Chapter 2.1

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The security officer had left his door locked for what seemed like a day before someone returned to feed the vagrant this time. They were probably closing in on the station and ready to hand him off soon. He suspected everyone else was getting better fare than him on this ship, but this was normal. His book had lost another page, and he could only hope he’d be able to find work to buy something to repair it with at the next station. The door hissed open and shut as someone passed but he ignored it. There had been no more visits from the interesting little girl, though she was nearby. Something sweet in the air caught his attention. It was as if someone had overused an air freshener in the next room. He sniffed at it in annoyance. The door hissed open again and the stench went from sweet to rotten, He turned his head in time to see the last of a little leg being carried past by a man with a rebreather in his mouth.

His head was growing woozy from the gas even as he strained against his tether. Something was wrong; that leg could only belong to the little girl and his thoughts weren’t coming together. He had to get loose, that was all he could think of.

***

Mark woke up five minutes before his alarm and frowned up at the ceiling. He could blame his poor night’s rest for feeling off, but still felt unsettled as he prepared for his shift. Everyone was at their posts and things were running smoothly. He debated bothering Calvin to join himself and the girl for breakfast, but Calvin was apparently off doing his rounds somewhere.

It wasn’t until Jessie turned up missing too that he became concerned. When the security footage for an hour the previous night turned up missing as well, he had forgotten about breakfast in the rush to do a search and then a headcount. The missing shuttle and vagrant only cemented in how terrible this day was going to be.

***

Sam arrived at the station a day ahead of the ship. He was hungry, tired, and hadn’t showered in ages. The attendant who helped him out of his pod scanned his chip and he could see the hospitality blossom on her face as she suggested hotels, restaurants, bars, and booked a room for him. He barely had to say anything before he was loaded into a transport, leaving the pod to be stored until Vortran could come get it. There was a slight pang of guilt as it disappeared.

A hot shower, room service, and a change of clothes later he was passed out on his bed. He’d barely managed to set his alarm to go meet Jessie in the morning, when this nightmare would truly be over.

***

Hands crawled along his sides in the dark, violating him as he lay paralyzed and blind. The vagrant woke with a grunt, and sat up slowly. His head was clouded and the cold floor reminded him quickly that he’d left his clothing behind. He groped around in the faint light and quickly hit the hard wall of a cell. The nightmare started to fade as he found the slot someone would shove food through and shoved his arm out, finding nothing but air on the other side. He stretched as far as he could as his foot kicked soft fabric on the other side. He expected a blanket, but further inspection told him someone had left a pair of basic scrubs for him.  

The last thing he could recall was the girl being taken away by someone, and that familiar sickening sweet smell. He slid the pants on and sat down on the shirt, facing where he assumed the door was. Someone would come eventually.

***

Sam was in high spirits as he dressed the next day, humming to himself as he shaved. He would pick up Jessie and they’d call mother and then go out for lunch. Maybe he’d even wait till Vortran showed up for the pod and introduce them. He knew he had a tendency to be overprotective and he could make good on his promise of a drink.

The streets were busy but orderly, with several large ships offloading passengers and cargo. He found another smiling attendant to direct him to the right port and found a spot to sit and wait. The ship with Jessie was a few hours behind, but he was willing to wait.

***

Mark had rehearsed what he would say so many times the words sounded like gibberish, and it still didn’t feel like enough. Normally he would run things by Calvin, even though the man barely remembered to blink enough. A swell of emotions fought to surface and he took a couple deep breaths to compose himself. He needed to break the news to a man that his daughter was missing, then he could worry about Calvin. His gut had told him that vagrant was trouble; he should have turned them away. A sprained ankle didn’t warrant medical care, especially not on some unchipped drifter.

The docking went as smoothly as could be expected, without Calvin to fine-tune everything. He waited until the crowd had died down and headed out onto the bright platform. It took only moments to spot the man he’d seen on the screen before. The bright cheery look on his face made Mark want to turn and run but he stood his ground. He couldn’t remember anything he’d rehearsed saying and when they were close enough to speak he heard himself spewing the whole story out in a panic. The man did not take it well.

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