Ruby, From Earth

Ruby tilted her head back until she thought she might tip over, but she widened her stance and redoubled her resolve. She was out of breath. Her clamped eyes grew salty and her nose tingled and burned, but she would not quit. Not until she heard the roar climb to the pitch of victory.

And at long last, it did. Ruby forced one eye open to see Darby hunch over with his hands on his knees, sucking in air. And most importantly, no longer drinking. He quit. She won.

The whole bar shook from the noise. The voices were so numerous and primal that she couldn’t distinguish any one; they all crashed into each other in a sonic mosh pit. Ruby yanked the funnel tube from her mouth, soaking herself in lager in the process. Her mouth frothed and she couldn’t hold herself upright, but Kai and Eugene suddenly had their shoulders beneath her armpits. They hoisted her into the air and she smiled crookedly while she continued to spit up brown foam. The bitter taste of victory.

The rest of the night was choppy—it passed like a slideshow. They’d hit up every bar on the station, Ruby and Kai and Eugene and the rest of the crew, a drunken parade whose stink kept up with their cussing. They could be forgiven. It was the last night any of them would still be young.

In the morning Ruby woke up still drunk, her boots not even untied. She stumbled back to the strip, where they didn’t keep standard hours—they didn’t keep time at all—and spent her last dollars on a tattoo. It was simple black text on her forearm that said, 1: Earth. Below it was only a number: 2.

She had no belongings, and she didn’t much feel like breakfast, so she took an auto to the docks and watched from high above as the sun crossed the Mohave one last time.

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