“Your father has an awful lot of responsibility on his shoulders,” Pauline replied. “This ship, our lives… there’s a war going on out there, you know.”

“And he doesn’t trust me.”

Pauline sighed, wondering if the microwave was functioning properly. Syracuse was an old, creaking bucket of an ore carrier. The family spent most of their time on maintenance and repairs, just trying to keep the vessel going on its lonely circuit through the Asteroid Belt. The galley was a tight little compartment, its bulkheads and deck scuffed and dulled from long years of use.

Theo sat hunched over his bowl, muttering unhappily into his unfinished breakfast. His sister Angela, sitting across the galley’s narrow table from Theo, was slightly more than two years older; she was still carrying more weight than she should, still wearing an extra layer of teenage fat. Theo taunted her about it. She responded by calling her lanky, gawky brother “the giraffe.”

When Pauline looked at her daughter she could see a darkhaired, dark-eyed beauty waiting to blossom. We’ll have to be careful about her once we put in at Ceres, she reminded herself. There’ll be plenty of young men chasing after her.

“Dad’s got enough to worry about, Thee,” Angie said, in the authoritative voice of an older sister.

“I could help him if he’d let me,” Theo grumbled.

“Like you fixed the leak in the fuel tank? Dad had to come down and—”

“Hydrogen’s tricky stuff!” he protested. “It seeps right through ordinary seals.”

“Never send a giraffe to do a man’s job.” Angela smirked.

“Like you’d do better, hippo?”

“Mom! He’s calling me names again!”

“You started it!”

“Both of you, stop this at once,” Pauline said firmly. “I won’t have you calling each other ugly names.”

The microwave dinged at last. As Pauline opened it and pulled out her own breakfast of steaming oatmeal, she said, “Let me talk to your father about this, Thee. Perhaps there’s something that we can do.”

Theo brightened a bit and sat up a little straighter. “I could pilot the ship into Ceres!”

“I don’t know…”

“Dad lets Angie pilot the ship sometimes.”

“I’m more mature than you,” Angela said loftily. “You have to be reliable, you know.”

But their mother smiled. “We’ll see.”



Pauline Zacharias looked into the mirror as she sat at her dresser. I’m getting old, she realized, studying the fine lines that were beginning to spiderweb across her face.

She had never been a beauty, not in her own critical estimation. Her jaw was too long, she thought, her lips too thin.

Her gray eyes were large and Victor often called them luminous, the dear. But her hair. It was sorrowful. Dirty blonde. Victor called it sandy. It never behaved. Pauline had cropped it short, close to the skull, and still it stuck out all around in a sea of cowlicks. She tried to consider her good points: she was tall and her figure still slimly elegant. She had always strived to carry herself proudly, chin up, shoulders back, head erect. Now she was beginning to wonder if it was worth the effort.

Victor stepped into the bedroom and slid the door shut. The lock didn’t catch at first; he had to jiggle it a few times.

“This whole tub is breaking down around our ears,” Victor Zacharias muttered.

He was right, Pauline knew. Glancing around their bedroom she saw that the dresser and cabinets were badly in need of upgrading. Even the wall screens had developed an annoying little flicker. But the bed, she would never replace their bed. Victor had ripped out the compartment’s built-in bunk when they’d first leased Syracuse, and he’d built a handsome oversized bed with his own hands. Painted the plastic paneling to resemble real wood. Made a mattress out of discarded elastic water bags. Their one luxury, their bed.

“We’ll do an overhaul when we get to Ceres, won’t we?” she asked.

“I was just talking to Ceres,” he said, walking across the little compartment and kissing her absently on the crown of her head. “Three more ore ships have been hit, so prices are up.”

“Three ships?” she asked, alarmed.

“Corporation ships, Pauline. Nobody’s attacking the few independents, like us. Not even the mercenaries.”


Ignoring her unspoken fears, Victor mused, “If we can get this cargo of ore to the market before prices dip again, we’ll make a nice profit. Then we can overhaul the ship good and proper.”

“Will we be able to afford a rejuve therapy, too?” Pauline blurted.

“Rejuvenation?” Victor looked genuinely shocked. “You? Why?”

She loved him, not least because her husband always seemed to see her through adoring eyes. He was short, barrel-chested, starting to get potbellied. That hardly mattered to her. His real strength, Pauline knew, was in his character. Victor Zacharias had pride, yes, but more than that he had intelligence. When she’d first met him, Victor had been strong enough to bend steel rods with his bare hands. What really impressed her, though, was that he was sharp enough to talk his way out of confrontations, clever enough to win fights without violence.

And he had that beautiful, thick, curly, midnight black hair. Pauline envied her husband’s luxuriant dark ringlets. This many months out in the Belt, he had allowed his hair to grow down to his collar.

“I think it’s time for a treatment,” Pauline said. “I’m not getting any younger.”

“Pah!” He dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “People back at Ceres think you and Angie are sisters.”

“That’s not true, Vic, and you know it.”

“It is true,” he insisted. “You just don’t notice it.”

“Nonsense.” But she smiled.

He sat beside her, just one hip on the corner of the dresser’s little padded bench, and put an arm around her slender waist.

“You’re gorgeous, Pauline,” he said into the mirror.

“Not as gorgeous as I used to be.”

He raised his dark brows, then took a breath. “I think it’s gilding the lily, but if you want a rejuve treatment when we get back to Ceres, go ahead and do it.”

“We’ll be able to afford it?”

He nodded. She leaned her head on his shoulder and he curled around and kissed her.

And slid off the bench, plopping onto the threadbare carpet. They laughed together.

Later, as they lay in their handsome waterbed together, Pauline said into the shadows, “Victor, Theo thinks you don’t trust him.”


She turned toward him, sending a gentle wave through the bed. In the darkened room she could make out the curve of his bulky shoulder, the outline of those raven ringlets.

“He wants more responsibility, darling. He’s almost sixteen now—”

“And he’s a terrible klutz,” Victor said, chuckling. “All arms and legs, no coordination.”

Pauline smiled, too. She remembered Theo’s disastrous attempt to repair one of the galley’s faulty microwave ovens. It was functioning poorly when Theo started tinkering with it. It was a complete loss by the time he gave up.

But she coaxed, “You could let him relieve you in the command pod now and then, couldn’t you? Like you let Angie sit in. After all, the ship’s cruising on automatic, isn’t it?”

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