Ours to Save: ES Siren 9
“Do you want me to walk you to the hospital?” Micah glanced at his daughter, who was busy grabbing her portacomp while trying to get her shoes on at the same time. He shook his head. Teenagers.
Sadie was two years younger than people thought. But only three people on the ship knew that her credentials had been altered. At sixteen, she’d have been deemed too young. Someone had drawn an arbitrary cut-off and ruled that no children would go on the first colony fleet.
Had they considered the implications on population? The compulsory use of birth control meant there would be no babies for years. They would lose a generation. He shook his head again. It was a pity that the organizers had put money ahead of people, and practicalities.
“I’m fine. I’m supposed to be an adult.”
He pressed his lips together but said nothing. Sadie never missed an opportunity to slip that knife in.
“It’s not safe.” After the riots, and the micrometeoroids that had crippled Sprite months earlier, which had led to overcrowding on Siren, nowhere was really safe on the ship. The sooner they landed the better. Plus, there was an escaped con on the loose.
“Stopping worrying. It’s cool.”
“It’s my job to worry. I have to worry for two.” Sadie hadn’t seen her mother in ten years. Even before that, Felicity had been fickle—there a few days, and then gone for weeks. Sometimes on official army business, sometimes on more dangerous work. Ten years ago she’d been caught.
He’d been closer to Felicity for the last eleven months than he had for the past nine years. He’d used his money and connections to make sure the whole family got onto Siren. Not that Sadie knew that. It was safer that no one knew Sadie’s mother was prisoner 3006.
As an elite family they weren’t supposed to have connections to a prisoner in white. Worse—it was widely known that Felicity had connections to the Gaia Movement. Sadie didn’t need her new start clouded by her parents’ political activism. Micah had spent a lot of time making sure that his involvement with Gaia was buried. His love for Felicity was the weak link, but he refused to walk away from her, especially now she was close enough to touch.
Sadie smiled. “I know.” She shoved her foot into her shoe. “You know, it would be okay if you were seeing someone.”
Micah drew in a breath. Did she suspect, or was it a general comment? “At the moment all I want to do is get to Solitaire.”
Which, while true, also dodged Sadie’s question.
She looked at him for a second before her gaze flicked away. “Would it be cool if I saw someone?”
He was so not ready for that. “Err …” Everyone thought she was older. He couldn’t say no. “Depends on who he is.”
He didn’t want her dating a con … not that he had any ground to stand on. Felicity was considered one of the most dangerous prisoners on board, but she also had extensive engineering experience, in construction and demolition.
“Trainee shuttle pilot.”
Micah nodded. That wasn’t too bad, and he probably wasn’t that old either, if he was training.
“I had to stitch his hand after he cut himself.”
That was definitely true love. He bit back a grin. “We can talk later … you don’t want to be late.”
“So I can go to the bar with him?”
He closed his eyes. She was only sixteen, no matter how much she wanted to be older.
“I won’t drink,” she said softly.
He sighed. She was a good kid. He had to trust her. But he didn’t have to trust the guy she was with. He didn’t want Sadie falling for some guy and going back to Earth. “Okay.”
“Yes! Thanks, Dad.” The door clicked and she was gone.
Sadie did several shifts a week at the hospital, working toward being a nurse. If she kept going well, she’d be recommended for further training. Sadie was growing up too fast, and that was partly his fault for adding two years to her age.
Felicity was going to be less than impressed with this development. If it had been hard for him raising their daughter alone, it had been harder for her; hearing all the news second-hand and watching her grow up through a few smuggled photos, knowing that Sadie was forgetting who her mother was. But they had agreed it was safer, even now—especially now.
He showered and changed. By now most of the civilians on board would be heading to bed or meeting up at the bar. Sadie and other hospital staff would be changing shifts. The military and prisoners cycled on watches. They tended to exist in their own world. The old Earth class systems were still in existence. Micah had hoped they’d start to fall away on the trip.
Maybe once they landed … But even then, he knew that many of the civilians on board thought that their name and money should count for more, even if they did less. There were some who made it clear they had no interest in farming methods. Who did they think was going to grow their food? They were in for a very rude shock once they hit the ground.
He was looking forward to it. Fresh air, dirt, plants … the only thing he loved more was his family, and he intended to do something about that, too.
The metal flooring rang softly as he made his way to D zone. The prison. He had to go through the army zone first. He knew some of them enough to nod. There were a few low-risk prisoners in yellow now seconded with army units, their patches proudly displayed on their faded yellow uniforms. He’d hoped that Felicity would make it across despite the color of her uniform, but she was considered too dangerous.
You blow up a couple of dams to free up water for the people instead of big business, and the people at the top decided you were a terrorist.
No one had stopped to ask why industry owned the rain and all the fresh water. No one had asked why the poor couldn’t catch the rain and grow their own food. Water was expensive, and they couldn’t afford to water their crops, so they spent their money on the food that big business grew, and when the prices kept going up they had no alternative.
His support of the Gaia Movement—which sought to reclaim Earth for people, not industry—had always been less obvious than Felicity’s. But that was how they’d met. He’d been working his way up the industrial food corporations, and she was in the army. Through her travels she’d realized that not all countries operated as a business, treating citizens as customers to be bled dry.
There was a guard at the entrance to the prison. After the riots they were being more careful with security, in and out of the prison. His chip was checked, and while he didn’t have the clearance to swipe himself in, he was allowed to make a booty call just the same as anyone else.
Although there seemed to be less of that happening. Partly because couples—and other less conventional relationships—had formed, and partly because of the increased tension. Going to the prison to get laid carried an element of risk that some people weren’t willing to take. He wouldn’t have bothered if Felicity hadn’t been there, but he’d cross the Styx to get to her.
The guard opened up the bulkhead and gave him a less-than-subtle wink. “Enjoy your visit.”
Micah smiled and let the guard imagine whatever it was he thought was going on.
“You’re a bit of a regular.”
He’d tried not to be—it was certainly less than once a week. He’d tried to keep it to once a month and had failed.
Micah shrugged. “Get sick of my hand.”
“Don’t we all. They should’ve brought more women.”
“Yeah.” Micah agreed with that. “But it’s going to be a hard slog setting up. Next fleet should balance out the population.”
“If there is a next fleet.”
That was a fear that most people had. Not many people on the ship realized that the planners expected a quarter of the male prisoners to be dead before their sentence expired. That’s how much hard work would be required in the first five years. Micah didn’t say that, though. He was stepping in to set up the farms and make them efficient without pesticides and chemical fertilizers—no one wanted to strip the soil the way many farms had done back home. He’d read every research paper about the soils, the weather, the flora and fauna. While the researchers had succeeded on a small scale, he had to make sure that everyone would get fed.
His role was what had got Felicity and Sadie on board.
That, and a generous donation. Unlike some who’d got on board by donating, he had skills to offer. And while he couldn’t be an open Gaia supporter, he was making sure that the philosophy behind the movement would soak through the farms he set up.
“There will be another fleet.” It would be at least two years away, though. One year for the ships to return to Earth and another to fly back. Add in resupply. Call it three years. By which time the colony would be thriving—or it would just be a small band of survivors. He didn’t say any of that, though. It wasn’t what the guard wanted to hear. “If only because of the overcrowding. Whether it will be full of prisoners or the useless rich is anyone’s guess.”
The guard laughed, then his gaze narrowed as he looked at Micah. A sly smile formed. “So there are divides among the elite.”
For a moment Micah considered defending the elite, but he couldn’t be bothered. He was sick of the laziness so many of them didn’t even bother hiding. “We know who got a ride on money alone. We are also aware of who isn’t even trying to become useful. No one is going to tie their shoes for them on Solitaire.” Just let me through already.
“Enjoy your ride.” The guard stood aside so Micah could enter the prison. The guard probably thought he was being terribly clever. Micah let the innuendo slide and went into the prison.
He was already on the right level for the three women in white. The white uniform was reserved for those prisoners who were considered highly dangerous. Prisoners in white had only been included because they had skills to offer the colony. Felicity was an ex-army engineer with a specialty in explosives … plus, they’d really wanted her off Earth so she couldn’t be a martyr for the Gaia Movement.
Most people wouldn’t know it, but there were more than a handful of Gaia people in the prison. It was almost as though a sweep had been done and they’d all been bundled on board without anyone thinking about what they had to offer the colony. Sometimes, if Micah was feeling particularly morose, he wondered if the colony had been set up to fail. If that was the case, he took it as a personal challenge to make sure that it didn’t.
The bulkhead shut with a hollow thud and his heart lurched. This was the worst bit. The walk to her cell. The women in white were at the end of this corridor, which meant walking past all of the other cells first. He timed it now so the other women were locked in for the night, but he was still aware that a few in yellow watched him pass. Some called out with lewd suggestions and their going rate—which had gone up as rations had got tighter. No one could fault their business ethic.
Another guard patrolled the corridor between the modules that formed the cells, which would later become the first houses on Solitaire. She walked toward him. At first he’d been embarrassed. There was only one reason he could be here. The women in the cells knew, and the guards knew, and it was humiliating, for both him and Felicity.
But the alternative of not seeing her at all was worse. So he sucked it up and pretended that he didn’t care that everyone knew his business.
“Back again.” She jerked her chin at him as though she couldn’t quite figure him out.
He nodded. “Might be the last time before we land.”
“About fucking time. I can’t remember what the sun looks like.”
“Just remember to use sunscreen—we’re going to burn easily after a year inside.” And when the sunscreen ran out? Well, people had survived thousands of years without it on Earth.
“I don’t care.” She led him toward the end, where the whites were. “Same as usual?” the guard asked, as though picking a woman was like picking a burger from a menu.
He missed burgers made with real cow. While he’d had the occasional piece of fresh meat on board, it wasn’t the same as a thick, juicy steak. That would be years away. They had to breed up the stock first, and they had no cows. He’d be happy with a goat burger.
Women were not burgers, but arguing served no purpose, so he nodded. He was aware that his faithfulness to 3006 was unusual. “Yeah. I like knowing that she isn’t seeing anyone else.”
Some women played guys off against each other, knowing that because women were outnumbered, they had the power to choose, and could charge appropriately. Many men had picked a woman fast, knowing that they were in short supply. Many of the female prisoners had signed the paperwork to formalize their relationship. How long those relationships would last was anyone’s guess.
“No one is crazy enough to go near 3006. She gives most men the droop.”
Micah laughed. That was Felicity. She could be cold and mercenary, and since being jailed had cultivated an even cooler, more predatory personality. It had kept her safe as most people thought she was too crazy to fuck with. “I like the challenge.”
“She’s always nicer after you visit … maybe that’s why she’s never bitten your dick off.”
The offhand comment stabbed him in the heart, and for a few seconds he couldn’t breathe. While he had a module and reasonable rations—because of who he was—he was never able to forget that Felicity didn’t get any of that. Her life was a shadow of his. “Maybe.”
The guard gave him a lingering look. “If you wanted something less risky …”
He shook his head. He didn’t want what she was offering. He’d had elite women make passes and he’d turned them all down. After nearly a year, few bothered anymore. Some speculated he had a male lover.
“You can’t marry a white.” The guard’s expression turned hard.
That wasn’t exactly true. People had, but they needed special approval. Again, he didn’t argue the point. He wasn’t here to chat with the guard. “Who said I wanted marriage?” He’d love to be able to marry her, finally. “I like sex without the drama of a wife. 3006 suits my needs fine.”
The guard paused outside Felicity’s cell. “You’re all work, Stone.”
“You have no idea.” He smiled. It was better to let people think he was too busy for a relationship. That he’d paid some slum dweller to have his baby, thus explaining Sadie’s existence. She’d asked once, and he’d said that he had loved her mother. That it wasn’t how people said, but it was easier to let them believe that. Sometimes he looked at Sadie and remembered Felicity when they’d first met. She’d been twenty. A year later, they’d had Sadie. Then things had gotten complicated fast. Sadie had been six when Felicity had been arrested.
She had another ten to serve. It was so long, he almost couldn’t see the end. But they were halfway there and almost to Solitaire and a fresh start. If Felicity could do it then so could he.
The guard rapped on the door. “Hands on the back wall, 3006, you have a gentleman visitor.” She opened the door, made sure that 3006 was facing the back wall with her hands on it. “She’s all yours. Don’t get yourself killed. I really don’t want to be dragging your corpse out of there.”
3006 laughed. “Quit the sweet talk, Farley. You know thinking about murdering him gets me going. Maybe tonight he gets lucky.”
“You kill an elite, you’re out an airlock without a trial.” The guard looked at him, one eyebrow raised in question. No doubt she was questioning his sanity.
Micah rolled his shoulders and fisted his hands as if readying for combat. “See, no other woman would give me half as much fight.”
The first few times they had made more of the fight, and they’d made sure to leave bruises. Now it looked as though they’d reached an agreement. No one needed to know that they’d been lovers on Earth.
“Why do the rich ones have freakish fetishes?” Farley shook her head.
“Too much money and time on our hands.” That’s what most people thought, and he saw no reason to change their opinion.
“Thirty minutes. Same as usual.”
He nodded. Any longer would be suspicious. He wanted longer. He wanted all night. He wanted Felicity in his bed. Sadie needed her mother. He needed his partner.
Micah stepped into the cell and waited for the door to lock behind him. When it clicked he breathed a sigh of relief.
Felicity took her hands off the wall and turned around. “I didn’t think you’d be coming back.”
“Nothing could stop me.” He took a couple of steps and put his arms around the woman who’d stolen his heart eighteen years ago and held it captive ever since.