Coffee Break Read – Star Dust: 1011

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…

The call came a day later when she was drifting in and out of tormented dreams again. Early, too early. A spark of hope died as she saw who it was.
“Joah, darling,” Heila crooned, “I just heard the dreadful news. It’s simply awful, darling. I wanted to ask if you would join me for breakfast? Hmm? You shouldn’t be alone at this time.”
Joah blinked and wondered if she’d heard right.
“Uh, Heila, it is” she checked the time again “about three hours before you get up. What are you—?”
The other woman made an impatient tutting sound. “Breakfast, darling. My place. Half an hour?”
Then she broke the call. Joah rolled onto her back, her mind racing.

Breakfast for Heila, it turned out, was an odd greenish-purple coloured drink. Joah eyed hers dubiously as it was set on the table by a silent robot. It smelt faintly floral, with undertones of compost.
“It’s all horribly healthy, darling,” Heila assured her, “but don’t ask what’s in it. That’s a Camarthy family secret. I positively thrive on this stuff.”
Joah risked a sip and was relieved to find it tasted more of the floral spectrum than the alternative her nose had suggested. She swallowed a polite amount, then returned the drink to the table.
“So, what do you know about—?”
Heila cut across her before she could finish. “You simply must try my new spa-bath. It’s so relaxing, you won’t believe it.” She was getting up as she spoke, her smile intense, and she grasped Joah’s hand and pulled her up with a surprising strength. “I won’t take no for an answer, darling. This is simply exhilarating and quite the best way to brace for the day.”

Joah was already relaxing in soothing bubbles when a mostly naked Heila slipped into the room and slid, mermaid-like, into the tub. If Joah had not been so worried about Zarshay, she would have had more time to appreciate that.
“You were right,” she told Heila, “this is very relax— ”
“Never mind that,” the other woman almost snapped at her. “Please tell me you do know you have been monitored since the whole ‘curse’ thing took off, and that someone bugged your apartment yesterday — and may have managed to get something in your clothing.”
Joah thought of the nice police officer and grimaced.
“I thought it might come to that before we were through. But how did you know?”
“How do you think? Zarshay told me, of course.”
Joah sat suddenly upright in the bath.
“Where is she? Is she all right? Why didn’t she tell me she was going to do something?”
“For goodness sake, sit down. I do not want an eyeful of Zarshay’s privilege, thank you very much.” Joah sank back and Heila waved a hand in mock relief as she went on talking. “I don’t know where she is, she said something about taking the opportunity to go visit her family. I am very sure she is all right and will be home sometime today or tomorrow. And she didn’t tell you because we all know you can’t act to save your life. And she didn’t tell Dog because he would have told you the moment you asked him.”
The intense relief was shifting into anger. Heila gripped her wrist, hard.
“Now stop that. You were the one who told us all to remember this was not a game. We needed this to clinch our case.” She made an impatient huffing noise. “Besides, Zarshay insisted you be told first thing this morning. Can you imagine how horrible it has been for me to have to be up so early? I told her it would be so much better for you not to know and do a public appeal for her safe return. Tears and baggy eyes, and back shots of Zarshay looking cute and vulnerable.” She sighed and released Joah’s wrist to clasp her hands together under her chin and sigh wistfully. “It would have been such a perfect romantic scene.”

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 1100

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