Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The café is dimmer than usual – more bulbs have blown, and they’re expensive. There are more candles, but it’s not the same.
“What the eff have you got there?”
Davey looks up at me.
“Steak and chunky chips.”
I look at the plate in front of him. I know it’s HEMAP, HEVAC, and HESL – Human-Edible Meat Analogue: Protein, Human-Edible Vegetable Analogue: Carbohydrate, and Human-Edible Savoury Liquid – but it’s coloured up just right. Certainly looks the part.
He beckons me closer.
“Take a sniff.”
I do so. Ye gods, that smells good! It’s usually the giveaway of tarted up substitute food. It might look the part, but still smells like warm compost. I straighten up, then wave to get Hokuto’s attention.
“I’ll have one of what Davey has!”
Hokuto waves. Someone peers round him.
“You sit down, Barton. Takes my daughter time to make. You paying tonight?”
Subtle, Hokuto.
“Full tab, plus this, and a coffee.” I wink at him. He’s got a stash of freeze-dried arabica. It’s strictly for regulars, forty notes a cup, and worth every penny.
Davey raises his eyebrows.
“You’re paying your tab? Who did you kill?”
None of your business, my hardworking friend. The less you know, the better.
“Finally hit a winning streak at Johnson’s, and managed to walk away without spaffing it.”
He nods.
“Well done. I know the gambling has troubled you over the years.”
Not really, but excuses people can empathise with always work better, especially when they involve topics people expect reticence about.
“I have good days and bad days, Davey. Speaking of which, how’s your boy?”
“Looks like he’s headed for Colony Ten. That bloke he fought with has died.”
“No effing way, mate. Such a bad break.”
He nods.
“Lana is beside herself. Nothing we can do. I won’t deny the penal stipend will help, but losing our lad is hard.”
Bruno’s doing it for you. He’s got a screw loose, but working for me, he’ll spend the next ten years making Mars a safer colony – instead of getting himself executed. As for the bloke who died, he’s not a loss to this community. Thinking of that, I need to come up with a way for Bruno’s bonus to get to his folks.
Simplicity is best: I lean closer.
“Look, Bruno asked me to keep it quiet, but he’s been stashing funds with me in case his temper got the better of him, to make up for losing his tithe. As he’s going away for a while, I’d be happier if his folks had hold of it all up front. Is that okay?”
Davey hastily wipes away the tears that start from his eyes.
“Oh my lad. Such a good heart. Yes, of course it is. Bless you, mate.”
Steady on. I suspect any powers up on a cloud somewhere aren’t too impressed with me and mine. We’re the bad guys who keep things good. Vigilantes, my arse. These days, we’re essential.