And Hardships Unnumbered

She didn’t know how long she’d been staring at the screen.

Her eyes followed the black lines her hand had drawn some time before, trying to make sense of the jumble. Every iteration she tried moving from her mind to the computer never seemed to come out right.

How many schematics had she gone through since starting this process? She couldn’t remember. All she knew at this point was it had become far too cumbersome to try and draw them on paper, having nearly filled a notebook with potential sketches. The computer was better, even if she could already feel her eyes twitching as she tried yet again to arrange the circuitry in a way that would work.

To some the illustrated mess might have looked like some sort of twisted puzzle, or even a maze. In some ways it was.

She’d seen a movie once, when she’d been younger, where a girl had to traverse a labyrinth to get to the center and save her baby brother. Right now she felt a certain kinship with that story, though she was designing her own labyrinth and it was her father trapped at the center she was trying to save.

The pathways, circuits, and wires of her father’s tech were familiar. She’d spent years learning them. But having to take the old and meld it safely with the new had been proving far harder than she’d imagined. She was building the maze up around herself and kept getting stuck along the way.

Once again she hit a dead end, cursed, and used the stylus to erase the work on the screen. Her floor might as well have been covered in crumpled up paper for all the progress she was making. She laid the stylus down with a little click, pressing her fingers against her eyes and trying to rub some life back into them. They were dry and tinged with red, aching slightly from nights with little sleep and too long staring at complicated pathways and bridges without blinking.

By this point, even stepping away from the computer didn’t help. She’d been seeing circuits in her sleep for the past several days.

A shaft of light shot across her desk, momentarily obscuring the screen, as the office door opened and Daniel entered. Had anyone else tried to come in right now she would probably have chased them away with a snarl. But not Daniel. She would have been a hermit by now if not for him. She’d been turning down invitations and other social engagements from friends so she could get more work done. Her exercise routine had suffered, and so had the time she’d been able to spend with Henderson. She felt guilty when she heard him whimpering by the door, trying to quietly beg for a walk, but she couldn’t leave the work undone.

She’d seen the downturn of her boyfriend’s lips when she crawled out of bed every morning, grabbed whatever food was at hand, and went right back into her office, sometimes without bothering to shower. So far he hadn’t said anything. He was worried, she could tell, but he knew how important this was to her.

So he’d started doing small things to make her take breaks, like threatening to unplug her computer if she didn’t come to bed or warning her that he’d start singing if she didn’t come out on a short walk with him. She knew him well enough to know he’d follow up on those threats and, despite a few glowers at the beginning, she’d given in. It was a somewhat convenient way to assuage her guilt over taking so long and it had been enough to keep her semi-human.

This time he came bearing something she could already tell smelled wonderful. Her stomach growled a lecture at her. Glancing over at the clock she winced when she realized how late it was. Somehow she’d managed to miss lunch, and it was nearing dinnertime now. She thought she’d eaten something that morning. Coffee for sure, at the very least.

Her desk was a mess, covered with papers and printed schematics with red pen marks all over them. Half dissembled implants were strewn among the mess along with a smattering of her tools.

Daniel made no comment about the state of the place, just gently shifting one of the piles aside to make room. The tray he’d brought bore a bowl of hearty stew, some fresh crusty bread, and a big glass of water in one corner where she could easily reach it. He didn’t seem like he was going to poke her to come eat with him tonight, and she was somewhat grateful for that.

She was hungry, but instead of going for the food she turned and slipped her arms around Daniel’s middle before he could leave, drawing him in and pressing her head against his stomach. He was warm, and smelled faintly of cinnamon, and at the moment she felt like she needed the contact more than she needed to fill her stomach.

“Long day?” He asked without hesitation, slipping an arm around her shoulders while his other hand brushed gently over her dark hair.

“At this rate I’m going to need a case of these damn implants to get something that works,” she said, her voice sounding bitter to her own ears.

“You’re not going to need that many, babe. You’ve got this. There’s probably no one else who could make this work.” He spoke with such an assured certainty. She wished she could match his faith in her.

“I’ve been banging my head against these schematics for days now, though. I feel like I’m so close but each time something is off and it just slips out of my grasp. Like I keep thinking I’ve finally found right the path but each time I hit a dead end and realize I’ve taken a wrong turn.”

“Wrong turn? Like in a maze?”

“Yes, it’s frustrating. Only it feels like I’m the one making the maze and I’m still getting lost in it. I know daddy is willing to be patient but I feel like I have a deadline.”

She let out a heavy sigh, and for a few moments Daniel just held her in silence. His fingers brushing through her hair helped soothe her frazzled nerves a bit, but not quite enough to allow her to relax.

“Sounds a bit like that movie. The one with the girl in the maze, and all the puppets, and the dancing baby.”

“You know that movie?” She asked, shifting a bit so she could look up at him, surprise on her face.

“I mean, I do have two sisters who were very fond of the leading man. Plus it’s a pretty cool movie. Though I admit I was more amused by the farting swamp at that age.”

His words drew a hearty laugh from her, momentarily alleviating the funk that had settled over her in the past few days. It felt good to laugh and she squeezed Daniel’s middle in a silent gesture of thanks.

He smiled down at her, then arched a brow in thought.

“If you’re trying to find your way through a maze, why not leave yourself some breadcrumbs?”

“Breadcrumbs?” She arched a brow.

“Yes, sort of like way-markers. Isn’t that what the girl in the movie did? She used lipstick marks on the floor so she knew were she’d been. You know, if you get a certain part of the way through and realize you’re lost, you wouldn’t have to go all the way back to the start.”

Robin’s brows furrowed. “I mean, I can’t just-”

But why couldn’t she? There had been parts of her schematics that had worked, at least up until a point. Why did she have to scrap everything each time and start all over? Had she worked herself up that much she’d been running headlong into the same wall over and over?

“Y-you might have something there. I kept getting so frustrated each time my designs weren’t working out like I wanted that I just scrapped them. I swear I had the delete key almost on autopilot. There were even aspects I kept returning to over and over in each iteration, so there must be merit in them.” She could even picture them now, shining bright like beacons. She might not be able to see over the walls, but they could at least let her know she was going in the right direction.

“There is always merit in your designs, babe. Sometimes it just takes a little while for you to realize when you’re in the thick of it.” He smiled down at her and she felt a warmth spread through her, drawing a soft smile of her own to her lips.

“Sometimes I do get caught up in things. Honestly, Daniel, what would I do without you?”

“Probably better,” he said, the hint of a grin quirking his lips as he teased.

For all of his desire to prove himself to everyone out there, he always surprised her with how humble he could be with her.

“Oh don’t you even start that with me, Daniel Barrett. Are you questioning my choice in men?” She tried to give him a sharp look, but it was quickly subsumed by laughter and this time she thought the lighter feeling would stick around.

“Thanks, babe,” she said, after her laughter had subsided, wanting him to know just how grateful she was for his help. He had the patience of a saint sometimes.

“Anytime.” Daniel leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

She reached up and took gentle hold of his collar, pulling him down so she could press a kiss to his lips, letting it linger a few moments before she let him go.

Daniel looked far happier than he had when he’d come in and, letting his fingers brush across her cheek, excused himself so she could get back to work.

She finally took up the food he’d left, feeling more energized than she had in days.

Thinking back she remembered the girl in that movie hadn’t made it to the center of that labyrinth on her own. She’d had companions that had helped support her along the way, that had remained steadfast even when everything seemed lost.

She felt grateful each day to have someone who cared for her so much, and who was going to help her save her father. It was only a matter of time until she got to the center and her father would be on his feet again. That would make it all worth it, in the end.


7 Deadly Sins – Greed

Robin sat in the living room of the quarters she shared with her husband, curled up on the comfortable couch. Their dog, Henderson, laid on the floor nearby, snoring softly. It was quiet, outside of the gentle, constant hum of the ship as it traveled through the stars.

She’d had such a hard time with those noises when her father had first brought her aboard, unsettled by them, but now they were a welcome part of her life, the background noise to her everyday. Her mind drifted back over those early days with her father, and she couldn’t help but smile.

It was a bittersweet thing. He’d been gone nearly five years now, and she missed him every single day. Now, after having recently learned she was pregnant, she missed him even more and was holding out hope that he’d be back before her due date. He deserved a chance to meet his grandchild.

She knew he was out there, somewhere, and that he’d come back. She wanted to be ready for him when he did, to give him things she hadn’t been able to before. It had lodged in her mind, the quest to improve the technology of his bionics.

Pulling herself out of her reverie, she went back to looking over the datapad she was cradling in her lap. She’d been watching the progress of a shipment of specialized Taimox Corp microservos, after a tip off from a contact she’d made at one of the larger trading stations.

She needed them, badly. Even with her father missing she’d been steadily and determinedly working on improvements to his bionics. Things hadn’t been easy in the wake of his disappearance, and the mess left behind after all the attacks, but as new races rose and added their knowledge, the years had started to provide her with a bloom of new materials and technologies.

She knew her father would be proud, if he were here to see it, and she wanted a finished prototype ready to go for when he returned.

The problem was the shipment was going to a shady corporation, for who knew what purpose, when she needed them much more. Even one would do, though it would be inconvenient. She’d gone to Rilan, to try and talk him into at least sending a team after them, but he’d shut her down quickly. Not even her sweetest look had managed to sway him, which had disgruntled her to no end.

Her father could return any day, and she’d be damned if she let him come back to the same level of pain he’d been living with for so long. Rilan might not believe that her father was going to return, but she knew what the tree had told her. It wouldn’t lie, not about something like this.

Henderson lifted his head and gave a soft ruff just before the door swished open. Daniel came in, carrying a bag full of take out containers of dinner from the mess. The dog jumped up to greet him, dancing around his legs as he went to settle his cargo on the kitchen table.

“It’s Anchean burgers tonight. One of your favorites.” She heard him say in the background, as he ruffled the fur on the back of the dog’s neck.

She didn’t respond right away, eyes scanning through the last of the report she’d been sent.


She looked up as the couch suddenly depressed, startled, and found her husband sitting across from her, a puzzled look on his face.

“Is everything all right?”

“What? Oh, yes, I’m just busy. Sorry babe,” she said, giving him an apologetic look, shifting so she could lean forward and press a soft kiss to his lips.

“Must be something important if it can distract you from Lin’s burgers. I half expected you to jump me when I brought them in.”

She laughed, but her heart wasn’t totally in it, and she couldn’t help but glance down at the pad in her lap.

Daniel reached out and lightly brushed her turquoise dyed hair back, tucking it behind an ear.

“Robin, honey, what is it? I can tell something is bothering you.”

She bit her lip, not sure she wanted to talk about it, but knew he’d pester her until she did.

“Those microservers will be arriving on Bastion in a week.”

“You’re still obsessing over those things?” He sounded mildly exasperated. “I thought Rilan told you to forget about it.”

“He did,” she countered, lifting her chin slightly. “But he’s wrong. I can’t just forget about it. I need them Daniel. You don’t understand.”

“What’s there to understand? You want the commander to send resources away from the company to chase down parts that don’t belong to us?”

“They’re not just any parts. You don’t understand,” she snapped, pulling away from her husband and half throwing herself off the couch. Henderson scrambled out from below her feet just in time. She stalked across the room and started to unpack the food, hoping that signaled her desire not to talk about it anymore.

Daniel was more sensitive to things than he used to be, at least when it came to her, and usually he left her alone until she felt like bringing things up again.

She heard the clicking of Henderson’s nails on the floor. The dog butted up gently against her leg, but when she turned she saw he was accompanied by Daniel, who was holding her abandoned datapad.

“What is this?” He held it up, waving it at her, the message she’d last been reading still open.

Robin nearly groaned. She’d forgotten to lock the screen.

“It’s nothing.” She grabbed for the device, but he swung it away before she could manage.

“It’s not nothing, Robin! Who is this Van Hua, and why are you messaging them about chartering their company for an operation on Bastion?”

She felt her cheeks burning, and sputtered.

“Well, if you hadn’t invaded my privacy and looked through my messages, you would have found out later. I was going to talk to you about it.”

“About what? I don’t understand, honey.”

Robin turned to face him. She pushed down her anger, and tried to look seeking instead. Her husband liked to make her happy; surely she could talk him into this.

“About… you and I taking a short trip away. To Bastion.”

“Are you kidding me? We can’t just up and leave. We’re on route to a job.”

“Yes, we can. We have an excuse if we tell them I need a specialist’s care. You and I can take a transport to the nearest station and go from there.”

“Robin, no. How could you even think of using your pregnancy as an excuse for this? Your need for those things has blinded you. You need to let this go.”

Robin felt her anger growing, and she turned on her husband.

“This is about my father, isn’t it? You never liked him! I bet you’d be happy if he never came back!”

“That’s not true, Robin. You know I would nev-”

“Then what is it? Why won’t you let me have this? I need to do it!”

“No, you don’t, Robin. It’s not worth the risk.”

“Why? Because you think my father isn’t coming back? The tree told me he’s alive! I know he’s out there!”

Tears blurred her eyes and her voice cracked. She needed those servos. No one else would use them in the way she could.

She felt a soft touch on her shoulders and then Daniel’s arms slid around her, drawing her against his chest.

Part of her wanted to fight him off, but it was a small part, and she buried her face against his shirt.

“I believe you, honey.” His voice came, gentle and soothing.”I’ve always believed you. I’m not saying don’t do it because it’s for your father. I’m saying don’t do it because of the risk. What happens if you get hurt, or killed? What would Domerin do if he came back and you weren’t here?”

His words felt like a bucket of ice water dumped over her head.

“It’s true your father and I didn’t really get on, but I don’t think he’d want you to do this for him. Am I wrong?”

Robin didn’t say anything right away, her mind fighting with her, trying to tell her all the reasons why she should push her husband away and finish making her plans. But, deep down, her need and stubbornness be damned, she knew he was right. If her father came back and she’d crafted him the perfect bionics, she could just imagine the look on his face if she told him she’d put herself in danger to make them.

She knew her father, better than most would ever be able to claim to, but her greed had blinded her.

She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, and her shoulders sagged.

“You’re not wrong. I just… I miss him. This baby has only driven that home more. I want to have something for him when he comes home. I guess I thought… maybe the work would call to him somehow. It’s stupid, I know.”

Daniel’s arms wrapped tighter around her for a few moments.

“It’s not stupid, love. Of course you miss him, and I know you want him to come home. He will, when it’s time for it to happen. I like to think I’ve learned a little something about your father over the years from you and I think, more than anything, he’ll be happy to see you. The rest is dressing. You’ll come up with something, but don’t get greedy, all right? It’s not worth your safety.”

“I hear you. I’ll let it go,” she said, and finally melted into him and holding him tightly.

Eventually she drew back and looked up at him, a little smile on her lips.

“I never thought I’d see the day you sounded like my dad, babe. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to hear that too.”

Daniel sputtered a bit, and it seemed she’d stunned him into silence for the moment.

Laughing, she drew away, and went back to unpacking their dinner.

You Are My Sunshine

The commander’s quarters often hummed with a quiet sort of energy. Robin Lorcasf had spent so much time here that they were like a second home to her. Today, though, the quiet felt unusual, lacking the familiar comfort that had built up with it over the years.

She couldn’t help but notice the way her father’s eyes kept straying to her left hand, lingering on the gold band that now circled her ring finger. Domerin had celebrated the news when she’d revealed that she and Daniel were going to be getting married. He’d hugged her, smiled, laughed.

But now, as they sat on the couch with each other she saw the way his hands played over the beer bottle he’d opened. The tenseness in his body, and the sadness he tried so hard to conceal behind his eyes. She didn’t doubt that her father was genuinely happy for her, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t dying inside. This was why she’d come alone to tell him. He didn’t need the added stress of Daniel Barrett on his doorstep.

“Hey, Daddy,” she said, reaching over to lay a hand on his arm, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Sunshine,” he said, pulling his eyes up from her hand, giving her a little smile. “It’s a lot to take in. There’s a lot of stuff that goes along with planning a wedding. Or at least, so I’ve heard. I haven’t exactly had any myself.”

Robin knew her father wasn’t fine, and pressed back a little bit. She wasn’t here to go on and on about wedding plans.

“I know, and I’ll deal with all that when the time comes. You do know that I want you involved in all of this, right?”

“Of course. I’ll help with whatever you want me to, and if there’s things you want to do on your own, you just need to tell me.”

Robin got the feeling her father half expected her to elope somewhere, to never been seen again. He’d always worried about her leaving, and she could only imagine what must be going through his mind right now.

“Well, the honeymoon, probably, ” she said, her voice very gently teasing. “We want to make a little vacation out of it. But we’ll be coming back home after that. It’s not like we’re planning to move away.”

Her father’s face twitched, pain and sadness leaking through the mask he often wore.

“You shouldn’t be so quick to say that,” he said, though he was looking down at his hands. “You don’t know what’ll happen if you decide to have kids. This life isn’t exactly the best for little ones. Growing up in space, and on a mercenary ship, no less.”

“I grew up here.”

“Yes, but was that really the best upbringing for you? There were so many things I couldn’t give you.”

This was hardly the first time her father had said this, and it seemed the ghost of it still haunted him.

“Is that what you really think? I loved growing up here, and living with you. You did everything you could to make sure I was well taken care of, and happy. And I am happy. I don’t regret my childhood. I turned out all right, didn’t I?”

“Of course you did, but that’s not the point. You’re young and free to live your life. You can do whatever you want with it. You can go anywhere, and grow your family. Besides, if you’re married, Daniel does get a say too.” As much as her father didn’t seem to like that idea.

“What if I told you that one of my conditions for agreeing marrying him was that we would stay with the Dragons? That we would stay here on the Heart?”

Her father’s brows furrowed in question, the hint of a frown touching his lips.

“You don’t have to stay for my sake, Sunshine,” he said, his voice very soft. “You shouldn’t make decisions like that based on me. I’ll be fine if you leave. I can take care of myself.”

Robin shook her head, giving her father a reassuring little smile.

“I’m not, Daddy. I want to stay because this is my home. The home I love. Do you remember how homesick I got when I first came to live with you? How much I ached for Wells?”

Her father said nothing, just nodded.

“That’s how I would be if I went anywhere else now. This life is hard, but I love it, and I don’t want to ever leave it. Besides,” she said, giving her father’s hand a squeeze, fixing her eyes on him, “I don’t want to ever leave you, either. You’re… you’re afraid that I will, aren’t you?”

He didn’t answer her right away, and she didn’t rush him, giving him all the time he needed. When he finally looked at her all that pain and anguish was plain to see in his eyes.

Her heart went out to her father. How painful would it be to live all these years thinking that your closest family would one day leave you alone?

“I always… thought it was inevitable that one day you’d leave.” Domerin’s voice was so soft she almost had to strain to hear it.

“At first, I thought you’d want to go back to Wells, to live with your aunt. I couldn’t always understand why you liked it here so much. There’s no wind, or horses, or any of that stuff you like. Then I thought you’d want to leave to go to school somewhere, or because some passing planet caught your interest.What teenager wouldn’t want to explore? What young woman would want to stay here and join her father’s mercenary company and fight in a war? How could I compete against the universe? But you stayed.”

The man went quiet, looking down. His voice was no louder when he spoke next.

“I always thought you get tired of all this. I thought-” His voice hitched, and he drew in a soft breath. “I thought you’d get tired of me. And, as you got older, why would you need me, if you had a family of your own?”

She could just imagine what he must be thinking, and it broke her heart to consider it.

“I can’t blame you for worrying, daddy, even now that you’ve got Crescent. But, I will never, ever get tired of you. In all the years we’ve been together, has there ever been anything that’s made me want to leave?”

They’d had plenty of problems over the years, their share of family issues and fights, but they’d always been able to mend things. No world, no school, no man, had ever made her want to leave her life here.

“No, and I know. I just- don’t want you to feel like you have to stay if you don’t want to. I know the sort of man I am. I’ve never claimed to be the best father.”

“You don’t have to claim it for it to be true. You’re the best father to me. Isn’t that what matters?”

Domerin remained silent, and though some of the worry seemed to ease out of him, there was still a bit of sadness in his eyes.

“Still, Robin, you can’t completely promise me that you might not leave one day. You don’t know your future self. In ten years, twenty, in eighty, you might still go. I just, want you to know that, if that’s what you want, I won’t try to stop you. I want you to be happy.”

Robin didn’t like the thought of leaving her father, but she nodded.

“I know, and you’re right, daddy. One day things might be different and I might decide that I have to go. But right now, and for the future I can see, that day will never come. I don’t just want you in my life, I want you in my life like you’ve always been. Me getting married isn’t going to change that. Me having kids isn’t going to change that. You’re not in competition with the universe, or Daniel. You are my family, and you will always be my family. Whatever I might grow, you’re a part of that.”

Her father seemed to relax a bit more, the sadness fading. She slipped her arms around him so she could give him a hug and after a moment he shifted a bit to put his arm around her in return. For the moment she stayed there, resting gently against his side.

They were silent, for a time.

Finally, Domerin spoke, a hint of humor in his voice.

“And Danny-boy agreed to all this?”

Robin couldn’t help but laugh softly.

“I wouldn’t marry a man who didn’t understand and respect how important my relationship with you is. I might wear the ring he gave me, but I’ll always be your Sunshine.”

Domerin gave her a little squeeze, and she smiled, laying her head on his shoulder. The silence returned, but this time it was familiar, and comfortable, just for the two of them.

Robin – The Coming Storm

The air smelled of the coming storm

Robin grunted. The earth was hard here, resisting her efforts to push the final metal spike into it. She hefted her hammer and gave it one last swing with all the strength her eleven year old frame could muster. It finally sank in with a satisfying crunch. Her mother had promised her next year they’d finally spring for the self-digging ones. For now these would have to do.

She looked up. The fingertips of dark, pendulous clouds looked as if they were reaching out to scoop her up in their grasp.

The air smelled of the coming storm. There was something heady about it. You couldn’t bottle the sharp tang of lighting, the pungent bloom of thunder. Nothing could compare to the baked clay smell of the heated earth as it waited, parched, for the coming rain.

The hair on the back of her neck stood up on end, as if every atom in the air were vibrating in anticipation of the torrent. Lose dust whipped in the every growing wind, battering against the bright yellow handkerchief tied over her nose and mouth, throwing itself uselessly against the goggles nestled under the brim of her hat.

With practiced ease she hauled on the rest of the netting, securing it to the metal loop on her spike. Giving it a pull with all her weight she ensured the spike was deep, and would hold. She couldn’t help but grin at her handiwork. The heat was oppressive, the clouds pushing it down as they advanced. The five hundred head of cattle they were driving didn’t help any. They lowed and shifted nervously, pressing close against each other.

“All secure!” She called out, as she set the last bit of netting to close their makeshift corral. It wouldn’t hold against a stampede, but she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

“All secure!” A chorus of several replies answered from the distance, as each hand fixed their part of the fence. Her mother’s voice joined them soon after, the last out of the whole bunch. She wasn’t usually that slow, but this drive was taking it out even the most seasoned of them.

Leather creaked as Robin swung herself up into the saddle. Guiding her horse with expert hand, she made her way to the meeting point where she and her mother would be setting up their watch tent.

The storm was far closer now, thunder rumbling in warning perhaps only a few miles away now. There were still things to do. She and her mother worked with practiced haste to secure the small tent, and get their horses under cover. Night may as well have fallen by the time they were done, the clouds blotting out the sky. They just managed to get under cover before a boom of thunder half deafened her, and the skies unleashed what felt like the entire planets worth of water on top of them.

The sound boomed off the edges of the nearby canyon. They’d been due to ride through there this morning, the fastest route to Sedona, but their contact at base had radioed them this morning. She’d been monitoring the weather systems, and warned them of the coming torrent. If they’d been in the gorge when the storm hit the flood would have swept them away, or at least decimated the herd.

Pulling off her hat, goggles, and mask, she joined her mother under the safety of the tent. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but it was reasonably dry, and would protect them from the storm. A waterproof mat had been laid out on the ground so they could sit. The world outside turned dark and grey, and the backs of the cattle became a field of slightly shifting humps. It was somewhat hypnotizing to watch, despite the flashes of lighting.

“Here.” Her mother’s voice broke her reverie. She looked down into a steaming mug of dark tea, and took it carefully. The warmth seeped into her, and she let out a contented little breath.

“Thanks, momma,” she said, giving a tired smile. She felt it down to her bones. Her mother poured herself a cup of tea too, and settled on the mat. Her face was a bit pale, and pinched, and she looked more haggard than Robin thought she’d ever seen her. For a moment her mother looked old, a thought that sat uneasily in her mind.

The older woman noticed her looking and a smile touched her lips. She patted the ground next to her. Robin didn’t hesitate and settled in at her mother’s side, resting her cheek against her shoulder for just a moment. She closed her eyes as her mother’s calloused fingers brushed her cheek for just a moment.

“Your first full drive and you’re getting the full experience, huh?”

“I don’t mind it. I’ve got to learn, don’t I? As long as the cattle don’t spook.”

“I don’t think they will. I saw a stampede once. There’s this… itchy feeling before something like that happens. Like the whole world is on edge. It was a long time ago, but I’ll never forget it.”

“Were you my age? You’ve been doing these forever.”

Her mother gave a soft laugh. “Oh no, not nearly that young. And I haven’t been doing this forever, young lady. I didn’t always live on Wells, you know” her mother said, looking amused. “I went to study on Metis in high school and college. They have a fantastic agricultural school there. I was able to bring all that knowledge back home with me.”

“You did?” Her eyes widened. “What was it like?”

“It was something.” Her mother’s wistful smile was something to behold. “I’ve never seen so large a city. There’s nothing like on this planet. So many people, so many lights. But you go outside the city and the land is lush, with this red grass that goes on as far as the eye can see.”

“Do you miss it?”

“Parts of it, sometimes. I think I’ll always miss that red grass.” Her mother was silent, and something a bit sombre seemed to settle upon her. There was something almost distant in her eyes, as if she were seeing something that wasn’t there. Robin had noticed her looking that way increasingly, of late.

“I met your father on Metis.”

The words sent her worry flying to the back of her mind, and her eyes shot open. “You did? Was he from there?”

Her mother looked down at her, and seemed to come back to herself. A gentle smile took up residence on her lips. “No, dear. He was just a visitor, like me.”

A million questions crowded her mind. She’d never much thought about her father, and her mother never really talked about him, but it was hard not to wonder when it was brought up. Before she could ask any more questions, her mother shook her head.

“Sorry, love. Don’t let it bother you too much.”

Robin knew that tone, one that suggested she wouldn’t get much if she kept questioning. Even so, one did burn brightly in her mind.

“Momma, do you think he’s still out there somewhere?”

Her mother looked thoughtful, again as if seeing something that wasn’t there. After a few moments, she smiled.

“I don’t doubt it. But right now we’re here, and there’s the fence to see to. One thing at a time, Robin. One thing at a time.”

Robin – The Right People

She knows the right people

The warehouse is large. It reminds her of a movie she once saw, with a warehouse just like this, with crates stacked floor to ceiling that hid away the greatest treasures of the world. It always fascinated her. The man leading her through the long rows has his back to her, and does not bother to tell her what’s inside these. Her eyes move from crate to crate. Some are marked, some are not. The serial numbers vary wildly, as do the languages stamped on the sides. Some she recognizes, naming ports of departure, and final destinations. There are just as many languages she has never seen before.

She knows what this place is for. She wouldn’t have come here otherwise. This warehouse is filled with contraband, stolen goods, knock-offs. Lost property to some, treasures to the rest. She will not be the only guest visiting right now. There are rooms hidden away, where business is done. They turn a corner and she sees one such room, the door open, ready to welcome them. This is good; she was starting to think her guide was leading her around in circles on purpose, to confuse her direction. She is here to do business, not play games.

The room is small, and bare. She’s not alone. Despite being confident in herself she’s not foolish enough to have come here alone. Two of her people stand at her back, flanking her on either side. Her guide crosses the room to stand next to a man sitting behind a desk; his own boss, another giant of a man, with purple skin and sharp spines crowning his head. He dresses gaudily, in a white tailored suit, and too much jewelry.The walls loom close, and though the air is cool the scent of the alien’s cologne burns her nostrils. She doesn’t let the discomfort show on her face. Between all of them, the room feels cramped, no doubt on purpose. The two men are huge, easily able to tower over her, but she stands her ground, facing them down as if she weren’t about half their height.

The dry lands of her homeworld molded her into something tough, long ago, and the guiding hand of her mother had given her an iron will. After coming to live with her father, she’d grown up facing down men and women far bigger and stronger than she was. She’d taken to her father’s world quickly. He had given her the way, and she would use it.

These are the sorts of men her mother warned her about. Thieves, raiders, profiteers. Back on Wells she would never have dealt with this sort. Her family ran a clean business. These are not good men, but there is something she needs from them. Desperately. Out here, in the vastness of space, the rules are different. If you can’t be flexible, you’ll break.

Her father needs her, and she knows the right people to help him. Not doctors, lawyers, politicians. Here, in the underbelly, were her answers. It’s not always easy, getting the parts she needs to keep her father’s bionics working. They’re her own design, carefully created and calibrated. They haven’t been working right for nearly a month. This case is an emergency, and this is the first outfit they found with the part, the fastest way to heal her father. She just needs to convince them to sell without breaking the company bank.

“Locasf. When I received your message I expected your father. I didn’t know his daughter was so sweet looking. Like a ripe iliabo fruit.  That dark red, velvety skin.” The man smiles, salaciously, flashing sharp teeth, white as bone. She lets the words slide off; it’s not the first time she’s been spoken to that way. Her lack of embarrassed response draws a chuckle from the large man.

“My father is busy, An-Karrta, so you’ll have to settle for the younger Lorcasf. Thank you for seeing me.”

“The White Dragons are not a company to be turned down lightly. You know, of course, we strictly protect our client’s transactions. Discretion is our priority.” Strange words coming from one so brutish looking, but understandable. His business would sink otherwise.

“I’m aware. As I said in my message, I’ve come for an Jiakalan Mark Five Servo, Version 6.538. The version is very important.”

“The company made a surprise change in materials in the next version. The older version is thought of to be the superior one, among experts.” An-Karrta cut her off.

“I see you’re aware.” Inwardly she cursed. There would be no fooling him that the version she wanted should be cheaper.

“I make it my business to know the products I’m selling, Ms. Lorcasf. How else would I match the perfect product to each customer?” That was one way to put it. She wonders, briefly, if that line works on anyone. She keeps her face carefully schooled.

“I happen to be in need of one, for a personal project I’m working on. I prefer working with the older version, and were told you have one.” She chooses her words carefully. If she shows even the barest hint of desperation, he will jump on it. Her father needs her.

The alien raises brows as spiny as his head. “An expensive part for a – personal project, was it you said?”

“If you’ve done your research you must also know my name, An-Karrta. It’s not hard to find. I’m not a little girl, playing with her father’s tools. I take my work seriously.”

“Of course. Of course,” he says, waving a hand magnanimously. His attitude doesn’t fool her. She’s seen her father deal with worse than his ilk. There is an edge to his next smile, not quite able to hide the vipers. He is ready to spring the trap. “And I am sure, as a serious researcher, you are willing to pay a serious price.” She steels herself for the blow. “800k credits.”

The number is very high. She knows her father would pay it; these are his bionics they’re talking about, but she feels it’s unfair. “650k, An-Karrta. I can get one of these for that much on Taro.”

“I do not negotiate, young woman. If you want to wade through all the red tape, the docks, and the export bureaucracy, then by all means go to Taro. You’ll be there for a month, fighting to get what you want. Or, you can pay me, and have your part in 15 minutes.”

He has her in a corner, but he’s not the only one that has done their homework. She did some research on him before coming and has brought one bargaining chip with her. “650k, and a little something to sweeten the deal.” She made a motion and one of her helpers came up. She opens a small box, and draws out a necklace encrusted with all manner of jewels. It glints and glitters in the light, as if alive, and is, to some eyes, quite beautiful. It was a gift from the foolish owner of the three kattar her father helped, in return for flattering words. She’s never worn it, finding it far too gaudy. It would be poetic to use it to help her father. “There’s not another like it in the universe. It will fetch a pretty penny, no doubt.” Not as much as he’d asked for, but she hopes it will entice him.

His eyes take in the necklace, greed there, unmistakable. His eye for the gaudy was well enough known, if one cared to look. He calls for his guard to bring it forth, so he can appraise it up close. He cups it in his large hand, running a thumb across the fine jewels, almost fondling it. Watching him, she hardly wants it back. She waits, with baited breath, to see what he says. When he looks up again, there is a far more pleasant smile on his face. “You have a deal, Ms. Lorcasf. Na-Boltun, go and fetch the servo, if you would.”

The rest of the transaction is swift. An-Karrta takes the necklace greedily and disappears, no doubt to spend some alone time with it. Robin double checks the part she is given, and clutches it close against her chest as she, and her guards, make their way back to the shuttle. Once the door is closed and they are alone, she finally collapses into the seat with a heavy sigh.

She runs her hands lovingly over the servo, almost in the same way the man had the jewels. To each their own. She hopes to never have to deal with him again, but it hardly matters now. She knows the right people to help her father, and that is more than enough for her.

Robin – Mirror Image

Prompt: She studied her face in the mirror.


Despite it being her day off Robin rose early. There were times she enjoyed sleeping in or even lazing in bed: usually when she’d had an exhausting day previously or, less often, when she had a warm body to curl up against. The warm body that had shared her bed last night wasn’t the sort she laid around for though. Henderson, her beloved shepherd, slowly stirred as she gave a stretch and pushed back the covers, reaching down to stroke through the thick fur on his neck. His tail thumped gently on the duvet as he lifted his head to give a broad yawn.

The air in her quarters was somewhat chilly on her bare arms and after slipping out of bed she shuffled to her closet door, pulling a thin hoodie down off a hook and drawing it over her shoulders. Henderson hopped down and padded in his owner’s wake as she made her way to the small kitchen. It was breakfast for both of them. The dog sat patiently until his bowl was filled and when he’d begun eating Robin saw to her own, pulling a nutrition shake out of the fridge. She usually only sat down and had a formal breakfast when she had company or when she stayed over with her father. As it was the shake would suffice until lunch.

She headed to the bathroom then, raising the dimmer switch slowly so she didn’t half blind herself. Setting her breakfast on the counter she turned on the water, lathering up a bar of soap and washing her face, the cool water helping to drive the lingering sleepiness from her. She wasn’t the sort to linger when getting ready and took up a towel to pat her face dry, catching her own reflection in the mirror. She didn’t like to think of herself as vain, never spent hours in front of the glass, but a mood came into her and she stopped and began to study her face in the mirror.

Robin had never been ashamed of the way she looked, even during her teenage years when she’d been more gangly than anything, a sharp contrast from the toned muscle she sported now. She’d never really fallen into trends. Her mother had always encouraged her and showed her how to be comfortable in herself and not to have to feel like she needed fancy things to give her life value. It might have helped she’d spent most of her young life on various ranches and farms on a quiet little backwater world. It was hard to get too caught up in yourself when you were covered in dust or mud or helping a mare birth in the middle of the night.

She ran her fingers over her cheeks, wishing she saw more of her mother in her face. There were hints, her nose, the curve of her lips, even her slightly high forehead. Her mother had always been the most beautiful woman in her eyes and though she’d feared time would fade the memories of her they remained as vivid as ever as the years went on. Memories surfaced unbidden and she gently fingered the ring her mother had left her.

The scent of rain and a distant rumble of thunder, curling in close to her mother’s softness as they rocked gently back and forth on the porch to watch the storm roll away into the distance.

The hot, dry, dust-choked air thickening with every hoof beat. Her mother’s voice in the distance as she ordered the dogs. She couldn’t see her in the swirling haze but felt safe knowing she was near.

Bedtimes, bruises, sweet smells in the kitchen, laughter.

She remembered the last days too and even now, after all these years, she had to swallow down a lump in her throat. She was happy and loved and though she still missed her it gave her solace to know her mother’s last wish had been fulfilled. It filled her with joy to see her mother’s smile echoed in her own.

Her mother had raised her alone through most of her young life which made it interesting that most of her looks came from her father. He’d found her late, after her mother’s passing, but she loved him no less and their bond had grown strong in the years since she’d come to live with him. Things weren’t always perfect but no relationship ever was. Her jaw and cheekbones were his, lending strong definition to her face. Some might have called her features somewhat masculine but it had never bothered her.

Her father’s influence was perhaps more noticeable because of the other features he’d passed to her. Her eyes were the same blue as his, her hair the same sleek black, and if there was a slight point to the ends of her ears first meeting her father had answered where they’d come from.

It had been less than a day since she’d last seen her father. She didn’t need photographs and memories to recall him, though she cherished both, and while she took up a brush to work through her long black hair her eyes trailed the lines of her face as she thought of him.

A gentle kiss to her forehead as her father tucked her in, softly bidding his ‘Sunshine’ good night. Drifting away at ease knowing he was near, watching the stars out her window.

Her aching body, drenched in sweat after the final combat test, heartbeat in her ears. The pride in her father’s eyes at her triumph, the strength of his arms as he hugged her, filling her with happiness.

Conversations, training, fine meals shared planet-side, joy.

There were darker days too, perhaps more than most lives might hold. Her father had been alone for a long time but she’d embraced all of him and never turned away on the bad days. He could appear hard as a rock to those who didn’t know him but to her he’d always be ‘Daddy’.

She didn’t realize she’d stopped brushing her hair until her reflection in the glass suddenly went blurry. Blinking helped diffuse some of the tears and she laid the brush down as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Robin wasn’t the weepy sort but thinking about both her parents filled her with a potent mix of emotions, from joy, to love, to some sorrow, and everything in between.

She felt lucky to have had two such wonderful people in her life, who’d shaped who she was far more deeply than her outward features. Despite the few tears she laughed, a true sense of joy and warmth moving through her.

She smiled, and her reflection smiled back.