Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The orbiter had touched down at Vandenberg, and Lewis and a dozen others had flown cargo the thirty minutes to San Francisco airport. They trudged in from the tarmac in loose formation out of habit, unprepared for the crowds in the terminal.

The debriefing team had talked about friction, that the religious right had taken offense to their involvement in the colony war.

There was an awkward moment when the soldiers met the seething mass of people, unsure if there would be familiar faces, confused by the angry looks and rumbled undercurrent of discontent.

“Murderers,” a lone voice lit the fuse, causing the crowd to erupt into a cacophonic barrage of unfettered hatred.

The soldiers had faced more threatening forces, but here, at home, unarmed and unprepared, they could do nothing but close ranks and retreat to safety.

Police raised riot shields as picketers raised placards, the two groups squaring off as the tired soldiers slipped away through the terminal.

Lewis took the shuttle to the BART platform. In an hour he’d be in Lafayette, at home with his wife and his little girl. He understood now why Tessa hadn’t been there to meet him.

The waiting rail car was almost full. Finding a vacant seat, he addressed the woman seated across from it.

“Do you mind if I sit here?”

The woman’s eyes flared up at his, and drawing up noisily she spat on his boots.

“Murderer.” Her eyes burned into him as he turned and walked to the other end of the car. “Did you forget God while you were fighting up there?” Ignoring her, he found and lowered himself into another vacant seat. His massive frame, used to two years of a gee and a half nearly crushed the structure as he landed. The people already sitting nearby quietly got up and moved away, taking up standing positions with their backs to him.

They were in Oakland City when four young men produced guns as the doors closed and the train began to move again.

“All of you, wallets, jewelry and phones in the bags,” the shorter of the men spoke loudly as they moved through the car, waving guns with one hand, bags open in the other.

“Are you going to fucking do something?” The same woman had Lewis fixed with a glare again, though this time her eyes were filled with fear.

The men hadn’t noticed Lewis, and as he raised himself from his seat, they backed away, raising then lowering their guns uncertainly. Lewis bristled with armor, the chitin alloy plating spliced into his skin would stop anything of the calibre these men could heft, and in sheer mass he could crush them without effort. They knew that as well as he did.

“Listen man, we got no problem with you, we’re just making a living…”, the stocky one’s voice trailed off as Lewis brushed past him.

Lewis stopped facing the woman, her eyes darting from him to the wavering guns behind him. He bent over, wiping up some of the still wet spittle from the toe of his boot. She jerked back and froze as he raised his hand. Putting a wet finger to her face, he smeared a cross on her forehead.

“I hope your God remembers you, when you meet him.” His face was inches from hers, his breath hot on her trembling face.

The entire car stared in shocked silence as he straightened and stepped off the train at MacArthur station, leaving them alone, passengers and thieves.

There’d be another train shortly, and at the moment Lewis needed, more than anything else, space.

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