Felina Sanchez took a deep breath, lifting the stylus in her left hand. The text in front of her wavered as she attempted to focus, but a combination of nerves and fatigue made the words on the page all but impossible to read.
With a final steadying exhalation, she signed her name on the bottom of the contract. Her signature was a flowing script, every letter neatly represented. So many signatures in the galaxy had devolved into wriggling lines, but Felina had always prided herself in her penmanship and, by extension, the neatness of her signature.
Signing finished, she sat back in her chair and tried to slow her racing heartbeat. The last time she had signed a contract, she had been fitted with the electronic tracking cuff that was issued to all indentured workers in the colonies. Once it had clicked closed, it wouldn’t have been removed for seven years.
That was five years ago. Everything had gone smoothly until that fateful night in Rosa’s Cantina on San Pedro left her brother Frederick dead. She had spent her time mourning and grieving his loss. Frederick had listed her on his information as being his next of kin, so within a few days of his death she had been granted a huge sum of money from the Newport Shipping Company, the freight corporation that owned the ship that Frederick had been serving on.
Felina looked down at her wrist where the indentured servitude cuff had chafed her skin for so long. Rosa had been a little irritated when Felina had paid off her indenture early, but the woman was kind enough to release her with no penalty.
The strangest part of being released from her servitude hadn’t been the freedom, it had been the lack of a direction to travel in. Felina had been working towards gaining her freedom for so long that as soon as she had it, she was unsure where to turn next. She knew that she wanted to get away from San Pedro—the dusty planet held too many sad memories for her to remain any longer. She packed her meager belongings into a single bag and hitched a ride to the next planet on the list.
Avondale was about as different from San Pedro as a planet could be. To start with, it resided on the very edge of the Goldilocks zone, making it warm, humid and tropical practically from pole to pole. It was also a small planet, but somehow managed to be comparable to tropical Earth climates as anything that had been located in the galaxy up until that point. It shared an orbit with a friendly gaseous planet, named Mara by the first settlers. Mara was visible in the sky most of the time, a pale ghost during the day and a silver companion at night.
A handful of enterprising investors had seen an exciting prospect in a tropical world with pristine beaches and a companion planet, neither ever having been touched by human hands. For the wealthy who had never seen a coastline without a condominium on it, these investors presented Avondale as the best place to get away from the hustle and bustle of all the other humans.
Felina saw Avondale as a chance to start over and make her fortune as a business owner. She learned a lot from her time with Rosa and was ready to put all that knowledge to work.
This contract in front of her was the exact opposite of the indenture agreement. She glanced around the room—mostly empty right now, but in that emptiness was space for opportunity and growth. The windows were narrow but tall, eight of them set in three walls. The fourth wall had a two-way swinging door with a darkened kitchen behind it.
The man across from her, a tall, dark, handsome hunk of cliché good looks named Timothy Vandel, leaned forward. He extended one broad palm and his face split into a smile full of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. “Congratulations, Ms. Sanchez,” he said. “You are now the proud owner of this fine establishment.”
She took his hand, feeling her smaller one completely engulfed in his warm calluses. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Vandel,” she said.
“Please,” he said, his voice a deep baritone, “call me Timothy.”
“Felina,” she said, feeling a small smile creep onto her face despite the butterflies in her stomach.
“Do you have any plans for what to call this place?” he asked, starting to pack up the legal documents scattered on the table.
“I had wanted to call it Frederick’s,” she said, standing and hoping her knees didn’t give out. “In honor of my late brother,” she added by way of explanation.
“I don’t think old Fred would appreciate that,” Timothy said.
“What do you mean?” Felina asked.
Timothy straightened. “The supply store at the marina,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the not-too-distant ocean. “He called it Frederick’s.”
Felina tried to keep her disappointment from her face. “I’m sure I’ll come up with something else then,” she said.
Timothy smiled again. “You seem to be the creative type,” he said. He stuck his hand out again. “Welcome to Avondale, Felina. If you need anything—tour guide, muscle, someone to change the light bulbs, well, you know where to find me.”
She shook his hand again, murmuring a quiet thanks. He stepped through the front door, his toned figure briefly framed by the bright sunlight. The front door gave an ear-piercing squeak as it swung. Felina winced at the sound, making a mental note to lubricate the hinges as soon as possible.
The door closed with a click, and she was alone in the empty room.
She sank back into the chair, resting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. She drew in a breath so large it nearly hurt, and blew it out in a long, shuddering sigh. It was loud in the silence of the room.
A year and a half ago, she had been indentured on San Pedro, the dusty mining colony in the backwaters of the galaxy. A year and a half ago, she could never have imagined herself here, on a lush paradise of a world, the brand-new owner of what she hoped would soon be a bustling and popular eating establishment.
Eighteen months ago, her brother Frederick was still alive.
It had come as quite a surprise when she was contacted by the bank, letting her know that she was the beneficiary of Frederick’s life insurance policy. He was gone from her life forever, but the payout from the policy had been enough to pay off the remainder of her indenture contract, buy passage off San Pedro, and purchase the building she was currently standing in.
Without that money, she would still be on San Pedro, working for pennies every hour that Rosa’s Cantina was open. No matter how much effort she had put into that bar, she would never have owned any part of it. Rosa was a stern but kind woman, but she had always treated Felina as the hired help that she was, and no more.
It would take time for this new cantina to turn a profit. Real estate on Avondale was already expensive, despite it being one of the newest colonies founded. A new interest in the area as a high-end vacation destination meant that any businesses not already in operation would be faced with almost insurmountable startup costs, and soon the remaining real estate would be snapped up by wealthy investors from Earth and New Los Angeles. She had been beyond fortunate to grab the small plot of land her new building was sitting on along with the building. She’d even haggled the real estate agent down a few thousand dollars, giving her a bit more of a cushion to start decorating.
She looked around the building. Even at high noon, the narrow windows made for a dim interior. She would need to invest in more indoor lighting—maybe if she planned well, she could afford those old-looking string lights that she had seen in pictures from old Earth. She would need tables and chairs, or perhaps she could save money by purchasing the less heavy and less expensive benches often used on space freighters. A few wall hangings, some colorful pictures in the area to break up the monotony of the gray cypress wood, and a sound system to make sure the ambience was right. Once all these things were in place, she’d have her own little Rosa’s Cantina.
She smiled. She had indeed come up with a new name: La Rosita Café.