In the brief silence that followed, Grace spied the access port. It was a small silver rectangle at waist level, just within reach of her right hand. She couldn’t quite see all of it, but she could verify it by touch.

Grace turned to Maud, resting her hand nonchalantly across the rectangle as though bracing herself against the wall. Her index finger brushed against the socket in the center and felt the angled tube as it snaked to the right.


“Look, I’m sorry I barged in here. I know I should have read my contract. Port Casper is just so...different.” She indicated the view in the window with her other hand. Switch and distract.

Maud smiled. “It is, isn’t it?” She moved toward the windows, toward Grace.

“Did you ever see the outside before coming to Port?”

“I went to Cheyenne a few times,” Grace said.

“Doesn’t count. I mean a port town, or a big city.”

Grace shook her head.

“I was able to visit Port Casper my second year at Red Fox Academy,” Maud said, “and I came back more determined than ever to get out of cloister.” She looked out over the spaceport. “But the shock does wear off. Enjoy it while you can.”

Grace explored the socket area with her fingertips. Tim said there would be gold conductors at the base of the shaft, but her index finger was too big. She tried with her pinky.

“I think I’ll never tire of seeing cruisers headed to space,” she said.

“You might go yourself someday, Donner.”

“Isn’t it cold out there?” Grace crossed her arms. Her right hand dove under her jacket and grabbed the vial of liquid computer in her breast pocket.

“Once you get to where you’re going, they try to make it like home,” Maud said. “Except for gravity.”

Grace carefully unscrewed the vial lid using her thumb and index finger, making sure to keep the vial vertical. The lid dropped. She hoped it had fallen back into her pocket.

“I’ve been to Mars. Shivered the whole way there, but when I got in the dome, it felt just like spring in Port Casper,” Maud said.

“Mars? Really?”

As Maud elaborated, Grace played out her next movements in her mind: in one sweep, she could move her hand down to the port and tip the vial into the socket. She could stand there, as if supporting her weight on the wall, and look at the sights. Maud would never know. She let her hand fall to her waist, the vial hidden in her palm.

Ping! Grace clenched her jaw as the lid hit the floor.

“What’s that, Donner?” Maud reached down to retrieve the lid.

Desperately, Grace tipped the vial into the socket as Maud bent down. She tried to think of an excuse for the lid.

“Oh, that! It’s from an energy drink I picked up in Bod. I haven’t been sleeping too well since the loafer.”

Grace reached for the lid. Maud handed it to her and Grace screwed it back on the vial.

Did Raj just giggle in her dermal, or was it more of a choking sound?

“Not sleeping? Then I truly am sorry,” Maud said. She was in a much better mood than she had been when Grace entered. “You’ll get used to the loafers. Even I get them.”

“I guess so.” Grace shrugged, adrenaline pumping in her ears.

Maud looked at the vial. “That’s small. How strong is it? Remember, your contract forbids any type-c substances.”

Maud extended her hand.

No! Grace couldn’t let Maud take the vial. Her mind raced through the possibilities. Swallow it? Shove it in her pocket? Then what?

“I’ve got this one,” Tim said.

Maud’s ptenda bleated.

“Dammit,” Maud said. “Now what?” She fingered the display and frowned. “Donner, we’re done here right? I’ve got a meeting with the CEO.”

Good, Grace thought. You go to your meeting.

“After you,” Maud said, pointing to the door.

Corey OstmanPort Casper