It had been a month since Brody caught Sullivan with Capri. He hadn’t seen her since. She’d been moved to the fourth floor, and he had no reason to go there. He’d taken a certain amount of pleasure in shooting Sullivan between the eyes, and then he’d taken his money and gone home to his wife and daughter. He’d been maybe a little more anxious to see their faces than normal.
The new guard for the Maiden dorm was a sturdy blond woman from Tycho named Tamara. She’d been moved up from the front entrance. That was how it should have gone in the first place. She’d been at the post for six months already and had proven herself. The fact she was female likely helped in her promotion, too, but Brody suspected she admired the beauties as much as most men.
She didn’t talk much. He didn’t talk much. They got along fine.
The shock had eased for Agatha and the girls, and now all seemed back to normal. Brody took a reader from his back pocket. It was a clear, paper-thin sheet that he could connect to the data ring he wore. Most people wore them. Not the beauties, though. They had to take their readers directly to hubs in the library to access information. A ring for them would probably mean too much freedom.
At some point, society had rebelled against the idea of unlimited access. Privacy became a valuable thing, and the rings allowed people to access information without revealing any of their personal information. Any ring-holder could connect to any reader. If they needed to download a book or transfer money, it went to the data ring. All the information stayed right on their finger.
Readers also told time, which was what Brody was interested in at the moment.
“How much longer?” Tamara asked with mild interest.
“Five minutes,” Brody answered without looking up.
“Wanna grab a drink?”
“I’ve got a ride to catch. Maybe next time.”
Tamara shrugged. When the two relief guards appeared, Brody headed for the employee bunk room. He gathered his rifle, revolver, clothes, and personal hygiene products from a locker and shoved them into a reinforced duffle bag. He took off his uniform jacket but didn’t bother changing yet. He’d shower on the ship.
He nodded to the guards at the front desk. There was always a crowd of people near the grand, automatic doors. Some were citizens invited to see the king, some were there to file complaints, and some were tourists. He pushed through to the outside and took a deep breath.
Although there was no such thing, really, as fresh air on the glorified spaceship, the air in the domed, artificially-lit community seemed easier to pull into his lungs. Everyone traveled by bicycle, public shuttle, or by foot. Beneath the street and sidewalk were hundreds of apartments, just like the one he hoped to move his family into one day. Above ground were the houses of the grossly rich or favored citizens, as well as public buildings like a school, shopping center, restaurants, a menagerie, and more.
It was common for the streets to stay packed during the day. Everyone went underground at night. Right now was the in between, twilight. People were taking after-dinner walks and leaving the restaurants. But Brody’s destination was adjacent to the palace, and he made it to the dock entrance with time to spare.
He showed his papers—via the reader—to the security guard on duty at the footpath entrance, though it was purely formality. They knew each other by sight. Traveling back and forth between Ptolemy and Mars had been part of the deal. It was hard at times, but he was doing it for his family’s future. Soon enough, they’d be close by. It would be a ten-minute walk to the tunnels instead of half-a-day’s travel by spaceship.
Thanks to his bonus from Ekon, he only had ten months to go until he could afford to buy one of the apartments outright—a requirement, since he wasn’t a born citizen. If he could squeeze in a side job or two while he was home, it would take even less time.
But Jillian didn’t like him being away on his only days off, and he didn’t particularly like going.
Still, they’d be off of Ptolemy before Maxine was even old enough to remember her roots.
“You’re in Bay 5 today,” the guard told him.
Brody found the big white craft. All short-distance space vessels looked relatively the same, an echo of the space shuttles of old but upgraded to allow for more storage, more people, more fuel conservation, and, therefore, longer flights. They were like big, aerodynamic boats in the sky. Long-distance space vessels, like the ones that had brought the people of Old Earth to the System, had only been available to the U.N. and were decommissioned as soon as the Migration was complete.
Colin’s spaceship was called Gypsy Lass, the title of a song that had been passed around Brody’s sector and neighboring sectors when he was young. He and Colin had run in different circles. It was purely by chance he’d met Jillian at a party. He’d been fresh off a kill and thought it was the adrenaline, the excitement, that had them in bed together—but he couldn’t stop thinking about her. To his surprise, she’d taken to him, too.
That was five years ago, when he was twenty-six and she was twenty-five. Colin had been long gone, two years out of college on New Earth and already the master of his own vessel. Brody and his brother-in-law got along well enough. They both loved Jillian. But Brody knew Colin shuttled him to and from Mars only because it happened to fit in with his delivery schedule.
Brody pressed the intercom outside of the ship.
“Go ahead.” The clipped voice belonged to Jax, Colin’s second-in-command.
There was a clanking noise, and a small hatch in the hull of the ship slid back to let an elevator descend. It could fit two people, max, but it was an easier and less-invasive method of boarding than opening the big ramp at the back of the ship. He stepped inside and pressed the button that took the metal cage into the loading bay.
The ship, true to its captain’s form, didn’t have a lot of frills. Everything was bare bones and metallic. Functionality over aesthetics. It was the opposite of Ekon’s palace, which showed exactly what could be done to spruce up a flying metal box—or to mask the truth of a thing.
The loading bay was lined with storage shelves stacked with tools and whatever miscellaneous someday-useful items had been accumulated over the years. Colin had spent the first two years manning the vessel himself—a difficult feat—before taking on the twins, Jax and Leroy. Jax was an admirable pilot. Leroy was a competent, if annoying, mechanic.
A couple of motorcycles, the preferred method of transportation on the rebel planets, and an old, beat-up electric sedan took up half the bay. The other half was reserved for whatever cargo they carried.
It was empty now, since they’d just made a delivery to Ekon.
Brody headed for the corridor behind the car. On the right were three doors, each leading to an identical room with an identical set of bunk beds, shower, and toilet. At the end of the row, nearest to the cockpit, was the captain’s room. Brody didn’t know what it looked like inside, but he assumed it had a single bed and was a might bit nicer than the others.
He tossed the duffel bag in the first room he came to. No one occupied it, and there was some junk piled in a corner. Then he went in search of Colin, passing a door that led to a massive room used for overflow cargo, the kitchen, and the mess area. He found Leroy in the lounge, looking at a reader and fiddling with some delicate piece of lap-sized machinery.
“Shots!” Leroy’s caramel-skinned face broke out into a wide grin. “Welcome back, man.”
He had thick, tightly-curled hair that he and his brother both kept long and pulled away from their faces. They both dressed the same, too, in the warm, heavy-duty coveralls that were typical of space crewmen. Still, Brody never struggled to tell them apart. Leroy was full of excess energy and chatter. Jax was quiet and serious. It took one look at their faces to know who was who.
“Leroy,” he greeted with a short nod, continuing on to the cockpit before the younger man could trap him in some excited, longwinded explanation of what he was doing.
The door to the cockpit was almost always open, and he found Colin in the pilot’s seat with Jax to his right. They were turned towards one another, huddled over readers, discussing routes, pick ups, and drop offs. Brody caught the tail end of it, and his interest was piqued.
“…and then Sector 45 on Tycho is getting the insulin, but only up charge 50% since it’s medical.”
There was a .5% chance that whatever they were discussing was a legal run. He was in no position to judge, but he knew his wife was under the impression that her brother ran a clean operation. Brody had suspected otherwise for a while, but it was the first confirmation he’d received. Colin either trusted him with the information or had simply decided to do away with pretense.
Brody leaned against the doorframe, waiting while Jax finished writing notes on his reader with a stylus. He always wore two data rings, personal and professional, Brody imagined. Colin looked up and nodded to his brother-in-law. He had the same red-brown hair as Jillian, but his eyes were brown where hers were blue. He favored their father and she their mother, so he was told. They’d both been killed in a border war long before he and Jillian met.
The sectors were constantly changing and guarded only by militia. There was usually some semblance of government—often corrupt—and when the population or the boss’s greed exceeded the provisions of the sector, it was common for war to break out. Jillian’s sector had lost ten square miles in that battle.
Brody was in a neighboring sector, Sector 25. It was easily one of the meanest sectors on the planet with one of the fiercest militia. They were rarely challenged and rarely made a bid to expand the territory. There was enough crime and lack of properly-trained medical professionals to keep the population under control, and the governor was constantly being ousted—in one manner or another—for being too corrupt or not corrupt enough. They were careful to never make alliances with other sectors, so they couldn’t be called in as a whole to fight someone else’s battle.
They were known for being the loner sector, the one that bred the System’s worst criminals—and its best fighters.
“Brody,” Colin greeted. “Good to have you on board again.”
He was always pleasant enough but careful to keep an air of authority about him. His commands would be obeyed, and his decisions were final. Brody couldn’t blame the man. He’d worked hard to get where he was, and he wouldn’t let anyone or anything come between him and his accomplishments.
In that way, the two were very similar.
“Need help with anything?”
“No. Take-off is in half an hour.”
Brody nodded and headed back to his room to shower. It would take about twelve hours to get to Ptolemy. He’d spend most of the time sleeping and be home in time for breakfast. He’d have two days with his girls, and then he’d catch a ride back on Gypsy Lass in time for his shift on Sunday.
It didn’t always work out that Colin would be back in time to pick him up, and on those occasions he had to pay a hefty sum for passage back to Mars. If it wasn’t for Colin, working on Mars wouldn’t make any sense.
He owed the man for sure, and he hated owing people. But falling in love and starting a family had forced his pride aside. He’d do whatever it took to give them the life they deserved.