The company had offered much more luxurious lodgings, but Maria didn’t have much in the way of worldly possessions. A week’s worth of clothes, a week’s worth of uniforms, and a keepsake or two. Everything else she needed was on the network or carved onto her living skin.

So the company had agreed to set her up in a smaller place in the Al-Baghdadi Towers. A bed, a desk, a closet, a bathroom, and a window. They wouldn’t let Maria keep the rest of the housing allotment, so she’d donated it to a colleague she barely knew that had five kids.

When she wasn’t aboard a ship, Maria spent her time in her apartment, on her terminal. It filled a whole wall, and she carefully subdivided it with news feeds, entertainment, and a little pornography just for kicks. Whatever she focused her eyes on broke in across the audio feed, and with a single programmed gesture she could expand anything of interested to fill the space.

Needless to say, it had all been programmed before Jessie had died. The upper corner had always been the Jessie feed, and half of the things buzzing in from the network were originally selected to be Jessie-pleasers, Jessie-conversation-starters, Jessie-impressers.

Now, on her first day home from a long voyage, Maria sat in her chair, glassy-eyed and unfocused before the terminal, legs propped up on the desk before her. She wore only her favorite pair of jeans, her Jessie-jeans, and the sloppy polish drying on her toes was quite forgotten.

Lit from behind by the setting sun of Mesopotamia Prime, it struck Maria as just the sort of thing that Jessie would have enjoyed. That naive sense of wonder, that excitability…they had been the perfect counterpoint to Maria’s instinctive cynicism and misanthropy.

A message from corporate jumped across Maria’s feed. Limply, she brought it to the fore. “What is it?”

“I see that I’m interrupting you again.” It was Lassiter, unfazed by the relaxed posture and dress code showed by his contactee. “Shall I call back after you have finished wallowing in self-pity?”

“You’ll never call back in that case,” sniffed Maria. “I’m having my mail delivered to self-pity these days. I’m on the verge of renting out my place over in self-loathing and making it official.”

“The rents there are outrageous, and corporate won’t issue a housing scrip. Try self-doubt, I hear all the executives have summer homes there.”

Maria liked Lassiter. He was no Jessie, but he understood where she was coming from and was always happy to roll with the punches and do a little light verbal fencing. He also did not condescend, and if he worried about the accounts he managed, he at least respected requests not to hangwring over it. “I’ll take a tour, see how I like it.”

“While you’re planning that, corporate has a contract offer open for you that you may be interested in,” said Lassiter. “Details are inbound, but you know I like to talk everything through to give it that personal touch.”

“Hit me with the deets, giant talking head,” Maria said.

“There’s a high-risk courier job open, leaving day after tomorrow. Details are classified conditional on acceptance, naturally, but suffice it to say that the legitimate government of Celebes II has great need of something we have the ability to sneak through a blockade.”

“Hmph,” said Maria. “Hazard pay?”

“Hazard pay, hush money, playing ball bonus, and full survivor benefits,” Lassiter said. “The works.”

“I’ve heard all that before.”

“What you may not have heard,” Lassiter said, “is that the promised flexibility includes the ability to transfer these benefits to any corporate account on completion or expiry.”

Maria sat up, suddenly at intense attention, leaving a smear of half-dried polish where she scraped the edge of the desk. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that this includes your…other…account,” Lassiter said. “I’ve seen your balance sheet.”

Silent for a moment, Maria nodded. “Get it in writing for me and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

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