Even a brief plane-ride chafed at Rachael's basic nature, the almost claustrophobic need to be free at all times to go where she pleased. Trapped in a noisy tin can, with nothing to look at from the window but stars, she felt like a caged wolverine. She didn't think she'd make it to Seta alive, and she was sure that her fellow travelers would not.
It didn't help that the shuttle was loaded with children. Happy, screaming, laughing, noisy children running up and down the aisles as their parents dozed or read. There was a play area at the back of the shuttle for them, filled with toys and movies and other junk, so of course it was the one place that most of them avoided at all costs. The ones that weren't big enough to run around squalled to make up for it.
Rachael didn't really hate children; she just hated children that she could see or hear, the ones that were inconsiderate enough to remind her of their existence. If that sadly included most of the breed that really wasn't her problem.
Her first night on the shuttle, she'd awoken to find a little girl had unzipped her traveling back and was removing her laptop.
"I'm going to borrow this." The child explained.
Rachael leaned forward. "Oh no you're not." She whispered.
"I can too!" The girl argued. "It's rude not to share!"
"How old are you?" Rachael asked. "Three, four?"
"Five!" The child was highly offended.
"Well, the last five-year-old who borrowed something without my permission didn't live to be six. Do you know what I did to her?"
"What?" The little girl was whispering too, her eyes wide with fear.
"I roasted her in my oven for hours, until her skin turned golden brown, and then I covered her in gravy, and then I ate her for lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next morning. It's been a long time since I had a little girl and I'm very hungry." Her nose almost touched the child's.
The little girl squeaked and ran back off toward her own seat, and Rachael smirked, pushing her computer back down into the bag.
"I love it." Someone said over her shoulder. "I'll have to remember that one."
Rachael glanced up and smiled at a dark-haired woman of about forty. "I recommend them with Hollandaise if you can't find any gravy."
"I'm considering locking myself in their playroom the rest of the flight." The other woman went on. "Or else throwing them all out of the airlock."
Delighted to find a kindred spirit, Rachael patted the seat next to her and the woman sat down. "Vickie Green."
"Oh, the journalist! I thought you looked familiar. I love your work. It's so... mean."
"Thank you. I do try. Too many journalists are afraid to say what needs to be said. Too afraid of offending people."
Vickie waved her hand carelessly. "I decided as a child that I was going to offend people no matter what I did, so I might as well just go with the flow."
"Have we met before? I'm sorry, but I'm sure I know you from somewhere." Rachael studied Vickie carefully.
"Is that a pick-up line?" Vickie winked.
"No... I'm sure I know you."
"Must have one of those faces, I guess. I know I'd have remembered meeting you." Vickie laughed. "I've been a fan forever." A baby let out an ear-piercing shriek, and both women winced.
"That airlock has to be around here somewhere." Vickie glanced around the shuttle hopefully. "God, I hate kids. I don't care if I used to be one; I hated me as a child too."
It was Rachael's turn to laugh. "Me too. Everyone kept telling me that someday I'd change my mind about having my own, but I think I left my maternal instinct somewhere in Saudi Arabia."
"They left mine out at the factory. But everyone thinks that that I have some kind of sacred duty to adore their children."
The baby wailed again.
"So what are you doing on Seta?" Vickie was curious.
"Following up a story on the church shootings. You?"
"I just needed a vacation. Plus I have some family on Dera. I thought I'd stop in and visit them. Sort of a surprise."
"Well, how about having dinner with me when we land? Some real food, not this shuttle crap. That's a pick-up line, by the way."
"Good, I was hoping you'd get around to a real one. I would be delighted."
"I'm fresh out of the rainforest. I haven't had a decent meal in months. I didn't even have time to grab something on Earth before they shipped me out again."
"So what was that like? I'm a city girl."
"Wet. And lots of bugs. I've never seen so many bugs in my life. I don't know how many bottles of lotion I went through."
"But you enjoyed it." Vickie grinned. "I can tell."
"Not anywhere I'd want to settle down in, but yes, I loved it." Rachael agreed, sounding wistful. "But I can't wait to see Seta. That's me. It's like an addiction; stay long enough for a fix and then on to bigger and better things. What about you?"
Vickie cocked her head, thinking. "I did some traveling myself as a little girl, but not exactly the same thing. My father...never mind."
"No, go on. I'm a reporter. If you don't tell me I'll just get you drunk and get it out of you that way."
Vickie laughed. "My father was a career criminal. My mother didn't participate in any of his....games as he called them, but she didn't tell him to stop either. She knew what she was marrying, I suppose."
"Sounds like a wild time." Rachael was fascinated. "Go on."
"It was sort of a family tradition. If you traced my father's family back you'd find all kinds of con men and horse thieves and extortionists and highwaymen. My father swore he'd traced us back to a pirate or two, but I'm not so sure I believe that. I think it was at last the mid 1900's before a male member of his family died of old age instead of being hung or shot. Well, except for some multi-great grandfather. He was keelhauled." She leaned back in the leather seat and rolled her neck.
"Anyway, my father was a con-man. It was pretty simple. He went door to door selling fake insurance policies. And he was good at it too; he was very handsome and charming. He'd set up a PO BOX and the monthly payments would just roll in. We'd live in town before someone would try and file a claim; a few months at a time, usually. Then we'd pack up move somewhere else. We had plenty of money. My mother didn't work; she was too afraid of them using it to trace us somehow. She home-schooled me for the same reason."
For a few minutes Vickie said nothing, remembering. "My father kept up the family tradition of dying young. It was one of those weird things. He was at a house peddling his scam to a young woman. Well, apparently her husband thought she'd been stepping out on him. He came home early to try and catch her; saw my father in the living room, and shot them both."
"Oh my god. How old were you?"
"Nine. I'd just turned nine. When the police showed up at the door my mother thought they'd come to tell her that my father had been arrested. We never suspected..." her voice cracked.
"So what happened to you and your mother?"
"They charged my mother with something or other; compliance to commit fraud. I don't remember. They gave her two years in prison. I lived in a foster home until I was eleven, and when she got out of prison I moved back in with her. And here I am."
"Is she still living? Your mother?"
"Sort of. She's alive physically, but she doesn't recognize me any more. Alzheimer's. But I've got her in a very nice facility and I visit her all the time."
"So what do you do for a living?"
"Oh, I did a few odd jobs for a while. Then I got injured at work and won a huge settlement, so now I only work when I feel like trying something new."
"A playgirl, I take it."
"Maybe. I bore easily." Vickie's fingers grazed against Rachael's. "You don't now tempted I've been some days to just start printing up fake insurance policies. Not because I need the money, but just to see if I could get away with it. At least it would be exciting."
"Maybe we should forget Seta and head to Wroni instead." Rachael joked.
"Maybe." Vickie agreed. "This is weird. I don't open up to strangers like this, you know."
Vickie's fingers tightened around Rachael's. "This is exciting."
"Better than the rainforest."
"Definitely better than selling fake insurance."
There was something odd about Vickie, something still incredibly familiar, and Rachael was intrigued. She had no doubt that the story of the dead con-man father was true. She also didn't believe that Vickie had ended up next to her just on happy accident. She knew she had to be careful, try and figure out what the other woman was really up to.
And yet...she couldn't quite describe it. No matter what Vickie's real agenda was, there was something incredibly appealing about her as well.
"My mother died when I was just a kid. She was hit by a truck. I lived in an orphanage until I was an adult. I never met my father."
And the conservation continued.