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art by M.S. Corley

The Ships That Stir Upon The Shore

Rahul Kanakia is a science fiction writer who has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He currently lives in Baltimore, where he is enrolled in the Master of the Fine Arts program in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. He also serves as a First Reader for Strange Horizons. He graduated from Stanford in 2008 with a B.A. in Economics and he used to work as an international development consultant. Please visit his blog at blotter-paper.com and/or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rahkan.
***Editor's Note: Disturbing, and a smattering of adult language***
The refugees drove west in a creaking convoy. Most of the cars were almost out of fuel. Many were on the verge of breaking down. The shoulders of the highway were littered with stopped and wrecked cars.
Only a few of those whose cars had failed--those with fuel to trade or young children to tug on the heartstrings of some brave bachelor--had seen rescue. The engorged sun and ambient radiation made short work of the rest. Once their cooling systems failed, they either sweated away their lives within a few hours or accumulated a lethal dose of radiation when they stepped outside to attempt repairs.
But that was the price they paid for being foolish and unprepared. Roger Deryn had spent his life on this highway, and he'd never come within a mile of death. Roger was prepared for everything. And that's why Roger was the one who was headed east, fast and cool, to turn a profit off the slowly-failing dome that these poor folks were fleeing.
Roger's car was a silver bullet: a lounge on wheels. There was no driver's seat; the car drove itself better than any human ever could. Instead, the cabin was given over to three autonomous, fully-reclining, swiveling chairs in which Roger, his wife, Sarah, and their daughter, Madison, whiled away this long drive in the quiet bliss of mutual companionship.
Roger's watch displayed a message from the car's nav system.
"Only two hours away," he said.
"I'm so tired of these sales," Madison said.
"How do you know we're going to a sale?" Roger said.
"It's always a sale."
"This was supposed to be a surprise," Sarah said.
"Are we going to Tulsa?" Madison tapped her screen. "Really? This soon?"
"This is going to be one of the singular events of your life," Roger said. "I don't think I have ever seen nor even heard of a sale as big as this one. So we're going early, and you know why? Because I think this is where you're finally gonna get your car."
Sarah sighed quietly. She wasn't looking forward to driving back by herself. Sarah hadn't driven alone in a long time. But she'd talked this through with her husband last night. Roger and Madison would drive back in the new car. Roger had already confirmed that the car he'd found was still in its driveway. Sarah wondered if the car's owner was lying dead somewhere on this highway.
Adriana was sitting by the window of her house, staring at the steadily rising temperature on the thermostat. Adriana's mansion was one of the richest in East Tulsa: a massive Victorian meant to house four generations, from newborn babies to slow-dying elders. It had once stood in a neighborhood of such houses, but most of them had been torn down to make room for energy-efficient dome-molded dwellings. Even the surviving Victorians had been modernized and subdivided: they had three outside staircases heaped onto their backs, and dirty backyards full of communal furniture. They looked sluttish and exhausted.
Roger Deryn had scoped out Adriana's still-pristine mansion three weeks ago. Now, he pulled into her carport as if he was an old friend.
Roger pointed out the Lexus in the carport. "That beautiful beast is gonna be all yours. Don't worry. Houses like these? They're always empty by now. The owner--Joseph Santos--is probably halfway to Oklahoma City. He'll be pleased as punch when he gets my offer."
Adriana ran out into the bare sun--her skin steaming visibly--and beat on the hatch of the car.
"Joseph?" she said. "Miguel? My god, did you…?"
She pressed her face to the side-glass. Her hands were cupped around her eyes. She was trying to peer in, but the glass was opaque.
Roger was in the back, shouting for his wife and daughter to put on their cooling-suits, while he unpacked the portable generator which would provide the power to cool the house while they ransacked it.
Fifteen minutes passed before the side door rolled up, and the steaming woman fell inside.
"I think these are the original brass door knobs," Roger said. "Some of my contacts said that the owners'd ripped out all the original fittings during a renovation, but I really do think these are the originals."
Adriana was on the couch with her face under a leaking plastic bag that held a few cubes of ice. She tried to drink some water, but swallowing felt like rubbing pieces of sandpaper against the insides of her throat.
Sarah and Madison sat opposite her on the seats in the living room. Sarah poured some water from Adriana's crystal pitcher into one of her water glasses.
"You're... you're here for the sale," Adriana said. "This is so early."
"Roger likes to be early," said Sarah. "He's not afraid of meeting the owners." That's why he brought Sarah along. How many expiring homeowners had she conversed with during these sales? No other broker's wife was willing to sit face-to-face with the dead. Sarah was the secret to Roger's success.
"It's so cold here," Adriana said. The temperature was hovering around eighty. Adriana's bones vibrated with the continuous hum of the house's air conditioner. She'd been attuned to it for so many years; the past few weeks, when they'd had to skimp on cooling to conserve power, had felt viscerally wrong.
"I just hooked up our generator to your house's grid," Roger called out. He'd wandered into one of the guest rooms. "Crown-molded fittings. A full-length Edwardian mirror. I think this dresser is a Daniels and Brothers 1927 original."
"Does your car work?" Madison said. "The Lexus?"
"Not now," Sarah said. "She's tired."
"She's dying," Madison said. "We're going to have to go out there and take a look eventually. Why not just ask her?"
"It has very little gas," Adriana said.
"How many miles are on it?" said Madison.
Sarah glared at her daughter. "Madison! This is not how we do things."
Adriana's head was aching. "I need my car," she said. "For Joseph and Miguel. I thought you were them. My husband drives a car like yours."
"You have a lovely home," Sarah said. "It looks like the renovation was very well done."
Adriana didn't say anything. A car pulled up outside. "Joseph," she murmured.
Madison got up and walked towards the carpeted anteroom at the front of the house. She pulled one of the blackout curtains aside. A car had parked in front of the house, and a man in a plastic cooling suit was coming up the walk, carrying a tan leather briefcase.
He was about to press the calling button when Madison made the door transparent. "We're already here," she said.
"But this is my home," said the man.
"People don't ring the caller at their own home," Madison said. "This is our find. Move to the next on your list."
She opaqued the door and watched through the window until the man left.
"Who was that?" said Roger, coming down the stairs.
"Another vulture," she said. "Are we done here? It's too bad we're not gonna get that car; I think that woman is still planning to evacuate in it."
"I keep telling you to come out on more shopping trips. You're always too willing to take no for an answer."
"I just sent that other guy packing, didn't I?"
"Did he give you any trouble?"
"Tried to tell me this was his house."
"Was he armed?"
"Don't think so. He was alone, too."
"Okay, good job. And don't worry. We'll get you your car. This place is a once-in-a-lifetime find. Definitely worth the time I spent scoping it out. And we're gonna get every last thing that we can."
Sarah gave Adriana another glass of water.
"Your husband and son were part of the repair team?" Sarah said.
"Joseph is acting chief engineer for the dome," Adriana said. "He's run the whole effort ever since Robertson--he was Joseph's superior--killed himself. It's been such a long year."
"And your son?"
"He's only a boy, but he came home to help. He is a student at Caltech."
"You must be very proud of him."
"I think he might come back to me."
"God willing."
"I don't think that Joseph will return. He'd never leave the break site."
"They haven't yet told you whether the break is unfixable?"
"Not officially. But Joseph told me to leave three days ago. I told my neighbors. Everyone is leaving."
"Everyone except you?"
"My daughter is gone. She is a lawyer for the city. She is going to our sister-city. Galveston. Her firm promised her a spot there, if she could make it, and to pay the dome buy-in. Me, though? I haven't held a real job since I was my daughter's age. Why bother to buy me in?"
"But maybe your husband has gone on without you?"
"My husband won't ever leave the repair site. Not until it is hopeless. And then it will be too late. Joseph is never coming home."
Roger walked in from the anteroom. This was a rich find--one of the richest--but the knock at the door had shaken him. More cars were entering the city now. The sale was still in its early stages, but it had definitely begun.
"Has my wife discussed our offer?" he said.
"Oh, I won't sell," Adriana said. She hadn't known until that moment that she was going to refuse these people.
"We can offer some very favorable terms. Let's say... ten thousand up-front, ten percent of net, and... free transport to Oklahoma City."
"I don't need money."
"Oh. You were well-diversified?"
"Her husband was--is--chief engineer for the city," Sarah said.
"Right," Roger said. "A city employee? Highly salaried, I'm sure, but where did he invest? You can't be too well-diversified; I imagine his contract had a conflict-of-interest clause that limited foreign holdings. This city has defaulted on its bonds. Local stocks have dipped precipitously since the crack was detected. Are you sure you're taken care of?"
"I need you to leave now," Adriana said. "I need to wait for my husband. I need to wait for my son."
"Oh, but we couldn't leave," Sarah said. "Not after finding you in such a poor state."
"Thank you for your help. The house will pass to my daughter. She is driving to Galveston right now. After I am dead, she will decide what to do."
Roger nodded to Sarah and she nodded back.
Adriana sipped from the glass of water. It was her glass. Her couch. Her home.
"Please... thank you so much," Adriana said. Her skin was still hot. When she closed her eyes, she saw spots.
"Well, I guess that's that," Roger said. "It'll just take a moment to disconnect my generator from your grid."
Madison had lingered in the anteroom, watching the cars cruise past. Not many, maybe one every other minute. Most brokers didn't do as much prep-work as her dad. They didn't know where they were going. They just rolled slowly down the street, looking for empty carports and abandoned-looking houses. This was the nicest part of town, so this is where they'd come first. By now, half the houses on this block must have a broker inside.
Madison hoped that this old lady sold up soon. She'd already spent too many afternoons in a cold-suit, standing around with her family, watching some homeowner die of heat stroke.
Sarah was still in the living room, looking at the latest weather data, trying to figure out how quickly the house's batteries would run down under the current temperature conditions.
Roger was downstairs, checking on the cooling system. With his generator disconnected, the temperature was already rising. He tried to calculate which pieces would be permanently damaged by the heat-warping. That dresser would easily lose fifty percent of its value. That was ten thousand down the drain, dammit. Wasn't there anything he could offer her?
When he came back upstairs, Roger said, "It's a shame. Your daughter probably won't be able to recover much, if anything, from this place after the heat gets to it. Not to mention that she won't be on-site to verify estimates. Some of these sharpers will really gouge her."
"Money is worth little to us, now," Adriana said.
"You've about given up, then? Don't you think you owe it to your family to--"
"Is this your profession? What a strange thing to train your children in."
Adriana drifted upstairs to her bedroom. She locked the door behind her. Roger waited on the other side.
"We can get you out of here," he said.
"I could get myself out, if there was anywhere I wanted to go. Please leave. I am filing a complaint with your licensing board."
Downstairs, Madison sat by the front door.
Her father came down. "Don't you worry. You're getting that car, honey."
Madison glanced at her father. His forehead was sweating and he was scratching incessantly at a tuft of hair on his temple. "Right," she said.
Her father went to the living room.
Another cool-suited man was walking towards the house. Madison stood behind the door. This one didn't have a car with him. Maybe he was a real bootstrapper who'd carpooled his way here and was relying on finding something nice enough to warrant calling a cab to lug it back to Oklahoma City.
The man was sweating feverishly inside his cool-suit. It was streaked with grime and mud. He was only wearing a white undershirt beneath the suit. He punched in a code on the call-pad, and opened the outer door.
"I'm sorry," Madison said. "We're already here."
"Who are you?" he said. "This is my house."
"Don't give me that sca-- well, you did have the code." She yelled, "Dad? I think the son is here."
Her dad was at the inner door within a moment. He looked at the stranger and said, "Well, dammit, what are you doing? Let him in!" Roger opened the inner door, letting in a furnace blast of hot air, and pulled the cool-suited figure inside.
Roger stared at the young man sitting at the kitchen table. The kid was badly sunburned all across his face and arms. Whether the kid was radioactive or not, Roger didn't know.
"So you walked here," Roger said.
"I came from the site. Our phones stopped working. All the cars that I hailed were going away from here and not towards. What the hell is happening? Why are you here?"
"Well, this is a difficult situation. Your father, you see, had made a deal with us a few days back, to settle up the house and its contents in return for looking after his wife and you and making sure you got away from here safely. But she's locked herself upstairs. She doesn't want to leave."
"My dad said we all need to evacuate. He's doing everything he can, but total collapse is imminent."
"Well, then why don't you go on upstairs, talk to your mother, and get her ready to leave."
"What are you--"
"Come on, get going now."
The boy got up. His youthful hands were shaking. His whole body was tinged with red. Roger wondered again whether the boy was on his last legs.
Even Miguel didn't know. He no longer had access to a lab to develop the radiation exposure strips he carried.
Madison was upstairs, outside Adriana's door. Her mother had set her down out there, and told her not to let the old woman leave.
Madison didn't think she was going to get that car. She wished she'd found some way to wriggle out of this whole expedition. This was so tedious. She usually managed to get something out of these trips, but the prize was rarely worth suffering through all these scenes.
The door opened, and Adriana tried to exit. Madison slowly maneuvered her back into the room. The old woman's face seemed more wrinkled than it'd been an hour ago, and wisps of grey hair were stuck, by sweat, to her forehead and cheeks.
"What do you need?" Madison said. She pushed forward into the old woman's room. "Whatever it is, I can get it."
"I see cars in the street. Has my husband come? You have to leave now. This is my home. This is my city. None of it is yours yet."
Steps came up the stairs. Miguel stood in the door behind them. Adriana cried out, ran forward, and embraced him. She pulled him down and kissed him on the cheeks.
"You're here," she said. "You're here..."
Miguel held his mother. "Are you ready to leave?" he said.
Adriana sighed. "I didn't think you were coming."
"Dad is still working."
"I expected that."
"But he sent me home. He sent almost everyone home; he only kept Lorenco, Swann, and Team Four."
"God bless them."
"Pack what you need. I'll check on the car."
"But I... we don't have enough gasoline. I gave it all to your sister."
"Don't worry about that," he said. "You just get yourself ready."
Miguel's eyes passed, unseeing, over Madison. He turned to go, stumbled a bit, and Madison stepped forward to catch him, but his arm shot out and he steadied himself against the doorjamb.
After he'd left, Adriana sat down on the bed. She closed her eyes and counted to sixty. When she opened them, Madison was standing in front of her.
"Don't you have a bag?" Madison said. "I can help you start to..."
Adriana was motionless. Madison rooted through the woman's closets. She found a suitcase and set it on the bed, next to Adriana. During her first few trips back from the closet, she showed the items to the old woman, and tried to get her to nod or something if they were things she wanted to keep. But she got no response. Finally she just started picking things that'd suit for a whole range of weathers. She brought out a heavy winter jacket. Maybe, after all this, the woman would want to go north.
"You can see that you don't have hardly more than a drop of gas," Roger said. The cold-suited broker was standing over Miguel as the boy checked out the Lexus. "But I'm logged onto the Tulsa city-net. There are still plenty of offers for space in the refugee convoys. Fewer spaces than there were six hours ago, sure, but this city really respects your father. They'll make room for you and your mother."
"No," Miguel said. "We'll drive ourselves."
"I just don't see how you're going to. Every drop of gas within a hundred miles of here is selling for its weight in gold. And you don't have any money anymore. The banks here are gone. Your local stocks are worthless. Your mom said you aren't diversified. Not your father's fault, of course, but still... it's going to be hard for you."
"You'll give us the gas we need." Miguel closed the hood of the car. "In return for what you came for...."
"Oh well, I don't think..."
"My father never dealt with you. He thought we'd beat this break, like we did the last one, and the one before. He never made escape plans. That wasn't his way. But he did like his paintings, and his antiques. Give us the barrel of gas you're holding. We'll carry away the jewelry and anything else we can. You'll get the rest. Oh, and we'll need the cost of two more Galveston dome buy-ins."
"My, well... two buy-ins? We'll have to discuss this...."
When the boy was gone, Roger ran a hand over the Lexus. It was in perfect shape. There was something caught in the hood, though. The man pried out the little strip of plastic and metal: one of the boy's radiation exposure strips. It must've gotten snagged and been pulled off his cold-suit.
Madison was folding the old woman's clothes when her son came in.
"Come on, Mama," Miguel said. "We're headed for Galveston inside an hour. We have the fuel."
"You have what?" Madison said
"Your father sold me the gas I needed. Now stop bothering my mother."
"No he didn't. That gas is for my car."
Miguel looked at her oddly and then left.
Madison was seething. This was such horseshit. She'd come all this way for nothing. She looked at Adriana.
"You're pretty lucky to be leaving," Madison said. "It hardly ever turns out this well, you know? My dad says I've probably seen more sales than anyone else my age. I've been in a lot of houses just like this. Usually, if they're still here by the time we arrive, the owners don't ever end up leaving."
"There's no need to pack," Adriana said. "I'd prefer you didn't."
The woman was staring at herself in the mirror mounted in the vanity.
"You're going to need clothes," Madison said. "I don't know what the weather's like in Galveston."
"I was born in Tulsa," Adriana was still staring at herself in the mirror. "My father's father was rich enough to climb up into the sky and spend the rest of his life--before the cancers got him--building our dome. He pledged his fortune to importing ten buses of engineers and technicians from Southern California and to feeding and housing them while they worked. It exhausted his fortune, and there wasn't much left for my father. But many of those men stayed, and they remembered. Their families remembered. My father served twelve terms on the city council. I've seen every inch of our city. I tagged along with my father on his visits, and ate in workmen's homes. I pulled the switch that ushered the changing of the seasons. I moved the dials of night and day. When it was my time to marry, I was not like my brothers and sisters. I did not consider leaving, or marrying for love. I went out into the world and found a man who could enrich our city. We prospered together. When my father died, I took up his seat on the council and served for eight years, until my brother wanted to run. This city is mine. When I shouted, it responded. How could I live somewhere else? My children are young enough to make new lives, and learn to love new things. But I am not."
"Yeah," Madison said. "That's more what you owners are usually like." The suitcase wouldn't close. She looked up Galveston on her phone. Annual lows were only down in the sixties. She unpacked the winter coat and looked around in the closet for a fleece or something. She found a musty sweater in the back. She shook it a little and then pushed it into the suitcase. She put a knee on top of the suitcase, and finally managed to latch it.
The old woman had opened the drawers of her vanity. She withdrew a diamond necklace and put it on.
Madison said, "Come on. You have to go."
She grabbed Adriana's arm below the shoulder. The woman's limb was so thin that it was like grabbing a bone covered in plastic wrap. The woman clutched Madison's hand.
"Look," Madison said. "I liked your story, and I understand. But your kids will be really sad if you don't go. Your son is back. You've already gotten one miracle. Don't waste it."
Adriana patted Madison's hand. "Please call my son. I will tell him."
"I won't let you not go. I don't think that all this dying is very pretty at all. Normally it at least saves us some money. But your son is going off anyway. It won't cost a thing for you to go, too. So that's what's happening."
Madison pulled the woman to her feet, and started dragging her downstairs.
Madison's parents watched the struggle with coldly quizzical glances. Sarah was about to start scolding her daughter, but Roger intervened. Finally, the girl was showing a little interest in the work. It wouldn't hurt to let things play out. By the time they reached the garage, there wasn't much more fight left in the old woman. Roger and Madison shared a glance as Adriana muttered, "No, I've decided to stay."
"You're going," Madison said. "You're not strong enough to stop it."
Even inside the cold-suit, Miguel was sweating. There was a long drive ahead of him, and not many places to stop. Most domes wouldn't let him in. They were too afraid he'd try to stay. Still, his sister had phoned. Between them they'd just managed to scrape together the money for two more buy-ins. He had a full tank and a few more canisters in the trunk: when that ran out, maybe he'd be far enough away that someone would have some gas for sale.
"Mama, didn't you pack any luggage?" Miguel said.
"Yeah," Madison said. "Wait."
She ran upstairs, taking the steps two at a time.
The toppled-over vanity was spilling its jewelry. The woman had upset it in the initial struggle. Madison crouched down and picked up the diamond necklace that she had "accidentally" ripped off Adriana.
Madison smiled out of the corner of her mouth. She pocketed the necklace, and rummaged through the rest of the vanity with the eye of a broker's daughter, looking for the most valuable pieces. Then she dragged the overheavy suitcase downstairs.
It took twenty-six hours of round-the-clock work to assess and pack all the valuables in the house. The more durable goods were put in a shipping container and stored inside a concrete bunker. Roger would come back for them in a few weeks, when gas was cheaper.
Unexpectedly, Madison threw herself into the work. She meticulously photographed every piece and by the time they bundled themselves into the car for the ride home, she'd already started to build an auction database for the house's contents. Seeing her, Roger started thinking it was time for a long talk with Madison about whether she might someday want to become a partner in the brokerage.
They were almost home when Roger told the car to slow down a little. He made the walls transparent and light flooded the cabin. Roger turned his seat sideways to watch the shoulder of the highway.
"What the hell, dad?" said Madison. "I'm trying to sleep." The car was crowded with boxes of fragile artifacts. Madison was also curled up around the bulges of jewelry in her purse and pockets. The stress of hiding her loot had made her increasingly anxious over the past day. At least twice she'd thought she was discovered, and once she'd been a second from preemptively confessing.
"Just wait," he said.
She sat up. Oh crap. Did he know?
They drove for almost an hour while Roger stared at the shoulder and didn't say anything. Finally, a silver glint appeared.
"You know what I think that is?" he said.
A silver Lexus with Tulsa plates. Madison's eyes widened.
"Can't be," she said. "Did you short them on gas?"
"Just wait and see."
"Oh, god. You sabotaged the car, didn't you?"
"What!" Sarah said. "Your father would never do that!" Would he? She tried to signal to Roger with a flick of her eyes. What the hell was going on? He hadn't mentioned a word about this to her.
Roger's car stopped behind the Lexus.
"Put on your cold suits," Roger said. "Make sure you have full cooling reservoirs and unscratched radiation shielding. You might be suited for a while."
Miguel's unsuited body was lying in front of the car. The sun had desiccated him. But he was also covered in angry red boils.
"Those must have broken out before he died," Sarah said.
"He didn't want to keep exposing her," Roger said. "That was brave."
"What happened?" Madison said.
"Radiation poisoning," Roger said. "I found his exposure strip and developed it in the car. He'd absorbed much more than lethal dosage; he was a walking ghost. I thought I'd let him drive the car as far as he could, and then see if we could pick it up afterwards."
He smiled at his wife and daughter.
"Well," he said. "I told you I'd get it." Looking at their blank faces, he wondered if maybe he'd crossed a line. The solution had come to him so suddenly and so perfectly. For the last hour, he'd been mentally calculating and recalculating the kid's expected lifespan.
"But... I mean... there's nothing that anyone could have done for him," Roger said. "And I know how much you two hate it when we have to wait for some old woman to die. I thought... I'd... well... save us all some trouble...."
Madison took three steps forward and hugged her dad tightly. She looked past his shoulder and out at the dead man. He was on his belly. He could've been anyone.
"Thanks," she said. "I'm sorry I doubted you."
"What about that woman?" Sarah said. "Did she have radiation poisoning?" She wasn't too sure that she approved of this deviation from their normal method of operating.
"I don't know," Roger's smile was bright and full. "Let's see." He trotted over to the car's windows. The cold-suited passenger was utterly still, but, as Roger approached, she flicked her eyes at him and then away.
"Looks like she's still alive," Roger said.
"What do we do with her?" Sarah said. "Can we just leave her?"
"Guess we'll have to have a short deathwatch after all," Roger said. "By now, this car has to be almost out of gas and her cooling reservoir must be nearly empty. We'll just wait. Then we'll fill it with a little bit of our spare gas and drive it home."
"A deathwatch right here?" Sarah said. "Out on the road?"
"Sure," Roger said. "It's no big deal. We're well-shielded."
But Madison had grabbed at the driver's side door. The keys were still in the ignition, so the door had never automatically locked. She stepped into the driver's seat and closed the door.
"So, here we are again," Madison said.
"Why do you persist in bedeviling me?" Adriana said.
"Don't you want to live? Oklahoma City is a nice place. It's easy to love."
"Take the car. Leave me with my son's body."
"You could teach me about your city. And I could teach you about ours. There's no reason that your life has to end here."
Madison's words were coming at Adriana as if from the other end of a long tunnel. Even Tulsa seemed far behind her.
"Your kids are beyond your help, you know that? He always was. He was always going to die. But there are a lot of Tulsan refugees crowding into my city. They're going to need your help. You don't have a city. But you still have a people."
Adriana didn't say anything.
"We have dome failures in Oklahoma City, too, sometimes," Madison said. "Not often, but sometimes. They've been patching a crack in the southern sector for the last six months. If I live to be your age, then someday what's happening to you will happen to me."
Madison's suit radio crackled. "What're you doing?" her father said.
"She wants to come with us. I told her that we could get her a G-5 visa as a domestic servant." That was a temporary guest worker permit. It meant residence in the city for as long as you worked for one family, and it didn't permit switching employers.
Sarah patched in. "Even a G-5 buy-in costs money. And I doubt she'd be a good worker."
"C'mon," Madison said. "We're making all this money off her stuff."
"We already own this 'stuff,'" Roger said. "Your mom's right. It's a waste of money. If she'd wanted to come to our city then she could have made contingency plans. Now she has to pay the price for her shortsightedness. Unless... you wanted to pay it."
The packages of jewelry in her pockets suddenly felt heavy.
"So you knew?" she said.
"In a few years you'll have a sense for hidden valuables, too," Roger said. "Did you pocket enough to cover the buy-in?"
"I... think so...."
"Well, then, what will you do? If you don't make me pay for the woman, I'll let you keep a quarter of the net on the jewelry."
Madison curled her lip. What a deplorable win-win for her dad. Either she gave up her find, or he taught her the broker's first lesson: human life was only worth what someone was willing to pay for it.
Adriana looked at the girl. If they insisted on saving her, then so be it. She'd live amongst them and she'd learn how to be like them. She'd learn how to take the things she needed. Then she'd rally her people. She'd teach them. And someday this girl would learn what it meant to be driven from her home.
Madison felt Adriana's stare and knew that she wasn't going to let the crazy, old woman die. "You win," Madison said. But she was already making a mental note. At her next sale, she'd ignore the owner's sob story.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 7th, 2013

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