Chapter 4: The Hawthorne Pact
Chapter 4: The Hawthorne Pact
The thing I remember most about those days was the quiet sadness of it all. After we got the initial error message, there were a few weeks of panic and noise. Earth was too busy to pay much attention to the colonies, dealing with the biggest financial collapse in the history of mankind.
Then the war started and they never even bothered with us again.
You can watch a nuclear war from millions of miles away, watch as both the history of your people and it's hopes for the future crumble into atomic dust. We weren’t really all that surprised that no one had disarmed themselves like they claimed, just…
After a couple weeks of silence, we went on with our lives, Arizona elected a President, Churchill a Prime Minister, and so on. It was just the colonies now as far as we were concerned.
No Earth and no Moses.
Arizona Secretary of State
Died 28 AM
The long walk back to Arizona was more boring than anything else. Matthew’s hurt pride had given up the fight several hours ago, and he’d resigned himself to the undignified situation of being carried across the Martian landscape by a woman in an exo-suit.
The worst part was the cold. Every half hour he insisted on being let down to jog for a few minutes to work some heat back into his limbs. Mars’ thin atmosphere didn’t allow comfortable air temperatures, despite the colonist’s best effort at mass producing greenhouse gases. Thankfully, Sharon’s armor was warm to the touch, else he may have lost a finger or two.
“And you’re sure you have enough power to get us back?” he asked for at least the fifth time since they had started their trek.
“I could keep this pace for two days. Stop asking. You’re not going to die.”
He flexed his fingers painfully. “Easy for you to say.” Every muscle in his body hurt after falling from the train and being jostled for hours on end. He glanced at his wristwatch. If his math was right, Arizona couldn’t be too much further away. “So how does a nice girl like you end up as a freelancer, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Sharon scoffed. “Seems like an obvious answer.”
“I was just trying to pass the time with some conversation. You don’t have to get defensive about it.”
“Fine. I’ve got the right tool for the job. Happy?”
“Not really. I’m guessing that you’re not going to tell me any more about that tool of yours either,” Matthew hazarded.
“Not one word,” she said, and Matthew knew it would be pointless to press the issue.
“Still, I wonder about why you’re freelancing. I imagine you could easily get a cushy law enforcement job or some private security gig. Why not take the easy pay check?”
Sharon was quiet for a minute. “Would you want to work for one of the colonial governments or some rich thruster nozzle?”
Matthew chuckled “No, I guess not.”
“So how about you? How long you been a freelancer?”
“Decade almost...” he trailed off.
“That’s about what I figured. How’d you get started?”
He thought about Villa Maria. Then he tried not to think about Villa Maria. “It’s not something I talk about.” They were both quiet for a minute.
“So questions about the past are a no go.” Sharon said casually, “We’re a pair of open books.”
Matthew didn’t know that, but he was saved from any more social awkwardness when they topped the rise. The Arizona environmental shield flickered in the distance with subtle distortion in the early afternoon light.
“Let me down. I’ll walk from here.”
Sharon knelt. “Fragile ego doesn’t want to be seen hitching a ride?”
He scrambled off her back. “Imagine what would happen to the reputation of the Shield Maiden if she was seen being carried back to town on a forklift. A freelancer without a reputation is just a jobless bum.”
“You worry too much. Do a job. Do it well. All it takes.”
“Easy for you to say when you’re bulletproof.”
“Mostly bulletproof,” she corrected.
They left off conversation as they finished crossing the distance to the border town. When they reached the shield, Matthew placed a hand against it to test its resistance. They operated by repelling matter. Air inside tended to stay inside, which also did wonders for keeping it nice and warm. Environmental shields had a second layer to keep out radiation. The solar system was not a hospitable place for human life.
He stepped back and ran at the shield, diving headfirst. The trick was to get most of your body on the far side so that the field pushed you the rest of the way through. His hands, head, and shoulders pierced the shield before he felt himself beginning to slow. He had nearly come to a complete stop before he crossed the threshold and the shield kicked him out the other side. He rolled as he hit the ground and sprang lightly to his feet.
Sharon stepped through the shield effortlessly and he rolled his eyes. “Showoff.”
She ignored him. “Come on. I’ve got equipment in my skyhopper that’ll give us a more accurate read on Vance’s position.”
As Abigail climbed into her skyhopper, she thought that she should have told Cole to wait outside. He’d have to walk through the living quarters to reach the cockpit, and it was always awkward to have strangers in your room. She walked straight to the console and pushed the power button for the computers, sat in the oversized chair, and spun it to face Cole.
Unfortunately he hadn’t followed her into the cockpit. He’d gotten distracted and picked up the copy of Pride and Prejudice she’d tossed aside the previous night. Flipping through it, he made a face.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Don’t like the classics?”
“Some of them,” he said placing the book on the shelf. “This one always struck me as a little… unrealistic. Things work out too nicely in the end. But here,” he picked up another book, “here is a true classic.” Cole showed her the face of the book. The Everlasting Man was printed in burgundy letters.
“Oh, I never got very far into that one. A bit stuffy for my tastes.”
“Pity. The Solar System could use a little Chesterton these days.”
The computer beeped, and Abigail turned back to the display. She wouldn’t have pegged Cole as a man interested in a centuries-old Catholic thinker, but then people were rarely predictable. The only reason she even had the book was that she’d found it abandoned somewhere years ago. Actual paper books were a treasure you didn’t pass up.
She returned to the matter at hand. “Let’s see. Give me just a… There.” The display showed a topographical map of Arizona. In the southern reaches of the colony’s territory, nestled in some rough terrain amidst a collapsed mesa, glowed a single red dot. “So there’s our boy Vance, and I’d guess the rest of the Hawthorne gang.”
Cole leaned over her shoulder. At least he was no longer in her room.
“Secluded area,” he mumbled. “Is there any information on the region? Looks like the remnants of a mining operation. I guess someone didn’t math things out and collapsed the mesa. A few decades later a merry band of outlaws moves in, and you’ve got a veritable bandit fortress.”
She pulled up some information on the area. He was right on the money about the history of the place. “I don’t think the Hawthornes have Robin Hood as their leader, Cole.”
“All the same we get to play sheriff. That’s gonna be almost an hour away on grav bike. I’ve got some equipment I’d like to take along that may come in useful. Sooner we get out of here, the more likely we take them by surprise.”
Abigail frowned and spun her chair back around to face Cole. “You sure you don’t want to contact Thompson? He might be able to lend some backup.”
Cole shook his head emphatically. “Absolutely not. I don’t trust anyone in the Arizona government at this point. Someone ratted us out, bought Vance, and nearly got us killed. We do this our way. Capture James Hawthorne, deliver him to Churchill ourselves, and split Vance’s cut.”
Abigail found herself impressed by the bravado. “And while we’re at it, we take his brother Paul as well.”
“That’s a tall order, Shield Maiden,” he said raising an eyebrow. “Not afraid we’re biting off more than we can chew going after a whole gang of criminals?”
“Depends on how good a shot you are I guess, cowboy.”
Cole adjusted his campero. “Gaucho,”
“Still don’t care,” she said.
An hour later they parked their grav bikes and marched the last few miles on foot. Compared to the morning’s hike, Matthew thought this was positively cheery. While it never got to a temperature you could call warm in these latitudes, he wasn’t in any danger of losing fingers beneath the Arizona shield.
“Sure you don’t want me to carry that case for you?”
He looked over at Sharon. “Allow me to retain a little bit of dignity.” He’d packed the long case with thermal imaging gear as well as some special equipment that he’d declined to disclose. It would be interesting to gauge her reaction when he showed her the contents.
All this dignity might be the death of him. One fistfight, thrown from a train, and jostled and frozen to death, all since getting up this morning. Each and every step, his tired muscles protested in defiance. If he lived the afternoon and went to bed tonight, he might never be able to move again.
When they reached the bluff, he decided dignity might be inconvenient. There was no way he was climbing the cliff face and lugging the bulky case at the same time. He waited for the inevitable sarcastic remark as he handed his burden to Sharon, but she accepted it without comment. Either she was off her game or he was looking pretty rough, and the woman was starting to take pity on him. Matthew kicked a clod of red dirt and began the climb.
For most of it, he was able to scramble along on all fours, only climbing once or twice. When he finally dragged his body over the lip of the mesa, he laid on the ground to rest for a minute before getting to his feet. The terrain atop the mesa was a mess of shattered stone and broken boulders, offering plenty of cover for them to keep out of the way of prying eyes. Sharon had already moved into cover. “You good, Cole?”
He laughed and dusted himself off, straightening his poncho. “Sure, we’ll go with that. How far to that mine?”
“Half mile, maybe less.”
“Let’s do it.”
By the time they had picked their way across the top mesa, the sun was low, casting the landscape in a dull red light. Red on red. You had to like the color to not lose your sanity on Mars. They crept towards the entrance of the mine, slinking between the rocks. The sun glinted off Sharon’s armor, even with the fine coat of Martian dust it had acquired over the course of the day. It practically begged for them to get caught. “We need to get you a poncho to hide that thing in the wilds. It’d have to be the biggest one ever made.”
Matthew knew he wasn’t a ladies man. In fact, he was quite possibly the furthest thing from that. However, he also knew that Abigail Sharon was a little vain about her armor and would take it as a compliment. At least that was what he thought.
“Smooth, Cole.” Her eyes flicked down at her armor. “But I guess you’re right. I wear that trench coat in the city. I could use some stealth wear for the countryside.”
Maybe it was only okay if she made the joke. He cracked open his case and pulled out a pair of thermal goggles. “Stay here, I’ll go check over the ledge. See what we’re dealing with.” He crawled forward and looked down into the depression. Two familiar skyhoppers sat parked outside the opening in the hillside. “At least we’re at the right place,” he muttered to himself, slipping on the goggles.
A human body stands out as a bright source of heat on the cool martian landscape. One bright spot glowed like a blast furnace high above the mine on the far side of the depression, and he ducked lower to the ground. That would be the lookout. Down at the entrance, there were two men out working near the skyhoppers and another ten or so further in. It was hard to get a count in the building. Probably the warmer air.
He slid back down to Sharon, pulled off the goggles, and reported what he’d seen. She frowned. “That’s it? I kind of thought there would be more.”
“How many did we take out earlier today?” He started counting on his fingers. “I got five. Maybe six?”
“Better than me. I only got two. They didn’t really want to deal with me.”
“Can’t say I blame them,” Matthew agreed. “So that’s seven or eight. We’ve already thinned them pretty well. Plus they may have other men elsewhere. I doubt the whole gang is at this location.”
“Alright, what’s the plan then, Cole.” She gestured to the case. “You’ve got something special in mind?”
He nodded and opened the case. “You’re not the only one with a piece of earthtech.”
Sharon’s eyes went wide. “What is it? Some kind of rifle?”
“Gauss rifle. Charge the capacitors and it fires a sub-sonic slug via staged magnetic coils. There’s no gunpowder and no sonic boom, so it’s perfectly silent. Battery has enough charge for four shots, and we’ve got three hostiles outside. This’ll help even the odds a bit.”
Sharon eyed the thing suspiciously. “That’s a weapon meant for assassination.”
Matthew plucked the weapon out of the case and began assembling its bipod. “I inherited it with the Sparrow. It doesn’t come out often, but I find occasional use for it.”
He turned from the rifle to look at her. “Or you could charge in and bludgeon them all with your shield if you prefer a fair fight.”
She waved him off. “Do your thing.”
He crept back up to the edge and set the weapon’s bipod on the lip and slipped the thermal goggles back on to locate the watchman. The outlaw was still perched high in the rocks, almost invisible without the thermal gear. Matthew peered through the scope and found his target. He hit a switch and heard a nearly inaudible hum as the capacitors charged. Looking through the sight again, he double-checked the range. Just over a hundred meters. He groaned as he did the quick math. Stupid earth-tech equipment used metric system. Either way, he wasn’t going to have to compensate for projectile drop at this close range.
He squeezed the trigger. There was a faint puff of air, and a hole appeared in the man’s chest. Matthew bit his lip, feeling a pang of guilt as the man slumped to the ground, felled by an enemy he didn’t even know was there. He pushed the feeling aside. These were murderers, and the Government of Arizona had authorized him to use lethal force. Sharon was right about one thing. This was a weapon meant for assassination.
Grim thoughts aside, he set to work on the other two men. The first was easy pickings, and Matthew dropped him behind one of the skyhoppers. The second had unfortunately moved into one of the aircraft and Matthew had to wait nearly five minutes before he poked his head out, possibly wondering what his compatriot was up to. After he finished the deed, Matthew checked the thermals one more time, ensuring that he had no other targets before returning to Sharon.
He nodded, “Three less hostiles.”
“What now? Work our way into the mine and take the rest of the Hawthorne gang out?”
“Unless you’ve got a better idea,” he said stowing the rifle. He pushed the case down into a crevice where it was unlikely to be discovered. “We go in quiet, at least until it gets loud. You provide cover and deal with anyone close, and I’ll deal with enemies at range.”
Sharon pulled her shield from her back and deployed it. “If you’re sure. This could get a little nasty.”
Matthew drew his revolver and checked to make sure it was fully loaded. Never hurt to double or even triple check that sort of thing. “I’m not sure, but I’m too poor right now to care.” He closed the revolver’s cylinder. “Let’s do it.”
In spite of wearing a nearly bulletproof exo-suit, Abigail always felt a shock of fear before a fight. It was partially her invulnerability that made her feel so vulnerable. If her suit was somehow disabled, it would go from her biggest asset to her biggest liability in the space of a heartbeat. That worry kept her alert, helped her focus. The moment she got sloppy was the moment someone took her out. Freelancers usually didn’t get much leeway when they got in over their head.
Abigail lowered her face shield and took a quick glance at Cole. He nodded and gave a hand signal to proceed. The tunnel extended fifty feet before making a sharp left turn. Cole’s last use of the thermal goggles had revealed that two outlaws lurked somewhere just around the corner. Abigail stalked forward, moving as quietly as her armor allowed.
She reached the corner, paused, gave Cole a three-two-one signal with her left hand, and breached the bend.
The two outlaws sat in folding chairs by a cheery campfire. The first played a guitar while the other stirred a pot heating over the fire. To their credit, they both reacted almost immediately to Abigail’s sudden appearance. The cook even managed to draw his weapon before she brought her shield to bear on them in one mighty swing. They both sailed across the tunnel, one colliding with the wall and dropping cold. The other landed in a pile of crates, making an inordinate amount of noise.
“We’re loud,” Cole said. “Let’s move.”
Abigail moved to a set of double doors behind the fire and took up position beside them. The door opened, and she caught the surprised outlaw with her shield, sending him flying to join his comrades. She and Cole rushed through the doors into a warehouse turned camp. Most of the men had been huddled around a table in what appeared to be a poker game, but a few were scattered around the room.
All of them were in the process of drawing their guns and getting to their feet. Abigail raised her shield to protect herself and Cole. He wasted no time, leaning out from behind the cover she created to fire a quick succession of shots from his revolver. Two hostiles dropped at once, but the rest had taken refuge behind tables or other makeshift cover. Slowed by the grav plate to harmless velocities, shots began to bounce off her shield with sharp metallic clinks. She motioned her head to the left towards a large shipping container, hoping that Cole would get the message. She nudged him in that direction, careful to keep as much of herself protected by the shield as she could. The biggest danger was getting surrounded. If they could find a position from which Cole’s revolver could continue to thin the crowd, she knew they stood a chance.
When they reached the shipping container, Cole darted to the far side, giving fire. Abigail pushed slowly towards the group that had been playing poker. It was a bit of a risk, but keeping the attention on herself rather than Cole was gonna make their odds of winning that much more likely. She stepped out of cover and into the open, and the gunfire intensified. After a few moments, bullets started pinging off the ground at her feet as the Hawthorne gang realized shooting her shield was useless. One bullet ricocheted harmlessly off her armored boots, leaving a small dent she’d have to work out later.
So far her gambit was working and, looking through the narrow slit in her shield, she saw Cole down another bandit. Hopefully, he didn’t accidentally kill James or Paul Hawthorne. It would be a lot more satisfying to dump the two alive and well on the steps of Churchill’s Parliament building.
An impact on her side surprised her. A second bullet embedded itself in the armor at her thigh before she caught sight of the shooter. One of the gang members had bravely skirted around the outside of the room with a high caliber rifle. Before she could react, he fired a third shot, this one slamming into the armor just above her right knee.
The man was good with that revolver, Abigail had no doubt. In one smooth motion, he turned, dropped to one knee, and fired. His revolver barked four times, and the flanker fell unmoving to the warehouse floor.
Abigail stepped forward again to further pressure the main group and noticed her right knee responded sluggishly with a high-pitched whine. That last bullet had been true to its mark. This needed to end soon, or she might be in a real jam.
A fallen chair in front of her gave her an opportunity to be more than a distraction. She gave it a jolt from her shield, and the grav plate sent it flying across the room towards her adversaries. Hitting one or more of them would have been nice. What she got was even better. The chair clipped a table and shattered into a thousand splinters of wooden shrapnel. The remaining members of the Hawthorne gang took cover from the carnage and, in the resulting chaos, Matthew dropped yet another outlaw with a well-placed round to the chest.
The air was split twice by the booming of a high powered rifle. Abigail tried to get a bead on the new threat.
Then the confusion set in. Two more outlaws slumped to the ground, shot in the back by the newcomer. Vance dropped the rifle and drew a sidearm from each hip. James and Paul Hawthorne each found themselves looking down the barrel of a pistol.
The room fell silent as all parties grappled with the unexpected change of fortunes.
“Go ahead,” Vance said. “Drop your weapons.”
The men exchanged glances before complying. Paul Hawthorne cursed, his face red and his mouth practically frothing. “I’ll kill you, you filthy…”
“Shut up,” Vance said quietly, gesturing with the gun. “Well, what of it, Cole? Sharon? You going to come get these two or not?”
Cole stepped out of cover and approached Sharon, standing close so that he could use her for cover. Maybe he wasn’t sure the shooting was over with either. “Turning on your contractor’s not good business for a freelancer, Vance. Twice in a day is a fool’s gambit.”
Vance’s smille was obnoxious. Abigail would have liked to knock it off his stupid face. She was still trying to figure out which side he was on. If any. The freelancer shook his head. “If you think the Hawthorne’s paid me then you’ve not been keeping up.”
Cole relaxed his aim. “That confirms a suspicion I had.” Abigail glanced nervously at him, glad that at least one of them was confident in this situation.
“Good. Come cuff these two.”
Cole stepped forward and slapped a pair of handcuffs on the brothers, and then gagged them. Sharon herded the remaining outlaws into a far corner of the room. For now, they obeyed, their spirit defeated with the leaders of their band captured. She didn’t know how long that would last and hoped to be out of here before anyone else got any bright ideas. Cole pushed the brothers toward the door. “And, Vance. Go ahead and give Sharon her tracker.”
Abigail’s eyes went wide as Vance pulled the small black disc off the back of his shoulder. He walked to her and offered the device.
She stared at it for a moment before accepting. “So you knew the whole time? Knew we were coming and did nothing to stop us?”
“I already fulfilled my contract. I didn’t really see the harm in letting you fulfill yours. Just had to wait for the opportune moment to help turn the tables.” He smiled that insufferable grin again.
Sharon thought about knocking it off his face for all the trouble. Imagined him hurtling across the mine warehouse. Would have been fun.
But repaying a good turn with malice was beneath her, if only by a little bit.
Matthew turned the Hawthorne Skyhopper with its captives towards Churchill and a payout at the end of a hard job. Vance had taken the other to go… somewhere. Matthew didn’t really care anymore.
They landed the aircraft in the square in front of the Parliament building. A few dozen police were on hand to confront the strangers before they even popped the hatch. Matthew only laughed. “Calm down gentlemen. Just making a personal delivery to the Prime Minister. I hear he’s interested in the Hawthorne brothers. We’re interested in collecting a bounty.”
The bounty was handsome, far exceeding the original contract with Arizona to guard the train. Matthew thought about the first thing he was going to eat. Maybe he’d visit a real steakhouse, one that served actual cow instead of vat-grown meat. His mouth watered at the thought.
When they left Churchill the next morning, Matthew hurt as much as he'd guessed he would, but he had money in his pocket for the first time in weeks. He set a course for Flagstaff.
Sharon noticed the destination at once. “What gives? We’ve got to go retrieve our grav bikes.”
“It’s not quite over yet. You and I need to pay a visit to Ryan Thompson.”
“The government man? He’s not gonna pay us again. We failed to protect the train.”
Matthew frowned. “Trust me.”
It was late morning before they found themselves in the office of the Arizona Minister of Law.
“I’m not paying you double,” Thompson said quietly. “You failed to protect the train and I hear that Churchill paid you well.”
Rays of sunlight filtered through blinds, painting an eerie striped pattern on the government man. Sharon gave Matthew a told-you-so look, but he waved her off. “We’re not really here to get paid. I’m here for an answer to a question that’s been on my mind.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
“Why?” It was a single word, sharp and succinct, but it cut to the point.
Thompson straightened his tie. “Because sometimes we do what we must to survive. Isn’t that the very reason you Freelancers wander the solar system like starving rats, desperately searching for crumbs?”
“Isn’t that all any of us do anymore?” Matthew retorted sharply. “I don’t know why you paid Vance to spring the prisoner and leak our plans to the Hawthornes. What does being a sellout have to do with survival?”
Matthew saw Sharon shift posture as the pieces clicked into place for her. She took a threatening step forward and crossed her arms.
Thompson looked back and forth between the two. “Simple threat assessment. I’ve had a bit of an agreement with the Hawthornes. I leave them to their petty crimes if they keep the body count low. James Hawthorne's arrest was purely an accident on the part of a well-meaning deputy.”
“But why prop them up at all? Why not just crush them?” Sharon blustered.
“Because with the Hawthornes gone, someone else will move in to take their place. Perhaps one of the bigger more organized syndicates will see an opportunity to move into fresh territory, or one of Europa’s cartels will see a population ripe for harvesting fresh slaves for their fields. I made a choice to protect the people I serve, and I will not be judged for that.”
Matthew shook his head. “How many innocent bystanders were killed in the train car when the skyhopper opened fire?”
Thompson’s cheek twitched slightly. “Six.” Matthew was surprised he even knew the number.
“And who protected them? You’re a murderer Ryan Thompson. You better pray that God has mercy on your soul.”
Thompson’s eyes widened with terror, and he looked at Matthew’s gun still holstered at his side.
Matthew let the moment hang just long enough. “But I’m not a murderer. Count yourself a lucky man, minister. ”
He turned and stalked out of the office.
“What was that?” Sharon demanded as they walked out of the downtown office building. “Are we just going to let him get away with what he did?”
Matthew turned and looked at the building. “Not my choice to make. We’ll send the story to as many members of Arizona’s government as we can. A man like Thompson isn’t likely to be unseated by such a scandal, but at least others will be watching him now. He’ll have to play by the rules for a while.”
Sharon seemed to consider this. “All the same I think we should leave Arizona for a bit. I wouldn't put Thompson past revenge.”
Matthew sighed and looked around at the familiar surroundings, the city of his birth. He never got to stay long, not with his profession, but he was always glad to visit. It had changed a lot over the years, as it slowly ground to a halt like everything else. The flower really does fade, he thought bitterly.
By sunset they had taken care of their remaining business and trudged out of the border town back towards the Sparrow and Sharon’s skyhopper. Matthew had noticed her limp hours ago. Her right knee didn’t want to move smoothly.
“That going to be okay? I’m guessing you can fix it?”
She sighed. “Nope. I can knock out the dents and repair the armoring itself, but the mechanism inside is a little more complicated than I can handle.”
“I’m sorry,” he said simply and meant it. He wondered how much of her share of the bounty was going to go to the repair bill.
They walked in silence for another minute before Sharon spoke up again. “Say I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“I’m all ears.”
“There’s this tinker I know on Ceres. He’s got a knack for earthtech and has done some work for me in the past. I was wondering if I could hitch a ride, that is if you were headed that way anytime soon. I’ll pay my fare of course. But seeing as how you’re leaving Arizona anyway…”
“I’ve got a little tradition,” he said cutting her off. “After a dangerous job that goes way off the beaten course, I try to take something nice and easy. Maybe a nice cargo run or passenger job. Keeps the stress level down.” He looked at her from the corner of his eye. “I’m sure I can find some excuse to take a trip to Ceres.”
The relief in Sharon’s eyes was plain to see. Maybe she’d envisioned months of trying to hitch a ride, all the while limited on what jobs she could take with her damaged exo-suit. “Thanks, Cole. I’ll pay ticket price.”
He waved her off. “Friends can hitch a ride for free.”
Sharon raised an eyebrow. “Thanks. You know when I met you, you didn’t strike me as the kind of person that made friends.”
He turned toward the Sparrow, not wanting her to see the shame on his face. She was right, of course. He didn’t use to be this way.
“Well, I’ve got at least one.”