• Her cell was plain, clean and completely boring. At least she didn’t have to worry about readjusting anything in there so she felt more comfortable with her surroundings. There really was nothing to adjust and move around. Of course, there was the exception of her mattress, which had a questionable stain on it.

    “You would think that being a prison with the most money, they could afford some bleach, or something…” She muttered angrily, as she started pacing around the small room. It was ten square feet, or supposed to be. There was an extra five inches on the bottom part of the wall where the door was.

    She had lost her combat boots now, along with the cargo pants and the cropped shirt. Even her gloves were gone and that angered her to no extent. She had nothing from her past life, except the fact that she still had the numbers and the codes in her head. She went through those that she knew every morning so she wouldn’t forget.

    After pacing for five minutes, she flopped back down onto her bed and rolled over to her stomach, the loose pale blue shirt that she was wearing twisted around her uncomfortably.

    “Hey Moby!” She shouted, hoping the scumbag next to her was awake. She wasn’t allowed anything electronic, not even a clock display over her door. She had no sense of time except night and day; she only knew what the other prisoners told her.

    “Yeah, sweetheart,” came the rough reply. A slightly condescending tone, but Nova pushed it away.

    “What’s the time and date if you don’t mind?” She moved again and her chin now rested on one of her fisted hands.

    “10:45, and the date…” a pause as he waited for the display to scroll. This blows, she thought, not even a clock. I gotta get all this information from other people. “The 30th. How many days you got left?”

    Nova didn’t answer right away. She knew; but didn’t want to announce that she still had one year, three days, four hours and 57 minutes left of her sentence. “Too long Moby. Too long.” She felt tears sting at her eyes. She laid down on her side, curled up into a fetal position, and slept until the guards came and woke her up for lunch.


    Nova was half asleep when the door creaked open. The sound of metal sliding on metal made her cringe. Her black hair, now long from not being cut since she was convicted over three years ago, hung over her face. It smelled dirty too, but her shower time wasn’t until later, after all the males had their turn. She may have been a criminal, but the government didn’t want a lawsuit of sexual harassment after Nova got out.

    “Diana Montague,” It wasn’t the usual prison guard who had spoken. No, this was the smooth, self assured voice of the government. She sat up now, pushing hair out of her eyes and taking in the tall lean frame of a Castillo native. Their skin was pale, their necks were long, and their bald heads a little too round.

    “It’s Nova,” she gritted her teeth. Only her mother called her Diana, and she hadn’t heard from her in well over a year now. At first, their visits were frequent, and it brought Nova a little glimmer of hope to see the familiar warm face.

    “We do not recognize that name. Now, if you will, please come with me.” He stepped away from the door, the fabric of his uniform shifting with him like liquid silver. “We need your assistance.”

    She stared at him with confusion for a moment before the demanding voice of the guard jolted her to life. “He said, ‘Move!’ hacker!” She stood up automatically, her head hanging just a little as she followed the government official down the hallways. There were two guards behind her, each with a gun and club at their sides. There was some catcalling and shouting as she walked past other cells and one guard stopped to drag the club across the bars.

    “Shut up!” His voice echoed down the hallway as Nova and the others went on ahead. She was led to a room that appeared to be reserved for meetings between the prisoners and their defenders. She wondered silently where hers was. She shook her head and sat down in the seat offered to her. She looked at her bare toes against the dark blue color of the shoes she wore.

    “Miss Montague, as I said before, we need your help.” The two guards that remained took a spot on either side of the door and she glanced at them, sneering slightly. “There is talk of war and there have already been attacks on our main terminal.” Nova looked back at him, blinking.

    “I don’t mean any offence sir, but your defenses on that are really weak. Anyone could get into it, I just happened to be the first.” She smiled now, proud of what she was able to do, but the man talking to her did not seem pleased.

    “You did not get into our systems. Your terminal was blacked out before you were able to see anything, but now, we will give you full access to the system if you agree to assist us. Not to mention, early release.”

    “To be honest sir, I would rather finish out the rest of my sentence. I’ve already spent three years here, what’s another year more.” She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at the paper that lay in front of her. She was curious now. It couldn’t have been of any importance since it was folded, in his pocket. “What is it,” she finally asked, reaching out for the paper while keeping an eye on the one who offered her freedom.

    “It’s a page of the coding that was hacked. We couldn’t find any signature, but maybe you can find something. Also, we would like better protection for the system. An earlier blackout point or just a solid wall before other hackers can get anywhere close. We realized that needed to happen when you got in.” Nova raised an eyebrow and noted that the person in front of her didn’t have any trace of hair on his head, but she could still see the muscles above his eye shift.

    “So how close did I get?” she grinned, slowly unfolding the paper to see what all the fuss was about.

    “Too close for comfort,” he said calmly. “We will give you two weeks to work on this if you agree. From your cell of course, and 24 hour surveillance to make sure you don’t do anything to screw up your chances.” He paused now, his mouth curving into a smile that made Nova uneasy. “I’m sure your mother would want to see you let out for good behavior.”

    Nova’s stomach gave a lurch and she felt her eyes start to burn. No, no crying, she told herself firmly. She looked at the printed code now, but all she really saw was her mother’s face. “Alright, I’ll do it.”


    It wasn’t even a week later that Nova requested to talk to someone from the government. She had traced the hack and had begun securing the system from any other attacks. She would be finished sometime later that evening if she wasn’t bothered at all.

    “Well, what can you tell me, Miss Montague?” The same government official was there. She had learned that Shelton was all he went by. He sat down on the other side of the table across from her.

    “Well, to be honest, it was a little difficult. My skills are a little bit rusty, thanks to the stupid sentence, but that isn’t the point. I traced it to a planet near the center of the galaxy, Helios Prime. It doesn’t mean anything to me, but I’m sure it means something to you. I really hope this helps. There was also a message in the code.”

    Shelton looked at Nova, a little confused, but he folded his hands over the table and nodded for her to continue.

    She slid a scrap of paper across the table with her loopy handwriting on it.
    “Resume trading or the planet will die,” he read aloud.

    Nova nodded. “I had to translate it from another language, but that is the basic meaning of it. I have no doubt that they can shut down the systems if I don’t finish my modifications soon. They were trying to get to the water station and started on the space ports-” she was going to continue but Shelton raised a hand to silence her.

    “They will cut off our food and poison our water. Our planet is small and it depends on the traders that stop to refuel. We can’t have anything thrown out of place. If we do not resume trading with the Preyons, a very bloody war could result.” Worry was clear on his face, and in his voice. Just knowing that something could shake Shelton’s confidence in Castillo’s security had also shaken hers as well.

    “Preyons, sir?” Nova was not familiar with that species. While Castillo had become a melting pot for the outcasts of different star systems, “Preyon” was not a word she was familiar with.

    “They were built for war, very bloody wars. They don’t fight with guns and they usually don’t threaten to shut down life sustaining systems like they just did. They come and attack, killing with their bare hands.” Nova shuddered at the description. An image of a body, laying torn in two flashed through her mind and she nearly threw up the meager lunch that was in her stomach. “I think you now understand the importance of what you’ve been doing for us.”

    Nova nodded, looking at the door. “If you don’t mind, I would like to get back to work.” Shelton nodded and they both stood up. He allowed Nova to leave first and he stood waiting in the doorway, watching her until she disappeared around a corner.

    “I hope that your work is fast and precise. The planet is counting on you, young human,” he spoke softly before leaving the prison all together.


    Although the craft was virtually sound proof, she could almost hear the gates close behind her with a noisy metal bang. She turned to look out of the rear window, smiling knowing that she would never see the inside of that prison again, or the outside for that matter. She turned around again, wriggling a little to get a little more comfortable in the soft back seat of Shelton’s hover car. She was going back home now. She was back in her old clothes, which seemed a little loose on her now. She probably lost so much weight while she was in there so it didn’t surprise her at all. She adjusted her gloves, tightening the straps that went across the backs of her hands.

    They did not speak at all through the trip and as they came to familiar cities, memories flashed back to Nova. That was where my first fight was; I won that one. She sat back while familiar buildings flashed past and children ran down the sidewalks chasing after one another. Just up ahead a familiar building that nearly brought tears to her eyes appeared. She had spent nearly four years in a place that was far from home; the sight of the old apartment building was a welcome sight.

    The car stopped and she felt it descend the few feet to the ground. She opened the door, stepped out, and took a deep breath of the slightly smoky air. “Thank you, Shelton.” She had leaned back into the car and smiled at him. “Hopefully I won’t see you again.” Before any reply could be given, the door was shut and she was running up the steps. She wondered vaguely what had happened to her old friends. Were they still here or had they moved on with their lives?

    Fifty-eight stairs she climbed to finally get to her apartment door. She placed her hand on the entry pad that did nothing for a few seconds before the scan line passed over her palms and beeped. The door slid open and she stepped inside. There were hardly any lights on, and the only thing that she could use to orient herself in the dark apartment was a soft glow coming from the kitchen.

    “Mother? Are you here?” There was no answer, and Nova frowned. Surely she knew that Nova was coming home. There should have been a warm hug waiting for her and a delicious meal cooking. There was no hug and not even a hint of good smells drifting from the kitchen. She glanced through the doorway, looking at the holo that was left on. A news reporter was there, but no sound was coming out. She had overlooked the shadowy figure that was sitting at the table. She had moved on to go to her room when a voice spoke up.

    “Nova, get back in here.” She jumped. It was an unfamiliar voice. At first, she did not move from her spot in the hallway, then she stepped back slowly, her eyes immediately zeroing in on the unfamiliar figure.

    “Get out, you don’t belong here,” she said angrily at first. “My mom will kick out if she finds a stranger here.” There was a chuckle and Nova stepped forward, planting her feet and readying herself for a fight.

    “Alright, then I’ll do it.” Metal scraped against the floor and there was some heavy breathing as if the act of getting up out of a chair took this person a lot of effort. “I’m sorry for the dark. I’m getting old and my eyes are sensitive to the light.” Nova blinked, but did not shy away from the now brightened kitchen.

    “Nova, your mother, she asked me to take care of the apartment until you got back.” There was a hint of sadness to the voice and Nova was a little bit intimidated. The stranger seemed like a giant. She was solid too and looked like she could hold her own against any threat that was thrown in her direction.

    “I’m Bethania by the way, and unfortunately, I have some… heartbreaking news for you.” She frowned and deep creases showed up in Bethania’s brow. “Sit, sit… it would be better.”

    Nova fumbled in the darkness for a chair, relying on the reflections of light from the metal on the chairs to orient herself. She turned the chair around and sat down, leaning forward against the back of the chair. “Do you think we could have just a little bit of light? I don’t like it being so dark.”

    The woman who had identified herself as Bethania moved across the kitchen to the light switch and turned it on. The light flickered three times before staying on and filling the kitchen with its cool fluorescent glow. “I hope that’s better for you… I told you though, the light hurts my eyes.”

    Now Nova could take in the appearance of this woman. She was correct in assuming that she would be able to hold her own against an enemy. Bethania was a large woman, but losing the muscle tone that came with old age. She was also getting heavy around the middle but could not be considered fat. Not to mention she was dark skinned, the color of rich chocolate, and her eye that would have been entirely black seemed a little cloudy, as if she were going blind.

    Nova decided this Bethania woman was a good person to have around. She wasn’t Mother, but still someone that made her feel safe. “So, you told me I should sit. In all honesty it’s the last thing I want to do now. In case you didn’t realize this, I just got out of prison for hacking into the planet’s main systems. I want my own computer and room back. With a clock.”

    Bethania pursed her lips, forming a thin dark line that clearly indicated annoyance with the young woman. “Yes, I understand you crave technology at the moment, but this is more important dear.” She stopped for a moment to sit in the chair that she previously occupied. “I really hate to be the one to tell you this, but she asked me to. Nova, your mother won’t be coming back.” The ever present wrinkles on Bethania’s face deepened and in her eyes Nova could see deep sadness and remorse.

    “Won’t be coming back? Did she run-“ she stopped now, the wheels were turning in Nova’s head as she realized the meaning of that statement. “My mother is dead? How? No, when? Why wasn’t I told?!” Sadness and anger flooded through her and she had begun to feel light headed as her breathing quickened and her pulse raced.

    “I need her! She needs to come back!” Nova couldn’t imagine a life without her mother. There was always food on their plates and a warm feeling in their home, but now, there was nothing, just emptiness, and she realized that she had felt that emptiness the second she stepped through the doorway.

    The light headed feeling wasn’t going away and the edges of her vision were fading to black. She swayed in her chair and Bethania’s voice seemed far away as she tried to calm Nova down.

    “Breathe, you just need to breathe,” Nova heard from somewhere far away.

    I’m breathing God dammit, and it’s not helping! She fell back out of the chair now and onto the hard floor, hitting the back of her head. Her eyes remained open for a second before fluttering closed.