Destiny's Song (The Fixers, book #1: A KarmaCorp Novel) (2 page)

BOOK: Destiny's Song (The Fixers, book #1: A KarmaCorp Novel)
13.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

as I crossed the threshold into the offices of the woman who ran KarmaCorp in this part of the galaxy. Should have stopped for some caffeine. Dealing with Yesenia was tricky enough without the loggy brain that always hit me after long-haul space flights and late-morning naps. “Afternoon, Bean.”

The small, lithe woman behind the desk rolled back the balance ball she used as a chair and bounced up. Her dreads bobbed madly as she closed the distance and placed a big, hard kiss on my cheek. “Kish! You look like hell. Didn’t Tyra feed you and make you take a nap?”

I grinned, well used to the unnecessary mothering. “She did. I saved a piece of bread for you.” I dug in my bag to rescue it before it turned to crumbs.

Bean opened a corner of the small container and inhaled deeply—and then her eyes shot open. “You got real butter?”

“Ssh.” I laughed, quietly. “You want to share that with half the habitat?”

She tore off the lid and popped a good chunk of it into her mouth. “Nope.” She chewed twice and closed her eyes, humming a note of quiet bliss.

That was better for my loggy brain than caffeine. “Boss lady ready for me?”

Bean waved her hand vaguely in the direction of Yesenia’s inner sanctum.

I took that as invitation and stepped toward the door. It slid open moments before I got there. Yesenia came around her gleaming desk, hand out in royal greeting. “Welcome back, Journeywoman Drinkwater.”

The urge to tweak her was irresistible. “Gods, Yesenia—when are you going to call me Kish like the rest of the solar system?”

Her eyes glinted sharp steel. “I very rarely seek to be like the rest of the solar system.”

Truer words were never said—and I wasn’t dumb enough to mess with the steel in her eyes twice. “I hear you have a new assignment for me.”

“Always straight to business.” She sighed, which froze me in my boots. “I used to be like you, mind always focused from one assignment to the next.”

Yesenia was a Fixer legend, one of the few Travelers who’d done her stint and could still talk in complete sentences. I didn’t know whether she started out tough as nails, but she’d certainly finished that way. Regret wasn’t in her vocabulary. I stepped very carefully, on high alert for exploding space debris. “KarmaCorp trains us to focus.”

“Yes, we do.” Something in her demeanor shifted. “And you do it very well, Lakisha—I never meant to suggest otherwise. What do you know of your next assignment?”

I knew that a backwoods planet needed a Fixer—and I knew the situation had somehow merited enough attention to get labeled high security. “The file said ‘Ears Only.’”

“It did.” She waited a long moment, her face the impassive mask that could start a miscreant babbling in two seconds flat. “Lucinda didn’t fill you in any further?”

I didn’t throw friends under mining carts, and this time, Bean had known very little. “She told me Bromelain III was an outpost colony.”

Yesenia raised an unimpressed eyebrow. “A little weak on your quadrant geography, are you?”

There was no point trying to explain standard human weakness to a woman who had none. “I’ve learned a little more since I got the file.”

She tapped her fingers on a tablet that could probably turn mine into a pile of metal shards without even trying hard. “Other than a quick review while you were in contact with Lucinda this morning, I have no record of you accessing the briefing materials.”

Knowing KarmaCorp tracked my every move was far less annoying than having it shoved in my face. “You might look at the records of my GooglePlex activity since then—I’m sure those will be more informative.”

My prickly tone had Yesenia’s eyebrow sliding up again, more dangerously this time. She took a seat in a narrow, angular chair in front of her desk and gestured to its twin. “Sit.”

I didn’t want to, but that was a piss-poor battle to pick. I was a grown-up now, not a fourth-year trainee who’d been caught greasing hatch locks. I made myself as comfortable as possible in a chair that clearly didn’t want people sitting on it for long. “These are new.”

“They are indeed.” Her face gave nothing away.

I was too damn travel lagged and grouchy to keep my best manners in place. “If you put a bunch of these in the detention pod, trainees would probably be a lot better behaved.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

It was way past time to stop talking about the furniture. “Intel on Bromelain III is sparse. Good climate, large grasslands sustaining the oxygen levels.” Which mattered because people locked up in astrosuits all day long got really jumpy. BroThree, as the locals called it, was probably a pretty mellow place compared to my last assignment. “Eligible for Federated planet status soon.” Which was a big deal, and the only clue I’d found about why I might be headed that way. Federation status was the doorway into the inner circle of power, governance, and everything else that mattered in the galaxy—at least according to the people already in there.

My boss was doing an excellent imitation of a statue. An impatient and possibly displeased one.

I tried to think what else I’d dug up that might matter. “Not much chatter on the sim waves. Inheritor planet, so governance is pretty straightforward.”

“Ah.” Yesenia leaned forward, interrupting my spiel. Statue awakened. “Tell me what you learned about the Lovatts.”

Other than knowing they were the family that ran the place, not much. I wondered what I’d missed. “Standard Inheritor structure—ruling title passes to the most-suited child, as voted on by the council and citizens.”

She nodded her head once and looked marginally less displeased. “Did you know that in Earth-based feudal societies, it was the firstborn male child who inherited?”

I was no Anthro, but that sounded dumb as rocks. “Doesn’t that just provide incentive for the firstborn to end up dead?”


My brain was sending high-alert signals again. There was something going on here besides a history lesson. “Is the Inheritor Elect in danger?” That was an unusual assignment for a Singer, but I’d had stranger.

“Not at all.” Yesenia’s fingers tapped a riff on her knee. “Devan Lovatt was chosen most suited for leadership at the council plenarium last year. The vote was unanimous.”

I shifted gingerly in the chair. “So he’s the heir apparent.”

“It wasn’t a difficult vote—his sisters have made clear that they aren’t interested.”

As I’d learned at ten years old, lack of interest doesn’t always get you off the hook. “Do they show any aptitude?”

Yesenia inclined her head, teacher to adequately bright student. “One shows significant talent with solar mechanics, and the other is pregnant with her fourth child and writes a well-respected series of vidbooks for children.”

“A family with varied skills.” And ones that didn’t provide a lot of clues about why KarmaCorp was interested in the political machinations of a backwater colony. “I assume the sister with engineering skills is on a ship somewhere.” Good solar mechanics were literally worth their bodyweight in gold.

“She is, for the past two years now. Her mentors report admirable progress.”

And somewhere in there might lie the reason that a Fixer was being sent to an outpost colony. Any genes that could produce solar mechanics would have earned themselves a place on KarmaCorp’s radar. I didn’t ask for details—there was no chance in any planet’s hells that I’d get an answer, and I didn’t really want one. Commonwealth politics were as convoluted and labyrinthine as it got. I was just a Singer who did what I was told, and very glad to keep it that way.

Time to get the down low on my assignment and get out of here. “Forgive my lack of patience, Director, but why are you sending me to Bromelain III?”

“You’ll be observing Devan Lovatt.”

I raised an eyebrow of my own, thoroughly confused. Fixers didn’t generally get sent to babysit, even for royalty.

Yesenia’s hands played that riff on her knee again. “And a young woman by the name of Janelle Brooker.”

Sometimes notes sound bad even before they’re played. “And who would she be, exactly?”

“She’s the middle daughter of another well-respected colony family.” The boss lady’s game face did nothing to calm my gut. “The Brookers can trace their roots all the way back to the grain fields of Saskatchewan.”

That bit of geography I did know. Canada hadn’t been the first of Earth’s countries into space, but they’d been one of the last left with water and land that could grow things, and that had fueled their colonization of half the star system. A country of pioneers used to cold and isolation, they’d had the right DNA for space exploration. That made the Brookers at least minor relations to galactic royalty, and Yesenia wanted to make sure I knew it.

This was getting stinkier than a compost droid. We had two young people on some backwoods space rock, and either their family connections or some situation they’d managed to get tangled up in had qualified them for a high-security KarmaCorp intervention. “Did they get themselves into something sticky?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

I sat quietly, not at all sure I wanted to hear what came next.

“Our astrologers believe the two are compatible and intended to marry.”

I tried not to gape, shocked to the core that they’d pointed a StarReader at two kids on some outpost planet. Astrologers were a credit a dozen all over the galaxy, but KarmaCorp employed the ones who ended up right most of the time—and there weren’t nearly enough of them. They were the company’s most valuable commodity. “What, I’m supposed to keep the two of them out of trouble before the wedding?”

“No. Apparently the two parties are not yet convinced of their future together.”

That was crazy. “Nobody argues with a KarmaCorp StarReader.”

Yesenia’s lips pursed. “They aren’t to be told. No one is. That information will not leave this office.”

That was even crazier.

She eyed me with a look that regularly froze the blood of people two decades my senior. “That directive comes from the highest levels, and you will comply with it, Journeywoman.”

That could only mean StarReader edict. One that likely had far more tentacles than a simple marriage on some boondocks colony. I grimaced—and then the other shoe landed, the whole reason a Singer was being pulled into this mess. To create harmony where none existed. “No. No way.”

Yesenia’s eyebrows warned of impending death should I choose to keep up my foolish babble.

The knots in my gut cowered and kept talking anyhow. “That’s insane.” And far, far worse than babysitting.

“That is for others to decide.” She was Yesenia Mayes in full throttle now, and no one would dare to cross her. “You will do your job, Singer, and you will do it with all the skill, talent, and training at your disposal.”

Of course I would—there was never any other choice. Fixers did what we were told.

But sweet holy shit. I was being sent off to a backwater rock—to be a matchmaker.


’d forgotten
how thirteen-year-old girls were such an odd mix of lingering child and the adults they would one day become. No boys in this class, but that wasn’t a surprise—Fixer Talents most often manifested in girls, especially at this age.

I’d campaigned hard to do this in the student lounge, which was a mess of gel-chairs, holo-covered walls, and excellent snacks, but I’d been overruled. Which sucked, because my stomach was kicking up a fuss about the lack of decent sustenance I’d sent its direction recently.

The trainees were impressively still under my gaze. They were older than the last class I’d talked to—less wiggly, less wet behind the ears, and less obviously impressed by my presence in their midst. Good. Maybe their questions would be a little less awestruck, too. “Well, I could stand up here and say a bunch of stuff about Fixers and the important work we do, but I bet you’ve heard it all before.” And I’d probably find it hard to say with a straight face when my next assignment involved adjusting some guy’s hormones so that his dick pointed the right way.

Hands shot up all over the room. I picked a waving one at random.

The girl who stood up was as wide as she was tall, and every inch of it was clearly muscle. “Is being a Fixer dangerous?”

She obviously hoped the answer was yes. “It can be, but danger takes a lot of different forms. And usually means we didn’t do our job right.” Or someone higher up the chain hadn’t, but thirteen-year-olds didn’t want to hear about bureaucratic fuck-ups.

“I thought Fixers didn’t make mistakes.” A girl down in front looked fairly distressed about that possibility.

I recognized her elfin looks—she came from one of the most overprotected families in the quadrant. Unfortunately, they also produced a lot of kids with Talent. “Everyone makes mistakes, and those of us with Talent sometimes make the biggest ones. That’s why it’s important to work on your judgment, too.”

The elf frowned. “How do we do that?”

In her family, I had no idea—probably by running away from home. “You make decisions every day, right?” In her case, not very big ones, but still. “You decide what to eat, what to wear, who to be nice to, who to share your lunch with.”

She looked totally confused.

This kid would last ten minutes on a mining rock, and someday she might get sent there. I sighed—I was a Fixer, not a nanny. “Basically, you practice. You notice when you make smart decisions and when you make dumb ones, and you try to get better.”

Her eyes crossed. “But I thought we’re supposed to do what we’re told.”

We were, and I’d just been reminded of that in no uncertain terms. “Absolutely. Fixer assignments are decided with great care and planning and access to a lot of information that we don’t have.” So far, I was spouting the company manual, but it was time to change that up a little. I glanced over at the wall where the teacher stood, looking a little bored. “But there are good reasons that KarmaCorp puts Fixers on the ground. We do
we’re told, but we have a lot of freedom to decide
we do it.” Something some of us took more advantage of than others.

The teacher wasn’t looking bored anymore—but she hadn’t stopped me, either. And every pair of trainee eyes in the room was riveted.

Which left me trying to explain a line I hadn’t remotely understood at thirteen. “Everything has resonance, energy—right? We have the Talent to tap into that energy, to shape it.” Thanks to a few Saskatchewan farmers with pretty interesting genetics that had been seeded out into space. “That can’t be done from an office. Energy needs to be
, and every person in KarmaCorp knows it. That’s our job.”

I could Sing however I wanted—so long as I got the job done. And complied with KarmaCorp’s very long ethics manual, but that was a different conversation, and one plenty of other people would be having with the trainees. I wasn’t here to tell them about the limits. I was here to tell them how to find enough freedom to stay sane—the wiggle room that had allowed a mining brat to do the job with dignity and pride. Elf girl was still looking confused, but several other heads were nodding. Idea planted. Time to head back to safer ground. “Any more questions?”

A girl with dark skin and an appealing grin bounced up next. “I heard your next assignment is to an outpost colony.”

She said the last two words with the light disdain of a kid who’d been born on one of the Commonwealth’s inner planets. “It is.” Which was probably a secret, but if the thirteen-year-olds already knew, not a very well-kept one.

The grin ratcheted up a notch. “What are you going to do there?”

a secret, and I was pretty damn sure Yesenia kept trainees out of the Ears Only files. “Whatever is necessary to help alignment and the flow of good energy in the galaxy.”

The questioner scowled, not at all impressed with being quoted KarmaCorp’s mission statement. “A colony planet doesn’t sound very important.”

Definitely inner-planet born. “I bet fixing Andrew Takli’s fear of small spaces didn’t sound very important either.” Even a first-year trainee would know the story of the eight-year-old boy who had gone on to develop modern cryo-travel. They would have also heard the horror stories of Fixers who had failed in something simple they’d been sent to do and put whole cultures into tailspin. “Even the smallest assignment can have vast ripples out into the universe.”

Which didn’t make me any happier about being sent off to get two people all hot for each other, but it would keep me doing my job.

My interrogator wasn’t done. Her head cocked to the side, thinking. “Do you
why your new assignment is important?”


The teacher shifted on the wall.

I held the kid’s gaze. They wanted me to talk about what it was like to be a real-live Fixer, and that included flying blind more often than not.

The girl met my gaze, her dark eyes thoughtful. “How come they don’t tell us?”

The long answer would bore her to tears—the one about the very delicate balance of trust and autonomy that lived at KarmaCorp’s core and helped sustain a galaxy with more decency, generosity, and happiness than had ever been seen in human history. So I went with the short one. “We’d have to be in meetings all day and read reports until our eyes bled.”

Groans rose up all over the room. I grinned. “We’re people of action, right?” And the price for that sometimes included not understanding why we acted. I’d try to remember that while I was encouraging two boondocks colonists to hop into each other’s pants.

I looked around for another question and picked a nondescript girl with sharp, savvy eyes.

She stayed seated and spoke in a clear voice full of bells. Definitely a Singer. “What’s the hardest part about being a Fixer?”

I blinked. Most trainees didn’t see past the glisten and gloss for years yet. “Working in the field alone, I think. Having to make hard decisions without really knowing what the best answer is.” And knowing that if you screwed up, people died and communities failed and doorways into important futures slammed closed.

The savvy eyes had a follow-up. “And what’s the best part?”

I grinned. “Working in the field alone.”

She grinned back and nodded appreciatively.

That one was going places. I looked around, grateful that the waving hands were diminishing, and nodded at a slender arm in the back corner. A girl with bright orange hair slid to her feet with the kind of grace that could only belong to a Dancer. “Do you think they’ll find another Traveler soon?”

I sure as hell hoped not. Talent was rough on all of us, but Singers and Dancers and Growers generally lived to tell their tales and scare small children in the pod nurseries. Shamans had it harder because they played with the most woo energies—the ones that came with very few rules and pissy manners. But the Travelers were gifted with all our Talents
the ability to move through space and time. They were rare, extremely coveted, and had really short life expectancies.

KarmaCorp hunted for Travelers in every corner of the galaxy, and in my lifetime, there had been three. I looked at the girl who had asked the question and sent me woolgathering. “No idea.”

I saw a few eyes in the class sidle toward a student in the back. She was elegant ice, sitting chill and still with a snooty look on her face.

We didn’t need an introduction. Tatiana Mayes, only progeny of Yesenia Mayes and headed straight for the Fixer elite ever since she’d been old enough to get her thumb into her mouth. If she was a Traveler, it hadn’t manifested yet—but the possibility had already earned her a world of privilege, hatred, and overprotected hovering.

This was the first time we’d actually come face-to-face. I looked at her square on, curious to see what she was made of.

Two golden eyes met mine, gaze even and registering slightly bored.

I let the tiniest smile show, impressed, despite my best intentions. Yesenia’s cub had some backbone.

Slowly, she raised her right hand.

I was pretty sure there wasn’t anything about Fixing, KarmaCorp, or the Federated Commonwealth of Planets that she didn’t already know. Yesenia would have sent her spawn out into the world impeccably prepared.

Tatiana was still waiting, the bored ice queen with her hand up. And more eyes in the room were turning to watch. I raised an eyebrow slightly and engaged the battle, because whatever else this was, it was a challenge. “You have a question, Trainee Mayes?”

She acknowledged my first thrust with the barest flicker of a smile.

She wasn’t surprised that I knew who she was, but she was impressed that I’d laid it out there—or at least that’s what I took from the small flicker. I waited for her question.

Her eyes slid left for a brief moment, over to the non-assuming girl in blue who had asked the smartest question of the day so far—and got a quick, reassuring glance in return.

Ah, so that was the lay of the land. The cub had a friend. I found myself glad of it. Fixers without friends didn’t last long, even if they’d been born into KarmaCorp’s bosom.

Tatiana breathed in like one of the dolphins on Xanatos, slow and liquid and taking all the time in the world, as if oxygen was a small, permitted luxury instead of the stuff of life. “What is it like working for my mother?”

Youch. There was no way to answer that and come out without scratches.

I watched as the quiet girl in blue grinned, acknowledging the play.

I didn’t mind a few scratches—and I liked Tatiana more than I’d expected to. I waited a moment and then gave her the respect of an honest answer. “I imagine it’s easier than being her daughter.”

The ice queen melted for just a moment, and I saw a kid with golden eyes who knew she lived in a golden cage—and planned to get out one day.

My heart answered in an instant. I hoped she made it.

Which is the kind of thing you absolutely don’t want to think as a loyal employee of KarmaCorp, or as someone who’s ever caught a glimpse of Yesenia Mayes in a temper. A woman who could shred fifteen grown men over delays in interplanetary shipping schedules wasn’t anyone to mess with, ever. I broke eye contact with Tatiana, cursing whatever momentary impulse had made me stupid.

And saw Yesenia, standing just inside the far left door. She saw me looking, bowed her head slightly, and slid out as silently as she had come in.

I shivered. The woman never missed anything.

Tatiana was back in her snooty, bored pose, the one I suspected she wore like a comfortable second skin—but I wasn’t convinced that she missed much either.

And I was a tired Fixer about to head off-planet again who didn’t need any more crap to land. I scanned my audience one more time, using that command presence I didn’t generally have to suggest that question period was done. “Anyone else?”

A hand shot up on the far right, and a girl with bright red hair bounced up after it.

She looked enough like my friend Iggy that I capitulated. “Yes?”

She flashed the smile of a breezy sprite who never sat still for long. “Can you show us how a Singer works? Please?”

It was the “please” that did me in. And the crystal-clear memory that I’d been the kid asking that exact same question once.

I hadn’t known how to sit still for long back then either.

Something quick, and then I’d get the hell out. I looked around the lecture pod again, seeking an appropriately innocuous experiment. By third year, these girls would be old hands at controlling their Talents. They’d be learning the subtler and more important powers of observation.

The red-headed sprite’s hand flew up again. “What are you doing?”

I wasn’t used to working out loud, but that was the whole point of being here. “I’m assessing crowd factors. Singers don’t just have voices—we have eyes, too, and smart Fixers don’t use their Talent until they have to.” Less paperwork that way.

The girl studied her classmates with sharp interest. “What do you see when you look at us?”

More than I’d ever let her know, but I could run through the basics. “You’re far less restless than the last trainee class I visited.”

She wrinkled her nose. “They were probably just tadpoles.”

Apparently, the youngest trainee cohort was never going to escape that nickname. “Perhaps. Youth is one reason for people to squirm, but there are others. They might lack discipline, or they might not feel a part of the group, or they might not like what they’re hearing from whoever is speaking. Those are all useful things for a Fixer to know.”

There were a couple in the class who were getting restless right now. I glanced at the teacher, knowing I’d have been one of them. Her eyes were quietly traveling her students, collecting data, just like I’d been doing. Good—she wasn’t one of the ones marking time until retirement, then.

Probably not a surprise with Yesenia’s daughter in the room.

Which was a good reminder to tread very carefully with my little demonstration. I let my eyes flow over the trainees one more time, noting the seating pattern. The girls had organized themselves in small clumps, but I didn’t know if that was teacher or trainee choice.

BOOK: Destiny's Song (The Fixers, book #1: A KarmaCorp Novel)
13.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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