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Andromeda spent the rest of the day buying and trading. Her pod sold for a fair price, and with the addition of some of her savings she picked up a two-man pod with more cargo room and greater agility. She planned to be deepspace for a long time on her next voyage. She also gathered a number of other supplies to sustain her in the barren void.
Next, Andromeda stopped in to the Charles Gateway Trading booth to sell off her other shard crystals. She stood haggling with the dealer when a familiar voice interrupted from behind her.
“I thought we contracted you to find shards, Miss Cunningham,” the voice was smooth and cruel.
Andromeda turned around to face the man. He was clad in a clean new vapor suit with a blue cloak that hung from his shoulders. His finely groomed and curled mustache mirrored his wicked smile.
“From what I hear you’ve been gallivanting about the far reaches of the outer rim and only have a handful of shards to show for it.”
“I’ve done enough to fulfill my contract with you people. Charles Gateway doesn’t own me,” she had little patience for the company representative who knew nothing about star travel, shard collecting, or what it was like to lose a partner.
“A mere thirty shards just barely covers your contract. When we hired you I was under the impression that you were the best in the business.”
“Maybe you should spend less time listening to shit on the street and more time getting your hands dirty like the rest of us,” Andromeda retorted.
“Tsk’, tsk’, my dear, we all have our role to play, and mine is to make sure you mangy vagabonds bring your returns back to Charles Gateway,” the man approached the attendant to whom Ande’ had been dealing and inquired about the trade.
“Go to Hell Donnavan, I’m done here anyway,” Andromeda turned back to the glaring sands of the market.
“Not so fast Ande’” Donnavan called after her. His smile had faded; he was no longer interested in games. “You may have brought in enough shards to keep your contract, but that doesn’t fulfill all of your obligations with Charles Gateway.”
The younger woman stopped in her tracks and cursed under her breath.
“You haven’t yet taken an apprentice,” he continued.
“Not now Donnavan, I can’t have some wet behind the ears green-stick tagging along with me. I don’t have time for this,” she turned again and started to march away.
“Seven hundred credits is hardly enough to get you back to the rim, not to stay for any length of time anyway.” Donnavan’s devilish smile returned.
Again she paused. He was right. She had spent her savings on the new pod and the first part of her supplies, but it only bought her three weeks on the rim at best.
“You know I can adjust that for you. Let’s say I gave you full price on those shards you just sold us, forget about the cuts. That would buy you an extra four weeks at least.”
“What’s in it for you,” she scowled. Corporate traders like him were scheming bastards out to line their own wallets.
“I have a very special apprentice for you, my cousin Aaron here,” as he spoke a man approached him in a brand new shard harness. His equipment was top of the line, but didn’t fit him well, making him appear clumsy. It was immediately clear to Andromeda that he had never gathered a shard in his life.
“Go to Hell Donnavan,” Andromeda replied again as she walked away.
“What’s the matter dear, still mourning that poor sap you left behind out on the rim?” before Donnavan finished speaking he found himself racing backwards as a glowing energy field pushed him violently through the market. On the other side of the field the enraged Andromeda tightly gripped her tach-rod as they both sped through the crowds, knocking over tables and pushing aside small shuttles.
With a violent thud Donnavan’s back collided against the side of a massive cliff well outside the market. He could see the rage of the young woman through the glowing energy field that pushed against him, pinning him to the rock. Aaron few up from behind using a pair of short hand held tach-rods.
The glowing field disappeared. Donnavan looked up just in time to meet Andromeda’s fist as it collided with his face.
“Wait, wait,” he cowered. The rookie landed with a thud behind her and grabbed Andromeda’s arm as she readied for another blow. She threw the boy off with ease as his balance was poor in his oversized suit.
“Ande’ wait, lets make a deal,” Donnavan pleaded again.
“Why would I deal with an asshole like you?” she replied backing off slightly as her temper cooled. That first punch had felt really good.
“For one, this little outburst could cost you your contract, and another, I know how badly you want to get back out there. But I’m not letting you go off without fulfilling your obligations.”
“You’ve got five seconds,” she replied coldly glancing at the youthful amateur as he struggled to get back on his feet.
“What say we settle it the way you shard seekers do, with a friendly contest,” Donnavan rose to his feet still holding his bruised chest and checking his rapidly swelling eye, “I can’t compete with you, obviously, but I’ll provide someone who can. If you win you can trade your shards at full price plus a thousand credits and be on your way. If my man wins you get the same only you take the boy with you when you go.”
Andromeda glared at the man.
“Have your man meet me on the east plane at noon.”