“I can bring her back… for a price.”

The bar was the kind of place he’d have walked straight past, don’t turn your head, don’t look at the drunks lying in the gutter outside fumbling for change that would be turned into beer that would be turned into piss. This side of the town, the lawkeepers stopped trying. Let them fight. Let them bleed away and maybe then the lawkeepers would come in from the sides.

The bar had been built with a view over the new sorghum fields the colonists had first planted when they landed on this little rock. Now it looked out over a brothel. Dirt gave way to filth. Dionise could feel the eyes watching him from the alleys where the glowlamps didn’t quite reach.

The door to the bar cracked open, one more drunkard spilling out into the night amidst a sliver of light and Di jumped, following the door before it could shut out his thoughts of just walking on.

“You got money?” the bartender called the moment Di stepped over the threshold. Di just nodded dumbly.

The place smelt of mildew and pine, the byproducts of whatever particular flavour of whiskey they were distilling in this place, and it had leached into every surface. Di asked for a beer and rubbed at the rim before taking a swig.

“I’m looking for Rota,” he tried to say quietly, leaning across the bar but only succeeding in feeling the bare flesh of his arms stick to the wood.

“Rota don’t like to be disturbed. Least of all by a spaceboy like you.”

“I can pay.”

“An oct.”

Eight chits was over a weeks worth of rations and a large portion of Di’s remaining cash. He pulled out his card, spun through the digits and flipped the barman his fee. The barman just looked at his display. Transferred.

“That’s your man,” he finally said, jerking a thumb towards the back corner. Di went to move but the barman grabbed his wrist, slick with sweat. “Word of advice spaceboy, don’t pay what you can’t afford.”

The glowlamp above the last table was dying, the lights inside moving lethargically. It looked like malnutrition and for one moment Di considered asking the barman for some ammonia and a funnel.

“Sit,” the voice said, breaking Di out of his thoughts.

“I can fix your lamp.”

“What makes you think it’s broken?”

“It’s dying.”

“Sometimes a thing dying doesn’t mean it’s broken.”

The man lit up a cigarette. The old kind, leaves wrapped in paper, and took a long drag, the small tip glowing briefly in the gloom. He tapped the ash, collecting a little pile in the centre of the table.

“Start at the beginning,” the man said.

“My daughter, Kay. She joined the Navy, pay for school and all that, I don’t make much since her mother…” Di skipped the backstory. “She finished basic, top of her class my girl, and got put on a cutter. The Melville. Three year out-and-back round the Cambridge worlds. Sent me packets every month.”

Di stopped, took a breath of the smoke-filled air and found his lungs clutching. This world was trying to kill him, but nothing hurt as much as thinking about his baby girl. The man didn’t move. The ash collected on his cigarette, growing towards his fingers like a cancer.

“The xo sent the notification. Single-way vid. ‘Your daughter was killed in a tragic accident during a routine training exercise.’ Nothing. Not even his condolences.”

“Sounds like exactly what it is.”

Di took a swig from his drink, letting the courage bubble forth before putting a stripscreen on the table and hitting play. The video was grainy, the image compressed into two dimensions to show a dirt-streaked face with the same features as her father.

“Dad, I hope you get this. I can’t tell you where I am. They’re looking for me. The whole damn fleet. I need you to do something Dad. I need you to find…”

The video cut out in a garble of static. A constellation of stars flashed across the screen before the screen faded to nothingness, the chipped wooden table showing through.

“I got that three weeks after she died. Timestamp said it was sent that day. I had a friend run the stars through some stellar maps. She sent this from Pyre.”

“Bullshit,” the man said, replaying the video, only this time muting the sound. He watched the girl speak, the fear in her eyes. She turned her head to look off screen, some nasty plasma scarring stretching across her neck. And there they were again. The stars. Pyre’s sky.

“You’ve been there,” Di said, tapping a finger against the back of the screen. “You fought on Pyre.”

“It’s a barren world. If your daughter is there, she’s already dead.”

“Not Kay. Not my girl. She’s too smart for that.”

The man stopped at a timecode, looking in her eyes. Fear. Tiredness. But anger, righteousness burning brightly behind it all. She’d found something. Something worth dying for.

“I can bring her back,” he said. He stubbed the cigarette out into the table, the last ambers flaring and dying. “For a price.”

“Anything.”

“Good. You’ll need that desperation,” he said.


Prompt originally posted by columbus8myhw on reddit and received 2 upvotes.

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