part II

The city of Aeris was founded as a small landing and launching site for Mars’ early settlers, but it soon transformed into one of the planet’s busiest port cities, becoming essential to the thriving trade and travel industries. Millions of metric tons of mined material from the Belt came through the city each month, and scores of immigrants from Earth who couldn’t afford the Federation’s standard processing fees usually found themselves on the red planet via an Aerisian port, where many of the Fed’s regulators were more concerned with putting a few extra credits in their pockets than thoroughly inspecting the vacuum-grade shipping containers coming in from the Earth-Luna system.

Although she considered the farm her home, Roe loved the city. She had spent much of her adolescence within it, either in school or living with her parents before the accident.

She could remember some of their time together there. Little moments mostly. But the majority of her memories with them had simply existed through photographs. Bell became an avid photographer around the time of Roe’s birth, and she’d snapped thousands of her growing family in those younger years. Roe had combed through them countless times in both happiness and misery. There was a silly one of her father, tongue out and a tiny birthday hat on his head, standing over a crying two-year-old Roe, her mouth lined in chocolate frosting. And her personal favorite was of her as a fiery toddler running down their apartment’s narrow halls, her mother not far behind, chasing her with a smile.

No matter how fuzzy or faded those early memories had become, Roe still felt the city in her blood. The roar of the spaceports. The oddly sweet smell of spent fuel mixed with sidewalk food carts. The shouting matches between customers and merchants in the packed corner markets. There was so much to take in, so much that stood in such stark contrast to her daily life that, despite feeling most at ease tinkering alone in the garage, every few weeks there would be an itch, an urge, to get out into the bustle, into the chaos, of it all once more.

And chaotic it was, as Roe squeezed the crawling hauler down the packed streets to the processing plant where they had been selling their algae for the past few years.

After parking the platform and starting the tank’s transfer process, she and W0RM tried for her rifle’s signal once more, but, again, the blip danced frustratingly across the map. “Dammit! There's gotta be...” but she trailed off, defeated. W0RM chirped from his perch on her shoulder.

“Well,” she sighed, “This still has an hour, so let’s go check in with Zaur. See if he has a line on anything.” W0RM trilled loudly and ruffled his feathers before biting Roe’s ear.

“Gah!” Roe shouted, grabbing the tender spot he’d just nipped and shrugging him off her shoulder, “get off, nuh-uh, you’re flying!” He flapped his wings above her head, squawking in protest.

“Settle down,” she said, glaring at him above her head, “He’s not that bad.” W0RM immediately started tweeting up a storm, but Roe shouted through it, throwing up her arms, “Fine, just stay here then if you’re going to act like this.”

After an obstinate moment hovering in the air and watching Roe walk away, W0RM glided back to her. “Yeah, come on,” she grumbled, still rubbing her ear, as they ventured back onto the busy street.