Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1)

By: Paul J. Fleming

‘Yes, our first big job and look how it’s turned out. Now I suppose you’re going to persuade me to do the right thing and return those damned couplings before you turn me into the authorities or something like that?’ She said and fixed him with a steady glare, but with none of the intense arrogance she had portrayed before.

Maddox could not help but break into a broad grin as he feigned his best startled expression.

‘Authorities? Out here? Now I know you’re green. Look Maia,’ he said, but then paused slightly and raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. ‘Your name is Maia right? Not some stage name you chose for the plan.’

She nodded in response, taking a sip of the drink which sat before her, previously untouched, but now quite a welcome diversion from the embarrassment she felt as his seemingly genial manner, even though she had quite obviously just tried to rip him off, was quite genuine and friendly.

‘Okay, out here in the Belt there are individual little groups all doing their best to get by and survive away from the over-bearing watchful eyes of the Corporations and naval patrols. There are families who have banded together, small entrepreneurs who are mining the asteroids for whatever ore they can dig out and then there are pirate cartels who use this area as cover for their operations against the merchant ships within the core worlds. All have one thing in common and that is the understanding that we all have to get along out here and those who can’t either leave in a ship or a box. Simply put, those that draw fastest tend to live longer.’

He paused to take a sip from his own drink, which had been ordered when he first sat down at the booth, grimacing slightly at the taste and the fact that it was now cold. One day they would find a way to approximate the taste of coffee out here in the belt. There was one place he knew of which did serve a mean approximation of the stuff, but that certainly was not this place.

‘How did you get this job anyway?’ he asked with genuine intrigue. ‘Seems a bit of a stretch for a girl with little understanding of the workings out here to suddenly pitch up with a ship and crew and start hitting storage depots out of the blue?’

‘I’m not that naive,’ she retorted with genuine indignation. ‘And while we’re just getting things straight, I’m a woman not a girl thank you very much.’

Maddox held his hands up in a gesture of submission.

‘As for how I come to be here talking to you, well to cut a long, boring story very short, I met a guy who knew a thing or two about flying ships and we decided to elope together. He had a ship, so we headed out this way and then he got word about some chance opportunity to make a few credits really easy. He got word of an easy to crack storage depot and once we cleared it out we simply put the word out of what we have to sell. Those who lost the stuff won’t want to report it and others like you lot will pay a premium for these things. A done deal really. Satisfied?’

‘No, not really,’ Maddox replied quite flatly. ‘I mean in principle the whole run in and grab a load of stuff then sell it for a fast turnaround is viable if the value of the stuff is worth the risk, but this? I mean, it looks like a lot, but after you have done the job and flown about a bit enjoying the spoils you have tanks of fuel to fill, docking fees to pay and then your maintenance and supplies. Not too long before your little haul has dwindled and you need to hit another depot. Next time your meeting might not be as pleasant as this one.’

He lifted his drink in salute to her to punctuate his statement, then braced himself and took a sip in preparation for the bitter aftertaste that would ensue. In an effort to disguise his grimace, he raised his free hand and wiped at his lips with the back of his forefinger whilst carefully replacing the offending beverage on the table once more.

Maia raised her gaze from her own drink, which she had been staring at intently whilst Maddox imparted his experience to her in response to her explanation. There was definite uncertainty and a vulnerability in her features which Maddox could not ignore, it was the dawning look of realisation he had seen so many times before on so many faces.

‘I… I don’t know about any of that. I just wanted to get away from that space port and see the stars, visit new places and have a bit of fun. This is not quite what I had in mind!’ She admitted, becoming slightly emotional with tears beginning to form his the corners of her eyes.

Whilst Maddox was genuinely concerned for her feelings, as well as not wishing to be responsible for bringing the girl to tears in the midst of a rather busy diner such as this one, his attention had been split between her and the entrance to the diner. He could see activity outside the airlock doors, and did not like the people he saw there.

‘Out of interest, this guy you met and flew away with and have just tried to pull this scam with, is this Tam who you called earlier during the ruse?’

‘Yes, what of it?’ she asked, genuinely confused by the sudden change of tone and wiping at her upper cheek with the back of her hand to deny the tear which had escaped free passage.

Maddox’s face had taken on quite a serious expression and he seemed to be increasingly distracted as he looked around the other patrons in the small diner they had chosen as the venue for the meeting.