StarflightBy: Melissa Landers
What if nobody picks me? Nothing can be worse than that.
Solara’s pulse quickened, and her palms turned cold. She hadn’t considered the possibility that no one would want her, but now, as she scanned the servants area, she noticed only two indenture candidates standing with her behind the gate—an elderly man with more hair in his ears than on his head and a teenage boy who couldn’t stop scratching himself. Of the fifty standby travelers who’d arrived that morning, the three of them were the leftovers. The last boarding call would sound in a few minutes, and if she couldn’t entice a passenger to hire her in exchange for a ticket to the outer realm, she’d have to wait sixty days for the next spaceliner.
That wasn’t an option.
Brightening her smile, she stood up straighter and tried to catch the eye of a woman with her shirttail untucked and a chunk of dried food in her hair. “Pardon, ma’am,” Solara called. “Are you traveling with young children? I can help. All I require is passage to the last stop.”
The woman paused midstride, then tipped her head in contemplation. She chanced a step toward the servants gate. “Do you have experience?”
“Yes, ma’am! I practically raised the little ones in my group home.”
“Group home?” The woman pruned her mouth and regarded Solara with new eyes, taking in the grease stains on her state-issued coveralls and the holes in the toes of her scuffed brown boots. “Show me your hands.”
Solara feigned ignorance as her stomach dropped. “What?”
“Your hands,” the woman repeated. “I want to see them.”
With a sigh, Solara removed her fingerless gloves and allowed the passenger to read the tattoos permanently inked across her knuckles. She didn’t bother trying to explain. It never made a difference anyway.
“That’s what I thought.” The woman shook her head in disdain exactly like one of the nuns at the home. Then she stalked away without another word.
The old man standing beside Solara invaded her personal space and delivered a light elbow nudge. He leaned in and whispered, “I know someone who can clear your record. He’s the best forger in Houston—even the new laserproof ink is no match for him.”
Solara rolled her eyes. She knew a dozen flesh forgers. Finding an expert wasn’t the problem. “If I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be standing here, would I?”
He flashed both palms and backed away.
Soon a group of businessmen approached the gate in search of stewards for the five-month voyage. Solara hid both hands behind her back and offered her widest grin, but it wasn’t enough. They indentured the old man and the itchy teenager instead.
Panic crept over her as she scanned the vacant station and the thick metal doors leading to the boarding platform. There were no passengers left. At any moment, the shuttle would transport thousands of vacationers to the moon’s space station, where they’d board the SS Zenith and set off for exotic destinations.
Why hadn’t anyone chosen her?
She wouldn’t describe herself as pretty, or charming, or even entertaining, but the calluses on her palms proved she was a hard worker. She practically slept with a ratchet in one hand and a wrench in the other. Every time the diocese shuttle sputtered and coughed, it was Solara the nuns called on to fix it, even if it meant freeing her an hour early from chapel detention, where she usually knelt in penance for peeking at her data tablet during morning prayers. And when the engine purred once again, Sister Agnes would rub her arthritic fingers and remark that she’d never trained a better mechanic.
Didn’t that count more than a criminal record?
The click of high heels turned Solara’s attention to the lobby, where a stunning girl of about eighteen sashayed toward the gate, wheeling a tote behind her. An animal yipped from inside the bag, a lapdog from the sound of it.
The young woman brushed a bit of lint from the lapel of her designer dress, then tossed a curtain of glossy pink hair over one shoulder and called to someone out of sight. “Hurry. If we miss the shuttle, your father will make us wait an hour before sending another one, just to prove a point.”
Sensing her last chance of escape, Solara rose onto her toes to wave at the girl. “Miss! Over here!” She achieved eye contact and smiled. “I’m an excellent maid. All I require is…”