I stepped off the transport along with a group of around twenty others. Above me a sound dinged and then a white light blinked on above the metal threshold.
“Inter-System Shuttle H-98 is now departing for... Alpha Centauri.” Spoke a robotic sounding, cheerful female voice. Alpha Centauri was a long way at warp, I half wondered how long it would take as I marched down the dark grey, cold hallways that were barely lit by failing lights.
There was no chatter here, no talk amongst happy holiday-makers. This wasn’t a place you’d find families with children or old people lounging around, waiting for their transport.
In fact, most of the people on the shuttle had already been armed with an impressive array of weaponry, although we had to give it up temporarily when we boarded. I walked amongst mercs, bandits, gangsters and all manner of troublemakers. To say the least, my heart was pounding. It pounded faster as we passed heavily armed guards wielding large automatic coilrifles.
I glanced right and saw out of the window and into deep space. There was nothing but stars as far as the eye could even make out. Then there was the shuttle, a long pen shaped object with a massive ring around the middle and many flashing lights. It approached a large circular object floating in the distance, a warp lane built to centralise inter-system travel. The warp drive onboard wouldn’t work without one of those rings to give it access first.
Slowing down my pace, I watched as the ship approached, slowed using its forward thrusters, and the suddenly it shot through the gate with no momentum at all. In a flash it was gone, the transport that had brought me here had now left me, and I was on my own.
I was determined however. I couldn’t let my family down, not like this. We already had enough trouble back home as it was.
A brief glance in the glass and I caught my reflection. My tanned skin was speckled with sweat from the hot, humid environment of the shuttlecraft, and my dark stubble made me look dirty and unkempt. My face was still youthful, perhaps too youthful as I seemed to be a common target for thugs but I got away, most of the time without a scratch. Along with all of that, I wore a white tanktop, a pair of beige cargoes and an old olive coloured military backpack with clips. My rifle hung over my shoulder by a leather strap; it was an old kind of army firearm from back home, standard issue for those who performed national service. It was shaped similarly to those ancient AK rifles from Earth I always saw in old movies, but without any wood on it at all and was much more modern looking.
I turned back and headed onwards, through a sliding automatic door. Ahead I watched the other passengers turn left and right at a walkway ahead. As I approached, I heard a lot of echoing voices and the mechanical sounds of power tools and machines. Then there was the smell as I approached, the smell of freshly cooking noodles and the spices to go with them
Stepping out onto the metal platform, my eyes widened briefly at the amazing sight all around.
Called The Donut, this space station orbited an uninhabited barren world, lifeless and nearly without atmosphere, but was rich in iron hence the main reason for the station being here. Its dark grey surface loomed ominously close above through the windows, but these weren’t ordinary windows. They were made from a specialised substance that could withstand direct impacts from fast flying space debris and small arms fire. As I looked down I saw other parts of the station in the distance. The living quarters were their own thing, housing a couple thousand people here. They were large cubes with windows and lights, housing as utilitarian as it gets. A dry-dock floated in the distance to the right of the housing area, where private ships were anchored, most likely owned by people living within this system. Most ships were banged up old things, bought over the net at low prices and probably had inter-planetary engines out of date by over two centuries.
Around me the station stretched into a donut shape, giving it its name, with three levels bustling with heavy activity. I leaned over and looked down at the floor and saw hundreds of people all going about their business. Some wore suits and were flanked by armed guards. Others wore dusters or heavy coats concealing armoured vests. Others still looked like pilgrims or slum-dwellers, dressed in ratty clothing and with the barest of equipment on them.
Not all were human though. I spotted many, many wolves amongst the crowd. More than enough to make me shiver, as I knew they were stronger than the average human. I saw a few foxes as well but they tended to stay together in their little pilgrimage groups. It made me wish I had someone else with me too. Both were descendants of animals from Earth who were experimented on by humans hundreds of years ago. They escaped and made their way to different parts of the Orion Arm, and hundreds of years later, here we all were.
Looking around, I spotted some stairs leading down to the lower floors. I quickly made my way down them, keeping my head low and eyes averted from everyone else. I didn’t want any trouble. I kept an extra strong grip on my backpack and rifle too, just in case.
As I reached the ground, I looked around for an information kiosk. I spotted a tall, glass display that was empty. I walked up to it and pulled out my Smartphone, a touch-screen device with a rubber outer casing for added ruggedness. After flipping through it for the Site-Connection button, the symbol of a radar dish and three curved lines coming out of it, I pressed it and watched the glass screen in front of me light up.
“Welcome to Donut station!” Spoke a cheery, upper class sounding male voice. I couldn’t pin-point the accent, but I had heard it from old Earth movies before.
“Locate the bar.”
“Locating pub, please wait...” He said.
Within a split second a map popped up, both on the screen and on my phone.
“Pub located. Your handheld device has also been updated. Please have a pleasant day!”
“Oh yeah, sure.” I replied sarcastically, turning and walking away as a group of armed men walked up the kiosk after me. I kept an arm on my pack and glanced at my phone from time to time, checking on the map. I couldn’t focus with all of this noise so I ducked into a maintenance corridor quickly and got the general direction. I then set off for the bar, intent on getting a drink and hopefully renting some hired help for my mission.
The bar, having been located down what felt like a thousand useless corridors filled with strange people, was probably the nicest looking place here. The other section was all squared off, darkened glass, giving a beautiful view of the sun and the planet together.
It wasn’t packed either, just four other human patrons and the bartender, a black skinned man with a shaved head who was busy flipping through channels on the thin television screen above the bar. I wandered over and sat on one of the stools, covered in what felt like real leather.
“Hey bro, what would you like?” He asked. The accent was similar to people from the old American colonies back in my home nation’s territory.
“Just a beer please, a weak one.”
“You mean a cheap one.” He chuckled, turning around to fish inside a cooler.
I ignored the comment and stared up at the television screen. A blonde news reporter sat in front of a desk speaking in French about something, but I couldn’t understand it. I could see military ships from Earth and Olumian space together, firing on a large golden craft of some sort that shot back with beams of golden energy. More than likely this was about the war against the Holy Union.
“It’s all bullshit these days.” Sighed the bartender, sliding a beer and a clean glass in front of me, “Same old shit.”
“Yeah, that broadcast looks familiar...”
He nodded, “Near Mahar space, apparently the Union decided one of the Mahar worlds was going to be a new weapons testing site. Then the FEC and Olumians showed up and whooped their ass, KA’POW!” He shouted, making martial arts moves.
I chuckled along with him as we watched the fuzzy broadcast.
Feeling a presence moving around me, I quickly looked right and saw nothing, then left and nearly dropped my drink in shock.
To the left of me sat down a strong, heavily armed and scarred wolf wearing cold-weather military gear. It had a dark look on its face as if it were up to no good or planning something. Its fur was mostly grey with some light brown and beige markings around its face and going down its neck, and the fur was incredibly fluffy and looked soft.
“What’s up Jess, you want a Boston Gold Stout?”
She, I could recognise the voice as a woman, nodded and spoke in a gruff, strange accent, “Yes.”
I couldn’t help but stare at her, never having seen one of these wolves so close. Of course there were all of the movies, all of the videos online, but never in the flesh or fur in this case.
She turned and eyed me with her deep, ocean blue eyes and a small scowl on her face.
“Sorry.” I spoke meekly, turning back to the television screen.
I heard her sigh and take a sip of the stout straight from the bottle, leaving the glass behind. She got up and walked past me, mumbling something to herself as she stalked over to a lone table at the other side of the bar.
“Who was that?” I asked the bartender in a hushed tone as he walked back over.
“That, is Jessie. Most fearsome merc in this region, she’s one of the best. From the Bloodletter clan apparently, trained from birth to be great warriors.”
I gasped, “Bloodletter? Holy shit! Why’s she in such a bad mood?”
He shrugged, “Says her mom’s not doing so awesome back home. Probably worried, I know I’d have been if I still had parents.”
“What happened to yours?” I asked.
He shrugged, “Disease. They lived in a shithole, died there, it happens.”
I leaned back, “Huh... Sorry to hear that.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway, long time ago. Anyway, Jess is a mercenary pretty much, lived a hell of a long time for one too.”
“Is she hireable?”
He raised his hands to the sides, “You can only go and ask her, I don’t know any more than that.”
I thanked him and grabbed my drink as I walked over to the table she was sat at, lost in thought. She turned, saw me and looked annoyed as hell, sighed and turned away again.
“Miss Jessie..?” I asked, standing there awkwardly holding my glass and my beer can.
“Just Jessie.” She grunted.
“Uh... I uh...” I stammered, trying to find the words but I was so focused on what she looked like I could hardly think straight.
“Sit.” She ordered, pointing to the chair opposite her.
I nodded quickly and set my drinks down on the table. I leaned on my arms and spoke quietly.
“I need to hire a mercenary for a mission.”
She stared at me, tilting her head to the side. She studied me up and down, various expressions crossing her face before she let out a huff and sat back.
“You couldn’t afford me, child.” She spoke dismissively.
Now I was mildly offended, “Just wait a minute there! I didn’t travel all the way from Carver just to be shrugged off as some puta kid!”
She nodded and grinned at me, “Yeah, you’re just a boy with a gun and no idea what he’s doing.”
“Yes I do!” I said, my voice going a bit higher than I’d have liked. I glanced around and leaned in closer, “I’m looking for something, an old piece of technology worth a lot of money.”
She sighed and leaned in as well, “And how much is this piece worth to you?”
“A lot. My family has debts that need paying, and I’m willing to go to hell and back to get this thing.”
She let out a grunt, though I think it may have been a laugh, “Well, I am retired.”
“What?” I asked, blinking rapidly, “No, you’re one of the best mercs around! I can afford you, I swear!”
She shook her head and waggled her finger at me, “Retired, child. I don’t do this anymore. Family calls to me and I must return to my homeworld.”
“Yeah, I heard about your mom.”
She gaped for a brief second before glancing at the bartender then back to me, “He told you didn’t he?”
“Bastard. Listen boy, I don’t think whatever this piece of tech is it will help anyone. There’s nothing around these parts aside from some abandoned planets.” She waved her hand dismissively.
“That’s where you’re wrong.” I pointed at her as I fished around in my pockets for my phone. I pulled it out and turned it on, flipping through files until I reached one of a schematic. It was of a spherical device with small bars pointing out of it and a digital screen on the front.
“Here, take a look at this...” I handed it to her.
She took the phone quickly and stared at the picture, moving her fingers to zoom in and out of the high quality image. She glance up at me briefly, “What is it called?”
“The Genevieve Device.” I whispered.
She narrowed her eyes at me, “And? What does it do? How old is it?”
“Supremacy wars era tech, lost on a world a long time ago. As for what it does... I dunno. All I know is that a lot of money went into making this thing.”
Her eyes widened as I mentioned Supremacy wars, “That is... centuries old.”
I nodded quickly, “You see why I want to get this thing? It’s got to be worth a hell of a lot of money to someone. So here’s what I’m thinking; I pay you to guard me whilst I search around on the planet for the device. It’s gonna be a dangerous world so I could use the backup.”
She nodded slowly, weighing up the options she had. Perhaps the idea of earning more money to help her mother would make her easier to hire?
“Let me think about this.” She handed the phone back to me, “But first, let’s talk money and experience. My going rate at the moment is around forty thousand in local credits.”
“I’ve got fifty thousand Carver Pesos, so it’s a done deal. What next?” I replied, interlocking my fingers as I leant on the table.
She tilted her head and regarded me with a curious expression, her ears twitching, “Next question; do you have military, survival or travel experience?”
I paused and gave her a shy smile, “Not... exactly.”
She sighed and slumped forward, her eyebrows lowered in annoyance, “Military experience?”
“Six months national service.” I shrugged, “We all do it.”
She bobbed her head, “Survival?”
“I can boil water.”
She frowned, “Uh... travel?”
I grimaced, “I barely left my home city of La Lanura.”
She sighed and rubbed her face, “Oh, Gods of the Clans help me. You are as green as summer grass.”
“Yeah...” I sighed.
She shook her head, “I hate babysitting jobs, but you have the money and some training, so I suppose it can’t be all bad. Fine, but this mission is the last I shall do. Do you have transportation to this world?”
I nodded, grinning, “Some guy from Mars, Tharsis region who owns a ship with a hyperdrive. We meet up with him, hop on a carrier, warp near the system in question and then hyperdrive there and then back to the shipping lane.”
“A Martian? Hmm... alright. Do you trust him?”
The question caught me off guard, “Uh, yeah I guess so. He’s like a cowboy from those old films, has a revolver and speaks with an accent but he seems cool.”
“What is a cowboy? Never mind, even those who seem ‘cool’ can be ready to stab you in the back. I will meet with this man and determine his trust’s worth.”
I shrugged, “Okay then, we’ll meet up with him in like thirty minutes anyway.”
She nodded to my beer, “Drink it, then I will take you to get better clothes.”
“What’s wrong with what I have on?” I asked in annoyance.
She shook her head, “It is a cold world child, you need warm clothes there.”
A warm feeling spread across my cheeks as I blushed with embarrassment, “Yeah, I knew that.”
She huffed, “Doubtful. What is your name?”
“Alfonso.” I said proudly, puffing up my chest, “Alfonso Belmonte, citizen of the United Human Clans.”
“Hmm, explains the strange accent you have.” She said, before sitting back with her strong looking arm leaning against the top of the seat next to her, “...and the attitude.” She downed half the bottle of beer in seconds just as I finished my first quarter. She then eyed me amusedly and grinned, showing off all of her sharp, pointy teeth, “Are you ready?”
This was going to be an experience, one way or another.
After finishing our beers we decided to go and buy better equipment, or better equipment for me in any case.
“Take this.” She shoved a heavy, dark green jacket into my arms suddenly. I looked down at it and gave it a feel by running my fingers over its surface. It had a texture of high quality, flexible canvas on the outside, and within it was quilted and soft, although I doubt the feathers within were real all the way out here in space.
“Feels nice.” I said as I tried it on.
The shop we were in was a survival outfitter and supplier, made more for the adventurer or merc who needed new clothes and supplies than an average Joe. Jessie ignored me and wandered over to a wall next to the double entrances either side of it. On the wall was a variety of civilian issue rations, starting from space rations or “space slop” as it was kindly named for its bland taste, all the way up to high quality, freeze dried foods imported from the Federation of Earth and her Colonies’ region of space.
Jessie took down a squared, black plastic bag with white lettering that read “MRE: Cold Weather Issue” on the front. She took two of them and gave them an inquisitive sniff before nodding and carrying them over to the counter where a bored looking young white woman sat, reading a magazine or something.
After grabbing a pair of thermal socks and underwear to go with my jacket, I quickly caught up behind her. It was almost embarrassing how I acted more like a dog than an employer, always keeping close to Jessie. I felt safer with her around though, and people seemed to give her a wide berth which suited me fine.
“Two cold weather MREs, that comes to around 120 Creds.” Said the woman, barely looking up from her magazine as she lazily thumbed through the pages. Her accent reminded me of the Tharsis guy I had hired earlier, it was that same cowboy sound from the movies.
Jessie nodded and took out her phone, pressing a few buttons on it. There was a ding and a little digital screen on the register came on with the word “Transaction Complete” emblazoned on it in white letters against a blue background.
“Thank you, come again.” She spoke with disinterest as Jessie stepped back, allowing me to pay for my items. The woman took more notice of me, and I saw her eyes light up as she gave me a polite smile.
“Well howdy there, is this all?” she said, putting down her magazine as she ran the clothes through a scanner.
“Uh, yeah!” I said, chuckling.
She nodded and pressed a button on the register.
“320 Creds.” She said, spinning the screen to me.
I pulled out my phone and it made the transaction from Pesos to Creds. The rate was good, only 135 Pesos from my bank account went into the purchase.
“So where are you from? You don’t look like a merc.” She asked me, leaning on her elbow.
“Uh, Carver.” I had to think about that. She was a pretty girl, around my age too, “You?”
“Carver..? Ooh! UHC space, eh? I was born on this station, pretty boring so I’m getting enough money to actually leave.”
“Wow, you lived your whole life here?” I honestly couldn’t believe someone could actually live here, the place was a shithole, but I kept that to myself.
“Yep, be glad to see the back of it, shrinking away into nothing but darkness and stars.” She waved her arms in the air for dramatic effect, before smiling and turning to look back at me.
I chuckled at her amusing performance, “Anyway, thanks. Maybe I’ll see you around.” I said, winking.
She giggled, “Thanks, come again!” She said, giving me a returning wink as she went back to her magazine. Jessie was looking at me with a raised eyebrow but said nothing as we left the shop. I put on my jacket and stored the other clothes within the backpack.
“Still have enough to pay me later?” She asked, walking alongside me as she gave me an amused look.
“Of course. I’ll pay you when we get to the transport.”
“No, you will pay me after the job is done.” She spoke, but it sounded more like a command.
“Uh... yeah, okay.” I stammered, not sure what to say.
“Never pay a merc before the job is done. Never ever... remember that.” She spoke again as she prodded me in the chest with a clawed finger.
“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, rubbing my chest.
“And here...” She thrust one of the MREs into my arms, “It has got over two thousand five hundred calories. If we ration it and move slowly, there are two days worth of food in there.”
“Thanks!” I said, confused but somewhat grateful. She bought me food? I guess she thought I hadn’t already packed some, but then she’d know more than I would about this sort of thing. The bag felt like a tough kind of plastic and weighed a bit but not as much as you’d think for two thousand, five hundred calories. I shoved it into the backpack and quickly forgot about it as we walked down the ever increasingly busy corridors.
“So, how did you get so much money?” She asked me as she marched along through the crowd of noisy people, holding on to the strap of her rifle as we walked through the centre of the Donut. Even squads of armed station guards moved around us and regarded Jessie with respect.
It was an odd question of her to ask so it caught me off guard, “Do I have to tell you?”
“No, I just want to know how a pup from La Lanura got his paws on such a large sum of money. You are definitely not from a rich family judging by your...” She glanced up and down my body, “...appearance.”
I chuckled to myself, “I uh... took out a loan.”
She raised her eyebrows but kept looking ahead of us, “Ah, I see. And this is a debt you of course will pay after you sell the device, yes?”
Sighing, I shrugged, “Yeah sure. Look, the loan company was in shit anyway so I doubt they’ll come looking for me if I don’t pay up.”
“What about your family?” She asked, seemingly concerned in some way.
I shook my head, “No, honour prevents them from accosting my family for the cash.”
“But honour does not prevent you from stealing money?” She retorted slyly.
I shrugged again, “It’s not perfect but hey, it is what it is. My family is in debt and my lazy ass brothers and sisters aren’t doing anything about it, so I took matters into my own hands. My parents... don’t even know I’m gone. Or didn’t, they probably do know. I left a note anyway.”
I slouched, thinking sadly about what my mother and father must be going through. Father would certainly be drinking himself into a stupor, like he usually does. Mother would be worried sick and begging the local clan to send scouts after me. The others wouldn’t really care.
Jessie nodded, “Well, for your sake I hope this device pays off these debts of yours, because if it does not then you have just put yourself into even more debt with that loan.”
Grimacing, I turned away from her, “Yes, it was a dishonourable thing to do and the local clan of the neighbourhood wouldn’t be happy with how I’ve done it, but I had no choice. If they want to denounce me as a horrible son of the clan, then let them. My family is far more important than their stupid opinions!”
She smiled, “I am glad some humans still remember family for what it is.”
Did she... did she almost approve of what I’ve done?
I thought about it as we made our way towards the dry-docks, where I’d be meeting our pilot for the second time. I hoped she’d find him trustworthy as much as I found him amusing.
The station’s hanger was located at the far end, down a couple of long corridors. We took a small tram with four other people, all foxes dressed in hooded gear who quietly watched us, down a long hallway towards a larger room. When we reached the room, it was grand.
Hanging from the ceilings or locked in place on the ground were all manner of smaller ships, from personal craft to small people carriers or cargo haulers. I looked around and saw pink and red neon lights at one end that read “bar” in bright lettering. I shrugged and guessed that’s where he’d be. With Jessie in tow and the foxes moving away and talking in hushed tones to one another, we walked towards the bar.
“Where is this pilot?” Jessie asked, putting her hands on her hips as she looked around, still looking angry. Could’ve just been the way she was though.
I spotted a man dressed in a leather duster with one of those strange brimmed hats from the old movies on his head. He sat there drinking a small whisky and talking to the bar lady, a middle aged woman with long brown hair and a wrinkled face.
“That’s the guy.” I said, pointing at him. We walked over, and the bar lady upon seeing us must have said something to him. The man turned around and we saw his face. He was white and middle-aged, with a few wrinkles here and there from stress in his life. He had a wide moustache over his top lip but nothing else on his face. His hair was short and also greying, but not to any major degree.
He smiled warmly at us and tipped his hat, “Howdy Alfonso!”
“Hey Tony. I found some help, so this is Jessie who’ll be joining us.” I said, standing aside as I introduced her.
Tony stood up and stepped over to Jessie who looked him up and down, studying him as she had me. He extended his hand out towards her and she regarded it momentarily before taking it with her other and shaking it with a firm grip.
“Good to meet you Jessie. I’m Tony Colombo, one of the best pilots around.”
Jessie bowed her head to the side, “Jessie of the Bloodletter Clan, experienced warrior and mercenary.”
Tony nodded and broke the handshake, “Interesting, I think I’ve heard of you around somewhere. Anyway, I’ll show you to my bird, the Celestial Steed.” He said, gesturing for us to follow. He nodded and waved at the woman behind the bar who leant on her elbow and waved goodbye with a big smile on her face.
We followed Tony over to a smooth looking, dark grey ship. It had four round thrusters in an upside-down V shape on its back, four landing gears locked in place and another two thrusters either side on small, short arms to help it hover.
The body was long and smooth, but it was just bigger and wider than a bus back home in La Lanura. The cockpit sat up front, all glass with metal bars going through it, keeping it strengthened and attached to the main hull. A long tube hung down from the ceiling and was connected to the ship through the top of it, filling it up with something.
“This is her!” Tony said, gesturing wide with both arms at the craft, “She’s a fast one, has a hyperdrive and can go in and out of atmosphere in minutes.”
Jessie nodded and smiled, walking up to it. She put her hand on the craft and ran it along, feeling the shape of it or something, I didn’t know. To me, a ship was a ship.
Tony walked back to me, still watching Jessie, “You sure you can trust this gal, kid?” He whispered.
I nodded, “She hasn’t done me wrong so far. Hell, she’s been showing me what I need for the planet, even bought me a ration pack.”
He nodded, “She could still stab you in the back, even if she seems like good people.”
I chuckled, “That’s funny, she said the same of you when I told her about you.”
Tony raised his eyebrows and tilted his head as he looked at me quizzically. Jessie then spoke up.
“It is a fine craft you have here Mr. Colombo, I think she will do just fine!” She shouted as she walked back to us.
Tony shrugged, “Well then, let’s not delay! I’ll show you to your quarters on the ship. It’s a bit cramped but it’s got a shower and a television.”
We walked around to the other side where Tony rolled up the sleeve of his right arm. On it was an arm mounted computer with a yellow display showing the outline of the ship. He pressed a button, and with a hiss the side opened downwards, revealing a small pressurised airlock.
“Ladies first.” He gestured to me. I laughed and shook my head, stepping up the metal stairs into the small chamber.
When we were all in, Tony pressed another button and the door closed up, leaving us in darkness. Jessie looked around curiously, sniffing the air before red lights lining the sides of the walls blinked on and there was another hissing sound. The door leading into the ship opened up after a moment and we walked in.
The Celestial Steed had a short but wide metal hallway that was brightly lit and the floor was covered in a rough black carpet, which to our right led to the cockpit with a sliding door that was open. To our left it went down past the two crew quarters, a small seating area around a metal table which sat in what looked like the Arm’s smallest kitchen, and then a bigger double door at the back which housed the cargo area, and behind that the power plant and hyperdrive generator.
Tony told Jessie where everything was and then invited us up to the cockpit. Inside was a lone, soft looking chair mounted on a single spine that could rotate around, with two sticks on the armrest and some buttons for movement control. There were touch screen consoles both at arm height and above that gave various details about the ship and what was around us. Other than two lockers near the door Jessie and I were stood in, there wasn’t much else or much more space. Tony sat down and grinned at us as he spun around.
“Yeehaw!” He whooped as he turned to face the front of the cockpit. He took off his hat and hung it on the edge of a console, then pressed a button on the armrest of his chair. Lights blinked on and a humming noise filled the inside of the ship. He picked up a small earpiece and fitted it on his right ear. A button was pressed and the pipe above us disconnected and folded up. I watched through the glass above us as it folded into a small module in the ceiling.
“Donut station, this is Celestial Steed. We’ll be departing for a nearby freighter taking us on as passengers to another system. Requesting permission to undock and fly out of the hanger.” Tony spoke in his trademark accent.
“Roger that Celestial Steed, we have you on sensors. You are clear to undock and head to airlock 4, have a safe flight!” A male voice spoke back.
We took off. The ship rumbled and then the ground fell away from us. I felt a slight shake as we slowly accelerated forwards towards a large, dark door with a white ‘4’ painted on it at the end of the hanger. It opened to reveal a large chamber which we gently entered. I saw to the right a small glass room with three men dressed in matching coveralls watching us and talking to one another. Tony gave them a thumbs up and they returned it before the door in front of us opened up.
We were greeted with open space. Then I felt completely weightless.
“Whoa!” I shouted as my legs rose up behind me.
“Oh god damnit.” Tony grumbled as he pushed a couple of buttons. I felt a hand grab my left calf and push me down just as the feeling of gravity returned and I landed into a kneel. It was Jessie, who looked a bit confused as she righted herself from a crouch to a stand.
“Sorry fellas, that was me forgetting to turn on the anti-grav again...” Tony turned to speak, the turned back as he took hold of the two sticks on either end of the armrests.
“Watch your systems, cowboy.” Jessie said, shaking her head.
“Okay your majesty.” Tony wobbled his head from side to side mockingly as he watched the console.
We quickly turned and headed back towards the space station. The size of it from out here was incredible. The centre was the donut obviously, but I never realised how many cube-like modules and smaller corridors there were. Overall, there had to be a couple of kilometres worth of space station if you stretched it all out.
“She’s big...” I whispered, thinking out loud as we buzzed over a coms tower stretching out of the top of the middle of the donut.
“Oh kid, you should see some of the stuff around Mars. You ain’t seen big ‘till you’ve seen a station that housed over ten thousand people at once.” Tony said, briefly glancing at me over the seat.
“Ten thousand? God!” I replied. The thought of that many people on a space station was incredible on its own.
“Yep, all of them work in mines around the Oort cloud, so it’s easier for them to live on a station than on a planet. They get shipped out in the morning and get back at night.”
Jessie’s ears twitched and she became very interested, “Oh? Wolves just mine planets or drag asteroids. Rarely do we have such a dedicated operation.”
Tony shrugged, pressing a few buttons and performing gentle manoeuvres, “Probably an FEC thing, ‘specially since shuttles down to Mars and Tharsis city are so cheap. It’s our country that owns that station too, we’re pretty proud of it.” He said with a prideful grin.
“Country?” Jessie asked, “I thought Mars was a unified planet?”
Tony shook his head, “No no no, it’s definitely not. I mean, we’re not sending tanks and bombers at one another anymore, but we’re not unified. I mean hell, Earth ain’t even unified and they’re still going strong somehow.”
“Is Mars still a dusty old rock?” Jessie asked, giving me an amused grin and a wink.
Tony scoffed, “Dusty old rock... Nah, she’s got some green on her and... Whoa!”
A smaller personal craft darted right under us as Tony quickly pulled back on his stick. He spoke into his microphone, “Watch where yer going ya damn fool!”
We got a strange reply, sounding quite possibly Chinese but I couldn’t understand it. He sounded angry in any case.
“Chinese colonial sons of bitches...” Tony grumbled.
“Whoa, watch the racism grandpa!” I said, holding my hand up. I still chuckled though, it was pretty funny hearing him say that.
He shrugged, “Eh, you don’t know ‘em like I do. Anyway, there’s our ride outta here!”
He pointed straight ahead at a long ship docked to one of the outer docking ports. It was obviously too big to fit in the hanger, so it was parked out here. It must have been over three hundred meters long, and had the number “084” painted in white on the side. Its main body was all black with blinking red lights lining the thick, ribbed spine, but the detachable cargo hold that made up its belly was a sandy yellow. There was a large door on the side that opened up as we approached it.
“This is Martian Shipping Theta One. Celestial Steed you are cleared for docking. Welcome back captain!” Spoke a rough sounding, feminine voice over the radio.
“Thank you kindly.” Tony said, pulling back on the sticks as we slowed and started moving down as we approached the opening. Inside I could see all manner of large metal boxes and crates, but no airlock. It must be exposed to vacuum constantly. The outer hull looked thick though, probably to protect the contents from background radiation.
“Captain? You command this vessel?” Jessie asked, looking impressed.
Tony waved his hand in the air, “Naw, I used to command one just like it years ago, before I started up this business.”
We landed with a clunk inside the hanger. All around us was a light grey, well lit cargo hold with dozens of large crates around us. In the distance I could see two men in white space suits walking around, and one held a clipboard or something as if they were taking note of the cargo.
“Right, you two can go and make yourselves comfortable in your quarters. I need to go and talk to a few of the guys, make sure they know where we want to be dropped off. Back room is locked and this cockpit is locked until I get back, just so you know.” He said as he spun around with a mechanical whizzing sound before standing up. We followed him out and he pressed a button on his arm computer. Sure enough, we heard the cockpit lock with a thud, as did the door down at the other end leading to the cargo hold.
“I won’t be ten minutes.” He said, giving us a quick salute before heading out into the airlock.
I looked to Jessie, “So... what now?”
She shrugged, “Now I go and prepare for a rest, perhaps clean my gun.” She said, marching towards the crew quarters.
“Good idea!” I said as I hurriedly followed after her, pretty much unsure of what to do now anyway.
One thing was for certain though; I was definitely back on track for an adventure.