Part 5: Dust - Chapter 4

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The Security Officer touched a contact on his desk AI and the holovision file faded. He leaned back in his chair, holding his hand over his mouth. His eyes shifted up to gaze at Maddy opposite him.

'You're a wanted criminal,' he said. His voice was flat, controlled.

'Officially, yes.' Maddy uncrossed her legs and crossed them again the other way. She managed to control her hands that lay in her lap. She met the officer's eyes. 'I hope that's not going to be a problem.'

'It would have been once. The Elite...'

Of course, the Elite would have sent a squad to arrest her if they knew where she was, but she was hardly a priority now. The Elite had far greater problems, and there were surprisingly few of them making application to join the colonists on board the Victoria. The Slowboat was being left alone despite the need to relocate millions of refugees.

Maddy still used the name Linda Jones, but had decided to be honest with the Security Officer. He was a fellow colonist after all. But there were things he didn't need to know, like how the deForêt-Bassyngthwayghtes had helped her elude the authorities and smuggle her on board the Victoria. It would be a shame for the Marquis to be found aiding the escape of a known felon. Fortunately, the Security Officer seemed to see the need for discretion about certain matters.

Behind him was a large window in the side of the Victoria. The Milky Way stretched from one side of the window to the other, looking very much like the river it was supposed to resemble. It was view she was used to, having lived with it most of her life. She might have been back on the Endeavour. In a way she was.

'You sound like a remarkable woman,' the officer continued. 'Your father was known among the Slowboats as a hero and a brilliant nuclear physicist.'

'He was a man,' she replied.

He nodded and removed his hands from his mouth. He was smiling.

'Well, I've spoken to Captain Villiers. She's new to the job; our previous commander retired last month. She's keen on changes to the ship's infrastructure, wants us to generate new ideas, change the way things are done. It's about time. Anyway, she's happy to welcome you on board.'

Maddy tried not to show the pleasure, kept it business-like, as if there had not really been much doubt in her mind that she'd be accepted on the Victoria.

'Thank you,' she said. 'I hope I can help Captain Villiers out with her changes.'

'We need engineers. I don't know what things were like on the Endeavour, but after two hundred years in space things on this ship are sure breaking down a lot. Perhaps you should have gone back to the Endeavour.'

No, she couldn't do that. Too many still-bleeding wounds, too many old scars that would emerge from the past and hurt again. It was the Victoria or nothing: of the other Slowboats, the Santa Maria had been bombed last year and was still limping from the wound, and the Discovery hadn't been heard of for years.

'We're happy to have you,' he added, as if he realised her choices really were limited. 'We're still ten years from planetfall, and won't begin deceleration for a few years yet. Plenty of things to do to prepare for that, and you've experienced deceleration on the Endeavour, so you'll be handy as a consultant. Let us know what we're in for.'

He smiled again. She returned one, and added lightly, 'It's isn't a pleasant time.'

He rose and held out his hand. 'Welcome aboard. You can stay here as Maddy Hawthorn or Linda Jones, whichever you like. If the Syndicate comes looking for you, we've never heard of you.'

'Thanks.'

She shook his hand and the interview was over.

***

Like the other Slowboats, the Victoria had an observation deck, where the full glory of the universe could be viewed almost unrestricted. It was a quiet place, where the lights were seldom lit and people gathered for conversation and contemplation. For a while Maddy tried to make sense of the stars, to find some she recognised, but the ship was in a far different place to anywhere else she'd been, and the alignments and patterns of the constellations were shifted beyond identification. So she lay back in a reclining chair and stared upwards through the transparent ceiling. She would paint this scene, and use a lot of colour, because there was a lot of colour out there, more than she'd ever noticed before.

Life was a good thing to have.


THE END

That concludes Shepherd Moon. The first Maddy Hawthorn book, Days of Iron, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Days-Iron-Russell-Proctor-ebook/dp/B00W27GXBO .

It relates how Maddy became a terrorist in the first place, met Dorac and the Marchioness deForêt-Bassyngthwayghte, and took part in a terrorist raid on the planet Lizard in an attempt to destroy Zeus's mainframe. It also gives further insights into the Maddy Hawthorn universe.

Thank you for reading Shepherd Moon. All comments are welcome and may be placed in the comments section.

Visit my website for more information about my other books and short stories.

www.russellproctor.com


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