Staked: Chapter Seven

After that, we spent a while gathering information to send Pietra to prove to her that Cambrie was perfectly safe where she was and didn’t need to be forced to move in with Oleg and Shaymarie––or play third wheel by tagging along with Dalla, for that matter.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t actually be that bad,” Cambrie had admitted with a slightly rueful smile, “but I like a bit of space sometimes. Besides, I like the people here. I might even be able to pick up some new clients. We’ll see.”

I wished her luck, and left shortly after she sent Pietra the report we’d put together. It was edging into mid-afternoon station time, and the decks were busier than they’d been earlier. I tried to stay out of notice and immersed myself in the crowd, people-watching without really knowing what I was looking for.

I stopped for a moment in the opening of an alley to watch a woman across the street rearrange the wares at the front of her shop. They were just trinkets, nothing special, but she smiled as she did set them out in neat rows. Her shop was small, buried down here, but she was content. Two kids barreled off the deck and into her, and she laughed and pulled them in for a hug. I moved on.

What did I really want?

Kieran’s face rose before me, unbidden, and the thought of his touch made my skin ache. I pushed it away, savagely. Not him.

I wanted the Star back. But that was just a place. Sure, it was filled with memories, but what I really wanted, was for my people to be safe. And for us to stay together.

I thought back to the woman by the shop. She was happy. What would it take to be happy like that?

Maybe I’d been focusing on the wrong thing for too long. We didn’t need the Star to stay open, not as much as we needed to find a way to keep together as a family.

A weight lifted from me briefly, only to resettle as I wandered on.

We still had a mortgage to pay…unless I sold.

The thought stung, but not as much as it had previously. Just admitting to myself that there might be life outside the Star cut me, but the place wasn’t as important as the people. There were more options than I’d let myself see––there had to be.

My path had taken me spindle-wards, and I found myself home without realizing it. I stared across the walkway at the Star.

She really wasn’t much to look at, really.

She’d gone up not long after the station was first constructed, as lodgings for the construction crew.

Then she’d been a hotel for a while until Dad had bought her from the mother of one of his buddies. Unlike the rest of the buildings on the deck, she hadn’t been modded much––just to clean up the downstairs, and the bare minimum for safety upgrades.

It was hard to remember that just behind the curve of her rooms the Spindle ran, turning us endlessly in the black.

She wasn’t too pretty, either, but she’d been my home for my entire life.

I looked over the structure. The sweepers hadn’t put up any signs that the structure was considered unstable, but they might not have come around yet. The loose rubble that had been thrown into the street had been moved to the side.

I reached for my tablet, and then remembered again that I hadn’t taken anything with me last night to Kieran’s.

If I needed to, I could access all my records from Pietra’s equipment, but it wasn’t just the tablets. If I was really considering abandoning the Star, there were some things from home I wanted to take with me.

I picked my way through the rubble and ducked under the slanted door. I stared at the open room in disbelief. Tables and chairs had been tossed around like toys in the aftermath of a child’s tantrum, lying flat or standing lopsided on what remained of broken or splintering legs.

The smell of alcohol from the broken bottles staggered me and brought tears to my eyes. There was another bill to add to the tally.

I edged around the room on the lookout for anything that might fall, but it seemed as if the building and its contents had come to rest.

Debris blocked the right-hand staircase; I gingerly tested the left-hand flight of stairs but other than the fourth step from the top squeaking, as it had for a year, they seemed fine.

I reached the landing and picked my way down the hall, checking the rooms. Each resident had a play room and a separate, private room of their own. Most of them were unlocked, the doors left ajar when everyone had left. I peeked inside and saw items in disarray, but other than that, nothing seemed terribly wrong.

The hallway was a different matter, though. There were some deep fissures in the ceiling and a few places where great chunks of the walls had slid to the floor.

I wondered how much an engineer’s estimate would be to assess the structural soundness of the building. Our clientele probably wouldn’t notice as long as the building looked to be in good repair, but there was no way I would let everyone live in an unsafe building.

Still, the costs of cosmetic repairs alone seemed daunting enough.

I shook my head and went to my own quarters, promising to worry about that later when I had more facts on hand. I’d do what I needed to when the time came.

In the meantime, trying to obsess over everything at once was only going to slow me down.

My quarters was one of the smallest upstairs rooms; I’d spent most of my time in my office. I grabbed a handful of clothes and stuffed them into my largest bag. I didn’t really need any of my other things from my room at the moment. Not from here, anyway.

I braced myself as I headed for my office. The hallway outside it hadn’t looked great, but the office was against the column of the spindle itself.

Surely that should make it stronger?


So far, though, the evidence wasn’t too promising: the damage was worse down this hall, and some of the “guest rooms” had a couple of collapsed walls. The imagined bills in my head ticked up that much further, and I tried to ignore the added weight in the pit of my stomach.

My office door was ajar, one of its hinges hanging loose from the wall. The latch hung free, too, with the strike plate lying warped on the floor just outside the frame. I eased the door out of the way just far enough to slip inside, and looked around.

It was a mess, but I’d been expecting that.

Fortunately, the walls all looked to be intact, so it seemed safe enough to move around. I started out by clearing floor space––hanging up the wall screens to check for damage. Most of them were spiderwebbed with cracks, but even if they were functional, I was wary of trying to turn anything on without knowing if there had been damage to the wiring.

 All construction on space stations was meant to be extremely resistant to fires, electrical or otherwise, but there was no point in taking that chance. The Star was far from the newest construction on the station, after all.

Once I had the screens hung up again, most of the floor was clear. Only the contents of my desk scattered the room, so I wandered around, picking things up, checking them for damage, and replacing them on any surfaces that seemed stable.

My desk was a bit lopsided––it looked like one of the legs that had been loose for a while had finally given up the ghost. Most of the belongings I’d wanted had been on it, or in the drawers, so it didn’t matter that it wasn’t up for holding much.

I retrieved my datapad and looked it over; fortunately, it didn’t appear to be damaged. Then I spotted my holocube beside my foot and paused before picking it up.

A corner was cracked, but when I switched it on, it still worked. The default image was the one I remembered setting a few weeks ago––my parents, at a party with some friends I’d never known, arms around each other, laughing.

I cycled through the photos. Dad’s hair had been starting to go gray around the edges before I was born, but it was looking distinctly silvery in the shots where I was around as a baby.

Mom, on the other hand, looked young right up until she disappeared from the photos. They didn’t stop there, though––Dad had been pretty good about taking photos, and his friends had shared ones they’d taken.

There were plenty of photos of me and Dad with people that I could barely remember now, people who had been his friends but I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years, or even since he’d passed on.

One of the photos made me pause. I wasn’t in this one––instead it was Dad and a handful of his close friends, arms thrown over each others’ shoulders––but I recognized the building behind them. It was the Star, and it was from its opening night.

The building wasn’t new then, either, but it still shone in the background of the picture, the welcoming glint from the windows catching in my father’s hair.

I swallowed hard. The Star had been my home for pretty much as long as I could remember. Could I really ever give it up? Did I have any other option, at this point?

I sighed to myself and stepped back, leaning against the wall and taking the wreck of my office in. It didn’t look as bad, now that I’d tidied up a bit, but there were some problems that would take a lot more work to fix.

If I kept trying to figure everything out, would my chances of keeping the Star look any brighter? Or would I only find out that my hopes had been doomed from the start?

The spindle of the station hummed at my back. It was the backbone of the entire station, and having it nearby had always made me feel as grounded as anyone could get out here in the deep of space.

I closed my eyes to listen to it now, trying to get lost in the calming monotony of the noise, but instead I heard something out of place––some kind of scraping sound, not faint enough to be my imagination.

I opened my eyes, thinking to look around for the source of the noise, but before I could something heavy and warm pulled tight against my chest.

I felt a faint cold prick against the side of my neck.

And then nothing.

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