NOMAD Episode 5: ‘The Wake’

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Mik woke up in a cold sweat, the sheet twisted up around her feet. The interior of her ships as dark, except for the narrow strip of auxiliary lighting that traced a path along the floor. It gave off an inconstant white glow.

Her right leg was throbbing in time with her pulse. The pain was white-hot near her hip, radiating down her leg and up into her pelvis, so intense it made her breath catch under her ribs. She couldn’t stand like this; her leg would buckle if she put weight on it.

One-handed, Mik groped for the medkit tucked away under the narrow cot. Inside were bandage rolls, a handful of antiseptic packets and a row of preloaded syringes. In the low light, the liquid medication was jewel-red, like the nectar of an Andubian heartflower.

She pressed the blunt end of one syringe against her bare thigh, below the white knot of scar tissue where the slug went in all those years ago, and jabbed the button. The needle’s sharp sting didn’t bother her anymore. It felt good, almost: the promise of relief.

Mik held her breath, counting the seconds in her head. One… two… three…

There it was: the sweet, dark tide that washed the pain away.

The medication was powerful—within seconds, it made her leg feel heavy and numb. But that would even out soon. Mik slumped back onto the cot with a sigh.

She worried, sometimes, that the painkiller was becoming a problem. While she was with the Blue Moons, she’d known girls who needed six or seven doses a day just to keep from crawling out of their skin, and burned spice up their noses when they couldn’t get enough.

She wasn’t there yet. Not even close. But she used to get by with less. Her body was drinking it up faster these days. Or her leg was getting worse.

Either way, she’d have a big problem if she ran out. Mik was useless when her leg was firing pain signals like a distress beacon. She’d bought the batch of syringes in a shady pharmacy on Gallim II, before things went sideways, and she had no idea where to get more on this station. Even if the medication was available, she doubted she could afford it.

In the semidarkness, Mik got dressed. Her leg felt stiff when she stood, even through the numbness.

No amount of painkillers would restore the range of motion in her hip—she’d mostly accepted that she would limp forever—but at least she could walk.

If she could get around under her own power, she could make it. She just had to keep moving.

•••

“What can you do?” asked the four-armed mechanic, studying Mik with strange, dark eyes.

“Fix things,” Mik said. That was all she’d ever been any good at. She had the callouses on her hands to prove it.

The mechanic looked Mik up and down, slower this time, gaze lingering on her legs. She must’ve seen the limp when Mik approached her. “We don’t need more hands,” she said at last.

Mik clenched her jaw to keep from saying something she’d regret.

Leg aching, she left the shuttle bay.

Mik had been all over the station today, from retail shops to small garages around the port, looking for work. No one was hiring—or, at least, no one was hiring a human with a bum leg. It didn’t help that most of the merchants probably weren’t doing brisk enough business to take on another employee.

Some establishments appeared to be doing better than others—but Mik suspected at least a few had some affiliation with gangs, and she wanted no part of that. The brand of the Blue Moons was still inked into her skin.

There were two factions, as far as she could tell—the Heirs of Siromos and the Jed. She’d seen their symbols here and there, patched onto a jacket, tattooed on the back of a hand, included in a window display as a sign that the shop was under that gang’s protection.

Mik had seen this kind of split before. She knew it wouldn’t last. That kind of delicate power balance between two rival groups couldn’t be maintained forever. All the more reason to get off this station.

She was so lost in thought that she nearly bumped into someone walking out of a shop in front of her. Mik stumbled a little, her bad hip throbbing.

“Hey,” said the person she’d almost knocked into. Mik recognized him from the day she arrived—Neal, the human mechanic. “No way. You’re still here?”

“I told you I wasn’t selling my ship,” Mik said stiffly.

“Give it some time. Let the desperation take hold.”

“If it’s so bad on this station, why don’t you leave?” she asked.

“Some of us don’t have a ship to sell,” Neal replied, a grim look on his face.

Mik hummed in acknowledgement, thinking of the group she’d seen him with. Either a lack of funds kept him here, or he was tangled up with a gang. Possibly both. “So what’s all this I’m hearing about a dead guy?”

Neal’s expression was pinched. “Hakem. He owned a cafe in Bronze Sector.”

“Moonrise?” Mik asked, thinking of the winking lights in the window, and the girl behind the counter. Delphine.

“Yeah. Someone attacked him in a stairwell.”

“They don’t know who? I’ve seen security cams all over the place.”

“Only a few of them work,” Neal said.

“Figures,” Mik muttered.

She thought of Delphine again. The day they met, when a local gang member menaced Delphine, Mik got the impression that the cafe’s owner was keeping the situation in check. With him gone, what would happen?

Mik reminded herself that it wasn’t her problem. She didn’t tangle with gangs anymore—not for any girl. She learned her lesson the hard way.

But she still had to find a way off this station.

•••

Moonrise hadn’t been this crowded in more than a year, Delphine thought. It was just her luck that it was for a wake.

“Thanks for coming,” Delphine said, clasping the scaly hand of the alien who owned the shop across the way. “It would’ve meant a lot to Hakem.”

The alien burbled in a language that Delphine mostly understood but could not speak. Like the rest of the people here tonight, the shopkeeper had come to pay respects to Hakem. He was something of a fixture on this station; most of the other merchants knew him.

True to his word, Neal showed up to support her. He brought with him an alien named Orville, one of the station’s medics. Delphine was surprised to see him; Orville was a bit of a shut-in, to her understanding.

The night wound down and the last of the mourners filed out, leaving Delphine alone in Moonrise. She felt sad as she began to clean up, and tired down to her bones—but she also felt purposeful. It was right that she was here, taking care of things for Hakem.

The bells above the door chimed. Delphine looked up, about to say that Moonrise was closed, but paused when she saw who had poked their head in. “Mik?”

Mik looked surprised that Delphine remembered her name. “The light was on,” she said.

“Well, come in,” Delphine said. “What are you doing here?”

After limping across the room to Delphine, Mik drew herself up a little straighter. “I want a job,” she said.

Delphine blinked. “A job?”

“I need work,” Mik said. It seemed to cost her something just to admit that much. “And you need help.”

That gave Delphine pause. “What kind of help do you think I need?” she asked slowly.

“Protection.”

Stars—Mik was really a woman of few words, Delphine thought grimly. She straightened her spine. “I’m not sure what makes you think that, but—”

“You’ve got the Heirs breathing down your neck,” Mik said. “Without your boss around, you need someone to help you manage them. Someone with experience.”

“Hold on—”

“I can fix things, too,” Mik added. There was an earnestness in her eyes that Delphine had not expected to see. “I work hard. I can help you.”

For a moment, Delphine didn’t know what to say. She probably did need the kind of protection that Mik offered, and Mik certainly seemed to need a job—but she wasn’t sure if she could trust this human who’d washed up on the station just a few days ago.

Then she remembered Hakem, who had taken a chance on another human castaway. Her friend.

Delphine knew what Hakem would’ve done if he were in her shoes now—the same thing he’d done for her, years ago.

“You should leave for tonight,” Delphine said at last. “But come back in the morning, and we’ll get started.”

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