3479 words (13 minute read)

TWO

Pounding on her door rattles Wei from a dream in which she’s making love to an idealized man in the same pastoral grove she works in--via neural cap. The man doesn’t have a face, but just a shadow of a visage. She can’t figure out who he is, but the sensation of their imaginary lovemaking is so intense that it doesn’t matter.

She sits up in her bed, instinctively covering herself with the blanket, and stares at the door, awaiting the next metallic throttling.

“Wei, open up, it’s Hank,” he says. “There’s something you need to look at.”

Wei casts the sheet aside, and leisurely climbs into her jumpsuit. She blinks hard and daps her tongue at the roof of her mouth, trying to clear away the morning fog.

“Coffee, french pressed, black,” she grunts at the vending robot.

As the replicator generates her pick-me-up, Wei drags the zipper of her jumpsuit up from her bellybutton to just below her clavicle. She imagines the slider is alive, passing over the surface of a damaged planet, sewing the rifts and canyons back together, good as new.

The vending robot says, “Your coffee is ready, Wei. Thank you. Please enjoy. Please be careful as the contents may be hot.”

Wei grabs her coffee, takes a sip, and looks at the zipper again, but whatever she imagined before is already gone.

Morning thoughts; great mysteries of the universe.

Henry pounds on the door again.

“Wei, did you hear me?” he calls. “There’s something you ne--”

“Something I need to look at? Right,” she replies. “If it’s your dick again…”

“It’s not my dick,” he pleads. “I’m serious. Official Sol Security business that you need to look at.”

Wei sips her coffee and stares at the blank interior side of the door.

“Fine,” she says. “I’ll be right out.”

She stands before the mirror, ties her hair back into a ponytail, prods at the bags under her eyes, and then slugs down the remains of her coffee.

When the door slides open, Henry Saito is standing before her in the doorway, panting, and holding his laser pistol at his side.

Wei eyes the pistol. Henry looks down at the weapon, shakes his head, and holsters it.

“What the hell did you find?” she asks.

“Well, the thing is, I’m not really sure,” Henry replies. “I didn’t do more than basic recon, but there’s something by the docks.”

Wei pushes past him, toward her workstation.

“You call yourself a security officer,” she jabs. “Follow me.”

As they plod down the corridor, the only sounds are their tinny footsteps and a distant metallic groaning. Wei recognizes the latter sound immediately.

“There’s a ship docked?” she barks at Henry. “Why didn’t you tell me there was a ship docked.”

“Like I said, I hadn’t looked at it yet. I just heard it, and saw the docking light come on over number 5.”

Wei opens the door to her workstation and throws herself into her chair. She activates the viewscreen and switches it to the dock 5 camera. Hovering beside the airlock, a snow-white personal cruiser slowly extends its dockway toward the Hyperion Station entry door. The ship’s windshield and side porthole windows are tinted a deep blue, so dark that Wei can’t see anything but a shadow moving around inside.

“Well, look at that,” she says pointing at the screen. “We have an unscheduled guest.”

Henry closes in, standing over her shoulders.

Wei edges away, without leaving her chair, but enough to make the point.

“I was just looking at the screen,” Henry protests. “Whoa. That’s an Andretti-class civilian cruiser! Those are really expensive. Did you know that they can even outrun the R-class security ships? That’s some serious machine out there.”

“Okay, okay,” Wei interrupts. “Send some blood back toward your head, Hank. This isn’t the time to wank off to our mysterious visitor’s ride.”

Wei grabs her neural cap and places it on her head. Her left eye twitches and blinks shut as the system taps into her brain. She activates Farrah, disengaging the robot from its charging station just beyond the atrium of the station. As Farrah, Wei rolls down the corridor toward the dock 5 entrance airlock. Farrah opens the door to dock 5 and rolls inside.

The snow-white cruiser hovers there, its docking arm still waiting to latch onto the station’s node. Wei feels Farrah lose traction on the dock floor, a result of the inactive gravity field, which is in turn a result of the improper docking procedure. She switches on Farrah’s magnetic field boost, and the robot’s treads clamp powerfully to the dock floor. Wei activates Farrah’s headlamp, and shines it toward the nose of the ship.

“Damn it,” Wei exclaims.

“What? What?” Henry asks.

“Look at the registration on the front of the ship.”

Henry leans in toward the viewscreen. “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

“Read the number, Hank,” Wei says.

“UST-E112?” he asks. “What’s UST-E112?”

Wei sighs.

“You’re a sorry excuse for security, Hank,” she huffs. “I’d think that IDing a vehicle’s registration would be day two, or three, stuff at the latest.”

Henry Saito pouts for a moment and then looks at the viewscreen again.

“UST is what, Universal Space Transit?” he says.

“Good one, detective,” Wei continues. “And the E112? Any guesses?”

Henry sighs. “It’s not productive if you’re just trying to prove a point.”

Wei laughs.

It feels good. She hasn’t laughed in awhile.

“The ‘E’ stands for executive,” she replies. “And the ‘112’ is probably his employee number or something.”

“So we’re in the presence of a lost UST executive?” Henry says.

Wei shakes her head.

“UST owns this station, so it’s unlikely that he’s lost. I’m more worried about me.”

Wei flips on the com, while continuing to shine Farrah’s lamp at the ship’s windshield for effect.

“Unidentified ship, welcome to Hyperion Station. Please state your vessel name, business, and destination.”

Wei leaves the com on, waiting for anything to break through the dead air.

Only fuzz and the eerie quiet of space.

“Hello, Hyperion,” a male voice finally replies. “Apologies. You seem to have caught me indisposed. I had assumed that the auto-dock function on my ‘22 Andretti would take care of business for me. But I guess not everyone is accustomed to the newest technologies.”

Wei looks up at Henry, hoping to share her dismay at the voice’s pretension, but Henry is glassy-eyed and pan-faced, simply excited to hear more about the Andretti-class vessel.

“Hello Andretti,” she repeats. “Welcome to Hyperion Station. Please. Please state your vessel business and destination.”

The com is quiet once more, save for the sounds of rustling and grunting. The man on the ship is busy doing something. There’s no telling what.

“Sorry again. Hello,” the voice returns. “This is Tomas Ek, executive level 4 at Universal Space Transit.”

The voice dies away and is replaced with more rustling and grunting. And footsteps, and strange echoes.

“Sorry yet again, Hyperion,” Tomas Ek says. “Had to assemble my tablet. It shifted during landing, as they say.”

The clear sound of a tablet booting up rolls over the com.

“Yes, okay, here it is,” Ek continues. “I’m here on official UST business to observe the cargo and records of a ship called the Aurelius.”

Wei looks over the transit schedule on the viewscreen. There’s no Aurelius on the list, but the list only reaches three days into the future, another UST policy.

“Mr. Ek, I don’t see any record of the Aurelius on my screen,” Wei says. “Any chance you’re at the wrong station?”

Ek mutters something inaudible.

“No, see here, Hyperion,” he says. “The Aurelius is inbound for this station, with scheduled arrival in the next two days.”

“Well, I don’t have a record of that, but glitch happens,” Wei replies. “I’m initiating docking procedure on our end now. Hopefully your Andretti can keep up with this old station.”

“Thank you, Hyperion, I can’t wait to come aboard,” he says.

Wei sighs and turns off the com.

“He sounds nice,” Henry says.

“I don’t like it,” Wei says. “And I dislike it a lot more than I dislike you, Hank, so I’m going to ask you a little favor.”

Henry straightens up like a child pretending to be his father.

“Officer Saito, Sol Security, at your service.”

Wei backs Farrah out of dock 5 and returns the robot to its charging station. She takes off her neural cap, and spins around in the chair. Wei goes to her locker, opens it, and kneels down to access the safe compartment behind the kickplate. Again, the passkey is applesauce. She whispers it, hoping Henry won’t overhear. The latch disengages, and Wei retrieves a pair of small laser pistols in a belted dual holster. She stands, wraps the belt around the hips of her jumpsuit, and buckles it.

“Okay. We’re ready. Follow me, Hank.”

Wei plods down the main corridor of the station with Henry close behind. They hear the ship’s docking procedure complete via the distant ping from the number 5 door.

“What’s with the guns, Wei?” Henry asks. “He’s just some business guy.”

“A lady alone on a moon station doesn’t take chances on strange men.”

“But you did the one time,” Henry says, winking.

“Don’t,” Wei replies. “And besides, with those tinted windows even Farrah couldn’t get a good look at this guy. All we know right now is what we don’t know. And that’s a lot.”

“That’s deep,” Henry says.

“Fuck you,” Wei quips.

Wei and Henry cross the atrium. Hyperion is mid-rotation, so the glorious windows look out to nothing but distant stars, a field of dense, shimmering yellow-white. Their light millions of generations old. The most beautiful graveyard in the universe.

Past the atrium, they turn left toward docks 1 - 8. Wei slows down, listening for anything strange. But there isn’t anything strange making noise. The only strange noises echo inside her head, reverberating off worries and doomsday scenarios, and the creeping thought that if anything goes wrong, the worst day of her life will be in the company of Henry Saito. It would erase her other worst memory with Henry Saito, though. For a moment, Wei is conflicted.

Wei and Henry carefully approach the door to dock 5. Its green light is illuminated. Its door is open wide. Wei draws one of her laser pistols from her belt. She holds her hand up in a sign she has seen in action flicks. Henry grips his pistol tighter.

“Tomas Ek?” Wei calls, just before the door. “This is Wei Parker, Hyperion Station Agent. I have a security officer with me. This is just standard procedure for an unscheduled arrival. Please come out into the corridor with your hands out.”

No response.

Then they hear, “No, sir, I’ve only just arrived, but I will have a prelim report posted before the end of the day.”

And then they hear a hollow clunk.

“Dammit!” Ek exclaims.

Wei raises lowers her pistol and sprints toward the door. Henry chases close behind. They burst into dock 5 wild-eyed, aiming their weapons into the room.

“Is everything ok--” Wei begins.

Tomas Ek, dressed in a navy, three-piece, slimline, tailored suit is kneeling in the center of the room, his expensive ship behind him. Ek holds a small piece of cloth, and buffs the toe of his right dress shoe.

“Oh, hello,” he says, looking up. “I shouldn’t let my temper run away with me. Kicking that vending robot put a nasty scuff on my wingtip.”

Wei holsters her gun and crosses her arms in front of her.

“Why exactly were you kicking the vending robot?” she asks.

“I grew weary of waiting for the welcoming committee,” Ek replies. “So I decided to order a Chardonnay, but this contraption doesn’t have any vintage before 2216. Simply disgusting.” He picks up and sips from the glass of wine he ordered anyway. Then he winces.

Wei inspects the vending robot, and wipes the scuff of leather from the exterior of the machine. Her fingers trace the small indentation left by Ek’s shoes. She’ll take care of it sometime, but it’s hardly noticeable.

Henry Saito smiles at Tomas Ek and nearly skips over to the Andretti-class ship, holding his hand out to the hull the way one might pet a whale on Earth. Henry makes quiet “ooh” and “ahh” sounds as he walks along the edge of the dock at the ship’s perimeter.

“So, Tomas,” she says, turning to the unexpected guest. “Did you not hear me calling to you from the hallway?”

The suited man stares at his wine, as if trying to figure out which small parts of the vintage are suitable to drink.

“Tomas?” Wei queries.

“Please, Miss Parker, I prefer, Mr. Ek,” he answers.

Wei smiles a fake smile. “Of course, Mr. Ek.”

“We may be on a desolate moon in the middle of the System, but formality still has its place,” he continues. “I do apologize for not responding earlier, however. I had an important call with the home office. You understand.”

Wei stands up and moves toward Ek. “Raise your arms, Mr. Ek,” she says. “I need to pat you down. Standard procedure for unexpected guests.”

Ek raises his arms awkwardly, trying not to spill his wine.

“You understand,” Wei says.

She pats Ek under his arms, along his sides, and gingerly at his pants pockets and legs. She finds nothing, grimaces briefly--wishing she had found something--and then stands.

“You’re clean,” she says.

“I do hold hygiene in high regard,” Ek replies, sipping again at the wine.

Henry returns from his admiration tour of Ek’s ship, still holding his pistol out like there’s a source of imminent danger. Wei places her hand on top of the weapon and pushes it down toward the floor.

“I think we’ve got it under control, Hank,” she says. “Thanks for the help.”

Henry smiles and holsters his weapon.

“So, Mr. Ek, as I said, we haven’t seen a ship called the Aurelius come in during the last couple of days, and I didn’t see the ship on the incoming roster.”

Ek finishes his wine and tosses the glass into the vending robot. It shatters. He presses the disposal button, turns back to Wei, and smiles.

“That is perplexing, isn’t it?” he says. “Makes me wonder if this station is being run properly. I will have to make note of it in my report, you see.”

“Not run properly?” Wei protests. “You’re looking for a ship that hasn’t been here, and isn’t on its way, and that information is based on UST-standard software.”

“How do you think the home office responds to the casting of blame?” Ek says.

Wei drums her frustration on her leg with her fingers.

Henry Saito steps in between them. “Sir, hello, Officer Saito, Sol Security,” he recites. “I’ve been assigned to Hyperion for the last two years, and I have to say, there is no more thorough and professional station agent in the System than Miss Wei Parker.”

Henry smiles at Wei.

She does nothing, trying not to encourage him.

“Sometimes she’s not the most chipper person I see, but I swear she’s a good worker.”

Ek smirks.

“Thank you, Officer Psycho, was it?”

“Saito, sir,” Henry replies. “It’s Japanese.”

“Very good. Well, thank you Officer for your insights. However, I’m under strict orders to remain impartial when it comes to evaluating Miss Parker’s performance here.”

Wei’s eyes widen.

“Evaluate my performance?” she barks. “I thought you were here looking for a ship.”

Ek laughs the sort of fake laugh that yes-men perfect in their climb toward the top.

“I take on many assignments simultaneously, Miss Parker,” Ek sneers. “UST doesn’t care much for one-trick ponies.”

Ek turns around and walks toward his ship. With a wave of his hand, he activates the loading ramp. Like the tongue of a jeering child, the ramp lowers from beneath the snow-white ship’s cockpit and extends into the dock area. Ek wordlessly walks up the ramp into the ship.

“I don’t think he’s a threat of violence,” Henry says to Wei as they wait.

“He might not be, but I’m starting to feel like one,” Wei replies, tapping her foot.

In a few moments, Ek appears with a hovering trunk in tow. He slowly descends the ramp, still not speaking. At the base of the ramp, he nudges the trunk toward Wei.

“These are my effects. I’m sure you can see them to my quarters?” he explains to her.

“Quarters?” she asks.

“You don’t expect me to stay in my ship until the Aurelius arrives, do you?” Ek asks. “It’s really built for speed and elegance, but not for long-term comfort.”

Wei bites down on her lip.

“We don’t have guest quarters here,” she answers. “I thought that the home office would have explained that to you.”

“I’m well aware,” Ek replies. “But you do have a lovely atrium, and I believe I’ll set up shop there. I could be here for sometime, and I’d like to spread out.”

Wei takes a deep breath.

Holds it.

Wishes that she could be struck immediately with a swift wasting-disease.

Keeps holding it.

Imagines drawing both laser pistols from her belt, popping Ek between the eyes, shooting Saito in the knee, and hijacking the Andretti. She could be past Uranus in a day. She could hide on one of its inhospitable moons. She could make a life there. Her, a vending robot, and a dream.

Wei exhales.

Henry Saito, reading the room, takes the trunk’s lead from Ek.

“Here, I know this station well, sir,” Henry says. “Let me show you to the atrium.”

“It’s nice to know that someone here puts an emphasis on service,” Ek says.

Henry smiles back at Wei, and for an instant, she wants to smile back at him.

“We’ll speak again very soon, Miss Parker,” Ek says, leaving the room.

“Looking forward to it,” Wei sneers.

After the men leave the room, Wei kneels down again beside the vending robot. She traces the indentation left by Ek’s fancy shoe again. Then she pats the robot on its side.

“Sorry about that,” she says to it. “Some people are assholes.”

Wei leaves dock 5 and walks back toward her quarters, keeping her head down as she crosses the atrium, and hoping that if she avoids looking at Ek, he’ll avoid speaking to her.

It works.

Wei locks her room door behind her and strips out of her jumpsuit. She removes her tanktop and underwear, and climbs into the small standing shower in the corner of the room.

“Thirty-four degrees,” she says. “Light soap. Moisturizer finish.”

The shower activates, pampering her with hot water mixed with cleansers and lotions. A warm burst of air dries her skin and hair. She climbs out, refreshed, a few minutes later. Wei redresses, and combs her hair straight with her fingers. Then she ties it back again, into a ponytail.

Wei orders another cup of coffee, and a bowl of oatmeal, from the vending robot. She drinks and eats in silence, staring at her tablet, and watching it count down to the beginning of the morning shift.

“First I’m bored, then I’m blessed with two men on the station,” she says to no one. “Makes a girl miss being alone.”

Next Chapter: THREE