Ice miner Riley works alone in the depths of space, and that's the way she likes it. She's proud of her independence, and when her ship gets destroyed by raiders on the icy surface of Galileo, she's not sure she wants to rely on rakish trader Leo and the kindness of a band of settlers to survive.
Despite her attempts to keep her distance, it's not long before Riley warms to the family atmosphere of the settlers' station. As Galileo's Holiday approaches and she develops feelings for the handsome, charming Leo, she questions whether she really wants to remain alone.
But Leo is hiding cargo the raiders want, and when they come back for it, everyone on the small station is in danger. Riley will risk anything to protect her new friends--because if the raiders succeed, the choice between Leo and a life alone won't be Riley's to make.
She hung upside down, her small, gloved hands tightly gripping the heavy pneumatic socket driver to the plate braces. The switch clicked and the driver whirred, removing the brace screws.
"Readying transport gurney," she said into the com clipped to her ear beneath the thick hat she wore. She pressed the dimly lit green release button. The storage compartment clicked then groaned as it opened. The equipment gurney came out, hovering beneath the engine booster. "Last plates off, Bao."
"Why didn't the droid sync the removal? This should have taken two minutes, tops. I'll have to run a debug program when you get back..." She could hear the frustration in his voice, the clicking of fingers on console keys. Then there was silence. "Your system says the droid is still docked. Damn it, Riley. Why did you take the droid if you're not going to use it?" Bao's voice crackled over the earpiece. "You're gonna freeze if you keep going outside for stupid repairs."
"I needed some air. I'll use your new toy next time the tug needs stupid repairs." She tucked the screws, plates and corner bracket into the belt at her waist as she spoke. She glanced at the gurney, impressed that it was so quiet, yet fully functional. "Your rigged-up gurney is doing just fine, if that makes you feel any better."
She flipped the safety arm off the engine booster. It fell, the heavy metal cylinder whistling as the frigid air sifted through its motor. The equipment gurney shifted, catching the booster before it hit the ice. The gurney dropped, hovering above the ground while cradling her precious--cantankerous--booster.
Bao laughed. "Rigged up? That gurney is new. It's the only thing younger than you on that piece of..."
"Stop there, Bao. Not another word." Riley gripped the bar she was swinging from and pulled her legs through, dangling. It was a slight drop, probably nine or ten feet, from the ship's underbelly to the snow-covered ground. She let go, landing with a soft crunch and a wince-inducing jolt to her knees and hips.
"Now what? You promised me this wasn't going to happen." She walked across the packed snow to the gurney and her booster. "Why did I get rid of the old booster if this new one was going to blow?"
"Because the old one has a radiation leak and I thought you'd rather not melt in the black."
"The storm blasts are supposed to hit in the morning. It's possible I'll freeze to death if you don't talk me through this repair soon."
"I'm syncing up, give me a minute. I won't leave you on that frozen piece of dung." Bao's tone was clearly disapproving.
"Don't start." She checked the temperature gauge on the booster. The cold hadn't reached the coils--not yet. As long as the coils didn't freeze, everything was fixable. "If you're not a fan of Galileo moon, I'll make sure you only get the finest filtered engine water."
He snorted. "You better bring me a gallon of G-water, Riley, and enough to fill my holding tank too. You didn't pay me for the droid upgrade."
"Because I didn't want it," she said. "And I didn't use it."
"Riley" He started cursing fluently, too fast for her to cobble together the complete meaning.
It didn't matter. Something was coming--breaking through the atmosphere above her--something big. And she was out in the open with no weapons and her booster blown out. She grabbed the handle on the gurney, and pulled with all her might. There was a snowdrift ahead. Not much cover, but maybe it would be big enough to hide her and the booster from sight.