by Kate Lindsey, from an idea by John Vincent © 1990
"Well, what do you think?"
Ace stared round the tiny chamber that was no bigger
than the bathroom they'd had back at the children's home.
"What about the rest of it?" she asked
The young officer laughed. "Good, I like a girl with
a sense of humour. So do others."
She threw her rucksack and jacket onto the bed. "So what
about this job?" she demanded. "You said you could get me a job. Otherwise,
how can I pay for... this?"
"It's five Crowns for every cycle," he said, reaching
out and stroking her cheek - she gritted her teeth. "You shouldn't have too
much... difficulty... earning that much in a day."
"Doing what? Lab assistant? Waitress?"
He laughed again, shaking his head. "Surely you've realised
Ace swallowed, her eyes drifted warily to the bed and
back to the man's face; sharp breath between her slightly parted lips as
a wave of nausea passed through her. "There's... there's nothing else?"
"You'll starve before you find it, and even then
you'll need a bribe of fifty Crowns or more to secure it. At least this way
you won't go hungry, or want for a place to sleep while you look."
He reached into his pocket and took out a gleaming
gold coin, placing it on the small table next to be bed.
"The start of your first cycle's rent," he said. "Take
it or leave it... and here. I went to quite a bit of trouble to find you
this place, as well as clearing up all that mess you caused in the
Transmat™ section when you got caught up in that incoming beam. You owe me
enough already, so don't disappoint me."
She stared at the coin - in it were all her hopes and
fears, and her survival. He was right, of course - if she wanted to live
here it was the only option, but the price was...
"There's really nothing else?" she asked as the lieutenant
began pulling off his gloves.
"Only this," he said, holding up his right palm for her
to see the frost-burnt impression that she had all too quickly learnt the
significance of. "I really wouldn't recommend it. And for you, there is only
this, or that," he nodded at the coin on the table.
Ace slowly reached out. Her fingers touched the coin,
pushing it this way and that abstractedly.
"I'll take this," she said at last. "You know I have
She turned away from him and began to pull off her T-shirt.
With her clothes, she shed all her expectations, all her longings for a better...
a happier life. The dream had come true, she had escaped the restrictions
of Earth, but the old nightmare demons had been waiting to greet her all
Finally, she turned around to face him, her head bowed
and her hands clasped together against and covering the softness below her
waist, a final gesture of useless modesty.
"Let go of your hands and look at me," he commanded.
She faced him and her hands dropped to her sides, clenched
into tight fists.
"Mmm, very nice," he muttered, unbuttoning his tunic.
"You should make quite a good living here."
"You call it living?"
"I..." she began. "I'm... I'm only fifteen."
"So? You're young - that's another thing men like," he
observed and placed a hastily scribbled piece of paper on the table next
to the coin. "There's a list of a few Comtel™ numbers here - some gentlemen
I know who enjoy a good time; they rely on me to mention them to anyone new
who turns up."
"I..." she had to swallow to fight down the urge to vomit.
"I've never... I've never done it before."
"Really?" he said, his eyebrows raising as he paused
from un-buckling his belt. "I suppose under the circumstances that deserves
a little more."
He fished around in his pocket and dropped three more
coins, smaller Quarter Crowns, next to the first on the table.
Ace stared at them and the anger welled up inside her.
"Is life so fucking cheap here?"
"Cheaper than this," the lieutenant said. "I'm one of
the generous ones."
"But I've never..." she shook her head despairingly. "It shouldn't
be like this; it should never be like this."
"What's the matter?" he taunted. "Not one of those who
still thinks it should be saved for after bonding, are you? But that's just
another form of exploitation, isn't it? It's a bit too late for that sort
of false morality now - especially here."
"No," she said. "It's just that it shouldn't have to
happen like this - ever."
"But it is, and we're here," he said. "This is real life
and on Iceworld this is the only life for many. You can hope to end up with
something better, that's all. Maybe you'll find it, or maybe you'll find
what I did."
The surprise threw Ace of balance. "You mean you..."
"You just have to... accommodate... the varied tastes
you find here," he said.
Ace stared down at the ground again and watched the mixed
pile of clothes on the floor growing. All the anger, all the fear, had left
her, had drained away leaving only a deep pit of despair. She relaxed with
helpless reservation and meekly lay down when he told her to. He climbed
onto the bed and roughly pulled her knees apart, lifting them up and spreading
"A word of advice," he said. "Try to look as if you're
enjoying it, even though you're not. It reassures the punters, believe me."
"I'd've thought you'd know too much to do this to someone
"Oh, but I do," he said. "I'm giving you the tips I had
to learn. Though at least I only had to look into the faces of half of them,
and you'll only have to put up with the men. Unless Belaz is feeling a bit
bored, of course," he added with a rather childish smirk.
He pushed straight in and lay down on her. She clamped
her teeth together and winced at the sudden pain. She felt like crying, but
the tears and sobs wouldn't come.
"Put you arms around me..." he said. "Tighter."
Two hours later, Ace sat alone in the tiny room, the blanket wrapped around
her protectively. Slowly, she leaned across and scooped up the four coins
from the table, then weakly chinked them in her hand, her tired muscles still
She'd sold herself for that.
At last the tears came as she reached out for the list.
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