Jim Sanlander felt like death warmed over as he finally reached the door to his Gomorrah apartment. Other pilots at Hayabusa Aerospace in the city's Genji Trench district had called in sick, so he had worked a double shift. It would have been a triple shift, Jim thought, if it weren't for the government's limits on flight hours. The Mark 9 Flitter was not the easiest machine to handle, either; the last time his arms were this sore was during flight school. Until the Black Talons started sending him his back pay, though, he'd have to keep at it.
The door's sensor chirped as it recognized Jim's smart card reader and unlocked the door. As the door opened, the aroma that wafted into the hallway revived him like nothing else. He hung up his flight jacket on a coat rack and called out, "Hello, I'm home."
"Hi, Jim!" he heard a woman's voice say. He walked into the kitchen, and saw Uruki Mantz tasting a stew that smelled just wonderful. Though she was officially the Liberati liaison for the 30th Black Talons, she quickly become the soul of the team after they had become stranded on Caprice. Jim never could decide whether it was her shocking red hair or her stories about life as a Liberati that he liked most about her, but they had been fast friends since the day they met.
Uruki looked up at him and winced. "Yikes. You look awful."
"I feel worse, I assure you," Jim sighed as he collapsed into a chair. "Ugh. Why didn't I take that shuttle job out of Port Valeria?"
Uruki smiled and said, "Oh, come now. You received an all-expense-paid trip to Gomorrah, the city that never sleeps."
"Yes, but what happens when people never sleep? They go crazy. And if I've learned nothing else since we got here, it's that the same thing happens to cities," Jack said.
"I won't argue with that," Uruki replied as she turned back to her cooking. "This is almost ready. Would you like some?"
"Yes, please," Jim said wholeheartedly as the apartment's bathroom door opened to reveal a man drying his hair with a towel. "Hey, Pablo."
Pablo Marinez looked at him in surprise. "Oh, hi, Jim." He stopped drying his hair and said, "You look shredded. Did you just get in?"
"Yeah," Jim answered, "I pulled a double at the field. Got today and tomorrow off, though."
"Ah, the life of a jet jockey," Pablo grumbled. "Not like we cargo handlers, who have to work extended shifts all the time without the benefit of mandated breaks."
"I know," Jim said with sympathy, having heard this many times before.
"How is our working nonstop at a second-rate airfield for a third-rate company helping the folks back home?" Pablo continued. "We're cut off from any help beyond the Liberati, we're all dog tired, and you're the only one doing anything even close to what we were trained for. I'm getting really damn sick of it." He threw the towel back in the bathroom with a growl. He turned back to Jim and said apologetically, "I'm not mad at you or anything. It's just frustrating, that's all."
"Well, if you want to shoot something," Jim said, "by all means put a round in Yamazaki's ass. She called off again."
"Come on," Pablo said with a crooked smile, "there's no challenge in a target that big." He walked into one of the apartment's two bedrooms, and Jim noticed that the door to the other bedroom was closed. He turned to Uruki and asked, "How's she doing?"
"She's getting better," Uruki replied as she poured Jim a bowl of the stew. Emily Hill, the team's commander, lost her leg when the shuttle carrying the team crashed after being attacked by a CEF patrol. Though the Liberati who had rescued them did the best they could, the prolonged lack of hospital care had taken its toll on her immune system. Uruki handed Jim the bowl and said, "I thought the smell of this might wake her up."
"Well, it certainly did for me," Jim said. He ate a large spoonful of the stew, and nodded with approval. "Mmm. This is fabulous, thank you."
"You're welcome," Uruki said as she poured herself a bowl. "So, what are your plans for today?"
"Aw, come on," Jim groaned, "I'm exhausted. Can't I take a day off from being a spy, too?"
"I'm just asking," Uruki said defensively.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry," Jim said with an exasperated sigh. "I'm just worn out. And not only from work, I mean from being here. Pablo's absolutely right; all we do is work, sleep and scour the datanets for useful scraps of information."
"Well, you have some time off now, and I'm sure Emily won't mind," Uruki said. "So really, what do you want to do today?"
Jim thought as he ate, and after a moment an idea came to him. "You know what I'd really like to do? I'd like to find some nice, quiet spot and just lay out on a towel during daylight hours. To feel an actual star's warmth on my face and see things in natural light, you know what I mean? Not this manufactured or piped-in junk we endure all the time?"
"Mmm, that does sound good," Uruki said with a wistful smile on her face.
"I'm going to do that," Jim decided. "I think I've seen daylight twice since we came to the city, so I'm going to take today and enjoy it."
"A fine idea," Uruki said, then her eyebrows rose as she thought of something. "Hey, maybe you could meet up with that cute Corp-Serf you were telling me about."
"Oh, sure," Jack chuckled. "What am I going to do, call her up and say, 'Hi, we've only met a couple of times, but would you like to lay out in the sun with me today?"
With a shrug and a smile, Uruki said, "Why not?"
And try as he might, Jim could think of no reason why not....
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