She found him where she always did, perched under the branches of an aspen tree on Mars Hill. Jenna walked over, her feet making crunching noises on the fallen leaves. Hearing the noise, he looked over, eyes wide, and relaxed when he saw who it was. Jenna sat down cross-legged next to him. "Mom was worried. It was getting late," she said simply.
Danny didn't reply. He looked straight ahead, a distant look in his eyes. You could see most of downtown Flagstaff from here, though it wasn't much to look at. No skyscrapers, no enormous corporate enclaves - just a mid-sized city tucked away on the mountainous border between the Ute Nation and Pueblo Corporate Council. Their mother had first brought them up here when they were kids, to see the observatory at the top of the mountain. Looking through the telescope, seeing the magnificent blue-violet of a distant galaxy, had taken their breath away. Afterwards, they went walking through the woods and found this spot. Danny always came here when he was upset.
"What happened this time?" Jenna asked, looking at him expectantly. "Did you get into another fight at school?" Danny nodded. When he turned toward her, she could see that his right eye was puffy, already beginning to swell shut. Jenna sighed, slipping an arm around his shoulders to give her brother a half-hug. As two white kids in a predominately Native American nation, they got into more than their fair share of scrapes. Danny had the worst of it, being a boy, but the girls could be just as cruel in their own way. It didn't matter that their mother was part Hopi; their father was Anglo and they were raised as Anglos. That's how people saw them, and treated them.
They sat in silence for some time, before finally Jenna said, "Come on - let's go home. Mom will want to take a look at your eye."
Danny scowled, imagining their mother's reaction. She was a nurse, and fussed over every little scrape or bruise. "Dad will be ticked."
Their father was a stern man, prone to fits of anger - especially when he'd had too much to drink. He didn't approve of his kids fighting, even though violence was his preferred way of solving problems. He was a water engineer, working under contract at the water collection and purification center. It didn't sound like a tough job, but in the mountainous desert it was more stressful than one might imagine. Sighing, Jenna nodded her agreement. "Still, you've got to go home eventually. It'll be better if you go before he has to come looking for you."
Danny frowned, looking back at the city once more. "I don't belong here," he said abruptly, his voice barely a whisper. "I'm going to leave."
Jenna looked at him like he was crazy. "Don't be ridiculous. You can't leave - you're only fourteen." If anyone would be leaving, it would be her. Just one more semester and she'd be done with high school. Then she'd be free to get out of this dump of a town, and go somewhere she could make something of herself. Doing what, she wasn't sure, but she'd find something.
But Danny wasn't to be dissuaded. "Almost fifteen. I've been saving up some money. Pretty soon I'll have enough." He glanced at her. "You should come with me, Jen. We could go to Phoenix, maybe, or Denver. They have a lot of computer companies there. I'm sure I could get a job. And you could go to school." His desperation was almost palpable, and it was clear he'd been thinking about this for a long time. Jenna had known he was having problems, at school and at home, but didn't realize things were so bad. She didn't know what to say. He shook his head, his eyes showing a weariness that was ill-suited to his youthful features. "There's no future for us here. There's no future for anyone."
So what exactly does one do with a degree in Astronomy? Teach? Jenna had worked as a teacher's assistant in college, and didn't much care for it. She didn't want to be a stuffy professor. Research? Not a lot of call for that in Phoenix, and she didn't want to leave. In the four years since she and Danny had come to the city, she'd grown attached to the place. Their mother had joined them last year, arriving with two suitcases, a black eye, and the comcode of a good divorce lawyer. Danny was a wiz programmer at a computer firm, and earning a little extra nuyen doing consulting work on the side.
It was great living on her own yet still having her family nearby, but pretty soon she was going to have to figure out what the frag she was going to do with the rest of her life. The answer came from an unexpected source. Her mother had hooked her up with a part-time job as an orderly. She was covering the emergency ward one night when the doors flew open and a DocWagon ambulance crew rushed in with a patient. The poor slot was screaming despite the pain meds they'd given him, half his face blown away by a shotgun.
Just being nearby, while the trauma team tried to save the man's life, was an adrenaline rush. The DocWagon crew stuck around long enough to give their report. They exuded confidence, toughness, and looked like they had seen it all. Jenna couldn't imagine what it was like to experience that kind of life. Down and dirty, on the streets, saving lives. The prospect thrilled her, and two days later she went down to the local DocWagon office and picked up an application.
The pounding on the door woke Jenna from a sound sleep. She looked at the clock blearily and winced. What fragging idiot was knocking at 3 in the morning? Didn't they know she'd been on call the last three nights? Jenna dragged herself out from under the covers and slowly made her way out of the bedroom. The pounding continued, and this time was accompanied by a panicked cry. "Jen? Jen - open up!"
Jenna's blood ran cold hearing the tone of her brother's voice, and all traces of sleep were banished. She ran across the small apartment, nearly tripping over the coffee table, and opened the door. She hadn't seen her brother in nearly two years. He'd all but dropped off the face of the Earth when he lost his job at the computer company. For several seconds all she saw was the blood on Danny's face. It took awhile before she noticed that he wasn't alone. Another man was standing- barely - next to Danny, his arm draped around Danny's shoulders for support. Jenna recovered from her shock and moved aside so they could come in. "What happened? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Lark's been shot," Danny said breathlessly, kicking the door shut behind them. Those were three words she never thought she'd hear from her brother's mouth.
Jenna motioned for Danny to bring him over to the kitchen table, and turned on the lights. Lark's jacket was soaked with blood, and it didn't take long to determine that the source of the bleeding was a gunshot to his shoulder. She frowned at the wound. "It may have nicked an artery. He needs to go to the hospital."
Lark groaned, and Danny swallowed hard. "We can't go there." When she looked at him questioningly, he wouldn't meet her gaze. "We were trying to get into this place, and he got tagged by security. They'll be looking for us at the hospitals. Can't you help him? You're a doctor now, aren't you?"
"No," she corrected testily. "It didn't work out." After two years as a DocWagon paramedic, she had decided to take the next step: medical school. Unfortunately, despite her knack for front-line street medicine, she didn't have the scientific mind necessary for medical school. She dropped out midway through her second year, one step ahead of the dean's office that would have kicked her out for poor academic performance. Danny looked surprised. Well, apparently it was a night of surprises for them both. Jenna avoided his gaze, and instead grabbed her keys from the countertop. She tossed them to her brother. "There's a med kit in the back of my car - bring it up here." She regarded Lark with a sigh. "I'll do what I can." As Danny headed for the door, she mumbled under her breath, "My God, Danny, what have you gotten yourself into?"
Danny was in trouble again, she just knew it. He'd left town after that night in her apartment, but they had kept in touch. Even saw each other once or twice. Last she heard, he was in Denver, but that was several months ago and his messages had abruptly stopped. She'd always feared something like this would happen, and lived in fear of getting a call one night saying that her brother was in jail - or worse. The silence was far worse than knowing, though. She couldn't stand it. Taking out her comlink, she searched for the first available flight to Denver.