Naomi Palmer had been on board the Bernadette for six weeks. Six weeks of high-burn, condemned to a crash couch, stimulants pricking her back with a cocktail of drugs to keep her body alert. Six weeks of absorbed nutrient packs, pissing in a catheter, and the feeling of weighing more than five people her size. Naomi Palmer hadn't minded that at first - she had been on plenty of high-burn operations before - but her foot had caught itself out of the crash couch, dislocating every individual toe every time their thrust changed a fraction.
Of course, the stimulants kept her happily overdosed and in some blissful nightmare as the Bernadette blazed across the stars. By the time the ship, which quite resembled a black metal chisel with a coffee cup welded to the rear, had docked at Vesta, her foot had been swollen to three times its normal size. Once the cocktail of uppers had faded from her system, leaving a harsh crash in their wake, Naomi's post-exposure shakes had been the least of her worries.
"So, let me get this straight," the medic began, prodding Naomi's foot once again with a needle, attempting to inject some anti-inflammatory drug or another, "you're some space-trekker, do this for a living, and you don't..." He jammed another needle into her foot, drawing a sharp gasp of pain followed by a washing sensation of relief as the built-in painkillers struck in tandem. "Check your foot to see if it's locked in properly?"
"You see our cargo 'fore you carried me from that ship?" Naomi questioned, voice dragging slowly from her medicated mind.
"Yeah. You think you're playing saint, bringing, what was it? One thousand kilos of ice? You're just a vulture wanting to pick this place clean of money before you head back to Venus."
"How'd you know-"
"Do I look like a fucking pioneer?" The medic shoved his chair from the medical bed Naomi laid upon, careening over to a medical cabinet, deftly halting before his torso met the counter top beneath the cabinet, "Give me three earthers and I can tell you which one's a Terran, which ones's a Martian, and then by I'll guess the last is the one from Venus."
"That doesn't answer my question," Naomi replied, voice faltering on nearly every syllable.
"It was on your ship, right under the name. Who's Bernadette? She leave your captain after a one night stand or some shit?"
"Something like that."
"Typical." The medic was now back to tending to her foot, which had already began to turn from the red, swollen fruit it had become. "Give me one civilian ship that isn't named after some heartbreak and I.." He slapped an adhesive patch over the injection sites, "will shove my head in a hab-block and wonder where I went wrong in life."
A pause followed as Naomi sat there, staring drunkenly at her foot, attempting to wiggle the mass of flesh her toes had been. All that resulted in was a dull, tingling sensation of distant pain. That drew a slew of giggles from her, bringing tears from her eyes and almost sending her tumbling off the medical bed.
"Don't do that," the medic warned, catching her before she could spill over the side.
Still giggling, Naomi looked back at the medic, "Thanks doc!"
"You can thank me in cash," he replied, not amused.
"Don't worry! We're here to pick your station dry anyways!" Naomi laughed as if that was the most hilarious thing she'd ever said.
"I'll be leaving you here until you come off that painkiller high. Once it wears off, you'll be preferring a bullet to the gut, but the swelling'll be gone in about two days and your toes'll find their way back in. The muscle relaxer'll make it easy for any idiot to shove any that aren't cooperative back in place." A pause. "And what the hell was that thing on your shoulder when you came in here?"
"Just some gift from 'mum and dad 'fore I came out here, 'possed to remind me of home. Genetic alteration from Earth, I don't know..Where is he?"
The medic never answered. Instead, he pressed another injection through Naomi's arm and her consciousness tugged itself away, fading into a complete and utter darkness devoid of any sensation. The last thing she saw was the medic walking back into his waiting room, the door shutting with a faint click behind him, the lights automatically shutting off as it sounded. The glowing name plate underneath the key rack: Nicholas Green.
sciSoft Peacekeeper Station
The Peacekeeper station, one of seven on Vesta, had been on constant alert for four days. sciSoft had warned Vesta about the destroyed supply lines well before it made the interplanetary grid, and the defensive forces had been mobilized. Reserves were activated, new recruits were pushed through the lines, and even a few retirees had been dragged out of the cobwebs. Tensions were at an all time high, and once news about Vesta's situation struck, the station had crept into an uneasy peace. A last midnight.
Then news about the ice miners made its way through the system.
From that moment on, the alert status had been raised. Units had been deployed at every potential market stand, every loading bay, every single location the ice miners might decide to set up shop. One wrong step on their part, and they would cause the tip of the station into utter anarchy. All it took was one riot, one shooting, one civilian stepping off beat and everything would fall apart. Addison Warrens wouldn't have that.
Warrens prowled his domain with all the poise of aged royalty, the man's stark salt-and-pepper hair standing out a good head above the other earthers that made the bulk of his forces, his miniature army. He was a pioneer. He could trace his roots back to the first humans who jumped Mars and headed out to colonized Saturn. He'd been a sciSoft officer longer than anyone in his facility, probably longer than anyone on that station, but the weeks before him were more than any experience or connections could resolve.
"Another unit is awaiting orders, sir," McCree, Warrens' assistant, stated dryly, worming his way through the crowd of desk-workers, "they're in the briefing chamber."
"I'll see to them myself," Warrens replied, dismissing McCree with a wave of his hand.
Unlike McCree, Warrens did not need to jostle his way through the crowd: they parted for him. Within mere moments, he was within the dimly lit, low-ceiling briefing chamber. Sixteen other peacekeepers stood, more or less at attention, dressed in normal, noncombat uniforms.
"Right," Warrens began, "we've got some idiot ice miners that arrived without warning. They need some protection and we're here to provide that protection. If some other idiot 'civvie gets the brilliant idea to steal from them or shoot them and run off with the loot, it'll mean a hell of a lot more trouble for us, so don't screw it up, got it? You'll be on deck four spread out through the corridors as best you can. Look intimidating, keep your clubs out, but no one fires a lethal round without being fired upon first."
From there, he dismissed them after a chorus of "yes sir"s and salutes. Warrens made his way to one peacekeeper in particular and spoke softly. "Don't screw this up, Presley, you keep clear of fuck ups and you'll make sergeant. Understood?"
Lynne rubbed the tiredness from her eyes. Lynne Garnet, a training medic who still worked full time at her father's general goods store, was not allowed to be tired. Her body was to fill itself with 8 cups of coffee, 3-4 hours of sleep, and sheer willpower. The bags under her eyes weighed prominent and proud, and her drifting head showed courage. At least, that's what she told herself a million times per hour. None of it helped, not as much as she liked. The dream of blankets and beds and 8 hours of guilt-free rest was intoxicating. Sheer willpower, sheer willpower, there's nobody stronger than you. Her mantra. She rolled off the bed, with a loud thud onto the floor. She stretched her arms high over her head, as they reached for the ceiling, every bone in her body popped and whined, like an old machine. She yawned with all her might, a lion's roar, and headed to her bathroom.
Her father was already awake and preparing when she walked in. Making sure everything looked nice, sweeping the floor, restocking items. Lynne didn't have to work till late, since she was to go work at the hospital today, like most days. Though, she stood and stared at her father, not able to get a greeting past the barrier of her lips.
After five minutes, her father stood and looked at her. They were both quite tall, as pioneers go, but her father still stood much above her. He grunted a hello. She was about to turn and leave when he started talking.
"Lynne, there's a water supply coming in, I need you to make sure you get a couple gallons today. More than anyone else, before anyone else," he said, his way of morning talk.
"That's a lot of pressure. How do you know a water supply coming in?" She asked him. He grunted again, this time it was a disapproving one. She was trained to tell the difference.
"You're head is always in the clouds. How will you be a medic if you never pay attention? Wolff did, who else?" Lynne nodded, she should have known. Chris Wolff was a dear friend of her fathers, and like an uncle to her. He was a small time merchant, yet a big time supplier. He knew where to get things, when to get things, how to get things, before the original supplier even knew that the situation would happen. He probably was born with the exact data of this water supply. That was just how he was. But it was unusual for her to have to get the supplies for her father instead of him.
"What happened to Chris?" she asked, concerned, but her father of course took it the wrong way.
"Selfish child," was all he said, and she knew that was all she was going to get. It was no use fighting him, it was already made up in his mind that no more words would be said, her father was a very terse kind of man. She left the story still sleepy, but at the very least, ready for the day.
Oswin Juenva Jones was always an early riser. It made her a perfect package handler. When she got on her levitating bike - a beautiful cherry red number with an eighty pound capacity back end and a low-level street map algorithm (she called it Phil) - and rode through the streets of Vesta she was often the only one up. Oswin loved those early runs. It was so peaceful, like she was the only one in the whole place, and all the fighting for water and food and everything else - the tension that had started eating at everyone on the base - it was all forgotten for one or two blissful hours.
Oswin pulled over and dropped off a box of...well, sometimes she didn't want to know what her stops were ordering. She was on what the mailers called the Main Line, or Main St, where the hub of the Vesta market was. It was close to port, and she would spend a long time there once her shift was done. It was the heart of Vesta, the source of its life blood.
So when the metal grates in front of the entrances started rolling up she knew everyone and their uncle would be up within the hour.
She revved Phil and sped off. More activity than usual was kicking off the morning. She glided over to 10-4, the primary restaurant for visiting pilots and military grunts. She stopped at the front, shut off the left Ions, and backed into the narrow alley between the restaurant and another business. She flipped up the small, central switch that was Phil's landing legs and turned him off.
She really wished Old Tacklenack or somebody would clean the spaces between buildings. There was brown, decomposed...something on the floor near the dumpster. And on the dumpster.
She hopped off and pulled out the package; fresh order of cumin, mustard seed, paprika and other spices. She was pretty sure salt was involved. Just as Oswin made to knock on the back door her trusty friend Caleb burst out of it. He was a scrawny boy, and at just an inch under her height at 6'1", one of the shortest, too. He was in some all-fire hurry, throwing on his cadet jacket and not even seeing her.
"Yo! Vesta to Caleb!" she called with a playful grin.
He turned. "Ozzy! What are you doing here?"
"Delivering the secret ingredients to your old man's Moroccan dry-rub." She hefted the little box, pretending it weighed several kilos more than it did. "What's with the fast feet? We got a hull breach?"
"No! We - don't you know?" Caleb asked as she handed him the box.
"Caleb, half of everything I know I get from you. Tell me."
He looked out into the open street and whispered, "Ozzy, we got a water supply coming in."
"What?!" She threw open the back door, grabbed the box back out of the junior cook's hands, and threw it inside. "Shit! Get on! We've gotta go now or there'll be nothing left!"
She had Phil started before she was even on, and Caleb uneasily saddled himself behind her.
"Phil, baby, plot the fastest course to the distrib line," she ordered. As always, it gave her the most direct route. Not necessarily the fastest. "Alright, that's close enough! Cale, hold on tight!"
They flew out of the alleyway and made a hard left that almost knocked Caleb off the bike.
William O'Leary had never seen so many people in one place on Vesta. Hallways, bars, docking bays were all crowded and filled to the brim at one point or another, but nothing ever quite like this. The ever-growing horde of individuals on Deck 0-220, the unofficial market square of the station, had already crept its way through the decks above and below. Left and right. Front and center. It made him feel small, and Will O'leary was anything but small. At an even two and a half meters, one hundred-eighty kilos, the man was a towering pillar of hard muscle and scarred skin.
He'd served on board the Bernadette longer than anyone else had, save for the captain. He'd seen countless stations, been through the rings of Saturn, glimpsed Jupiter from the furthest reaches of the system, and none if it could be quite compared to this mass. Even if they sold one kilo at a time, hardly a standard gallon, that would be enough for only one thousand sales. If they cut their amounts sold, it would cause the crowd to stir. In the dirty, cramped confines of the deck the ensuing riot would be quick and bloody.
"These people get you can recycle water here, right?" O'Leary questioned, handing off another half-kilo of hard, packed ice and taking a handful of UND in return. The man had shorted him twenty, but he had already faded into the crowd.
"The fuck you know about living on a station?" Dylan Wood replied, hefting another block to replace the one O'Leary had just sold.
"You figure it's 'gotta be like living on a ship, no?" O'Leary had spent most of his life on some form of ship or another, learned the art of recycling air and water as far as it would go - how was this different?
"Imagine the Bernadette. She's a good girl, you take good care of her, right?"
O'Leary nodded, hefting another block to another payment - this time too much. At this point, the crowd was only shoving money in their direction in the hopes it would appear to be enough, and there was very little O'Leary could do about it. Faces blended into one whole, movements failed to stand out, and double checking a payment would likely result in a fist to the face with the tension this desperate mob was emanating. Not even its armed police force seemed to be doing much other than standing around. Some even formed the very heart of the mob: no one was above another in the desperate attempt to purchase a little more life.
"O'Leary, you listening?" Dylan snapped.
"Right, sorry," he handed off another block.
"So, the Bernadette. Since Naomi's some 'wanna-be runaway rich kid, she's given us the best of the best. Pioneer-made tech. Even then, Bernie's only got an efficiency for recycling of, like, sixty, seventy percent. And her recycling bays are state-of-the-art. This station? Fuck, sciSoft sent it spinning way longer than Bernie's been around and its recycling capacity's only fifty percent at best. And that's if they run regular maintenance on all the bays."
O'Leary's good eye, the one not replaced by an implant, met Dylan's dimly amused ones, "So they're fucked."
It wasn't a question, "Not today, not tomorrow, but soon. Yeah. We'll pull our shift here and get out of here. Cap'n said we're to cut off sales once get get half of this stuff out. We'll pick up tomorrow with another half of what we've got left, then we'll go for the last chunk the day after."
"Nothing says we'll make it back to Venus in one piece," O'Leary continued, taking a sharp intake of breath as he hefted yet another kilo outwards to another, willing customer, "think we'll get blown to sub-atomic particles before or after we're asked some nice questions?"
"Are you housing UN or Martian Marines?" Dylan replied in a forced monotone, sliding another piece over, "Are you in possession of weapon systems? Is your transponder legitimate? Are there hidden torpedo tubes on your outer hull?"
Dylan had been a communications officer, if only for a short while, O'Leary knew. They'd picked him up on Luna, a deserter from the Martian Navy, and he had agreed to operate as the Bernadette's operations officer. He could scramble an enemy's communications network, shut off a transponder, and activate the point-defense systems within seconds, but none of that applied to a civilian ship like the Bernadette. O'Leary had suspected the captain had only wanted a means to ensure the man wouldn't be executed for his crimes if the Martians pulled a victory in the weeks between jumps.
"I doubt they'll take kindly to you doing their job for them," O'Leary snorted with humorless laughter.
"No, but then, they're all assholes anyways."
Without O'Leary or Dylan's control, the cargo bay door of the Bernadette began to clamber downwards. With a thud that sounded over the entire deck, the doors locked themselves shut and the internal security initiated. From behind the ship clambered out the captain - O'Leary to this day had seen him called nothing else - and began shouting to the crowd.
"We're back tomorrow! Same deck, same time! If you purchased any today, don't come back! We're here to help the most people, not the ones with the time and money to keep returning!" This drew a series of shouted complaints and, without warning, the crowd was on the move.
O'Leary didn't need to be told twice to clamber inside the Bernadette, and Dylan followed close behind, the same thought going through the entire crew: had they just caused a riot?
Lynne, even in the early hours of the morning, was already too late. People clawed at the deck, holding up the ice blocks like the most valuable thing in the world, which truthfully, could be argued that they were. But she couldn't waste time on this. She was pushed to the side by a couple teenagers running away with their new water. She wasn't aggressive enough to deal with this. She closed her eyes and shuddered, she knew she'd come home to her father holding a sleeping bag in his arm.
"You must stay there overnight, be the first one tomorrow."
She would try to get a sick day tomorrow, or something. She turned and started to fast walk towards the hospital, when she was almost knocked over by something sudden and fast. A large, firm hand grabbed her wrist, stopping her from falling on her head.
"Oh boy! Sorry Lynne!" She recognized the voice: Chris.
"Hey Chris, what's up?" She asked, regaining her balance.
"Your father told me to come and get you, take you to work. You get the water?" Shamefully, Lynne shook her head no. Chris gave a hearty laugh, and patted her back. The pure strength of it almost knocked her over again, "That's okay. Those people look like monsters. Come on, let's go. I'll try to calm down your father for you," He promised as Lynne got on the back of his hover motorcycle. He took no time in bolting off when she wrapped her arms around him. She squeezed, the floor seemed so close, so dangerous whenever she rode one of these things. She would try to avoid getting hurt and her skin being pulled off if she could.
She thanked him when he dropped her off at the hospital, and rushed in. She saw one of the medics, Nicholas Green, and ran over to greet him.
The world was separated by winners and losers. There was nothing special about those who won except sheer luck. That was what Oswin's grandfather used to say. All anything ever boiled down to was the brains to see a good opportunity, the guts to jump for it, and of course the uncanny miracle of being in the right place at the right time.
For Oswin, it felt good to win.
She and Caleb had managed to purchase not one, but THREE blocks of ice. Granted, two were going to 10-4. Places like restaurants, bars, and especially hospitals and the Fire Dept were entitled to more water because they needed it. But just because they needed it more, didn't mean they always got it. Special vouchers were added to certain ID cards, so everyone would know they weren't getting more resources for themselves, but for the good of the community.
Phil's back end was spacious enough for the ice, kept safe in chill boxes, like portable freezers. Oswin sped off with Caleb and the precious cargo, heading first back to the restaurant.
"Seriously, Ozzy, I can't thank you enough," Caleb sighed as he climbed off and grabbed his ice. "I bet you'd like to stay...some of that Moroccan tofu-chicken you love so much?"
"Sure. But first...you know what I want."
He sighed and led her into the kitchen. It was at least clean, and everything worked, so even though it was scarcely bigger than a closet it could produce good food. He put a pan on the stove and started heating it up. The kitchen had a deli slicer and he took out a block of ice and started cutting it.
"Don't forget: you wouldn't have any ice at all without Phil and me," she said. She didn't like holding stuff like that over his head. But then times were tough, and favors could be more valuable than UNDs.
"Yeah..." He finished shaving off an inch of ice and threw it in the pan. It hissed, crackled, and started to melt. When there were just a few tiny chips of ice left he brought it over and poured the excess into Oswin's box. "There. Not enough room for a piece of ice, but at least you got your water. Just remember to be careful."
She nodded as she latched the box up. There wasn't enough room for it to freeze again, so it would slosh around in there until she got home.
"Thanks," she said. She mussed up his hair and gave him half a hug. "And I really mean that. I hear they're doing it again tomorrow, right? I'll catch you first thing in the morning."
"Thanks, Ozzy! Man, I'm definitely getting a raise from Old Tacklenack after this!"
She chuckled. Oswin stuck around for that Moroccan tofu she was promised, and quietly drilled Caleb on whatever other secrets he might know, mostly concerning future sales like today's. But she had another agenda: pilots she could talk to. She wanted to know where they were. She wanted an opportunity to be taken under someone's wing. Unfortunately, as usual, he had nothing.
She sighed and left out the back door. Might as well return home.
[fieldbox="Eliana: The Workshop, #666699, dashed, 10, Tahoma"]
liana Delores-Presley was slouched over in her chair, her head rested against folded arms beside the guts of a something-or-other, by now completely unrecognizable in the pile it sat in. Parts were still in her hands, with wires--thankfully, not live--and circuits sprouting out of her fingers. Beside her head was a now cold cup of thick, muddy Joe, the kind they sold across the street that overpriced but worth it for the obscenely unhealthy amounts of caffeine. Unfortunately for Ellie, that caffeine had helped little in her attempts to marathon the night. Now, even the rushing noise outside of her small workshop was not enough to wake her.
"Hello?" Slowly she became aware that she was moving, rocking and back and forth against the rickety wooden table. Something--someone--was shaking her. She groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hands as she looked through the blur of sleep at the offending person.
"Earth 'a Ellie--Vesta to Ellie, rather. Sorry. You awake? Geez, you ain't get no sleep 'round here, no?"
She swatted away his still-shaking hand, her eyes narrowing into a groggy glare. "Cut it out Rumiford. How the heck did you get in here anyways? And of course I don't get any sleep, not with your lot barging in here every waking moment."
Jacob Rumiford was of the scruffy, scraggly type, even though he had a decent home and lived fairly well despite it all. Eliana had been working for him for months, doing low-end repairs and fixes for the equipment he somehow managed to buy and carelessly broke. Some of the tech he got his hands on must have cost a fortune, and yet the old man still didn't give a rats ass about taking care of it. It drove her up a wall. She probably would have stopped providing service to him years ago if he didn't pay well. Even though she had no idea where the money came from, she wasn't about to reject it. She needed it.
"You lefta door open. As usual. Why'd'ya keep askin'?" he said, his works slurring ever so slightly. Ellie also wasn't sure where the guy even came from; an Earther, she knew, but his accents and speech were nothing identifiable, and she'd just about heard it all. As he spoke, he leaned forward, investigating the bits of circuitry and wires on the table as if he understood what it was even for. "You finished yet? I ain't paying you't sleep. An I know you ain't busy."
She stood up, pushing loose untamed hair from her face as she grabbed the mug of coffee and downed what was rest. Her expression pinched up but she swallowed the bitter sludge down anyways. "No, I'm not done. And no, I'm not busy. But you've given me a device in shambles, Rumiford. I don't know what you expect of me. I'm only human and not a professionally trained one at that. Honestly, why don't you get someone else to do it?" she said, gathering up parts and starting to put things back together. She still hadn't figured out what was wrong.
He raised an eyebrow. "If you don't wan' me to come..."
"... No, no. That's not what I meant, and you know it!" she exclaimed. "I won't turn you down. I just wonder is all."
"Whassit got to do wi' anythin'? I pay you, you do'th work, that's it. Look, if you can't fix it, that's fine. Just givvit a fair shot." he rambled, turning and making for the exit. She sighed; even hearing his receding steps lifted a load off her chest.
But then he paused, his hand resting on the wall by the exit. "You migh'wan'ta get a move on to 0-220 though girl. Water supply. 'd wanna get there mighty quick."
"What?" She hadn't heard anything about a shipment coming in. Something big like that would have been common word on the streets. She must be really fucking out of it. "Now?"
Rumiford paused, looking out through the open exit to the rushing crowds outside. "I'd'a say so."
iel Portia Presley's dream job was never to be a peacekeeper. In fact, it was never on her list of plans to spend the rest of her life on a space station, anyways. She'd dropped everything to come here, all the things she'd built up over a lifetime of hardship and pain--and she wasn't really gaining much from it. Granted, she wasn't living with twenty other people and had her own home, which was honestly significantly better than anything she could have afforded planetside, and had a decent job. But on Vesta, access to certain necessities was more uncertain than it was in the slums of her childhood, and nobody seemed to like her, as a peacekeeper or otherwise. And, it had taken goddamn years for Warrens to say those magic words she'd been waiting to hear.
"Don't screw this up, Presley, you keep clear of fuck ups and you'll make sergeant. Understood?"
It wasn't a promise, but it meant something. It meant something and she wasn't going to fuck it up for the world, ice miners and crazed civilians be damned.
She departed quickly to deck four with the other peacekeepers, who nigh wordlessly splitting up the deck into sections and going their separate ways. She'd worked with these people before, and she'd worked the same job before. Simple stuff. Nothing remotely challenging--she'd never even had to do as much as break up a fight. Anything of interest was happening downstairs, at deck 0-220, where she could already hear the roaring crowds from where she stood stationed near one of the exits down. There was plenty a scuffle down below.
Don't complain, Presley. You're looking to avoid fuck-ups, and you'll do it, safe up here and away from the actual drama. You're better off away from it all.
She sighed, fighting the urge to lean back against the wall and dream. Cici wasn't much of a daydreamer, but this shit was boring. She'd seen more action planetside--even on military grade ships and cargo transports. She watched civilians come and go, some rushing to get down to deck 0-220 before it was too late, others going about their daily business without a care. The privileged. Some old mechanic was down the corridor, tinkering with a browned-out light, moving as slow as molasses. A woman in a business suit was strutting across the deck. Nobody likely to cause trouble.
Why did Warrens always stick her with these good-for-nothing shit jobs? Was law enforcement always this boring? It seemed like it was more about getting a raise than doing anything of interest.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched a scraggly teenaged kid, dressed in patchwork clothing and walking stiffly towards the stairway down. She knew she was out of her mind when she had nothing better to do than suspect homeless street kids.
Oswin climbed off Phil and pushed the bike into a small container by her house. It was just like all the other homes in Vesta: a quick, easy module that was modified for comfort and uniqueness. Her parents' house was on the docks, since her grandfather had started a trade ship business fifty years ago. Ever since the supply lines were cut, though, the ship had been parked. On the bright side, it made her house twice as large. Bigger, actually.
She walked in with the box of ice and water raised over her head like a trophy. "Mom! Dad! Who wants a drink?"
Her father, Octavian Jones, came out from behind the curtain that obscured the airlock. From him, Oswin got her rich tan skin, her height, and her dark, slightly shiny hair. He smiled as he reached out his arms for the water. She yanked the package back.
"Uh-uh! Who's your gift-bringer?" she chuckled.
He kissed her cheek and slipped his hand between hers, taking the box in one fluid motion (no pun intended).
"More than just my gift-bringer, you are my gift, Oswin," he replied. He went to place the water in the filter unit, the one in the ship since it had the efficiency upgrades.
"Yeah, well my idea of a gift would be some wings." She threw off her vest and tossed it into the little closet that was supposed to be her room.
"Honey, I've been trying," he insisted. "But nobody's looking for pilots right now. Once trade routes are back up, you'll get those wings. I know you got what it takes."
"So do I. You know, I was one of the last to hear about the water coming in, and me and Caleb still managed to walk off with three blocks," she boasted. She opened a cabinet, rolled it until glasses came up, and poured herself a drink. It was a slow, savoring drink. "Ah. First glass."
"Headed back tomorrow, right?" he asked. He patted the humming recycler drum. It was only half full. "Water's not something you just pass on."
She ducked behind the curtain and clambered into the ship. Further and further she crawled until she got to the cockpit. A panoramic viewport of the stars. She sat in the pilot's chair and just looked out at the expanse of stars. She could make out a thin band of purple and white: the Milky Way. Her hands rested idly on the controls in the armrests. She knew how it all worked. Left pedal to levitate, right to control height. Main arms for steering. Two in the rests for hard emergency brakes. Controls in front for everything else. Oh, how she'd love to take her out for a fly...
"BOO!" Oswin jumped out of her seat when two strong little hands grabbed her shoulders. She turned and glared at her mother, doing her best not to laugh.
While she'd inherited her father's height, tan skin and dark hair, from her mother she had the amazing ability of jumbling those features into something pretty. Anita Jones was the customary short at 5'5", typical average for earthborn women. Her hair was a lighter brown, but her skin did have the desired tan.
"Mom! God damn...what if I was near the launch key?" she asked, leaping up and putting her arm around her mother's neck. She couldn't help it. She used to do that to her all the time.
"Your dad has the launch key," she retorted. "In case a certain someone wants to go for a joyride. Anyway...I saw you brought the water. Sorry I couldn't tell you sooner, but you do leave before me."
"I get it. At least I got the goods," Oswin said back, shrugging it off and kissing her cheek.
"Well tomorrow you'll get them at a fair price. Give me your card..."
Oswin's UND slip traded hands and when she got it back she was stunned. "A discount? Ten percent?! Holy - !"
Her mother quickly put a finger to her lips. "Not if you're using that kind of language. I'm opening the doors for the ship tomorrow, and I got that discount as gratuity. I figure giving it to you gives us a chance of it actually being used. And you can use what you save to get yourself something nice."
Oswin nodded and kissed her cheek again. She was bouncing on the balls of her feet. She'd been wound like a spring since the water run. "Thanks mom. Thanks so much. I think I'll go get myself something nice now."
The air around the deck had changed entirely. No longer was the crowd a mob of hopeful, if perhaps fearful, individuals attempting to buy fresh reserve water on its first cycle. Now it was a crowd of rats. Though now peacekeepers had been placed directly into the deck as opposed to above and around it, that did not stop the odd man or woman strutting around with a pistol.
"Give me half a dollar for every 'civvie that thinks they're good to go with a gun and I will have to stop working here," Dylan commented dryly, attempting to break the tense silence with a chuckle.
That was the most disturbing part, O'Leary thought, the silence. The tension was as subtle as a gunshot in an empty room. Neither O'Leary or Dylan had been left in charge of distributing the prepackaged chunks of ice: they stood armed and ready upon either side of the Bernadette, eyes scanning the crowd. Below them, at the low-laying cargo bay, sat the other crew members, having formed a line and a very strict purchasing system. Anyone recognized immediately was simply turned down, and people wanting more than one package were sent to the back of the line again. An inefficient system to say the least.
"You weren't in the army for more 'n a week or two," O'Leary added. The two had quickly switched to a private communication unit that allowed them to whisper and hear one another, though Dylan had opted to be loud enough for most of the deck to hear them anyways.
The only reply from Dylan was a low grunt. Inwardly laughing, O'Leary shifted his attention to the open floor. Two dots in the sea of humanity had begun a fight over a block of ice, one tugging violently at the lump of blue-white block, the other pointing his weapon in response: a worn kitchen knife. Before O'Leary could do so much as his clear his throat, two peacekeepers had bullied their way through the crowd to knock down the involved parties. For a terrifying split second, the tension broke into anarchy as the crowd began to move, but the momentum quickly dissipated at the hands of the two peacekeepers.
"Here I thought I'd have to shoot someone," O'Leary mused.
"Let the peacekeepers die first, 'eh? Never did like those corporate security wastoids," Dylan replied with what O'Leary could only imagine was a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.
"You dealt with them before?"
"There's loads of the fuckers on Luna, couldn't throw a rock without hitting one corporate gun bunny or another. Not a lot of 'em are smart, thank Christ, but they sure think they're big and bad."
"And are we any better?"
"Oh, 'course," Dylan laughed again, "We're both ex military."
Which was and wasn't an answer. Having been trained and in combat meant nothing over corporate security, but then, what did O'Leary know? He was the idiot on this station in the first place.
Hindsight is 20-20...
Then he heard the shot.
Medical Room 22-E
When Naomi had awoken from her restless, unfulfilling slumber, she had been met with a harsh examination light that had forced her eyes tight shut once more. She was only dimly aware of the sound of a chair's wheels scraping across the metal floor beneath her, and when Nicholas Green's voice came, it struck with all the force of a cannon.
"Are you feeling any better?"
For a long while Naomi lay there, unresponsive, attempting to force her eyes open more than the crack they had permitted. Finally giving up and letting them fall shut, she replied, voice hoarse from lack of use, "I-I'm not sure. I can't really feel much right now."
A tickling sensation prickled against her swollen foot, only, when her toes moved in response, Naomi noted that whatever swelling there had been had been removed almost entirely. The medic asked a few more questions related to the injury and let her be, shutting off the lights on the way out. Was that it? Was she supposed to lay here for another day? Feeling more agitated than groggy at the thought, the girl rose gingerly to a sitting position and looked around the dimly lit medical chamber. It was exactly the same as it had been before: undecorated, practical, and without a single sharp corner.
Another two hours passed, Naomi flitting in and out of sleep, before the medic returned, the lights flickering on automatically as he did so. Though the sudden brightness sent a burst of pain behind Naomi's eyes it was not nearly so bad as it had been before. Excitedly, the girl shot upwards and looked hopefully to the medic standing in the doorway.
"Can I leave?"
"I've got no reason to keep you longer and-"
"Great!" Naomi interjected, hoisting herself to her feat and wincing as she lay pressure upon injured muscles.
"Right. You're going to need a micro-filament cast for that, three days at least, but I'd rather you keep it there for four. You'll be able to get back to your crew today, but I'd wait 'til evening. There's been some activity in the deck they were selling their water off at."
That took a moment to hit her, "Anyone hurt?"
"Couldn't tell you. Anyways, payments due in within the week and I think..."
Only, Naomi had stopped listening. This operation had been her plan, her idea, and now some of the people she had involved might be hurt or killed. Her hands fell to her open palms resting upon her thighs in a gesture of dismay. The medic, taken aback, halted mid-sentence.
"Oh, no, no."
"Alright, like I said, payment within the week, thirteen thousand UND, I'll take any method of payment. If you need anything else, be sure to come in. I'll an assistant clear you out of here and send you on your way after a last-minute health check. Sound good?"
"Let's get that cast on."
The Greasy Priestess
Charlotte Burns was never Charlotte Burns in the Greasy Priestess. She was Eris there. Eris never needed to worry about where her next meal came from or what would happen tomorrow, Charlotte Burns did. Eris was open and promiscuous with others. Eris was a dream, not a reality. More often than not, Charlie longed for the day that she could leave her 'true' self behind and become Eris in every facet.
That day had not come.
No, Charlotte Burns had too many things to worry about for Eris to become a permanent addition to her personality. Eris worked through the days and nights an escort, Charlotte Burns sat in distress a lowly whore. And as much as she wanted to believe that her pseudonym was a separate identity, a separate individual that Charlie was merely allowed to live through, the fact was that what influenced Eris influenced Charlotte Burns even more. There was no alternative life, just one life split into two inadequate parts, and she was beginning to realize the foolishness in the presumption they were anything else.
Right now, it was Charlotte Burns in the Greasy Priestess, not Eris. Whereas Eris would have played the flirt, the hard-to-get, Charlotte Burns was meek and accepting. Though now, in the lull of activity the bar (a brothel, in truth) experienced, Charlie was finding it difficult not to play herself for a change.
"I heard Lily's getting squeezed next month," one girl commented to Charlie. The two currently sat at the bar, each holding a vat-grown brew and sipping casually at the foul, though mildly sweet, spirit.
"Thought that shit was done once you got off Earth," Charlie responded softly, taking a long draft of the brew. The bar itself boasted a "Blue Buzz" that contained a large portion of methamphetamine, diesel, and hard caffeine, but few ever took that offer: even the tasteless, disgusting vat-grown beer they served held a better reputation.
"Just 'cause we don't have population laws up here don't mean it isn't something people pay extra for. Plenty of earthers, besides," the girl replied. Charlie felt a pang of guilt for not remembering her name, but rather than draw light to it, she continued the conversation.
"That'll be me in a few weeks or so," Charlie responded, the statement arriving with more grace and dignity than she had believed possible for the subject.
"Everybody'll get squeezed. Just a part of the business, deary. You make more money with the earthers if you're knocked up."
"Fuckin' pragmatic," Charlie's tone was utterly dry, almost uninterested.
"Hey, way I see it, we're about to see a lot more business with the way things are. Cheer up!"
But what good was that when even the air they breathed was going to be hard to come by?
Oswin grumbled to herself as she watched the other people get their water. She also watched Caleb look around somewhat nervously.
"I hope Tacklenack doesn't see me here," he muttered.
"Relax. We're in a coffeehouse. Not exactly competition," she replied.
"You don't even drink coffee. Now will you pop that bubble, already?"
"Just a little longer..." Oswin had gotten a bubbled tea. But it wasn't like the old, traditional bubble tea. There was a cream and sugar bubble holding all the tea inside, so there was a white ball inside a cup. The tea would eventually dissolve the bubble, but Oswin liked popping it, just like everyone else did. She had a knack for knowing when to pop it just before it popped itself. She had excellent timing.
"And...now." She popped the bubble, and the tea was released and filled the cup. Steam and a creamy smell wafted up. She took her spoon and sipped. "I can't believe they wouldn't let us go and get more water. I mean, why wouldn't they. UND is UND, right?"
"Well, other people need water, too," Caleb reasoned.
She shrugged. "I guess you're right. When do you think supply lines will open again?"
Just then a shot rang out. The place began to erupt into chaos. "Not soon."
She stuck her tea into the cupholder on Phil and they got out of there...
If her mother knew where she went to get her fix, Oswin wouldn't ever see her darling Phil for a year. The Greasy Priestess had never had a good reputation. The best that could be said of the bar/brothel/drug joint was that it was "a great place to have a fun night, and six bad decisions in the morning."
While not looking for six, Oswin could do with one or two bad decisions.
She stepped inside and walked soft. She avoided the Blue tables, but did stop by the bar for a tube of cheep beer. She kept her thumb over the lid so no one slipped her a Mickey. She leaned against a support column and sighed. The traders had recognized her from yesterday. That great discount charge got her nothing. Since when did they give a crap about even goods for everybody? They were Earthers! Just flash some UNDs and you can get away with anything!
Since when did that change?
So Ozzy had some steam to work off, and canvassed the flesh for sale. She wasn't feeling up for a man's touch; too hard, too...handsy. They knew the right places to grab, but were toorough and stopped too soon. Better to have a woman's touch tonight.
Her eyes listed back to the bar, where a few of the pretty ones had hung out. She mentally slapped herself. There was Eris right there! How had she missed her?!
Eris had been lost in conversation when Oswin had entered the bar, more focused on her drink and her company than anything else. When a girl opposite her prodded her and pointed to the doorway, Eris turned and adopted a look of surprise to Oswin, changing from surprised to questioning then to joy all in the span of a few seconds.
Offering what appeared to be a curt farewell to her counterparts, Eris made her way to the beam Oswin had braced herself against, "What brings you here? Hardly seems your hour of the day."
She shrugged. She tried to act cool with Eris, wanting to impress her. "My hour's up. The ones I give to everyone else. This is my free time. And after the mayhem at the market today, my blood's really pumping..."
She blushed before she leaned forward and added in a whisper, "Between you and me, I want that edge off ASAP. And I don't think this cheap swill your boss calls beer is gonna help."
She gave Eris a once-over with her eyes, drinking in the terrain she would hopefully have to navigate later, and alsomaking it very clear just what she was looking for.
"You're awfully terrible at being subtle, sweetheart," Eris replied, pulling an electronic cigarette from within the folds of her overcoat, clicking it on with a faint hiss. "Way I see it, you could have just slipped me the payment and I wouldn't have caught on at first. This, though? Come on..."
She blushed again, feeling as though she was shrinking before this lovely creature.
"I know. I'm a pilot; subtle's not really my thing," she offered as a lame excuse. She blinked a lot then and put her head down. If she couldn't be cool maybe she could be pitiable. "I'm sorry. You're probably tired of the bullshit, aren't you? How about direct? I want a nice, intimate moment. In a bed. With you. Is that better?"
"Why didn't you just go ahead and say that?"
Oswin sighed and rested her head on Eris's naked shoulder. She lightly tickled the nape of her neck with a lazy finger.
"Edge." She tapped the spot on her. "Off. Thanks, Eris. I know you're just doing your job, but I really appreciate it."
Eris only nodded, her head turning to meet Oswin's gaze. Laughing softly, she remarked, "Unprofessional, but I needed it, too. Had too much on my mind lately." Had that been Eris or Charlotte Burns? She didn't know.
Oswin cocked her head to the side. Everyone had problems, but too often people forgot that about each other. For her it felt like she had an unfulfilled purpose waiting for her, preferably behind a set of levers. What plagued the mind of a beautiful prostitute?
"What is it?" she asked. "I can vent to you for the right price. Why not vent to me for free? I promise to keep it here."
"Work stress," Eris responded, her head rolling back to the other side of the pillow it lay propped against, "Nothing too terrible."
A white lie. Oswin didn't need to know her own troubles: she'd come to unwind, not take her burden. Gently, Eris reached over the bed and pulled her e-cigarette, lighting it with the click of a button. For a long while she lay there, contendedly puffing smoke that drifted lazily into the overhead recycling vents. The smell of sweet vanilla would sift through the air for a while, but no doubt it would be lost to thecountless other odors trapped in recycled air.
Oswin frowned and got up to a sitting position. She was evading her, but she wasn't obligated to tell her anything, anyway. So she placed her arm around her and sighed.
"Well, thanks for helping me, anyway. It never occurred to me how selfless someone would have to be to do this," she said. She kissed her cheek.
"That's a word for it," Eris laughed with humorless mirth, "That all you needed?"
She nodded. "I think so. Thank you."
She leaned over the edge of the bed and started gathering her clothes. She hopped into her pants and worked her shirt on quickly. She pulled out her card - a unique one that marked her dual parentage by being orange on one side and blue for the other - and swiped it in the groove on the neighboring table.
"I hope you have a good rest of the night," she told her. "See ya around."
"Shots have been fired on deck 0-220. Get your asses down there, now. Keep things nonlethal, make arrests if you need to, just get the crowd to disperse." Cici didn't know the voice coming through the comm channel, though it didn't particularly matter. She heard the movement of feet across the deck of other Peacekeepers making their way to the stairwells, though from here she couldn't make out the noise of a riot down below. As she made her way down, however, she heard enough to make her nerves go shot. A couple more shots rang out, momentarily drowning out shouting and screaming.
She couldn't tell who was doing the shooting. Even from a vantage point, all she could see was the masses of people, pressing as close to the sellers--and, consequently, the ice--as possible. The closer and more dense the crowd was, the more violence there seemed to be. Some people around the edges ran, pushing past Peacekeepers and others in attempts to flee before they, too, were hurt. Others were lurking, waiting for a chance to snag their prize in the chaos. She pushed her way into the masses, trying to break up simple fist fights as she did, her own weapon in hand. It was an empty threat, but enough to make some flee on sight, not willing to take the risk.
Now she could see the shooter. He stood atop a crate, brandishing his weapon like a trophy, threatening the few who dared to come close. He'd made his way to the front of the crowd, beside several others that had apparently already paid for their goods, all cowering and trying to avoid eating bullets. As she watched, he pulled on one woman's shirt collar, jerking her around the crate and back into the crowd before pointing his weapon towards the other men and women. Telling them to back off, it looked. The two remaining women left, as did three of the four men, leaving the packed ice behind. The last man pulled a blade from his coat pocket, climbing up onto the crate and launching at the shooter. The two went toppling back into the crowd, which surged away, leaving a small clearing around the two fighting men.
"Excuse me," Cici picked up her pace, shoving indiscriminately at the people around her. She raised her voice, straining to be heard. "Excu--move it! Out of the way! I said--"
The sound of two shots, in quick succession, interrupted her. She was closer, now, maybe several paces away. Several onlookers noticed her uniform, the gun in her hand, and scattered. Others were still locked in fist fights--nothing she could do. She ran past, noting the limp body on the ground, and the ragged shooter climbing to his feet.
Before she could throw herself at the shooter, another woman, with a long cut of hair, dressed casually, if not elegantly, blew past. "No!" she screamed the words, her voice breaking. In her hands were the glint of metal, and some tool of sorts--a hammer, wrench, something. Cici couldn't tell in the chaos. The fury in her expression was clear. "Not Rodriguez. You fucked with the wrong woman!" She jumped out, catching the male by his midriff and dragging him to the ground.
For the love of all things holy, what the fuck is she doing? They were wrestling on the ground, the man fighting her for her weapons. The woman was screeching, biting and clawing like an animal. Her weapon--the metal tool--slammed down onto his wrist. With a cry his hand went slack, gun clattering to the ground towards Cici. She made her move, scooping it up and then wrapping her arms around the woman's torso, yanking her back and throwing her onto the floor. "Get back! This man is armed--"
"You fucking Earther! Stay out of this! He killed my husband! I want just--" The woman didn't finish before blood blossomed from her chest, staining her pale dress red. She crumpled to the ground.
Ciel didn't think. She raised her weapon at the same time the shooter fired his again. She felt the bullet instantly. Blinded by pain, she shot senselessly, releasing the clip before her leg collapsed from beneath her. When she looked up, the guy's body was on the floor, riddled with holes.
Lynne was only given paperwork for new patients to fill out. Not exactly strenuous, but she would've preferred that over tedious. She went home and told her father about her day, leaving the lack of water for last, though that part was obvious from when she walked in the door. He stood there at the stall, staring at her disapprovingly. She opened her mouth, to say his words, but he held up a large bony hand to stop her.
"Christopher has already calmed my nerves. And what's more, though it took him a while for him to get me to agree to it, he will get the water for us instead of you."
Chris nodded, his smirk reaching to the far ends of his face, "Yep! If I'm not your guardian angel, Lynne, then I don't know who is!" She smiled gratefully, and hugged him, and then hugged her father.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get the water. You know I'm not the most aggressive papa, and the people there seemed quite vicious. I'm a lover, not a fighter," she told her father, watching a smile grow on his stony face. He nodded, he understood. It put Lynne's nerves to rest, knowing her father wasn't upset with her.
"Go, set Chris up a bag for the night. He is about to leave," her father said. She nodded and went into the back, stuffing drinks, food, and a sleeping bag into a backpack. She headed up to the front and handed it to him. Chris saluted to them both, and promised to do his best to get a block of ice, and off he went on his bike. She knew both her and her father were worried for Chris's safety, but Chris had a way of making you think he was invincible. The best always seemed to happen for him.
She was shooed to go eat and rest. Her family owned two modules. One for her father to sleep in, with a kitchen and his own bathroom, and the other for her and her brother to share, right next to each other. She hopped into her father's to get food, and then went back into hers and sat into her bed next to her brother's. He was reading, studying most likely. He wanted to be an engineer when he got older. They said little to each other. They were the rare type of siblings who rarely fought, and found comfort in each other's silence. Right after she ate, her head plopped onto her pillow, and she was sleeping in seconds.
The next day was more paperwork, and Chris came back with an ice block. Her dad was so happy, he cooked a dinner too big that he shared it with the neighbors.
The third day, she was presented with actual medical work. At first she was excited, she liked helping people, but when she heard what it was, her smile immediately turned into a firm frown. There was a riot going on, down by where the ice was being given out. They didn't know how many were injured and there was an armed gunman. Her and other medics and students drove down to the scene, greeted with a screaming crowd of people and multiple gunshots. The screaming only got louder, as did the sound of guns. The group began to push through the crowds, helping the first person they saw hurt into the ambulances. Lynne pushed all the way through, she wanted to see the source of the gunshots. She was, at the same time, shocked and not surprised by what she saw. A peacekeeper, a man, and a woman, all covered in holes and blood crumpled on the ground. She ran forward to help, and called for any free hand medics to join her.
"How idiotic are you, girl?" O'Leary barked, the sound of his skull striking the low ceiling above reverberating through the narrow hallway the pair now idled through, hunched low to avoid exactly what the ice-miner had just done.
Overhead, the faint echo of gunshots and wailing screams sounded, sending chills down Naomi's spine as she worked her way inch by inch through the passageway. No, passageway was giving the narrow walls and low ceiling too much. It was a maintenance shaft. All around her, black-and-yellow warning stripes foretold the dangers of opening ventways, clicking incorrect switches, touching wires. She ignored O'Leary's question, hoping that by giving the man no attention he'd finally stop talking. Naomi hated conflict, hated it more when she was the cause of it.
"The fuck was that, up there?" O'Leary's voice had broken that barrier between annoyance and pure rage.
"What? What the fuck do you want?" Naomi snapped, stopping to turn on her heels, faltering partway through the movement and cascading into a nearby wall.
"I want answers I-" A shot from above, followed by a blood-curdling scream of agony, silenced the man for a moment. He paused, waited, then spoke again, "The hell were you doing, offering the ice for free like that? What bullshit did you think you were pulling? You saw what happened yesterday when we ran out - and then you offer it for nothing?!"
"IT'S MY SHIP!" Naomi howled, laughing with a manic glint to her eyes.
"It's not your fucking cargo," O'Leary growled, fists clenching at his side. "Got no authority to take it like that and toss it out!"
"Like hell I don't," the girl's arms crossed and her brow tightened into a scowl.
"The captain is dead because of you. Dylan is dead because of you. People up there? More than should've are dying because of you. You came out here wanting to play the fucking rich-girl-daddy-issues charity case, and you know what you did?"
"Got people killed," Naomi admitted quietly, the fiery light flickering and sputtering in her eyes. The accusation felt worse than a blow to to diaphragm. She'd never even been hit in the diaphragm, but she was sure this is what it felt like.
"Yeah, you fucking did. When we get a way off this rock, hope we don't meet again," he paused. "If we do, you'll get a bullet through that fucking addled brain of yours."
The Greasy Priestess was a seedy location. Everyone knew it, and the fact that the brothel could earn a reputation throughout the entire station spoke more to that seediness than anything. Charlie herself avoided the surrounding habitation blocks at all costs and even regularly spent nights in her assigned bed to avoid the solitary march home.
The Underwarrens made the Greasy Priestess look like a chapel.
Charlie - was it Charlie meeting Oswin today? No, Eris. Eris stood at the corner between two cramped catwalks above the main floor of the Underwarrens, hand clutching the butt of a .22 "lady's" pistol. No one bothered with the standard decency of concealed weaponry in the Underwarrens; Eris' pistol was plain for the world to see, just like the ganger opposite her in the hallway had made no point of concealing the heavily customized assault rifle as casually as one might hold a data reader. His eyes glazed over hers and suddenly Eris felt like she should have worn something more practical for the occasion.
But he's got the bigger gun, even if he doesn't know how to use it...
Starting to twitch with impatience, Eris glanced down at her chrono and grimaced: Oswin was pushing the agreed time. Had she developed second doubts? Zen wasn't exactly illegal, but...
But then, neither was it something Oswin, the image of youthful innocence, would find herself doing. Eris knew that, but was she ready to drag Oswin into that life? A morale dilemma was not another thing to tack onto her steadily growing list of worries. Eris' decision had been made, and if Oswin wanted to allow herself to be dragged into Eris' underworld, it would be no one's fault but hers for taking the step. Ignore that Eris had opened the door for that step. Ignore that she had set Oswin on the path.
I'm not here for right and wrong. I'm here for cash.
And how could it get any simpler than that?
Vesta Deck 0-220
"Down! Get the fuck down!"
The cluster of civilians, a family by the looks of them, were blown away into a cloud of red mist before they could react. Lewis Young had attempted to dive down to save them, but he'd been too slow. His efforts were rewarded by landing face-first atop their bullet-riddled corpses with a sickening crunch. The weight of armor, man, and momentum had sent him and their lifeless forms sprawling across the deck before the peacekeeper could react and dig in his feet to stall their momentum.
The deck was in chaos. The perimeter the peacekeepers had established, preventing anyone from reaching the ice freighter, had fallen apart within moments of the first movement. Though from his momentary break in the crowd Lewis could see the slightly taller, bulkier forms of other peacekeepers among the raging civilians, he would never be able to reach them. Each one was their own private island, torn from one another by the heat of battle. Early in the fight, they had tried to preserve some means of communications, some means to keep in touch. That had only resulted in listening to the agonized screams of dead or dying peacekeepers: Lewis had been relieved to find his transponder had been destroyed by a blow to the back.
Lewis scanned his surroundings. There. A man hefting an automatic shotgun in the air, pointing it unceremoniously at a couple that had managed to wrestle a chunk of blood-stained ice from the fallen. Lewis raised his own weapon, switching the ammunition to lethal rounds with a deft twitch of his thumbs. He didn't have long. Within half a second, the idiot with the shotgun would make minced meat of anyone within three yards of him. Drawing in a sharp breath, steadying his shaking hands, Lewis squeezed the trigger, feeling the prodigious recoil of his rifle kick into his shoulder. The gel round sped forward, slamming into the side of the man's head, knocking him down: he was dead. Gel rounds were meant to hit the stomach, the arms, keep people pinned. That mass spreading out over the head would knock even the hardiest soldiers cold once and for all.
A deafening roar sounded behind the peacekeeper, who promptly spun around on his heels, wheeling his weapon around to face the new threat. A middle-aged woman, brandishing a wicked-looking cleaver above her head, was charging straight at him! Without taking care to aim, Lewis unloaded half of his clip into the woman, the gel rounds slamming with resounding thuds into her stomach. With a grunt, the woman spewing vomit from her mouth at the force of the impact, she fell to the ground, weapon clattering to the ground. Letting out a shaking breath, Lewis took a cautious step forward and turned the prone woman over. When she didn't respond, he nodded to himself and stood back up, feeling a force slam into him from behind.
"THAT WAS MY WIFE!" Came a roaring voice as claw-like hands tore off Lewis' helmet.
Instincts kicking back into life, Lewis' arms slammed backwards into the back of the figure pinning him to the ground. When he felt his armored wrists strike flesh, he thrust backwards with his torso, striking the man full-force into the chest, sending both of them sprawling backwards. For a moment they both lay there dazed. Lewis came to first. Freeing himself from the arm-lock he had initiated, he wobbled to his feet and braced himself. Not a second later, the man shot to his feet and produced a pistol that had been tucked in the rear of his pants and shot.
Click. Click. Click.
Idiot hadn't clicked the safety off. Taking advantage of this momentary pause, Lewis let out a blood-curdling yell and charged at the man, arms outstretched in an attempt to bow him over. He made it three steps before the man realized his mistake and clicked off the safety.
Lewis' momentum halted as he saw a spurt of red blood gush from a wound to his abdomen. Cursing, he fell to his knees, clutching at the steadily growing stream of blood gushing from the gunshot wound. The shooter still stood there, frozen with terror, weapon shaking in his hands. A long moment passed, Lewis slipping further and further into unconsciousness, until finally the man dropped the weapon and bolted in the opposite direction.
Vesta Medical Center Deck 0-221
"Lynne!" Nicholas Green roared over the din of the crowded waiting room. The newest casualties had come in, either men and women already dead with their charges maintaining minuscule sparks of hope, or men and woman destined for death before they had a chance to reach the operating table. The results had been far worse than the previous days had been. Green had never seen so many sloppy injuries, so many mangled intestines, so many blown limbs, so many rugged stabs and he'd been a marine once.
Picked the wrong profession, didn't you?
"Lynne, in here now!"
The peacekeeper on the operating table before him was passing into the void beyond. The gunshot to his gut had gone untreated for hours, and if Green had to be entirely honest with himself, he was unsure on whether or not the human body could survive an injury like this for that long. His innards had been shredded by what they had called a 'Black Bertha' back on Mars. Bullets designed to spread in-flight into a spiked cone, shredding whatever they came into with. It had made mockery of the armor Green had been forced to remove, and from what he could tell, the bullet was still there.
Offering a silent thanks to whoever was listening that the man hadn't been wrenched from sleep, Green set about preparing the body for extensive surgery. Too much anesthetic and he would lose him, too little, and he would wake up and die from shock. Worse, Green's hands had begun to shake. Irritating.
Chaos, chaos had truly blossomed. It was starting to uncurl it's petals, stretching them out to the very edges of Vesta. It would cover every person here, Lynne could see it already. Shut down, shut down, turn off the panic. You're not allowed to panic. Lynne isn't allowed to be afraid. She stared at the scene in front of her, taking a step to help out the collapsed people, but she felt a hand on her shoulder tug her back. It was one of the doctors.
"Leave that to the peacekeepers and the more experienced medics. Get back to the hospital, help out there." Lynne nodded, and joined the first group of medics and students riding back with the first hurt they found. They rode fast, people jumped to get out of their way. When she got back to the hospital, she heard her name being called. Dr. Green, and he was screaming for her. She didn't stop to help the students unload the new patients, she was sure they could handle it themselves. She ran down the halls into the origin of the voice, and found Dr. Green standing over a blood soaked patient. She stepped closer to get a look at who he was working on, and her eyes widened at the sight.
Keep your calm. Shut down.
"What...is that? I can't remember-did we learn about that?" She gave up on trying to word her thoughts, "Preparing for surgery? Do you need me to prepare the anesthetic?"
A less than covert clang announced Oswin's arrival. She had jumped down from a little higher over the catwalk and made her way over. The narrow spaces weren't a problem for her, and she glanced down through the metal braces at the Underlings going about their own seedy business.
"Sorry I'm late. Had to find a place to hide Phil so no one would take him," she explained. She held onto the railing with a wan smile. "That part was easy, it was getting from there to hear that was a pain. I'm fast, but I'm no contortionist - whoa there, big guy! I don't have a gun."
She was distracted as the man with the rifle came over and began to frisk her. Precaution, she understood, but she batted his hand where it lingered. "Oy! Thought you had the priestesses for that."
After that he was satisfied she wasn't carrying any weapons and went back to where he was before. Oswin turned back to Eris.
"So...Zen shipping. Never thought I'd be doing that," she confessed. Part of her still didn't think she was. This had all started so innocently. First an intimate night to let off steam, then a few calls about possible repeat sessions, and the next thing she knew she was telling Eris about wanting to be a pilot and she told her how being a small-time Zen-Shipper could be a first step. And here she was.
"I want to make this clear before we start any real deal making: I'm not going to get anybody hurt," she said adamantly. It was hard to look intimidating when you were defending innocent people, but she did her best. "I'm not a fighter, and if someone looks close to getting blissed out I'm not providing them the hit they need to slip into a coma."
"No risk of that," Eris replied, "Overdoses on these things just send you into some stress-free high. They'll have no motivation to anything for a day at most."
She had wanted to add and really, if they overdose, not our problem.
"You'll be fine. Not supposed to give them more than one dose, anyways. That's the dealer's job - you just give the dealers their stuff. Good to go, you'll be back by night."
Oswin considered and nodded. "Sounds fair enough. And I can work it into my rounds. What's in it for me? My UND cut?"
She wasn't really concerned. Her real inquiry was waiting in the wings. She didn't know much about Zen, but she did know there wasn't an endless supply of the ingredients it took to make it. Sooner or later, someone had to go out shopping.
"Thirty percent of what you make," Eris said, eyes raking over Oswin, "I believe that will be sufficient?"
It wasn't a question, and if it was, it certainly hadn't been phrased in that manner. There was a steel to Eris' otherwise soft eyes, something Oswin had never seen before. Was it truly a stern look? An act? Or was it a demeanor born of something else?
She stepped back, hurt by the sudden coldness of her eyes. She'd thought she and Eris could be friends. Where was this hostility?
"Thirty percent more deliveries, thirty percent more pay. Makes sense to me," she replied crisply. Her gaze flitted to the small firearm at her waist. "But then, seeing as I'm the only one without a gun here, I guess I can't argue."
She looked around their catwalk, seeing they were still alone. Underneath them, other shady dealings went on.
"What about shipments?" she asked then, figuring she might as well cut to the chase. "There's not enough on Vesta for a constant supply of Zen. There a back way off this station? I've got merchant and pioneer in my blood. I might be more useful doing that."
She hoped she wasn't crossing into dangerous territory. She wanted to pilot! This might be her one shot! But if she overplayed her hand she might not even make it home.
"If you can get a ship, you're better off never coming back here. Pretty soon we'll be picking the bones of what's left - you and me, we get rich off this, we leave together, got it Oswin?" Eris' expression softened. "We get paid, we get a ship, you pilot us back home."
Oswin softened as Eris did. It was encouraging to hear she wasn't all hard edges. She thought about her family, though, and Caleb. She had no intention of leaving them on a station that was falling apart. But she couldn't throw that in just yet. Cross that bridge when you come to it, Ozzy. You can help them without doublecrossing her. Just have to figure out how.
She nodded and extended her hand. "You got a deal...What about him, though?" She subtly nodded towards the big man. "Will his handlers let us just walk away?"
Eris gingerly took Oswin's in her own and shook, leaning in to whisper, "You've got a lot to learn about subtlety sweetheart, keep in touch about that."
She nodded and chuckled. "Pilot. But will do. I'll be getting out of your hair, then. When can I expect my first job?"
"Tomorrow at noon - expect it to be up and ready at the Priestess. Ask for me and I'll get it to you, sound good?"
She nodded. "Very. Especially if we can celebrate after."
She winked and walked back to the little scaffolding she used to climb down in the first place. She gave one last wave as she went up.
Oswin's cherry red hover bike pulled in front of a building with a narrow entrance and virtually no signage indicating what it was. But it had gained word up and down the Main Line as a handy repair joint.
Phil was fine - Oswin took good care of him - but her newest...business opportunity meant she wanted to make a few mods to her most loyal companion.
She walked in and looked around. Microscale circuit boards hung on the walls like abstract art. Bins of tools and spare parts seemed to have just sat down wherever they felt like. Damn. Would she even be able to fit Phil in here?
"Hello?" she called out. A bell had rung when she entered but it was quiet compared to the bustling outside. She pulled a wrench out of a bin and started banging it against bits of metal as she walked around. "Helloooo? Anyone home?"
The bell was more than enough noise to alert Ellie that somebody was in her workshop. That same somebody banging around tools and calling out heedlessly was overkill, and enough to royally piss Ellie off. But she wasn't about to chase off a potential customer. Almost crawling out of the shadows of the room--she had been sitting in a corner behind a wall of boxes, fiddling with small parts on the floor--she came up to the stranger from behind before tapping their shoulder. She had on her characteristic impish smile, her eyes shining despite the relative gloom.
"Can I help you?" she asked, holding her smile as she reached for the wrench and moved to draw it from the woman's hand. It was a gesture that might be perceived as rude; but it was rude to pick up another's possessions to begin with. "I don't normally see walk-ins?" She tilted her head, like a curious child.
She could tell she might have pushed things a bit, and quickly backtracked. She gave back the wrench and shook the girl's hand once it was free again.
"Sorry about that. Place looked empty and, well, I've never been very patient," she said apologetically and friend-ily. "Oswin Jones. I was wondering if I could get some work done on my bike out front. Times are getting tough, and I'd like to add a secret compartment so my things feel a bit safer. Think you can help a girl out?"
Ellie made a small sound of contempt before shaking the offered hand. "Ellie" was all she said in response to being given a name before she walked away to put the wrench back--by haphazardly tossing it into a crate. She listened to this girl, Oswin, talk as she assumed busy work; stuffing disposable plates into a bag, wiping off a workbench. Her lips were pursed, further giving her the appearance of having just eaten something sour, rather than being in thought. There was something that Oswin wasn't telling her, but wasn't that the case with all her customers? Though she preferred them to be upfront with her, she wasn't in the position to ask questions.
"Let me see the bike," Ellie said, straightening. "Over there," she pointed aways down the workshop, where there was a relatively clear space with a light overhead, "there's a space that should be big enough for it to fit. There's a side entrance, a narrow path between this building and the next on the right side. I'll open the door. It'll be a squeeze, but you're not getting any bike through here otherwise."
She looked over Ellie's shoulder at the proposed work station and nodded. That could work. She walked out and hopped on Phil. She patted his display board affectionately.
"Don't worry, baby. You'll still fly like the best of them," she encouraged the inanimate machine. "Just want to get more junk in your trunk."
Oswin squeezed the bike through the gap without a problem. Then she came upon the entrance itself. For that she had to hop off of Phil while he was still running and push him inside at a crooked angle.
"Works fine for bikes, but what do you do when something bigger needs work?" Oswin asked as she shut the bike off in the proposed space.
Ellie pulled the door closed after Oswin fit the bike in--the bike being smaller than she had originally assumed it to be. That was a good thing. She analyzed it, pacing along its sides and kneeling down to get a better look at the hunk of metal before her. It was nicely kept, something that brought on feelings of pride, even if the bike wasn't Ellie's own. Seeing machinery in good condition in a place like this was something to feel happy about. She ran her fingers along the edges, brow furrowed before leaning back onto her heels.
"I don't usually do work on 'bigger needs'. I mostly do computer and technician work, though I can usually fiddle-and-fix when I want to. I also make house calls." From her pocket she pulled a piece of gum and began chewing, tucking her hair back behind her ears. "I can help with this, though. Any idea on where you want the compartment?"
Oswin looked at Phil and patted its handlebars. "Just somewhere secret. Maybe under the saddle. Can you turn the seat into a compartment?"
She wasn't sure how much Zen she'd be carting around with her, so it was difficult to say how much space she really needed. She guessed enough room for a kilo or two would be best.
"Hmmm," Ellie murmured to herself as she leaned down to investigate the seat of the bike. Large enough to fit something, though maybe not what Oswin was looking for. But it would be the best bet. She nodded, pleased enough with the idea. "I can work with that. Do you have an estimated price range? A time you need the work finished by?" Ellie didn't like to be rushed--"Art can never be rushed"--but she could push herself, when needed.
Oswin scratched her head, unsure what would be an appropriate price. "Um...six hundred - eight hundred UNDs? I do know I need it finished by tomorrow. I'm sorry if that's a bit of a rush. If you can't do it..."
This girl is out of her mind.... Ellie had done some miracles in her day, but that was always with computers. Circuits and wiring, never something like this. It couldn't be hard, she told herself. Cut things open, weld things in, seal it back up. Put a hidden combination lock for kicks. But she didn't like making promises she couldn't keep.
"Make it a thousand and it's a done deal."
A thousand?! Oswin was hesitant to let go of that much virtual coin. A thousand. She was asking for enough to feed her family for a month. The shock must have been evident on her face as the two stared at each other. She supposed the UND's she'd make from the mods would pay for themselves after the first trip.
"...Okay. A thousand. Deal." She swallowed after each word and extended her hand again. She really hoped that old saying about crime not paying wasn't true.
Ellie shook on it. Some part of her ached, watching the expression that this woman had on her face. Oswin couldn't afford this; of course not. She was smuggling goods, probably entwined in downright illegal activity, if Ellie had to guess. But there was little she could do to help. She had a family of her own to keep, and other business to do. Valuable business. She couldn't afford to take on another project, or to turn away a potential customer. After pulling her hand away, she turned back to the bike, hoping to hide any cracks in her composure.
"You can pay it in installments," she said, a last ditch effort at making amends, "over a course of, say, six months, maybe twelve, if you need it. So long as you leave two hundred down. Two hundred tonight and come back this time tomorrow, and I'll have it ready. Do you have a number you can leave me with?"
Oswin was glad she turned away when she made the offer, because then Ellie didn't see the relief wash over her face. If she set aside maybe a hundred a month, she could pay this off in eight. Easy.
"Oh, I can definitely do that," she said. Oswin turned her wrist band and worked out the phone number display on her arm. "There you go."
She waited patiently for her to get the info down. While she did that, Oswin got a disposable credit slip out of her pocket and downloaded the UND's she needed to give her.
"And here," she added, handing over the money. "I mostly deal in digital, but I can give you real money for the other payments."
"That'd be great," Ellie replied, taking the offered money. "Thanks."
She walked away and starting to retrieve tools and supplies. She was going to need to get going now if she intended on finishing work by the morning. "If you'll excuse me."
Oswin nodded and left, thanking her again for what had to be an insane, unreasonable assignment. She took out her phone and called Eris on her private number. "Hey. I'm getting my bike modded for my special deliveries. A grand. Think the bosses might be willing to compensate me?...Yeah, I didn't think so...well, it'll be done."
She spared a look back at Ellie's shop. She was pretty confident in the girl. "Yeah, it'll be done."
Charlie blew a puff of smoke from her nostrils, looking the man before her up and down. Good looking, if a bit on the fat side, clearly married from the clumsy attempt to pocket the ring before approaching her. Question was: was she willing to be the flame to spark domestic hell for this man in the light of the end of the world? No, not today. Her desire for reckless passion was absent.
"I don't take clients silly enough to throw away their marriage on a whore like me," Charlie exhaled, taking another drag on the e-cig dangling from her mouth. "You'll want to make it memorable."
The man stammered, cheeks turning an even deeper shade of crimson than they had been. Making an effort to blow the next waft of vapor into his face, Charlie gestured to the doorway.
Practically scampering for the doorway, the man stumbled over a chair on his way out. And to be with him for an hour...No. Returning to her cigarette, Charlie spent the next half hour leisurely smoking through the cartridge. The Greasy Priestess was, for once, empty. No, not entirely. The barkeep stood at his post, lazily running a cloth over and around a tin cup. The only noise that broke the perpetual silence came from the air vents above. How long until they sputtered and coughed their last? Two weeks? Three? Four? The water would the air, Charlie knew that, but that wouldn't matter. She and Oswin were leaving with enough cash to survive on Mars when they arrived, assuming they weren't destroyed on the way there.
"What do you think the riots'll do?" Charlie blurted, offering a coy glance to the barkeep only to realize the motion was wasted.
"Big question," he grumbled in response, eyes never leaving the tin cup in his hands.
"Think we'll get back on track? That's the real question."
"Back on tract? What's that mean? That the war'll end quick and we'll get supplies in again? Or that sciSoft'll give a damn again? Any of that would probably be too little too late. 'Sides, people here have tasted blood. Even if we aren't dead when our unlikely saviors arrive, things'll be hard to bring back in control."
So pessimistic. So self-assured.
"Let's hope we're gone before it comes to that," Charlie nodded to the barkeep who shrugged in response.
"It'll happen one way or another."
The doors slid open with the soft ding of electronics. A single, large figure stepped through, gun plain on his hip. A whirring orange lenses where his right eye should have been adjusted its gaze on Charlie then the barkeep. Apparently assuming the bar was safe, the figure took another cautious step forward.
"You offering rooms?" He barked, pausing midway through the main hall.
"Not without a girl," Charlie remarked. "But I think that'll be less and less of an issue."
Vesta Medical Center Deck 0-221
"Time of death, 06:32 standard Vesta time. Patient Lewis Young," Nicholas Green murmured, choking back a sob of equal parts frustration and exhaustion.
The other medics bowed their heads in respect, but Green felt alone as he fixated on the body of the dead man before him. How many had died now under his care within twenty four hours? Six, seven? In a blur of motion, the medical staff carted the body out of the brightly-lit operation room. Suddenly, a hand on his shoulder snapped Green back to the present. The voice echoing from the body struck on dead ears, its owner pushing Green out of the operating room and gently pushing him into a chair. Complacent as he was, the medic could still feel the steel behind the shove.
The voice still rambled on. Green ignored it, glazed eyes staring at the ground with their utter attention...
...Then a hand swung from his peripheral vision, making contact with his cheek, letting loose a resounding crack.
"Get up and work or get the hell out of here," the voice spoke, calm with a marginal tinge of stirring anger. "I've no patience for you to start feeling sorry for yourself, Green."
The medic, clutching his stinging cheek with one hand, glanced upward at the supervisor. Bags lined her eyes as well, rims swollen and puffy, pupils strained and bloodshot. Before bothering to wait for Green's response, she went back to orchestrating the chaotic aftermath of the riot. Medics, under staff and doctors still ran from room to room, carting patients this way and that. Green didn't want to know how many of them still clung to life.
He couldn't handle any more death today.
The Greasy Priestess
He could tell the room was a whore's. Bare of anything but a bed and a side table, more a means of accepting card payments than anything else, it was a depressing reminder of the kind of space restrictions were inherent in space stations. O'Leary wagered that it was better than half the spaces he could have rented out for the day, but that didn't make it any less disconcerting. On the Bernadette his quarters had been just as big and twice as elaborate, designed to maximize space efficiency. This was...This was a room meant for one purpose.
"You don't mean that..." Naomi muttered, light dying in her eyes.
"I do. Once we get out of this vent, you and me, we go separate ways. I don't care if you end up dead in some service chute anymore. You've done enough shit to me as it is - I don't need the burden of watching over you as well."
The rest of their crawl through the service vents passed in silence. Without warning, O'Leary had snuck through a passageway to the outside station, ending up in the crammed hallways of what an understanding Peacekeeper had called the "Underwarrens". Harshest part of the station, he's said, always need to carry a weapon. That's when O'Leary had gone to rent one, a cheap, red plastic .45 caliber monster of a pistol. With any luck, he'd never have to pay back that deposit..
And here he was. Without Naomi, in a whore's bed without the whore, paying for half a service rendered. No, that couldn't be right. He didn't have the credits for anything more than a day. As backwards as it seemed, O'Leary awaited the coming collapse. Without the limitation of credits, he would have a chance in the crumbling station. He was strong, he was skilled, and he was a survivalist. Those were about to become very valuable skills.
He glanced at his scarlet pistol and a grin came to his face. Let them try to stop him. With just one kill, he'd have a real weapon.
Any thoughts that the lockdown might somehow make Oswin's deliveries easier to make was dashed shortly after slipping out of her hab. The peacekeepers were setting up patrols, monitoring the normally heavily congested areas such as the Main Line. The culinary district, the shops - all of it was under the watchful eyes of Vesta's finest.
But this morning had offered some encouragement. When her doorbell rang she, as always, was the first one up. Usually, the mail service dropped off only very special packages directly at her door, to be sure they were safe. She doubted the mail would be in full force after the riot, but there was a rectangular metal box sitting on her doorstep. She quickly pulled it inside and set it on the kitchen table.
"Okay. It's probably just a few vials. No big deal..." She opened it and immediately slammed it shut. "Ohhhhh shit I'm in trouble."
She opened the box again. It was full to the brim. Six rows of ten 50ml tubes of Zen. 60 bottles! It may not be an illegal substance, but anyone caught carrying that much Zen...Oswin shivered and shut the box.
The encouragement? They could get to her. That meant it was possible for her to get to Phil.
She quietly snuck out the door and down the street. She felt her heart go at a mile a minute as she ducked behind her own house. Thoughts of getting caught kept her alert as she ran across the Main Line. She ducked low, weaving behind the tables left out after the lockdown. Oswin doubletaked and got to the other side of the street. At each corner she checked her surroundings. She pressed her back to the walls of homes as if she were glued to them. She hugged the box to her protectively as she walked. Subtlety wasn't her strong suit. Oswin was sure she couldn't look more suspicious if she wanted to. If anyone happened to look out their window down the streets...she blushed at the thought and forged on.
She made it to Ellie's shop without any incidents. A lot of back roads. A lot of backtracking. But she made it. After paying the agreed-upon price Oswin's pockets felt lighter, and so did Phil. She patted her beloved bike and opened up the seat's new compartment. A small, cramped space, but...with a little...effort...the box of Zen fit...perfectly.
"Just hope I can get it out again..."
That wasn't all that came, either. A data stick with the names of all her stops had been given to her with the package, and she uploaded the stops into Phil.
Oswin took off, keeping to the side streets just in case anyone spotted her. But with her buddy Phil under her she felt untouchable. Her first few stops were in the sort of places she expected Zen junkies to live. Her first stop was...interesting. She knocked on the door to a hab in a back alley. The place was dirty, with smudged windows and peeling paint. The door opened and a man of about thirty came out. His hair was long and ratty, his shirt was - well, it looked like he'd put it on wrong - and he had this hooded, dopey grin on his face.
"Heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy..." he said. Oswin couldn't quite believe it. He'd made one word last almost a whole minute. "What's happening...baby?"
Baby? This guys a goddamn stoner! But she put on her friendly courier face. "Special delivery, bud."
"Baaaabbbeee...my name's......" The pause before the correction was getting unsettling. "Araq, not bud."
She smirked and went to her bike. One dose. She remembered Eris telling her that. She grabbed one small vial and walked back over. Araq was staring up at the ceiling.
"Oy!" She got him to snap to. He chuckled when he saw the vial in her hand. "Payment?"
He nodded and gave her his card. She swiped it and handed it back, leaving as he started getting it into his system. Not your problem, Ozzy. Not your problem. She saw him stumble over his own garbage can, just sitting there grinning. Dammit.
The least she could do was get him safe, so she helped him inside, ignored the mess she'd found within, and locked the door for him.
The rest of her round had her meeting much more normal people. Many of them knew Oswin by name, but since she now had something on them as much as they did on her, she wasn't worried about that. Her route soon came to an end, and she sighed in relief. Sixty Zen stops. During a lockdown. This was the most stressful route of her life.
But either way, she had the UND amount. Guess there wasn't anything to do now but...report in. Eris would be happy to know she succeeded, she figured.
Lynne felt drained. Not alive. She felt like a ghost drifting wherever the world felt like placing her. That wasn't new. It was an underlying feeling, always present. If you peeled back her skin you'd see the thick black virus taking up the space where her blood should be. It stole away her tears and it stole away her sleep. It made smiles heavier, her body didn't feel like hers anymore. It would not let her tell it what to do. It had rebelled against her, and instead, told her what to do. What to feel. What to say.
They had worked hours on this man. From the start, the little monster whispered into her ear that they would fail. This little monster like to terrorize doctors. It was a demon among the medics. She looked at Dr. Green, and she could see them covering him as his hands darted from place to place with a sense of true purpose. He was trying to fix this man, all at the same time trying to fight off the demons. The little monster didn't bother her anymore. She was always too tired to listen to it. She'd tell herself it was because she was too strong to let her insecurities to get in the way, but she knew that she purely didn't have the time or energy to have insecurities. She only had the task at hand.
Lynne brushed her stray hair out of her face. The man had died. With all their work and effort, the man had died. She kept her unwavering eyes on Dr. Green, as he kept his on the corpse. A repeated scene. Death was active today. Stretching it's arms, practicing it's aim. It had grown so big during it's rest, it was suffocating. She worked with the medics to clean up and wheel out the body, the tireless colony of healers. Why can't we heal ourselves then? When she was small, she liked hospitals. She like the buzzing air of it, the way everyone had a purpose. She liked seeing the hope in the patient's eyes. But how much of her naivety had warped those images. How fake was that world she built?
When she went back to Dr. Green, he was nowhere to be found. She rubbed the bags under her eyes to make sure she wasn't missing anything. What did home look like again? She needed a nap. She could hear his supervisor, the cracking sound of a slap. Lazily, she started to walk towards the noise, dodging the body briskly walking past her. She poked her head in and stared.
Slowly seeping across that woman's shirt, the look on her face of total shock... The hole riddled body of the assailant, his body, too, drenched. Had she really used the full clip on that guy? Let it be my imagination.. Let it not be real...
Then she recalled the pain. She was used to injuries. A gunshot there, a knife there. Somehow she'd managed to get by without any alterations to her body; she was lucky. Was she still? At the moment, she couldn't feel anything but the memory, and even that was brief, muddled, fuzzy. Peacekeepers apparently got some good treatment, or maybe she, again, was just lucky. Not long after the injury, she received attention. Or.. at least she thought. Everything was broken up and lost in her mind.
Her eyes didn't want to open. Was she awake? She could hear plenty of voices in the background; some urgent, loud, others low, moaning, crying. Hurried footsteps, beeping, clattering. A sharp sting reached her nose--she wanted to flinch away, but couldn't. Her body didn't want to move.
She didn't want to be awake.
What would they tell her? She wondered if she'd get in trouble. They weren't supposed to kill if they could help it. There's a reason why they carried nonlethal weapons. But she hadn't used it, she'd fucked up bad. She was just trying to protect people, just trying to do her job. Would they understand that? Warrens warned her, he warned her not to screw things up; and she did.
I want to sleep... I want this to all go away...
She had to face the music someday. She struggled to open her eyes, trying to ignore the bright glare of lights overhead.