When Malachi arrived at the Solarium, he saw Nina was already waiting for him.
She sat on the floor by the panoramic window hugging her knees and staring at the huge red star as it began to dip below the horizon of the window.
“Almost makes you feel like you’re planetside again,” said Malachi, and sat down beside Nina.
She smiled without looking at him. “Almost. It’s the sunsets I miss most. The only colours out there are black and red.”
“It’s still one more than we have in here.”
“What, you don’t like our fine selection of grey metal?” She looked at him for the first time, still smiling, and the sunset faded into nothing.
She handed him a data chip. “I looked at it, and I had one of my guys take a look too, but we couldn’t get anything more out of it. It’s encrypted with something we haven’t seen before.”
“Too new. And probably custom code written for the colony mission. Do you want to guess how many colony ships from that expedition we have had pass through here in the last twelve years? That will tell you how much experience we have with it.”
“Zero,” she repeated. “Or maybe one. Tila might be right.”
“I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Nina gasped in mock horror. “Big strong Malachi is afraid of something?”
“Be serious. I’m afraid she will hope for something that can’t be real, and that will only hurt her more.”
“You care about her?”
“I knew it!”
“As a friend.”
“Just a friend?”
“Good.” Nina turned back to the sunset. The thin crescent of the star rested on the lower frame of the window and cast long shadows on the ceiling of the Solarium. “So, what’s the plan to make sure Tila stays happy?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She’s always sulking about something. You and Ellie are always trying to make her happy.”
“She’s our friend.”
“She’s trouble. She’s always looking for risks. I don’t want her to lead you into trouble too.”
“What trouble could there be on Parador?”
“I don’t know, but believe me, if it’s there she’ll find it.”
“She’s not that bad.”
“I don’t want to talk about her any more.”
“Fine. We just want to help her, that’s all.”
“Don’t you want to make anyone else happy?”
Nina chewed her lip. “Never mind. What’s your plan?”
“We’re going to Parador.”
“Tila thinks she can find the people who invested in the original mission. She thinks they will want to hear what we’ve found.”
“What you found?”
“Sorry. What you found.”
“Thank you. So, how do you intend to make this plan happen?”
“I need a ship. And money.”
“You can fix up the Rhino. And how much is Theo getting for the Orion job?”
“I fixed it, but I can’t use the Rhino. My dad needs it for his work here.”
“Then you can’t go.”
“You’re not helping,” Malachi sighed.
“I’m showing you your options.”
“I don’t have any options.”
“You have one option.”
“There’s no other ships.”
“Then you know what you have to do.”
“He’ll kill me when he finds out.”
“Malachi, you can work this out. This is what you do. It’s just another engineering problem to solve. You have parts that don’t fit and you need to make everything work, but you can’t do it if you play by the rules.”
“But the rules are important. The rules are how things are supposed to work.”
“Not this time. If you really want to help her then this time you need to break the rules.”
“And what about money?”
“Surely Theo would have had the Orion pay something in advance?”
“Yeah, he did.”
“There you go. Transfer that to a credit chip.”
“I can’t steal it!”
“I never said you didn’t have to pay him back.”
“My dad will kill me.”
“I’ll kiss it better.”
“Sure. That’s not enough incentive?”
“I don’t know…”
“I do.” Nina climbed to her feet and stretched her legs.
Malachi sighed again. The last of the sun vanished below the artificial horizon of the Solarium, and behind him lights began to glow.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
“Oh, I’m very sure! Parador is not the place for me. One day you can take me to Peleg. I want to look at the stars there and try and find Earth. You can bring me back a souvenir though.
“What do you want?”
“What does any girl want, Malachi? I want to go back to my old life, away from this place.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“Surprise me then. Make me feel special.”
Nina stretched one last time and stood up to leave. “Easy. Bring me something no other girl on the Juggernaut has.”
Malachi thought about this. “Like what?” he asked as she walked away.
“You like solving problems, Malachi. You figure it out.”