I hike up my kuoi tiau as I leave the kitchen and pull my revolver out of its hiding place. Behind me, I hear Wren gasp.
“Is — is that a gun?”
“Hm?” I turn around, holding up the weapon by the receiver. “Sure is. MSS Peacemaker. A trader’s best friend.”
“Why were you carrying that?” There’s fear in her voice now. Of course there is. She’s a civvie. People in her world don’t carry.
“Oh. Um.” I lower the gun. “Well, I didn’t know it was you coming—”
“You were going to shoot me!?”
“No! Ashes, no, Wren. I thought — look, your message was weird. We didn’t know it was you. Seven and I thought you might have been a stalker or something.”
“I’m not a stalker!”
“I know you’re not, Wren!” I hold up my hands. “That’s why I’m putting her away. Right now.”
I push myself back across the hall to my room, and stash the Peacemaker back where she belongs. The safe snaps shut with a reassuring clank.
“H-have you ever fired it?”
I turn and head back into the kitchen, kicking the actuator plate to seal my bedroom door behind me. “Sure, plenty. Gotta keep in practice. Good aim’s important out here so you don’t puncture an O2 feed or some shit.”
“Oh. I mean like, have you ever — shot a person?”
“One or two, back in my security days. Not with anything lethal, though.”
“I — I see. Okay.”
“I promise I’m no gunslinging pirate.” I catch a support beam as I drift near and wrap my arms around it. “Come on. We should get you back to your room.”
“What?” Wren looks up from the mug of tea she’s nursing.
“I can’t take you back to Hope right yet. I’ve got a run to finish, then I can come pick you up. And I’ll have a hold full of ration packs when I do.”
“W-what?” Wren looks shaken. “No! No, I don’t want to stay here. It’s — it’s cold and scary and —”
“I’ll take you to buy some proper clothes, don’t worry. You’ll be comfy here for a few weeks.”
“But I want to come with you!”
I stop, taken aback. I stare at her for a moment. “You want to what?”
“I want to come with you. I can help! I can carry things, um, I know how to mend clothes, I can read and write for you, I — I can cook us meals, I...”
I pat her on the shoulder. “Wren, I’m okay on my own. You don’t need to worry about me. Been doing this for years now.” I smile reassuringly. “You did your part. Let me take it from here.”
“No!” Wren blurts out. “Sparrowhawk, I — I can’t go back.” Her face is contorted. There’s desperation in her eyes. I can see tears welling up again.
“Wren?” I kick off a support beam and settle into the couch next to her. “What’s up?”
“You don’t know what it’s like!” she cries out. “It’s so dark. Like the sun is going out. We can’t harvest, we can’t sow, we just sit and eat and wait for something to run out. I can’t go back to that. I’m scared, Sparrowhawk, I don’t want to die!”
“You won’t die!” I take her hand in mine. She flinches as I touch her. “You’ll be with your family, I’ll be delivering food, you’ll be okay. I promise.”
“You can’t promise that! You can’t!” Wren’s shaking now. “What if you — if something happens to you? God, we wouldn’t even know! It’s worse than dying, living in fear like that. I can’t go back to that. I won’t!”
Defiance? From Wren, of all people?
Unbidden, my hand goes to the old knife scar across my left breast. I shake my head. “Wren, I—”
“I’m so sorry!”
“W-what?” The outburst catches me off guard. “Sorry for what?”
“For everything I did to you. For being so horrible to you. You must hate me. I was wrong, I was so wrong and stupid and you were right all along and we’d all be dead if you’d listened to me and if I could take it all back and do it all over again — God, seeing me must have made you so angry. I —” She curls up sobbing.
“Wren!” I grip her by the shoulders and hold her back up. “Wren, shh, stop it. Fuck’s sake, we were kids.”
“Y-you’ve been so kind to me. I didn’t deserve it—”
“Stop that right now.” I take her chin in one hand and force her to look me in the eye. “We were kids and you didn’t know any better. You know what you didn’t deserve? A planet blowing up and trying to kill you and everything you ever loved. Getting stuck bouncing all ’round the void looking for some crazy trader girl could have died years back.”
“Wren. It’s okay.” I squeeze her wrist. “I don’t hate you. Ashes, I fuckin’ admire you. There aren’t a lot could have done all you did.”
She throws her arms around me, holding me tightly, shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. “Please take me with you. Please. I don’t want to go back there.”
I take a deep breath. Her head is nestled right above the scar that’s screaming to me how this is a bad, bad idea. I know I can’t let her stay. It’s not who I am, how I work. It’s not how you survive out here.
She’s got to go.
“Okay, Wren. Stay with me.”
God dammit, Sparrow.