Station 86, the station of first contact, has taken a little over a month to recover from the attack of The Core. Terrorists, opposing the stance of coexistence with fellow humanoid races, assassinated all but two members of the Council. While they did succeed in luring President Ly of Khloe to the station, her life was saved by police officer Sennett Montgomery and Councilman Godfrey Anders. But the station was horrified to learn that their police commissioner, Heather Stone, and their head Councilwoman, Sonya Voit, were both Core members. While Voit managed to kill herself before standing trial, Stone currently sits in a jail cell, awaiting justice.
Families and friends of those lost in the tragedy are healing. Leaders have stepped up to replace those who were killed or arrested. It is with great caution that the station looks to Joy Wheatly and Howard Stoat to keep things running while they decide what sort of government they’d like to have. Friends and neighbors look upon each other with distrust. There were too many Core members on the station for anyone to believe that they’ve seen the last of them.
As for Godfrey Anders and Sennett Montgomery, they’re doing their best to slip quietly back into their everyday lives.
Sennett has been promoted to detective. She’s moved into her deceased mother’s home with her younger brother and daughter. Godfrey is focusing on his wife and his food stall. But a shuttle is heading to Station 86 that will shake their lives again.
It was a little after three in the afternoon. Godfrey was preparing his shop for the after school rush. A sign above his head read ‘True Food Counter’.
He was a tall man, with light skin and a head full of curly hair. He had a Foundation Party pin, the four squares within each other, on his shirt collar. His stall was basic, just a counter with some stools. He had a hot stove, sink, and lots of counter space. On the counter sat a bowl of real, grown apples. They’d become very popular among school-age kids, who’d never had anything but replicated apples. Soon, the market district would be flooded with hungry kids, and college students after a meal before their evening classes.
He would also be getting some unwilling help.
Godfrey looked up as the transit arrived. A few minutes later he saw Mason Montgomery and his niece, April, making their way towards him.
Mason had all the appearance of a big, overgrown kid with pale skin, spiked blond hair and more tech on his face than Godfrey really felt that he needed. Two dots on his temples controlled a virtual visor. There was a silver earpiece in his left ear, occasionally blinking a green light. He also wore a scowl that seemed to be permanent.
April, on the other hand, was exactly what she seemed to be, a happy four-year-old. She had a mop of curly hair and the same dark complexion as her mother. At least, that was the appearance that her seeming device gave her. Godfrey knew, though few others did, that April wore devices that shielded her true appearance from others. She was half Earthian, half Khloe, the very first of her kind. Her mother felt that it was safer to keep that information private, and Godfrey really didn’t have a say in the matter.
“Hey there, Bit,” Godfrey said as April hopped up on a stool at his counter. “Did you learn anything useful at school today?”
“Yeah,” April said, reaching into her bag. Mason had already joined Godfrey behind the counter, grumbling as he pulled on an apron. “Mr. Miller said that since I’m doing so good with reading I can try a chapter book.” She pulled out a tablet and showed him the cover page. It was Socks, by Beverly Cleary. The cover image, a gray striped cat with white feet sitting next to a baby in yellow footies, was just the same one he remembered.
“Hey, that’s pretty good,” Godfrey said, “I couldn’t have read that when I was four. You Station kids are so much more advanced than we are on Earth.”
“How long do I have to come here?” Mason asked.
“Until you’ve worked off the damage you did to my plants,” Godfrey replied, “That would be easier if you’d stop ducking it and actually come every day like you’re supposed to.”
“I haven’t been ducking, my classes have been running late. I’m not leaving class to come take care of your dirty plants.
“Mister Godfrey, look at this,” April said, holding up her tablet again.
“What is it?” he asked. On the screen was a picture of a dog, he wasn’t sure of the breed. It was small and brown, with curly fur. “He’s at the Humane Society,” April said, “I asked Mommy to get him for my birthday.”
“Sennett already said no,” Mason called, pulling the full trash bag from the can.
April gave her uncle a derisive look. “She might change her mind,” she said. Godfrey didn’t think there was much of a chance that Sennett would allow a dog into her home, especially now that she’d moved into her mother’s house.
“Maybe you could ask her about it. She might agree if you think it’s a good idea,” April said.
“No way,” Godfrey said, “Your mom and I just started getting along and I don’t want to mess with that.”
Amy Wilson, an officer friend of Sennett’s, walked up to the booth. She was a small woman, with dark hair and brilliant green eyes. Godfrey’s chest tightened a moment at the sight of her blue uniform. He supposed that it would always do that, no matter how many officers he was friendly with.
“Hi, Miss Amy,” April said when she saw her. Godfrey leaned across the counter. “Where’s your partner?” he asked.
“Patty’s at the hospital today with her husband,” Amy said.
“Is everything okay?” Godfrey asked.
“Yeah, it’s fine. He’s got some weird cells near his heart, so they’re checking it out.”
“Maybe she’ll run into Ki,” Godfrey replied.
“That’s right, your wife’s a doctor. Weird, I keep forgetting you’re married. Your mom excited about her big promotion, Honey?” Amy asked, ruffling April’s hair.
“Yeah,” April said, “She bought a lot of new clothes since she won’t wear her uniform anymore.”
“That’s why I never wanted to be a detective,” Amy said with a laugh, “I don’t want to buy new clothes.”
“Hey, the Marshal’s are on tv,” Mason said, looking at the communication pad on his arm.
“I’m not paying you to watch your comm pad,” Godfrey said.
“You’re not paying me at all,” Mason muttered.
Godfrey turned to the receiver attached to the counter. He turned up the volume just as Howard Stoat and Joy Wheatly stepped up to a dual podium.
Howard was a tall, thin man who always seemed to have been professionally dressed. His gray tailored suit was impeccable. There was a silver Current Party pin, four interlocking circles, on his lapel.
Joy was a shorter woman, who always wore her thick hair braided in a crown on her head. She stood behind the double podium with Howard, looking grave. Godfrey figured that what they had to say must be serious. Not because of her appearance, she always looked like that. It was just that everything they’d had to say since taking office had been serious.
“Citizens of Station 86,” Howard said, “We won’t take much of your time today. But we wanted to let you know that we are working diligently to seek out members of the Core before they can endanger us again.”
“We’re working closely with Commissioner Schultz as she takes command of the station’s police force,” Joy added, looking far more serious than her counterpart. “We’re asking all of you, if you have concerns, to speak with someone on the police force. Above all, remain calm. The Core is just the same as any other terrorist group. Their goal is to make us distrust and fear each other. Don’t give them what they want.”
“Too many of us lost loved ones during the Core’s attack,” Howard said, “Take care of your neighbors. Please, if you see or hear something that doesn’t look right, report it to the authorities right away.”
“H must drive her nuts,” Amy snickered, “But it’s nice to see the two parties working together for a change.”
“It’s nice to see the parties in power, instead of the council,” Godfrey said.
“But you were a member of the council,” April said.
“Yes, but only because I was trying to make it fairer,” Godfrey said, “I’m very happy to not be a member anymore.”
“Are they going to hold elections?” Amy asked.
“Yeah, within the next thirty days,” Godfrey said, “They want to be in charge, but they want to do it fairly. I can respect that.”
“What about Saul Mai? Do you think he’ll run, now that his name’s been cleared of that, you know, thing?”
“No idea. I think he went off station to visit family,” Godfrey replied.
“Mister Godfrey, why are they both running together? I thought the parties didn’t like each other,” April said.
“That’s not entirely true,” Godfrey said, “It’s kind of like your mom and me. She’s Current Party and I’m Foundation Party. She thinks that things like technology and artificial food are always really good things. I think that people will be healthier if we keep eating natural food and don’t rely so much on technology.”
“But technology is really good,” April said, “People live a lot longer now. We’re healthier and we have all kinds of cool stuff.”
“Yeah, there’s lots of cool stuff that technology does,” Godfrey said.
“Like artificial organs and replicated food,” Amy said, “You realize that we’ve made hunger and lack a thing of the past.”
“Yeah, but we don’t know what sort of health issues that artificial diet is going to cause, long term,” Godfrey said.
“The Foundation Party wants to keep us in the past,” Mason said.
“You know, if I wanted to spout half truths, I could say that the Current Party is willing to poison themselves and others for the sake of progress,” Godfrey said.
April looked between the two, confused. “Sorry,” Godfrey said, “You shouldn’t worry about all this. You’re a kid, you don’t have to think about political parties until you’re grown.”
“Mommy says that the earlier I know what’s going on int the world the better,” April said.
“That sounds like your mom,” Godfrey said, “Let me make you something to eat.”
Other children were starting to collect in front of the stall. Godfrey and Mason were distracted, making smoothies and passing out fresh fruit.
Amy, apparently with nothing better to do, leaned against the stall. Suddenly, her wrist communicator started flashing red. “What’s that?” Godfrey asked quietly, trying not to draw attention from the kids.
She looked at her screen. “There’s an unreported ship docking in the shuttle bay,” she said.
“Should you go check it out?” he asked.
“No, I’m stationed here,” Amy said, “Besides, we get at least one mystery ship a week. Families who forget to log their destination. People from planets, station hopping for vacation on a whim. Hell, they might have logged in and we just didn’t get the report. A lot of stuff’s been missed since the IHP vanished. They used to handle the logs and do outer station security. We’re trying to pick up their slack at the station, but there’s so much of it.”
“That’s a concern,” Godfrey said.
“Have we heard from them at all?” Mason asked, passing out apples to a crowd of excited kids.
“Not that I’ve heard,” Amy said, “I don’t think we realized how much they did until they stopped doing it. We were stretched thin as it was.”
“Hey,” one little boy said, “this doesn’t taste like a cherry.”
“No, that’s what a real cherry tastes like. It’s not a simulated one, Dummy,” April said.
“We don’t call boys dummies,” Amy said, “Don’t you make me tell your mom, little woman.” She stood and stretched, then said, “I’d better get back to work. Godfrey, I’ll stop by after my rounds for some supper.”
“I’ll be here,” Godfrey said.
Amy wandered away, scanning the crowd as she went. Godfrey went back to blending fruit.
The crowd was dwindling when Godfrey’s screen started to flicker. He glanced at it. The newscast, which he’d been paying no attention to, seemed to be fighting for its space on the screen.
“Hey,” a man in the crowd said, looking down at his wrist pad. From all around the market, others stopped in their tracks, fiddling with devices and screens. Then, every screen went black.
A moment later the IHP symbol, their initials in a silver circle, flashed on the screen. Then it was gone, replaced by the image of a man that Godfrey knew very well. “Dad?” he said.
“This is a message for every member of -garbled static-,” The sound and image were broken, but it was Michael Anders looking at him. Behind him stood a woman in an IHP uniform, along with a handful of soldiers.
“Don’t let any unknown-,” the sound cut in again, then right back out.
“What the hell is going on?” Godfrey whispered.
“-My son. Godfrey, I love you. I tried to, I tried to do what I could, back home. Stay safe, please.”
The screen went black again. In another moment, the newscaster was back. She wasn’t looking at the camera, though, but talking to someone standing to the side of her desk.
“That was your dad?” April asked, “Isn’t he on Earth?”
“Yeah, he is,” Godfrey said, “I’m going to call your mom.”