Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Sven had been driven out of Newport City and into the stars with a warning.

“If you ever plan on landing Earthside again, you’d better bring enough money to clear your debt in full, with interest, or you’ll be flayed and spread along the whole of Mainstreet as a warning to all the other losers.”

The warning was a kindness. He should have been killed, there and then, and he knew it, but LouisXIV owed him for saving his life, long ago, and this was him clearing that marker.

He’d spent seventeen years floating from station to station, light hopping to the furthest reaches of habitable space, conning and cajoling himself in and out of better ships, to better leads, and he was ready to come home.

“Newport tower, this is Sierra Victor Echo November seven seven three niner on approach, requesting inbound vector, over.”

It should only take a few minutes for that to throw up alerts across the control tower.

“Unmarked vessel, we do not have you on our grid, turn on locators. Over.”

Of course, he wasn’t on the grid, the sun was throwing up enough interference they’d never be able to see him. If it wasn’t for the hardened mining rig he was flying, he’d already be a meat pie.

“Newport tower, inbound heavy.”

“Unmarked…” the transmission was cut off abruptly.

“Sven, you sack of excrement, if you even think of landing here I’ll gut you like a fish myself before you get both feet on the ground.”

The familiar voice brought a smile to his face.

“Louis, nice to hear a friendly voice. You said payment in full with interest, correct?”

There was a long pause.

“We’re talking a hell of a lot of interest Sven.”

The meteoroid he’d secured was nearly 20 meters in diameter, in it was enough rare elements to more than pay what he owed. All he needed to do was land, get the cargo valued, and he could cover whatever Louis wanted for his freedom. Easy.

But there remained the principle of the thing.

Sven pushed the throttle to the pins and rolled the ship on its back, belly to space. He’d calculated on full burn with a little centrifugal help running a slingshot around the sun, that meteoroid should reach about five thousand meters per second on release. Given the ship computers’ calculated trajectory, which he trusted with his life, and this precise time of day and the relative rotation of the Earth, which he’d been working back from for months, his little payment should arrive crisp and cooking right at Newport tower while he continued following the sun’s orbit, breaking loose en route to another system before anyone even knew what had hit them.

Maybe there’d be a LouisXV holding markers somewhere else, but that was a problem for another day.

“Standby Newport tower, you should see me light up the grid momentarily.”