Part 3: Talon - Chapter 1

526 44 3

Jupiter sure looked small from here.

It was an insignificant yellow dot, sometimes with two, three or four moons like tiny stars next to it, shifting position from day to day, even from hour to hour. There were bigger worlds for sure, but Van Yang had never visited them, and never wished to. Five years he'd spent orbiting the monster planet at close quarters, the sky filled with its stormy bands, the Great Red Spot glaring into the darkness. It had been his whole universe, over-powering and dominant. Planets shouldn't be that big. It was much better out here, among the Trojan asteroids. Here he could see stars, worlds were manageable, and came in chunks that could be shifted around, sorted and mined. Out here space was pure and life was quiet.

Something heavy and metallic fell to the floor in the next room. A female voice swore. Another voice yelled back:

'Turn the gravity down then!'

Van waited for a moment until he felt himself go lighter as the rotation of the Shepherd Moon slowed. He did a little bounce on his toes: about 0.7g. Enough to satisfy the complainant next door, at least, as there were no further demands. Of course, to the Helots, it didn't really matter what the gravity was set at—they could work under a couple of g's, some of them, especially the new model, the Serfs. There were a couple of them among the workers, and they displayed amazing strength and tenacity. The two species seemed to get on, which was a blessing, although conversation was limited because of the rules. At least there had been no actual fights break out yet.

He finished his coffee, crunched the paper cup and tossed it into the recycler. Making sure his radiation tag was secure on his belt, he pulled on a jacket and headed out of the door. It was grimy and squalid in the corridor outside his office, but then it always was. Shana Martinez, the slave-boss, was more efficient if left to her own methods.

It was she who had sworn, of course. In the room next door some Helots were shifting heavy equipment. Shana emerged and ran her hand over her close-cropped hair.

'Fuckin' morons,' she said.

'What the matter?'

'These bastards are piss weak. "Turn the gravity down". Fuck me.'

Van smiled. So it was just the slaves she was complaining about. Not his problem, then. Not directly, anyway. 'You could make them work in zero g,' he suggested, not for the first time.

'Fuck that. There's delicate equipment in there. They'd be breaking it just so they don't have to do any more work.'

She was right, of course. Shana always was when it came to slave behaviour.

'Look, I have to head down to Tower One today,' he said. 'I'll need a couple of helpers. Who can you spare?'

Shana consulted her fone. 'Sissy and Bashful aren't scheduled for anything. She's had a wrist injury but should be all right by now. He's on rest leave but we can shorten that. I need the others.'

He nodded. 'They'll do.' Nicknames for the Helots were easier than trying to remember their real names in their own language, the use of which was of course forbidden on board.

He passed along to the kitchen and ordered eggs. The Helot assigned to that day's galley duties, a guy called Sniper because his upper left eyelid was weak and made the eye look half-closed, fetched a plate of fried eggs and bacon from the AI, put them onto a plate and shunted it onto the table. Van ate in silence as he stared at the grey wall opposite. Some joker had stuck a sign next to the window with an arrow pointing at it. Under the arrow were the words, You are here. He didn't get it.

There was a stack of messages on his fone but he turned it off to get a few minutes peace: no sense in starting work any earlier than necessary. He chewed the eggs slowly because he liked the flavour.

Shepherd MoonWhere stories live. Discover now