“Svobo?” I said.
He looked down. “Are you…leaving, Jazz? Are they going to deport you? I’d hate that.”
I put my mittened hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be all right. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yeah, I have a plan.”
“A plan?” He looked concerned. “Your plans are…uh…should I hide somewhere?”
I laughed. “Not this time.”
“Okay…” He was clearly not convinced. “But how are you going to get out of this one? Like…you knocked out the whole town.”
I smiled at him. “Don’t worry. I got this.”
“Okay, good.” He leaned down and kissed my cheek, almost as an afterthought. I had no idea what possessed him to do that—honestly I didn’t think he had it in him. His bravery didn’t last long, though. Once he realized what he’d done, his face became a mask of terror. “Oh shit! I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking—”
I laughed. The look in the poor guy’s eyes…I couldn’t help it. “Relax, Svobo. It’s just a peck on the cheek. It’s nothing to get worked up about.”
I put my hand on the nape of his neck, pulled his head to mine, and kissed him full on the lips. A good, long kiss with no ambiguity. When we disengaged, he looked hopelessly confused.
“Now, that,” I said. “That you can get worked up about.”
I waited in a blank, gray hallway next to a door labeled CD2-5186. Conrad Down 2 was a little classier than the usual Conrad Down fare, but not much. Strictly blue-collar, but without that smell of desperation the lower levels had.
I opened and closed my hands a few times. The bandages were off, but both hands were littered with red blisters. I looked like a leper. Or a hooker who gave handjobs exclusively to lepers.
Dad rounded the corner, following his Gizmo’s directions. He finally noticed me. “Ah. There you are.”
“Thanks for meeting me, Dad,” I said.
He took my right hand and inspected it. He winced at the damage. “How are you feeling? Does it hurt? If it hurts, you should go to Dr. Roussel.”
“It’s okay. Looks worse than it feels.” There I was, lying to Dad again.
“So I’m here.” He pointed to the door. “CD2-5186. What is it?”
I waved my Gizmo across the panel and opened the door. “Come in.”
The large, mostly bare workshop had stark metal walls. Our footsteps echoed as we walked. A worktable stood in the center covered with industrial equipment. Farther back, gas cylinders mounted along the wall fed pipes leading throughout the room. A standard air shelter stood in the corner.
“One hundred forty-one square meters,” I said. “Used to be a bakery. Fully fireproof and certified by the city for high-temperature use. Self-contained air-filtration system, and the air shelter seats four people.”
I walked over to the tanks. “I just had these installed. Central acetylene, oxygen, and neon lines accessible from anywhere in the shop. Full tanks, of course.”
I pointed to the worktable. “Five torch heads, twenty meters of feeder line, and four sparkers. Also, three full sets of protective gear, five masks, and three filter-shade kits.”
“Jasmine,” Dad said. “I—”
“Under the table: twenty-three aluminum stock rods, five steel rods, and one copper rod. I don’t know why you had that copper rod back then, but you had one, so there it is. Rent’s pre-paid for a year, and the door panel’s already keyed to accept your Gizmo.”
I shrugged and let my arms fall to my sides. “So, yeah. Everything I destroyed back on that day.”
“It was your idiot boyfriend who destroyed it.”
“I’m responsible,” I said.
“Yes, you are.” He ran his hand along the worktable. “This must have been very expensive.”
“It was 416,922 slugs.”
He frowned. “Jasmine…you bought this with money that—”
“Dad…please, just…” I slumped down and sat on the floor. “I know you don’t like where the money came from. But…”
Dad clasped his hands behind his back. “My father—your grandfather—had severe depression. He committed suicide when I was eight.”
I nodded. A dark corner of our family history. Dad rarely discussed it.
“Even when he was alive, he wasn’t really ‘alive.’ I didn’t grow up with a father. I don’t even know what it is. So I’ve tried my best—”
“Dad, you’re not a bad father. I’m just a shitty daughter—”
“Let me finish.” He got to his knees then sat on his heels. He’d prayed in that position five times a day for sixty years—he knew how to make it comfortable. “I’ve been winging it, you know. As a father. I had nothing to work from. No blueprint. And I chose a hard life for us. An immigrant’s life in a frontier town.”
“No complaints here,” I said. “I’d rather be a hardworking pauper in Artemis than a rich woman on Earth. This is my home—”
He held up his hand to silence me. “I tried to prepare you for the world. I never went easy on you, because the world certainly wouldn’t go easy on you, and I wanted you to be prepared. We’ve fought at times, of course—find me a parent and child who haven’t. And there are certainly aspects of your life I wish were different. But in the grand scheme of things, you became a strong, self-reliant woman and I’m proud of you. And, through extension, proud of myself for raising you.”