Netwalk’s Children Monday

Chapter Three

In which we meet Rick, and Melanie talks with Andrew. AKA Family Dynamics Are Fun, Right?

Bess shifted her shoulders against the stiffness of her formal dress coat as their party waited in the glassed in observation shelter by the skimmer pad. She wore the plain green of Security adjunct-in-training, different in shade and not wired for the same digital management capabilities possessed by the full formal Security forest green dress coats that Alex, Don, and Sophie wore. Her dark hair was short enough that she didn’t need a Security braid like Don and Sophie had. They stood in a small clot away from the adults—Sophie’s mother Angela, Do It Right Head of Security; her own mother, dressed in the formal darker green of a full Security adjunct, Deirdre Conley in a slightly lesser-ranked Security adjunct coat, and her father, wearing his regular jeans with blue shirt and black sports jacket.

Cousins coming in. Angela had briefed them as representatives of their crèche cohort, the one affected by the cousins’ arrival, before they assembled at the pad. Her mother remained silent while Angela talked, her eyes and face tired and sagging with Burnout fatigue. The briefing broke down into three elements.

Take them in, teach them our ways, don’t talk about them in virtual. Not a casual visit. Not with all the warnings about avoiding outside contacts. Not with this level of hush-hush urgency first thing in the morning, especially since the cousins were joining the crèche cohort for training. Not the plans for skiing and a plunge into routines better suited for school time than break. What was this all about? Corporate Courts politics, was all Angela had said, accompanied by handsign which emphasized need to know only.

Need to know. There were things she did need to know, basic stuff she should understand if she was supposed to treat these two new kids like family. More than just their names, she needed to know information that would tell her how Richard and Christina would fit into the flow of the crèche. Their strengths, their weaknesses. How their patterns and routines would affect her patterns and routines.

Treat them like family? She knew her crèche-mates better than these barely-seen cousins. Oh, she’d been at formal functions where Grandmother Diana trotted out the Stephens and Fielding branches of the Landreth family for the Corporate Courts or the New American Federation to see. She’d nodded and exchanged polite chat with Richard and Christina, contacts highly supervised by her mother, Deirdre, or Angela in those settings away from the controlled contacts here on the Mountain.

Maybe that was why they were back in school routine rather than break routine. Easier to integrate two new cohort members. Still. Two routines broken; the trip and now break. Not a good pattern. Not good at all.

Two skimmers glided in, both bearing Do It Right insignia. Two? [What’s that about?] she speeched to Alex.

He grimaced. [Our team plus the transport. Bess, we need to be verbal in these situations until your subvocals improve. Too much of a security risk.]

[Sor-rry!] But she really wasn’t. Subvocal was the major Netwalk skill that eluded her. Hours of practice at the most basic levels and even then she still couldn’t do it correctly. She’d done everything right…and it still didn’t work. Damn it, she was trying. She didn’t need to be reminded of this failure. Everything should work—but it didn’t.

Now they’d have two more Netwalk beginners. That would change things. I won’t be the lowest-skilled person in the cohort. That meant they’d all be teaching Richard and Christina, and she wouldn’t be the newest that made everyone slow down when it came to subvocals.

Angela opened the shelter door.

The gull-wing door to the bigger skimmer slowly raised. Nik Morley, Sophie’s father and the black ops head at Do It Right, climbed out first. A scrawny blond boy followed after Nik, his long beige trench coat flapping in the early morning wind and rain. He halted, blinking like a startled colt. Cousin Richard.

“God, this place is wet,” he grumbled. “And it’s cold.” He ran toward the shelter, hunching his head down in his collar against the rain. He paused at the door’s edge, suddenly looking worried as he eyed Bess, Alex, Sophie, and Don. Bess straightened up to her full height, secretly pleased that she stood a full head taller than Richard. He noticed and his lips tightened until she could barely see them.

“That’s what you get for pulling tricks,” his father growled as he trailed Richard, pulling his hat down hard but not hunching against the drizzle like his son did. A blond girl—Cousin Christina—about the same height as Richard followed Andrew. Their mother Celina and Stephens Security brought up the rear.

Her parents went to meet them. They shook hands with Andrew, then Celina, walking toward the shelter with them.

“Any trouble getting away?” her mother asked.

“No, thanks to your planning.” Celina said. “Security reported that a team from the Courts showed up twenty minutes after we left.”

Her mother looked over at Nik. “They see you?”

He shook his head and waved the Security teams over to the other skimmer. Angela nodded to Andrew and Celina before hurrying to join the gathering.

Richard stood uneasily next to his father in the shelter while Christina hung behind Celina.

“Well,” her mother said, seeming at a loss for words. She glanced back at Bess expectantly. Sophie turned sideways and gestured for Bess to come forward.

Oh. Yes. She’d forgotten the choreography. Fuzzy brain this morning. Too early and not enough caffeine after staying up half the night. Bess joined her mother, followed by Alex, Don and Sophie.

“Welcome to the Mountain,” she said awkwardly. She held out her hand to Richard. He took it, and the world reeled momentarily around Bess as something stung her hand.

What was that? Flash of bitter taste. The gadget—what the—? She quickly released his hand and stepped back as Richard smirked at her. He raised his hand and she saw the small stinger tucked inside it. Normally a simple practical joke, but stingers bore just enough resemblance to the gadget in action that sometimes they could trigger one of her seizures.

“Hey! Why’d you do that?” she snapped at him as Alex bristled next to her. She fingersigned for him to hold. Now she remembered. Richard was fond of practical jokes. He had managed to pull a couple at formal occasions. He wouldn’t know about her and stingers. But he’s going to learn.

Andrew growled and grabbed Richard’s shoulder, giving him a shake. “Knock it off, Rick! This isn’t the time or the place for jokes. Sorry,” he apologized to Bess.

“Oh, we’ve got some jokes we can expose him to,” Don muttered loud enough for Bess to hear, scowling at Richard. Richard flinched.

“Stop it,” Sophie whispered.

“Sorry,” Richard apologized. “Just—trying to lighten up the scene.”

“Probably not the best timing or the best thing to use in these circumstances,” her mother said dryly. “I see you take after your father in this.” She half-smiled at Andrew. “Or did you give him the idea?”

“If you think I had anything to do with this, Melanie, you’re nuts.“

Her mother held up her hands to interrupt Andrew. “Not meaning it. Seriously. Like Rick said—lightening the mood.” She scowled at Richard. “Rick. Not a good idea. Stingers can cause Bess problems. Sometimes they trigger seizures. Get rid of the damn thing.”

Richard slid the stinger off of his finger and handed it to her mother. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Well, now you do.” Her mother’s voice was firm. “Don’t ever do that again. I’ll rip you a new one if you do.”

Richard’s lips tightened and he nodded, slipping next to his mother. She raised her brows at him and shook her head. He slumped and lowered his eyes, looking like a scolded puppy.

Bess cleared her throat and turned to Christina, tensing in case this cousin had a trick ready as well. Christina rolled her eyes at Richard and took Bess’s hand firmly, her hand almost as muscular as Bess’s.

“I’m looking forward to training with you,” she said, looking past Bess at Alex, Don and Sophie. “Security?”

“Part of our crèche cohort,” Bess said, glad to be past the formalities. “We’re part of Crèche Two. Don and Sophie are the cohort training leads. Alex is Don’s second and I’m Sophie’s second for everything but virtual.”

“Call me Chris,” Christina said. She shook hands with Alex, Don and Sophie.

Richard rejoined them. “And I’m Rick. So are we gonna get breakfast here, or what?”

“Light breakfast,” Sophie said. “Skiing in an hour.”

“Skiing? In this rain?” Rick exclaimed. “That’s stupid!”

“Morning routine,” Don said. “If we’re not skiing, we’re climbing, hiking, or riding. Be a good day once this squall passes. Cold rain at this elevation is snow at the High Reaches.”

“You are all cracked,” Rick said. He pushed past them to follow the adults as they all walked back toward the family compound. “Certifiably outdoor crazies.”

“Call it a bit of healthy living,” Alex muttered.

“Outdoor adventures will do you all some good,” her mother said, winking at Andrew. “Remember Brenda kicking our butts outside when we were being stinkers?”

“Speak for yourself,” Andrew said, though the look on his face softened.

“Well I’m looking forward to skiing,” Chris said. “I’m not very good at it.”

“That’s okay. We’ll keep it low key today,” Sophie said. “For both you and your brother.”

Chris snorted. “Rick skis better than I do. He just doesn’t like to do outside things. He’s been a real pain about it since he turned ten.”

“I’m sure we can show him a good day,” Alex said. Bess glanced suspiciously at him, and Alex put on an innocent look. “What? We can see if he keeps up with us.”

“We can do that for sure,” she agreed, sending Alex an image of the jump course they might want to do today. Teach that Rick kid to come after me with a stinger. That hurt.

At least it hadn’t triggered anything more than a Gizmo taste. That was some improvement.


Despite the gray clouds, the wind had died down. The showers at Do It Right Hoodland‘s elevation had left a few inches of dry, fluffy powder at the High Reaches. Melanie carved down her fifth line of the day, aiming for the big ravine where the kids had gone to run the natural halfpipe the resort designers had built between the two branches of the High Reach run. To her surprise, Andrew and Celina had decided to ski along with Melanie and the kids. She’d hoped for that, simply because it would be easier to talk to Drew up here. But she hadn’t counted on it. Good.

Marty had stayed back, but—he wasn’t looking very healthy this morning. Oh, he’d excused it with a need to set up the labs further for testing Rick and Chris’s abilities before starting the grow for their chips, but his Netwalker Ness had warned Melanie he hadn’t slept well last night either. And he was looking pale this morning, a blue-gray tint faintly outlining his lips under light brown skin. Damn it, you’d think we’d have a heart disease solution by now. But between early hardships and Netwalker toxin exposures, his health was a mess. Even that wasn’t enough to explain his problems. Like all my miscarriages before Bess. Gizmo? God, she hated to think about that prospect. Marty denied that likelihood. She wasn’t ready to dismiss that probability.

Melanie paused by a snowbank to rest her aching knee and watch Zach twist his way through a 360 flip on his snowboard off a ramp in the bottom of the halfpipe. He almost nailed his landing but overbalanced and ended up crashing, rolling through and shakily regaining his feet.

“Look at me!” Rick yelled as he pushed off, barely giving Zach time to get clear of the landing area. Melanie squinted to watch her nephew’s form as she leaned on her ski poles. Good going in—Rick was snowboarding, not skiing, and clearly knew his way around boards and tricks. Probably skates any chance he can get. Good to know. We can work with that. Get Nik to run Rick through a few skateboard courses to keep his brain busy and away from hatching up jokes. The one this morning hadn’t set well with Bess, which meant Alex would be looking for any excuse to strike back at Rick as well. Luckily she could count on Don to rein his brother in, and it appeared that Rick and Zach were forging a friendship. Better Zach than Phil. Phil was another trickster, and she could just imagine the chaos that Rick and Phil combined might concoct. Zach might keep Rick steady.

Rick popped into the air just a hair too early, overbalanced on his twist, and crashed just as bad as Zach had. Still, he came up laughing and shaking his head. Better impression on her than he’d given first thing this morning. At least Rick could take a fall and laugh about it—but dear lord, from what she had seen so far, the kid was a headstrong brat. She didn’t remember Andrew being this outright rude at the same age (not that Mom or Sarah would have tolerated it). She hadn’t thought Drew and Celina would be so forgiving of bad behavior. The sister now, was entirely different, polite with the air of being half-lost in design thoughts that Melanie recognized from her own father. Should introduce Chris to her Netwalker grandfather. Wonder what Will is going to think about her?

Melanie jumped at the soft scratching sound of a braking snowboard on icy snow behind her. She relaxed as she turned her head to see Andrew coasting to a stop. He bent to unlock his bindings, then used one foot push himself next to Melanie. He heaved a heavy sigh before dropping onto the drift, pushing his goggles up on his helmet.

“It’s been a while,” he said, breathing hard as he rested his wrists on his knees. He shook his head and coughed. “A little hard to get out to the snow in Southern California, have to go north or to Colorado. Doesn’t help that I’m out of shape.” He smiled ruefully at her.

“Kids look good, despite what Chris said about being a crappy skier. They aren’t World Cup level, but so what?” Melanie kicked out of her skis and stuck skis and poles in the snowbank behind Andrew. Perfect. Almost like he’s reading my mind. We can talk here with minimal blockers. She sat next to him. “You’ve been getting the kids out on the slopes nonetheless. And I sure as hell can’t ski like I used to.”

“Might be a good thing that you’re not skiing like a madwoman any more.”

Melanie shrugged. “My body’s getting older, but what skiing I can do keeps me going. We bring the kids out to do something every day before we ask them to study. It’s a pattern that seems to work for all of them. Probably what Mom should have done with me instead of playing with meds for my ADHD. Easier to do here on the Mountain.”

Andrew grimaced. “I should have done something like that with Rick from early on. But—“ he raised his hands. “Work.”

“It is simpler here.”

“Celina tries, but it’s easier to get Chris doing something. Rick—if it’s not something he wants to do, he won’t do it.”

“He rides a skateboard?” Melanie jerked her head toward the kids hiking back up the ravine to ride the halfpipe again. “Pretty confident on a snowboard but it’s clear he spends time skating.”

“Yeah. That is the one thing I can pry him out to do. He rides a little skate course we’ve got, but he keeps sneaking out for bigger courses whenever he can duck past Security.”

“I’ll sic Nik on him. Nik’s been giving Alex, Don, and Phil some high-level skate coaching. I think the boys could enter comps if they wanted. The girls?” Melanie wobbled her hand. “They all do it, but Tina likes it, Sophie favors rock climbing, and Bess prefers swimming.”

“Good. Chris will fit in with Bess. She’s a swimmer. I hoped Nik was still skating. Rick needs that influence.”

“One of his releases.”

Andrew nodded. They watched silently as Rick followed Zach through another jump, both boys nailing their landings this time. Andrew laughed.

“Watching Rick reminds me of how Dad used to snowboard. Bash right on through, bounce back up.”

“Well, it’s a good thing that he takes after Dad in that respect, I guess.” Melanie sighed and pulled off her helmet, fingercombing her graying brunette hair into something that didn’t look like helmet head. “Dad still does snowboard runs as a Netwalker, when he’s crunching concepts.”

“That must be both weird and fun to see.” Andrew’s voice was wistful.

“Especially since there’s no snow. Sometimes he mixes it up and uses a skateboard. Weird when he changes halfway through a twist from snowboarding to skateboarding.”

“I miss a lot being cut off from direct virtual world. But after all this stuff with Rick—I don’t know, Mel. I’m beginning to think I’m better off away from it.”

“Yeah. There are days, let me tell you, Drew. Having a digitally talented kid can be more bother than good.” Her hands ached and she worked them inside her gloves. There had been a time when the cold didn’t strike her this hard. “All those years when we couldn’t expose Bess to virtual just delayed our eventual reckoning.” She made a face. “Kid gets a notion and she just goes for it. And damn, she’s good, even though she’s dangerously green in virtual.”

Andrew laughed. “Sounds like Mom could say you got what you deserved with a smart, impulsive kid who has talent. She’s said that to me more than once about Rick.”

“She’s—not dared to say that to me yet. Though she comes close.” Melanie sobered. “I’m not so worried about Bess doing something impulsive. It’s not in her nature, and most of the time either her crèche mates rein her in or else they help her out. There are advantages to raising your kid in a Security crèche.”

“Good you have that.”

“But that’s not what really worries me,” Melanie continued. “Sometimes Bess reminds me of Grandmother in the way she thinks and does stuff. Nothing big, but I don’t know that I want to see Sarah in her.”

“That can’t be fun.” Andrew heaved a heavy sigh. “Okay. You said wanted to talk last night, and I don’t think you necessarily just meant the kids. I was hoping you still had access to the fabled Mountain connectivity black holes.”

“Why do you think I kicked off my skis? More than just a breather. This location is one of the best black holes on the Mountain.” Melanie pulled a blocker out. “I’ll add this for further security but we don’t really need it.”

Andrew peered at the blocker. “Marty or Dad’s making?”

“Marty, off of one of Dad’s patterns. It’s a prototype.”

“Marty doing okay? Heart attack. I hadn’t figured Marty to have those problems.”

“Appreciated hearing from you when it happened. Today he’s fair. It’s up and down with a questionable prognosis, and today’s a low. Thanks for asking, Drew.” Melanie swallowed hard, blinking asymmetrically so she wouldn’t activate her links. Dampness blurred her vision and she wiped it away, focusing instead on activating the blocker.

The old Andrew wouldn’t have said anything. What the hell had happened to her brother? Was he that shaken by Rick’s behavior? Or had he finally changed to someone more pleasant? Maybe it was just growing up and being a parent. Bits and pieces of family history she’d encountered suggested that their father’s behavior had been very similar to Andrew’s before Will had left Landreth Technologies.

“I—noticed Marty didn’t look in good shape when we landed,” Andrew said awkwardly, looking away from Melanie.

“It’s what it can be,” she said quietly.

“Can’t they clone the valves? God, if anyone should be able to benefit from medical nano and bio tech, it would be him.”

“No. There’s too much Netwalk toxin damage. On top of traumas he had as a kid, and he’s ten years older than I am. I may face the same problems in a few years because of my Netwalker toxin exposures, but we’re not sure of that possibility. Just enough differences. We’re still looking into it. It’s something you may need to know about as well because of your own toxin experiences, so this goes right into what I wanted to talk about. It’s very likely the Gizmo could be a factor in Marty’s health issues. He minimizes it but I’m not sure.”

“The Gizmo? How?”

“It’s a long story. While I trust this blocker to keep Mom out, too many mentions of—the gadget—might catch its attention. I can pass you some reports when we get back home. I keep that stuff in hard copy. But what’s going on with Marty is just a small piece of the issues with the device. There’s a lot more that I’m worried about.”

Andrew nodded. “Sorry, Mel. This crap with Rick is probably the last damned thing you need to have happen. I appreciate everything you’ve done so far to help us. I don’t know what the hell would happen if Mom took Rick. If it’s too much, let me know.“

“It’s not too much, because to be honest, I’m doing it as much for Bess as for you and your family.” She rubbed her eyes. “The gadget-related issues around this incident bother me. Add Marty’s heart problems as one additional possibility to what the device is affecting. And I think the thingamajig is influencing Mom hard again.”

“Like it was around the time Bess was born?”

Melanie nodded. “Maybe worse.” She leaned her elbows on her knees, staring straight ahead. “Last night’s meeting about Rick really bothered me. It wasn’t just the words, it was the vibe. No tolerance for dissention. Mom has always at least given lip service for opposing points of view. Not at all the case last night. She was edgy. Shut down Sarah halfway through the meeting, after Sarah agreed that I needed to be the one to supervise Rick and his chip, keep him away from further exposure to the device.”

“Well, there could be other reasons,” Andrew said, hesitating before he continued. “Sarah and Mom get into nasty arguments just because Sarah’s got a mood on. Even I can see it without virtual. If they’ve been squabbling Mom gets snappy with everyone else. It was that way even before they were Netwalker and host. Is it really that different now?”

“Even at the worst, there at the end before Sarah’s death, Mom and Sarah saw eye-to-eye on the gadget issues. That doesn’t seem to be the situation any more. Sarah’s advising caution and using her head. Mom’s just reacting.”

“Late night?” Andrew picked up a handful of snow, compressing it in his hands. “Mom is getting older, you know.”

“As are we all. Maybe. It still bothers me that she’d lock Sarah down just because Sarah disagreed on a course of action.”

“They could have been fighting beforehand.” Andrew juggled the ball of snow, its edges translucent and icy.

“It’s more than that. I recognized the whatchamacallit’s pressure. You know, that low rumbling vibration? Virtual channels around Mom seem to have more of that tone than ever.”

“Is that enough to argue an influence? Sarah got bitchy during her last years.” Andrew flipped the icy snowball over the edge of the ravine and picked up another handful of snow. “Maybe the same thing’s happening with our mother.”

“To my knowledge Mom never played with nano beauty treatments like Sarah did. I know that was a factor in Sarah’s issues and it left her open to the device’s influence. Sarah is still figuring out how much the gadget’s presence affected her.”

“I see,” Andrew said thoughtfully. He didn’t compress the second snowball as hard as the first. Pieces broke off from it as he threw the snow in the ravine. “How long has Mom been a Netwalk host? That could have a similar effect as Sarah’s nanos on Mom’s emotional and cognitive processes, with the same susceptibility.”

“We’re looking into that possibility as well. That could be a factor with Marty’s health problems, too. Maybe it’s Netwalk and not the gadget at all—but Drew, I don’t think that’s the case. Not with other information I’ve gotten.”


“Input from Sarah. Dad talked to her last night after Mom shut her down. He gave her a panic button. She thinks the thingamajig is a factor. Plus after Caspian—maybe I’m just trigger-happy, but I sure seem to be feeling the device’s influence all around us. Like Marty’s heart problems. He sure as hell didn’t show any signs of having heart issues, no indications on his medical records, tests, any data. Then boom. And he also doesn’t fit the silent heart disease pattern.”

“And Rick? How has the device affected him?”

“Deirdre and I found the gadget’s influence all over the virtual traces that Rick left. He’s had exposure.”

Andrew dropped his head into his hands. At last he looked back up. “God, Mel. I see what you mean. But that leaves me with a problem. What am I going to do with this kid if he’s under the device’s influence?”

“Let’s see what happens in the crèche after he’s been chipped.”

“He got around my safeguards. The sanctions that all of you created after the crummy thing grabbed Celina when she was pregnant with Rick. I know those damned restraints are near-impossible to break. I tried to do it once but couldn’t. Rick sailed right through them like a knife through butter. What’s he going to be like once he hits full virtual with a chip?”

“He’ll be running with Security kids in the crèche. That should slow him down,” Melanie said, hoping she sounded sufficiently convincing. There were days when despite what she’d said earlier, she wasn’t sure that was enough to keep Bess reined in, now that she was venturing out into the virtual world.

“The tone you’re using sure as hell doesn’t reassure me.” Andrew glanced sideways at her, half-frowning.

“There are days when I just don’t know about these kids,” Melanie admitted. “Their capabilities are scarily beyond what I am at my best, and they’ve not reached their peak yet. I’m not surprised about Rick and your sanctions, Drew. Bess blows through boundaries I struggled with.” Though she still can’t subvocal well, despite all her aptitude scores. What’s going on there? “It’s her peers who keep her in line because I can’t, not unless I turn all Enforcer on her, and I don’t want to do that. Yet.”

“Will that peer influence work on Rick?”

“The crèche kids are damn powerful in virtual. I think they can manage him. Alex and Bess together are stronger than me unless I pull full Enforcer. Don’s no slouch, and Sophie does her fair share of virtual butt kicking. And the others?” Melanie stared thoughtfully at a twisted lone pine clinging to the edge of the ravine. “By the time Rick’s up to speed with a Netwalk implant, any of them could and will have kicked his butt thoroughly in virtual. I think they do that to each other in their down times these days as a regular training exercise. They won’t spare Rick. He’ll come out either tough or broken, and he’s a Stephens descendant. We don’t tend to break in virtual.”

“Yeah.” Andrew reached for his board and rocked forward to hands and knees to push himself up. “My butt’s getting cold. We got things pretty well wrapped up for stuff we need to discuss under blockers? The news that the device is active, causing heart problems in Marty and influencing both our mother and my son should be enough.” His voice turned bitter as he bent down to fasten his bindings. “You’d think at some point we’d just be able to live something like a normal life.”

“I’m not so sure I’d know what a normal life looks like any more.” She turned and grabbed her poles to help herself up. “If I ever did.” She pulled her skis out of the snow, kicking the snow off of each boot before stepping into the bindings and turning off her blocker. “But yeah, that sums up the situation right now. Well and truly fucked, thank Gizmo very much.”

“Haven’t heard that one before,” Andrew said, quirking a brow at her.

Melanie laughed. “Hang around Do It Right, and you’ll hear it all the time.” She stretched. “Better get going. The High Reaches are going to open to the public in—“ she blinked up her clock. “Twenty minutes. Let’s round up the kids before they find more ways to hurt themselves, and get their little behinders down to HQ. Marty should be ready to start the chip grow tests after full breakfast while we deal with the fallout from me yanking you out of Mom’s reach.”

“Speaking of fallout, I wasn’t able to get out of the Courts today,” Andrew said sourly. “I checked again before this last run.”

She nodded. “I’ve got a command performance too. Probably the same meeting to chew us out about our kids. Might as well go in together since we’re undoubtedly equally guilty in Mom’s eyes, don’t you think? Give our mother something to think about.”

“Ha!” Andrew grinned sardonically. “You think the two of us being agreeable might just put the fear of God into her?”

“It’ll do something. About time the Courts got a little bit shook up. I think they plan based on our past animosity. Let’s make them realize things have changed.” She pushed off. “Want to race down or take it easy?” she yelled back at him, braking to a stop.

“Take it easy, Mel, I sure as hell couldn’t keep up with you before, no chance now.” Andrew jumped a couple of times to test his bindings, then angled the nose of his board downhill, gliding past her.

“Oh, I’ve slowed down since we were kids.” She pushed off, easily paralleled him.

Andrew snorted as she passed him, riding along the edge of the ravine until she found a good place to enter the natural halfpipe.

She barely heard his shouted words as she dropped in.

“It’s gonna take Death itself to slow you down, Mel!”

God, she wished it were true. Given the way she felt after a night with almost no sleep, she wasn’t sure that would be the case. The last thing she wanted to do was go to the Courts today, especially with Marty starting the chip grow for Drew’s kids.

Suck it up. Get to it and make sure we keep the kids safe.

How many times had she needed to do this? Andrew’s plaint—you’d think at some point we’d just be able to live something like a normal life—rang true for her as well.

Oh well. Get back home, have the hearty breakfast of the condemned, then hop into the skimmers with Andrew and their Security. Show up together at this Courts meeting. It was going to be a nasty day, but—at least it wouldn’t be just her on the carpet arguing with her mother.

About time Will Landreth’s children showed a united front. In the past, she’d been her mother’s daughter.

Right now being her father’s daughter and Andrew’s sister sounded pretty damned good.


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