Chapter 10: Grace Like Steel

 
 

Chapter 10: Grace Like Steel

 
 
Divider.jpg
 

Remember the Red Holocaust. Hear the cries of the children. The weeping of those that were betrayed. Read again their names. They are beyond number. Like the sand on the shores of the sea.

Remember that which was lost. The oldest of civilizations. The mighty dragon of the east, fallen into ashes. It has been laid low and will not rise again.

Remember those that endure. A people lost in the wide world. A diaspora of a lost empire. They are precious gems, memories of a time past.

Give them a home amongst the nations that they might not be forgotten.

Unknown Poet
Discovered in orbital wreckage above Earth.
Presumably died 1 AM

 
Divider.jpg
 

“Look, I got nothing for you just yet, Cole,” the recording of Benny’s voice crackled over the comm. “I know, I know. It was gonna be easier to find you jobs if you got a crew. And it is. Trust me. But I’ve still got to find the ‘Cole’ jobs since you’re picky.” He paused briefly. “ But if you’re willing to ship a little contraband, I can have you on your way back to the inner system right now.”

Yvonne heard Matthew scoff and turned to see him shaking his head. “I wish he’d get it through his head that I’m not going to use the Sparrow to run weapons or…”

Benny’s recording continued as if anticipating the complaint. “It’s not drugs. I know you better than that. It’s umm… Okay, it’s a cheese shipment. That’s not so bad, right? It’s coming out of one of the Freeports around Saturn. An emir on Callisto wants to get past import tariffs. But I mean, come on. It’s just cheese. I’m expecting you to think about it and, when you get back with me, give me some good news. Benny out.”

The message ended.

“We go through this at least once a month,” Matthew explained. “Benny is convinced that if I just forego my values we’ll all be rich.”

Yvonne turned to eye him. “Wait, you’re not going to take the job? It’s cheese.”

“Illegal cheese,” he said, lifting his hands in appeal.

“No, improperly taxed cheese,” Yvonne countered. “I’m with Benny.”

Matthew stared at her for a second then turned back to the console. “So the straight-laced doctor wants to run contraband. I’ll be honest, you struck me as more of a law and order type.”

She gave him a look. “I’ve got a million dollar bounty on my head. I think I can handle a little cheese smuggling. At the very least it’ll get us back to the Jupiter Neighborhood. Send him a reply. Let’s do it.”

He hesitated and then his shoulders slumped. “Fine. Benny already sent instructions.” He frowned at the display. “Looks like he expected us to take it. Apparently I’m getting predictable.”

“I think your ego will manage just fine.”

Matthew ignored her last jab. “I’ll get us heading towards Freeport 72 for the pickup.”

Yvonne smiled in amusement. “I thought all you freelancers were a little sketchy. I know you’re one of the good guys, but I wasn’t aware that you were such a saint that you wouldn’t dodge a tariff.”

Matthew shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Don’t take it too far. I’m a businessman, first and foremost. Every time I burn someone, whether it’s a gang, cartel, or government, I have to weigh the cost. Maybe I don’t want to risk the wrath of whatever government this emir is a part of. More than one of the Callistan governments swing hardline conservative and...”

“It’s cheese,” Yvonne said cutting him off.

“It’s the principle.”

Yvonne crossed her arms in silence as Matthew turned the Sparrow out of orbit towards Saturn. The main engines rumbled through the deck, a vibration that Yvonne had started to find comforting.

After double checking their course, he punched up the comm to record a message.

“Okay broker man. You win this time. I’m on my way to the pickup, but don’t expect this to become the norm. I don’t like it. But I’ll do it.” He sent the message and gave her an ‘are you happy’ look.

She was but, having won the argument, didn’t feel the need to gloat.

An hour later, Matthew pulled the Sparrow into one of Freeport 72’s enormous cargo bays. The station, like each of the dozens of Freeport stations scattered around the solar system, was privately owned and operated. Some had been taken over by criminals, some were run by businesses, and still others were run by individuals, ruling over their own little domains as tiny kingdoms floating in the black of space.

Freeport 72 floated in orbit just a few kilometers above the rings themselves, offering a stunning up-close view of the ice fields surrounding the gas giant. It was run by a handful of businesses that tried to keep things as honest as possible and was a booming hub of market activity in the Saturn Neighborhood. If you wanted to do serious business near Saturn, odds were good you were stopping by 72.

“Sharon and I will be back soon,” Matthew said, as he finished the post-flight shutdown. “I imagine the itch to sightsee has been sated for the time being?”

“No, but I’m resigned to my prison for now,” Yvonne said, pensive. She had no reason to suspect that the bounty on her head would be lifted anytime soon, and she might be stuck keeping her head down for years. She cursed Piggy under her breath again. Pathetic man.

“You’re thinking loud enough that I can almost hear you,” Matthew said evenly. “I’m sorry you’re stuck here. I’ve told you before that if you want off, I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

“Ha!” she chuckled. “Are you kidding me? I haven’t had this much fun since Tomas and I ran a clinic on Io. Though I admit the cheese smuggling isn’t all that glamorous.”

“Cheese?” Abigail asked, stepping into the cockpit. “Our standards are really slipping.”

“By the day,” Matthew agreed. “Let’s get this over with. Yvonne, we’ll be back within the hour. Anything you need while we’re out?”

She shook her head. “A million bucks to pay off my bounty? I’ll be fine.”

Yvonne was left alone in the Sparrow with the subtle but familiar ticking sound she’d noticed whenever the ship set into port. Probably metal slowly contracting as it cooled. She sat up, remembering there was a fuel filter with her name on it begging to be replaced, now that she had the time and the part to do it. She left the cockpit and climbed down the aft ladder into the main hold.

The fuel filter, a roughly one-meter square frame of mesh, sat to the side where she had put it yesterday evening. She picked it up, inspected it one last time to make triple sure it was the right model, and turned to the forward engineering compartment. There was no doubt in her mind that she could do this. She’d been reading and rereading the instructions for the last week. Nevertheless, it was her first major maintenance work on the Sparrow.

A part of her mind was irrationally nervous in spite of her confidence. “It’ll be much easier than that appendectomy was,” she murmured to no one in particular. She pressed the panel and the door to forward engineering slid open.

She took a second to get her bearings and make sense of what she was looking at. The big problem with manuals is that the people who write them aren’t always the engineers. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re talking about. Of course, it’s worse when engineers do write the manual. God help the poor soul that tried to understand that mess.

Her heart leaped to her throat when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. A flash of blonde hair. What in…?

“Wait,” a voice shrieked, splitting the cramped, machinery filled compartment. “Don’t!”

Yvonne felt the muzzle of a gun press firmly into her back. She closed her eyes as fear and adrenaline flooded her body.

 
Divider.jpg
 

Abigail wasn’t sure why she had joined Cole on this little trip. It was a chance to get out of the Sparrow, but that only made her feel guilty with poor Yvonne cooped up on the ship. She didn’t know if there was a solution to that problem. It’s not like the bounty was anything reasonable that Yvonne could hope to buy off. It seemed like an unnecessary insult to do that to a doctor, of all people, someone that society really needed.

She grimaced. They made a fine group. The cripple, the prisoner, and the… Her eyes flicked to Cole. She wasn’t really sure what his problem was, only that he spent most of his days play acting. Who was he? A shell, or else maybe a puppet?

But she wasn’t what she pretended to be. Why should he be any different?

At the moment Cole was still filling out paperwork with the vendor, something he looked positively thrilled about doing. After a few minutes of scratching his head in growing irritation, he shoved the mess of paperwork across the desk towards the clerk. “Is that all? Anything else you need? A kidney maybe?”

The bored clerk didn’t even react to the joke. Probably immune after too many years on the job. He spent a few seconds scanning the paperwork and then stamped it. “The cargo is all yours,” he said in a monotone voice, gesturing towards the shipping crate on the hover pallet. “Please leave the pallet in the hangar or I will be forced to charge you for it.”

Cole nodded once and turned towards Abigail.

“One more thing,” the clerk said.

Cole stopped in his tracks, briefly made eye contact with Abigail, and turned slowly to the clerk with exaggerated movement. She could feel the misery radiating off of him, and she covered her mouth to hide the smile.

“There is a note here that recommends you do not open the shipping container. It is apparently a rather potent product.”

Cole tipped his ridiculous hat once and turned back towards Abigail. “Let’s get out of here,” he grumbled.

“What’s got you curdled?” she asked, failing to hide her amusement. The fact that the cheese they were smuggling was considered potent was the most entertaining thing she’d heard all day.

They reached the container and Matthew checked the readouts on the refrigeration. “What’s wrong,” he said, pushing a few buttons, “is that I think I already broke about ten custom laws when I filled out that paperwork. And I’ll break at least ten more when we land on Callisto. If we’re caught, I’ll lose docking rights at Freeport 72 and I think we both know that we don’t want to be on an emir’s bad side.” He patted the container. “Looks good.” He took hold of the handle and pulled the hovering container toward the bay door leading back to the hangar. “And another thing. They complain about stealing the pallet. This one isn’t even self-propelled. Why would I even want to keep it?” Abigail watched him strain against the heavy load, using his full weight just to move it. “It’d be like stealing a ship without a frameshift device. Waste of time.”

“Alright, that’s enough from you. Stop embarrassing me,” Abigail said as she gently shoved him aside and easily pulled the container behind her. She laughed heartily and he muttered a terse thank you under his breath, which only made her laugh harder.

They passed several ships before reaching the Sparrow at the far end of the hangar. Cole lowered the lift and, with some difficulty, she managed to slide the container off the pallet onto the platform. That was a tricky proposition even for her. “Okay, in hindsight I’m pretty sure you would have had to steal the pallet if I wasn’t around. What were they expecting you to do?”

Cole shrugged his shoulders with a smirk. She rolled her eyes, then laughed and pushed the pallet away with her foot, watching it glide until it crashed into a far wall. Two technicians nearly jumped out of their skins. One gave her a rude gesture which she returned without hesitation. He decided to go about his business after that. “If they want their pallet back they’ll have to come get it themselves,” she said. “We ready to get out of here?”

Cole hit the control and they rode the lift into the Sparrow’s main hold.

Abigail leaned against the container full of illicit dairy. “So how many days travel is it to…”

Cole abruptly straightened and drew his revolver in one fluid motion. His eyes were narrowed and fixed on something behind her. Abigail liked to think that she had good reaction speed, but it took her far too long to awaken to the possibility of a threat on the Sparrow. As Matthew completed his motion she started her own, spinning on a heel and drawing her shield from her back.

Three people.

A blonde girl slumped against the wall, her tear stained face filled with terror. What was Grace doing here?

Yvonne with engine tape over her mouth tied to a chair. Her face placid. Calm even.

And the brat. Grace’s brother Davey, with one of the enforcer’s submachine guns pressed into Yvonne’s back. His face was fierce. Determined.

But he was also shaking in his boots.

Silence filled the air of the hold and no one dared move a muscle.

Abigail glanced at Cole out of the corner of her eye, wondering what his play would be. Her shield wasn’t going to be of much use in a hostage situation. And she’d never be able to get close enough without him seeing her coming, which didn’t leave Yvonne in a very good position. She ground her teeth until her jaw hurt. If the runt spilled a single drop of Yvonne’s blood, she would break every bone in his body. It would be easy. A single hit from her shield in confined quarters would end his short life.

Cole finally spoke. His voice was quiet. Firm.

Deadly.

“Young man, I’m going to ask you to put that weapon down.”

Davey stared at Cole. Probably wondering how skilled a shot he was with that revolver. Abigail knew he was good. But she didn’t know if he was that good.

“For the sake of your sister,” he continued. “Put down your gun. Now.”

Davey bit his lip and pressed the gun harder into Yvonne’s back. To her credit she didn’t flinch. Her eyes flicked back and forth between Cole and Abigail.

“This is for my sister,” he said, voice nearly cracking.

“I fail to see how that could be the case,” Cole said calmly. Abigail didn’t know how he did it. If she had to talk, she’d be screaming at the kid. Good thing Cole was here.

Davey shifted. “You’re going to take us to Ceres. Back to our old home, where we came from before the slavers picked us up.”

“Why didn’t you go with the Archbishop?” he asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Davey sneered. “They would have split us. We’re not actually brother and sister. She’d have gone to some church orphanage or something and who knows what rat hole I would have ended up in.”

Abigail glanced at Grace where she was slumped against the wall. This was the second time she’d seen the girl cry like this and it was starting to get under her skin. Especially since her oh-so-precious brother was the one inflicting the pain.

Cole hadn’t moved a muscle. “While I respect your desire to stay with your sister, I’m not sure she appreciates your methods.”

Davey flinched. “I don’t see any other options.”

“You could try asking. My friend in the armor has a soft spot for your sister. Maybe we could have worked something out.” He paused for a moment. “That’s going to be more difficult now.”

“I don’t know why that’s the case. You’re taking us to Ceres. And you’re going to start by lowering your gun.”

To Abigail’s surprise, Cole complied, holstering his weapon. “First, we’re not going to Ceres just yet. We’ve got a shipment bound for Callisto. After Callisto we can talk.”

“I don’t care about your damn shipment,” Davey hissed. “You’re taking my sister and me to Ceres.”

Cole stepped back and leaned against the shipping container. Probably in an attempt to look relaxed. Surely he wasn’t as he calm as he signaled. Abigail was scared out of her mind for Yvonne.

“I don’t think you’re in any place to make demands,” Cole said quietly.

Davey laughed bitterly and Abigail could see the sweat drip from his forehead. “What are you talking about? Are you blind?” He jabbed Yvonne again with the barrel of his weapon and she winced this time.

A tight smile spread across Matthew’s face. “No, Davey, I’m not sure you’ve thought this through. For starters we’re over a week out from Ceres. Do you think you could hold a hostage for that long? And what happens if, God forbid, your trigger finger gets itchy and you kill Yvonne?” He inclined his head towards Abigail. “I know you and Ms. Sharon didn’t get a good chance to become acquainted, but I can promise it wouldn’t end well for you. That little pop-gun isn’t even going to scratch her. You lose your hostage you lose everything. And then where would your sister be?”

“Shut up!” Davey screamed. “Just…”

“Davey stop,” Grace cut him off. “Why are you such a monster sometimes?”

“I’m doing what I have to do to get us home, Grace. I don’t expect you to understand. It’s okay. I can do this.”

“No,” Cole said softly. “You can’t. There’s one and only one way that this ends well for all of us. You put down your gun and we all sit down and have a nice talk on the way to Callisto.”

“I said shut up!” His voice cracked again. He was getting desperate. Like a cornered animal that had been hunted his whole life. For a moment Abigail felt a measure of pity for the Chinese kid. Cole had told her what the Duke said about the boy’s heritage fetching a price when he went to market. She managed to unclench her jaw. Mostly, she just felt sick. Abigail looked at Grace. The girl had stopped crying and her fists were clenched. A shade of crimson crept across her face and down her neck.

Here was a new danger. If Grace did something rash…

Cole must have seen Grace’s behavior because he addressed her now. “So, Grace. You two have been stowed away on our ship for a few days now right?”

Suddenly the center of attention, she startled, then nodded. “We hid in the engineering compartment over there.”

Abigail’s heart broke. That can’t have been sanitary. They’d grown up on the streets though. Who knew what those two were willing to do to survive?

“I imagine you’re both very hungry,” Cole suggested.

“A little,” Grace admitted, “But we found a cabinet down here stuffed with ration bars, so we’re okay. Sorry we stole them.”

Cole smiled. Somehow, even with all the madness going on, he managed a smile. “That’s okay. And Grace I’m sorry the only food in reach was the most tasteless food known to man.”

She laughed and seemed to relax a little. “I didn’t think they were that bad. Beats the dumpsters we used to eat out of.”

“Grace, stop talking to them,” Davey said. His voice was low and stressed, but thankfully it had lost the lethal edge.

“How about this,” Cole said in a voice that sounded almost cheerful. “Abigail, you and Grace head upstairs and find something better to eat. Then you can bring something down for Davey. Since we’re going to be here awhile, there’s no use in us all being hungry.”

Abigail moved for the first time in several minutes. She hoped that Cole was just trying to disarm the situation and that he wasn’t getting Grace out of the room before doing something drastic. “Come on Grace. Ladder is in the back.” She made a wide circuit behind Cole toward the aft ladder. The brat with the gun never removed his eyes from her.

Grace looked at her brother once. When he nodded she cautiously followed Abigail to the ladder.

Take a deep breath, Abigail thought to herself. Cole has this. She wasn’t sure why she had so much faith in him to fix this. Maybe it was desperation. Maybe it was that the alternatives were too horrible to imagine.

She smiled at Grace and gave her a hand up the last rung of the ladder. “Looks like I got to see you a little sooner than I expected,” she said.

“This was Davey’s idea,” the girl said quietly.

“Trust me, dear, I know. Come on. We just went shopping the other day and Yvonne hasn’t had time to hoard all the good frozen meals.”

Grace smiled a little. It wasn’t much but it was a start.

The girl followed her into the common room. “Is this your ship?”

“I wish. It’s the cranky gaucho’s.” Abigail said, opening up the freezer and looking through it. “You like roast beef?”

Grace gave her a blank look. “I don’t know.”

Abigail felt flush. Of course she wouldn’t know. When would a street kid have eaten roast beef? “You’ll like it. I’ll get one for your brother too. Roast beef, with mashed potatoes, gravy, and some cinnamon apples. You’re gonna love it. The apples are practically dessert.” She looked at Grace. “You do know about dessert, don’t you?”

Grace seemed distracted, so Abigail continued.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell you the real trick though. These things are self heating. Just pull the tab, chemical reaction heats the whole tray. It’s not bad like that, but it doesn’t heat very evenly. Tastes a lot better if you put them in the microwave for a few minutes.” Abigail stepped over to the counter and popped both trays into the oven and turned it on. “Now we just have to wait a few minutes and you and your brother will have some real food. Not one of those mushy ration bars.”

She turned back around to find the room empty.

“Grace?”

That was weird. The door to the common room’s restroom was still open. Maybe she had wandered towards the cockpit. Abigail walked down the hall. The cabin doors were all closed.

“Grace, are you up here?”

The cockpit was empty too.

Abigail’s heart rose into her throat. She must have gone back into the hold. Maybe she didn’t want to be away from her brother. Making up her mind, Abigail marched back towards the aft ladder.

She had a single hand on it when she heard the bark of automatic gunfire echo up the shaft from the hold.

 
Divider.jpg
 

When Abigail opened the freezer, Grace had looked around the room. Her eyes immediately fell on something she recognized. Two great gold bracelets sitting on the table.

The ones the Duke had used.

She’d never forget the things. He’d always used them to terrify the kids, sometimes pinning one to a wall until they could barely breath and shouting horrible things.

She looked back at Abigail who was still talking about food.

“Do you like Roast Beef?”

“I don’t know.” Grace said.

She looked back over at the bracelets. She knew what they could do. If… if she took them.

“You do know about dessert, don’t you?”

Grace didn’t even really hear what Abigail was saying. The woman walked over to the counter with her trays and turned her back to Grace again.

She made her move. With the skill of a practiced thief she was across the room in an instant and slid a bracelet over each arm. There was a tiny click as they latched shut and each briefly flared with light. In a moment she was at the ladder, descending back to the hold.

“Grace?” she heard above her.

There was no stopping now. Grace slid down the ladder, like she used to back at the habitat. She was going to fix this. She was going to fix her stupid brother’s problem.

No one was going to get hurt.

Her feet clanged on the deck of the hold. Mr. Cole had been talking and he stopped and looked at her in surprise. “Grace? I thought you were up top with…”

He paused as she marched towards her brother.

Davey frowned. “What are… Grace go away!”

“Grace stop,” Mr. Cole demanded.

She walked right up to Yvonne. The woman was inches from her.

Grace raised her left hand and the bracelet burned with blue light.

Davey’s eyes went wide as he was suddenly thrown across the room, held in an invisible grip by the bracelet’s power. There was a burst of gunfire as his weapon fired.

Grace screamed as the hail of bullets shattered into fiery fragments around her and Yvonne as the other bracelet glowed red. All at once it was quiet and her eyes darted to the woman. Yvonne’s eyes were clenched shut in terror, but she wasn’t hurt.

Davey was lying on the ground. She must have dropped him when the gun fired. The gun lay beside him forgotten. Grace lifted her left hand again and threw him to the back wall. She marched at him, blood boiling.

“Why are you so horrible?!” she shouted.

There was a bang as Abigail’s heavy feet landed in the hold. Grace ignored her. Ignored Mr. Cole.

“Why?” she screamed. “These people were our friends. They helped us!” Tears were running down her cheeks now and she brushed them away with her right sleeve.

“It was the only way,” Davey wheezed. She’d knocked the breath clean out of him. “We were going to go home to Ceres…”

“I don’t want to go back to Ceres. I don’t want to go back to where… To where my parents died. I don’t want to be a couple of bilgeworms on the street anymore.” She lowered her arm, releasing him. He fell to the ground and slid down against the wall.

Neither had any fight left in them.

“I hate you,” she mumbled under her breath. She didn’t mean it. She could never mean it.

But in that moment he believed it and tears started running down his dirty face.

A heavy hand rested on her shoulder. Mr. Cole stood behind her. “Grace, how about you let me talk to Davey now? Why don’t you take a break and walk over to the other side of the room?”

She nodded, knowing she should tell Davey she was sorry. He never meant to hurt her. Even when he was being stupid. But right now, she didn’t want to look at him. She turned and slowly walked away.

Right now, she wished she could hate him.

 
Divider.jpg
 

Abigail’s heart rate hadn’t come down yet. She untied Yvonne with trembling hands and quickly pulled the other woman into a brief embrace. The threat of losing someone was too great to imagine now that she was beginning to like these people. She stepped away quickly so as not to meet Yvonne’s eyes.

Grace walked up to them both, her shoulders slumped with guilt.

“Yvonne, would you take care of our little friend. I think I’d like to keep a close eye on the gentlemen in the room. Just in case.”

Yvonne nodded and led Grace away. Abigail walked to the corner where Cole and Davey were, not wanting to disturb them but wanting to be close in case the brat still had some fight in him.

Cole stood with his arms behind his back. “She didn’t mean that, you know. About hating you.”

Davey’s eyes flicked up at Cole for a brief moment then back down at the ground. “You don’t know us. You don’t know me.”

“Maybe not. Or else maybe I do. I’ve met you a thousand times in my travels.”

That got Davey’s attention. Abigail frowned, unsure of where the gaucho was going with this.

“I see in front of me a young man that was never taught to be a man. Who wasn’t taught how to wield his strength. And yet in spite of that, you’re trying to figure some of it out on your own. Your fierce protectiveness of Grace is admirable.” Cole paused for a moment. “But at the rate you’re burning bridges you’re gonna end up losing her.” He crossed his arms under his poncho.

Davey didn’t answer, wouldn’t even look up at him. Abigail couldn’t blame him, not after what he’d done.

“So where do we go from here?” Cole asked.

“You asking me?” Davey finally met Cole’s eyes.

“Who am I looking at?”

“I… I don’t know. I umm… Guess you’re going to dump us at the next port.”

Cole scoffed. “I’d love to dump you. You’re dangerous and the source of the worst headache I’ve had in a month. But I can’t do that to your sister. I’m not putting a twelve year old on the street. So what are my options Davey?”

The young man was quiet. Abigail thought he knew the answer but didn’t want to say it. After a minute of silence he spit it out. “Take her to one of the church orphanages. Split us up.” He whispered the next bit so quietly that Abigail almost didn’t hear it. “Grace said it herself. I’m a monster.”

Cole regarded him with a thoughtful stare. “No. I don’t think so. I said that I knew you. That I’ve met you a thousand times across the solar system. Lost young men, adrift because no one taught them what was right.”

Davey wrinkled his forehead at that. Abigail had an inkling where Cole was going now and she wasn’t sure she liked it. Cole had a thing with collecting strays.

“Here’s the deal I’ll make you, Davey,” Cole said slowly. “The universe or fortune or God himself decided to smile on you today because I’m the last person in the solar system that’s going to give you a second chance. No, don’t say anything, just listen.” He took a deep breath before forging ahead. “You better be thankful that we all like your sister, Grace, because that’s what you’re being offered. Grace. You’re getting something better than you deserve. I’m going to let you two stay on my ship. Your sister under my protection and you under my charge. You will have any weapons confiscated. You will be confined to quarters unless accompanied by either myself or Ms. Sharon there,” he said gesturing to where Abigail stood silent guard. She frowned, not looking forward to the prospect of playing jailkeeper.

“You’ll work for your room. Whatever I say. If I need someone to scrub the deck, you do it. If I need someone to polish my boots, you do it. You disobey once, threaten anyone, mess up a single time? You’re dumped at the next port and I don’t even look over my shoulder. This is your last and only chance.”

Davey looked up at Cole, a thousand questions in his eyes. “So what, I’m your personal slave now?”

The gaucho bristled at that. “Or I can dump you here and now. I’m giving you a chance to earn my trust. Until we figure out somewhere you and your sister can stay together that isn’t the street. Just maybe, if you’re a good worker, learn some discipline and how to handle authority then you’ll be able to find a job and support your sister. Until that day, I’m the boss. Do we have a deal?”

Abigail nearly whistled in admiration. She wasn’t looking forward to the brat being underfoot, but she couldn’t help but be impressed by Cole’s tough love. That wasn’t a deal she’d have offered in a million years.

Davey hadn’t answered yet, but Abigail knew what his response would be. What choice did he have?

He stood to his feet and brushed himself off. He raised his eyes to meet Cole’s. “I’ll do it.”

“One mistake and it’s over,” Cole said. “No accidents.”

“No accidents,” Davey said.

Abigail shook her head sadly. It would never last.

 
Divider.jpg
 

Matthew sat in the pilot’s chair staring out the viewport at the well of endless stars. He’d turned the ship towards Callisto hours ago. Davey and Grace had each been given one of the remaining crew quarters and then Davey had been locked in his room. Short of the ship entering an emergency state, only he or Sharon would be able to let him out. He’d have to come up with some manual labor around the Sparrow on the trip, otherwise Davey was going to be in there for an unhealthy amount of time.

“What a day,” he mumbled to himself.

“You’re telling me,” Sharon said appearing in the cockpit. “You’re brave keeping the little killer around.”

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “You didn’t voice any complaints at the time.”

“It’s your ship,” she said. “Didn’t know I had jurisdiction.”

“You don’t, but I would have taken it into consideration.”

Sharon sat in the co-pilot’s seat. “Mind if I join you?”

“Just staring into space.”

They sat in silence for several minutes. Long enough that Matthew started to tire of his thoughts chasing each other in circles. “So am I crazy for keeping them around?”

“I’m fine with Grace. We can keep her permanently as far as I’m concerned. Sweet girl. The brother though?” She shook her head. “Yeah, I think it’s a bad call. I don’t get it. I mean you can quote platitudes about second chances all day long. Doesn’t change the fact that he’ll probably burn us. What happens then?”

He thought about it and shrugged. “Pick up the pieces and move on. Who knows? He may surprise us. He’s going to have to earn even Grace’s trust back at this point.”

“Still doesn’t explain why you’re even offering him the chance.”

Matthew let out a long sigh. He would be glad when his head hit the pillow tonight. “We’re all on the same ship, every man, woman, and child. And we’re venting atmosphere from a thousand hull breaches. They say it’s just a matter of time now. Some day the hull will buckle and the lights will go off for the last time. And just like that, the story of mankind will be over, a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Sharon turned to face him, her eyes full of questions.

Matthew smiled sadly. “I like to think I pushed back the final clock a few seconds. Maybe plugged one of those hull breaches. At the very least maybe I proved the King of Scotland wrong.”

Sharon seemed to consider this and Matthew went back to gazing at the stars.

 
Divider.jpg
 
 
 
Michael Kane4 Comments