by Caitlyn Konze -
A stuttering hiss made Anjelika jump and back-pedal into her father. His firm grip on her shoulders melted her fear like light dissolves nightmares. Pistons twice her size inhaled hot air and exhaled steam that left a tint of iron on her tongue. Chunks of metal clanged together somewhere beyond her field of vapor-obscured vision. When her father said they needed to talk, the intestinal workings of Avenir was the last place she thought they'd go.
“What are we doing here?”
“Making sure we aren't overheard.”
Anjelika raised an eyebrow. Mission accomplished, considering the only way to communicate among the mechanical cacophony was to shout directly into each other's ears.
Her father shook the battered letter centimeters from her nose.
“I don't know who wrote this, but it means we are not as safe as I thought.”
The muscles in Anjelika's jaw clamped together and her eyes widened. Avenir Acquisitions Administrator Davik Loynis, her father, whose orders came directly from the Peace Council, was concerned for his safety? No one gained or relinquished permanent residency on this orbital ship without her father's signature. Do the Council not trust the people they appoint? Had her family been under some kind of surveillance this whole time? Who else would have the resources to harm someone with her father's status? The direction of Anjelika's thoughts propelled her to more and more preposterous conclusions until she arrived at one that made her heart protest its own rhythm.
“Was not the victim of an accidental hull breach.”
Anjelika wrenched her head out of her father's hands and locked gazes with his red, baggage-laden eyes.
“Then what was she a victim of?”
He couldn't have heard her, but her father's shoulders rose and drooped with the heavy understanding of his daughter's inquisition. She allowed him to speak into her ear again.
“There are things you wouldn't understand–”
“Then start explaining them.”
Her father pinched the bridge of his nose before leaning close. “I love you, Jeli, and you have to trust that I continue to love no woman more than I love your mother.”
The use of her childhood nickname stung the backs of her eyeballs with tears. She swallowed. “Continue to love?”
Her father cupped either side of her head so she couldn't pull away. “Yes, honey. Your mother is still alive.”