I Owe My Soul Chapter 5

Image by fszalai from Pixabay

This multi-part story is set in the same universe as “The Things We Do For Family

Link to earlier chapters

He’d been lucky when it came to Marta’s reaction. She’d only looked at him and shook her head before digging into her seemingly bottomless storage bin, looking for something to bind his ribs. The two days since then had been spent hanging around the flat, trying to recover. He was fidgeting in his chair when Marta walked into the room.

“Keep thrashing around like that and you’re going to puncture a lung,” she said. “And, I don’t have anything for that.” He knew that was hyperbole. He also knew she had a point.

“Well, yeah,” he said. “But you know what just sitting here like this does to me.”

“You want to end up in the infirmary?” she said. “The Maker knows what those quacks would do to you.”

He was about to answer when Marcine burst through the door with their neighbor, Ylivea Jaek, in tow. “Daddy!” she cried and ran towards him. The only thing that stopped her from jumping into his lap was a lucky, last-second grab by Marta.

“Little girl,” she said sternly, “What did I tell you about jumping on your father?”

“Not to do it,” she said, disappointment dripping from the words.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Rick said. “Come over here and climb up easy-like.” She did, her face brightening. “Oof, not on that side, baby. Over here.” He shifted her over to his uninjured side. Marta looked at them, shaking her head.

“You spoil that child, Rick.”

“Maybe,” he said, “But I’m gone so much. Is it wrong that I want to be available when I’m home?”

“Being available is one thing,” she shot back. “Letting her do whatever she wants is another. And, it’s not helping.”

“Oh, how bad can it be?”

“You’ll find out if those ribs don’t heal up before your next rotation.” She turned to Ylivea. “How was she? Any problems?”

“Not a one,” the other woman replied. “Her and Miya had a blast.” Miya Jaek was Marcine’s best friend.

“Good,” Marta said. “Maybe they wore each other out.”

Ylivea laughed. “Fat chance of that,” she said. “I don’t how they do it but they just keep going, and going, and going…”

“Don’t remind me,” Marta said. She heard the timer dinging in the kitchen. “Oh, gotta go. Don’t want that bread to burn.” She hustled out of the room

“So,” Ylivea said, addressing Rick. “How are you doing?”

“Meh, could be worse,” he said. “I’m not completely bored. I’m spending time with the kids, done a little reading, and I’ve had a few visitors.

“Really?” she said. People are out in all this craziness?”

“Well, it’s mostly people from the building,” he said, “But a few members of his pod who lived close by have been over.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“Yeah,” he answered half-heartedly. “Everybody that comes by wants to help out, but there just isn’t much for them to do.”

She smiled. “I get it,” she said. “People like you, Rick, and they want to help you the way you’ve helped them.” She paused a moment. “Plus, doing stuff takes their minds off what’s going on right now.”

He nodded. “That’s exactly what Marta said.” He chuckled softly. “Then she told me to send them to her when they asked and she’d find something for them to do.”

It was Ylivea’s turn to chuckle. “I’m sure she did. She’s good about that.”

Before anyone could say anything else, Marcine chirped, “Read to me, Daddy!”

“Okay, what do you want to read?” he said.

“Ooey Gooey Kablooey!” she said. It was her current favorite and Rick had read it to her at least a dozen times since he got home.

“I’ll leave you two buds to your story,” Ylivea said, heading to the kitchen area. “I don’t know what that book’s about and I don’t want to find out.”

On the third day of his recovery, when the novelty of enforced rest was quickly wearing off, one of his long-time pod members, Mondy Walker, dropped by. After checking in with Marta to see if he could do anything, he came in and sat down with Rick.

“How’s it going, Boss?”

“Not too bad,” Rick said. “Thanks to this,” he held up a burnished copper mug that had belonged to his father.

Mondy smiled, “Is that one of Marta’s ‘specials’?” Marta Quentan was famous throughout the mining settlements for her healing cocktails.

“Oh yeah. I’ve had a lovely buzz for two days now and I’m feeling no pain,” Rick said with a smile.

“I’ll bet,” Walker replied. “What does she put in those things, anyway?”

“I have no idea. I asked her once and she wouldn’t tell me jack. Claimed it was a secret recipe passed down among the women of her family and even if it wasn’t, I didn’t have enough brains to understand anyway,” he said, laughing. He’d said he was feeling “no pain” but that wasn’t entirely true. Laughing still wasn’t what he’d call “pleasant” but he was high enough that he didn’t really care.

Mondy shook his head. “Kaila’s the same way,” he said. “Women got to have their secrets, I guess.”

“Um huh,” Rick said, his attention drawn back to the vid screen for a moment. “Hey,” he said, turning back to his friend. “You have any trouble getting here?”

“Nah, it’s pretty quiet down here in the residences now. All the action has moved up to the corporate district.”

“Yeah, that’s what the feeds are saying,” Rick replied. “But I don’t trust these fuckers. Each side has their agenda and they’re pushing them as hard as they can.”

“Tell me about it,” his friend said. “Just give me the news straight up and let me decide what it means.”

“Exactly,” Rick replied.

They sat in silence, watching the news for a few minutes.

“I’ve never seen one of these things go on this long before,” Walker said, breaking the silence. Riots weren’t exactly commonplace in the mining settlements but they weren’t rare either. Most of the time, they burned themselves out within 24 hours—48 at the most. This one, however, didn’t show any signs of letting up.

“Yeah, every time it looks like it might die down, some new shit hits the fan and things get wild again,” Rick said.

“I really thought company security would’ve put it down by now,” Walker said.

“You didn’t hear?” Rick said. Walker shook his head. “They tried last night and it went bad.”

“How bad?”

“The security boys were trying to disperse a crowd in front of the main office. They seemed to be making some headway and then, depending on who you want to listen to, the crowd started throwing rocks or the bulls cut loose with baton rounds and stinger grenades,” Rick said. “No one’s sure what happened. I mean, really, either one could be true.” He paused for a moment. “Either way, there’s two dead and almost 100 injured. Some them probably won’t make it, so that ‘two dead’ is likely to change.”

“Any response from security?”

“Nope,” Rick said. “Apparently, they’re holed up in their headquarters, afraid to show their faces after what they did.” He sipped his drink. “Can’t say as I blame them. There’s a mob right outside, howling for their blood.”

“Shit,” Walker said, shaking his head. “At this rate, the Guar—”

Rick’s PDC began to chime. He swiped the screen and read the incoming message. “Damn it,” he said.

“This is not good.”

“What’s up?” Walker said.

“Apparently, there’s some shit about to go down at the main offices and some of our people might be involved.” He looked up from his device. “Have you seen Davy in the last couple of days?”

“No, come to think of it, I haven’t,” Walker said. “She hasn’t come by to see you?”
Rick shook his head. “Nope, not seen hide nor hair of her since this shit kicked off.” He thought for a moment.

“You don’t think she’s mixed up in this do you?” Walker said. “I know she’s said some things that are, I don’t know, radical, I guess. But, this is Davy. Surely she’s got more sense than to get caught up in this mess.”

Rick thought back to that conversation in the storefront and hoped not. But he wasn’t going to take that chance. “Help me up,” he said. “We need to find her.” Walker looked at him with raised eyebrows.
“I’ll explain on the way to her flat,” Rick said, shaking his head.

After a short walk, they arrived at an apartment stack that would’ve made the slums back on Earth look elegant. Here, on Mars though, it was standard for working people. All of the windows carried a layer of grime that rendered them useless for lighting. And, no one in the residences ever opened their windows because that grime, which resulted from the nonstop refinery operations that the miners shared the lower level with, would’ve coated everything in their apartment. Food, clothing, personal items, all would be rendered unusable due to the fine ore dust that permeated the air. He and Walker entered the lobby, a tiny, gritty area where the stack’s mailboxes and entrance to the stairwell were located. He looked over at Walker and asked, “You ever been here before?” The other man shook his head. “Me either,” Rick said. “I have no idea which one is hers.”

“Check that,” Walker said, pointing to a blackened directory on the wall beside the stairs.

“Right,” said Rick. “Oh smeg, it’s so damn dirty I can’t hardly read it.” He brushed off several names with his fingers, wiping them on his pants between each attempt before he finally found Davy’s name. “There it is. 4C.” He wiped his hand one more time, looking down at his now-dirty pants. “Marta’s gonna kill me,” he said.

Walker just laughed. “Maybe,” he said. “But only if we get back to your place in one piece. And, with the way things are going right now, that’s not guaranteed.”

Rick just looked at his friend. “You are just a ray of fucking sunshine, aren’t you?” Walker started to respond but Rick stopped him. “I know, I know,” he said. “Let’s get this over with so I can go back and get yelled at.” With that, he started up the stairs.

They climbed the four flights of stairs and Rick began to realize what his injury and subsequent recovery time had done to his endurance. He wasn’t happy. Normally, a few stairs wouldn’t bother him but now, he was winded and his side hurt like hell. He’d never been happier to see a fourth floor in his life when they reached the landing. He held up a hand, signaling Walker to wait while he caught his breath.

They exited the stairwell into a long, narrow hallway that was so dimly lit that they almost couldn’t make out anything past the two doors right in front of them. Fortunately, one of those doors had an “A” on it, so they knew that Davy’s flat was close. That was fortunate because, in addition to being dark, the hallway was also filthy. Bags of trash spilled out of the rubbish chute and onto the floor and crawled with the ever-present rats that occupied the lower levels of Mingo. If the trash and the rats weren’t bad enough, there was also the smell. An awful combination of urine, body odor, and rotting food, it took Rick’s breath away. He knew the stacks were rough, but not like this. He turned to Walker and said, “Is it just me or the stacks even worse shit holes than I recall?”

“It’s not just you,” said Walker, shaking his head. “Living in the stacks is rough, but this is ridiculous.”
They reached Davy’s door and knocked. No answer. Rick tried again, this time banging on the door and calling out, “Davy! Open up!” Still no answer. He tried the latch and it turned.

Opening the door, he stepped in, Walker right behind him. If the hallway outside was a disaster area, the interior of the flat was the polar opposite. Everything was neat, clean, and properly stowed. It was a small space, about 7 1/2 meters square, but the spartan nature of the furnishings made it feel bigger. There was a tiny kitchenette with a sink, a refrigerator, and a two-burner stove beside a small table and chair. Rolled up in the corner was a sleeping mat with a pillow. Beside that was a chair and a desk with a lamp and an info terminal. The walls, however, were covered in posters and handbills that touted Radical propaganda and talking points. The more he looked around, the more worried he got.

Rick walked over to the terminal and brought it up. The screen was locked but he and Davy had exchanged passwords for their PDAs in case they needed access and the owner wasn’t available. He took a chance and entered the password she’d given him. Surprisingly, it worked. The screen came to life, displaying a messenger conversation she’d been having. Just a few words in, he realized these people were Radicals. And, it looked like Davy was one of them. Not just one of them, but one of the leaders. He read on as Walker looked at the posters covering the walls, shaking his head. After reading a few more lines, he said, “Oh shit.”

Walker looked over at him. “What?”

“We gotta go,” said Rick. “We gotta go, right now.”

“Where?” Walker asked.

“The main offices,” Rick said. “Thing’s about to get very ugly.”

He and Walker made their way to Mingo Settlement’s corporate district, along the way gathering all the pod members they could find who weren’t drunk or otherwise impaired. Surprisingly, by the time they arrived, they had most of the pod with them. The crowd that greeted them was large and made it difficult to get close enough to see what was going on. Fortunately, Matty Sandsen had come with them. So had Goff Hemdell, the second biggest member of the crew. Together, their bulk cleared a path through the mob, allowing them to get down the square in front of the office building where the action should be happening. And, action there was.

A group of Radicals, recognizable by their red jackets and the black bandannas tied over their heads, were erecting some sort of structure.. As they worked, another Radical did their best to whip the crowd into a frenzy with a fiery speech listing all the sins of the company.

“…while we break our backs out the Belt, these soft-handed fat cats stick back here, living large on the sweat of our brows! And then, they have the nerve to cut our pay? And lower safety standards? Now, their greed, their avarice, has cost the lives of an entire pod! Just wiped out! And, for what? So a few rich people can get richer. Because it’s all about the bottom line to these wretched robber barons. It’s time we put a stop to this. That we, the workers, seized the means of production! It’s time we got our due. And, it’s time these corporate leeches got what’s coming to them! It’s time…”

The speech went on but faded into the background for Rick because he saw what he’d feared all the way down here: Davy, in a Radical’s red coat and black bandanna, was one of the people working on the structure which, it was quickly becoming apparent, was a gallows. When it was finished, with a set of nooses tied to the beam that sat atop, the speaker said the words that Rick dreaded even as he knew they were inevitable:

“All right, people, let’s dispense some justice!”

At that, the mob, which he’d noticed was peppered with undercover Radicals to help fire people up, surged forward en masse. They rolled over the pitifully thin line of security officers so quickly that none of them had a chance to deploy any of the crowd control measures they had at hand. Most turned and ran. Those that didn’t received the brunt of the crowd’s anger at the previous night’s massacre.

The mob generally moved around Rick and his people but inevitably, it carried them forward. As they passed what had once been the security perimeter, he looked down to see an officer lying in a widening pool of blood, arms, and legs at painfully impossible angles. Rick was in a good bit of pain from the jostling he was getting from the crowd but he thought, at least I’m in better shape than this poor bastard.

Finally, the crowd passed by and they were standing in front of the gallows. They could hear crashes, shouts, screams of anger, and terror coming from inside the offices. As one, the pod all seemed to realize that this was not a good place to be and moved back to their previous position: a small rise that bounded the back of the square. It was a good spot and afforded them a view of the entire scene.

After a few minutes, people began pouring out of the office building, cheering. Rick noticed smoke beginning to issue from the floor where the managers’ offices were located. Then, a group of Radicals came through the doors leading Greenlee Peeters. Then, another gaggle with Mirienne Matox. Finally, Davy’s group burst out dragging Houghman Cookins, the Mars division’s general manager. All three were drug up on the scaffold and perched on plascrete boxes. A noose was placed over each one’s head and their hands tied behind their backs. The speaker stepped up on the gallows beside them.

“Here they are, Mingo! The architects of all our troubles. What should we do with them?”

The crowd, egged on by the Radicals planted among them, shouted, “HANG THEM!”

He turned to the three condemned people. “You, Greenlee Peeters, you, Mirienne Matox, and you, Houghman Cookins, have all been found guilty by a jury of your workers and condemned to die. Do you have any last words?”

Cookins was apparently dumbstruck at this turn of events and could only shake his head while Peeters openly wept and incoherently begged for mercy. Only Matox could manage intelligible speech.

“I’ll see you in hell, you anarchist dog!” she snarled and spit in the speaker’s face.

He wiped it away with a smile and gestured to the people standing behind the condemned. One by one, they kicked the boxes out from under them. The drop wasn’t enough to break anyone’s neck and they each jerked, seeming to dance in the air as they slowly strangled. Rick noticed that Davy had taken care of Peeters and wore a fierce smile as she did so. Eventually, all three stopped spasming and hung limply. The crowd, their rage spent after witnessing their tormentor’s demise, began to disperse. Many of them were laughing and celebrating. He even heard Barie mutter about how the bastards had gotten what they deserved. Rick didn’t doubt that but wondered at what cost? Because he knew things had just gone from bad to worse. So much worse.