Sometimes even the simplest of tasks go awry. Important business takes space pilot Margarita King and her companions to ZetiTau, the galaxy’s Central Bank. An efficient, strictly-controlled planet. Customers show up. Conduct their business. Spend a few credits. Leave. Exactly the way banking should be conducted. Too bad not everyone agrees. Double Cross takes Margarita and her friends deep into the strange heart of ZetiTau banking where few have gone before.
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Copyright © 2018 by Charley Marsh
All rights reserved.
Published 2018 by Timberdoodle Press.
Double Cross is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and places are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For more information contact the publisher: http://timberdoodlepress.com/
All rights reserved
E-Book ISBN# 978-1-945856-24-2
Print Book ISBN# 978-1-945856-25-9
Cover Art: dreamstime.com
Publisher Logo by Peter Corbin
Books By Charley Marsh
About the Author
Margarita King, ace pilot, ex Major, ex Red Baron, guided her ship, the Junkyard Dog, into its assigned docking slip on ZetiTau.
Originally named the Pacifica, the Dog technically still belonged to the Mars-based OGSP—Office of Galactic Safety and Police, known across the galaxy as the Red Barons. But since someone she worked with had purposely sent her out to die in the Pacifica, Rita had felt it only fair to keep the ship when she survived.
She had promptly renamed it to reflect her disgust and anger toward her former employers. Junkyard dogs were tough. Survivors.
Just like herself.
A loud clunk jarred Rita’s feet as the docking slip grabbed onto the ship. She shut everything down and sat for a moment, listening to the pings and pops of cooling, shifting metal as the Dog settled into its temporary berth.
An older prototype ship, it had been tested and rejected for the Viking-class fleet of OGSP enforcer ships. The Dog possessed a streamlined hull which limited the number of crew to eight, but its best feature as far as Rita was concerned was that it could be operated by a single pilot.
Rita had fallen in love with the ship’s interior her first test flight. Designed after the ancient sailing ships on old Earth in a material that mimicked both the look and the smooth, natural feel of teakwood, the bunks, storage and equipment compartments, food prep, and bath fit together like the pieces of the antique jigsaw puzzles her mother once collected.
The interior possessed a unique, artistic flair missing in any other ship Rita had flown. Over the last year she had become attuned to every nuance of the ship in a way that made her feel that they were partners.
The ship stopped its pinging. Satisfied that all was as it should be, Rita slipped from the molded gel helm seat and stretched her six-two frame. It was time to make preparations to disembark.
The trip to ZetiTau had been filled with risk. Pirates trolled the most well-used approaches to the planet, looking for ships to attack and rob. The routes were rich hunting grounds. Anyone headed to ZetiTau carried something valuable.
The Junkyard Dog was no exception. Rita and her shipmates had a small fortune in uncut precious gemstones to deposit in the Central Bank.
For that reason Rita had flown a convoluted course to the planet which had involved several extra, stressful days. She had one unfortunate encounter with a determined pirate that forced her to play cat and mouse until she lost him in an out-of-the-way debris field.
Unable to leave the helm during those days, Rita’s skin now prickled from dried layers of stress sweat. Her short dark hair clung to her head. The sour odor rising from her body offended her. She was in desperate need of a cleanse and a fresh skinsuit.
The ZetiTaus were a fastidious tribe and would refuse to conduct business with her if she approached them in this state.
She used the cleanser and dryer tube and dressed in a clean skinsuit woven from spidersilk—a substance impervious to anything short of a nova blast.
She had paid an outrageous sum for her skinsuits, and had also purchased matching boots constructed from a combination of Moondor sharkskin and kevlar—but the protection they afforded made any price a bargain.
The skinsuits alone had saved her life more than once. That made them priceless to her.
It was time to wake up her companions. Rita pressed a hidden button in the wall and a bunk door slid inside the bulkhead, revealing three sleeping bodies. She had tried to assign them three separate bunks but they had insisted they would feel more comfortable sleeping together so she’d allowed it.
First to awaken was Darwin, Rita’s shadow-creature, an alien being so rare they were considered mythological. With the body of a dog, a lionlike head, and two tails, Darwin looked like a genetic mess, thus her name for him.
Shadow-creatures chose one lifelong companion and communicated telepathically. At the time Rita hadn’t realized what an honor it was when Darwin’s pack had chosen her to rescue their hurt pup.
Darwin had repaid her kindness several times over. One of his talents was an acute nose for impending danger, a talent she had come to depend on. Now he helped watch over Rita’s companions with the same awareness.
The shadow-creature’s amber eyes opened and looked at her. She swore she saw a smile on his lion-shaped face.
“It’s good to see you, Darwin. I’m about to wake the others.”
Hello Ree. Is all well?
“Yes. I had a little trouble with a persistent pirate but I managed to lose him. We are now docked on Zeti-Tau.”
Lexa, a young, blue-skinned Weegan, opened her eyes at the sound of Rita’s voice. After Rita had saved Lexa’s village from a band of mercenaries Lexa had asked to join Rita on the Dog.
Weegans were excellent diagnosticians and could fix almost anything with their long, slender fingers and toes. Rita had welcomed Lexa’s lively company as well as her skills.
“Hi, Rita! Are we there yet? I’m hungry. Yani, wake up!” Lexa sat up and reached for the still sleeping translator and crystal worker.
Darwin licked Yani’s smooth cheek. The translator’s emerald-green eyes popped opened, bright against her ebony skin. She stretched and yawned, then sat up and smiled at Rita and the others.
“We must be on Zeti-Tau or I wouldn’t have this imp bouncing on the bunk.” Yani grinned affectionately at Lexa and ran her hand over Darwin’s wiry fur. Despite their difference in ages and cultures Lexa and Yani had become close friends.
Rita was relieved to see that Yani suffered no residual ill effects from her ordeal in the Ruby City. She got everyone fed and cleaned up and laid out her plan for safely transporting the gemstones to the bank.
Two hours later they departed the Dog dressed in clean clothes with colorful turbans wrapped around their heads. Darwin trotted at Rita’s side, ever watchful for danger.
Rita slipped into the stream of beings traveling to and from their ships. Her companions stuck close to her. The docks were busy with ships being repaired, restocked, and refueled, and she was careful to keep her small group out of the way of workers, robots, and other moving machinery.
They headed toward the center of the city. ZetiTau, the largest city on the planet ZetiTau (no one had ever accused the ZetiTaus of creativity), was the banking center of the galaxy.
In fact, ZetiTau was the only banking center in the galaxy. Because of that it bustled with ships constantly coming and going day and night without ceasing.
The ZetiTaus were financial whizzes. When they realized that a common monetary unit would be needed to facilitate intra-galactic commerce they were on it before anyone could even spell c-u-r-r-e-n-c-y, and the ZetiTauCredit was born.
More commonly known as credits, the ZetiTauCredit became the legal tender for all transactions galaxy-wide. A trader brought their precious stones or ore (the only valuables accepted) to ZetiTau in exchange for a determined number of credits based on the fair value of the offered goods. The credits were then placed into the trader’s personal account.
Small credit dispensers were located in every corner of the galaxy, transferring credits when needed. The system was convenient until an account ran dry.
The only way to replenish an account was to physically pay a visit to ZetiTau, which was what everyone did and the reason why pirates hung out on the travel routes.
It was also the reason why Rita and the others were here now.
Rita smiled to herself as she watched Lexa’s amber eyes nearly pop from her round blue face as they walked. They were surrounded by creatures traveling to and from the Central Bank using a variety of means of movement. Some slithered, others hopped, lumbered, oozed, walked, ran, or rolled.
Rita had been to ZetiTau several times, both on personal business and in her previous role as an enforcer with the OGSP. The sight of so many different alien races still amazed her. She imagined Lexa was experiencing sensory overload. Yani grabbed Lexa’s hand and the girls grinned happily at each other.
Rita put her hand up to check on Darwin. He had abandoned walking at her side and settled onto his favorite perch—draped over her shoulders—watching everything with alert interest. His long straight tail wrapped gently around her neck.
Darwin’s cork-screw tail remained tightly coiled. When it straightened and the barb concealed in the end popped out it was usually too late for the victim. The barb carried a fast-acting poison and Rita had never seen Darwin miss his target.
“Rita, look!” Lexa nodded her head toward a group of Puffskins, a race of creatures with skin that constantly grew nodules that broke open with a puff of air and then shriveled. The nodules looked like bubbles of air rising and breaking on the surface of boiling water.
“Don’t stare, Lexa,” Yani whispered. “Puffskins are a very proud and sensitive race.”
Rita smiled. She had been unsure of the decision to take Lexa from her home planet, but the young Weegan had insisted. Rita had found no reason to regret her presence—Lexa was proving to be a hardy traveler and learned fast.
She returned her attention to their surroundings, always alert for trouble.
The city of ZetiTau was built in a circle with the Central Bank at the hub. Concentric streets were spaced out evenly from the center and identified by number words: First Ring, Second Ring, Third Ring. The outermost Fourth Ring consisted of the docks and ship repair facilities.
Transecting streets radiated out from the center like spokes on a wheel and were identified by number symbols: 1, 2, 3, etc., all the way to 360th Street.
It was precise, efficient, and very ZetiTau.
Rita’s group eventually made their way out of Fourth Ring and into Third Ring. Third Ring was home to hotels of every level, from luxury suites to flop houses where they hot-sheeted the beds—renting them out for very short periods of time—and every lodging place in between. Here also were the eateries for visitors, something for every creature who visited the banking planet.
As most visiting ship’s crews were anxious for fresh food and comfortable or cheap lodging, Rita’s group heard many different languages being spoken as they walked through Third Ring.
Yani kept slowing to listen to new languages. The clicks and grunts from a trio of Golongols as the Golongols headed back toward Fourth Ring and their ship made her stop entirely. She imitated the sounds quietly, not wanting to draw the Golongols’ attention.
The Golongol dialect was one Rita had never mastered, but from the rapid clicking she guessed they were excited about something. She tugged on Yani’s arm and urged her forward.
“Business first,” she said to the beautiful translator, “then I’ll let you sightsee to your heart’s content, I promise. I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up several new languages while we’re here.”
Yani flashed her strong white teeth in a sheepish smile. “Sorry. I get caught up whenever I hear a new dialect. Occupational hazard.”
A round, mottled brown Snout-Nose stretched his elongated proboscis toward Lexa’s face and snuffled at her. Rita pulled her boot knife and swiftly gave the nose a shallow slash with the blade. The nose pulled back with a snort and she urged her group on.
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