by Derrick Boden
First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.
She was laughing.
I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.
Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.
Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.
Only hope now was to carve my own fate.