“Hey, HEY!” Van croaked, as Ashtar’s chokehold threatened to squeeze the life out of him. “Easy! I’ll tell you everything I know.”

Ashtar eased her grip a bit. “Talk,” she said. “You play nice, I like what I hear, I’ll let you live. But the second you’re more trouble than you’re worth, I will snap your neck and leave you two minutes of contemplation before you die. We clear?”

Van gasped as Ashtar’s grip relaxes a bit. “Crystal,” he said. “Can’t blame a desperate man for trying, can you?”

“No more than you can blame a desperate woman for not putting up with it,” Ashtar replied. “Talk. You’re starting to bore me.”

“Okay, okay,” said Van. “All the administrators abandoned Dome B a while ago. They took the last working crawler to Dome Q.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” said Ashtar. “How long ago?”

“A year, maybe two. The sols kind of blur together after a while, you know?” Van smiled weakly. “I don’t remember a Dr. Sheran Quiria specifically, but then again I couldn’t tell you the names of any of our admins even before they abandoned us to die.”

“You’re doing well.” Ashtar eased her grip a bit. “Now tell me what things are like in Dome B.”

“Where have you been, under a rock?” Van said.

“Dome A,” said Ashtar.

A hint of curiosity flitted across Van’s face. “You tell me about Dome A, I’ll tell you about Dome B.”

“Fine,” Ashtar said with a light squeeze to Van’s trachea. “Dome A is dying, and people there are fighting over scraps. The two biggest warlords each have less than a dozen guns apiece, and they’re fighting tooth and nail for the right to die last.”

“Sounds nice,” Van said. “There’s no law here in B. Not even any warlords. We’re all just scraping to get by. We get the occasional person from C or D, but no one from A.” He paused, then continued: “What do you care about this Dr. Quiria anyhow?”

“He’s my father,” Ashtar said. “Good enough for you?”

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