Daniel has had enough as a chef. The burnout convinces him to sell the restaurant to his Sous Chef, walk out the door, and never come back.
Kathra Omezi's star tribe faces poverty on a daily basis. Twenty-five ships in deep space against the entire Sept Empire.
And then a conqueror steps into their lives.
The Mbaysey tribe, and the galaxy, will never be the same.
When I met Blaze, he was working a day job and dreaming of being a fulltime writer. Now he's a fulltime writer who dreams (and shares) his visions of outer space. Readers love his fast-paced science fiction. And you will too, once you read WinterStar, the first book in a new series, premiering exclusively on StoryBundle. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Enculer," Daniel slammed the receiver of the Vox down onto the base unit and watched out his office window as the skytaxi lifted off, climbing past him and into the night sky.
Inside that sleek, yellow hull was the woman that he had been sleeping with off and on for the last two years, although it wasn't so serious as to contemplate a wedding. Oh, and she was with the Captain of the professional Forceball team for the capital city of Golden Harbor.
She hadn't answered on her Skyvox, even though she absolutely knew it was him calling. Just ignored it and probably shut it off for the evening. He could leave a message. Or type her one. Or…something.
Daniel took a deep, teeth-grinding breath and blew out rage over his desk like a dragon that the salauds had woken up from a good nap, smiting them with its fiery breath.
He considered a cigarette.
It was an image thousands years old, clear back to the Earth itself, for a chef to smoke, even though it was usually rare on the colony worlds. He had given up the filthy habit years ago, when the very first Chef de Cuisine he ever worked for had explained that it altered the way you tasted things, depending on the flavor of the tobacco, and you could never be sure what you were actually serving if you smoked.
But he really wanted to reconsider it right now, watching his girl fly off with the jock.
The man was everything Daniel wasn't. Tall, athletic, golden, beautiful.
Daniel doubted the man would be any good in bed, but Angel would be smitten. Or something. Forceball players had to be huge, powerful men, and reached their physical peak by twenty-five, but that barely gave them any time to even discover how to properly pleasure a woman. Plus, they had probably all had groupies throwing themselves at the future stars since they were fourteen, so they had never had to bother to learn.
It took time, like a good cassoulet, to learn those skills. Years spent in a kitchen perfecting the delicacy of your art. Years in the bedroom listening and working slowly.
And Angel was going off with the man. Worse, she had shown up tonight with that salaud to Daniel's own restaurant, flaunting things right under his nose where he couldn't dare make a scene.
Letting everyone know she had apparently moved on.
Daniel considered rekeying the security system to his flat, just to lock her out, but he suspected that by the time he got home in another hour or three, all her stuff would already be gone. Angel was never the flighty one.
No, she would be deliberate, in her insults as well as her social climbing.
Daniel Lémieux, Chef de Cuisine of the evening bistro Pain du Soir, lucky possessor of a Golden Diamond from Gastropode, the magazine for the discriminating, traveling gourmand. One of the top chefs on the planet of Genarde, since only three other restaurants in this entire sector had made it into the most recent edition of The Guide, and nobody had yet earned a second Diamond.
Those were few and far between, once you left Earth. Homeworld bias and vanity, and all that, tended to award diamonds to the oldest colonies instead of alien worlds that humans had settled on later.
But Daniel was apparently no longer good enough for Angel's intended social status. And she had to rub his nose in it, rather than a simple kiss on both cheeks as she left. Walk into his own restaurant with a date that she'd spent the entire evening flirting with.
And he had to smile while she did it.
The door to his office opened slowly and his Sous Chef, Lucrèce, peeked in.
"Is safe?" the man asked carefully.
Daniel supposed that anyone outside this office, in the main space of the kitchen, had probably heard him cursing and ranting in here. And slamming Vox receivers down hard enough that it might be broken. Someone had called for an intervention and Lucrèce had drawn the short straw.
What else was a Sous Chef for, if not to protect the rest of the staff from the screaming madman in the corner office?
Daniel smiled and gestured for the man to enter.
His Second In Command was another one like the Forceball Godling. Tall, skinny, and possessed of a cleft chin that seemed to draw women (and men) like flies to honey.
All Daniel had going for him was wit, charm, and a face that didn't necessary curdle milk on a good day.
And ambition, but what good does it do a man to gain the world, just to lose his soul?
Even his thick, curly hair was rapidly moving from deepest brown to gray too early, as he was only thirty-seven years standard. It did lend him a bit of gravitas, but apparently made him too old for Angel, all of three years younger.
"Sit," Daniel gestured to the empty chair across the desk.
"You should gave let me spit in her food," Lucrèce offered quietly.
Daniel shrugged and shook his head.
"It would have done no good, my friend," he replied sourly, trying to find something philosophical to the night. "Tonight wasn't about the food."
"Then what was all that about?" Lucrèce asked, gesturing back over his shoulder at the dining hall. "I can already see the gossip pages and boards ramping themselves up for a good scandal over this. Why?"
"I do not know, Lucrèce," Daniel said, letting the exasperation bleed out instead of blowing dragon's fire. "And I will not ask her. If she returns, you will treat her just like any other patron. Those are my orders to you and the rest of the staff."
"Kill her with kindness?"
"Is that not better than putting drain cleaner in her mousse?" Daniel laughed.
"I will give both some consideration," Lucrèce laughed back before stopping to study his boss. "How are you doing?"
Daniel sucked a hot, angry breath into his chest and glanced back at the window, but the skytaxi was long since gone, vanished among the stars shining down. Probably going to the salaud's place for a romp, assuming the two of them didn't just put on a show in the back of the cab itself.
Not that he and Angel had EVER done something like that.
Something crystalized in his chest. It wasn't low enough to be the ball of rage in his belly. Maybe closer to his soul.
Daniel studied Lucrèce for a long moment, as if weighing the other man's soul as well.
Over his Sous Chef's left shoulder, the treasured announcement from Gastropode, awarding his restaurant that first, magical Golden Diamond and marking Daniel Lémieux as a man to be watched. Fawned over.
Who had just watched his girl walk into the bistro with her new boyfriend. Or at least boy-toy, as Angel had at least a decade on the young stud.
Daniel found Lucrèce's eyes.
"How much cash do you have on you?" he asked in a dark, somber tone.
The Sous Chef flinched and almost recoiled in surprise, before he settled and pulled out his wallet.
"Just over one thousand Sept Crowns, I think," Lucrèce replied, looking up nervously as he flipped it open to check.
"So much?" Daniel was surprised himself. "I'm apparently paying you too well."
It was an old joke. The fastest way in the galaxy to go broke was to open a restaurant.
"Why?" Lucrèce asked.
"I'm done," Daniel decided aloud. "Finis."
He pulled out a blank piece of paper and rooted around in his desk for a blue pen. Things like this should always be done in blue ink, not black or red.
Daniel started scribbling on the page in his compact, cursive hand, still trained from the old days of putting things on a chalkboard, as a true bistro would do it, rather than a printed menu that only varied seasonally.
Daniel looked at the outcome. Bon.
He signed the bottom left and dated it.
"Give me your wallet," Daniel said, handing the man the page.
"What's this?" Lucrèce took the page and simply handed the wallet over.
Such was the mark of trust you built up, running an excellent restaurant and only hiring the best human and other species to work there.
"Daniel, you're nuts," Lucrèce continued as he read the page.
"Oui," Daniel agreed, counting. "And I'm done. Sign that. I'm selling you the entire restaurant and all associated components for…uh…one thousand, one hundred, and eighteen Sept Crowns. Write that number down at the top."
Lucrèce blinked, his face suddenly as pale as the page.
"Are you mad?"
"Yes," Daniel agreed. "Both angry and insane. What do you expect? I run a bistro."
The chuckle was a faint echo of the laughter of earlier.
"Merde, you're serious," Lucrèce barely breathed the words.
Daniel fixed his best friend with a hard smile.
"Done," he pronounced the doom. "You get the Diamond, the staff, the clientele, and the headaches."
"And your flat," Lucrèce pointed out. "That's paid for by the corporation."
"Oui," Daniel nodded. "I have enough clothes stored here that I can pack a bag. Plus the few papers I need. You can clean out everything in the flat and either burn it, keep it, or donate it. I won't be going back."
"But where will you go?" Lucrèce asked, finally finding some emotion to color his tones.
Anger, perhaps. A distant, pastel cousin to his own, at least.
"I don't know," Daniel said, feeling the weight of the entire galaxy slide off his shoulders. "And I don't really care."
No more concern that every meal that came out of his kitchen had to be perfect, on the off chance that THIS was the secret agent Gastropode sent to validate that his food was worthy of the Golden Diamond.
No more Angel and her rages, her flirtations, and her silly demands. He was rather looking forward to that part, although he might never tell a soul.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Daniel," Lucrèce countered.
"Sign it, or you're fired," Daniel made it easy for the man.
Lucrèce worked well with imperatives and demands. Thinking about himself, for himself, seemed to be the man's blind spot.
Daniel didn't want to consider what his own such idiocies might be.
Lucrèce stared at him hard for several seconds. Finally, he took a breath. Nodded to himself. Picked up the pen and scrawled across the page.
Daniel pulled out all the bills and handed the man back his wallet.
"There are about thirty thousand Crowns in the main account before tonight's deposit," Daniel said. "Another six or so for emergency capital expenses. I'll leave a message with the attorneys and the accountants before I sleep tonight, so you'll need to be up early tomorrow to talk to them. And you'll need to break in a new fish buyer, as you'll be too busy promoting people to fix all the mistakes I've made."
"The only mistake you ever made was hiring me," Lucrèce replied in an arch tone, another old joke.
"Ah, but I've fixed that," Daniel chuckled with an evil gleam in his soul. "Starting tomorrow, everything is your fault."
"And you'll be gone?" Lucrèce asked. "Just like that?"
"Oui," Daniel contemplated for a moment. "Perhaps I will return and eat here someday. Perhaps not. I do not know who that man is yet."
He rose and held out a hand. Lucrèce shook it, and then Daniel stepped around the desk and pulled him close enough for a fierce hug and the traditional kisses on each cheek.
Daniel guided the new owner of Pain du Soir around to the other side of the desk and sat him down. The desk was unlocked, as were the file cabinets and the computer. Lucrèce had all the keys and passwords anyway, so he could run things if something happened to Daniel. Or if Daniel had ever taken a day off.
"Yes," Daniel nodded, studying the new tableau. "That will do."
Quickly, he pulled a few documents from a file and folded them into the inner pocket of his jacket.
He turned and opened the door to the tiny office that had been his home for nearly five years. Outside, much of the staff was waiting in a tiny bundle of nervous energy.
Daniel walked down the line, shaking hands, hugging folks, and kissing cheeks, but never saying a word.
When he reached the end, he turned, smiled, and opened the locker where he kept a bag. He pulled it out, closed the metal door, and walked right out the front door of his life.
"What just happened?" one of the cooks poked his head into the office.
"The galaxy just changed," Lucrèce replied quietly.