Built upon an asteroid, these mighty habitation towers are the final stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the city thrives — a utopia for the rich who live at the top, built on the labours of the poor stuck below. Starway Pathfinders is a science fiction show that entertains the better off and brings hope to the poor…
For some reason the meeting was taking place in the sound recording room. After they finished the visual side of it, Joah usually insisted the human trio recorded their speech again. They were, after all, not word perfect and inflection precise in the same way their virtual co-stars could be. It was built with special insulation to eliminate any sound leakage in or out.
It was a bit of a squeeze getting them all inside and the door closed, especially for Dog who always found he took up more space than anyone expected. And Joah looked less than her usually confident self. That troubled Dog. He trusted Joah and if she had reason to be nervous it made him unsettled. At least Zarshay seemed at ease, she grinned at Dog as she squashed herself in beside him.
Heila looked long suffering and slightly bored, but that meant nothing, of course.
“So what is this about?” she demanded and then pulled a face. “Someone did not use deodorant today.”
“Shut up, Heila,” Zarshay said in a pleasant tone. “Before we start talking about anything else — are you staying with the show or are you jumping ship to Undergrove? Now we don’t mind if you are, but Joah and I would like a straight answer, please.”
Dog gave a small bark of surprise. He couldn’t help it. Not that anything Heila did should surprise him anymore, but that took a lot of beating.
The blue eyes instantly filled with moisture. “How could you think such a thing? I’m a woman of my word and I signed for five seasons.”
“You signed for six with Hopeless Hearts Hospital and walked out to join us after three,” Joah pointed out and the threatened tears seemed to reabsorb themselves somehow.
“That was different,” Heila snapped. “That show was going nowhere fast. SP is in a different league.”
“So why were you flirting with Lon Undergrove?” Zarshay asked.
Dog wondered if she also caught the brief look of cold calculation on Heila’s face, smothered stillborn by a wounded smile.
“Talking over old times, darling, that is all. He and I were almost an item once.”
It was pretty clear neither Joah nor Zarshay were buying that. They just looked at Heila. Dog was glad he was not the one getting those looks. There was a hollow silence of expectation that hung in the room.
“Alright,” Heila lifted both her hands. “Yes, I was talking with Undergrove. They have a new show and want me for it. Nice money. Very nice. But only if they get Dog too. Lon says he likes our chemistry on screen. I told him there was no way Dog would leave SP, but he wanted me to try anyway.” She crossed her arms and huffed out a breath glaring at Dog as if it was all somehow his fault. Then she looked back at Joah and Zarshay and her expression changed again. “I’m sorry, alright? It won’t happen again.”
Joah’s face tightened.
“I’m serious here, this is something we need to take on as a team or it’s going to sink us — and maybe sink a lot of other people too. If you are going to play on being the spoilt brat Hiela, walk now because things are going to turn very nasty.”
Dog shook himself and earned an elbow in the ribs from Zarshay. But Joah’s words had the desired effect and Heila looked strangely expressionless for once.
“You’d better tell us,” she said, the usual childlike singsong she managed to make into a mature sultry roll for her Captain’s voice, was suddenly absent.
“This is not going to be easy to explain,” Joah said, “but it’s us against the President.”
Dog felt the furrows on his brow deepen as Zarshay and Joah went over what had happened and his mind flipped back to that evening out with Teram and his salvage crew. It was like taking the hopes and dreams of half the city and whoring them out for cold cash.
“We’re not going to do this thing, are we?” he asked as the two women finished talking.
Zarshay patted his hand reassuringly. “Do you really think me and Joah would buy into something like that?”
“But you left them thinking you have and you’ve signed us away — me and Dog — without so much as a do-you-mind?” Heila sniffed and crossed her arms.
Dog barked out a laugh. “You mean like you were going to do with me if I’d gone for your dinner dance date?”
At least Heila had the good grace to avoid his eye and study her fingernails intently. Then she looked back at Joah. “So what do you want us to do? I assume you have a plan?”
Zarshay grinned broadly and Joah nodded her expression grim.
Dog leaned forward as they started to explain.
Star Dust by E.M. Swift-Hook, originally appeared in The Last City, a shared-universe anthology. This version is the ‘Author’s Cut’ and differs, very slightly, from that original. Next week – Episode 1000