Here’s the second half of chapter four.
Jessie. My main and most unlikely companion. “Sorry, thought I mentioned. You met her already, she’s upstairs.”
“Fuck,” Katie said, though I wasn’t particularly sure why it was necessary.
“So who’s your guy?” I asked.
“The person you’re going to see.”
“Right. Woman. It’s a woman.”
“And who is she?”
“She taught me how to use this.” Katie took out a small piece of dark metal that looked like it was made from silver that had oxidised. A knuckleduster.
“Can’t imagine that takes much instruction,” I said, not trying to be rude. “Surely you just punch, no?”
“Well, I guess, but you have to get the angle right. Were you always this catty?”
“I wasn’t… Oh, sure, probably,” I sighed.
“Anyway. We worked together for a bit.”
“No, nothing. Tell me about your horse.”
“I wish I could. I used to hate horses.”
“I don’t really like anything that can kill me if it has a funny turn.” I considered the irony after I said it; some of my past lovers would definitely have disagreed. One or two in particular were known for their ‘turns’, though I don’t recall laughing at the time.
“They’re really gentle, you know. Horses. Yours… Jessie? She’s very gentle.”
“I’d say you can keep her, but I need her to get around.”
“Why not use a car?”
“Cars aren’t exactly…” how to say ‘off the grid’ without suggesting dodgy behaviour? “I don’t like people to know where I am.” Katie nodded in understanding. We each had a story we weren’t fully sharing.
I wasn’t alone in that. On the occasions I had been to Prophet’s Outpost there were always a number of other horses about. You had to avoid getting yours microchipped, of course. They could follow you that way, too.
“Can I see your photographs?” I asked. “You don’t have to.”
“No, you can. You might be able to help, anyway.”
Katie took out her photo wallet again while I cleared the surface with my designs and…other designs. She proceeded to lay what she had out on the table. About fifteen photographs of varying size, quality and completeness – some of them were ripped and missing a piece – came from her little wallet. The first one was the one she had already shown me; her mother’s face rubbed out, though whether it had been done on purpose, I couldn’t tell. My father sat next to her. I had no idea. I’m sure my mother didn’t know, either. I felt awe at the cleverness it must have taken to pull off living this double life, followed by pangs of resentment and feelings of stupidity that he had fooled my mum and me.
Some of the photos were of places. On the back of each one was an annotation. A dark-haired woman with a facial tattoo of something that looked like an eye on her left cheekbone, with the word “Aunt?” written behind it. I didn’t recognise her. Her mother’s side, perhaps.
“Which of these are connected to your mother, and which to my – sorry, our father?”
“These are all the ones for dad, I think.”
She was calling him ‘dad’. Was she doing that for my benefit? It was like giving a cute name to a tiger to make it sound friendly. He was ‘dad’, at one time, before he left. The love was already lost, of course. What remained was duty at best, and bondage at worst. Nathaniel Black was hard to say no to.
“I’ve got more on my camera. Jaycee gave me it…”
“Jaycee? She’s a real person?” I asked.
“Oh, right, sorry, yes. Anyway, yes, she’s real, she was my…” I knew the answer when she trailed off. I’ve had to search for my own endings to that sentence. Terrata was still full of older, small-minded people who had been raised by even older, smaller-minded people, and so on. ‘They aren’t ready for Aquatia, for the promise of Mars’. My father’s words echoed in my head. ‘You need to learn to be my son. Enough inventing,’ he would say countless times to me on the phone, when he still called once a month. ‘I had no idea my children were so creative. I don’t know where they get it from.’ His children. He definitely said children. He must have meant Katie.
“Got it. You’ve seen my… art.”
She smiled and nodded. “Jaycee and I lost touch when… we went separate ways.”
“Was it an amicable breakup, at least?”
“More than that. We never broke up, not really. We just… circumstances, you know?”
“So Jaycee is some expert in hand-to-hand combat and vintage photography.” An unusual combination. Katie stared at me like she was trying to work out what I was trying to work out.
“Well, the film inside it, there’s some stuff on there, but I can’t remember what’s on it. The day before I woke up, or however long it was… I can’t remember it.”
“Fine, don’t worry. I mean, it’ll probably come to you. You probably had a concussion. Your head…”
“Yeah, I hope so.”
“Maybe if we find the camera? Get it developed, the pictures will help trigger something?”
What she had so far was pretty good, but there were some holes, particularly in her assumptions. That woman wasn’t an aunt – she wasn’t related at all. She was his receptionist. I often saw them showing affection like there was a family bond, though that was quite an Aquatian thing to do. My father was good at picking and choosing the bits from Terratan culture that he enjoyed and working them into his narrative. The Book of Mars…
“Well, do you know anyone here?”
Of course I did. Not everyone. Four of the photos were of buildings he came to when he was visiting – something he rarely did. I was glad the visits were rare. In that way, she was frighteningly on the money. So much so, I started to wonder how far her skills extended beyond photography. Three more photos were of groups; specifically investors my father had worked with to get his projects off the ground. One was of me as a child, with him on the first shuttle to Aquatia. With the right insight, it would probably be very easy to connect several of these things together pretty quickly. Or, maybe that was just how it felt having someone looking into your life.
“Some of them. This child was me. Where did you get these? Some of these are old.” Some of them had clearly been taken clandestinely, from hidden or elevated vantage points.
“It doesn’t matter,” Katie replied. “What matters is finding him. I want to find him.”
“Look, I’ve already told you…”
“I know. You won’t help me.”
“It’s not that I won’t.”
“So you can’t help me?”
“It’s not that either. Katie, this isn’t a ‘dad’. He’s not a nice man. I know, he started this new world, he’s very popular, and he’s certainly made himself important…”
“How long have you been following him?”
“A year, I think. He makes a lot of trips here.”
“Publicity,” I explained. “He was keeping up appearances.”
“He hasn’t been back for a while. The last one I took is… this one, with the little boy and girl. Do you know who they are?”
“No clue. Looks like a stunt photograph to me,” I replied. My father was like that. He could be the professional, the DILF, the caring family man. The humanitarian work he was doing for Terrata was part of the ‘necessary evils’ of moving on.
“Look, I can help you get around. Looks like I’m going to the Outpost now, to claim Gabriel’s possessions. He named me as inheritor. Meanwhile, focus on your mum, for now, okay? She might be a more worthwhile find.”
Katie looked away from me, disappointed by my repeated refusals to assist her with tracking down the man responsible for so very much. I wondered if she thought I was like him, or if she thought I thought she was. I didn’t even know what she thought about all this, but I could take a guess. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with what she might be up to. A wave of doubt passed over me about her whole story; what if her implant had been deliberately tampered with? I mean, that was hard to do, and very costly. Not to mention the people with those skills had mostly been swept up in the ‘promise of Mars’.
I decided to drop this particular line of thought. Katie looked enough like me and father that I could believe it; and I hadn’t agreed to help yet, anyway.
“So, where does your search for Jaycee take you next?”
“Prophet’s Outpost,” Katie said as she scooped up the photographs and took the one I was looking at from my hands.
“How convenient,” I said, as she picked up the drawings I had rolled up on the floor and unrolled them, glancing at me from over the top of the paper.
How could I have had any doubt? She was clearly my sister.