Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
I hold the bottle up and watch the faint shadows cast by the rising sun through it. There are still sirens in the distance. That always made us laugh. There’s never enough traffic to delay anything. We joked the sirens were to make sure the criminals left before the police arrived. That way, they were never in danger, only had to take details and issue recompense dockets.
“Just one more.”
With a grin, I pop the seal, raise the bottle, then pour it all over my face and head. Feels good. Still stings, but there’s that clean smell of spirits. It won’t stop the scent memory of burning people, but it’ll help for a little while.
Reaching out to put the empty next to its many kin on the recycling rack, I take a look about with fresh eyes. This distillery has been in the family since we arrived from Earth: nineteen generations. It’s also provided a cover for our less legal ventures.
We are – were – gangsters in the classic style: a criminal family running an empire that spanned several worlds.
I’d been aware of some friction in the ranks. The ever-present conflict between old ways and new enthusiasm, made worse by arrogant surety on both sides. Yesterday evening I found out it had gone a lot further than ever before.
As Helmut pushed me into the refuge room I never thought I’d need, I realised there were more than two factions involved in the pitched battles, and none of them were fighting to save me. I had three loyalists, and Helmut was the last.
The single-use Benthusian maglev ran from the refuge, under the homestead, through the mountains, to the distillery. There I went through a routine I’d practiced infrequently, all the while going from blind rage, through numbness, and out into this frame of mind, which I still can’t put a name to.
Cleansing myself with spirits deals with the soil of the night. Icy cold water from a hose stops me smelling like a high-rolling drunkard. After that, I put gloves on to apply the thick paste that gives me a beard: a mix of artificial hair bonded to force-grown stubble. It burns like crazy, only stopping when I apply the neutralising gel. Which is how you know it’s been cleaned off. The burning sensation is unmistakable.
With the remains of that bagged, sealed, and tucked back into the concealed cubbyhole it came from, I don a dirty uniform and wait for the morning bus.
I get nods of sympathy from the crew getting off. Night duties are never entirely legal, but the pay’s too good to refuse. People don’t like doing it, and never speak of it.
From distillery to Cumlach Spacetown is a scenic run across the valley, and gets me even further from the homestead.
By chance, there’s a cancellation on a scheduled interstellar to Figros. I take that, paying in scrip and bars like a labourer emptying his savings. As the ship lifts, I relax.
I’d been raging, determined to avenge the betrayals. Then I became uncaring. Now? I don’t kn-
Yes. I do. Helmut said it.
“This is your one chance.”
Backoro is a safe world, part of the Orcan Confederacy. It’s a long way from Figros by translight, but it’s where my family is: Trelly and the kids, Antur and Moz. For years I’ve only stolen a month each year to be with them, under the guise of surveying off-planet holdings.
My one chance… Yes.
I’m going home.