Lucky Day in Hell

Act One

Mama gripped onto the milkman's hand
And then she finally gave birth
Years go by, still I don't know
Who shall inherit this earth
And no one will know my name
Until it's on the stone, whoa...
This could be your lucky day in hell
-Eels "Your Lucky Day in Hell"

Scene One

Dead asleep.

Dead asleep, past twisting and turning, past the sense of any peripheral stimulus, so deep in his subconscious that if it weren't for rapid movement in his dream-self eyes, one would have thought he was another pale, lifeless corpse of a workhouse child.

Dead asleep, and in his shuttered eyes he could still see the blood dripping down his mother's back as she was murdered, he could see the flutter of insect wings as they gathered to feast on his father's corpse, the pornographically swollen bellies of the starving infants as they sat wailing between the bodies of their parents.

It was a distressing sight to see over and over, so Seamus Harper left the world of the dead in favour of the world of the dying. He woke up.

He woke up in the corner of the subway alcove that was his new home, in the exact same position that he had fallen asleep. He was barefoot, his head shorn and scabby, a perpetual fly twittering around his eyes- the infomercial glamour of the third world.

Seamus rubbed at his sunken eyes and then stared into the ensuing darkness until sight returned.

He pulled the old moth-eaten blue hoodie from under him and fumbled with it, the sound of ancient cotton on cotton was deafening in the silence. He finally got it over his wire frame before he wandered in the stuffy twilight towards Joy's cradle.

The cradle was pitiful, really, but Seamus had built it himself in the weeks past, some busy work with old pieces of scrap metal and clothing stolen from the graveyard. Brendan had set him to it after Seamus showed up on his 'doorstep' alone, really alone, and for the first time in his short life, frowning.

Seamus hadn't intended on staying in the alcove this long, of course, he knew he was in danger, and that he was a danger to Brendan, baby Joy, and all of Brendan's friends who lived here.

He just...wasn't ready.

Joy gurgled up at him and his hollow face allowed for a sickly smile. She didn't smile back, her big blue eyes staring up at him in frightening alertness. It was a look that she most have gotten from her father, who had left her mother and Brendan when Joy was still a scant possibility. That day was the first time Seamus ever saw Brendan get drunk. After that, Brendan had to start working to take care of his sister Joy, and his mother, who used to be a brothel girl. She never had this curious alertness, she never took anything in- she always had a glassy redness in her eyes, and seemed as though she didn't remember her own children.

"How goes it, kiddo?" He leaned down and kissed her gently. She continued to stare. "You're hungry, aren't you?" He asked a little sadly. Joy never cried. She never did anything.

Seamus picked Joy up and gathered his hoodie around her in his arms. It was still early. His day wasn't completely wasted. Then again, time on Earth was sort of relative- day was separated by night by the colour of the light- either a sickening fast-food yellow at night from the ambience and the fires or a depressing grey from the sunlight fighting through the fallout. Those un/fortunate enough to have work in the arms factories and labs had something like twenty hour work days, usually separated by bouts of drinking or ceilidhs or falling down from exhaustion and waking up someplace else. To say nothing of the workers in the mines or the sweatshops- most of the latter were chained for life, most of the former were pulled off the streets for having the ability to walk. Many arms workers would get out of the factory, wallow in a second of freedom, and then be pulled for mine duty.

It was a long walk out of the subway tunnels, past many other oil can fires and alcove shanties. The arms factory where Brendan and Carol worked wasn't that far, though, and Seamus pulled up his hoodie over his face as he reached the surface.

He had to stand outside the back entrance for a while before he was able to get in. It was heavily guarded from unknown kludges like himself, but Brendan had told him to come whenever they ran out of food for Joy. Carol had just lost her newborn and was still feeding, and had taken care of Joy like her own child.

Brendan and Carol came to meet him in a small backroom that the workers used to stow their meager rucksacks and belongings, the few that had any. Carol nursed Joy quietly in one corner while Seamus huddled in another, his hood pulled up around his head.

When Carol was twelve she had stumbled upon a small group of Nietzschean workmasters in a plan to expand on a biological lab, with procedures that would endanger all the workers there. While Carol at the time could not have possibly understood the implications, they still stitched her lips shut with a thin cable so she wouldn't speak a word of it. And she never did.

There was leeway enough for her to smile, though Seamus sometimes got the impression that smiling was painful for her, and she ate by taking a small, mushy portion on a finger to one of the gaps and sucking it through that way.

She didn't eat any worse than the rest of them. It just lasted a little longer.

"You cold, Shay?" Brendan asked casually, wondering, not for the first time, why Seamus kept himself hidden away in plain sight.

"No, no, I'm fine. I, um...I'm going to work on the well. I'll see you 'round later, 'kay?"

"Take care of yourself," Brendan said a little softly as Seamus slithered out, avoiding their employers.

Seamus had taught himself to read when he was about eight, thus ruining him for any practical work the Nietszcheans might have wanted. Eventually he came across maths and sciences and, in his own mind, was elevated from the world of manual labour and into one of the academics, the guys who sat around smoking pipes and discussing philosophy. The idea of sitting around smoking pipes and discussing philosophy was never particularily appealling to him, it was still far better than the previous alternative. He would stay up late, when they still lived in the refugee camp outside of the old city, and stared up at what passed for stars, dreaming up a life of wealth and simple comforts beyond his grasp. One night, a night like any other, he decided that he would make those dreams come true, a decision that others in his situation might deem arrogant.

He started teaching himself more and more, feeding his curiosity at every step, often getting himself injured along the way. He built makeshift computers for the refugees, devices to help diagnose the sickly, until he built himself up a little bit of a reputation.

And for one in his life station, reputations are never good to have.

After his parents were murdered, and after he lay low until he assumed that they assumed he was dead, he came out from the shadows and started picking up the pieces of his dream again. His hope hadn't died, his spirit, his ambition- if anything, the death of his parents added fuel to the fire. He had only started with Joy's cradle, when he was still in shock, then went on to tinker with shelters, and old vehicles. He would only give his name as Seamus, as the Nietzscheans would remember the name of the family they had slaughtered so deliberately. At least, one would hope they did. Other times he used the name Zelazny, to throw other people off, until he got so confused as to what lie he was telling whom that he stopped answering to any name, unless it was Brendan or another of his friends.

His most recent project involved digging and building a well for the town, near the shanties where Ubers only frequented if they really wanted something. Seamus was hoping to hit clean groundwater, but he wasn't stupid in his hopes. An easily accessible supply of water would be a godsend either way, diseased or not.

Seamus had figured it out on paper, or in his head anyway, but he wasn't sure on the depth. He had spent the last two days digging, which was a feat that he had sorely underestimated. He was still only halfway to his calculated depth, and he stood staring at the hole in the ground for a little while before he started digging, getting a little discouraged. Then he shrugged it off, and said to himself /there's plenty of time to be discouraged when I'm dead/ and he started digging.

He had been digging for about an hour when he took his hoodie off, his emaciated little fifteen-year-old body covered in a sheen of sweat when a Nietzschean came up silently behind him, with all the cold calculation of a cat stalking it's prey.

"Kludge, what are you doing?" Seamus honestly jumped. The Nietzschean stood behind him, towering formidably, and glowering like looks could kill. God knows what he was doing there.

"Um, I..." Seamus thought quickly. "I'm digging a grave for my brother, sir. He died this morning."

The Uber didn't go away. He stood there, staring at Seamus' face for an inappropriately long time.

"You look familiar, boy. Did you ever live in the refugee camp in Cambridge?"

"No...Sir. Inner Boston, born and bred." He risked a disarming smile and tried to look as stupid as possible.

"What is your name?"

"Shay." Seamus looked away, back down at his hole.

"Can you read?"

"No."

The Nietszchean actually reached out and took Seamus' chin, which caused the boy to twitch a little, and studied him more carefully.

"We're looking for a kludge about your age who calls himself Harper. He can read and write, and is a complete troublemaker."

Seamus gripped his flimsy shovel towards himself a little more tightly. "I'll tell someone if I hear about him," He said softly.

"See that you do," The Uber fixed him with one more withering glare, and then disappeared down the streets to make someone else's life hell.

Seamus could only stared after him. /Oh, shit/ he thought. /I'm screwed, I'm screwed, I'm screwed./

Scene Two

Greasy, she felt greasy. Her hair was stringy and...gross and there was always this thin grimy sheen of pollution and grease on her face. Beka tried to hide her discomfort as she leaned against the hatchway to the Maru, waiting for Bobby to return.

The worst part was the flies. It was too cold up in space for many of the bacterium and...amoebas that existed on planets. Insects had always been her biggest problem with planets, but here...God in Heaven, it was like a frelling petri dish. Spiders the size of her hands skittered across her feet, her arms were already scarred up with bites, and she was starting to think she was developing a phobia about bugs in her hair.

She scratched at her neck, where the dust and grease and bites accumulated, and wished a thousand deaths upon Bobby for leaving for so long. Bobby had warned her, in the condescending sort of tone that he had started to get lately, to stay with the ship lest 'hellians' come and bash it in or steal parts. She wanted to tell him that she knew how to protect her own home thank you very much, but she believed him so she did what he said.

The very least this miserable planet could do for her was rain. Back in the deep, cold womb-hold of Mother Universe you wouldn't need to shower for days. Nothing grows, nothing multiplies, everything has the same brisk regulated metal-smell of sanitation and cleanliness. Even the Maru, while not exactly a luxury liner, was always clean. Here she felt like she could scrub for years and still be dirty.

"What the hell took you so long?" She demanded when Bobby finally returned, rubbing his eyes, looking as bad as she felt.

"Beka..."

"I've been waiting here for hours! You know I hate being dirtside!"

"Jesus, Beka, if you'd just-"

"It would really kill you to show me an ounce of respect, wouldn't it?"

"Beka, shut up!" She crossed her arms. Bobby rubbed the bridge of his nose, his hands shaking. "Don't talk so loudly. Someone might..." he trailed off. "Do you know how hard it is to get information out of the people who live here?"

"Well, where are we supposed to go?" She leaned back against the hatchway and tried not to scratch.

"It's supposed to be hidden in the arms factory, wherever that is. Nothing's posted. And no one here can read." The disgust was evident on his face; Bobby wasn't exactly the most compassionate person around. "It is in the possession of a certain Nietzschean, Kago Goyashu. He's a henchman to the owner of the arms factory. Wherever the hell that is!" He kicked at the Maru.

"Stop that!" She bit back "you asshole". "So we find some kids to go in there and get it. Not so hard, if they work in the factory he probably won't even notice."

"Yeah. Yeah," He rubbed his face again. "That sounds like a plan, go do that," He started wobbling up the hatchway.

"What?" Beka was indignant. "We were supposed to be a partnership in this, Bobby."

"Well I just spent the last two hours out there trying to find where this stupid thing is!" He responded as defensively as she had. "I need to lie down or...something, please Beka?" He leaned over on the railing and ruffled his eyebrows at her.

"Fine," She sighed haughtily. Anything if it meant her getting off this dirtball faster.

-

He had gotten past the layer of earth that was mostly eroded sand and was at the real hard clay digging now. Seamus still shook slightly from his previous encounter with Big Ugly, in addition to his malnutrition that made hard labour all but impossible. All but sweatshop-workcamp-breathe-and-die-labour.

"Hey, kid," Someone said behind him. He stopped for a second, less than a second, a curious hesitance that would be barely noticeable by anybody else, a tiny little admittance of fear. He went back to digging, hoping she was talking to someone else, pretending to be deaf and/or stupid.

She waited a moment before kicking some dirt up at him. "Hey!"

Seamus turned around, still scared, a little angry now. "Wha-" He stopped. God, she was gorgeous. Ripped-out-of-the-pages-of-some-ancient-space-bound-magazine gorgeous. Tall, redheaded, tough, beautiful, and you couldn't even see her bones!

Seamus stared. And she stared right back.

Blue eyes.

Smouldering blue eyes.

Black leather.

Wow.

"Ye...yeah?" He answered, intelligently enough.

"You think I could get some help?"

"S...sure!" Seamus stepped forward a little too quickly, his previous fears forgotten, his hormones getting in the way. Hell, his fifteen-year-old hormones were all that was keeping his emaciated little body standing up.

The woman crossed her arms in front of her not-hugely-endowed-but-better-than-Earther chest. "I'm looking for a Nietzschean named Kago Goyashu."

"Never heard of him." He cringed. "Sorry,"

She sighed, and Seamus noticed something familiar in the look of her eyes. It was the look of a woman who was sick of searching for something better, and had resigned herself to whatever she had. Seamus had seen that look a lot. It was disconcerting to see it on One Who Has Everything, but he quickly forgot about it.

"He operates the arms factory. Does that help?"

Seamus' eyes really widened, but he quickly covered that up, too. "I know a lot of people who work at the arms factory. They're there all the time, they'd know."

"Wanna help me get hooked up with them?"

Okay, beauty aside, it was time to be suspicious. Seamus narrowed an eye at her.

"There's a...thousand thrones in it if you do it for me."

He stopped narrowing his eye, but he didn't answer right away. A thousand was a lot. It would help him get a start to leaving this godforsaken rock, anyway.

But he was still distrustful.

She sighed again. "And a meal."

A thousand thrones was a thousand thrones, but a meal was a meal! "Okay," He said, cheerfully enough.

- They were sitting on the ground in an alley in the old, crumbled downtown. She had gone to the spaceport and bought food from the vendors, there exclusively for the Nietzschean overlords and 'visitors' like herself. Seamus had hung back in the old dirty shanty city while she was gone, thinking to himself /I'm gonna eat today/.

She stared at him like she had never seen someone eat in her life. Seamus stopped his constant running routine of hand to mouth and looked up at her, suspiciously.

"Don't make yourself sick, kid," Valentine, as she had introduced herself as, said.

"Don't you worry about me," he retorted. He stopped whatever he was going to say next and just stared at her, a little afraid that she would drop the deal.

Apparently, she was beyond caring. She suddenly wiped her hands all over her arms and legs, like she was trying to get something off of her. "Who are these people who work in the arms factory?" Her voice was a little disgusted, but Seamus deduced that it wasn't in the same context.

He had started eating again and spoke around a busy mouth. "My cousin Brendan, and some friends and Brendan's mom. But...she doesn't really count."

"When can I meet these people?"

Seamus hesitated, suddenly wondering if this was such a good idea. Brendan was idealistic to being moronic, and Seamus had a sinking feeling that no matter how much he explained that it would be beneficial to the humans of Earth, he might not do it. He still had this silly notion that revolution could be peaceful, that the salvation of the enslaved billions lay in peaceful negotiations with the Nietzscheans, not in blowing lots of shit up and running away.

"Every single revolution in the history of humanity has been bloody," Ozzie had once said, trying to reason with Brendan.

"Oh yeah, and look what a fine situation that landed us in!" Seamus' cousin and new guardian had retorted.

He swallowed the last of his sandwich and looked up at her again. "You can...meet them tonight. In the subway tunnels. I'll talk to them and then I'll come and get you. On your ship, right? In the sand flats?"

"Yeah..." She regarded him a moment. "I can trust you, right? You're not seeing any of the money until this is all done. And if you betray me, or any of these people you mentioned, I will have to hurt you. Okay?"

Seamus hesitated again. The big, skittery, survivalist part of him positively screamed that it was too dangerous. Every single Neitszchean in the Boston area was on orders to look for him, Seamus Zelazny Harper, and he couldn't get caught mixed up in something like this, whatever this was... but it wouldn't be him. He didn't know anything about the arms factory. It would be his cousin...oh, god, Brendan. How could he put Brendan in that danger?

But Seamus was still in the childish, hero-worship phase that made him believe Brendan could put the sun out with his bare hands. If he wanted. Brendan would probably say that was interfering with the natural structure of the galaxy.

And, dammit, a thousand thrones was a thousand thrones! And he wanted off this rock so badly.

"Okay!" He said. "For a thousand thrones, Jesus, you'd better believe you can trust me!"

She looked at him a little sadly. "Okay. You know where to find me." She didn't cast him another glance as she walked off.

Seamus was a little nervous, but the feeling was soon replaced by more hunger. Feasts for armies wouldn't be enough food.

He forced himself to feel a little happy. He would be okay. He was going to get a lot of money. He could buy some decent clothes, get an identity forged...and get the hell off of Earth.

He was leaving.

He was.

-

It made her sick to her stomach, sitting there watching him eat. It was the single most harrowing, perverse thing she had ever done. Sit there and watch a starving kid eat what was probably the biggest meal in his life while she talked him into being used.

God.

The worst part was the insects. Beka had spent the entire time, when she wasn't shooing other bugs away from her, watching a fly that seemed to live by a small cut near Seamus' right eye. It was actually landed on his face and Seamus didn't seem to notice. It wandered around there, at one point settling right by the point where his upper and lower lips met. Seamus moistened his lips and his tongue actually touched the fly! And he didn't even notice!

Beka was almost sick all over herself right then and there.

/It's okay, you'll survive/ she whispered in her head over and over. Only a few days. Find these kids, throw some money at them, watch shit blow up, and get off Earth forever. Deliver the discs to her employer, grow fat off the profits, and live the rest of her live with Bobby on a nice, affluent, clean spaceship, taking as many jumps to nowhere as she wanted.

Beka Valentine, once she got past the disgust and immediate culture shock, couldn't wait.

Scene Three

The arms factory was deafening, not the gentle silence of the empty subway tunnels that made one think one had gone deaf, rather the opposite. Loud, clanging metal nonstop, clunking, banging, machinery creaking with the scream of efficiency. It was hot and stuffy and dangerous, and Brendan had the honour of stuffing bullets full of death powder, his fingers burnt and grated and covered in bandages. He had Joy strapped to his back where she napped, oblivious to the noise and clamour around her. Brendan was beginning to think Joy actually had gone deaf from spending the first few weeks of her life in an arms factory, but he pushed the thought as far back as he could for sanity's sake.

Carol worked across from him, checking his work. Not really checking anymore, after sixteen hours of work with only a stolen break to nurse a baby, she was just going through the actions. Much like himself. His stomach rumbled and he paused for a moment, closing his eyes and wishing he could sleep. Only four more hours 'til his daily pay- a quarter of a guilder and a bowl of black lentils. He only ate that once a day, and spent the rest taking care of Joy and Seamus. Joy hardly cost anything, and Seamus was stubborn enough to usually find his own way- usually through theft. His mother kept mostly to herself. So the little makeshift family lived better on their meagre collection of quarters than most others.

Brendan counted himself lucky, though a small part of him knew it was still slave labour.

He worried about Seamus. The kid was acting weird, beyond the weird of grieving for his parents. He had stabilized mostly after that, gotten on with his life for the most part. The last week he had taken to covering himself up, and not talking nearly as much as he did. Usually Brendan couldn't get him to shut up. As much as it pained Brendan to say it, Seamus worried him.

Brendan smiled faintly as he remembered the day twelve-year-old Seamus found a 'book of poetry' in the dump- Have you been to the desert have you walked with the dead/ There's a hundred thousand children being killed for their bread . He had gone around for a week talking in rhyme, usually something grim and dark and not nearly as clever.

Thank God that was over.

He felt something tugging on the rags of his 'trousers' and looked under the worktable to find a hesitant Seamus.

"What are you doing here?" He whispered- well, yelled quietly- over the din of the arms factory. "You can't risk sneaking in twice in one day."

"I need to talk to you," Seamus yelled back.

"It can't wait?"

"No, there'd be no time!" Seamus looked around cautiously and poked his hooded head out from under the work counter. "Are you going right to the ceilidh after work?"

"Yes," Like there was time to do anything else. Right after his meal he was going to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible.

Something exploded farther down the line. Seamus disappeared back under the workcounter, skittishly. Brendan scrunched his eyes shut, shielding his face against the blast. When it had died down, and all that was left was the crying of the victims and the yelling of the their angry Nietzschean overlords, he carefully slung Joy from his back and cradled her.

She wasn't hurt, but she had felt the blast and she was crying. Her plastic-doll face was covered in soot, and tears streamed through it, her little balled up fists flailing at the air. Joy didn't make a sound, though, her cries coming through as strained gurgles and hiccups.

"Jesus," Brendan said softly, cradling his sister to him. He hazarded a look at Carol, who had not reacted as physically as the others, her stitched up face covered in the same soot and grime, staring woefully at the now smouldering explosion and the bodies being carried out.

"Brendan!" Seamus hissed again from under the workcounter. Brendan just kicked him because Uber guards were walking past again, occasionally stopping to threaten a slave worker.

"Get back to work, kludge!" One of them pushed Brendan sharply in the back, and he landed with his elbows on the worktable, just barely dropping baby Joy. Suppressing a burst of anger, refusing to stoop as low as his oppressors, he hazarded a small comforting smile at Carol and slipped under the workcounter, holding his sister close.

Seamus had pulled his hood up even further over his head, completely hiding his face. It was hot in the arms factory, the sort of stuffy, sweaty unbearable-ness that went with filling bullets all day. Brendan raised an eyebrow at his impressionable little cousin and asked him, again, what he wanted.

Seamus looked up at him from his hood shyly. "Is it okay if I bring a friend to the ceilidh?"

"Who?"

"Well...I met this girl."

"Oh my God, Shay..." Brendan couldn't count all the failed relationships his cousin had had with the girls around here, and the seriousness that Seamus attributed to them was nothing if not unhealthy.

"No, it's different, Brendan." He leaned in, with a childish whisper: "She's a spacer!"

"Jesus Christ, Shay, you do know you're out of your league, right?"

"Shut up, I don't mean it like that!" Seamus smiled, a little nervously, Brendan noticed. "She wants to hire us,"

Brendan's face immediately turned stony, and Seamus leaned back a bit. "For what?" He said sharply.

"I..." Brendan could see the colour drain from Seamus' already chalky face. Poor kid still had his head up in the clouds. Jesus, if Brendan could get him on a spaceship off of Earth, he would in an instant, but...Seamus had to learn sometime that he was stuck here like the rest of them, and to make the most of that. "It's...she needs to find a Niet, Kabo..Goy...something. She said he operated the arms factory."

Brendan knew him. He was a big asshole up in petro-chem who took a particular pleasure in terrorizing children, particularily children who didn't even work in his factory. Brendan didn't say anything, though, and he didn't let his face betray his reaction, either. "And?"

"And..well...I don't know. She wants to buy something or steal something I guess. Maybe kill him?"

"Or, she might want to strike up a deal with him that involved buying a bunch of us kludges for petro-chem experiments," Brendan's voice has a sharper edge than he had meant to put into it. Seamus's face fell.

"But..." Seamus closed his eyes for a minute. "She's going to give me a thousand thrones just for getting you to meet her. Imagine what she'd pay just for you to tell here where this guy is!"

Brendan still didn't answer.

"Plus, she's a spacer, she could-"

"Don't even think that, Shay!" Brendan was really worried now. "I...don't go around making up daydreams about every alien spacer who lands here. Unless the High Guard came back one day, they're not here to save us," His cousin's face fell again, and Brendan regretted having to say that.

"But I wa..." Seamus trailed off, looking almost as lost and forlorn as the day he'd shown up at Brendan's, half naked, shaking, and covered in his parents' blood. "At least meet her," he recovered, a little angrily. "Please, Brendan? I'll get her and take her to the ceilidh, it's not like we'll be outnumbered. You can decide for yourself. If you say no, I'll drop it forever." He did his best to look sincere.

Brendan sighed, gently rubbing Joy's now still back, where she had managed to fall asleep on his chest. "Fine," he muttered. "But don't you be getting your hopes up." He suppressed a smile when Seamus leaned forward and hugged him fiercely, trying to avoid Joy.

-

Anything was better than this.

Beka sat in the silent cockpit, her feet up on the console, her newly-cleaned hair braided behind her head. She felt, possibly, worse than she ever had before. What, exactly, had gone wrong?

She remembered when she had first met Bobby, on a supply run for a safe, legit office company from one drift to another. There was a party in some hole in the wall somewhere, they were both tripped out, had a fling, it was fun. He started tagging along on runs, occasionally finding them jobs, that was fun, too. She started, maybe, seeing things in him that weren't there. He would say something that normally she would find infuriating but she chose to delete it from memory for the sake of staying with him. It got to a point where she couldn't remember a time without him.

They started picking up weird, freaky runs that reminded her a little too much of her childhood. It became dangerous. They'd be an hour late on a jump and Bobby would freak out at her.

She had gotten back to the Maru today after talking to that poor kid, to find Bobby reading through the flexis of her journal.

"What the hell are you doing?" She had yelled, and he had looked up at her with paranoid, rapid eyes. And they fought.

Fought like they always fought now- yelling, curse words that they themselves found particularly offensive, they throw stuff, he hit her, she hit back, and they cried.

Eventually Bobby crashed out in the mess hall and Beka stormed off, hiding her weepy eyes, to brood. She wanted him to stop. But she didn't know how to tell him.

Beka should have known when they took this mission, it was different than the others. There was something off about it. That their employer wanted to obtain weapons spec from an enemy, that wasn't new. That their employer was Nietzschean, that turned Beka off somewhat. That the mission required their going to Earth, that turned her off completely.

So she and Bobby had fought about that, too, and in the end he had his way, like he always did. Like all her men always did. And here she was too afriad of loosing him to force him to drop this one mission, just this one.

And here she was.

There was a light smattering of dirt and stones on the side of the ship. She looked up from her brooding, alert, suspicious. It came again.

"What the hell," She said, grabbing a loose pipe and walking to open the hatchway.

Seamus stood there, his hood pulled up, handfuls of rocks and gravel, grinning like an idiot.

"Jesus, it's you," Beka said ruefully.

"It's your lucky day!" Seamus called, obviously pleased with himself.

"Yeah, a lucky day in hell," She looked around. "Where's your friend?"

Seamus blinked. "Well, not here. I'm bringing you to meet him."

Beka sighed. She really wasn't up to the prospect of seeing more of Earth.

"You didn't think I was going to bring him out here alone, did you?" Seamus smiled. "Come on. We're going to a party."

Beka didn't respond. A party...didn't sound so bad.

"You better not be screwing with me, kid." She warned.

"I'm not!" Seamus' face fell again. "Really, boss, you can trust me. Come on. They're waiting."

Beka regarded Seamus' face, and he smiled again. Maybe she could trust him.

"...do you want me to bring something to drink?"

Scene Four

It was different at night, the streets lit up in glow from the oilcan fires and the old streetlights and ambience falling down on them from the smoggy sky. They walked along in companionable silence, their only soundtrack the comfortable scrape of her shoes and his feet on ground up gravel.

Seamus looked up at her, sideways, as they walked, and thought again about how pretty she was. Her fine red hair framed her sharp, angular face just so, bringing out the tough blue in her eyes.

What Seamus noticed most about her was her skin, the same sort of soulless pale tone that he had, but...softer, moister, unworked. He was willing to bet her back was unscarred (and willing to find out). He looked down at his own calloused, grimy, bandaged hands and winced. Brendan was right. He was out of his league.

How could kid from the slums of old Mother Earth be anything more than a tool to One Who Has Everything? He tucked his hands into the ragged sleeves of his hoodie and looked up at her again, for some sign that she was human just like him, the glimmer of sadness that he had seen in her eyes earlier, but nothing was forthcoming. If he squinted a bit, though, he could see the tiniest bruise under her right eye.

"Where'd you get th-" His swollen, bare feet tripped over loose gravel and he fell, headfirst, which was not uncommon for him, but was something he had forgotten about since meeting Valentine.

She actually had the gall to laugh. But then she added "Are you okay?" So it wasn't all bad.

"Yeah..." he replied slowly. He wasn't, really, but damned if he was going to let her know that. He was beginning to see why his fellow Earthers didn't hold They Who Have Everything in the highest regard.

Valentine drew back a bit; Seamus looked down on himself and realized he had cut open his right foot somewhat. Not a huge hole, it'd heal in time, it wasn't even bleeding that badly. He shrugged and wiped it with his hoodie, and continued to limp in the dirt.

Valentine shuddered, and Seamus pretended he didn't see it.

"I was looking at your bruise," He explained, waving a hand vaguely in the direction of her face. Her expression changed, apparent now that the joke was on her, and she touched it softly.

"It's nothing," She said quickly. "I fell. Happens all the time,"

"Not used to terrain like this?"

"No. I grew up in space. Lived all my life in artificial environments," Seamus hid his distate when she said that. They continued on, asking each other awkward questions, like a fish and a bird forced together to make friends.

A sign hidden in darkness on the side of one of the crumbling buildings caught Seamus' attention and he held back a bit, reading quickly.

Wanted for High Level Labour
'Harper'- mid-teens, male
White, blonde, blue eyes, 5'4"
He can read and write and has been known to cause trouble in the Cambridge labour camps
Be on guard for shrillers

It was a memo, from the big Alpha Ubers to the lowly beta ones that oversaw the kludges. Seamus felt his small, empty stomach turn as he read it. He didn't want to know what High Level Labour meant.

"Seamus?" He managed to rip the notice down before she fully turned around.

"Huh?"

"You all right?" What a sight, was Valentine, illuminated by the harsh backlighting of fire and electricity, her leather-clad body twist to face him, a wine bottle in both hands.

Mmm. Wine and Valentine. Even if the whole thing did fall through, it would still be a good ceilidh.

"I'm okay," He snapped out of his tangential train of thought. "I was just...fixing my foot a bit." He wiped the accumulated dirt and blood off his cut foot with the notice for added effect.

Then when she wasn't looking he ripped it up into as many little pieces as he could.

No way was he letting his sweatshop-grey past ruin his sparkling-wine future.

-

It was the most interesting party Beka Valentine had ever attended. The subway tunnels were dark, eerie, echoing with shouts and riffs from old fiddles. Everyone in the tunnels, creepy-looking mutant-type squeegee kids, mostly, gave her strange and suspicious looks as she walked past. All was put to rest, however, after Seamus would smile and wave cheerfully and say "This is Valentine! She's a spacer!" Some of the smaller children actually started to like her after they learned she had bought Seamus "A whole freakin' sandwich!"

Seamus introduced her to Brendan, his cousin, where he sat at an old upturned barrel cradling a creepy-looking, emaciated little baby.

Beka leaned forward a little. "Hi," she said softly. "I'm Captain Valentine," And up from the darkness came the two most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen.

"I'm Brendan Leahy," He said, in a voice that made her want to melt. "Seamus tells me..." he trailed off. "Seamus, go help Cailean with the kids,"

"What? But I-"

"Go!" Brendan said in a tone that meant no arguments. He then broke it with a smile. "I have to talk to the captain. Remember your promise, Shay?"

Seamus pouted like teenagers everywhere. "Yeah, yeah," He wandered off into the crowd.

"So," Brendan said. "Seamus tells me you want to find someone at the arms factory."

"Yeah."

"Sit." He slid over on his bench, leaving enough room for her to sit that the sides of their bodies pressed right up against each other. "He mentioned Kago. Kago Goyashu, is that who you're looking for?"

"Yes. Do you know of him?"

Brendan looked at Beka and she looked back and she almost forgot to listen to him. "How much are you willing to spend?" He asked with all the naked hunger of They Who Have Nothing.

Beka blinked. "A thousand thrones if you can tell me what I want to know. More if you're willing to organize a team to help me get past him."

Brendan cocked his head a moment, and for a second Beka thought he was checking her out. Not that she was complaining.

"So you do have a lot of money to throw around." What the hell was that supposed to mean? "Where's Shay's thousand for bringing you to me?"

These people really were desperate. Not like they could actually take a thousand thrones to the spaceport and expect to get service. She dug a couple of several-hundred credit chips out of her pockets and lay them on the barrell. "There. You can pass those along."

Brendan's beautiful blue eyes actually widened as he stared at the money. He looked back up at her again, speechless.

"And this is for you," She showed him another thousand. "If you can tell me where Kago Goyashu is and if there's a way to get into his stuff."

"Kago Goyashu is an overseer of petro-chem in the arms lab." He said without hesitation, the same naked raw need showing in his eyes that haunted those of everyone around him.

"Petro-chem. Nuclear weapons," Beka muttered, the entire mission becoming a little clearer to her now. She saw the puzzled look on his face and realized that 'petro-chem' and 'nuclear' were both just words to him. "Do you work in petro-chem?"

"No. But I could in there easily enough. One kludge is just like another to them." He drew back a bit now. "But I told you what you wanted to know. We haven't said anything about my working for you."

Beka sighed again, a little louder, and almost threw the credit chips at him. "Okay. Seamus tells me that I can trust you and your friends, and if I can, there's a lot of money in it for you."

"I'm not agreeing to anything if it puts anyone in danger, especially Shay," Brendan said forcefully. Beka felt a shiver go up her spine.

Then she realized where she was and felt like she was taking advantage of him. And that made her sick.

"It's not...I just need to obtain something of his. Some information he has, some discs. We just...first need to find out where they're hidden, and then a way to get in. Look, I may not even need you guys to help with any of the lifting, I just need some spywork."

Brendan thought for a moment. "I'll talk to Ozzie. He can read, so he's in Kago's office a lot. But I can't promise anything."

Beka smiled. "It's a start," She cracked open one of the wine bottles. "Shall we toast to it?"

Brendan smiled back, and her heart fluttered a bit, and they drank.

And drank. And after the wine ran out someone gave her homemade whisky (uisgi-beatha as they called it in Gaelic, the water of life). It burned a hole right down her throat and made her vision fuzz and blur like the best memories she'd ever had. Seamus took the opportunity to dance with her, and she managed to get past the dirt and grime and blood and insects and have a good time. Even if she was thinking of dancing with Brendan the whole time.

Eventually, as the night wore on, and Beka had had more than her fair share of drinks (which many there would say was appropriate for One Who Has Everything), she sat collapsed on the bench next to Brendan again. A young woman woman, younger than Beka, came over and took Brendan's baby from him, and went off to another bench.

"Do you like my cousin Seamus?" Brendan suddenly asked, out of the blue.

"Yeah. Yeah, he's shchweet," She was a little drunk.

"He's attractive?"

"Oh, yeah, he's definitely a cute kid." Beka hit her knees a little hard there. Definitely more than a little drunk.

"You would marry him?"

That sobered her up. "What?"

"You're a lot like him. You would make a good pair," Brendan was staring at some point by her feet now, looking much older than his years, like a father making bad deals for the sake of his children.

"I..." Her eyes fell upon the young woman who was nursing the baby, who was walking back to them. Her lips were stitched together. Oh, God, her lips were stitched together. And that creepy little emaciated baby was sucking at her tiny, wrinkled breasts like- just stop that train of thought!

"You are rich," Brendan muttered, still staring at her feet.

"No. I'm not. I'm really not."

"Do you have IT?" He asked, innocently enough, referring to the nanobots that kept her healthy and, wastefully enough, kept her hair a nice shade of red.

"Yees..." She answered hesitantly.

His face broke into a smile. "Then you're richer than us!" He leaned over her, himself a little drunk. "Look at her. That's my sister, Joy," The baby was now bouncing on the stitched up woman's lap. "Isn't she cute?"

No! "Yeah,"

"Go on. Pick her up." Brendan coaxed. "She'll be your cousin one day, too,"

Beka froze, if only for a moment, because she didn't want to pick the creepy baby up. She didn't want to because there was nothing more horrific than the family of parasites that made the baby their home, nothing more perverted than the emaciated bare breasts of a woman unable to speak, nothing more pornographically scarring than the bony limbs and glassy eyes of a child that doesn't cry. Beka wanted to be sick, she wanted to run away and cry over her shoulder "I'm sorry! I can't help you! I'm poor too!"

Only in space was she poor, in the drifts, on Commonwealth planets that were far outnumbered by Earth and her impoverished comrades.

And she couldn't run. Her only way off the planet was with the help of the people who were inviting her into their family, and she couldn't refuse. So she picked the baby up, and held her dejectedly, and tried to hide her crying as laughter. The captain of the Maru realized that these people thought that Beka Valentine, She With The Thousands of Thrones, was going to save them.

But, from this...nothing could save them.

Least of all her.

First Intermission
(musical interlude)

Have you been to the desert have you walked with the dead?
There's a hundred thousand children being killed for their bread
And the figures don't lie they speak of human disease
But we do what we want, and we think what we please
Have you lived the experience have you witnessed the plague?
People making babies sometimes just to escape
In this land of competition the compassion is gone
Yet we ignore the needy and we keep pushing on
-Bad Religion "Punk Rock Song"