Forty-eight (part 1)

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Sephora murmured, her fingers tightening around Ben’s hand and clutching the case Frederick had given her so many years ago. The boarding tube for their transport felt like it was a hundred miles long rather than a hundred feet. “This is crazy.”

Ben’s lips brushed against her ear. “The universe has gone crazy,” he said softly. “This is the only smart choice right now, our only chance to get to the bottom of all of it, right?”

She swallowed hard and tried to will some steel into her spine. When had the fear taken such a strong grip on her? “You’re right. And it’s my job to sort it all out.” Mine and no one else’s. If that makes me a pariah, makes me expendable to the government—well, then I suppose I was on the wrong side all along then, wasn’t I?

She shivered at the thought.

“I still wish Padraig was coming, too, though,” Sephora said, then sighed.

“He had his reasons for staying and he was right to do it.” Ben let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, giving her a brief, tight squeeze. “It doesn’t hurt to have someone here to keep us posted, Seph.”

She nodded. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“I don’t like it either.” Ben let go and nodded to the tunnel. “Let’s get going. We’re likely holding up the transport.”

Sephora snorted. “Doubtful. There’s more than just us that they’re waiting on.” She squared her shoulders and started walking again, down the boarding tube toward the transport’s airlock. The trip out to the outer reaches would be long, but she was prepared for that. It had been a long time since she’d been away from New Earth. At the very least, this trip would let her see what was happening beyond the narrow confines of her environment—to see what she’d been sending her inspectors out into for years.

“Did you mean it?” Ben asked her abruptly as they walked away from the attendant minding the airlock, the one that scanned their tickets and welcomed them aboard. Sephora looked at her husband, startled.

“Did I mean what?”

“What you said about a family,” Ben clarified as they found their way to their cabin.

She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at him. “Why wouldn’t I mean it?”

He turned, brows knitting. “I just—Seph, I never thought we could. I never thought that you and I would…”

She shrugged. “Well, I did. I’m sorry that it didn’t happen.”

One corner of his mouth lifted slightly. “There’s still time.”

Maybe there was. They’d have to make it through this mess first, though.

She took his hand. “I guess you’re right about that.” She smiled. “Come on. I’ve got a lot to catch you up on before we make it to the colony.”

Her husband smiled and dutifully trailed behind her in her wake.

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