Jayce waved his hand over the payment icon on the stall. It beeped to acknowledge the transfer of funds. He winked at Malachi.
Malachi scooped up his own food in one hand – a sandwich of four different meats and what seemed like every condiment on the menu – and with his other hand he picked up a tray containing the girl’s meals. He shook his head.
‘Are you joking? Or do you think I’ve never seen a credit chip built into jewellery before?’
Jayce wiggled his finger, showing off an ostentatious ring of silver bands layered with obsidian.
‘Nice. You must be the smart one.’
Malachi winked and stepped aside so Jayce could reach his seat.
‘I’m starting to understand what she sees in you.’
‘Over here, smart one,’ said Tila.
‘Ah,’ said Jayce, so only Malachi could hear. ‘The grumpy one.’
Malachi handed the girls their food and sat down.
‘Apparently, I’m the smart one,’ he said.
Jayce nodded. ‘Smarter than most people around here. Hardly anyone even knows you can install a credit chip in a ring. They stick to the company wristbands. You’re a step ahead of most. That’s impressive.’
‘We’re from the Juggernaut,’ said Tila with exaggerated patience, ‘It doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. We’re not idiots.’
‘Tila’s the proud one,’ Malachi explained to Jayce. He winked at Tila.
‘What am I?’ said Ellie. Tila could swear she saw Ellie her flutter her eyelashes.
‘That’s easy,’ Jayce began, with his mouth full, ‘You’re the pretty-‘
‘The young one,’ Tila said. She glared at Jayce, daring him to say more. Jayce swallowed and wisely changed the subject.
‘So, what do you think of Parador so far?’ he said to Ellie.
‘It’s very, um, different.’
‘There’s a lot of up, right?’
Ellie beamed at Malachi. ‘See!’
‘You said you came here for business? Who with?’ Jayce continued. Between sentences he attacked his sandwich with huge bites. It was like watching someone try to suffocate themselves with bread.
Tila shook her head at Malachi, warning him off.
‘It can’t hurt,’ said Malachi.
‘It’s none of his business, Mal,’ insisted Tila.
Jayce whispered to Ellie, ‘Does this happen a lot?’
‘Does what happen?’
‘Not at home.’
The back and forth continued.
‘Fine, tell him. I don’t care,’ said Tila.
‘Yes, tell him,’ Jayce said to Malachi. ‘She doesn’t care.’
Malachi finished a mouthful of food and put down his half-eaten sandwich.
‘Do you know anything about the colony expedition from about ten years ago?’
‘Twelve,’ corrected Tila.
‘A little. We used it in school as a case study on salvage law.’
‘You know about the mission?’ said Ellie. She held her sandwich halfway to her mouth. The bread was dense and round with a hole in the middle. She had chosen it for its novelty as much as for the meats it contained.
‘I know it was the biggest engineering feat the Commonwealth had ever tried. Some people think it was as significant as the first jump away from Earth. Shame it failed, but I’m sure someone will try again one day.’
‘A shame?’ Tila stabbed her fork into her bowl, spearing rice and potatoes and spicy chicken as if they were the ones who had offended her.
‘Yeah, all that money wasted.’
‘Yes, that is a shame,’ she said flatly.
‘And the thousands of lives too, right?’ said Malachi.
‘Oh yeah, of course. Big tragedy. You have to admire the attempt though.’
‘Why?’ said Tila, making another tiny potato suffer.
‘Because they had no way of knowing it would work. Now we know what went wrong, but with everything we’ve learned since we still wouldn’t try again. The risks are too high. They were pioneers, man. They were heroes, stepping out into the unknown and all that. I mean, if you’re gonna dream, dream big. Right, Ellie?’ He winked at her and she hid behind her sandwich and blushed.
‘What do you mean you know what went wrong?’ said Tila.
‘I thought it was still a mystery,’ said Malachi.
‘I guess you don’t get all the news way out where you come from,’ he grinned. ‘Even the stuff that’s years old.’
‘So, tell us,’ said Tila.
‘Well, the official story was that the jump portal collapsed because the engines on the New Dawn were faulty. That’s what made the portal collapse around the Rising Star-‘
Tila shook her head and banged her fork on the table to stop Jayce talking.
‘No. The Far Horizon went first. The portal collapsed on the New Dawn, and that blew up and hit the Rising Star.‘
‘Okay, okay’ he said, raising his hands, ‘I don’t remember every little detail.’
‘Go on,’ said Malachi. Under the table, Ellie pressed her foot against Tila’s. An invisible gesture of solidarity.
‘So, the investigators thought it was an engineering issue at first, but everyone contested that, of course, especially the investors.’
‘Why?’ said Malachi. Tila just stared at Jayce.
‘Because if the engineering was negligent the insurance wouldn’t pay. And trust me, what that mission cost, they did not want to pay.’ He tucked into his sandwich again and mustard squicked out both sides. ‘So, it went to court, because what else are you gonna do but sue someone? Engineers blamed project managers who blamed cost-cutting and so on, so you know, it was messy. Anyway, during the hearings it turned out the mission logs showed that the captain was the one at fault.’
‘She. The captain was a ‘she’, Jayce,’ said Tila.
Jayce paused, mid-chew, and waved his sandwich at Tila.
‘Uh, right, the captain was a woman. So, she ordered the jump too soon, before the portal had stabilised.’
‘She wouldn’t have done that!’
Jayce smiled ‘It’s not like you were on the bridge, Tila.’
Ellie perked up. ‘Actually-‘
‘No,’ said Tila.
‘But-‘ said Ellie, looking puzzled.
‘No,’ Tila repeated firmly.
Jayce looked from one to the other before continuing. ‘Okay…. Anyway, the case was split between a cabal of companies that backed the engineering, and the company that backed the captain. The investor’s coalition was led by a woman named Cho Suleman, and she was out for blood. The cabal proved the engineering was sound, so that left either the maths of the jump or the leadership of the mission as the reason for the failure.’
‘Cho Suleman?’ Tila interrupted, ‘We went to see her earlier, and Simon Harrington.’
‘Really? Why? I’m impressed you got an appointment.’
‘We didn’t have an appointment, we just went to see them at their offices,’ said Malachi.
‘Just like that?’
‘We had to,’ said Tila.
‘No way. You actually went to see Harrington and Suleman without an appointment?’
Jayce was incredulous.
‘Seriously? You just walked in to Harrington’s place and asked to see him? You thought that would work?’
The trio looked at each other. Tila felt herself starting to blush. She didn’t like being made to feel stupid.
‘That’s how things work back home. How are we supposed to know it’s different here?’
Jayce was still laughing at her.
‘I can’t believe you tried that. You must be some kind of- uh, mistaken.’ He caught the look Ellie was giving him just in time to stop himself from saying the word ‘idiot’. Even if they had demonstrated an incredible lack of awareness in how things are done, the last thing he wanted was Ellie to think he was being mean.
But maybe he could help them. Ellie would like that, wouldn’t she?
‘I still don’t get why you want to see them. Why did you come all this way to talk to some of the richest and most powerful people in the Commonwealth? I mean, you didn’t really think that would work, right?’
Ellie opened her mouth to explain. Tila shook her head and gave her another sharp look. Ellie filled her mouth with sandwich and looked down at the table instead.
‘That’s our business,’ said Tila.
Jayce shrugged. ‘Whatever. I’m not trying to steal your secrets, but you have to plan for these things. These guys are major players, you can’t just knock on the door. Maybe I can help? I mean, I can’t get you in to see top cats like Harrington and Suleman, but maybe I can help with some others. My family has some contacts. Who else do you want to see?’ He fished in a pocket for a small datapad and began tapping and swiping awkwardly with a thumb and two clean fingers. ‘Where’s your next appointment?’
‘Conway,’ said Malachi from memory. He checked his own datapad again. ‘Alastair Conway.’
‘Um, what?’ Jayce’s thumb hovered over the screen. ‘You want to see Conway?’