Fiction Fragment Friday
I hope all my readers in the United States had a good Thanksgiving and are staying safe out there today. I had a few ideas for a story to do today. Most of them revolved around nostalgia or being an inspiration for others. I’m sure that part of the influence for this story comes from a project I’m working on with a few others as well as a love of Nathan Lowell books. Also a recent novel by Mur Lafferty was set on a space station. All of these influences and that feeling of memories came together to form a story that really should be a snippet of something much longer.
Part of me thinks that this story needs to be developed into if not a novel at least a novella. As I sit here multiple potential scenes run through my head. I have a strong feeling that like my Mars mission stories this will not be the last time I visit this setting.
“Welcome to Toran Station the Gateway to the Galactic Frontier.” I could barely contain my excitement hearing the announcement come over the speakers. This was the station I had visited with my father when I was ten. Returning here felt like recapturing a bit of my childhood that had long been lost. I might have been traveling for business, but I felt like it was a dream vacation.
I headed to my locker in the sleeping compartment. First class had their own cabins, but my company was not willing ot foot the bill for that level of extravagance. Instead, I shared a room with three other passengers. The beds were bunks in the wall, but they had partitions you could pull down to gain a bit of privacy. Space is a premium on tiny transports, and they needed to utilize as much as they could to make a profit. That also meant very strict rules for what luggage I could carry with me. I had one bag in my locker, and I just hoped my other really was in cargo. It would not be the first time my luggage had been lost in transit.
I stepped through the airlock and took a deep breath of station air. I almost choked on it. The air was musty with a strong metal and grease tint to it. That had not at all been what I was expecting. I remembered on my first trip the air being the cleanest I had ever breathed. This was worse than the air on the tiny transport that had brought me here. Finally, I managed to compose myself and take in the sights of the hall.
On my first trip to Toran Station it had just begun operation. All the news reports talked about the Gateway to the Galactic Frontier and how it would open up a new era of exploration and colonization. The station had all the newest technologies build right into the foundations. Everything was awe inspiring no matter where you looked because it was all new and full of promise.
The station that met my eyes did not live up to my memories. The airlock opened to a hallway that had two lights completely out and a third flickering. The flickering light made shadows dance. There were grease stains on the floors and a panel missing from one of the walls. I could see a maintenance worker at the end of the hall with a mop. His cleaning efforts could not compare with the robotic cleaning drones that constantly cycled the halls on my first trip.
I followed the signs to baggage claims. Thankfully the walls were labeled very clearly because they all looked identical. It would have felt a bit like being in a maze if each corridor didn’t seem to have its own odor. Grease gave way to burnt electronics only to finally give way to what I was pretty sure was urine. I was grateful that the baggage claim room was extremely clean compared to what I had just walked through. There was only one stain on that I could not identify and most of the lights functioned.
My bag was fairly easy to find as we were the only ship that was arriving that day. Remembering just how busy the station had been I couldn’t understand why that would be when I booked passage. Now that I was seeing its current state it was much easier to understand. I decided it would be best to take my luggage and just be grateful it had not gotten lost in transit. All that was left was to decide if I should check in with work or the room I had reserved first.
The unwieldy nature of my baggage helped make my decision. I stepped up to an information kiosk to find the path to the room work had rented for me. Of course, the first kiosk was sitting on an error screen, but the second one was responsive. It only took a few moments to get the information I needed and determine that I would have to walk halfway across the station to get where I needed to go.
My path took me through one of the market courtyards. It was a large three-story corridor with shops lining both sides and a bank of elevators between the floors. This was by far the busiest place I had seen so far on the station. It looked like about a fourth of the shop fronts were available for rent, but the ones that were open had multiple customers. The market of my memories was so crowded that dad made me hold his hand to avoid getting separated This market was not crowded, but it was the cleanest room I had seen so far. The lights and kiosks all seemed to be functional as well.
My memories fought with the reality. I smelled fresh baked bread, and it brought me back to having lunch with my dad at a deli on the third floor. The music coming from the speakers reminded me of the live performances on the balcony of the second flood. It was far from the courtyard of my memories, but there was just enough for me to see what it looked like in it’s prime. I was so lost in my memories that I didn’t see the woman in front of me had stopped until I bumped into her. We both tumbled to the decking with me dropping my bag and her dropping the tablet she had been taking pictures with.
“I’m so sorry,” I said scrambling back to my feet not even trying to grab my bads. I held my hand out to try and help her up. “I really should watch where I’m going better.”
She took my hand and let me pull her to her feet. “First time on station?” She was smiling at me and I wondered why she wasn’t more annoyed. She was dressed simply wearing a shirt without any logos on it. I wondered if she was local or perhaps on a work trip as well.
“Actually no. I was here when I was a kid. Probably twenty-five years ago.”
“Not living up to your memories, is it?”
I was taken back by her observation. “How can you tell?”
She held out her hand for me to shake. “Janice Wetherford. Being observant is kind of my job, and that look on your face says volumes.”
Her grip was firm, but not testing. “Yeah it probably does. I’m James by the way. I’m here from Harrison Accounting to do an audit of the stations books. Seems that some numbers aren’t adding up and I jumped at the chance to come see the place again.”
I could see her eyes light up and she immediately started typing out something on her tablet. “Well James, I’m sending you my contact information. Why don’t you settle in and then I can treat you to lunch.” It was then that I finally registered that she told me she was a reporter. I had just dropped the seeds of a potential financial scandal for the station in her lap. My boss was not going to be happy at all.
“Why do I think having lunch with you could put my job in danger?”
“Trust me. A good reporter protects her sources.” She turned to walk towards the elevator but stopped and looked back over her shoulder at me. “Hard to get a second story if they don’t.” I just shook my head at her and moved on towards my room. I had work to do and probably a lot more disappointment to experience before my trip was done.