* * *
Adelaide was eager to disembark the Juniper Jumper. Even with no advance notice, information brokers found their way into tickets for the short hop from Earth to Luna Station. Some were able to purchase their passage on the atmospheric jumper by purchasing their tickets on the exchange. Those that were tardy ended up paying a premium on the secondary market. At least one information broker stood with her equipment at the boarding gate and simply offered each patron before they boarded triple and quadruple the going rate for tickets. To the young couple who intended to vacation on Luna, a delay of only twelve hours was worth is for the exorbitant profit they would make reselling. Even after paying the taxes on their windfall, they still would have enough to upgrade their accommodations and tuck a little away for the next tax season. She wondered how many ticket holders were re-accommodated to later flights. Adelaide frowned at the euphemism often employed by the corporations. It was an offense to language that they would hide their true actions behind innocent words like that. The flagrant disregard for, and the lengths to which they go to violate an individual’s rights was almost an anticlimax when she saw it in person.
Adelaide did her best to keep out of the digital eye of the brokers. Paparazzi, she remembered the archaic term for the ambush journalists. They were like bitches in heat, their tongues wagging and doing everything to catch her eye. They knew that with Adelaide and Erika traveling together, something was going on. Even a year after their return to Earth and six months after the Kerwood Nine stood trial for the destruction of the mining ship they were still newsworthy. Those that cared about such things knew that there were at lease two other Kerwood survivors living on Luna Station, plus both Jeremy and Old Vicky found their way on board regularly.
Erika complained constantly about the intrusion into their privacy. Adelaide shrugged and shared a knowing and sympathetic smile with the flight crew. At least they kept themselves professional, she thought. The same couldn’t be said for the information brokers.
Adelaide’s years of spacefaring allowed her to know the exact moment that they switched from the fractional gravity aboard the Juniper Jumper to the full-G of Luna Station. Most people knew that something was up when their stomachs lurched from aft to “down” as the jumper aligned itself with the station’s rotation.
As an engineer, Adelaide appreciated the complex mechanism that allowed the station to rotate around the space elevator that tethered the monstrosity of steel and Lexan to Luna. Adelaide would never admit it to anyone, but she felt the pull of Luna. It was as if she was coming home after a particularly long contract.
Adelaide saw one of the flight crew poke her head into the first class cabin and lock gazes with her. Her reaction was slight, and the crewmember nodded and retreated to the cockpit.
“Hey,” Erika pouted when Adelaide grabbed her by the elbow and moved down the narrow aisle.
“We don’t have time for a show,” Adelaide hissed to her companion.
Erika rolled her eyes and stood defiantly with her arms crossed over her chest. She placed her missing hand in a conspicuous location so that her disfigurement acted as a talisman to keep Adelaide at bay.
Adelaide shrugged, and slowly rotated at the hips, a warm smile aimed toward the business class divider. A cacophony of sound erupted as the information brokers clamored their questions. Mechanical sounds both real and artificial sounded as video recording and holo rendering devices captured her every move.
Erika sighed. “Fine!” she declared and stomped down the aisle toward the airlock. More than one pair of eyes followed the infamous duo as they prepared to disembark. Adelaide smiled as Erika leered at an information broker that had somehow managed to wrangle a first-class seat. Erika’s milky-white eye and withered face reflected off the emersion goggles the young man wore.
Her smile subsumed into a throaty purr as she ran her free hand along the jaw of the broker. A wink and a brief hip contact with his arm would likely have him staggering to link with his contacts at the cherry grade-A data he just acquired. Adelaide didn’t mind, after all, the young man minded his manners and kept the intrusiveness to a minimum during the flight from Earth.
Her whispered confession to the young man, who she discovered was a journalism major at a large university, would cement his career as an information broker with the data he acquired from their little encounter. The words she whispered tumbled around in her head: It’ll be quite the reunion.
Adelaide was hamming it up for the first-class passengers and the brokers that jockeyed for position, that she wasn’t aware Erika had stopped dead in her tracks. She grabbed the edge of the airlock to keep from collapsing into a pile for all to see. She righted herself and looked over Erika’s squared shoulders and ramrod straight back. A diminutive blond leaned uncomfortable against the flexible umbilicus trying her best to act nonchalant.
“What’s she doing here?” Erika spun on her heel and demanded.
Adelaide had a difficult time meeting Erika’s good eye. She started a slow shrug, but a pinched look from Erika aborted her attempt to deflect blame. “We, uh,” Adelaide stammered, “We need a place to stay until we rendezvous with ChEng.”
Erika exploded. “He’s not the Chief Engineer any more!” She closed her eyes and breathed slowly. In. Out. In. Out. She opened her eyes and stared at Adelaide. “At least he didn’t return to the bottle-” She clamped her mouth shut when she saw one of the vultures that claimed to be the fourth estate aim a listening device in their direction.
Adelaide smiled as Erika raised the arm with her amputated hand and waived it down the umbilicus. Adelaide knew that if there were a hand and fingers there, that the one that held the most meaning would be erect and brandished at the information broker.
Adelaide grabbed Erika by the shoulder and escorted her down the rest of the umbilicus. It surprised her that Erika hadn’t broken out in the sweats. Apparently her disdain for the fourth estate overrode the constant reminder at what could happen in one of these umbilici. Erika’s stretched skin and discolored hair spoke volumes.
“The former Main Propulsion Assistant and Damage Control officer of the Kerwood grace my space station with their presence.”
Adelaide dropped her bag and hugged Jessica. Jessica shrieked as Adelaide followed up their air kisses with a sloppy lip lock. She felt Jessica lean into the kiss, and heard the loud scoff from Erika. When they the two separated, Adelaide looked back at Erika. “You don’t let me kiss you anymore, so I take it where I can get it.”
“Ade, you crazy-” Jessica began but was interrupted by Erika.
“They call her ‘Crazy Ade’ for a reason, ya know!” Erika stomped past the two women. There were daggers in her eye, but it lacked the heat that it might’ve only a few months ago.
“Wait!” Jessica called after her former crewmate. “Erika, wait! I have a surprise for you!”
A figure stepped into the umbilicus, and Erika sprinted toward him. “Vicky! You Cossack bastard!” They embraced, and Viktor picked her up and swung her around. No doubt an information broker wet themselves if they got that meeting rendered digitally. Those digital bits could launch a career. Adelaide just hoped that it was one of the less offensive of the wake of vultures. They were a scandalous contradiction – they claimed to be the arbiter of information, but they really were just a bunch of tabloid peddlers, prone to shout their wares from every corner of the internet. They were farceurs, hoping beyond hope that they wouldn’t be discovered for the frauds that they most certainly were.
Jessica stood just behind Adelaide and rested her hand on her shoulder. Adelaide could feel warm breath on her ear as well as her increased heart rate. “Seeing him will do her good,” Jessica confided. “Helena has prepared a meal fit for a corporate board.”
Adelaide’s eyes wandered to Helena off to the side ensuring that she not intrude into the reunion. They locked eyes, and Adelaide nodded. Meeting up with Old Vicky and Jessica was worth the cost just to see Erika happy for once. She just hoped that Jeremy didn’t go super nova when they rendezvoused and she revealed the real reason she dragged Erika to Luna Station. No one had figured out that it was she who had arranged for the Kerwood Nine to reunite at the largest and most important space station in the system. She squeezed Jessica’s hand and walked toward her friends.
The universe would know soon enough.