art by Erin Cardwell
“Open the door!”
“Can’t you just wait until my sister gets home?” Tix‘s voice echoed through the hollow metal.
“Your rent was past due two months ago. The eviction notice gave you six weeks. And that’s more than you deserve.” Roddy’s ears were hot with rage. Kasi and Tix had been inconsistent on their payments, but they hadn’t been horrible tenants.
This incident with Yazen, however, was unforgivable. Such violence could not be allowed in his air.
“Please, Mr. Nolter, at least let her get home so we can pack.”
“You are to open this door and get out of my building. Now!”
He heard Tix gasp and begin to sob.
All bullies are cowards at heart, Roddy thought as he turned and strode away. He went down the stairwell to the first floor and knocked on the door under the stairs.
It cracked open, revealing a man in burgundy pants over his exoskin and graying eyebrows inside his helmet.
“Come in, come in.” Qaper moved spryly in spite of his hunched posture, welcoming him in. “What can I do for you?” he said.
“We’re going to need the ram.”
Qaper’s eyes lost a little of their glow at that. “This is the worst part of my job.” He sighed and walked away, still muttering. “Taking clogs out of toilets, I don’t mind, but taking people out of their homes…” He disappeared into a back room and began to rummage around.
Roddy sauntered over to a doorway and popped his head in. Willow — a girl of perhaps fifteen — was sitting up in her bed, wearing a pink blouse and a black skirt. She had no exoskin on.
Roddy had been embarrassed the first time he’d checked in on her after she and her grandfather moved in. It was strangely intimate to see anyone outside of one’s family without their exoskin. But it had been almost two years since they moved in.
She was paralyzed from the waist down and Qaper couldn’t afford to trade in her standard-issue exoskin for the fancy motorized kind. So she seldom took the effort of getting into her exoskin unless Qaper needed to carry her somewhere.
“How’s my favorite tenant?” he asked.
Willow looked up from the tablet sitting on her lap.
“I’m doing great, Uncle Roddy. I’m learning about geology!” She flipped her tablet around to show him what she was watching. There was an animation of how the moon formed, distributing different kinds of rock in different areas of the crust. “I’m thinking about going into mining when I finish school.”
“You don’t want to be a peacekeeper anymore?”
“I don’t know…” She looked down at the tablet thoughtfully. “This is just so fascinating.”
“Whatever you choose, you’ll be great at it.”
“Here it is!” Qaper called, his voice still muffled from being in the back room.
“See you later, Willow,” he waved to her.
She waved back, her wide eyes locked on the screen.
Qaper shuffled out of the room, looking more slumped than usual. “I suppose this means my pay check will be pushed back.” His eyes stayed on the floor.
“I’m afraid so.” Two weeks ago, Roddy had taken some of the money for Qaper’s paycheck out of the landlord’s wage he recieved from the Division of Housing. And since then a couple of rooms had gone vacant, making his books even more unbalanced.
Qaper motioned Roddy toward the door. “Lead the way.”
When they got back up to Tix and Kasi’s, Roddy pounded on the door.
“If I have to break down this door, I’m going to charge you for the repairs!”
He heard Tix sob again on the other side.
Roddy’s ears burned hot again. “Have it your way,” he said through gritted teeth. He motioned for Qaper to approach the door. When he was in place, Roddy hefted the other side of the ram and counted.
“One, two, three!”
They slammed the ram against the door, just next to the handle. It dented, but did not budge. It typically took them five or six strokes to get it open. They hit the door again.
Up and down the stairwell echoed the sound of doors opening as people came to see what the commotion was about. Heads peeked over the tops of railings, but their expressions were passive.
“One, two –“
The door swung inward suddenly.
Roddy and Qaper took a startled step backward.
Tix stood in the doorway, a smile covering his tear-soaked face. “We have the money.”
“Kasi’s got a table that’s spending a fortune. She only had enough time to tell me. She had to get back to serve them.”
“So transfer the money.”
“She doesn’t have it yet. She won’t get the tip until they leave.”
Roddy crossed his arms. “Then how do I know you’re not lying, just to buy time?”
Qaper looked at him pleadingly. If it was the truth, then he could afford Qaper’s pay. But Tix had attacked Yazen. How would he explain it to Rhene, or to any of the other tenants, if he didn’t throw them out? Word would get around.
He looked sternly at Tix. The over-sized boy wore threadbare shorts over his exoskin, and his eyes were still puffy from crying.
“Out.” He pointed in the direction of the stairs leading down.
Tix stared in disbelief for a few moments, then hung his head. He glanced behind him to grab the handle of the Gyro-tote and pulled it from the room. Qaper and Roddy moved onto the next staircase up to make way for him.
When the sphere-shaped Gyro-tote got to the edge of the stairs, Tix turned, hefting it too easily for a boy his age. Then he carried it down to the bottom of the stairs and set it down. He pulled the glass of his helmet down over his face, locking it in place. He pulled the Gyro-tote into the airlock.
The was a pause.
Suddenly he rushed back out of the airlock, looking excitedly up at Roddy. “She’s got the money!”
Roddy narrowed his eyes at him. “Prove it.”
“How much do you need?”
“They owe 97.44 dunnets,” RN, his pax, quietly informed him. “Including this month’s rent, payment should total 251.44.”
Roddy snorted. There was no way she could make that much in one shift.
“Two hundred and fifty.”
Tix looked down, speaking quietly to his pax.
Roddy turned away from the railing. Good riddance.
“Payment received,” RN said.
“What?” Roddy spun putting his hands on the banister.
“180 dunnets received from Tix.”
Roddy’s ears flushed again. “Keep what’s late, but reject this month’s payment.”
“Are you sure?” RN asked.
“Yes I’m sure!” He walked back over to the railing and looked down. “Reject payment!”
“What? Why?” Tix called up at him.
“I want you gone, you hear me? After what you did today, I had better not see you in here again, or so help me–“
“It wasn’t him!”
Roddy jerked his head up to see Yazen up on the next landing.
“It wasn’t him, okay?”
Roddy looked at him suspiciously. Why would he do this?
But if Yazen was willing to lie for Tix in front of the crowd that had gathered to watch the eviction, at least Roddy would have plausible deniability, in case Tix ever acted out again. And this way he wouldn’t be letting Qaper and Willow down.
“Fine. You can stay.”
Read the next chapter: Procyon