Daughter of Joy (a Uranium West story) by Toni Roman
copyright © 2013
On the Jovian moon, things were not so jovial. The Chinese girl in the black silk samfoo, white socks and black flats who sat on top of the barrel was bored. Her left leg was tucked up under her and the other hung over the side. Perhaps to restore circulation, she shifted and swung both legs left-right-left-right-left-right.
All the big companies shipped interstellar through Callisto but interplanetary between inner and outer Solar System shipped here through Ganymede. Everywhere you looked in the dockyards were their names on the sides of containers: شركة الشمس الأزرق, Синьо слънце Корпорейшън, 蓝太阳公司, 藍太陽公司, Sininen Aurinko, Μπλε ήλιο Corporation, תאגיד א' כחול, ब्लू सूर्य निगम, Ntsuab Hnub Li, Biru Matahari Corporation, 株式会社サン ・ ブルー, 블루 썬 공사, Zilā, Mėlyna, شرکت خورشید آبی, Niebieskie Słońce Corporation, บริษัทอาทิตย์สีน้ำเงิน, Mavi Güneş Corporation, Синій НД корпорації, Công ty cổ phần mặt trời xanh, and Lán Rì Corporation.
Winchester was on official business. Prisoner transfer. With the prisoner transferred, his time was his own. He took the short cut across Boomtown on the way back to the docking yards to board the Birch Stage back to Uranine space. It was coach but he could book two seats as easily as one and stretch out. The moons of Uranus were quiet and dark, just the way he liked it. This place was dusty, raucous and a lawman might be backed up by the townspeople and, as often as not, not. Storefronts next to shacks, street vendors and surface vehicles, nice buildings next to temporary tents, no building codes, no zoning, barkers and peddlers, junk and brand new merchandise side by side, people of every description and nationality, all humans (but you could never be too sure). Some Chinese girl with a bar code tattooed on her cheek sat on a barrel. Underage. He was no longer on his own time. His lawman's reflex kicked in -- along with a mature adult's paternal instincts and outrage over abuse of children. His eyes flicked to the seller nearby, hawking his unwary wares.
"I want to talk to her without your prompting." Winchester practically threw 450 at the man and gestured for the salesman to step out of sight.
"Talk all you like. You just bought her." Chang backed away, suspicious that the tall man was about to arrest him. All he saw was the star on the stranger's chest.
The girl looked at the stranger indifferent to the change in ownership. It wasn't opium. Her indifference had other causes.
"What's your name?"
"Listen carefully. Your entire future rests on your answer. What do you want?"
"Whatever you want."
"Sounds like what you've been told to say. Do you know what juvenile hall is?"
She shook her head no.
"Not a good place out here in the outer Solar System. Do you want to go home to your family?"
The glazed-over-with-boredom eyes came to life.
"They sold me into slavery."
"You have your freedom now. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know what my choices are."
"Smart answer. I bought your freedom. Do you want my help to get you started on a better life?"
"Beats sitting on this barrel."
"Wrong answer. I might leave you. As a slave, you did no crime but if you stay here free, then you go to jail for prostitution. Do you want my help? Yes or no?"
"I will be your guardian angel until I place you in a good home." He tapped on his badge to emphasize that he was now protector instead of threat. "Get your stuff if you have any and let's go. I have only a half hour to clear this with Ganymede social services before we board the stage to Uranus."
"What's it like there?"
"Not like here." He thought better of his answer. "There are young folk your age. You will go to school instead of work. People will care what happens to you. You won't be thrown away like trash."
As Winchester walked to the dockyards with the girl alongside him, the girl sometimes skipped instead of walked.