When I woke the room was dark with a finger-thick torch beam flashing around. “Who’s there?” I whispered.
“Zee,” she said, pointing the torch beam at her own face. Wet.
From crying, rain, or had she been in the river?
“What’s going on?” Jack said out of the dark near me.
“A bunch of EMBers turned up,” Zee said. “Bounty hunters.” She swallowed a sob.
“They’re up on the deck, holding Hen and Rokha. Your father was awarded 3 years of your labour in return for the 30,000 credits you stole from him,” Zee said, sounding … spiteful?
“The EMBers will free Hen and Rokha when they get you, Kosi,” she added like she’d decided something.
I sat up in a hurry. My head connected to the ceiling, thunk. “Ouch! I only took a hundred credits!” My heart thudded nearly in my throat. Zee seemed to be saying I should just go and give myself into the EMBers’ hands?
“Thirty thousand is probably what it cost your father to hire Hen,” Jack said. “You’re trying to influence her, Zee. Unfair. What about me?”
“Rokha reminded them that you’re a licensed Fetcher.”
“Hurry up, girl,” a stranger called from the deck.
“You all have already decided what my mind has got to be?” I said. I trembled hard enough that the bunks shook. Thankfully Du did not wake up.
“Not me,” Jack said. He put his hand on my arm to keep me company. “But Zee is Hen’s daughter in the same way that you are. And she went with Hen to find Du,” he said softly.
I cried. “How could I help not being there?”
“Hen said what you decide to do is up to you alone,” Zee said grudgingly.
Typical Hen, I thought. Always training me for my future. Behind me, Du slept on, snuffling like a little rabbit into the pillow. My little sister, too young to live without Hen.
I got my voice steadied. “I’m glad we went to bed with our clothes on.” Even Zee, though she was years older than me, was apparently was too young to live without Hen.
I swung onto the ladder and pulled my pillow around in front of Du to stop her rolling over the edge of the bunk.
“Here’s mine,” Jack said, shoving it across.
“You’re not going as well?” Zee said. She sobbed. “Everyone will give me hell.”
“It’s my decision as we just said,” Jack said. “Kosi has got a much better chance of getting away with me there. A Fetcher will always know more byways than the uppity Earth Maintenance and Base engineers. And I have studied the byways diligently, as you will know.”
Zee stayed in the bunkroom to be with Du when she woke. “Go up the forward ladder-stair. Maybe you won’t be grabbed as you come out of the hatch.”
Jack went first.
Two of the EMBers were women. One each held Hen and Rokha. The lone man threatened us with a taser on a stick.