Part 3: Talon - Chapter 18

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At the edge of town, they halted one more time and ate from Maddy's supply of food in her pack.

Both water containers were empty; the effort of trudging over the tumbled rocks had made them sweat under their clothing despite the low temperature.

The walled domes of Albany gleamed pink in the rising sun. It was one of the oldest towns on the planet, established only a generation or two after the initial manned landing, when research stations were being set up and permanently occupied. Now it was just a place like any other.

They stepped onto one of the roads leading to and from the city, along which cars and larger vehicles were already skimming. Frost built up on the dark surface of the metal roads and had to be removed by built-in heating elements. Maddy could feel the warmth through her boots. Geranium took off her gloves and placed her hands on the surface as well.

'That's so good.'

Maddy looked at a nearby road sign. They had come in just north of the main dome, between two low hills about two kilometres out from the entrance to the city. From what she remembered of the city's layout, the northern district had its own police station.

'This is where we split up, my lady' she said. 'You can go to the authorities and hand yourself in if you like. Tell them about the slave market, but don't mention me if you don't mind. They'll respect who you are and believe you. Then you can go where you want. Earth, Venus, whatever.'

The girl stayed with her hands pressed on the road even as a car passed nearby, swerving slightly to avoid them.

'What do you mean?' she said. 'Hand myself in?'

'Those things that happened outside your apartment, at the shopping centre, at the slave market: you can guarantee you've been missed and connected with those things. Don't worry, they won't arrest you, you're the victim.'

'What are you going to do?'

Maddy didn't answer, mainly because to voice her intentions, even to Geranium, would be too painful. She might break down, and right now the girl still needed someone strong to guide her.

'Come on,' she said, and began walking along the side of the road. Geranium sighed and followed her.

Near the main entrance, which was a high gate that usually stayed open, there was a customs stop, although the transport of goods around Mars was largely free. Vehicles were halted and papers checked, but little was done to search for any contraband. They passed through without any problem, holding out their wrists to have ID's checked. If their names raised any alarms in the officers' minds, they didn't show it. It was possible they might comlink the police and alert them of their arrival.

Inside, Maddy halted once more. 'Well, this is it,' she said. She held out her hand. 'I'm sorry for leading you out and into the desert like that, but it really wasn't my intention to return here.'

Geranium looked up at Maddy through a lock of dark hair that had fallen over her eye. 'Then why have you?'

'Well, my lady—'

'You don't have to call me that. In the desert I was...I was in a bad mood. Sorry.'

'Geranium...' It still sounded weird calling anyone that. '...I'm a dangerous person. I know dangerous people, and they know me. I have to—'

She stopped, looking over the girl's shoulder. A Helot stood a few metres away, watching them. Like all Helots he had to have an excuse to be where he was, and so he carried a suitcase as if it belonged to someone else. Only there was no one near him. Their eyes met and he nodded.

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