The room rumbled with the noisome grousing of Loonies who hadn’t had enough caffeine put in them to deal with this crap, but they quieted up when Shreya cleared her throat and rapped her PAD on the podium.
“Monday morning, Blues,” she said, affecting a chipper tone. It was a sign of how far she and her Lunar crew had come that instead of aggrieved groans, she got a chorus of “Morning Shreya”s and “Mind ya”s. “Hope you all had a great weekend.”
“It was shit until I met your boyfriend in Paulie’s last night,” crowed Barstow from the back of the room. “Unsure how they raise Earth kids, but that boy’s a great kisser!”
A general guffaw broke out. Shreya waited, smirking, for a lapse in the atmosphere. “So that’s why his breath smelled like sewer when he got home.”
“Oooohhh!” the crew hooted. Barstow, ruddy countenance redder than usual, applauded and laughed at her retort, enduring several shoulder slams and pats on the back. Shreya smiled, watching the tension in the room dissolve.
“Wei Jin’s kissing skills notwithstanding,” she began, pausing again for laughterm “I need you all out on H-nine eight two again.”
“Crudmary, those 93rd fusers mess the pipework again?” complained Jesto.
“Amazingly, no.” Shreya made a show of consulting her PAD. “This is a storage job. Blue Sun’s worried about capacity overflow on their Hee-three tanks, so they’re looking to expand some of the current facilities out that side.” She didn’t notice the Heinlein inflection creeping into her words until it had already left, but decided to roll with it. “They’ve asked for the best crew we have, so I’m sending you.”
“Bluesway!” shouted someone near the back, and the whole room, Shreya included, echoed the cry.
“Bluesway! Oh, and I’ve saved the best part for last…” Shreya grinned, turning her PAD around so her crew could see the shiny violet work bill displayed on the front: RUSH ORDER.
The room erupted in cheers. “I even negotiated for extra!” Shreya had to raise her voice as her crew began to bang their boots against the ground. “I told those suits if they signed over a bunch of perks, my Blues can get it done Wednesday night for open of business on Thursday. Bluesway?”
“Listen, Shreya,” coughed Tereshchenko as she sidled up to her. The maglev carriage was hurtling along, but Shreya stood steady without a hand on the handles. Working Loonies often resented Earth “risties”, so early into this job, she’d put a lot of effort into acting like a regular person. She’d spent days riding the maglev back and forth, perfecting her casual balance, and now, she was as firm-footed in the rattling carriage as the woman who approached her. “You said you negotiated extra on this project, correct?”
“Correct,” Shreya confirmed.
“I know this isn’t regular, but…” Tereshchenko slid her hand over her neck, skin tanned and roughened by decades of work under the low atmosphere Lunar sun. “Do you think you can talk to Corporate and ask if it’s possible I can get that in advance? I normally wouldn’t ask, but my kid’s tuition just gets higher and higher…”
“Don’t sweat it, Hanna,” Shreya said, holding out her PAD and swiping her finger towards her. “I’ll advance you.”
Tereshchenko pulled out her own PAD from her pocket, her eyes widening slightly as she saw the figure appearing on her screen. “Shreya, that’s—”
“I’ll take it out of your next job,” Shreya smiled, squeezing Hanna’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.”
“One day,” Tereshchenko smiled, turning to walk back to join the rest of the Blues in the middle of the car. “One day, one of those higher-ups is gonna ask where all that discretionary you always have comes from.”
“Know any good lawyers?” Shreya shot back, making Hanna cackle as she swung back into her seat. Returning her attention to her PAD, Shreya shuffled a few lines around in the ledgers. Before the train pulled into the platform, her little transaction had disappeared without trace. Just another rounding error in the creaking mass of Weyland accounting.
“Alright, Blues!” Shreya called as her crew gathered up their tool bags and the maglev slowly pulled to a halt. “You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.”
“Golf with the suits?” Barstow again, to general laughter.
“How do you think I keep getting you these sweet gigs?” Shreya mimed lining up a club and taking a big swing. “It’s never what you know—”
“‘It’s who you know’, whatever, save that corpotalk for the reports.” Anand grinned, the train doors juddering open as he launched into one of the Blue’s traditional farewells. “Don’t piss anyone off!”
“Yeah, that’s your job!” she countered, the crew roaring with mirth as poor Anand rolled his eyes at having been caught in such an easy trap. Her Blues shuffled off the train and Shreya settled back against the frame of the car, turning her attention to paperwork. She filed the work order as being in progress and updated each of her crew’s pay stubs individually. It could be done as a batch execute, but Shreya had overheard colleagues saying their crew’s seniority pay didn’t appropriately update or hazard compensation had fallen through the cracks. She trusted automation with a lot of things, but not with the welfare of her Blues.
She was halfway through the H’s, Hao and Habermann, when Shreya became aware of a suit sitting just across from her. He must have gotten on when her Blues got off. Her eyes narrowed. He definitely hadn’t been there when she’d started working.
“Hi,” he said, touching his finger to his temple in greeting. “Nice crew.”
Shreya crossed her arms and, with casual subtlety, activated a protocol on her PAD. “What do you want?”
“Straight to the point?” He laughed, or rather, showed all his teeth. “Miss Shreya… can I call you Shreya? I’m not here for you or your crew. I mean…” He made a show of chuckling. “I know about the little slush fund you keep around for them, or how you authorize little extras here and there…”
Shreya kept her expression level. The man threw up his hands, smiling widely. “But hey. Those are just perks. Small potatoes. Not worth going after, compared to the kind of fish I usually fry.”
Shreya didn’t speak. The man finished chuckling at his little joke and the mirth disappeared from his face.
He threw a hologram towards her PAD: the tank upgrade project her Blues were meant to crunch on. “This job is top priority for the company.” He smacked his tongue against his teeth to emphasize, and Shreya struggled not to grimace. “Top. Priority.”
“If you’re saying my crew isn’t—”
“No, your crew is on it because they’re the best.” The man stood up. He was a lot taller standing. “In fact, for their esteemed and incredible records, I’m willing to authorize…”
The man threw another hologram into the space between them. Despite her practiced coolness, Shreya couldn’t stop her eyes from widening at the figure they displayed. “A significant bonus for your crew if they, and by extension, you, are willing to overlook any irregularities with the tanks.”
“That’s it,” The man smiled, waving his PAD. Shreya’s PAD beeped—deposit confirmed. Funds transferred.
“Blue Sun will give anyone access to discretionary funds these days, I see.” Shreya confirmed the transaction on her PAD, not quite managing to keep the derision from her tone. “Oh, I can tell,” she replied to the man’s frown. “Arrogance is a company trait, but only BS thinks they’re truly untouchable.”
The man’s smile did not return as he leaned in closer. “Absolute. Discretion. Do we have an understanding?”
“I’ll make sure my crew knows.”
“Good,” the man’s smirk returned as he leaned back. “Ah, perfect. Here’s my stop. Oh, and Shreya…” He turned, waving his PAD at hers. A beep sounded as the recording she had surreptitiously begun at the conversation’s start deleted itself. “You can’t outsmart me. Please don’t insult our relationship again by trying.”
The doors opened, the man waved cheerily, then the doors closed. Shreya’s train pulled out onto the lunar surface, the sun baking its way in through the plasglass of her train window.
Shreya sat down, staring at the station as it was slowly swallowed by the crater lip. “Blue Sun goon,” she hissed.
The number glared at her at the top of her PAD. A Loonie could retire on this money—should any of them want to. She supposed that was the point.
Shreya closed her accounts app. Her PAD was almost certainly compromised. She needed a new one, a secure one, something she could use to dig into…
…retirement money. For her whole crew.
Shreya closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the window. What was the difference? She had a fund for her Blues. This man had a fund for people like her. Was this just her pride talking?
Sliding her PAD into her jacket pocket, Shreya looked back out at the Lunar surface, at the buildings and pipes rushing by, built by people like her Blues. She hadn’t wanted them to get involved in this… but it seemed like she had no choice. Hell, she didn’t even know what this goon wanted covered up.
It was a long ride back to her office.