Chapter 4: Cached

“What do you mean you can’t find them? Didn’t they just trip a proximity alert?” Said an annoyed voice on the dot on Julie’s wrist.
“They aren’t here! Maybe the sensor’s bad?” Julie said.
“Yea, maybe. Damn! I thought we’d got ‘em. Keep looking. By the book, OK?” The voice said.
“Already on it.” Julie said and continued pulling herself through the space between the floors at the Hub Tunnel complex on the inner edge of disc three. This was the first interesting thing to happen security-wise in a while and she dreaded the idea that she might have missed something, so she checked again. There was nothing. After half an hour she left and found the other two officers on her shift.
“RC. Toby. Find anything?” She asked.
They shook their heads. She shook her head too. “How could they have gotten past us?” She asked.
“I don’t know, but somehow they managed to. We’d better tell the team on the other end of the tunnel.” Said RC, a large thin man with a sharp nose.
“That’ll be hard at the moment.” Said Toby, a smaller and rounder man.
“Why?” Asked RC.
“Didn’t you hear? Said Toby. “Secure Com’s out.”
“They’re working on it…” Said Toby.
“Can’t we just use dots?” Julie asked.
“Yea, I guess. You know anyone in disc 2?” Asked Toby.
“Yea, I know plenty of people there!” Julie replied.
“At the
disc two hub elevator terminal?” He asked sarcastically.
“Uhhh… well. No. Not really.” She had to admit.
“So, who do we call?” Asked Toby.
“We suck at this.” Said RC.
“We don’t suck.” Said Julie. “Someone set this up. We just don’t know what they did yet.”
“What do you mean?” Asked RC.
“I don’t think they were here at all. And, it’s too much of a coincidence that the Secure Com network went down right when we needed it.” Said Julie.
“You think those refugees from Generation One could set this up?” Asked Toby.
“Or, someone helping them.” Said RC.
“Just one thing I don’t get.” Said Julie. “Why? Why kill the old man? Were they drugged out of their skulls? Did something happen out there at 4.27?” Asked Julie.
“Well, that’s what we’re going to ask them as soon as we catch them.” Said Toby. “In any case, they’re evading arrest, and that’s a crime.” Said RC.
“Unless they don’t know they’re under arrest.” Said Toby.
“So, you think they did it for someone and that someone is helping them escape?” Asked Julie.
“Maybe.” Said Toby. “It doesn’t matter what and why. Our job is to bring ‘em in.”
“Yea. Bring ‘em in.” Repeated RC.
Julie nodded but said nothing.

Axel had just docked his ship at the Outpost 102 spaceport.

The spaceport was stationary and access to the rest of the outpost was through a rotating hub called the hubseam. Outpost 102 was once a factory that produced carbon fiber products from the carbon-rich asteroids in the Belt. It made enough for half a continent of people. It had fallen into disuse and its equipment had mostly been removed and repurposed.
The factory rotated to provide ¼ G spingravity inside. There were several separate sections to the factory arrange to counter-balance each other as it rotated. Inside them were perimeter cranes, multilevel work bays and countless conduits for materials of different sorts. Where once were staggeringly complex carbon printers that worked tirelessly to make space-crates full of fabric and other amazing materials, now there were only mounting brackets, terminated conduits and randomly placed counterbalance blocks that were used to keep the factory from wobbling.

Outpost 102 wobbled. Not a lot, but it wobbled. Nobody cared. However, it made landing in the spaceport a little bit harder.

“What is this place?” Asked Tracy.
“It was a factory a long time ago, but now it’s just a barter outpost – a lot of pilots stop here on the way between Rose World and Jane’s World.” Said Axel.
“You come here a lot? Asked Joan.
“Yea. All the time!”
“What can you get here?” Asked Roland.
“Pretty much anything that can be had.” Said Axel. “Hey! Listen for a minute: There are three kinds of currency you might need. I only have two, but I’ve loaded some of each into these wrist dots. If you need the other one you’ll have to trade for it.” Axel handed them each a wrist dot, handing the last one to Roland. Roland’s dot looked different than the others.
“How about if we meet back here in six hours?” Axel asked. They all nodded yes, but Roland had no idea how long it would take to get the supplies he wanted.

All five stayed together as they pulled themselves through the zero-G spaceport. They made their way through the hubseam and took an elevator ride down to the floor of the factory. The spingravity increased smoothly as the elevator made its way to the floor of the plant five hundred meters below.

“It’s weird.” Said Roland as they moved slowly in the low but persistent spingravity of the factory floor. “Our factory was zero G. We had a living disc, but I always liked sleeping in zero G. This place is all about spingravity.”

The five split into two groups, almost as if those who grew up in spingravity were pulled away from those who didn’t. Then Joan separated from Roger and Tracy. “
Lets just find out what currency can buy here.” She thought to herself as she discovered she had fifty units of one and 100 units of the other currency. “Nice!” She thought to herself and disappeared into the eclectic chaos that was the floor of Outpost 102, Section One.

Roland walked over to a booth that had computer parts and picked up a network buffer block and looked at it.
“20” Said a woman’s voice from inside a tent.
“20 what?” Asked Roland.
The woman looked out of her tent at him, surprised. “20 Shares, boy!”
“It’s OK, I don’t need it. I was just looking.”
“OK, fifteen.” She said.
“No really, I don’t…”
“Ten.” She said.
He walked away unable to make out what she said as she disappeared back into her tent.

“20 Shares of what?” Asked Roland.
“That’s what one of the currencies are. They’re shares of an imaginary company we call Cashola.” Axel said.
“You must be kidding me, right?” Roland said with a wide smile.
Axel smiled but shook his head.
“Shares of Cashola. OK, then. And the other currencies?”
“The others are Web Credits and Unlimited.” Said Axel.
“I’ve heard of Web Credits, but I thought the idea was rejected by a belt-wide vote.” Said Roland.
“People are free not to participate if they want. It isn’t a law that you have to accept Web Credits. The idea of transferrable credits isn’t a big leap. It’s pretty obvious, you know.” Said Axel defiantly.
“It just, you know, is the opposite of what the shared needs system was supposed to do. That’s all.” Said Roland.
“And it just, you know, handles all the cases the shared needs system can’t. That’s all.” Said Axel in a mocking tone.
“And ‘Unlimited’? What are they?” Roland asked.
“Just what it sounds like.”
“Unlimited what?”
“They are unlimited in use and untrackable.” Axel said.
“So these are all crypto currencies?” Asked Roland.
“Yea. Do you know how they work?” Asked Axel.
“Not really. But, I know about the archives and they use some of the same ideas.”
“Too bad. If you knew how to hack it you could make us free money.” Axel said and laughed.
“You know I’d never do that! Even if it was easy for me.” Roland insisted.
“Yea, I know. I’m not asking you to. It’s good to see you, Rolo. I’ve missed you.” Axel said with an approving smile.

“I guess I need everything…” Roland said. They went to look for clothes and a toothbrush. He found a stall with lots of clothes. He wasn’t the only one browsing. Axel wandered to the next booth. Roland picked out a few days worth and found the owner, and older man wearing an antique hat.
“For all that? Ninety.” Said the old man.
Roland had no idea if it was a fair price. But, he also had no idea how much currency was in his wrist dot either. “I… I don’t know how to use currency.”
The old man looked up. “What? Oh. Well, that’s no problem. Do you have some?”
“How much?”
“I’m not sure. It’s on this.” He pointed to his wrist dot.
“May I?” The old man pointed to Roland’s dot, but then made clear he only wanted to tap it.
The old man tapped it a few times, dragged across it and finally a couple more taps. “Is this a joke?” The man asked asked.
“Isn’t there enough?”
“You have five thousand on this!” The man said, dismayed.
“How do I give you your ninety?” Roland asked.
“Just slide these to indicate ninety. I’ll do the same, and then we tap our dots together. That’s it.” He explained.
Roland did so and the man smiled. “Nice to do business with ya. Enjoy the clothes.” He said.
“I need a toothbrush. Any idea where I can get one?” Roland asked.
“She sells them.” He pointed across the space between booths to a smaller tent with a few display cases made from scrap plastic.
“Thanks.” Said Roland.
Over the next hour Roland managed to purchase most of the supplies he wanted: a replacement console, two huffcubes, a media port, a crypto locker and about two weeks worth of food.

Roger and Tracy wandered through the dusty factory floor. It was full of distractions with something unexpected to see or for sale everywhere they looked. They didn’t bother to keep track of where they were and for a while they just explored. They each bought clothes, food and other supplies. Hours passed and they had made their way through a lot of Section One.

Roger was looking at shoes in one stall and Tracy was in the next stall.

Tracy heard a cat call, a rising whistle and a falling one. She hated this sound that men made. It never worked out well. She immediately turned to leave and started to walk away from them.

The two men followed hir into the de-facto roadway between ranks of shops. Roger didn’t notice that Tracy had left.

“That’s a girl.” The taller one said.
“That’s a boy.” The shorter one said.
“Hey! What are you?” The taller one shouted to Tracy. “We just wanna
S/he kept walking away from them, wishing desperately that s/he’d had the foresight to wear a flight pack.
“Honest. We just wanna know.” Said the shorter one.
Keep moving. Keep moving.” Tracy’s inner voice urged her in its typical understated tone. But, the road ended at another shop and Tracy was forced to turn to face the two.
“What are you?” Said the taller one.
Tracy felt enraged, but s/he had been through this too many times not to know how to answer.
“I’m a boy.”
The shorter punched the taller one in the arm and shouted, “I was right! He’s a boy! You like boooooys!” he teased.
The taller one punched the shorter one in the arm, a little harder than necessary and said.” I’m not convinced. And, anyway, since when are you a homophobe?”
“I’m not sick. I’m just sayin’… you like dudes!” The short guy pointed and laughed at the taller guy.

Tracy wondered how high s/he could jump. “Can I jump out of this?
Where?” She couldn’t see.
Just then the tall man lunged out and grabbed with Tracy. Tracy yelled out and they began to struggle. People came out of shops to look at what was happening, but nobody stepped into help or even ask what was happening. They just watched, probably assuming it was a fight.
“I just want to see if you were lying, that’s all!” Said the tall man and he had managed to grab Tracy’s waist from behind. He tried to unfasten Tracy’s belt.

The crowd grew.
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” Tracy shouted at the top of hir lungs.

“Hey, maybe that’s enough there.” Said the smaller man and he stepped in to stop the other, who kicked back. The smaller man howled in pain and clasped his obviously broken finger.

Someone in the crowd yelled “Hey! Stop that!” This sound caught Roger’s attention and he looked over to see Tracy in the middle of what looked like a brawl.

The taller man struggled for another few moments with Tracy and then s/he heard a several dull thuds in rapid succession. The taller man let go of her suddenly. S/he turned around to see Roger trading rapid fist blows with the taller man.

It was brutal. The tall man probably had no idea what was coming. Roger was so outraged he punched the man again, breaking his nose. The man staggered back stunned, spluttering and trying to strike any part of Roger.

Roger grabbed him by the shirt and dangled him in the air.
The man punched Roger in chest and then grabbed his own hand in pain.
Tracy fell to hir knees and watched the scene develop, horrified and humiliated. It seemed to happen in slow motion and s/he could do nothing but watch.
“You have a question?” Roland shouted into the man’s stunned face. “You can ask me.” Said Roger and he held the man’s face close to his own.
“I… shit, I just wanted to know! Is she a girl or not!” Said the man pointing to Tracy, who was still kneeling in the street, simply staring.
“So, what? You tried.” Roger punched him in the stomach. “To pull.” Roger punched him in the side of the head. “Someone’s pants down?” Roger slapped his face to make sure he was paying attention. “Look at me!” Roger shouted.
“I was just playing!” The man managed to sound like the one wronged.
“Good, I hope you’re having
fun.” Said Roger and he threw the man sharply into the air anti-spinward knowing it would take longer than normal for him to fall back to the floor. When the tall man did finally hit the floor, he crashed completely through one tent and demolished a second. He came to a halt in a heap, moaning and bleeding profusely from his nose.

“I’ve heard the shopping is better in the Section Two.” Roger said trying to be funny as he held out a hand to Tracy to help hir up. “We should get out of here.” He said more urgently.
Tracy nodded and got up. S/he looked at the ground to avoid the eyes of everyone watching.
Roger looked around at the stunned crowd. “Is there a problem here?” He demanded.
People shook their head and turned around.
The short man moved over near Tracy and said, “I’m sorry… that wasn’t right. He’s… I shouldn’t have teased him. I’m sorry he hurt you. I tried to stop him.” He held up his obviously broken finger.
Tracy looked up at him. “Why?” S/he asked.
“We just wanted to know… Ya know?” He said, ashamed.
“Why do you care?! What business of it is yours what I carry between my legs?!” Tracy shouted at him.
“I don’t know! I’m sorry! I couldn’t stop him!” The shorter man said and then looked down.
“Let’s get out of here.” Roger said to Tracy.

Meanwhile Roland and Axel had wandered into the Section Two and were browsing media collections.
“You finding everything you need, buddy?” Axel asked.
“Yea. Hey, you put
a lot on this dot.” Roland said.
“Yea, so?” Axel said, smiling.
“You got all this from deliveries?”
“Yea, mostly.”
“What do
you buy with it?” Asked Roland.
Axel seemed to see something he was looking for and motioned for Roland to follow him. They made their way to a booth that looked closed. “I buy parts for the tug –take a lot of maintenance. And, I like to buy these.” He pointed to a collection of small jars and cans. Each had different kinds of preserved foods in them. He started picking some out and putting them into a bag he carried. Roland watched him and started selecting some himself.
They paid for their purchase with Web Credits and went to a tent a few booths away. Axel called out. “Meyer.”
“Sold out.” Came a voice from inside.
“C’mon, man.”
“Come back tomorrow.”
“I can’t, I’m out of here soon. C’mon Meyer, open up.” Axel insisted.
There was a loud crashing noise from inside the tent and whoever was inside cried out in pain. “Shit! OK, hang on.” Came the voice from inside.
The tent door opened and Roland was surprised to see a young man looking out, standing in his undershorts. ‘Alright.” He said and turned around and went back inside his tent. Axel followed him and motioned for Roland to follow.
“So, whatcha got today, Meyer?”
“A little of everything. Whatcha want?”
“Blues, dittys, methylate. Got any pans?”
“Yea. How many of each?”
“Ten of each.”
“Really? OK. And you?” The guy asked Roland. He was only a little older than Roland.
Roland looked at Axel and shrugged. “Same.” He said.
“OK, the young man seemed to be doing some math in his head. That’s eight hundred for all of it. So, for you, five hundred Unlimited, or seven hundred Web Credits, your pick.”
Roland was stunned but said nothing.
“OK. Said Axel and he tapped his dot to complete the transaction.
Just then they heard a young woman’s voice outside the tent.
“Meyer.” She said.
“Just a minute.” Said the young man. “You care?” He whispered to Axel, who nodded no. “You care?” He whispered to Roland. Roland nodded no without knowing what he might not be caring about.
“Ok, come on in.” He said.
Joan walked in. She cocked her head slightly and looked at Roland sitting on the floor. “Small outpost.” She said.

On the other side of Section Two Tracy and Roger were sitting in tea house tent. Tracy was trying very hard not to cry, it would actually have been a credible effort except for the tears streaming down hir face. Hir voice was calm though, like s/he was talking about how to fix an inverter.
“I knew that was going to be bad.” S/he said.
“Two on one?” He asked. “That’s never good.”
“Not just that. That they were on opposite sides.” S/he said.
“Opposite sides?” Roger asked.
“One thought I have a dick and one didn’t: They wanted to force me to settle their bet.”
“So, what did you do?” Roger asked.
“I always tell them I’m a boy.” S/he said.
“Why?” Roger asked.
“Because if I tell them I’m a girl they might…” S/he stopped. “It’s a lot better if I tell them I’m a boy. Sometimes they leave me alone.”
“The other times?” Roger asked, steeling himself for the answer.
“I’m not as strong as you are, Roger.” And tears welled in Tracy’s eyes.
“But, you can fly a skimmer. I’ve seen you fix things and make things.” Roger said trying to bouy hir spirits.
“Well, none of that matters when someone is determined to find out what’s between your legs.” She said too loudly and the other two people in the tea tent stopped talking briefly. Tracy continued in a lower voice, “They put everything else on hold until they know. Believe me, if I could do what you just did, there have been more than a few times when I would have.”
Roger didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing for a while. They drank tea and Tracy sat there and cried stoically.
“Hey? You in there?” Said Roger when s/he seemed to disappear into hir inward stare.
“Yes.” S/he said quietly.
“I think you need a way to protect yourself.” He said.
“Like what?”
“Like… a laser pistol? Or, I could teach you to fight.” Said Roger.
Tracy shook hir head. “I don’t want to kill people. I just don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone.”
“Yea, but still...”
Tracy thought about the last day. Whoever had framed them was willing to kill. Survival might require having a weapon.
“I have an idea.” Said Roger. For a while he watched people walking by and then he suddenly got up and walked out of the tea shop, saying “I’ll be right back” on his way out.
A few moments later he returned. “OK, I know where.”
“What, did you just ask someone?!”
“Yes. I just waited until someone with a pistol walked by and then I asked them where I could get one.”
“Weren’t you afraid?” S/he asked, forgetting herself a moment.
“Why? If I had a gun, I wouldn’t be asking him where to get one, and if I didn’t and he did, then he wouldn’t be afraid of me, see?” Roger explained.
“That makes sense, I guess. And he told you where to get one?”
“Yep. And where not to.” Said Roger.

They left and found the place. They used the rest of the currency on their both their dots to acquire a mostly working laser pistol.

Roger looked down at his wrist dot. “It’s getting time we were getting back to the ship, I think.”
“Yea, OK.” Tracy said.

They made their way back to the ship before anyone else. They were able to get back in because Axel had programmed their thumbprints into his access reader. They pulled themselves inside.

“I don’t think I said ‘thank you’, did I?” Tracy said.
“I think you did.” Roger lied.
“You know I didn’t.” She smiled and said.
Roger looked down and said nothing.
“Thank you.” Tracy said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you… you…” S/he began crying again. S/he tried to distract herself and Roger by pointing to a bruise that had welled up on his face under his left eye. “Does that hurt? Where he hit you? I’m sorry you had to…” That was all that Tracy managed to say before s/he burst wholly into tears and hung weightless in the middle of the ship. S/he held her knees to her chest and wailed.

Roger held hir and tried to comfort hir. After a while s/he calmed down and unfold her body. Hir sadness turned back into a blank stare. Roger continued to hold hir and slowly s/he put hir arms around him and then s/he held him tightly.

After a while Axel arrived. “Hey! You’re back! And… sorry to interrupt.” Axel said, adjusting quickly.
“We ran into a problem in Section One.” Roger said.
“Did you get what you were looking for?” Axel said looking at the bruise on Roger’s face.
“Yea. Thanks for this.” Said Roger pointing to his currency dot. “We owe you.”
“Nah. I did it for Rolo.” Axel said.
“You and he grew up together?” Roger asked.
“Yea. We’re tight.” Axel said.
“What was it like? Growing up in a
factory?” Roger asked, still holding onto Tracy tightly.
“Well... where did you grow up?” Axel asked instead of answering.
“Me? In disc three and disc four, my whole life.” Roger said.
“So, you’ve always lived in spingravity then.” Axel concluded.
“Yea, but I’ve been in zero G plenty of times.” Roger said, almost defensively.
“Oh? Do you fly?” Asked Axel hopefully.
“No. My dad helped build the disc elevators. You know, the ones that go all the way to the hub? I got to spend lots of time in zero G in the hub.”
“My dad
was a rock hunter.” Said Axel.
“Really? Why did he stop?” Roger asked, misunderstanding.
“He died.” Axel said.
“Oh! Sorry. Shit, I’m so sorry.” Roger shook his head and rolled his eyes while his inner voice ranted against himself.
“It’s OK. I miss him though. I always have.” Axel said.
“Did it happen when you were young?” Roger asked.
“No, it just happened this year. He wasn’t around much when I was growing up. He was usually away. Working, you know?”
“So, what was it like being Generation One at your factory?” Roger asked.
“It was OK. There were only about 500 people. So, everyone knows everyone. You can’t really get away with anything. But, Rolo and I managed to sometimes.” Axel smiled deviously.
“Girls?” Roger asked.
“Not many, but there were plenty of women.” Axel smiled.
Roger smiled back. “Yea.”

Just then Roland and Joan pulled their way into the ship. They were laughing and poked their heads into the center cabin.

“If we’re all back, lets get going.” Said Axel and he settled into the pilot’s seat and began flipping switches on the control panel. The ship shuddered and it changed suddenly from weightlessness to thrustgravity and everyone in the cabin settled against the floor.

Tracy let go of Roger finally. Roger’s grabbed a water bottle and took a drink. He tried to move across the cabin to refill it and accidently caught his foot on a frame member. He flipped over in a summersault and his the water bottle slipped from his fingers. The remaining water splashed into Joan’s jump suit. The water washed up her chest and neck in a slow wave.
“Ahh! You thickhead! What are you doing?” Joan shouted.
“I’m so sorry! It was an accident!” Roger said.
Joan knew it was, but she was angry anyway. She turned around and pulled herself into their room. She closed the door and wiped herself with a towel. She removed the top of the jump suit and was drying off when Roger opened the door.
“Sorry, I didn’t…” He started to say.
“GET OUT!” She screamed, naked from the top down and covering her breasts with her arms. “OUT!” She shrieked.
“OK! Sorry!” Roger said and closed the door. He looked back into the cabin.
Roland and Axel were shaking their heads with “What did you expect?” looks on their faces.
“Well… shit. I just wanted to say sorry. Really…” Roger said and sat down on the floor next to Tracy.
It was quite for a while except for what sounded like small objects bouncing off the walls of Joan and Roger’s room.
“That doesn’t sound good.” Said Axel.
“That sounded kinda big.” Said Roland.
“That sounded kinda broken.” Said Axel. “Hey, Roger, how tall are you?”
“About two meters.”
“You’ll fit.”
“In the cargo hold. You can sleep in there.” He pointed to it.
Something else broke against in inside of Joan’s room. “Yea, that might be a good idea. Thanks.” Roger said.

They began the trip to Jane’s world. And they settled in. Joan calmed down over the next few hours and Axel and Roland were able to convince her to collect Roger’s things and put them in a box. There wasn’t much in the box that wasn’t broken, torn, or missing the word “Dickhead” written in heavy black marker.

“Nice.” Said Roger upon receiving the box. Roland shrugged. “At least you have all new clothes. Roland said hopefully.
“She still has that pen.” Roger replied.
“Maybe… stay out of her way until we get to Jane’s World?” Roland suggested.
Roger looked around the tiny cabin. “Yea, I’ll just hide in this…’room’ for ten days.” He said and shook his head.

Later that night Roland sat with Axel and they talked.
“Did you and Melinda ever get together?” Asked Roland.
“Melinda? No, she liked Omar and Raj.” Said Axel.
“They were both almost twenty years older than she was!” Roland said.
“Yea, but she liked them.” Axel said. “Did you ever ask her out?”
“Yea. Once. She said no.” Roland said, looking down.
Axel shook his head. “And Su? What about her?”
“I never asked her. I didn’t really like her much.” Roland said.
“Why didn’t you hang out with some of the women?” Axel asked.
“I didn’t want to.” Roland said.
“Why not? They’d have been a lot nicer than Su to you.” Axel said persuasively.
“I don’t know...”
“You always hid in your room.”
“I wasn’t hiding!” Roland insisted.
“Yea? What were you doing in there all the time, jerking off?” Axel said.
“No, I was studying. Most of the time…” Roland said.
“Yea. I know, computers. How interesting can that be? Didn’t you want to get laid?”
Roland rolled his eyes. “Do you remember that guy, Buster Madison?”
“Uh, no. Who is he?” Axel asked.
“He was... You don’t remember? He raped a woman! I don’t know who she was. It happened when I was eight.” Roland said.
“Oh, yea. I forgot about that. Yea, that was bad. But, he was celled and banned from Green Davis, forever.” Axel said. “What about him?”
“The way they talked about him… I don’t know, I think I’d have to know a woman really wanted me.” Roland said.
“I have some news for you Roland… women like sex.” Axel said.
“That’s what you say.”
“Trust me: my saying it isn’t what makes it true. So, you never… not with anyone?” “I thought you and Ann…” Axel said.
“No. We were just friends. But, if we had… you know… everybody else at Green Davis would have known if within a week.” Roland said.
“Maybe, but you still would have had a good time.” Axel said.
“I can’t imagine it would be worth the risk of everyone finding out that I didn’t.” Roland said.
“I think you care what other people think
a little too much.” Axel said.
“Maybe. But don’t I have a right to explore my life privately? Instead of under a magnifying glass?”
“I grew up there too, you know.” Axel said.
“Yea, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just frustrating. Hell yes I wanted to have a girlfriend! But, it was just so impossible for me there… Between having my future mapped out and everyone knowing everything I did. I just needed more privacy.”
“So, is Joan going to be your girlfriend?” Asked Axel, smiling.
“No.” Roland answered, glumly.
“Don’t you like her?” Axel asked, surprised. “Because I think she’s a supernova!”
“Yes! Of course! But she doesn’t want me either!” Said Roland.
“Well, you never know, Rolo. Just be yourself.” Axel said. “Look, I gotta fly in a little while. Just for a couple hours and then I’m gonna catch some sleep because there is nothing for about ten hours after that.”

Roland watched the scene outside the ship. The space around him shifted and rolled as Axel maneuvered his ship. Occasionally the cutting laser would destroy a small transverse motion rock, but Axel was true to the code of the rock hunters and he tried to maneuver around rocks whenever possible.

After an hour Roger emerged from the storage compartment and went to the galley to fix some food. He called Roland over and filled a bag with food for Axel. Roland brought it to Axel who ate it hungrily.

Roger and Roland sat in the low, shifting thrustgravity and talked.
“Something happened today at the outpost.” Said Roger, whose face, neck and arms now showed darker bruises.
“You mean, that?” Asked Roland, pointing to the bruise under his left eye.
Roger recounted what happened and finished by showing the laser pistol to Roland.
Roland was speechless. “How is Tracy?”
“I’m not sure. She’s in her room.” Roger said.
“I think we should check.” Roland went over to Tracy’s door.
“Hey, we have some food. Are you hungry, Tracy?” He asked.
“No.” Came Tracy’s voice from inside.
He looked over at Roger, who opened his hands to say he didn’t know what to do.
“We’re here for you Tracy, if you want to talk.” Roland said.

Roland came back to the galley. He stared at the gun. “I don’t like guns.” He said.
“Neither do I, but we might need one.” Roger said.
Roland stared out the window and Axel flew them on toward Jane’s world.
“It’s all so messed up, Roger.” Said Roland.
“Yea.” Said Roger, but he was smiling.”
“Is that good?” Roland said, dismayed.
“No, of course not.” Said Roger.
“Then why the smile?” Roland asked.
“Because I know what Tracy is now.” Roger said.
“What?” Roland asked.
“Mine.” Said Roger.

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