Chapter 1

“Chief Sutton, may I engage this window’s outer shielding? You have currently accumulated 0.01% of your annual exposure limit—“

Anna Sutton basked in what little warmth of the distant Sun reached the partially shielded window. It felt good. Like a small reminder of what it felt like on Earth. There were moments where she would remember, a fleeting memory, of that warmth before the climate-controlled environment on the station—kept cooler to reduce costs—chills her back into reality.

One of the perks of being station chief is being able to assign herself an office with one of the few windows, even if it was registered as an unoccupied observation room in the books. Management gets nervous about station heads being in close proximity to the vacuum of space. As does the station’s AI.

“You may not, Alpha.” Sutton sighed.

“Would you like me to remind you again—“

“No, thank you.”

She enjoyed a moment of quiet glorious heat before a beep sounded. Ignoring it did nothing as it continued to persistently pierce the low hum of the station’s systems.

“Chief Sutton?” Alpha asked. The beeping stopped. She imagined some code somewhere prodding the AI to escalate the beep after a set time to the AI’s level. Sutton almost felt sorry for her.

“Yes, Alpha.”

“There is an incoming transmission from Earth. Sendai Headquarters. Vice President Nobunaga’s office.”

Sutton took one last look at the small glowing orb shining so stark in a sea of stars and turned away from the window, quickly tapping the control on the wall adjacent the window to close the shield doors. She dropped into the chair at her desk and spun around to face the wall behind. “Alright, patch it through.”

A rectangle of light expanded on the wall and a moment later she was greeted by the sight of a large conference room. Nobunaga sat at the end seemingly comfortable with his position as top dog in the room. On either side of the sleek white table were the usual subordinates, postures straight as a board, like soldiers at attention. A woman seated to the right of Nobunaga was the only one out of place, leaning forward, apparently feeding Nobunaga some secret information the microphones couldn’t pick up. Seeing Sutton, Nobunaga waved off the disciple.

“Chief Sutton, good day,” he said.

“Mr. Nobunaga.” Sutton refused the more traditional Japanese response as usual. It was noticed, as usual, but only to the attentive eye.

“How is our station today?”

Sutton silently noted the inflection of the possessive in that question. Your station or not, you’re millions of miles away.

“We’re doing well here, sir.” She picked up a small glass pad and started tapping away. Graphs and charts popped around the edges of the screen. “As you can see, we are currently in excess of our monthly quota by fifteen percent total, bolstered by the yield from the Deuterium in the bulk material.”

“However,” Nobunaga interjected, “gold extracts are below average.”

“Yes, though we are going to survey the remainder of the large cavern on the far side of the asteroid where we’re expecting multiple gold veins given what we’ve seen so far.”

“Chief Sutton, my understanding is that the asteroid has been fully surveyed.”

“Externally, yes, Mr. Nobunaga. The cavern was only partially surveyed.” The rigid statues that were Nobunaga’s lieutenants shifted.  She almost laughed aloud at the thought of these executives scrambling to figure out who they could afford to blame, burning the bridge earlier than expected. She wished it would have played out physically, deathmatch style. “I believe my predecessor reported that the cavern, while large, is striated with a mix of loose debris and ice making large-scale surveys difficult.”

Right-Hand leaned in and whispered in Nobunaga’s ear. Nobunaga barely moved.

“Very well, Chief. Please transmit your findings as soon as possible.”

“Of course, sir.”

The rest of the meeting could have been scripted. She had been at this post for a day and already it was mundane. The moment the bright rectangle on the wall snapped out of existence, she let out a sign and leaned back.

“Chief Sutton.” Alpha’s clear voice had a monotony of its own despite the programmed in lilt of a slightly British accent.

“Yes, Alpha.”

“You wanted to be reminded of your meeting with Security Chief Mira at ten-hundred hours.”

“Thanks, Alpha.”

Sutton looked at the solid white shield doors that blocked her warming Sun for a brief moment, considering her options, before shaking her head and heading for the door.