Chapter 6

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Quixxa scurried across another roof. An hour had passed, but she was home. At least, she was back at what she called home.

Quixxa glanced around the steel rooftop, rust and sand coating the angled roof. Handfuls of broken skylights dribbled grit into the abandoned warehouse slowly, like dead waterfalls. The entire building, and the derelict industrial park around her, reeked of abandonment and decay.

Quixxa paused at the edge of one of the broke skylights, looking out at the ruins she lived in. She told herself she lived here because it was safe.

But she couldn't escape the nagging feeling that her internal ruins had simply sought their own.

Quixxa slid through the skylight, hanging upside down on one of the steel trusses for a moment. The inside of the warehouse seemed abandoned, at a glance. But nonetheless, it was home. A small card table and a sleeping bag sat on one of the few intact catwalks three stories above the floor.

That was home.

Quixxa skittered down the truss and dropped onto the catwalk quietly. Her heartbeat started to accelerate a little, her fingers twitching anxiously as she pulled her backpack off and marched towards her sleeping bag. A zipper on her backpack hummed as she opened up her pack and pulled out the precious little package she'd gotten.

As Quixxa dropped her backpack on the table, she couldn't help but grin. Christmas had come early this year, and her stocking was choc full. Her tail twirled in a small loop as she plopped down onto her satiny sleeping bag and crossed her legs. Her tail slid into a crescent around her as she set the package on her lap and looked it over for a moment.

Her heart rang like a bell in her chest.

The package was just so... perfect. Its grainy silver exterior only had a single marking on it, a sealed QR code. She weighed it in her hand, her pulse accelerating as she started to open it.

Chills ran down her back like desert winds across the dunes. Her jaws clenched as she pulled open the little box and peered inside.

There were no frills.

Just pure, unadulterated, redemption.

The first thing Quixxa's eyes fell on was her own portrait. Her timid smile in front of Runt's datapad camera had transformed into a printed, verified and sealed I.D. card, complete with date of birth and those wonderful, precious words.

Quixxa V., citizen of the Sovereign State of Pathmos

Quixxa lifted the thin card out of the box with fingers that had nearly gone numb. She wiped her thumb across the card, her eyes glittering as the embedded hologram sparked and proved its authenticity. Quixxa's eyes lingered on it, until the next item in her treasure trove caught her attention and wrenched it away from her I.D.

Her chest tightened as she read the word across the smooth cover of a booklet.

Passport

She lifted it out, and opened the cover.

There she was once more. Her portrait, her name, her future. All untainted by her past.

Her thumb swiped from right to left, turning the pages and looking at each one carefully, each one blank and ready to carry the weight of a new life. And each one was real. Not a fake. Not even a convincing counterfeit made by her colleagues. A real, true passport, fashioned out of hope and shaped on a far-away world.

A world that suddenly didn't seem quite so far away.

She glanced down at the last item in her box.

A small, pink slip of paper, wrinkled slightly. It'd been handled before...

She instantly knew why.

On the lower right, there was a signature she didn't recognize. Of course, it belonged to a bureaucrat she'd probably never meet, signed out of a stack of other papers he'd probably forgotten about ages ago. But that signature meant the world to her. Not because of whose it was, but because of the words it was under.

Quixxa V., hereby pardoned of all offences by the Sovereign State of Pathmos. Recognized henceforth as innocent before the law in Pathmos and all its territories, and by every ally of the Sovereign State of Pathmos.

Quixxa felt a knot in her throat that she quickly swallowed.

Her fists were tight and ready to tremble, and she knew the hot feeling in her chest would evolve into tears if she let it.

She wouldn't.

Quixxa sniffed hard, and folded up the paper quickly.

She'd gotten what she needed, and what she wanted. Her second chance had arrive, neatly packaged and wrapped up in a box. But a new life... that came with new decisions. New actions.

New actions like getting Runt the pills he needed.

Quixxa snapped the lid to her second chance shut and looked up at her card table. She was closer than ever, but now was no time to be lazy. She was thankful for a shot at something more. And she was going to make sure Runt knew it.

Quixxa stood up.

She wasn't out of the woods yet.

And neither was Runt.

She turned ninety degrees and faced her card table, looking at the selection of things she called home. There wasn't much, but there was enough to make a difference. She reached for a half-disassembled datapad that was several generations old with a data storage drive sticking out of one side. She laid her fingers on it, and pulled it closer.

But the paper right in front of her caught her eye.

Quixxa stopped and sighed, looking over the paper Runt had given her months ago.

The banner across the top displayed an excessively colorful font, scrawled across an icy image that ached of a missing home.

Immigrate to Pathmos today!

She couldn't help but smile a little.

Runt had talked it up endlessly. A small, cold, cloudy little world that was ripe with jobs, adventure, and other Springers. It was a forward-thinking little colony in the outer planets, and it was cold enough for Springers to enjoy. Not to mention, it was free of the Pink Market. The tight security on that world, and the even tighter security of the naval bastion around it, kept Quixaa's 'friends' at bay.

And yet, somehow, this world was willing to welcome her.

Just as much a criminal and a lowlife as the rest of the Pink Market. But Runt had intervened. He'd put his full weight behind this, and he'd managed to land a blow she'd never thought possible.

She tore her eyes off the miniature poster Runt had given her, and looked at the opened box that held her new life.

Runt deserved more than she had to give.

Quixxa inhaled, ignoring the choking fire in her throat, and the fog that tried to cover her eyes.

She didn't have much to give.

But what she did have was all his.

Quixxa pulled the old datapad closer, opening up the home screen and thumbing a few icons.

A document filled the screen, and painted her face with pale light. The title of the document said it all-

Contacts.

Quixxa had been planning on turning this over to Runt's friends on Pathmos once she arrived. But for a good cause...

She'd use it just one more time.

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