CHAPTER 1 The Identity Problem
Trinket came into existence when she was six years old. There weren’t many other ways to put it. One minute she didn’t exist; the next, her eyes flew open, and there she lay on a hard table, the Old Scientist peering down his long nose at her with his thick eyebrows drawn together. It was as if a switch had been activated.
Six years later, she still didn’t know who or what she was. A piece of scrap. That’s what a rude cyborg in the town of Axiopolis had yelled at her a little over an hour ago.
I’m not a piece of scrap, she thought vehemently for probably the hundredth time. She kicked at a pebble and watched it roll down the barren hillside toward the town.
Piece of scrap, piece of scrap…
“I’m not a piece of scrap,” she snapped, as if saying it out loud would silence the taunting voice in her head. “I don’t care what they say. I’m not a botched machine created by a mad scientist! I’m… I’m… er… Trin… Moonrise.” She kicked stubbornly at another pebble, then listened.
Her inner voice didn’t respond.
“All right, then.” She spoke with renewed determination, turning her back on Axiopolis and limping up the steep hill towards the Old Scientist’s shack. “So, how about it? I’m Trin Moonrise, fourteen years old.” She repeated the name, testing its sound. Moonrise was a common family name in Axiopolis. She might get away with it.
Whether a sophisticated android or a mortal being, Trinket guessed that she was the equivalent of a twelve-year-old girl. But twelve wasn’t old enough to fulfill her plan. Twelve was too young to get her off-world.
She thought up some more names. “How about Trin Astera, thirteen years old?” Loose gravel rolled under her right foot, and she stumbled forward, catching herself from falling just in time by stretching out her hands. She straightened, then wiped her fingerless gloves together to remove the ochre-colored dust that clung to them. She leaned over to check on her prosthetic leg. “Hey, Champ, don’t you dare give up on me today.” She eyed the carbon fiber frame, which clung to her left leg stump, tapping the sturdy material for good measure, and found it intact.
Oblivious to her situation, a muffled voice—a real voice this time—spoke close to her ear. “What is Champ? Please define Champ.”
“Forget it, Empty. It’s not important.” Trinket adjusted her Mass Transfer Device around her ear before placing it snuggly under her scarf headband. Aside from her prosthetic leg, the articulate device was the one other thing she couldn’t afford to lose. It was an old-fashioned adult model that didn’t have the malleable option to adapt to the wearer’s ear. It was a bit too big for her.
Trinket had found the Mass Transfer Device in a junk pile two years ago after it had no doubt been cast away in favor of a more modern version. Or perhaps the previous owner—most likely on the run from the Interstellar Alliance Law Enforcement—had wanted to get rid of the last thing tying them to their identity.
People called these mini information devices MTs for short. Trinket hadn’t expected this old model to contain much information, so she had nicknamed it EMpTy.
At first, the name Empty had been a bit of a joke. Only, over the years, Empty had become the closest thing she’d had to a friend, and the name had become more than just a silly word. She knew it was a fancy computer devoid of feelings, but the fact that it didn’t have personality modes like the newer models suited her. Empty never got angry, never judged her, and was always there when she needed it.
“Please repeat,” the device insisted, the male voice now loud and clear in her ear. “Define Champ.”
“Give me a break, Empty,” Trinket grunted, plowing forward despite her near-fall. “It’s just a nickname I came up with for my prosthetic leg. It’s short for champion.”
Empty disagreed. “Champ is not an appropriate name for your prosthetic leg. Champ is deteriorating fast and must be replaced on the planet Kepra-1 as soon as possible. Your Shuttle to Kepra-1 leaves Space Central in sixty-three-point-two local planetary hours. You must input your final identification details into my core memory prior to that.”
Trinket rolled her eyes. “As if I didn’t know.”
Travelers had to be older than twelve and own an ear device linked to their name before they were allowed off-world without adult supervision, whether it be an official MT Device or a mediocre, unofficial copy that Non-Alliance aliens nicknamed plugs. Empty was the real deal, however—a device manufactured by the Interstellar Alliance mega-corporation MADAT Inc. itself!
Trinket had cracked Empty’s core memory and removed the previous owner’s details—something she would never have achieved in a newer model. Now she just had to input a new identity—if only she could decide which name would provide her the safest passage.
As if reminding her of the urgency of her task, a distant roar made the ground rumble under her feet. She gazed at the horizon to the East and watched as the daily Shuttle to Kepra-1 left Space Central. It shot up from the ground, its powerful thrusters pushing it through the heavy atmosphere in a wide arc. It would soon join Kepra-1, which was rising in the distance, the planet’s outline warped by the heat.
Trinket sighed. Within two days, she would be on that Shuttle, heading for a better life. It was the only way she could save her prosthetic leg—and the little orphan boy.
She just needed to pick up one last thing from the Old Scientist’s home.
She glanced up the hill. She still had a fifteen-minute climb before reaching the rundown shack. Might as well make the most of it. “All right, Empty. Let’s try that again. Initiate Shuttle Security questions.” She grimaced, resuming her hike and trying to ignore the tiny but persistent creaking sound of the rusting screw in her metal leg.
“Very well,” Empty said. “State your name.”
Piece of scra— “Trin Moonrise!” she blurted out, then held her breath. Her inner voice quietened, but she could almost sense it lurking in the back of her mind, waiting for an opportunity to provoke her. “I’d better avoid the name Astera,” she told Empty, trying to steer away from her inner struggles and focus on her identity problem. “It’s the name of a local mobster family. It could get me into trouble.”
“Indeed,” Empty replied, never missing a beat. “Trin Moonrise, then, state your age.”
“Fou… Oh, quarks! Thirteen.” She was taller than most children her age, but fourteen was probably stretching it a bit, and could lead to questions.
“State your city and planet of residency.”
“State your city and planet of destination.”
“What is the nature of your visit to Omopolis?”
Trinket had to think about that one. “Great question, Empty!” she praised the device.
“Thank you, Trin. What is the nature of your visit to Omopolis?”
Trinket grinned. Empty was playing the part of Shuttle Security very well. She hesitated for a second and declared the first thing that came to mind. “I have been sent to Omopolis to buy clothing and medical supplies for the orphans of Axiopolis.” Then, she caught herself.
What am I doing, using the orphans like that? She was about to abandon them. Who would shield them from Stinge, their caretaker? Who would keep them out of the mines? Who would tell them bedtime stories? She knew they were old enough to fend for themselves, but still—
“Remnant military spacecraft approaching,” Empty spoke in her ear.
—it didn’t feel right. She had just used the orphans to— “Hold it! WHAT?”
Empty repeated patiently, “Remnant military spacecraft approaching. It is coming in from a south-easterly direction. Estimated flyover time: ten seconds.”
Trinket reeled. A Remnant aircraft? Here?
She glanced around hurriedly. The hillside was dry and sun-beaten, except for some distant boulders beyond, which followed a precipice that fell into the sea. There was also a single dead tree a short distance away. Forgetting to be careful, she leaped toward it and plunged into its shadow. This time, her prosthetic leg twisted from under her, and she landed hard on her side. “Ouch!” Her metal leg had loosened from her stump and now lay at an angle. Heart thumping, she pulled it in quickly, so it would be out of sight.
Just in time.
A dark cylindrical spacecraft emerged from over the south-eastern mountains, lifting a trail of dust as it swooped past her and disappeared behind the top of the hill she had been trying to reach.
Trinket coughed into the end of her scarf headband, blinking against the swirling particles. “The Remnants!” she gasped. “What are they doing here?”
“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Empty stated. “But that’s a Class One Remnant spacecraft. And the only Class One Remnant spacecraft on Kepra-2 belongs to—”
“—Count Solomon Drakir!” she finished, tensing. “That can’t be good.” What could have attracted these cruel invaders to the area?
She glanced up the remainder of the hill, blinking rapidly. “Let me get my leg back on properly. Then we’re going to find out what the Remnants are doing in my house, Empty!”
“That’s no longer your house, Trin. The Old Scientist is dead. And proceeding is not recommended,” Empty advised. “The probability that you will get caught by the Remnants and sent to the mines is high. And the probability that they will kill you is even higher.”
“Right,” Trinket agreed, gritting her teeth. “And when did that ever stop me?”
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