Nikki Dark piloted the Dreadnought
to a perfect landing on Ceres’ icy surface, shut down the small craft’s systems,
and put her helmet on.
She took a moment to just lean back and relax, anxiety
washing over her like rain. Whether it was running from the Space Patrol, being
shot at by rivals, or being cheated by her smuggling contacts, every moment of
her life was stressful. Her ship was overdue for repairs and she simply didn’t
have the money. Too many things had gone wrong lately. Finally, she got up and
The distant sun threw stark shadows among the piles of
dirty, carbonate-infused ice that made up the dwarf planet’s surface. Fifty
meters beneath her feet, dark water sloshed in utter blackness.
A single yellow light gleamed over the door of a corrugated
iron shed connected to the end of a long row of ag domes, where all the food
was grown. She trudged across the rough ice pasture to the door, then banged on
it. It cracked open, and Seamus poked his helmet out, touching it to hers.
“Got my stuff?” he demanded.
“Don’t I always?” she replied.
“Good.” Then: “I’ve got something new for you to move—a new
She shook her head. “I don’t sell drugs.”
“You’ll sell this one,” he assured her, handing her the
satchel. “And you’ll make more than on your last dozen produce shipments. We
call it Rust.”
Nikki regarded the satchel with distaste, but she knew her
son Kyle would need money for college soon.
“Rust?” she repeated. “Like on metal?”
“No, it’s a type of fungus. Our bioengineer noticed it
growing on the corn plants and traced it back to the water we’d pulled from
under the ice. These”—he pointed to the satchel—“are two varieties: ten
packages of red, seventy percent pure with some live fungus mixed in, and ten
packages of black, ninety percent pure and no live fungus.”
“What does it do?”
His eyes flashed with excitement. “A smooth high with no
hangover. Stuff usually goes a kilocredit each for the red, and three kilos for
“That’s awfully expensive for a new drug,” she noted.
Seamus flashed a rare smile. “True. But it’s in huge demand
in the colonies.”
colonies?” she asked dubiously. “What about Earth?”
He nodded. “All of ’em. And this stuff is hot. Don’t tell anybody where you got it.
I don’t need any visits from the Space Patrol.”
They walked to the ship and she tucked the satchel into the Dreadnought’s external hold, then
touched her helmet to his again. “Fine, add it to my bill. Help me move these
Together, they moved the crates into the shed, stacking them
against an unused wall. Seamus closed the exterior door and threw a switch that
started a vibration she felt through her feet. When the sound of the pump grew
loud enough to hear, she unbuckled her helmet and removed it, inhaling the
rich, fertile odors wafting from the connected domes. She shook loose her
auburn hair, then tilted her head forward to hide the crinkled scar on her left
cheek. She removed a gauntlet and poked her datapad, entered a password, and
brought up the manifest.
“Here we go,” she said, then scanned each crate’s ID tag as
she called out their contents. “Cigarettes, holo crystals, Earth liquor, copper
tubing and silica, a case of printers, and this”—she indicated a large crate at
the bottom of the stack—“is your new forge assembly. Are you thinking about changing
your name to Hephaestus?”
Seamus frowned. “Who?”
Nikki took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Nobody
read the classics anymore. “Never mind. It’s all here. Sign my receipt and then
let’s grab some dinner.”
Together they walked through the linked domes, moving between
spinning hydroponic cylinders. The warm, fetid stench of well-fertilized plants
circulated throughout the mining colony’s interior. They continued walking until
they reached the dining hall, nestled in the colony’s hub. Dirty prisoners, all
with bar codes tattooed on their arms, stood in line, awaiting the chow bell.
It rang, and each of them surged forward to grab trays and utensils. Nikki
leaned close to Seamus and whispered: “Those tomatoes were a big hit on
Callisto. So were the beans. Do you have any more?”
Seamus nodded. “And we also have a metric ton of potatoes crated.
Ten percent upcharge?”
“Throw in fifty bushels of kale and it’s a deal.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
When it was her turn in line, she ladled double helpings of blotchy,
white beans onto her tray, then added a large spoonful of pale, steamed
spinach. She took three ears of corn, which prompted some grumbling down the
line. The vegetables looked smaller, more pale than they had the last time
she’d visited. Even the ears of corn were half-sized.
She sat down at a large table across from Seamus, staring at
her tray in disgust.
“What’s up with the food?”
He ignored her and shoveled white beans into his mouth.
She looked around. All the prisoners looked a little off, as
if they were medicated. The normal chatter was absent, and the only sound that
filled the hall was the scraping of utensils against plastic trays.
“What’s going on?” she whispered through clenched teeth.
“Later. Eat now.”
She ate, thinking about how much things had changed.
Normally, she looked forward to eating the fresh produce on Ceres; it was the highlight
of her smuggling triangle. The food she bought on the little ice planet was for
her next destination, the high-priced restaurants of Callisto.
Later, back in the shed, she took stock of the inventory
that Seamus had assembled for her. She stared in dismay at the wilted kale, the
blotchy tomatoes, and more half-sized ears of corn.
“What the hell, Seamus?” She glared.
“It’s what we’ve got. Take it or leave it.”
“I can’t sell this crap to my clients! They pay top dollar,
and they expect the best. Take this junk back and bring me something I can
Seamus crossed his arms, his mouth set in stone. “Don’t push
it, Nikki. This is what we have to offer.”
She drew her weapon and pointed it at him. “I’m not going to
ask you again.”
“I can’t give you anything better. We don’t have anything better!”
“Why the hell not?”
He rubbed his hand across his half-shaven face. “We’ve been
working on keeping up with the demand for the Rust, getting it prepared. Some
of it must have contaminated the grow houses. You can still eat it.”
“Then I want a discount. A serious discount.”
His shoulders slumped and he finally nodded.
“What’s the deal with this Rust, anyway? You guys have
always prided yourself on the quality of your gardens.” She indicated the
crates. “Are you telling me that you’ve decided to become drug dealers
“Nikki, you don’t understand,” he said. “The Rust takes you
into another dimension.”
“And you’re letting hardened criminals process it for you,”
she noted with a frown.
“We’ve had some trouble,” he admitted. “Been a few
She stared at him in disgust. Well, there goes another produce supplier down the drain.
They suited up and Seamus helped her load the crates into
the Dreadnought. She retrieved the
satchel, clambered aboard and pressurized the ship.
She tapped into the colony’s wireless signal to retrieve her
mail, scanned her messages, and saw one from her son. She clicked it first.
“Mom?” Kyle’s recorded face filled the screen. His eyes were
troubled and he kept looking away while he spoke. “I left Uncle Curtis’ house.
I couldn’t stand it there anymore. I’m safe, but I won’t go back. He’s …” The
young man paused in the recording. “I wish you were here.”
His image froze. Kyle was a good kid, never caused any trouble.
She’d known he wouldn’t be safe in the Outer Colonies, at least in the places
she could afford, so she’d made arrangements for him to stay with her brother.
She bit her lip and archived the message, then clicked on
the next one, from her brother Curtis. His face appeared on the display. “Hey,
Nik. Kyle’s gone, and I don’t know where. Call me.”
She rubbed her eyes and sighed. She’d been on the run for
five exhausting years. Living with an unmarried uncle was no life for a kid,
but she couldn’t provide a better one for him. At least, not yet.
She sent a brief message to Kyle, asking him what had
happened, then recorded an angry one to Curtis. She pointed out that she was
paying him quite a bit of money to raise Kyle, and she damned well expected him
to earn it. Then she lifted off, keeping under the base’s radar until she’d
cleared the nearby horizon.
As she made her way to Callisto, she thought about Kyle and,
for the hundredth time, wished that things were different.
She arrived a week later and was immediately intercepted. A
massive cruiser suddenly appeared as her proximity alarms began screeching.
said a voice.
She keyed the mic and replied. “This is Dreadnought. Who is this?”
“Commander Warren Jain, Space Patrol. You’ll be boarded and
searched upon landing. Don’t deviate from your flight path, Ms. O’Riley. You
wouldn’t like the results.”
She blanched. Nobody out here knew her real name. She’d been
operating as Nikki Dark for twenty years and everything she owned was registered
in that name. This clearly wasn’t a typical inspection. They’d been waiting for
“Affirmative, Commander Jain.”
She guided the ship down to Callisto Station, a sprawling
series of domes scattered across the blasted surface of the moon, with Jupiter
looming large on the horizon. Once down, she dismantled the co-pilot’s
instrumentation board and pushed the satchel deep into a recess in the
bulkhead, a storage spot she’d had constructed for just such an occasion. She
reassembled the board and verified that the dummy instrumentation showed
appropriate readings for a grounded ship.
A pounding on the airlock sounded at the same moment as Jain’s
voice came through the speakers. “Ms. O’Riley? My security detail has arrived.
Please allow them access to your ship.”
She deactivated the external locks and a young soldier
stepped into the cramped cabin. “Sorry, ma’am, but I have orders from Commander
Jain to search inside your vessel for contraband.” He thumbed over his
shoulder. “The other two will look outside.”
Nikki scowled and waved her hand, granting permission. She’d
been very careful, hiding her smuggling activities with legitimate shipments of
needed goods, like the forge she’d just delivered to Ceres. For five years,
ever since Mercury, she’d managed to keep a low profile. She touched a finger
to the wrinkled scar on her left cheek and thought about that day. For a full
minute she’d been adrift in space without a suit, the Sun’s rays scorching her.
It had taken twenty-one skin grafts to rebuild her face. She still shuddered at
Red lights flashed on her board as the soldiers opened the
external sealed compartments. She leaped to her feet.
“Hey! I have produce in those bins! Exposure to these
temperatures will ruin it!”
The soldier shrugged. “Orders, ma’am. Nothing I can do about
“That’s not good enough!” she snapped. “Get Commander Jain
Commander Jain’s voice filled the cockpit. “How may I be of
service, Ms. O’Riley?”
“Your gorillas are ruining my shipment! I expect you to pay
me for my loss!”
“Now, Nicole, why don’t you just tell us where the Rust is,
and we’ll stop searching your ship?”
She sat down slowly. So that’s what the search was about. “I
don’t know about any rust, Commander. I keep a well-maintained ship—shiny and
Jain’s voice paused, then continued, silky-smooth but with
an edge. “Corporal, please continue your search.”
Nikki watched from the copilot’s seat as the young man
opened every interior hatch, then crawled behind the engine equipment, looking
for a hiding place. When he approached the copilot’s station, Nikki looked up
at him with cold disgust, letting her hair fall away from her scar.
He flushed and turned away, ignoring the board.
After twenty minutes of fruitless searching he called Jain. “Nothing
here, sir. She’s clean.”
Jain’s voice returned. “Thank you, Corporal. Ms. O’Riley,
you are free to continue. I am deeply saddened by the loss of your shipment. My
condolences. Please present me an itemized bill and I’ll see that it gets
reimbursed, once it’s maneuvered through all of our red tape. Jain out.”
After the corporal had left, she suited up and went to
examine the cargo. Not great to begin with, it had frozen solid upon exposure
to Callisto’s thin carbon-dioxide atmosphere and had been rendered inedible.
She went through the Station airlock to try to negotiate
partial payment on a fast resupply, but her Callisto contact was furious and demanded
a full refund. With reluctance, Nikki drained her bank account and gave him
everything she had. She promised to find a new supplier, but he slammed the
door in her face.
She left his restaurant and mingled with the evening crowds,
walking aimlessly for hours before eating dinner alone, then went back to the
ship. Eventually, she turned over and fell asleep by the dim light of the
When she awakened nine hours later, her message light was
blinking. She stumbled to the pilot’s chair and sat down, rubbing sleep from
It was from Curtis.
“Nik, I got your message. You really aren’t in any position,
telling me what to do while you gallivant around the Jovian moons. And your kid
is just as stubborn as you always were. It’s no surprise he’s the way he is,
given your inability to obey the law.”
His message ended, and the transmission froze on an image of
his contorted, scowling face. Nikki punched a button and the screen went dark. He’d
been clean for almost a decade when she entrusted him with Kyle, but she was
sure now that he was using again. She needed to get to Earth, despite the
bounty on her head.
She squared her shoulders, opened the console, withdrew the
satchel of rust, and left the ship. It was time for Nikki Dark to make things
She headed into the seedy areas of Callisto Station, looking
for the nightclubs away from the Strip, hovels without garish neon signs where
the right sort of clientele might clamor for the red rust she carried instead
of more traditional forms of escape like heroin and cocaine, or the tried-and-true
crystal meth. They’d have money, and if she was going to take Kyle back and
find a new place for him, she was going to need all the money she could get her
She found a likely spot in the corner of a filthy dome away
from the main Strip. It had a dirty facade, a burly synth manning the door, and
a glowing sign that read “Shady’s Shadow”
above the door.
“Can I score pharms here?” Nikki asked, sidling up to the
“Who wants to know?”
She shrugged. “Nikki Dark.”
“Never heard of you.”
“That’s due to change,” she assured him. “Tell your boss
that I have something he wants.”
The synth chomped on his toothpick for twenty seconds while
his eyes glazed over. They grew clear again. “She says to go inside.”
Nikki pushed open the door. The interior lights were up and the
cleaning robots were trying without much success to scrub the grime from the
floor and walls. A young woman with bright orange hair and firefly ink tattoos
sat at the bar, reading a scrolling newsfeed. She looked up, uncoiled from her
stool, and walked over to Nikki.
“The real Nikki
Dark?” she said, squinting in disbelief.
“The one and only.”
“I’m Shady,” said the orange-haired woman, then stuck out a
hand. “You’re a legend ever since Mercury.”
Nikki took her hand. “You ever hear of Rust?” she asked without
Shady’s eyes lit up. “You got black?”
“No,” lied Nikki. “But I have ten packages of red. I just turned
down an offer on the Strip. He wouldn’t meet my price.”
“What is your
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re willing to pay for
Shady thought for a moment, then smiled. “I’ll buy all ten
kilos for double your best offer. My customers have been beating my door down
Nikki clenched her jaw in silent frustration. She had no
idea what the drug was worth on the street, only what she had paid Seamus.
Maybe she could negotiate for ten kilocredits each, for a 900% profit. “How
Shady paled. “Ten megs? You’re kidding. They offered five? I
figured if the other club offered only two megs, you’d take four.”
Nikki kept her face stony. Two megs for each package was a two thousand percent profit. Way more
expensive than heroin. Had the drug become that popular in only a week? “This
is red Rust, not black. We’re clear, right?”
Shady inclined her head.
Nikki sighed dramatically and said “Okay. You win. The other
guy offered three megs, but I knew I could do better. Pay me six and I’ll
deliver right now.”
Shady winced but agreed and they bumped datapads. Nikki dug
into the satchel and handed the ten bricks of red, paper-wrapped rust to Shady.
“What’s the big deal with this drug, anyway? I’m surprised
it’s so popular, given the cost.”
Shady sat down on the stool and a faraway look came into her
eyes. “It’s like nothing else, Nikki. You haven’t tried it, I assume?”
Nikki shook her head. “Drugs and me aren’t friends.”
Shady smiled. “You really should make an exception. Rust—and
especially the black stuff—is an entirely new experience. Hallucinations are
great, don’t get me wrong, but these take
you somewhere … somewhere else.
Somewhere different, you know?”
Nikki shrugged. “I don’t really get it, no.”
“Trust me, you need to try it. Once. It was like I was
talking to an alien version of God.”
“How much would you pay for the black if I could score some?”
Shady put the bricks behind the counter. “Black is super
rare, and currently worth fifteen megs per kilo on the street—but it’s usually
cut. If you can get me some pure stuff, I’ll pay thirteen each.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Nikki.
She left the place and walked through the streets of
Callisto Station, clutching the satchel to her chest. If the numbers were
right, she had over a hundred megacredits inside it, more than enough to
compensate for her cargo loss, maybe even enough to retire. She would certainly
have enough to get Kyle and bring him to the Jovian moons. He could go to
school there, maybe get a tutor. No more smuggling. No more running from the
She hurried back to the ship and stored the satchel in its
hiding place. Then she filled the fuel tanks and took off, heading directly for
Even at full speed, it took several weeks to get from
Jupiter to Earth. Exactly twenty-seven days after lifting off from Callisto,
Nikki requested permission to land near Denver and was granted it, using a
counterfeit transponder code.
She made her way to her brother’s apartment, hugging the
satchel close. It was dangerous to have with her, but it was too damned
valuable to be left alone on the ship.
“What the hell, Nik?” he said, his face going pale as he
opened the door. “When did you get here?”
“Never mind that,” she said through clenched teeth. “Where’s
“I don’t know. He hasn’t been here in weeks.”
“Who does he hang out with? So help me, Curtis, if he’s hurt,
I will personally cut your throat.”
Curtis backed away a few steps. “Now, Nik …”
She pointed a finger at him. “I’ve been pulling your fat out
of the fire your whole life. Now I give you one job, pay you generously, and
you let him run off!”
Curtis held out his hands as if to placate her. “Nik, come
on! He’s sixteen years old. He’s probably crashing at a friend’s house.”
“For a month? What happened? Why did he leave?”
Curtis ran his fingers through his hair, averting his gaze. “I
had to be a little strict with him. I didn’t give him his allowance for a
Part of the money she sent every month was to go directly to
Kyle. “What did you do with his cash?”
She glared at him and noticed the tremor in his fingers, the
pallor of his skin. His shirt hung loosely on him.
“Curtis, goddammit, I thought you were clean! You’ve been
“I can explain!”
She stepped forward and sank her fist into his pudgy gut. “You
took Kyle’s money to buy drugs!”
Curtis stumbled to the couch, clasping his middle, unable to
look at her directly.
“Damn you!” She looked around, then walked over to his
terminal. “Open this up. I want to send a message to Kyle.”
He slunk over and unlocked the terminal. She sat down and
looked directly into the terminal’s camera. “Kyle, I’m at your uncle’s. Come
home. I’ve come to take you away with me.” She terminated the message and sent
it, then spun around in her chair to face a panicky Curtis.
“You can’t!” he cried out, wringing his hands. “You can’t
just hire me to watch him and then swoop in here and take him away!”
Nikki glared. “You let him walk out of here and never tried
to find him! You’ve been spending his money—hell, my money—to get high! You think this is a safe place for my son to
live anymore?” Curtis blustered but Nikki held up her hand to silence him. “Never
mind. Nothing you say will help your case right now. I’m going to look for Kyle.”
She walked to the front door and opened it—and did a
double-take. Kyle stood there, hand raised to knock. He was taller than she
remembered, his hair was longer, and his face was now sprinkled with acne. But
it was him.
She stepped into his embrace and wrapped both arms around
him, clutching him hard. “Kyle, I …”
His own voice was husky. “I just got your message. I’ve
really missed you, Mom!”
Half an hour later, Nikki sat on the couch in Curtis’ living
room. Kyle kept disappearing, then reappearing with armfuls of clothes, books, and
other belongings. A small pile grew larger in the middle of the floor.
“Kyle, you can’t take all this with you. We can’t fit it all
on the Dread.”
Curtis sat in a recliner, hunched forward, hands clasped to
stop the tremors. “Why are you doing this, Nik? How can you be here? Aren’t you
still wanted for that thing near Mercury?”
“They don’t know it was me. I’m here to get Kyle, then I’m
taking him back to the Jovian moons. We’re leaving Earth for good.”
Curtis thought for a moment. “But what if somebody comes
asking about him? What if the school wants to know why he hasn’t come back?”
“He’s my son,
Curtis, not yours. He’s my responsibility.”
“Aren’t you worried they’ll find you?” Curtis sat upright in
his chair. “Am I expected to lie for you?”
She stared at him and realization dawned. “For a price,” she
said, her voice filled with disgust. “It’s not going to be for free, now, is
He examined his fingernails and remained silent while Kyle
walked into the room, dumped another load, then turned around and went back to
his room. “You wanna share some of your fortune?”
“How much?” she said through clenched teeth.
She looked into his eyes, and saw the raw, naked need. “No,”
she said after a moment. “Forget it. I’m tapped out.”
Curtis stood up and stomped out of the room.
Kyle came back with a dramatic sigh, then dumped the last
load on the floor. “There, that’s everything.”
“Let’s go through this mess. You can take a third of it.”
She set her jaw. “Don’t make me cut it down to a fourth.”
For the next few hours, they winnowed through the pile,
sharing memories, holding up old trophies, laughing over drawings he’d made in
elementary school, until they finally had it pared down to a manageable size.
Kyle began taking his things to the rental, and Nikki
followed him with an armful of his clothes. Her satchel was open in the back
seat, and it had been closed before. One of the packages of black was missing.
She looked up at Curtis’ bedroom window, then rushed through the front door.
She went upstairs to check on him.
“Curtis, I …” She stopped just inside his bedroom door.
Curtis lay in bed on his back, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling. The
missing package of black lay beside him on the bedspread. Bloody foam spilled
from his gaping mouth.
She looked down at him, tears filling her eyes, at the
silent body of her little brother.
“Oh, hell, Curtis,” she muttered.
“Mom?” Kyle’s voice floated up from downstairs. “You coming?”
“Just a minute!” She wiped her eyes, then opened his phone
and called the emergency number.
“Yes?” said the voice on the other end of the line.
“There’s a body here.” Nikki gave the dispatcher the
address. “An overdose.”
“Thank you, ma’am. And what is your name?”
Nikki broke the connection and hurried downstairs. Kyle
stood on the front walkway, waiting for her. “Come on! Let’s get out of here!”
As she pulled away, flashing lights began converging on her
They lifted off the next morning, having stocked the Dreadnought with supplies, topped off
the tanks, and gotten permission for departure.
She took off and relinquished controls at 2,000 meters,
allowing the automated system to guide her into orbit. A small warning signal
advised her that the ship was once again under her command.
“What’s this?” Kyle said, holding the satchel she’d tossed
on the floor as they’d boarded.
“Give me that.” She held out her hand.
Kyle hesitated. “What is it?”
“It’s none of your business.”
He opened the satchel and peered inside. His eyes widened. “Black?
You scored some! Good for you!”
An image of Curtis’ face, slathered in red foam, eyes wide
open and unseeing, flashed across her mind.
“That’s really dangerous stuff, Kyle—not to be messed with. Give
it to me.”
Reluctantly, he handed over the satchel. She opened it and
counted the packages. Nine. “Thank you. I’ll get rid of these when we get back
“Callisto? I thought we were going to Io.”
She’d planned on selling the black rust and going to Io, but
Curtis had changed all that.
She set her jaw. “No. Callisto is our first stop.”
They were greeted again by the same warship, which matched
speeds with them.
“My, my,” said Commander Jain. “If it isn’t Ms. Dark.”
“What do you want, Commander?”
There was a long silence. When Jain spoke again, his voice
was reflective. “Excellent question. I want you in jail.”
“I have another suggestion.”
Jain hesitated. “What do you mean?”
She glanced at Kyle and then at the satchel at her feet. “Meet
me at Shady’s Shadow tonight at eight. Just the two of us. Nobody else.” She
broke the connection.
She drew in a deep, ragged breath. “It’s going to be okay. I
Jain sat in the back of the bar, alone at a table. Shady smiled
when she walked in and stepped forward to greet her, but Nikki shook her head
in warning. Shady frowned and backed away. Nikki dropped the satchel on the table
in front of Jain and sat in the other chair.
Jain looked at her for a long moment, then leaned forward
and peered into the satchel. His eyes widened and his face grew serious.
“That’s quite a gift, Nikki,” he said. “What do you expect in return for it?”
She let him see the weapon she had trained on him. “It’s not
a gift just yet.” She stared at him. “You knew my real name. What else do you
know about me?”
“I know everything. We linked you to the Mercury Coalition,
where you damn near succeeded in stealing a billion credits worth of gold.
Several agents were injured in that little escapade of yours. I believe your
Nikki nodded. “Yes.” She fingered the scar on her face,
remembering the Sun’s scorching heat, her desperate attempts to breathe in
vacuum, Brian’s frozen body drifting away into the blackness.
“We also know about your brother, and the black Rust we found
in his home. You are looking at several lifetime sentences for smuggling,
dealing in narcotics and, because of your brother, negligent homicide.”
Nikki shook her head and pointed to the satchel. “If we
don’t reach an agreement I can sell this on the street and make enough to keep
you fighting me in court for decades, always assuming I don’t kill you in the
next sixty seconds.”
Jain leaned forward and placed his hand on the satchel.
“Maybe, maybe not—but taking this off the street makes my career. You may have
just handed me a promotion.”
“Why haven’t you arrested me before now?” demanded Nikki,
staring at him. “Why leave me out there if you knew all this?”
“Nikki, we didn’t arrest you because nothing you’ve done was
that big a deal.”
“But Mercury …”
He waved his hand in dismissal. “Nothing worth chasing you
down for. We recovered the gold, you got a helluva scar to remind you of it,
and nobody of importance got hurt.”
She thought of Brian’s torn body drifting away. He’d been important.
“So, in the end, we really didn’t care what you did. Until now.”
He caressed the satchel.
She placed the blaster on the table and pushed it over to
him, then pointed to the satchel. “There you go. I’m turning it over to you.”
He lifted the satchel and set it on the floor beside his
chair. “What is your suggestion?”
She took a deep breath. “I join forces with you and help you
stop smuggling. You give me a suspended sentence for something minor, charge me
some negligible fine, and drop all the other charges. My son is sleeping in a
hotel room not far from here, and I’d like to go back to him tonight and wake
up tomorrow a free woman, without looking over my shoulder anymore.”
Jain pondered her over steepled fingers, then sighed. “Done.
Report to me at the Space Patrol offices in the morning and I’ll have the
paperwork ready. I’ll talk to the attorneys and have them drop all charges.”
Nikki exhaled deeply and sank back into her chair. Tears
stung the corners of her eyes. It was finally over.
“What made you decide to do this?” asked Jain.
“My son. He needs me.”
He picked up the satchel and stood, then extended his hand.
Slowly, she rose and took it.
“Where did you get the black Rust?” he asked. “Who’s
She shrugged, looked him in the eye, and lied. “I got it
from a woman who says it comes from a secret lab in the Sargasso.”
He turned to go, then stopped.
“I look forward to working with you,” he said. “The infamous
Nikki Dark and me—partners! If nothing else, it’s going to be interesting.”
He walked through the smoke-filled bar and out the door, the
throbbing music following him into the street.
After a moment Nikki left, heading back to the hotel and her
sleeping son. Jain was right: starting tomorrow, her new life was going to be
interesting. At the very least.
But tonight, for the first time in well over a decade, she knew peace.