Sennett had rarely traveled off station with April. In fact, she’d very rarely traveled off station at all in her life. And after her experience traveling to Station Central, she doubted that she ever would again. April was miserable. She didn’t want to sleep, didn’t want to read or watch anything on her tiny wrist pad, the virtual screen almost everyone wore. She complained that her seeming cuffs, which made her look like a full Earthian child, irritated her. She was deprived of her normal routine. She fussed with Bailey. She pestered Sennett and Mason to go to the bathroom, go down to see the dining room and little on board shop. She wanted to do anything but sit still in her seat, which is really all Sennett wanted from her.
“Mommy, my wrists hurt again,” she whined, rubbing at the purple cuff with bunnies. “Why do I have to wear this?”
Sennett sighed. It had seemed like a simple decision, making April wear her seeming bracelet that hid her actual image while they were off Station 86. While it was no longer a secret that she was half Khloe, half Earthian, she didn’t feel like April needed that kind of attention while they were on vacation. It was hard, though, seeing her true face hidden. She looked so much like Lo without her seeming.
“Please don’t mess with it,” Sennett sighed. She rummaged around in her bag. “I have some lotion here, just hold on.”
“Attention, Passengers,” a pleasant voice floated over the sound system. “We will be arriving at Station Central in ten minutes. Please take this time to scan your area and be sure that all your personal belongings are accounted for. Your luggage will be sent separately to the hotel you registered with at the start of your flight. Thank you for flying with Station Direct, have a wonderful day.”
“Come on, let’s get your stuff together,” Sennett said. She looked into the travel bag she’d stuffed Bailey into, checking on him. He wagged his tail pleasantly.
Liam stood up, stretching out. “Been awhile since I flew commercial. I didn’t miss it.”
“No kidding,” Godfrey muttered.
They all headed down the aisle, and towards the exit of the ship. Sennett kept hold of April’s hand, as the crowd moved slowly onto the loading bay.
“No one go wandering off once we get out of here,” Liam said. “I ain’t been to Station Central in a while, but the last time I was here it was crowded as hell.”
“We get crowds on Station 86 too, you know,” Mason replied.
Liam shook his head. “Not like this, you don’t.”
Sennett was inclined to scoff at him, as they joined the line for the door. But as they headed out into the main level, she saw what he meant.
People were packed into the level, shoulder to shoulder. They were shouting to be heard by people standing right next to them. Children were whining and crying. Thousands of screens, from wrist pads to large ones mounted on food and shopping stalls were flashing and crackling their audio.
“It’s too loud,” April said, putting her hands over her ears.
“Come here,” Sennett replied, picking April up and putting her on her hip. She looked around, marveling at how bright it was. The ceiling was blue, with strange white things floating across it. Every stall had, in addition to their mounted screens, a bright flashing marquee to display their wares above the heads of the crowd.
“What are those things?” Mason asked, looking straight up at the ceiling.
“They’re clouds,” Godfrey chuckled, looking up as well. “That looks like the sky on Earth. I’ll be damned.”
“Let’s not gawk, boys,” Sennett said. “Come on, I want to check in to the hotel and get something to eat.”
“Me too. I’ve never needed a cup of Klav more in my life,” Liam muttered.
The crowd was so thick that they were having trouble moving through it. Sennett tried to lead the way, and found that she had to almost shove some of the people to get them to move.
“It’s weird,” Mason said, “I’m used to seeing a little more diversity in a crowd, aren’t you guys?”
Sennett looked around. He was right, she saw very few Khloe, Ma’Sheed or Toth people around them.
“Not every station can be the station of First Contact,” Godfrey said.
“No,” Sennett said, “guess not.”
Then she noticed someone in a black uniform. The patch on the woman’s arm was familiar, but she couldn’t remember why. It didn’t look like the Station Central symbol, a single star ringed by ninety-nine others.
“What symbol is that?” Sennett asked.
“Which one?” Godfrey replied.
“That one,” she said, looking back towards the soldier. But she was already lost in the crowd.
“Where did she go?” Sennett whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Godfrey asked.
“I think I’m seeing things,” she replied. “I thought I saw someone wearing the same uniform as the soldiers who came to clean house on Station 16.”
“What? Where?” he asked.
“No, don’t freak out,” she said. “I’m just, I guess I’m not as over that as I thought I was.”
Godfrey turned to her, giving her a searching look. Finally, he put his arm around her shoulder. “That’s what we’re here for, for you to finally get a chance to relax.”
“Yeah,” she said, glancing around them still.
April looked around them as well. “Someone’s calling for Mr. Godfrey,” she said.
“Can’t be,” Godfrey said. “I don’t know anyone here.”
But Sennett could hear someone calling, “Councilman Anders!” She turned, looking behind them.
“We should really keep moving,” Liam said, putting a hand on her arm.
“Wait,” Sennett said.
A man dressed in a well-cut suit was waiving at them. He was a large man, a bit paunchy, with pale skin and almond eyes. He wore a silver pin on his lapel, with a single star over an interconnected S and C.
“I think that man might know you, even if you don’t know him,” she said.
“That’s usually not good,” Godfrey muttered.
The man saw them stop, and hurried up to them. “Councilman Anders,” he said, adjusting his tie. “Good to finally meet you. I’m Gene Tao. One moment, please, my mother’s just catching up.”
“Sorry, but why do I want to talk to your mother?” Godfrey asked.
Gene looked confused. “Well, because she’s Akiko Tao, Chief councilwoman of Station Central. She’s sent you several messages.”
“Ah, now I remember,” Godfrey muttered.
“Godfrey, what’s going on?” Sennett asked.
Before he could answer, they were joined by Akiko Tao. She looked very much like her son, slightly heavy with thick, dark hair and pale skin. She was shorter, though, the top of her head reaching Sennett’s nose. Her makeup was immaculate, and she wore a gentle smile.
“Councilman,” she said, her voice deep and smooth. “It’s so good to finally meet you. If you’d told me you were going to visit Station Central, I would have sent a ship for you.”
“Councilwoman Tao,” Godfrey said, reaching to shake her hand. “I’m afraid you might be working under old information. I’m not a councilman anymore. Station 86 doesn’t have a council at all. That’s why I referred you to Marshal Joy Wheatly when you contacted me.”
Akiko’s smile never wavered. “Yes, I did receive that message. I expressed concern at the time, I believe.”
“You did, yes. However, I’m not in any position to speak to your concerns. If you have questions about Station 86, please feel free to contact one of our Marshals.”
“Perhaps,” she said, glancing around them, “this is a discussion that should be had in private, away from Station Central visitors. Would you join me in my office, please?”
“No, thank you,” Godfrey snapped.
“Please,” she laughed, taking his arm. “It seems clear to me that we have some things to discuss.”
“I think you need to let go of him now,” Liam said, stepping forward.
“I’m okay,” Godfrey said, pulling his arm away from her. “Fine, I’ll come talk to you.”
“Godfrey,” Sennett said.
“I’m fine,” he said, “It’s just a talk. I’ll meet you at the hotel.”
“Glad to meet you all,” Akiko said, before turning to leave. Gene and Godfrey followed, vanishing quickly into the crowd.
“What the hell is all that about?” Mason asked.
“I don’t know,” Sennett said.
“This ain’t good,” Liam said, looking down at his wrist com. “Sen, did you just get something?”
She looked down at her own pad. He was right, she’d received a security notification. She opened it.
There was a picture of a young man in a suit and tie, it looked like an employee photo. Underneath, the message read. All citizens and visitors of Station Central, please be advised that known terrorist Jason Whitehall has escaped from police protection and is thought to be somewhere on the station. If you spot him, please contact authorities imminently. Whitehall is thought to be armed with illegal weaponry, and is suspected in the murder of May Conner.
“We try to go on vacation. Godfrey’s grabbed by the local politicians and a terrorist is on the lose,” Mason muttered.
“Yeah,” Sennett said. “That sounds about normal.”