Today's Reading

I did not know Karl Longo, the man who had ruined my life, killed my friends and colleagues, and destroyed an incomprehensible amount of scientific research and irreplaceable technology. He had been safely on Earth, protected by the high walls of a private compound, when members of his group destroyed Symposium. I had not attended the trial; I had provided my testimony, what little there was of it, via a series of remote recorded interviews and depositions, first from my hospital bed, later from offices on Hygiea.

The people who had actually carried out the attack, the members of Black Halo that Longo had sent to infiltrate Symposium, had all died when their plan spiraled out of control—including Kristin Herd, who had been a friend and colleague of mine. She had joined our team when another member had to withdraw from the project. I had been on the committee that reviewed her application. None of us had suspected a thing. We had all approved of her research and her enthusiasm. Our vote had been unanimous. She had been planning all the while to murder us.

She was dead. They were all dead, and now Longo would spend his life rotting away in a Martian prison. I supposed that was what he deserved.

SYMPOSIUM SENTENCING: HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

MEMORIAL CEREMONY TO HONOR SYMPOSIUM VICTIMS

I shut off the news feeds. I didn't care. I couldn't care. This was my life now, such as it was. Picking grubby PDs off the floor in personal quarters, trawling through endless data, looking for petty extortionists, for corporate spies, for black market biohackers, even for snakes like Kristin, should they make themselves sufficiently troublesome to Parthenope. This isolated rock in the outer system, this thankless job helping a rich company make itself richer, the pain in my joints where metal met flesh, the medical debt that grew every day, this was it, this was all I had, until I could work my way out.

My heart was still thumping uncomfortably. I could still smell that dank, foul room.

I set up the confiscated PDs for a full data sweep and analysis, and I got out of there. I needed to scrub the bloody fingerprints from my boots.


TWO

It was a relief to slip into my private quarters and lock the door behind me.

The housing Parthenope provided to lowly Safety Officers like me was a box-like room two meters wide and three long, with a narrow bunk bolted to the wall on one side, an uncomfortable chair and a fold- down table beneath it, a toilet and sink behind a flimsy wall, and a wallscreen that only worked about half of the time. There was no port looking out on anything, not even into the gray, underlit corridor. I hadn't done much to decorate. There didn't seem to be any point in making an impersonal box look less like a box. I preferred to remind myself every morning and every evening why I needed to get away from here as soon as possible.

My quarters had about as much charm as a coffin, but I relished the privacy. Hygiea was very much a company town: company owned, company operated, company surveilled and secured. Parthenope was one of the largest corporations in the outer system, with its tendrils in every industry from mining to processing to fuel production to transport. There were fifteen thousand people living full-time on Hygiea, another two thousand or so moving through in a constant ebb and flow of ships through the busy port. It was such a small number compared to the population of the system, but when I had first arrived, it had been overwhelming. After nearly a year aboard Symposium and months in the hospital on Badenia, an asteroid under Parthenope's control that held both a shipyard and a medical complex, even the possibility of encountering strangers had been uncomfortable.

The showers down the corridor were busy at the end of shift; I decided to wait for the line to go down. I sat in my uncomfortable chair and pulled off my boots. I couldn't remember if I had laundry credit for the week, so I did my best to scrub away the bloody fingerprints myself. I used yesterday's shirt, which was already stained with a yellowish-green smudge of contraband a narcotics chemist had thrown at me.

While I was at it, I called up my personal messages to play on the wallscreen. I hadn't checked them in a few days; there was never anything urgent. But thanks to the news of Longo's conviction, there were a shit-ton of new requests for interviews from reporters—I deleted them all. A reminder for mandatory security analyst training. A reminder for a doctor's appointment I had been putting off for weeks. A reminder for mandatory port and transport safety training. A statement from the Parthenope employee bank. Another reminder for mandatory training. A note from my brother, Devon, who was living a safely mundane life on Earth.

I braced myself before opening his message. He wrote to me regularly, with photographs of his kids, updates about our parents, news he knew I would find interesting. I only replied some of the time, but not because I didn't appreciate the messages. I craved his letters with a hunger I scarcely understood, like an addict itching for a fix.
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