I never wanted to be a spacer. I’d have been happy enough to live out my entire life on Luna, or hell, even a cozy one-family pod somewhere. But Daddy was a spacer and he would be damned if his two girls didn’t follow in his footsteps. And what Daddy wanted, he generally got.
I used to pray and pray to whoever might be out there listening, asking that they please take Daddy away and never bring him back. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It sounds like the kind of thing you don’t admit out loud. But I don’t have anything to be ashamed of. Anyone would have done the same.
Anyone but Magdalena. She’s Captain now, but she was always perfect even before that.
* * *
On an ice ship, you get to know new crew real fast, whether you like it or not. At first Yocavich tried to avoid me as much as he could given the tight quarters. That’s how I knew someone had twigged about Greer being my husband, and probably about how I went a little off my head after he was gone, too.
But I actually liked Yocavich just fine. He wasn’t anything like Greer, that was part of it. Where Greer would have made a bawdy joke or slapped someone’s back, Yocavich stayed determinedly silent. He did his share of the maintenance competently (I double-checked to make sure) and without complaint, but he kept himself to himself.
Of course, he was almost young enough to be my son, and he had no business being the mining engineer on this dump. Not with so little experience. But the Captain did all the hiring. Not me.
After a couple days of him skirting around me, I decided to take the direct approach and invited him to a game of backgammon. Juanita had a vid helmet on, trapped in her own little fantasy world, and Vee and Evan were on exercise detail, so we were pretty much alone. Yocavich bumped his head on the low ceiling on his way to the gaming table—still not used to zero G. What a dirt-eater.
We stayed quiet at first, concentrating on the game. After a few minutes, I’d already hit two of his blots and it was clear his knowledge of backgammon was of the theoretical variety. “So I’m guessing you’ve heard about my husband Greer,” I said, building a new stack in my home quadrant.
He nodded and kept his eyes on the board.
“Just so you know, I don’t hold it against you or nothing. You being the new mining engineer and all.”
He made a move that left another of his blots vulnerable, and I had to keep myself from shaking my head. “He was a good engineer,” he said, surprising me. “I heard the details from Evan, and from the sounds of it, that blast could have lost you the ship. Or the whole crew. He did you proud, your husband. No one could have done better.”
I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. I pushed the dice and got a shitty combo, so I went ahead and did something a little reckless. Yocavich hit one of my blots next turn. Maybe he could play backgammon after all.
After that game, we were friends and I felt better about things.
* * *
I had the engines humming at almost the right pitch. A few screws to loosen, a valve to change, and—there! She was working right where I wanted her.
I shimmied my way out from under the mounts and pushed off the polished surface of the lateral engine. I hitched my elbow around a conveniently placed handle and hovered over my domain, breathing in the slightly sour odor that was more home to me than anything else. I might hate space, but give me a good engine room and I can deal with it.
The com clicked on. “Lolly?” It was Magdalena. She couldn’t leave me alone if her life depended on it. “You about done down there?”
“Aye aye, Captain,” I said. She never failed to miss my sarcasm.
“Come see me when you’re done, will you?” A note of concern laced through her words whenever she talked to me now. It was enough to drive me crazy.
“I’m due for a little R&R.”
“Fine. But come see me first.”
Balls. When my little sister gets her mind made up, there’s no changing it. I pushed the release button on the door, and it opened with a sigh, then closed behind me as I floated down the hall to the silver ladder extending up to the cockpit.
I slipped into the seat next to Magdalena’s. It was comfier up here in the cockpit. The seat closed around me, pinching my middle slightly and adjusting. I checked out the various gauges and displays in front of me while letting my eyes get used to the slightly dimmer light that Magdalena preferred.
She swiveled her seat so she could look at my face. “How you holding up, Lolly?”
She asked me that same question too often, as if she expected me to dissolve into a puddle of water and carbon any day now. “Fine.”
Sometimes she’d let me be after that, but today I wasn’t so lucky. “It’s only natural for you to be grieving still. I know how you felt about Greer.”
Well, no, she didn’t. She’d always been a hard-hearted slab, which is what made her the obvious choice for Captain. She took after Daddy in more ways than one. “It’s fine,” I insisted. I started drumming my fingers against the plastic armrest.
“You know it’s been a year today, since…the accident?”
I stared stony-faced ahead. I didn’t want to talk about it, not again and especially not with her. If she had listened to me back before that last run and upgraded the engines like I told her to, everything would have been fine. But no, she was too can-fisted to invest in her own operation like she should have. And there was only so fast I could coax our old engines to go. If only we had reached the comet sooner… if only Magdalena had read the spectrograph more accurately… if only our Daddy had been planet-locked to begin with…
My life was a continuous stream of if only’s. But none of them brought my husband Greer back to life. “Look, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Magdalena’s mouth turned down. “Fine. Let’s talk about the engines then. This trip is taking longer than it should.”
I shrugged. “I’m doing the best I can. I keep them limping along, don’t I? The main engine should’ve been replaced three years ago.”
“We can’t afford anything to go wrong on this run, Lolly. It’s bad enough we’re breaking in new crew.” She meant Yocavich, the only engineer she could find on short notice.
“He doesn’t have the experience to be on a boat like ours,” I said. “He should be an assistant, not the goddamned head of the whole operation.”
“That’s none of your concern. Your job is to get us to the comet. Try to crank the engines a little higher. That’s all I’m asking.”
“How close to the margin are we running?” We’d only been able to haul in half our usual load of ice after the comet explosion that killed Greer.
“Damn it, Lolly.” She banged on her armrest. “Focus on your job and let me do mine, okay?”
Her outburst meant we were running very close to the margin indeed. Exactly what I wanted to hear. “Keep your pants on,” I said. “I’ve got those engines running the best I know how.” I pushed the button that released me from the seat. “Believe me, no one wants an uneventful run more than me. Worry about Yocavich. He’s your weak link.” But I knew she wouldn’t. She never listened to me. Not even when lives depended on it. And since I hadn’t spoken up loud enough, maybe it was partly my fault Greer was dead too.
Magdalena and I grew up in Paradise City on Luna. Our mom had been a dancer, entertaining spacers night after night until she met Daddy. After she got pregnant with me, she switched to hostessing, where she earned less and got sore feet while taking the same abuse. She never did forgive me for that.
After each ice haul, Daddy would come on down and visit us, his jowls giving him a permanent hang-dog expression. It was too expensive to come down to Luna after every run, he’d say. He was ruining himself over his two daughters. But he still came every time.
Magdalena was the baby even though she was taller, and she was the prettier of the two of us. She took after Daddy with her high temper and her knack for getting her own way. I was the awkward one, the one Daddy gifted with huge bruises that shifted from black to blue to a sickly yellow. Anything went wrong, bets were it was Magdalena who caused it and me who got all the blame.
When he died, Daddy left the ice ship to Magdalena. There was nothing for me, not even any more blue-black blossoms. Of course, some bruises can’t be seen with the naked eye, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
* * *
The day we made orbit around our comet, Yocavich and I were playing our daily backgammon game. He’d gotten a lot better over the past six months. We both had an even shot at winning now. “You ever miss Luna?” he asked me.
“I used to.” I pushed the dice. “Someday I’ll settle down dirtside again, I get my way.” I moved my blots. “This what you thought you were signing up for?”
He let a few turns pass before he answered. “It’s like I thought, mostly. Just the quarters are a little smaller and space is a hell of a lot bigger.”
“There’s plenty of jobs for you on Luna, with your training.” And most of them would be a sight safer than this one, too. “Just something to think about.”
His face folded into his shy smile. “Pay is better here, though, long as the ice on this one is pure. I aim to set aside a little nest egg.”
Poor sot. What good would money do him if he was too dead to spend it? But before I could open my big mouth, Magdalena’s voice blasted through the com. “Lolly, get your butt up here! Radar’s picking something up by our comet. It won’t be long till we’ve got a visual, and I want you to see this.”
Inside my heart was pounding like an engine gone wrong. “We’ll be there soon,” I told Yocavich, releasing myself from the chair. His face shone pale in the light of the glowing ceiling.
* * *
“Of all the short-shanked wasting sons of a two-timing whore.” Magdalena pointed at the viewing screen. “What the fuck is he doing here?”
Another ice ship, several meters bigger than ours, was in orbit around the comet. I peered more closely and saw their mining operations were already underway, and not just the survey either; several suited figures floated above the surface of the comet, digging the trenches where flares would eventually be set. The distinctive black ship had a navy blue insignia on the helm marking it as that of Marcos Ramirez, one of our chief business rivals. “Our favorite captain,” I muttered.
Marcos had a beautiful modern ship, sleek and long with a wickedly pointed nose. I’d heard through the grapevine it was loaded to the teeth with all the most progressive tech. He was also the captain who’d played the markets three years ago, costing our crew a bundle when the price of ice tanked right before we arrived with a large haul. If Magdalena was forced to choose her least favorite person in the solar system, Marcos would win, hands down.
Magdalena slammed her fist into her chair, then punched on the com system. A moment later, the screen lit up, showing Marcos reclining in his chair, hands behind his head. “Marcos, you bastard, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” She was practically snarling. “I registered this comet fair and square. Find your own ice.”
“Maggie, sweetheart, so nice to see you again.” Marcos’s thin face twisted into his idea of a charming smile. “I know you have a little crush on me, but I had no idea you’d be willing to travel so far just to catch a glimpse.” He winked.
“Quit messing around and get away from my comet. You’re violating about fifty bylaws, and this time I’ll make sure your license is revoked.”
“I don’t think so, sweet cheeks. Been a bad trip, has it? Is that your sister over there? Hey, Delores, how’s tricks?”
Magdalena braced herself on her armrests and leaned forward into the camera. “I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to make a successful run.”
Marcos’s smile disappeared abruptly, and he sat up straight. “Listen up, Maggie, and listen good.” His voice dropped in a way that reminded me this man was dangerous. “You are outclassed in every way, and you know it. You even think about harming my crew out there and your ship will no longer exist. You get me?”
“What I get is that you’ll be paying off damages to me for the rest of your goddamn life.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” He reached up to stroke his goatee. “I think you’ll find everything entirely aboveboard on my end. I registered this comet personally. Must have beat you to the punch. I can’t imagine why the system didn’t notify you of my prior claim. But you know how it is. Mistakes happen.”
“You son of a bitch.” Magdalena’s face was bright red, and the distinctive smell of her sweat filled the cockpit. “The other captains will take my side, see if they don’t.”
Marcos shrugged. “I’ll take my chances. This ice is real quality stuff. Worth a risk or two, the way I see it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a spectrogram to monitor. Always a pleasure, ladies.” He bowed his head at us, and then the screen went dark.
Magdalena’s face contorted, her nostrils flaring. “Nobody steals from me,” she said through clenched teeth. She turned on the ship com. “Yocavich, time to suit up and get out there to survey. Report when you’re ready.”
I stared at her in shock. “You can’t send him out there, Magdalena! We’re outgunned, and he’ll be outnumbered.”
She didn’t even look over at me. “That’s Captain to you,” she snapped. “And we’re not leaving here empty-handed. I won’t lose Daddy’s ship so easy.”
I took another look at Marcos’s deadly ship, hovering silently in dark space. He’d powered up the engines, and they sent a trademark green glow from halfway down the ship. An Upmeister, the latest model. “He’s bringing his weapons online.”
“Thanks for stating the obvious.” Magdalena scowled fiercely at the screen. “Who does he think he’s dealing with? I’m no coward.”
Classic Magdalena, so caught up in fury she’d tossed away all logic. “He has no reason to let us go,” I said. “Who’s ever going to find out if he slags us right now? We need to get out of here.”
She ignored me, instead running a systems check of our own, vastly inferior weapons. I released my seat and pushed myself back to the door. “Lolly, where do you think you’re going?”
I smiled grimly. “We’re not losing another engineer. Not on my watch.” I released the seal on the door and sailed through it before she had time to react.
I found Yocavich outside the launch bay, going through the last of the suit security checks. “I’ll help you take that off,” I said, pushing up beside him. “There’s another ice ship beat us here. Going outside right now would be suicide.”
His eyes widened. “I thought that wasn’t supposed to happen. Didn’t we stake a claim?”
“Something went wrong.” I didn’t elaborate. “We’ll be leaving soon as the Captain comes to her senses.”
He hesitated, one hand closing on his utility belt. “Chief Yocavich.” Magdalena’s voice blared through the com. “Status update.”
“He’s not going anywhere,” I yelled. “Get us out of here before Marcos decides to stop playing nice.”
“Chief Yocavich, do you understand your orders?”
“Yocavich. You ever seen a fist fight in space?” He shrugged, his eyes darting around the curving walls as if looking for a way out. “Of course you haven’t. Because no one is stupid enough to start one.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I promise, if you go out there, you’ll never come back in. This isn’t what you signed up for.”
He stared at me, then initiated his suit release. His helmet came up with a telltale pop. Magdalena must have heard it over the com because she began to swear. “Goddamn it, Lolly, don’t mess with me right now.” The com shut off with a click.
“Hurry,” I said, helping him unlatch the manual safeties. The suit began unfolding from him as I fidgeted and wished it would hurry up.
I was just helping him clamber out from its slick protections when the door behind me slid open and Magdalena floated in. In one hand she held Daddy’s old revolver aimed squarely at my head.
I positioned myself in front of Yocavich, hanging onto the ceiling handle to keep myself in place. “Now, let’s just all calm down,” I said, putting my spare hand out in a peaceful gesture. “No reason to do Marcos’s work for him.”
“Chief Yocavich, get back into that suit.” She never took her eyes from me.
A familiar feeling of helplessness welled up inside me. Another life on my head. “Let her shoot me,” I told Yocavich. “Don’t put yourself at risk.”
Tension pervaded the cabin. Would Magdalena actually be willing to shoot me? The hum of the life support units had never been so loud.
Yocavich broke first. “If that’s what you want, Captain,” he said, and I glanced over my shoulder to see him moving back to the suit. Magdalena’s lips pulled back in a triumphant smile.
This was my chance. I launched myself forward, pushing off the handle with all my strength, and grabbed for the gun. Whether I took her by surprise or she wasn’t willing to shoot her own sister after all, I managed to grab her hand and knock her off balance. The gun went off as we tumbled backward into the suit lockers, shooting well over my shoulder. I ignored the blows she rained upon the left side of my body and slowly prised the gun from her hand. “You’re insane!” I screamed right into her face. “You’ve failed. You’ve lost Daddy’s ship. Now get a grip and get us out of here.” With one last huge effort, I tore the gun from her grasp and pushed myself away from her.
We glared at each other, both of us panting from exertion. A low moan broke the silence. I glanced over at Yocavich, who was drifting aimlessly, one hand clutched over a blossom of bright red on his shoulder. “Shit,” I said. “You shot him.” I hadn’t been quite quick enough.
“He’ll live,” Magdalena said. She left without another word, leaving me to help Yocavich to the medbay.
* * *
It was a grim six-month trip back to the Moon, during which Yocavich and I played marathon games of backgammon in between his PT exercises and my regular maintenance duties. No share for the crew on this run meant tempers ran high, and only the good discipline of experienced spacers kept the maintenance routine intact. Magdalena spent almost all her time shut up alone in the cockpit.
She finally called for me right before landing. “Marcos’s story checks out,” she said. “He filed his claim only an hour before we did. They’re looking into what went wrong, why we didn’t receive notification, but I don’t think we’ll ever get an official answer.”
“What do you think happened?”
“He found some way to rig the system, of course. I don’t know how he did it, but it has Marcos written all over it.” She grimaced. “I don’t have anything left to fight him with. He’s going to get away with it. I’m signing up on Old Abraham’s ship. Just as normal crew to start with, but we’ll see.” She rubbed her cheek absently. “He doesn’t have room for you, though.”
There was my thoughtful sister, always looking out for me. Although after our altercation over the gun, I hadn’t expected anything else. “Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”
“We let him down,” she said, and I knew she was talking about Daddy.
“Yeah, we did.” And it felt damn good.
* * *
During our last game of backgammon, I asked Yocavich if he had plans. I’d been hinting against spacer work for the entire trip back, so I was happy when he said, “No more ice ships for me. I have a few leads on jobs on Luna. The pay may not be as good, but at least I know I’ll get it.” He rolled his shoulder gingerly—it had been out of a sling for a few months, but I knew it still bothered him sometimes.
“Not so exotic after all, the life of a spacer,” I said.
“No shit,” he said, and we both laughed.
I let him win the game. Figured I’d let him leave on a high note.
* * *
I went back to Paradise City to the Vatican Luxury Hotel, the one with all the bright paintings on the ceilings. I tapped on door 357 and waited until it swung open. Marcos stood on the other side. “Delores, baby. Good to see you.” He gestured for me to enter.
I sidled through the door without touching him, then stood with my back to the wall, arms folded. “I hear you got paid top dollar for the ice you brought back.”
“You heard right.” He went to the closet, rummaged around, and came back with a suitcase in his hand. “It’s all in there. Your agreed percentage plus the bonus we talked about.”
I opened it up on the bed and surveyed the neat rows of titanium bars. “Glad to see you’re being honest.”
He laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Lolly. Your sense of humor. Sure you won’t take me up on my offer? I could use someone with your knack for engines.”
“I’ve already got plans, but thanks anyway.” Just because I was willing to take his money didn’t make him any less of a weasel.
He stuck out his damp hand and gripped mine too tightly. “Nice doing business with you. You staying on Luna awhile?”
“That’s the plan,” I lied. I’d booked passage out to Mars for later that same day. Just seemed safer out in the boonies, and now I had the funds to set myself up there. I’d be living dirtside at last.
“Maggie ever figure out what a viper of a sister she’s got herself?” I shook my head. “The revenge isn’t quite so sweet that way, you ask me.”
Good thing I didn’t ask him. “I’m not interested in revenge,” I said. It wouldn’t bring Greer back, so I’d take what I could get.
He gave me his weasely grin. “You’re a piece of work, all right. I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you.”
“I guess I’m full of surprises.”
I took my money and walked out the door. Magdalena wasn’t in any position to hurt anyone else with those reckless decisions of hers, and I was finally turning my back on the spacer life.
It felt damn good.