The Jovian Conflict
Belter

It was pitch black. Romeo tried to piece together what had just happened. First, there was a loud noise and what felt like an earthquake, and then debris started raining down. Adrenaline kicked in, and he had sprinted as quickly as his sore legs would take him into the next section just as backup power booted back on. Both he and his companion made it across seconds before the emergency barriers dropped. Life support systems ensured their compartment was filled with breathable air, but the lighting and heating systems had failed to start back up.

A heavy breath from Romeo came from quivering lips. "It's fucking freezing in here," he complained to himself. Truly, he was thankful that was all he had to whine about. He could have been crushed after that last explosion. Others were out there, just on the other side of that large steel door, suffocating and freezing to death. With the insulation, it would be sometime before the cold claimed his life. In the meantime, he needed to figure out how to get out of there.

A light blipped on and illuminated the entire room. It came from the JOC Patrolman that Romeo had befriended outside of his hospital room. The origin of the light was a small bracelet that projected a holographic map the size of a deck of cards. Romeo leaned in to take a look. All he could see was a 3D rendering of their approximate location. Several sections were colored yellow and others – like the one they had just come from – were flashing red.

"Wow, Mister Escobar. We were damn lucky to be where we were. Any further back and we'd be dead!" the young man exclaimed.

Romeo didn't particularly care for this youngster's peppy attitude about everything. The man's name – if he could be called a man – was Jules, and he was born on Pallas in the asteroid belt. These were details Romeo didn't give a damn about, but Jules had yammered on endlessly about them over the last few days. Being a "Belter" meant that Jules's family was bottom of the barrel in terms of social power. Mining in the asteroid belt was by far the most dangerous job, and often times it was criminals or the desperate that ended up there.

Jules and Romeo were polar opposites. In looks alone, Romeo was shorter, sturdier; his hair was dark and thick, his eyes were a deep brown, and his skin was an olive ton. Jules was slender but not all that tall; his hair was a rustic copper, his eyes were a sapphire blue, and his skin diluted beige. Personality wise, the gap widened. While Romeo was harsh and barked like a cornered dog, Jules smiled obsessively and had a chipper way about saying just about anything.

It was odd for Romeo, somehow striking up a companionship with someone so different. It didn't help that Jules was only a teenager, less than half of Romeo's age. However, given the circumstances, Jules was his best bet to get out alive and get to the rest of his friends.

"Any way out of this shit hole?" Romeo asked.

"Hmm… probably. Just a matter of overriding the failsafe system so we can move. Don't want to open the one we just came from. That would be bad," Jules said.

Aware it was going to take a while, Romeo decided to sit down. His entire body was aching, it was cold, and he was damn tired. The last few days had been insane. In order to move about freely, Jules had procured a JOC Patrolman uniform for Romeo. Surprisingly, despite the ugly color, the uniforms were probably the most comfortable thing Romeo had ever worn. Even the boots eased the ache on his feet. The brimmed ball cap that covered their heads was the only piece he wasn't too fond of.

"You know Mister Escobar, never thought I'd be stuck in a half-collapsed tunnel on Callisto with a fugitive of all things," Jules said, his chatterbox ways breaking the silence that was about to settle.

Romeo had found something to lean against – it was too dark for him to be sure what it was – and had closed his eyes in order to rest. He wasn't too interested in whatever it was Jules wanted to say, but he feigned it just to be polite. "Oh? And what did you think you were going to be doing?"

"Not sure, honestly. Fighting space pirates. Something cool like that. But, nope, I'm just some boot in a private army, trapped in a – oh, hey! Here we go!"

Jules rambling was cut off when he managed to open the barrier between their current sector and the next stable one. The movement of the barrier rising caused the entire structure to shake, and for a moment they held their breath. Nothing collapsed, although a few small bits of debris did fall. Looking forward, they found that the lightning appeared to be off through the entire quadrant. Jules pushed a put on his bracelet and a pinpoint flashlight was activated.

As the two men begin to walk through the next section, Jules asked, "What about you, Mister Escobar?"

"What do you mean, what about me?"

"You plan on this?"

Romeo raised a brow to Jules's back. He felt that was a stupid question if he'd ever heard one. Nobody actually dreams of being in this kinds of messed up situations, right? All he could do was answered with a short, "No, not really."

"Hmm, yeah, no one does, do they?" Jules mused. There was a break in conversation as he tumbled over a piece of debris. He muttered some warning to Romeo, and then continued, "Figured it was only a matter of time before this happened, though."

"What do you mean?" Romeo asked. It was a sincere inquiry, which might have been the first time Romeo had done such a thing in the last few days.

Jules gave a small laugh and said, "Well, you know, people are always fighting about something. I don't really get it myself."

Romeo cocked his head. They came to another door, this time a simple sliding door that would take them into a room. As Jules began to figure out a way to get the door open, Romeo said, "So there's nothing you would fight for?"

"Hm? Well, I suppose. You know, I'd fight for like… food. Shelter. To survive. That's really all we need. This other stuff? I don't get why a fella would want to fight to be separate, free, autonomous, sovereign – whatever word those guys use. I figure that makes it a lot harder to get by. Being a 'slave' or whatever they call it ain't all that bad if you're safe and got food to eat. Everybody hates on Fedorov and they hate on ZLI and they hate on the supposed 'elite,' But you know what? They can have all that. Just let me go through the day-to-day with a full stomach and soft pillow, you hear?"

Romeo did hear, which surprised him. He hadn't expected an interesting or intelligent thing to come out of Jules mouth. While he disagreed on some points, he wasn't about to start a debate or argument. Even now, Romeo didn't care for any ideals. He wanted to get out alive and live another day with the remaining members of his crew.

Instead, Romeo asked, "So helping me, that's going to help you survive?"

Jules gave a chuckle and said, "Sure is! We're alike, you know? Both not from here. Belter, Earther – doesn't matter, we're both transplants now, both immigrants, both refugees. Guys we're up against – guys like the Commander – they're second, third, maybe fourth generation Jovian. They got ideals like independence in their head, because they're comfortable here. I don't know about you, but I'm not. Not comfortable anywhere, really. And like minded people gotta stick together. Increases their odds if working together."

The door opened. Low lighting from inside the room cascaded out. Although it was faint, it was enough that both felt their eyes trying to adjust. They had found their destination – the armory. Romeo had been adamant that they get as much guns and ammo as possible, and then hold out as long as possible. If he knew anything about Shelton, the man was probably thinking the same thing. No doubt they would end up in the same spot sooner or later.

Romeo was the first to step inside. It seemed as though the JOC Patrol had yet to reach this particular spot. That wasn't too shocking. They were running about trying to help survivor and figure out what their orders were. More than likely they were horribly underprepared for such an event as a terrorist attack.

As Romeo picked up a gun to examine it, Jules entered the room, closed the door, and said, "But you know? It's not really about what you would fight for. It's about what you would die for."

"Is that so, kid?" Romeo asked absentmindedly. He was more focused on figuring out the mechanisms for the strange guns he was finding.

Jules took a seat on a cargo container. "That's what I think," he said. Somewhere in the back of his head, he probably assumed that Romeo wasn't listening anymore. Perhaps he was speaking more for himself. Maybe no one had ever listened to him before, even if they just pretended to. "Doesn't matter if it's, you know, dying in a fight or dying taking a risk. There's this saying, from an American, that the exploration of space was – "

"Worth the risk of life, yeah," Romeo interrupted, proving that he was paying attention. "That was said by Gus Grissom."

"You know him?"

"What? No, kid. He died in the 20th century. But I know of him. Always figured if I ever settled down, had a son, I'd name him Grissom. Grissom Escobar," Romeo said. "Maybe I could convince my wife to have two more. Chaffee and White. Quite a trio they would be."

With the dim lighting, Romeo couldn't make out the exact features of Jules's face. One thing was certain, he was smiling. The kid looked thrilled, as though he was the most content he had ever been. Holding a conversation with someone meant this much to him. For someone like Romeo, it was the most bizarre sight.

For whatever reason, it promoted Romeo to continue the talk. First he took a seat as well, across from Jules on another medium sized trunk. He asked, "You want kids someday?"

"Well, JOC Patrol, you take an oath of celibacy – "

"Fuck that. You want kids or not?"

"I do but… what kind of dad would I even be? What kind of future can a Belter give to their kids? And now, well, with this mess… it just feels selfish to even think of something like that," Jules said. He hesitated for a moment. A hardy swallow followed. Then, with a slight blush, he confessed, "Besides I haven't even… you know, I haven't even met someone. Been with anyone."

"Why?" Romeo questioned. It came out gruffer than he had intended. He followed it up with, "I mean, you're twelve so that's not surprising."

"I'm not twelve. I'm eighteen standard Earth years old. But I'm a Belter, we aren't very well liked."

"Oh come off it with that bullshit," Romeo cursed. "Is that your excuse for everything? Where you come from? That shit doesn't matter, kid. Nobody knows you're a fucking Belter until you blabber about. Most people don't even care. The only one that does, is you."

Romeo knew he was lying. Being a Belter did matter. It mattered more than whether you were from Earth, the Moon, Mars, or the Jovian Sector. Regardless, Romeo had been around long enough to know that with enough confidence and drive, most would look past another's birthplace.

Romeo gave a small smile, the first time he'd made such a gesture in weeks. He said, "You know something, kid? I take it back. If I ever have a kid, I'd name him Jules."

Jules laughed. It was a liberating move, one that seemed to lessen the tense atmosphere that had settled. "You're an alright guy, Mister Escobar," he said once his laughter subsided.

"You know what 'Belter' meant before it became associated with the asteroid belt, right?"

Jules shook his head, "Afraid not, sir."

"It was used to describe something that was outstanding. Something admirable," Romeo said.

Another light chuckle came from Jules, but this one sounded more forced. "I'm not sure if that describes me, Mister Escobar."

To that, Romeo opted to say nothing. If there was one thing he had learned in his many years of life, it was that confidence often came with maturity and experience. There was little doubt in his mind that Jules had the potential to be someone spectacular if given the chance. In fact, if he ever got to get a crew together for some Interceptor 2, he wouldn't mind recruiting the man.

If he survives this mess, Romeo thought bitterly to himself.