* * *
“I’m worried about her.”
Adelaide closed her eyes for a moment. She breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth. When she opened them, she locked her gaze with Old Vicky’s. “Viktor,” she began, but Helena appeared on screen and smiled at Adelaide.
“Adel,” Helena pleaded, “Viktor would check on her himself, but you’re so much closer.”
Adelaide rolled her eyes. Viktor and Helena were still on Luna Station. The notoriety of surviving the destruction of the Kerwood made Viktor a minor celebrity. Adelaide was counted among the Kerwood Nine as the media dubbed them all. She hadn’t talked to her any more or less than she talked to the Kerwood Chief Engineer, or the rest of the survivors. Since returning to Earth, Jeremy regularly sent recorded messages to them all, and personal messages to Adelaide. He wanted her to help him on conglomerate jobs he performed “in system.”
Adelaide was a pretty hot commodity. Everest and Matsue both tried to recruit her. The offers started with the same position she had on the Kerwood: Main Propulsion Assistant. She spent too many years aboard the Kerwood as an MPA, and she didn’t want a lateral transfer… she wanted to reach for the stars. Eventually some of the smaller corporations started offering her the position of Chief Engineer.
It wasn’t that she was unqualified; she just had a new lease on life, and wanted to weigh her options before accepting permanence. The sound of Old Vicky clearing his throat brought her out of her reverie. She sighed. “ChEng is closer, you know.”
Viktor’s eyes narrowed. “That may be the case, but you know why it should be you to see her.” His eyes softened. “Jeremy has tried…”
Adelaide waved her hand at the crotchety retired miner. “I’ll go see her,” she finally relented. “I guess I could use a holiday.”
Viktor nodded, leaned forward, and the image winked out. Adelaide leaned back in her utilitarian chair and fingered a pendant of schorl tourmaline around her neck. It was a gift from Jessica, and when Erika saw it, she broke off all contact with Adelaide. Adelaide was at first offended that Erika would act in such a manner. It wasn’t as if accepting the black gem meant that Adelaide had chosen one over the other. She walked to the Lexan portal and stared at the sidereal landscape. Her gaze was blank until a piece of debris flared past her view.
Adelaide turned from the portal and consulted her panel. It was bizarre that she had to perform so many supernumerary steps to get anything done. She was used to having her way with the Kerwood computer systems. She located a fast jumper with the annoyingly alliterative name of “Juniper Jumper.” If she hurried, she would make it to landing pad Charlie before the Juniper Jumper left. She wished she had time to visit with Matt Siebert who lived in the same section as her, but he was on Earth practicing his bushcraft searching for a lost ossuary in Austria. Adelaide smiled remembering the rotund Siebert brandishing his chemical welder so long ago in the Kerwood’s escape trunk. She saw a photo of him on the cover of an e-magazine specializing in outdoor life. Siebert had toned up since his stint on the ill-fated Kerwood.
Adelaide stepped out of her quarters and into the undulating flow of foot traffic toward landing pad Charlie. She was not looking forward to seeing her.
* * *
Adelaide stepped off the Juniper Jumper and wandered toward a tenement block. Her hand hovered over the panel beside the door that was her assigned destination. She sighed and pressed the access icon. After a few minutes, Adelaide pressed it again. She heard the muffled chime from the other side of the door, so she knew that her presence was known.
Adelaide pulled her sleeve back and examined an instrument cluster strapped to her forearm with copper mesh. After her device acquired a wireless signal, she pressed icons until she pulled up the proximity app. The concentric circles emanating from the solid dot representing her position was only a few yards from another solid dot on the other side of the door.
I won’t let her ignore me, Adelaide thought as she pried the panel from the wall. It didn’t take her long to locate the mechanism to allow egress into the living space. The door clicked and she wedged her fingers into the gap. She had to try a few different positions to get enough leverage to open the heavy door.
The smell of body odor and rotting food assaulted her nose. Damn it, woman, she thought as she entered the dimly lit quarters. Erika lay in a wide bed, a wheeled table across her legs and piled with empty alcohol bottles, diffusers, and bottles of pills. As Adelaide’s eyes roamed the scene, she caught a glimpse of Erika pulling her mangled arm under the sheets. The red lines across Erika’s arm above her amputation were evident on her pale skin.
Erika looked away, her face deformed by solar radiation when the umbilicus trapped her outside the hull of the Kerwood during their sabotage and escape from the Matsue. Adelaide stared until Erika met her gaze. Adelaide willed her eyes to focus on Erika’s good eye. Acknowledging the milky-white eye or the puckered discoloration of the same half of Erika’s face would lead to another fight. Sight had mostly returned to Erika’s good eye, but looking around Erika’s room, Adelaide suspected that Erika’s mental health was a contributing factor to her isolation.
Adelaide stepped to the foot of the bad and swept its contents to the floor.
“Bitch!” Erika shrieked.
Adelaide leaned forward and grabbed Erika by the front of her dingy shirt. She pulled the former engineer toward her and whispered, “I think your problems can’t be cured by a bottle, blade, or dose.”
Erika scoffed and tried to wriggle out of Adelaide’s grasp.
Adelaide moved her hands to both sides of Erika’s face, ignoring her flinch when she touched the half of Erika’s face ruined by solar radiation. “Jeremy has a job running jumpers in system, and we’re going to sign on his crew.”
Erika looked down and away. Adelaide hooked her booted toe under the corner of the bed and lifted. Erika wobbled, and tried to find purchase with her missing hand. She landed beside the bed on her rump. Adelaide grabbed her by the ankle and dragged her across the smooth floor to the shower. After she left Erika under the stream of water, she walked to Erika’s panel and activated the communication channel.
Jeremy’s whiskered face appeared. “Hey, Erika…” His voice faded when he saw his former MPA. “Uh, Adel?”
“Hey, ChEng,” Adelaide trilled with a smile on her face, “Erika and I will join you in three days at Luna Station.”
Jeremy opened his mouth to protest, but Adelaide closed the channel. She walked back to the shower and got Erika ready for their three-day journey.
Erika Ängström and Crazy Ade back in action again, Adelaide thought. They won’t know what hit ‘em.
Next: Scandalous Contradiction