plate and added a smaller amount to Margo’s. “One for each of you,” he pointed to Shi and Byron with the heavy, plastic serving spoon. “One for me. One for the Ticket.”
“Ship gets a cut?” Shi propped her foot up on the bench and popped a spiraled bean into her mouth.
“It covers upkeep and then I don’t have to ask you for a portion of your cut when something goes wrong. Ships always need love. If I stash aside from each job we’ll always have the money to cover fuel and repairs.”
“I thought that’s what he was for,” Shi nodded at Byron, who ate his food in silence, ignoring the others.
“He can fix anything, but he needs the parts to do that.”
“Oh, yeah,” she agreed.
“Best angle of this deal is we’ve got the next cargo lined up.”
“So why you keepin’ me ‘round fer all this?” Shi swirled her potatoes with a finger. “I kill folk and keep other folk from killin’ the likes a those who pay right. You’re just humpin’ stuff along the Fingers.
“No danger in what yer aimin’,” she opened her emerald eyes wide.
“You never know,” Atom gave a light laugh. “I may go a pirating one of these days and you’ll sure come in hand with that.”
Shi frowned. “Reckon it would be better prof if we come away clean.”
“I don’t plan on pirating, but I’ve no qualms with a stand up fight,” Atom scooped a spoonful of mashed potatoes topped with a small sliver of meat into Margo’s mouth. “I’ve been in these skies long enough to know you’re never truly safe. There’s always a need for one more gun in a fight. The One Way Ticket doesn’t run heavily armed, but that sure doesn’t mean we lack teeth.”
“So darl, what’s our next order of op,” Byron asked, surprising the others after his lengthy silence. They stared at him.
“What?” he demanded. “Where I sprout it’s crude to stuff yer gob and spit. We wait ‘til our gullets is stuffed, then we convo.”
“Don’t expect us to follow that,” Atom flicked an eyebrow as he stuffed a bite in his mouth. “As long as our talking and eating doesn’t bother you too much.”
“Your question,” Atom gulped from his mug and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “We wait for the business to wrap up here and then, with our cargo hold stuffed with stasis beef, we make for the Knuckles. We might even make it all the way to the Palm, depending on pricing.
“I’ll have Kozue track the market and we’ll follow the heaviest chit,” he reclined in the booth and rested his hands on his lean stomach with a contented sigh.
“Don’t get used to this, though,” he closed his eyes as a slight smile played across his face. “Spacers don’t get to eat this good very often. I know we’ll have a hold full of stasis, but every bite cuts into our profits.”
“Our base eats is better’n the slop they feed ya in the fleet,” Shi chipped in, stuffing another bite of steak into her mouth. “This is heaven.”
Byron shot her a nervous glance.
“Don’t fret it, By,” Atom opened his eyes a crack to catch the look. “Spacer fare will keep you running and it won’t kill you. Fact is, it might not be the tastiest mash you’ll eat, but it’ll be packed with everything you need to function at a top notch.
“I’ll make sure we eat like this as often as we can squeak it,” he pointed at the food on the table. “Just remember, the longer we sit, the better we eat.
“But the less we make,” he slid from the booth. “Take care of your own dishes. By, you’re on cook detail tomorrow. Impress me.”
* * *
The sun drifted toward the horizon and the temperature slid into a more comfortable range. With the approach of evening, the ever present, dusty winds tailed off to light zephyrs and created a pleasant atmosphere for the inhabitants of Rommel. The streets of the city thronged with people, but their pace lacked the frenzied, business oriented drive of the daylight hours.
Atom strolled, floating among the citizens enjoying the cool of the evening.
Along the streets, both main and side, businesses closed and restaurants opened. Atom passed them by as the outdoor tables filled with laughing people. He allowed the noise and hubbub to soothe his mind. As he studied the people, plans and ideas circulated through his thoughts.
“What should we do, Go?”
Margo looked straight up so she appeared upside down. She smiled at him, a gap toothed child’s smile of content happiness.
“You’re right,” Atom pondered. “I don’t know how deep this goes, so I need to come at it from another angle.”
“Angle,” Margo agreed, mimicking her father’s concentration.
“I need to know more about this… Did he ever give the name of the neighbor, Koze?”
“No, we were interrupted before that information was presented.”
“Can you dig?”
“Of course,” as Kozue spoke, Atom envisioned the tilt of her head in his mind.
“I wonder if there’s a good spot to grab some cocoa around here?”
“Just around the corner is a small café that is known for their light cocoa and crimpits.”
“I’ll take your word for that, but I’m sure Go and I could both use some settling,” Atom made for the café and found a small table off to the side with enough room for the pram.