Dust squeezed through the lining of my goggles as the gale raged on around us. Labored breathing beat a weary cadence over my headset coms. Tied together, Roc, Kimi and I trudged through the sandstorm. From the moment we left the train out of Tharsis, the storm was upon us. We’d only had time to get a quick shelter up before the gale began. That was days ago and still we hadn’t yet reached the promised refuge of Ius.
My com crackled. “Dad, how much further?”
I stopped and turned toward the kids. Roc struggled to remain erect, while Kimi, at the rear of our rope train, remained stubbornly stoic. I knelt down to clear the dust from my son’s goggles and assess his condition. His pale, drawn gaze through the Plexiglas lenses spoke volumes of his condition. We were near an outcropping of rocks that offered a small lee in the weather.
“Let’s hole-up for a while.” I pointed toward the rocky cove. Roc flashed a relieved nod and started in that direction. As we arrived at the rocks, I shrugged off my ruksac. Kimi followed suit and dug out rations as I extracted our zip-up and switched on the auto-inflator. We crawled inside to wait out the night. Roc fell asleep with a half-eaten ration bar hanging from his dusty hands. Kimi gave me that weary, twelve-year-old stare I knew so well.
“We’ll make it soon.”
“But what if we hate it there? What if we find the same trouble as before?”
“Look, I know you’re concerned. I am too. But this means a fresh start for all of us. A clean slate. A chance to make our own way without having to look over our shoulder every moment.”
She threw me a less-than-convinced scowl and rolled over to get some sleep. She was right to be concerned. The same thoughts whirled around my head. Was I doing the right thing bringing my kids out into the badlands? How could I be sure my troubles wouldn’t follow us? What would Val have to say about it? With all that was on my mind, it would be a while before I too slipped into slumber.
We woke to the eerie silence of a Martian morning. Phobos and Diemos danced low on the horizon. The gale had passed. Stretching my legs outside the zip-up I noticed a sign board not far from our camp. I walked over and brushed the dust from its face. Printed in white, block letters on a green field was a single word.
Evouia. Rome in the ancient tongue. A promise of equality and democracy. A foothold on our future. Gateway to the Ius Chasma and a new life in the free zone known as the Badlands. I turned and ran back to give the kids the good news. It was time to break camp.
. . .
Sub-prefect Georgiou officiously surveyed our papers. He grimaced at each article glaring into our faces like we were a threat to the community. Then he sat back and perused us as if sizing us up like cattle for the slaughter. Roc squirmed in his seat while Kimi maintained a neutral poker face.
“So, you say you are just passing through?”
“Yes. We plan to settle in the Ius Colony.”
“Have you any thing to declare? Any tribute for your stay here at Evouia?” His direct gaze and expression implied he might be open to a bribe. I reached into my jacket and drew out the only remaining thing of value we had. My wife’s wedding ring.
“Dad, no!” Georgiou, glanced Kimi’s direction, alarmed at her outburst.
“Hush now. We must pay our way if we are to stay, even for a short time.”
I handed over the ring and watched him appraise it. Kimi sat back, arms crossed and glowered at us. Georgiou completed his examination and tapped out something on a vid-pad. A printout erupted from the machine and he handed it to me. “Take this to the next station. You are assigned temporary quarters in the Plebe district. This grants you three sols in Evouia. After that, you must apply for work and citizenship or become servi to the state.” I knew what that meant. Indentured servitude. Basically, slaves.
Our temporary apartment was tiny, but clean and the beds were better than sleeping on the ground. We had enough mars-creds for a few supplies and made certain to stock up before retiring to the apartment. As soon as we ate a small meal, we hit the sack. In minutes, we were asleep.
Muffled cries pried me from sleep. Hands wrapped around my throat and wrists. Roc and Kimi struggled against two other assailants as I fought the two trying to restrain me. Kimi bit her attacker’s hand and kicked him in the groin. He crumpled at her feet. One of my assailants left to help the other. I jammed my freed hand into the throat of the remaining man and pounded his face until he stopped moving. Kimi grabbed up a lamp and swung it at the other man. I came up behind and bashed him over the head with the nightstand clock. The last attacker made off with Roc. We grabbed our gear and headed after them.
Despite the obvious signs of Roc’s struggling, the man was a hulking figure and something about him seemed familiar. We caught up just as they rounded a street corner. I caught a glimpse of the assailant’s face in the wan streetlight. Backus! He must have figured out we’d come here and laid in wait for us. I dug deeper to try to catch up. We rounded the corner and found Backus holding Roc out front with a weapon pointed at his head. How’d he get a pulse-gun past the sub-prefect? Of course! He was a gangster after all. He probably had the man in his pocket.
“Let him go, Backus! He’s not part of this!”
“You made him a part when you turned against me in Tharsis!”
“Hang on, Buddy! What do you want Backus?”
“I want you to suffer.” He lowered the pistol at Roc’s head.
“Wait, wait! I have something that you might find useful. In exchange for Roc.” My mind whirled. I had nothing save a few flash-bangs. No other weapons. Nothing to trade with. This had to work. I’d only get one chance at it. “I’m reaching in my bag for it.”
I slipped a flash-bang out of the inner lining and brought it out concealed behind Val’s diary. Kimi’s eyes widened, but I could see she got the drift.
“What is it?” Backus showed his impatience and his weakness. Greed.
“This!” I threw the flash-bang and ran eyes closed right at them. Roc saw me running and ducked. Backus lifted the pistol, but banger went off before he could squeeze the trigger. I head-butted him in the solar-plexus and grabbed up Roc as Backus, temporarily blinded by the flash went down. Kimi, eyes shaded, was on my heels so we dashed around the corner and disappeared in the crowds. Backus had found us! No use hanging around here. We had to get out. And fast.
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