(In taking breaks from studying, I’ve been working on some worldbuilding and character-building exercises for one of my eternal darlings, Charlie Duke. I started to explore what would happen if I went back to her earliest days… and I came up with the following. Charlie loses her family in an accident caused by an interplanetary mining conglomerate, and she joins a group of colonial fighters intent on disrupting the actions of this conglomerate within their colony. In this piece, Charlie is 22 years old; her family’s death happened five years ago, and she is still seeking vengeance.)
Charlie glanced up from the tablet in her hand. The tin cup of coffee at her left hand had gone cold long ago, but the fifth of whiskey in front of her had not been neglected. She reached for the bottle and filled the shot glass as the older man limped into the hangar. He eyed the whiskey and leaned on his cane. “You got another one for me, or do you just plan to have me watch you drink?”
“That’s for you, Andy. Bottle’s good enough for me.” She took a nip to prove her point. “What’s the word on the next Regulator transport down here?”
Andy sat heavily on a nearby metal crate and accepted the offered drink. “That’s why I wanted to come by. I don’t think this is the right one to intercept, Charlie. Perhaps it’s time for us to just let things settle.”
Charlie ground her teeth together, but she kept her voice calm. “Let things settle. You can say that with three pins in your leg and a gimp knee? You can say that while the dirt’s still fresh on Big’s grave?” Another mouthful of whiskey as she focused on the map on her screen. Flight paths of Regulator transports criss-crossed the area outside of Fortune’s Turn where the newest phosphera mining settlement had taken root. The Pavori owned the rights and buildings outright. Five years ago, they had excavated the plot where her family’s home had stood; the land lay open and raw, a toxic sore bared for all to see.
Five years ago, Charlie had taken it upon herself to make sure that the Pavori would never mine a yellow gram of phosphera from her family’s ranch. Andy and Big had supported her; those who had joined the Colonials after the death of her family had demanded to be part of the sabotage operations against the Pavori and the Regulator escorts that soon protected them. In the years since the Pavori had tried to establish their refinery in Fortune’s Turn, Charlie had personally overseen twenty-seven different missions designed to cripple or destroy the people responsible for her loss.
Rhikki had spoken the truth during their first conversation. Vengeance was ‘most appropriate,’ given the circumstances. Charlie had never lost sight of the reasons she worked to chase the Pavori from Fortune’s Turn. At times, she wondered if others’ commitment to the cause had started to waver. The Regulators had started to fortify their transports, sending in reinforcements because of the Colonials and the threat they posed. Charlie knew that the Pavori sent in their own scouts and spies, but she kept up her shooting skills with duty on the perimeter. She didn’t miss, and the scouts nosed around less frequently.
Charlie put the bottle to her lips again; Andy responded with a throat-clearing that smacked of disapproval. “What,” she grumbled. “I shared.”
“You might not want to hear it, but you are not old enough to be bitter and warrant an entire fifth of whiskey, even if you dole out shots to those of us willing to visit you on occasion.” Andy leaned forward and winced. He used both hands to reposition his left leg and rested his elbows on the table. “We lost Big. We lost nine other people along with him, and Parks has her hands full at the infirmary with phosphera detox. We don’t have the personnel to manage any kind of operation against the Pavori, much less against a Regulator transport.”
“So I do it with a smaller team.” She tried to take another drink, but this time Andy pulled the bottle away from her. “Hey! What the hell are you —”
“Doing? Something that no one else is willing to do, because the camp is ready to follow you into hell, and damned if they don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about coming back.” He set the bottle on the ground on the side of the crate furthest from her. “And you’re too young to go through that much drink that fast, anyway.”
Charlie scowled at him and considered taking his shot glass. “I’m old enough, Andy. I ain’t a little girl any more. You want details, you go and ask that boy of yours. He’ll vouch for me.” Satisfaction burned in her smile as Andy’s cheeks flushed red. “And he asked me first, so don’t you accuse me of corrupting him.”
“Corrupting? No, I know better.” Andy tossed back his meager share of whiskey and set glass on the table, bottom up. “Taking advantage of a fool’s adoration, that might be more appropriate. You’ve got plenty of them willing to take his place if he ever wises up.”
She curled her lip in a sneer. “Sounds like disapproval, Andy. You don’t want me seeing your little boy no more?”
“He’s no more a little boy than you’re a little girl, Charlie. He gets the chance to make his own mistakes, but I’ll put my foot down on your taking advantage of your position at this camp to bring him and the remainder of our troops on a suicide run.” Andy sighed heavily and rubbed at his knee. Blood had seeped through the bandage and dried, a rust-red reminder of their last attempt to ambush a Regulator transport. “Considering the losses that we took, I think it’s time to consider leaving Fortune’s Turn and combining our efforts with another cell within the Outer Colonies.”
Charlie ground her teeth. “You said we needed to let things settle when you walked in here. How is running from the Pavori letting things settle? How is giving up on everything in the camp, everyone who’s died for the cause,” she spat, jamming her finger in Andy’s face. “How is that just letting things settle?”
She snatched up the tin cup of forgotten coffee and flung it at the far wall. “I ain’t leaving Fortune’s Turn to those murdering Pavori. My family’s rotting at the bottom of their mines, and they’re still pulling out hunks of phosphera while the Regulators add credits to their accounts. As long as they’re here, I ain’t leaving!”
Andy didn’t flinch; instead, he regarded her with an expression of sadness and pity. “Then you’d best be ready to be alone with them, because orders are going to be that we leave in two days’ time, once the rest of the camp is well enough to move. Once the last Regulator transport hits tomorrow morning, we’ll be cleared to leave.”
Charlie whirled around, fists clenched. “Cleared to leave? What, now you’re bargaining with the Regulators for safe passage? Is that how this all ends?”
“Charlotte Duke —”
She slammed her right fist into his jaw. The older man’s lip split and he reeled from the blow. “Don’t you dare call me by my Fortune-given name, you lying, traitorous, cowardly sack of shit. Get out, get the rest of them out, and run. I ain’t leaving this rock before the Pavori leave my granddaddy’s land.” Charlie snatched up her bottle of whiskey from beside the crate and motioned to the door of the hangar. “You tell your boy that ain’t no love in the world that would make me leave this place. I’m sure he can find some pretty enlisted girl to tie him down to his bed if he asks.”
Andy stood and limped toward the door. He didn’t answer her, he just held a hand to his jaw and shuffled out into the darkness. Once he had cleared the entry, Charlie slid the door shut and slammed the lock into place. No one would disturb her tonight, not while she had to rework her plans for what she knew would be her last mission at Fortune’s Turn.
Charlie craved her vengeance. If her family’s blood was in the phosphera mines, then she wanted to make sure that the Pavori family’s blood would join them. Any lost Regulators would be collateral damage; they had never done anything for her during her years in the Colonies, so she had no need to ensure their protection. She picked up the tablet and consulted the pirated manifest for tomorrow’s Regulator transport. The listed passengers included the head of the Pavori family, his youngest daughter, and their security contingent, with additional inspectors accompanying the supplies for the refinery.
It might not ever be enough for what she had lost. But, Charlie thought to herself as she brought the bottle to her lips for the last of the whiskey, it’ll be a damn good start.