This story is by Johanne Winwood and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I faked a confident walk as I approached the terminal, mouth dry, palms sweating, stomach churning. Big moments like this were outside my experience. Sweeping my hand across the ‘Open’ panel, I waited.
‘Identity check. Retinal and palm scans please.’
Obeying the robotic voice, I stared into the red light as it scanned my retina and rested my palm on the glass panel, feeling the familiar tingle as my palm was read. Even though I knew my identity was secure I couldn’t help expecting the hand on my shoulder.
I touched the screen, waited again and tried to still my breathing.
‘Good morning and welcome to Earth Penitentiary Redemption Services. Name of subject?’
A blank face with dark eyes, reddened lips and a purple head mic smiled coldly at me through the screen.
‘Alpha Theta Three Seven Gamma Gamma’
‘Duration of incarceration?’
‘How many sols do you wish to redeem?’
I swallowed hard. The point of no return, the moment when my future swung in the wind.
The screen flickered and the dark eyes looked to the left. Sounds of keys clicking and the eyes returned to gaze at me.
‘How will you be purchasing the redemption?’
‘ Four billion credits and three hundred hectares of terra formed Martian arable land, prime location and in vitro.’
A pause and more clicking.
‘Insert credit card and scan property ownership documents.’
I pushed the card into the slot, a green light swept it and I removed it. Lifting the lid of the scanner I silently apologised to my father for squandering his gift. The document was scanned and I returned it to my pocket.
‘That is all in order. Subject Alpha Theta Three Seven Gamma Gamma will be released into your custody within forty eight sol rotations. Failure to collect the subject will result in prosecution. Have a nice day!’
The screen turned black and I stared at it for a few seconds, unsure what to do now. Someone coughed behind me and I muttered an apology as I moved away from the terminal.
Standing at the Arrivals gate I felt the familiar sweaty palms and dry mouth. Another few minutes and the shuttle would arrive from Earth and I would see him again. I tried to remember what his voice sounded like but it had been so long since I had heard it in reality rather than via a data link. Glancing around the terminal I saw nervous faces, shuffling feet, the whole variety of people waiting for loved ones or family. A set of doors whooshed open and the first passengers appeared. I scanned the crowd, looking for the familiar face of Jolyon. When the last passenger seemed to have left a slight figure sidled up to me and pulled me roughly aside.
‘Jolyon. I thought I’d missed you. How are you?’
As soon as I spoke I realised what a stupid question that was. How would anyone be after ten sols in an Earth prison? He shrugged, shouldered his pack and walked away. I tagged along, skipping to keep up as he strode through the terminal.
‘If Esteban ever works out where all those company credits went I’m in deep shit.’
‘Esteban couldn’t find his arse in the dark with both hands. Don’t sweat it, Lola. I need coffee, proper coffee to wash the taste of prison out of my mouth.’
We ducked round a corner, found a quiet café. I ordered two strong coffees and joined him at a corner table in the back of the den.
‘So, how are you really? You look well.’
Another stupid statement. The man sitting across from me was not the man I had seen dragged from the court ten sols ago. His prison issue shirt hung from his shoulders, his trousers had to be held up with one hand while the other brushed across his shaven skull. If I closed my eyes I could see the man I had known, the man I had fallen in love with.
‘I’m fine, Lola, don’t fuss. Now, how many credits are left on that card? We need to move fast and leave no trail. I’ve made loads of contacts in prison, real players who can get us access to weapons and explosives. We can really shake up Nova Washington with all that, really start a revolution. I’ve got to make contact with the others. I’ll need a burner phone and some new clothes. You can sort all that out can’t you Lola? Always the faithful assistant. Let’s move.’
He threw the coffee down in one, screwed up his face and stood. My coffee went untasted as I followed him out of the den and out of the terminal.
In a dank, damp hotel room I watched as Jolyon peeled his underwear off and stepped into the shower. I pushed his old clothes into a bag, tied it up and put it by the door. His new clothes and burner phone were laid on the bed and I listened as he showered. The change in him was understandable but I no longer recognised the man I had known and I was scared by this new Jolyon. He was intense, brooding and bitter, plotting something that did not include me. He even spoke differently to me. We’d talked long about the injustices in Nova Washington, how Terrans had all the rights and privileges and Martians were merely a convenient workforce. I’d introduced him to twentieth century literature like Brave New World and we’d read passages out to each other, indignant at the parallels with Nova Washington. He’d even joked about overthrowing the system. Small acts of vandalism and assault on law enforcement droids had led to him being imprisoned for fifteen sols. While I got on with my life, he had been recruiting and plotting the next stage of his revolution. We no longer had much in common. I had waited for a man who no longer existed and stolen from my employer for him.
Yet he needed my help. Without his old contacts he had no way of moving through the city. I had the credit card, I had the clean record, I could get him what he wanted. I was useful to him. What worried me was what would happen once I was no longer that. He was cold towards me, none of the old affection between lovers, merely the need of one being for another.
The shower stopped and he dripped into the room, pulling clothing onto his damp body. Before, the sight of his naked body had aroused me but now I felt nothing but concern and fear.
‘Come on, Lola, time to go. I need you to meet Georgiou and collect a package. He’ll need paying, get a blank card and load it with ten million credits. Here’s the address. Don’t take long. I’ll need you again tonight.’
I nodded, opened the door, then turned back to look at him.
‘Are we ok, Jolyon? Like before I mean.’
He looked through me and shrugged.
‘Nothing is like before. Now hurry, we’ve got lots to do.’
As I closed the door the first and last tear I would shed for Jolyon trickled down my cheek.
‘You’re sure he’s there, miss?’
I swallowed hard and nodded. The officer tapped something on his pad and I saw another window open. Jolyon’s face stared back at me and I sighed.
‘He’s only just out of prison and he is plotting something big. His new friends are ruthless, far more dangerous than anyone we mixed with before. Here’s the address for Georgiou, his supplier. He’s waiting for me with a package which I guess will contain weapons. He’s boasting of having access to weapons and explosives. This has all got too much for me. We were small scale but now, well, he’s talking revolution. ’
The officer nodded in a knowing manner. Blinking back tears, I determined not to regret this as I regretted redeeming Jolyon’s sentence a few short sols ago.
‘I’ll go now, officer. I have to disappear, you see, and must have a head start. When they find out what I’ve done I’ll have a price on my head. Luckily I can survive a few years off grid while I construct a new identity.’
‘I don’t understand, miss. You’ve only just redeemed him. Why are you turning him in?’
I paused. How could I make him understand that I had waited for a man, a lover who had been erased in an Earth prison? I smiled, picked up my bag and started to walk away.
‘This time it’s my redemption, officer.’
I walked out into a Martian sunset, turned my collar up and began to plan my new life.