Deshawn Lewis picked his way down a back alley towards the main street. Stained boxes lay in piles next to grungy garbage cans and empty beer bottles. He stepped in a puddle of sludge and sucked his teeth in disapproval like a kid who’s just been told that they can’t stay up any later. This was supposed to be the future, where everything was clean and white and shining with newness. Not old and nasty and crusty. Graffiti covered the walls like drunken spider webs, a chaotic mash of gang logos, shout outs, insults, and occasionally…a real art piece. He skirted the edge of another puddle that might or might not be urine, and came out onto the main street. Lewis St. to be precise. Another suck of the teeth. It was no accident that he shared a name with the busiest street on Titan. His dad was the first leader this colony ever had, before that sadistic thug Merrick and his skeevy lap-dog Klein took over. Now everything was ruined. Deshawn continued walking down the street, taking in the familiar sounds and smells of his hometown.
Like usual, people avoided Deshawn as if he carried flesh eating bacteria. A bubble of contempt surrounded him whenever he was in public. The stares were the worst. Or the epithets whispered under their breath. That’s why he usually stuck to back alleys and tunnels when he could. But today, he was on a mission. His baby sister needed meds and she needed them bad. For the last week, her methane shakes were getting worse. Two days ago, Tasha shook so hard she fell out of her highchair right onto the rough hewn bedrock floor. Because of their situation, all they could afford was a small “apartment” tucked away in the outskirts of the colony. More like a cell. It might as well have been, for the way people still treated them after what happened.
Deshawn silently cursed his father for the umpteenth time. Why did he ruin their life? Why was he such a greedy, power-hungry bastard! Why did he come up with that stupid under-handed scheme in the first place? Why did he get caught? Why did he take the cowards’ way out and kill himself when his little empire came tumbling down? Weak! Deshawn told himself that if it were him, he would have the courage to withstand all the public scrutiny and outcry. He already had, in a manner of speaking. Him and his mom and baby sister were still on Titan. And they were still blamed for what his father had done just over eight years ago. It was his father’s fault that the construction crews in charge of building the base used shoddy materials and took shortcuts whenever they could. All the money they skimmed went right into his father’s pocket. Anyone who caught him in his little ruse received nice fat bribes and free tickets to the methane boat races; just as pretty as you please. Who cares if hundreds of miners and their families get sick every year from the methane leaks? Who cares that the public housing is always cold no matter how many blankets mothers pile on the walls and on their babies? And that’s why everyone cursed his father, and by extension…his family. It didn’t matter that they lived in the same conditions and suffered from the same hardships that every other poor mining family did. They caused it. So they were spurned wherever they went. It was probably because they were suffering that someone didn’t just kill them outright. People wanted to see them pay, especially since his father took the easy way out, with a hydro phaser to the head.
Deshawn kept walking down the street, keeping his head down like usual so as to avoid eye contact with the angry masses. He used his peripheral vision to keep from bumping into things when he was out and about, rather than exposing his face to the predictable ridicule. Farther down the sidewalk, just at the limit of his vision about fifteen feet away, he noticed a man standing stock-still in the middle of the busy thoroughfare. Like he was waiting for someone. The man might even be waiting for…him. Deshawn kept walking, hoping he would move out of the way, but the man held his ground. It looked like it was going to be another one of those days. Some poor miner whose kids are sick and want to lash out at the one thing they can still get their hands on…him. Deshawn approached the man cautiously, ready to run if he had to, but the man held up his hand up, palm towards him in the “stop” sign. Not really sure why, Deshawn stopped and looked up at the stranger. The man’s yellow eyes stared out his from sunken sockets and sagging cheeks.
“Someone wants to invite you to lunch.” The man said. This took Deshawn off-guard more than if the man had slapped him right in the face.
“I can’t say, just follow me.” And without another word, the man turned on his heels and took off at a brisk walk. This was too much for Deshawn’s curiosity. There was a tingling sense of wrongness tugging at the back of his mind, but it wasn’t strong enough to overcome the prospect of a free meal.
The man turned into a small trendy café that Deshawn had walked past many times but never been in. Who pays that much for lunch? Following close behind now, they wound through the lunchtime crowd and out past two guards to a back terrace with a few tables set around the railing and plants hanging from the lattice work above. Birdsong filtered down from the branches like a soft blanket of calm. No one knew how the birds had been introduced to the colony. They just appeared one day, announcing their arrival with cheerful chirps and warbles. Stepping out into the green space, Deshawn felt a sudden pang of…regret?…jealousy? He couldn’t place it exactly, but he knew that if his father were still alive, this would be the type of place that his family would enjoy; still reaping the benefits of wealth and position. Deshawn barely noticed the man seated at the table until he reached into his pocket and took out a fifty dollar bill and handed it to the man who had led him to the café. Deshawn’s anger, never far from the surface, bubbled up at the sight of so much money being tossed aside for such a small errand.
“What the heck was that for?! Bringing me here? That much money could feed my family for a month yo! Who do you think you are just tossing…” and it suddenly occurred to Deshawn that he did know who the man was. His eyes narrowed to little slits as he exhaled one word with all the venom and malevolence he could muster. “Klein.” Fury burned bright in Deshawn’s soul, but now another emotion slithered up from the pit of his stomach…fear. Why would Klein have him brought here, to an out of the way location, secluded from the normal bustle of colony life? Did someone want him dead? To finally put him out of his misery? Before he could speak again, Klein held up his hand in much the same way the man in the street had earlier.
“Before you dump all of your pent up hatred on me, I want you to listen to a job offer I have for you.”
“Why would I ever want to help you? You and your Dutchman master have ruined this colony even more than my father, which is really saying something!”
“No? No what?”
“Your father never ruined this colony; and if you’re smart, you’ll listen to me because I have something that you haven’t had for years.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” Deshawn asked, still challenging, but with a hint of real curiosity in his voice. No, not curiosity. Hope.
“The truth. Your father was innocent. And he was murdered.” Klein said matter-of-factly. Deshawn was dumbfounded. That last sentence took all the wind out of his sails. Heck, forget the sails, it smashed the last eight years of his life up onto sharp jagged rocks and dragged sailors screaming from the wreckage down into the inky depths to be ripped to shreds by sharks the size of interstellar cruisers. Somehow, in the bottom of his heart, he knew that what Klein said was true. It seemed like he always wanted to believe his father didn’t do all those terrible things people said he did, but ever since he was ten years old, grownups had told him his dad was a bad man, and he believed them because…well, because they were grownups. Deshawn just stood there with his mouth open so Klein interceded before he started drooling.
“Sit down before your brain explodes. Let’s order some food and we can talk about the real reason you’re here today.” Without a word, Deshawn sat down and picked up a menu, still lost in thought. “Listen Mr. Lewis, I’ll answer all your questions in time, but right now I want to ask you a few.”
“OK.” Deshawn said, emotions still reeling.
“Good. Do you want to bring your family back up out of poverty? Do you want to avenge your father’s unjust murder? Do you want to clear your family name and reclaim your rightful position back in society? Oh, and how about $500,000?”
“Yeah man! Of course. Just tell me what I gotta do yo. I don’t care.”
“You have to kill Merrick Van Dorn.”