In the year 2099, a company called Galitech launched the first space station meant for recreational use. They shipped up food, sand, sea water, a whole lot of booze and somewhere around a thousand employees. What they created was called Station Center. It floated just beyond the moon and was advertised at the ultimate vacation destination.
Once everyone was convinced that the whole thing wasn’t going to devolve into some terrifying human behavior experiment, the overcrowded Earth started looking skyward. In 2104, what was later called the Summer of The Stations, 99 space stations intended for residential use were launched.
At first, they were populated by the brave and the bored. Celebrities thought it was posh to move off planet. Eventually, moving to space was the equivalent of moving to another country.
In 2117, something happened that mankind had pretty much assumed was an inevitability. We made First Contact. A race of people called the Khloe found a random station, Station 86. The thing that surprised people most was that they weren’t really all that different from us. While it was true that their skin was red and their hair hard and crystal-like, they were a far cry from the ‘alien’ everyone had in mind. Even so, it was a day that no one would forget, least of all the children on the station, including a little girl named Sennett.
The Khloe people weren’t the last to find us. A few years later they were joined by a race called the Ma’sheed. They caused quite a sensation because they glowed. They sent envoys to stations and lost no time becoming friends. Finally, the Toth quietly made contact. A tall and exceptionally calm race, it was sometimes hard to tell them apart from an Earthian. The only real difference was that their nails and eyes were black.
Over time the four races got along with varying degrees of success. Because Earth was too far away, Station 86 became the political outpost for inter humanoid relations.
These are the stories of Station 86
Godfrey Anders leaned across the counter of his food district booth, scowling at the tablet in his hand. He’d been trying to write this letter for twenty minutes, and so far all he had was ‘Dear Dad’. He took a deep breath and shook his mane of dark curls out of his face, then tried again.
I know we haven’t really talked since Ki and I got married, but…
No, what the hell would that do? It was his dad that wasn’t talking. He backspaced, and tried again.
I miss you, and Ki would love to come meet you.
That was a lie. As much as Ki would love to see Earth, she had no desire to meet a man that she called, ‘that racist asshole.’ No sense starting this out with false expectations.
I’ve just found out that I’m terminally ill, and…
No, that would just make him think he’d been right all along. It wasn’t bad enough that his only son had run off to space to open a glorified food truck, but then he’d gone and married an alien. In the mind of Matthew Anders, a terminal illness was exactly what Godfrey deserved.
He wished people were in the habit of writing letters on paper still. Hitting the delete button wasn’t nearly as satisfying as crumpling up a page when writing became difficult.
Across the aisle from him was a screen, on which the news was playing. With no customers to distract him, Godfrey turned his attention to it.
“The station is all geared up for the homecoming of Head Councilwoman Montgomery this afternoon,” the news anchor said, a large grin on his face. “Down here at level one, security has been tripled due to recent anti-council protests. But that’s not going to stop anyone from having a good time! There are no less than 15 hospitality stands, where citizens can buy drinks, frozen yogurt, klav and a vast collection of other treats.”
“Excuse me,” said an older woman at the other side of his counter. Godfrey turned to her with a smile. She pointed to the sign above his head. “Do you really have fresh fruit from Earth?”
“The seeds are from Earth,” Godfrey said, “and the soil is. But the fruit was grown right here on Station 86, in my own little greenhouse.”
“But it’s real?” the woman asked, “It’s not simulated?”
“Nope, not simulated,” Godfrey said.
The woman raised an eyebrow at him. “How do I know it’s real?” she asked.
Godfrey laughed. He took a yellow apple from a basket next to him and grabbed a small knife. “You can tell by the taste.” He cut a wedge of the apple for the woman. “Try this, and tell me it’s not real.”
The woman took the slice, still giving him a distrustful look. All around them, people were milling around on the market level of the station. It was right in between the lunch and dinner hour, so no one was particularly interested in the food isles. Instead, they passed by, mostly men laden with shopping bags, running errands while the kids were at school.
The woman took a bite of the apple slice. As soon as she did, her eyes lit up. “I haven’t had an apple like this since I was a kid,” she said.
“I told you,” Godfrey said with a chuckle. “Simulators just can’t reproduce that taste.”
The woman started to reply but was interrupted by shouting.
They turned to see a young girl, her hand partway in the pocket of a man’s jacket. Holding her arm was a police officer that Godfrey recognized, Sennett Montgomery.
Godfrey guessed that some might have found Sennett attractive. She kept her long hair set in thousands of small braids, corralled in a metal band. She was tall, with dark brown skin and brown eyes. He, however, was too put off by the amount of tech she wore to find her very attractive at all. She had the three circular circles on her temple that indicated a virtual screen. On her wrist, she wore the receiver, a thick silver band that reached nearly halfway to her elbow.
“Let me go!” the girl cried, as the man moved away, looking disgusted. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Don’t lie to me,” Sennett snapped, giving her arm a shake. The girl wrenched left and right, trying to get out of Sennett’s grip.
Sennett shook her head and pulled the girl along with her. As they passed Godfrey’s stall, the girl thrashed, kicked the front and knocked his tablet to the ground.
“Hey!” Godfrey cried. “Can’t you keep your prisoner’s under control, Officer?”
Sennett scooped the tablet off of the ground, and looked at it, still holding the girl by one hand.
“It’s not bad enough you’ve been poisoning my plants, you’ve got to let pickpockets smash up the front of my stall?” he snapped, “I’d like that back now.”
“You made your complaint about me, it was looked into, and no evidence was found,” Sennett said, “So you can shut up about your greenhouse, I haven’t touched it.”
She took a step, just outside of his outstretched hands. “Well, what’s this?” she asked, “Are you applying to the council?”
She held the tablet up to show him the application form. Apparently, it had opened when the tablet fell.
“That is really none of your business,” Godfrey said, snatching the tablet from her.
“You’re a Foundation Party member, though. Isn’t it the Foundation Party leader that’s trying to overthrow the council?”
“Saul Mai just wants the council to be more transparent,” Godfrey said, “And if you don’t want that too, you’re a fool. No one has any say on who’s selected, the council chooses their own members. No one even has an idea of what happens during their closed-door meetings. I would think the Current Party would have a problem with that, too.”
“So your way to fix that is to be one of the people doing things with no transparency?” Sennett asked, “Yeah, that seems like pretty common Foundation Party doublespeak.”
“Yeah,” the girl said. Godfrey noticed for the first time that she was wearing the four intertwined circles of the Current Party as a pin on her jacket. Godfrey himself had the four overlaying squares of the Foundation Party on his own.
“You’re under arrest, “ Sennett said, giving the girl another shake, “You don’t get a say.”
She continued on, dragging the pickpocket along with her.
A few hours later, Godfrey was closing up when his wife, Ki, arrived. She looked tired, still dressed in her uniform from the hospital.
Even tired, Godfrey thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. She’d been the first person he’d met on the station, and her red skin had caught his attention right away. Her hair was a brilliant red, hard a stone, and chipped short to her head.
“Hey,” she said, giving him a tired peck on the cheek.
“Hey,” he replied, “Do you still want to go down to level one and see Councilwoman Montgomery come home?”
“Yeah,” Ki said. She pressed a button on the side of the counter, letting loose three scrubbers. They scooted across the counter and the stove range, cleaning all of the surfaces. “It was just a day. David and the new Ma’sheed girl both pulled no-shows. Then, some kid at the college accidentally melted half her lab. No one was seriously hurt, but the ER was full of whiny college kids and freaked out parents.”
“So we’ll stop by a stall with some booze first thing, then,” Godfrey said, pulling a tray of clean dishes from the washer. Soon enough they had the whole shop cleaned up. They pulled the front shutter down and made their way to the transit station.
The transit had fascinated Godfrey when he’d moved there, five years ago. People moved from level to level on a set of train cars that traveled in a corkscrew formation along the outer walls. The clockwise trains went down, the counter-clockwise trains went up.
They obviously weren’t the only ones interested in seeing the head councilwoman’s return home. There was a line for the first train, Godfrey and Ki ended up having to wait for another. A group of college kids was waiting as well.
“Hey, check out the Cherry skin,” one of them called. Her fellows chuckled. Godfrey looked over at them and was saddened to see that they were wearing Foundation pins. “Won’t your parents be ashamed to hear about this,” he called, “when I tell them about it?”
When the kids looked unimpressed, he said, “Kathy, Rodger, I know your moms will have something to say about this.”
Realizing that they’d been recognized, the kids slunk a little farther away, shooting Godfrey dirty looks occasionally.
“Little punks,” he muttered, pulling Ki close. She rolled her eyes and said, “Kids are kids, no matter the planet.”
They boarded the transit and took their seats. He pulled out his tablet and started scanning through the news. “Take a look at this,” he said, pointing out an article to her. “There’s a new poll out that says Saul Mai’s got the highest likability ranking of any Foundation Party leader in the past decade. He’s more popular than most of the Current Party leaders, too. Even that new guy they just voted in, Howard Stoats.”
“Is it normal for Foundation Party leaders to be unpopular?” Ki asked.
“Well, it’s always been the smaller party,” Godfrey said. He sighed, and added, “I know we’re in space, but there’s still a place for tradition, and history. We’re out here to assure that our cultures live on forever, all of us.”
Ki sniffed. “Honey, you know I don’t understand this obsession Earthians have with political parties. It just gives everyone something to fight over.”
“No, it gives the people the numbers we need to get our voices heard,” Godfrey said.
They reached level one, the docking level. Godfrey hadn’t thought it possible that it could be any more crowded than it normally was, but somehow the people of the station had managed it. The hospitality stalls were packed, and any surface that could be sat upon was in use. Kids, clinging to parents or perched on shoulders, shouted everywhere. He was sure that everyone who lived on the station was there, from every planet. He kept a good hold of Ki’s hand, especially when they passed a collection of officers. Their blue uniforms were meant to resemble American police officers on Earth, and they did a horribly good job as far as he was concerned.
“Come on!” Ki cried, pulling him forward.
“I’m coming,” he said, laughing at her excitement. “It’s a big ship, we’re not gonna miss it.”
Ki looked back at him and knocked into someone holding a child. “Oh, sorry,” Ki said.
The woman turned. It was Sennett, now dressed as a civilian in jeans and a hoodie, holding what Godfrey assumed was her daughter, April. She looked very much like her mother, but with a head full of fluffy, dark hair. She was a cute kid, but Godfrey noticed that Sennett had her teched out as well. She wore decorative wrist cuffs and had an earpiece in one ear. Godfrey couldn’t even imagine what a four-year-old needed an earpiece for.
“No problem,” Sennett said. Next to her stood a man who looked to be a couple years younger than her. He was pale, well built, with dark hair that was shaved close to his head. Like Sennett, he wore the three metal dots on his temples. He also wore the Current Party pin on his jacket.
“What are you doing here, Hypocrite?” Godfrey asked, “After bitching about the council?”
“Wanna watch your mouth in front of my kid?,” Sennett said.
“Councilwoman Montgomery’s our mom, Dumbass,” the boy said.
“Mason, could you shut up?” Sennett asked.
“Well, that makes sense,” Godfrey said, “Not only are you a cop, but you’re a cop with connections. That’s why you’re getting away with poisoning my plants.”
“Give it up,” Sennett said, “I’m not doing anything to your damned plants.”
“Well, they’re not dying on their own,” Godfrey replied.
“Oh, why don’t you take you’re damned lame accusations, and-,”
She was interrupted by cheering. A massive screen behind them lit up. The Councilwoman’s ship was nearly home.
Godfrey grinned. He supposed it was nothing major. The head councilwoman was in and out of the station several times throughout the year. But there was always this pomp and circumstance, this celebration when she returned.
The ship was sleek, thin and silver, meant only for short trips between the stations. The screen changed from the exterior view to an image of the Councilwoman. She was older, with gray hair pulled back in a low ponytail. She was smiling at all of them.
“Hi, Grandma!” April cried, next to Godfrey. Councilwoman Montgomery must have heard her because she laughed.
“Hello, everyone,” she said, “It is good to see home again. I’ve got to stop going away so long.”
The crowd let up a cheer.
Then the screen went black. The next moment, it sounded as though several large things hit the side of the station, just outside of the loading docks.
From the front of the room, Godfrey heard yelling. The screen remained black. Several IHP agents, dressed in black suits, began to move towards the docking bay and their ships.
“What is this?” Sennett whispered.
“Everyone, please remain calm,” said a voice over the loudspeaker. “All officers and IHP agents are now on duty. Report to your squad leader or immediate supervisor for orders. All civilians please return to your homes, now.”
From the front of the crowd, someone yelled, “The councilwoman’s ship’s blown up. She’s been killed!”
“Are we under attack?” Ki whispered, pulling Godfrey closer.
“No,” Sennett said. She’d set April on the ground, and was looking at her receiver. “That ship couldn’t have been taken down by anything besides station mounted weaponry. It had to have come from the station.”