art by Erin Cardwell
“You’ve got to be burning kidding me!” Dema’s face was flushed as the peacekeeper escorted her from the building — whatever this building was.
The peacekeeper didn’t lay a hand on her; there was no need. She had an Achilles on her ankle.
They emerged from a row of buildings of varying heights onto a bustling, steel-paved street. Dema turned back to her escort as they stepped out under the black, starry sky.
“Who is this?” Dema whispered to DL, her pax. Peacekeepers on duty could be identified upon request.
“Officer Zandish,” DL replied.
“Mr. Zandish,” Dema said, fixing him with a candid gaze. “My boyfriend is planning on proposing tonight. He’s supposed to be meeting me at Orion’s Bistro in…”
“You’re now 4 minutes late,” DL said inside her helmet.
“…I’m actually a few minutes late already. Please let me off with just a warning so I make it to my date.”
Zandish shook his head.
“Where’s your heart? This is supposed to be one of the most important days of my life.”
“Then it looks like you chose a bad day to go swifting,” Officer Zandish replied. His voice was tired and vacant. He was in his thirties, and his exoskin didn’t hide his growing paunch.
Dema dropped the demeanor of courtesy. “You can’t arrest me for swifting,” she said. “Just give me the fine so I can make it to my date.”
“I’m not arresting you for swifting. I’m arresting you for flight from a peacekeeper.”
Dema gave a guttural sigh, and turned back to plodding toward the city center where the Hedron was — and away from Orion’s Bistro. She imagined Zute sitting alone at the restaurant, waiting for her to arrive. He already thought she was commitment-averse. If she stood him up tonight…
She thought about messaging him. But they’d already had a fight about swifting, at the end of which she’d promised to quit. The only way to make him understand was face to face. She’d just have to take her chances on getting there as soon as possible.
She picked up her pace, but not so much that Officer Zandish would think she was trying to run away from him. She just wanted to get to Peacekeeping Headquarters. The sooner they arrived, the sooner she could be on her way.
Officer Zandish didn’t increase his pace. It was as though he knew what she was doing and was deliberately trying to slow her down. Of all the vindictive stripes in the Colony, she had to get caught by this one.
Dema glanced over her shoulder. Officer Zandish was still breathing hard from the chase and was holding his side. A cramp. So many of these peacekeepers let themselves get soft as they got older. It was a wonder he had been able to catch her at all. And he hadn’t really caught her; her heart was just too big for her own good. She should have known it was a trick.
“Come on!” she groaned. “Why are you walking so slow?”
Officer Zandish didn’t reply, but he gave her a look darker and colder than a lunar eclipse.
“I can make it worth your while…” Dema said in a more coaxing tone.
“Should I add ‘attempting to bribe a peacekeeper’ to your list of offenses?”
Dema just sighed again and trudged on.
Despite their excruciatingly slow pace, they finally made it to Peacekeeping Headquarters – twelve minutes after she was supposed to meet Zute. The Hedron was an eight-story building, and equally wide. It was shaped like a triangle at the base and at the roof, with the top triangle rotated so that its corners were aligned with the edges of the bottom triangle. It stood alone in the middle of a wide plaza, with streets radiating from it in three directions.
They entered through the middle pair of double-doors on the closest side. Dema had heard about the Hedron by friends of hers who had been detained here, but this was her first view of its interior. Inside, they passed through a wide, low corridor and then out into a large central atrium. It seemed that all the office space within the Hedron was plastered to the exterior walls, and instead of hallways, all traffic passed around the building on the balconies of the atrium. These balconies were connected with a seemingly random network of catwalks, many of which were sloped from one level to another.
Officer Zandish led her to the center of the atrium, and from there they took one of three sloped catwalks up to the second level. At the top of the ramp they turned right.
“Zandish,” came a woman’s voice from behind them on the balcony.
Dema heard him give the slightest of sighs as he turned back to her. That might be a good sign.
“Yes, Alpha?” he asked.
Alpha? Not a good sign.
Dema turned now, too. The alpha approached them with another peacekeeper beside her.
The alpha’s companion chuckled. “That doesn’t look like the rabble you usually drag in here,” he said to Zandish, motioning to Dema.
“Why? Because she’s too old?” Zandish replied dryly.
“There is that. But you normally bring in both of the swifters.”
“Just one this time.”
“The captain will take it from here,” the alpha said, interrupting them.
“I really shouldn’t take him away from his other duties,” Zandish floundered.
“Now,” she said.
He glowered. “Transfer Achilles control to the captain,” he said to his pax.
“Officer Zandish. A word?” the alpha said, turning and walking up the ramp.
He gave Dema one last glare, then turned and stalked after her.
“What’s the story?” the captain asked, arms folded.
“I was running late for a date with my boyfriend.” Dema explained. “He was planning on proposing tonight. I was swifting, but I wasn’t doing it dangerously.”
The captain nodded. “Officer Zandish can be a little overzealous at times.”
“So you’ll let me off with just a fine?” Dema asked hopefully.
“That depends,” he said leaning back and crossing his arms, “on the size of the fine.”
Dema’s nerves tingled. Handicapping paid the bills, but it didn’t thrill her like gambling. She relished the opportunity to place her bet. Too high, and she’d be gouged. Too low, and he might back out. “I think my friends have been fined fifty dunnets for a first offense.”
The captain pushed himself off of the railing and began walking away. “Let’s get you to detainment,” he said over his shoulder.
“I meant eighty,” Dema said, hurrying to catch up the with the captain.
He paused. “I think the fine for disobeying a peacekeeper’s orders are more like one hundred and fifty dunnets.”
Dema groaned. “How much do I have, DL?”
“One hundred and twenty seven,” DL whispered in her helmet.
“A hundred and twenty is all I have.”
The captain considered it. “I suppose it is your first offense,” he mused, as though to himself.
“Transfer,” Dema said to her pax, grimacing.
The captain smiled at her. “Have a nice time on your date.”
Read the next chapter: Perseus