They wandered through the market awhile longer. Malachi led the way, idly browsing things they didn’t need and couldn’t afford. Then Tila suddenly realised where they were headed. She nudged Ellie and pointed at Malachi. A look of puzzlement crossed Ellie’s face, then she understood what Tila was trying to tell her. She grinned at Tila, held her gaze and asked innocently, “Hey, Malachi. Where are we going?”
“Uh, nowhere. Why?”
“Nowhere?” said Tila.
“Oh,” said Ellie, “Because I thought we were heading toward Nina’s stall.”
Malachi had his back to them but the girls knew he was blushing.
“Well, as we’re in the area I just thought…” he trailed off into an unintelligible mumble. No plausible excuses came to mind.
“Thought what?” said Tila, who had no intention of letting Malachi off the hook too easily.
“I thought she might have something new for me,” he finished helplessly.
“Something new like…?”
“Like news on ships,” Malachi said, now more confident in his lie. “I don’t know how she keeps up with it but she’s always one step ahead of everyone else.”
“So, that must be why she’s so popular,” said Tila. “It’s good of her to let him know, isn’t it, Ellie?”
“Why yes, Tila, it is!” Ellie’s voice dripped with good-natured sarcasm.
“They must be getting on very well!”
“Yes, very well!”
“Shut up,” said Malachi, refusing to turn around and see their grinning faces. “Anyway, my dad asks me to see her sometimes. She’s a good information broker.”
“I bet she is,” said Tila. “Did he ask you today?” Ellie had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
“Shut up,” he repeated.
They turned away from the central market area and headed for one of the terraces, where services and information rather than products and goods, were always on offer. Many of the services available would be illegal on any other space station but on the Juggernaut there was no law.
Malachi ignored the giggling and whispers behind him.
“Hey, Mal,” said Tila. “How does Nina always know when new ships are coming in, anyway? There must be hundreds of people all over the Juggernaut wanting the same thing.”
Grateful for a sensible question at last, Malachi said, “She pays people to look out for her, for one thing, and don’t forget how big this place is. New ships arrive almost every week but no one can keep watch over the whole city. She makes sure she’s the first to know about any new salvage. Otherwise someone else will strip them first. Plus, I gave her a list of parts we need in the shop so if anything comes in she sends me a message.”
“What if someone else wants the same parts?” said Ellie.
“I don’t know. It’s never been a problem.”
Ellie and Tila exchanged a wink.
“Why is that, do you think?” Tila asked innocently.
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Oh, nothing,” said Tila.
By now they had climbed a third of the way up the terraces. From here they had a commanding view of the main trading area below them. Tiers of stalls spanned out to either side, encircling the room, and more than a dozen more rose to the ceiling above them. Each level up had fewer stalls than the tier below until the top three levels were almost empty.
Malachi led them to an empty table only one turning from the main staircase. Screens had been erected behind the table. Each one scrolled slowly through pages and pages of indecipherable technical data.
Malachi rapped on the table. “Hey, Quinn. You around?”
A woman, young, but still several years older than Malachi, stepped into view from behind the screens. Dark red hair spilled down one shoulder over skin the colour of almonds and crowned an assortment of pen-sized tools clipped to her white coveralls.
She held a data tablet in one hand and a stylus in the other. Her wide-eyed broad smile faltered when she realised that Malachi was not alone.
“I thought I recognised your voice.” She flicked her hair back over her shoulder with an effortless cool that Ellie envied and Tila was sure she practised. “Hi, Malachi.”
Ellie and Tila exchanged a silent high-five behind his back.
They stared at each other for a moment, saying nothing. When the silence became uncomfortable Ellie poked Malachi in the back. He jumped and started up again like a broken toy that needed a push.
“Oh, uh, did you have anything new for me?”
Ellie looked at Tila again and rolled her eyes. “Terrible!” she whispered to Tila. Tila pulled Ellie away from the table and they made a show of pretending to study one of the technical displays.
“Give him a chance,” Tila whispered back.
Together they faced the screen but paid it no attention. Instead they watched Nina and Malachi in the reflection and listened to Malachi’s attempt at small-talk.
It was painful.
“He should say something about her hair,” Ellie whispered.
“Or anything that doesn’t involve a machine,” Tila agreed.
After overhearing a few more awkward exchanges Ellie decided she couldn’t take any more and turned around. “Malachi!” she snapped. “Didn’t you say you were coming here to see what Nina had to give you?”
“Oh. Uh, yeah I think…” Malachi began.
“I have your list here somewhere,” said Nina.
Ellie rolled her eyes as she watched them fumble around the stall looking for the inventory.
“Why are you rushing them?” Tila whispered.
“I was trying to get them to hurry up and decide if they like each other. I didn’t mean for them to start talking business.”
“You broke the spell. You pushed them too quick and too hard and made them uncomfortable.”
Ellie was impressed at Tila’s observation from her friend. Perhaps there was hope for her, too.
“That’s very insightful, Tila.”
Tila shrugged. “I have layers.”
“So, since when did you become an expert on flirting?”
“I haven’t always lived here, you know,” she winked. “Anyway, when did you? I’ve never seen you flirt.”
“I’m not that sort of girl, Tila.”
Nina finally found what she was looking for and handed Malachi a data pad showing her long and detailed inventory. “Do you know how to use this model?” she asked him hopefully.
“Say no,” Ellie whispered into the screen.
“I got it, thanks.” Malachi input some commands and the list was replaced by something considerably shorter.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Ellie said.
“Is this all the recent arrivals?” said Malachi.
“Everything in the last two weeks in these areas.” Nina handed him a second data pad which displayed a three-dimensional map of the city. Several locations glowed white. “It’s been unusually busy in the last few days. We’ve had eleven new – well, old – arrivals abandoned in the system. Four have been fully integrated already. The other seven are still looking for their final resting place.”
Malachi nodded. New ships were the fundamental resource of the Juggernaut. Sometimes they would be stripped for parts or recycled. There was an endless need for repairs and replacement tech. At other times, they would provide much needed living space.
“Anything interesting nearby?”
Nina touched two of the glowing points nearest to New Haven. “I have people running salvage on the closest ships, here and here, but even they are half a day’s journey.” She leaned over the data pad to press a button for him. Red hair trailed across the display.
“These are the ship names and everything I know about them.”
Malachi traced down the list with his finger as he read the names and possible salvage. “Blue September is a private shuttle. I doubt we will find anything there we don’t already have in the workshop. The Lesnar looks promising if we can get there in time. Far Horizon could be useful. Haulers like that have good power-to-weight ratios and-“
“What did you say?” said Tila sharply.
“I said haulers have a good power-to-weight ratio.”
“Before that! What was it called?”
“Far Horizon? Let me see that!” She pushed between Nina and Malachi and snatched the data pad. “Where is this? Where did it come from?”
“What’s the matter? Oh…” said Malachi as realisation dawned.
“What is it?” asked Ellie. She looked at Nina who just shrugged helplessly.
“The Far Horizon? Here? How?” Tila said again. She shook the computer at Nina demanding answers.
“Whoa, whoa, calm down. Let me look at it again,” said Malachi.
Tila pressed the data pad hard against Malachi’s chest. “Tell me.”
“Okay, okay, give me a moment.” Malachi interrogated the machine further, extracting as much detail as he could.
“You know that ship?” Nina asked Tila as Malachi worked.
Ellie caught up at last. “Oh! The colony mission!” Tila nodded, her face set as she watched Malachi.
“It’s not a colony ship,” said Nina, puzzled. “It’s far too small. Anyway, no one has built one of those for over a decade, not since the last mission blew up because of negligence.”
Tila froze Nina with her glare.
“Because of what?” she asked coldly.
“That’s just what I heard,” she said. “Why, what did you hear?”
Tila glared at Nina. Will people always think that the failure was my parents’ fault?
“I heard that my mother was the captain of the mission, and my father was on board the Far Horizon when it vanished.”
Nina clamped one hand to her mouth. “Oh, Tila, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“But you knew they were negligent, didn’t you? You knew it was their fault. You knew enough about that.”
Ellie tried to defuse the situation. “Tila,” she said softly as she touched her friend’s elbow.
“Get off me.” Tila shrugged Ellie aside and stepped away from the group.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Nina hissed at Malachi.
Malachi shrugged. “It never came up. Why would it? It was years ago, and she never talks about it anyway,” he whispered back. Then, trying to defuse the situation further, he walked over to Tila and said, “It’s just a cargo hauler. See?” He passed her the data pad.
Tila studied the small display, not understanding. “But how can it have the same name?” she pleaded.
“There’s a lot of ships out there, Tila. Some of them have the same name. Ships only have to have a unique name when registered with the same port authority.”
“And every planet is a port authority, and some space stations, so there could easily be more than one Far Horizon,” added Nina.
“But… it’s the same name.” Tila protested again.
Ellie rubbed Tila’s arm. She had never seen her friend seem so deflated, so lost.
“I think it’s just a coincidence, Tila,” she said gently.
“I want to see it,” Tila said.
“Do you think you should?” Ellie asked carefully, “It might just upset you more.”
“I need to see it,” she demanded again. “I just need to, to… to know.”
“Could we?” Malachi asked Nina.
“If you think that will help, sure. I already have someone else due to run salvage on it but I can send them to the Lesnar instead. But you’ll have to move fast before word spreads and someone else scalps all the best parts.” Nina passed Malachi a list of components and closed his hand around it. “Be careful,” she told him.
“You really want to go?” Malachi asked Tila.
“And you know that it is half a day from here?” He checked the data again. “More than half a day.”
“Please, Malachi,” she said. She was almost begging. “I have to. I need to see that ship.”