Gimme ShelterCardona put JT to work loading tractbots onto a freighter called the Ralan Underhill. JT had no idea who Ralan Underhill was or why his mother’s company would name a ship after him. Or her. Offworld names could be so confusing.

Loading the tractbots was easy. He simply climbed onto one as it came off the conveyor from a maglev car a kilometer away, powered it up, and told the AI unit where to go. The bots ran in factory mode and still reeked of spot welding and the 3D printing process that created most of their parts. It took two hours to park all the bots in cradles for transport. Occasionally, JT had to put a tractbot into manual mode as the AI could barely comprehend the directions he gave it. All in all, it was probably the easiest job between the docks and Orbital Staging.

“Come on,” said Cardona, “I’ll show you where to hide.” He led JT to a storage bin near the bay where they had stowed the tractbots.

“Why are we shipping farm equipment to Tian?” asked JT. “I thought they manufactured their own.”

“I don’t know. Maybe the customers are cheap?” Cardona’s tone dripped with sarcasm. “Now hurry up, before I have to explain your presence here.” He opened the storage bay and handed JT a master key. “Here. Use this to get out when you get to Tian. Wait until the ship lands or docks, then pretend you’re a Dasarius Interstellar employee once the crews start off-loading. Find the break room, then the transit center. Once there, you’re home free.”

Yeah, JT realized, without any money or access to Dasarius resources. But then that was the whole point of fleeing to Tian, wasn’t it? If you could make it there, you could make it anywhere.

Cardona pointed to an empty bin at the base of a shelf. “Slide in and keep your back flat against the wall. Lift off will compress your spine if you don’t. Same with reentry. If you hear the reentry alarm, flatten your back again. They turn the gravity off just before they enter the hypergate, so make sure you brace yourself when they do. The ship actually comes to a full stop even though it’s getting flung light years through a hole in space. It’ll toss you around like a toy if you’re not careful.”

JT reached out and offered his hand to Cardona. “Thanks, buddy. I won’t forget this.”

“See that you don’t. This is the last time I help you JT. If you come back, I’m out of a job. And I don’t want to go to work in a 3D print shop in the Congo. They spit on us Westerners there.”

When JT was in place, Cardona slammed the door to the storage room, plunging him into total darkness. Half an hour later, lift-off did indeed flatten JT against the bulkhead. The warning for hypergate transit sounded moments after that.

JT smiled in the dark. He was going to Tian. He was starting his life anew. He’d show his mother and father he didn’t need them. Maybe from there, he would find his way to one of the newer colonies and stake a claim. Jefivah, after centuries of being humanity’s laughingstock, had finally settled three of them, one entirely dedicated to that weird cult that considered some ancient actress a goddess. He had heard their initiates had to have sex with a priest or priestess before joining the faith. Maybe he would settle on their colony and become a Marilynist. Or he could simply create a new identity on Tian and start fresh. A smart guy like JT should have no trouble …

“Ten seconds to hypergate transit,” said the captain over the ship’s com system.

JT had already braced himself against the loss of artificial gravity.

“Five… Four… Three… Two… One…”

Something was wrong. The hypergates between Earth and the other major core worlds should be unnoticeable to anyone not sensitive to their effects during transit. The only time wormhole transit had ever proved a problem for JT was when he was nine and dared himself to look out the window. He was sick for days after that.

This felt worse. He felt like his body was being pulled in directions his mind could not comprehend. Even the brain inside his skull felt as though it were being squashed and pulled apart at the same time.

He passed out from the sheer overload of sensation.

When he awoke, he had no idea how much time had passed. He only knew his stomach rumbled ominously and he could barely standup. He had to get out of there, get into the light.

Something outside chirped. Before JT could fathom what the sound meant, the door slid open, and a slender woman in crew coveralls stood before him. The closet light came on, revealing the name “Brandt” stenciled across the breast pocket of her coveralls. She took a shoulder rig and spoke into it. “Mitch, Teej, we got another stowaway down here in Two.”

“I’ve got twenty that says Brandt loses another pair of boots,” said a male voice.

“Teej,” she snapped into her rig, “if you don’t…”

Before she could finish, JT expelled the contents of his stomach all over Brandt’s boots. Laughter erupted from her rig.

“You win, Teej,” said another male voice. “That’s three this week. A record.”

Brandt thumbed her rig once more. “Mitch, shut up and get security down here.”

JT managed catch his breath after a couple of quick coughs. He looked up at Brandt. “So when do we get to Tian?”

The look on her face told him before she said anything. “Tian? Kid, this freighter is making a run of the outer colonies. You’re on Amargosa.”

JT wanted to be sick again, but he had nothing left.

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