Part 3: Talon - Chapter 3

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The Martian desert was full of wild colour that changed with the rising sun. So many shades of rust and red and brown and black. Shadows under mountains shrank and the light transformed the landscape that seemed to change shape. A long way out, far across a plain of baked sand, the walls of Albany crater rose into the sky. The town nearby was named Albany, too.

Maddy bit into her breakfast roll, dripping sauce down her chin. She scooped it up and sucked her finger. The colour of the sauce was the same colour as the crater wall out there on the horizon. It would be fun to paint the scenery—perhaps even head out of the city on a day off and find a quiet valley somewhere and make a full day of it. There was something attractive about the full, lonely desert with just her solitary figure under the pink sky.

There were few people around at this time, and none of them had any time for desert-gazing. There was a seat here to sit on, facing the transparent ceramic dome that surrounded the city, and every day she would plant herself there and eat breakfast. She'd been on Mars for six months now, living a new life, making some acquaintances—they couldn't be classed a friends yet—and working hard to earn the money to stay here.

Her fone beeped to say it was time to go to work. Maddy tossed the breakfast wrappings into a disposal chute and walked back to the main city streets. The ceramic dome had been drawn back, so that only the titanic metal walls that formed its base protected the city, although the dome could be closed quickly in case of a dust storm. She'd seen one of those already and it was weird to sit under a clear dome while outside all that could be seen was swirling brown dust. It had taken a few days to dig the city out afterwards. Today, however, the dome was retracted and a cool breeze wafted in, bringing a scent of rust.

Maddy felt relaxed as she opened the door to a small electronics repair firm and signed in with her ID at the employee's desk.

'Morning, Linda,' the office girl said with a smile.

'Hello,' said Maddy, and passed through into the main work area of the business.

There were other employees in the firm: a couple of young men who kept pretty much to themselves, bent over AI terminals all day; an older man who knew everything about electronics and cybernetics there was to know and whom Maddy regarded as the oracle of all things; and another younger woman like herself. They were there already and Maddy chatted as she grabbed a cup of coffee and headed for her booth.

It was larger than her workspace back on the old Endeavour. Here it was virtually her own room, with access to a lot more equipment and to updated tools she'd only dreamed of before. The work was fairly straightforward, but it meant most of it could be done without thinking, and that gave her time to drift away in her mind to more pleasant things.

As she settled down for the day her boss walked in. Myra was younger than Maddy by a few years, but her father had started the business and so she was in charge. Myra knew a fair bit about electronics, too, and Maddy didn't mind taking advice.

'You have to work lunch today,' Myra said.

'Sure,' Maddy replied. It was a rule in the place: the last to arrive at work had to man the front counter while the receptionist went to lunch. Maddy didn't mind—while the others were out the back she could grab a few more minutes of solitude.

'How long have you been here now?'

'About five months.'

'That means your review is coming up.'

That was true: she'd been placed on probation for five months to see if she was up to the mark for the business.

'How did I do?' she asked, smiling.

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