Home hadn’t changed even after five years away.
The twins were so much taller than she expected, for all they had kept in touch through links. They had been eight when she left, real children, and now they were teens. Back then it had sometimes been hard to spot the difference, despite their being different genders. But now they looked nothing like each other. Halkoms’s voice had broken and he had shot skywards in height whereas Magenta was beginning to get a very feminine shape. Pan’s other sister, Kiona, two years older than the twins, was having mid-teen angst and mood-swings. It was like coming home to well-loved strangers who she would have to get to know all over again.
Of course, Jennay was still the same. A strong, capable, woman, only a few years older than Pan herself, who had taken in and adopted her stepsister’s orphans without a word of protest, setting her own life on hold to make theirs flourish. Although Jennay was a fully trained paramedic, it was not the sort of work that easily fitted in around childcare, so money had always been tight.
“I told you that you would fly if you took up that scholarship,” she said, hugging Pan once the first rush of excited greetings from all three siblings had been navigated. She picked up one of Pan’s travel bags. “Come on, let’s get you settled in. I’m afraid you’ll have to share a room with me. Mabs moved in with Ki and Grim is in the cabin room the twins used to share. We left the top bunk and built a desk under it for him.”
Jennay laughed. “I know, right? Everyone calls Halkom that nowadays, it’s that stonefaced look of his. Now, here we are. You can have the bed by the window. There’s storage under it as well.” Then she was left alone to unpack and settle.
It was good to be home.
Sitting on the bed and looking out of the window, Pan wondered if she should uproot them all. Trade this house with a garden where they could grow fresh food, clean air and the views of the magnificent countryside, for an apartment in a city, thirty floors up with synth-meals and virtual scenery through ambianced windows.
She didn’t have to.
She could settle here on Mulligan’s Reach, get a job in the spaceport doing whatever they would pay her for. She wouldn’t have to uproot the family and the best bit was that there were a fair few freetraders based here. She was sure Tolin could find a bay in the spaceport. She wanted to ask him, but he wasn’t available on link. Not surprising as he would be spending a lot of time in FTL space, planet and systems hopping, where link technology had yet to find a way to connect.
The decision was taken from her the next day anyway.
She was up early to help hustle the others out to school and was just finishing up clearing away from breakfast when Jennay made her sit down at the old kitchen table. Her face looked as stony as Grim’s.
“Look, I didn’t want to spoil your homecoming yesterday, and I’ve been keeping it from the kids, but you need to see this.”
‘This’ was a mail from the landholding wing of the city administration. Their landlord. It gave them notice that the land was being sold for redevelopment and they would need to move out within the next three cycles.
Pan met Jennay’s troubled gaze, saw the haunting fear and felt the weight of responsibility settle more heavily on her own shoulders. It struck her that Jennay must have been about her own age when taking on four children. Well, now it was her turn to step up and put family ahead of her personal life. Pushing away her dreams of setting up home with Tolin, she mustered a smile and reached over the table to squeeze Jennay’s hand.
“Well, the good news is it doesn’t matter. I’ve got a position with Rota doing mech tech repair and upgrading work on their merchant fleet. We’re moving to Central.”
So with a brave smile held in place on her face like a mask and a heavy heart, Pan signed over her life to Rota for the foreseeable future. She didn’t even have the compensation of an interesting job. The work she was being paid at Central rates to do was well below her level of qualification. It was also made clear to her that the chances of progression were limited. Rota just liked to have an overqualified staff to impress their clients. With so many people such as herself, desperate to gain access to Central, they could pick and choose from the brightest and best in the rest of the Coalition. Worse still, as a new citizen of Central, she was expected to work through her first year without taking any vacation unless on compassionate grounds. Unfortunately, that didn’t include maintaining a long-distance romance.
The link chats with Tolin trailed off as the year went on. He kept saying he’d try to come and visit, but they both knew that was never going to happen. Getting a visa for Central was beyond the means of a struggling freetrader just starting up. Then one day he just didn’t reply to her link and that was that.
If her own happiness had been stymied by the move, at least she had the compensation of seeing the others bloom. Kiona and the twins took to life in Central as if born to it and were thriving. They were storming their grades in education and making new friends. Even Jennay was blossoming after her time-out raising them all. She had gone back to work as a paramedic and begun dating a colleague. There was even serious talk of marriage.
It made it hard for Pan to share her own unhappiness with anyone. She lost her brave smile somewhere along the way and began to settle into the idea of life as it was. After all, she could hardly complain. She had a well-paid job and a home in Central. Most of the galaxy would look at her with unadulterated envy.
There will be more Roguing Thieves next Sunday…