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

By: Paul J. Fleming

‘Just wondering if you had heard from him since you told him you were on your way back. It’s been a while now and usually I’d expect at least a call to see where you where…’

Maddox’s voice tailed off as his brow furrowed. The airlock doors were at the end of the diner directly behind Maia and as such she did not have the view of what was happening that her booth companion did. She was pretty certain that whatever was happening, it didn’t bode well by the look on his face.

‘What is it?’ She asked instinctively turning to try and see what he was looking at.

Maddox shot his hand forwards and grabbed her forearm, which rested upon the table surface, gently restraining her movement and preventing her from turning about. With a sharp jolt of surprise she glared down at the point of restraint and then up to Maddox, her face with a burning question as to why he was holding her fast.

‘Stay still, don’t go turning and looking,’ he quickly said to her as he slowly removed the restraining hand in the hope that she would not take this opportunity to bolt. ‘Just so we’re clear on things, did you handle any of the arrangements for this little meeting or were you just sent in here because it was suggested a pretty young girl… sorry a pretty woman would probably have more success in twisting my arm? Did you arrange any other meetings here in case I was a no show?’

‘N.. n.. no,’ she stammered slightly in reply. ‘Tam handled all the broadcasting, but I think when we got the call from Phoenix to say someone would be here, he stopped. I think he was a bit excited they had picked up the offer so quickly.’

Maddox sighed loudly. It was becoming more and more obvious to him that this was most definitely a trap, one which he had volunteered to wander into but as he now sat watching the movements of people outside the airlock he began to regret his overconfidence.

‘Well, there’s a GravSled pulled up outside and armed Martian Militia troopers with their ground commander are now entering the outer airlock door over there. That means there’ll be a patrol cruiser somewhere overhead and possibly a couple more foot soldiers on the ground outside.’

Maia felt her stomach churn.

There was a chance that these troopers were here for a completely different reason, but in her heart she knew that the coincidence was just too much to be believable. All her ideas and dreams whilst working around the space port on Venus, all her hopes of a life of freedom amongst the stars now came crashing down in that moment, realising that they were now trapped within this rather grubby replica of an American Diner situated on a floating rock amidst the debris cloud of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

‘Okay then, what do we do now?’ She asked him quite openly and keenly hoping for some debonair solution.

Maddox looked squarely into her green eyes, instantly reading the look of genuine fear on her face and realizing that whilst this may be an awkward moment for him as it was just one of the many sticky situations he had been through, this was probably the first time for her and the fact she had not quite connected the dots yet with regards her apparent business partner just reinforced her level of naivety of how things worked out in the big bad solar system.

He had to admit that his own suspicions with the arrival of these troops just at that moment in time could be unfounded and it all be a huge coincidence, but experience taught him that he was in the middle of a rather traditional sting operation to flush out a member of the Phoenix resistance group. As he stared into her big eyes, he silently hoped that he was wrong for her sake, as she had mentioned that both she and Tam were eloping.

Chances are she was in for a very painful life lesson.

Quickly drawing himself away from her gaze, he returned his attention to the troopers who had now opened the inner door of the airlock and were divesting themselves of their protective helmets, moving slightly further into the diner as they did so and beginning to look about the patrons present. It certainly seemed as though they were actively looking for someone.

The readying of the rifles they carried also denoted they were not simply looking for a casual chat.

‘Look, we do not have much time. I have a nasty feeling your little friend is part of a Martian strike team operating a sting to uncover Phoenix operatives and he was using you as a front to draw us out into the open to try and re-acquire those thermo-couplings. The facility they were taken from was deep inside the core of a small unmanned asteroid and protected by automated turrets and a secure locking algorithm on the approach doors. Only high grade scramblers and decoders can penetrate that level of security. Believe me, Phoenix has to work hard to gather resources and then what they stockpile they protect very well with security systems. Not your common opportunist thief or amateur heist job. That store was professionally cracked.’

She felt quite embarrassed and stupid as she listened to Maddox, his words making quite clear sense. Tam had approached her in the Space Port, proposed they make a life for themselves amidst the stars together and it was he who had navigated their ship out here to the belt.

He was charming and gave her no reason to suspect any of the facts which Maddox had put to her. Up until now everything just seemed to be part of the flow and them working to forge a life for themselves. Part of her still wanted that proposed life and tried to deny it all.