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Category: Toran Station

Toran Station Part VI

Fiction Fragment Friday

This weeks Fiction Fragment Friday is really a rough draft. I’m not happy with it as is and will likely go through multiple rewrites. Sometimes though it is important to just write it and get it out. You can’t let yourself get too caught up in trying to make the story perfect that you never write anything. This is a struggle I frequently have. These Fiction Fragment Friday’s have helped me realize that writing something that doesn’t do what you want is better than not writing anything because you can’t seem to get it right.

Never underestimate the power of editing to make your stories what you want them to be, but also don’t underestimate the power of writing stream of consciousness to direct your story. When I started this section I planned on having a scene in medical and a scene settling down in his room. When I started writing though that was not where the story went.

I suspect that after I rewrite it this scene in the hallway could be something truly powerful. I am at almost 10,000 words in this serial story now and need to decide whether to continue as I have been or go back and do some rewrites and edits to create the first two chapters of a book.

“Hurry up already I don’t have all night.”  Janice’s annoyed voice came into my room from the hallway where she was berating Nurse Kirby. Part of me was happy for a familiar voice, but I was dreading her inevitable questions.  I didn’t doubt for a second that her volunteering to help me back to my room was at least partially motivated by a desire for story details.  While visiting me in medical she had been genuinely concerned, but I was coming to learn that this was a woman who always has multiple angles to her actions. 

I took careful steps into the hallway.  Proving that I could walk was a requirement for release, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t still very sore.  My steps were slow, but with a little effort I could mostly hide the reactions.  I knew she would see right through it but wasn’t sure who else might be watching.  “Leave him alone, I’m sure he is doing the paperwork as quickly as he can.”

     She turned towards me and I could feel her eyes assessing me.  I could see the response die on her lips.  Before I could even register her movements, she was at my side supporting me.  “Should you really be walking around on your own?”

     “I’m fine really.  Just a little sore.” 

     “Yeah right.   Hate to tell you this but I see through lies for a living and you aren’t even good at telling them.”  That was far from the first time I had heard that.  It wasn’t just that I had tells that would give away a lie, but I was terrible at acting as well.  I had almost failed drama class in high school, and I didn’t even know that was possible.  This time though I really did think that I was strong enough to get back to my room. 

     “Ok, paperwork’s all done.  He’s free to go.”  I heard my data pad beep as Nurse Kirby’s incoming messages arrived.  It would cover the details of my stay and follow-up treatments.  He turned towards me.  “Good luck.  After dealing with her you might just wish you hadn’t made it.” 

     “Oh shut up.  You know you love me.”  She was smiling and I wasn’t quite sure if they were actually fighting or teasing each other anymore.

     “No I love Jeremy.  I tolerate you.  Speaking of my husband he said to tell you and I quote ‘Tell Janice that I don’t care what story she is chasing she better be on time for family dinner on Sunday or I’m going to tell mom why she missed her third wedding.’”  He was doing an impression of someone I could only assume was his husband. 

     “He wouldn’t dare because if he did I would tell her what really happed to that hideous painting she gave you two as a wedding gift.”

     They both started laughing and I couldn’t help but feel left out.  I didn’t have any family left and even when I did we had grown so far apart I hadn’t talked to them in years.  Being so far from home and not knowing who I could trust was just making me feel even more alone.  I let them continue to banter for a while before she decided it was time to get moving.  She led me through the corridors of the station in a winding manor.  It didn’t take long for me to get completely lost.

     “Are you sure this is the right way?  I’m pretty sure my room is on the other side of the station.”

     “You old room was.  Your new room is this way.”

     “What do you mean new room?  My firm paid for a month.”

     She stopped and turned towards me.  “Someone tried to kill you.” 

     “Don’t you think I know that?  I can’t stop thinking about.  Every footstep I here I wonder if it’s someone else coming for me.”

     Her annoyed expression softened a bit.  “What I mean is that your old room isn’t safe.  I set you up with a new room under an alias.  It doesn’t trace back to you in any way.”

     “Is that really necessary?  A corridor is one thing, but my room should be safe.”

     She sighed.  “I was hoping I could just grab your stuff and keep this from you for a bit.”  She pulled out her data pad and brought up pictures of my room.  It had been trashed like someone was looking for something.  “I checked your room while you were in medical.  I planned to hack the lock, but the door was already open.  It’s not safe there.”

     I leaned against the corridor wall using it to brace myself.  That had to have been done after my failed murder.  Part of me had held out hope that it was a random mugging, but this meant that it was targeted.  It also meant that they were still coming after me.  My heart was racing and everything was getting very warm. 

     “Hey, hey.  Breathe.  Take a deep breath.”  She put her hands on my shoulders.  “Hey look at me.”  I raised my head up and made eye contact with her.  “Look I know it’s scary, but this isn’t my first time.  I can keep you safe, but I need you to trust me.  I’m not going to let anything happen to you.  All you have to do is listen to me and do what I say.  Just nod if you understand.”

     I had no idea what was happening to me.  My breathing was out of control, my heart was racing, and it felt like a pressure was pushing me down.   Her words and comforting tone were cutting through it, but they were not enough.  I knew that unlike myself she was likely very good at lying.  Could I really even trust her?  Everything felt so overwhelming.  I didn’t even realize that I had lowered myself to the corridor floor and wrapped my arms around my legs.  For the second time since arriving on the station I thought I was going to die.

     Ten minutes had passed before I regained control of myself, but it felt like a half hour.  Janice was right there on the floor next to me with one arm wrapped around me.  She was still talking to me in her soothing voice, but I wasn’t ready to focus yet.  I did let her help me to my feet.  The rest of the walk to my new room was a blur.  She seemed to know that I couldn’t focus put all the information on my alias directly into my data pad.  I wondered if avoiding transmitting it was a little too paranoid but decided to take her advice. 

                As soon as we reached my new room I collapsed on the bed.  I had to admit the room was a bit nicer than the one I had originally checked into.  I had a table to work at and Janice has already brought my stuff.  She explained that she had checked it for bugs already and guaranteed that there were no tracking devices.  Her words were more about reassuring me than they were actually providing information.  Deep down I wasn’t ready to calm down yet.  I had a lot to think about and some serious decisions to make.     

Toran Station Part V

Fiction Fragment Friday

Before we get to this week’s story I have some updates to get through. This will be a long one so if you are only interested in the story feel free to scroll down past the red divider line.

Bite Sized Tales has officially launched with weekly Flash Fiction Audio stories. You can grab the podcast episodes from that link or you can find it on any major pod catcher including Apple, Google, Amazon, Audible, and Spotify. If you do not see it on your chosen platform please let me know. I would also appreciate any reviews or recommendations.

Next Toran Station now has it’s own category on the right side of the page. You can access all the parts of the story through it. That will keep the list of links to previous stories from becoming too long. I have come to realize that it is not longer flash fiction though it does still work as a Fiction Fragment. Toran Station is now officially a serial fiction.

Fiction Fragment Friday stories are one source of feeder stories for Bite Size Tales. With this in mind I don’t know if I want to continue using Toran Station as Fiction Fragment Fridays or start releasing them on a different day as a Serial Story Saturday(or Sunday). Fiction Fragment Fridays for me should be a way to explore writing ideas and push myself. Taking on a second story each week that is not something I’m submitting elsewhere for publication though might be too much at this point.

I have a lot of decisions to make about my fiction going forward and where I want to put my energy. I have RPG projects that are underway as well that also need energy and Fear the Con 2023 planning is underway. I need to ensure I find a balance to avoid the potential of burnout. 2020 was about proving to myself that I could complete NaNoWriMo. 2021 was about creating the consistent habit of writing weekly and ability to just sit down and write no matter what my mood. 2022 was about building a audience and continuing to develop new ways to get my fiction out there. Now it is 2023 and it is time to build on the framework this journey has created.

               My entire focus was drawn to her face making everything else blur into the background.  She had shiny long black hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.  Her complexion was pale like she had never been planet side to get actual sun.  It was a more common complexion these days, but as someone who lived on Earth I was not as familiar with it.  It was her eyes that most caught my attention.  They had a look of sheer terror in them.  It was burned into my memory permanently as an expression I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

               Her lips parted and she whispered every so softly, “Please no.”  Smoke came out of her mouth, nose, and eyes.  I tried to turn away, but my head wouldn’t move.  I was locked in place watching her just inches away from me.  The skin on her face started to melt away showing first the muscle and then the bone underneath.  The smell of burnt flesh assaulted my nose making me gag.  Her body fell onto mine pushing me to the ground.  I looked up into her exposed skull where nothing remained but her eyes.  They were untouched and filled with terror.  Despite no longer having a tongue she hissed one final time as her hands wrapped around my throat robbing me of my breath.  “You did this to me.”    

               I awoke still in my hospital bed.  My throat burned in a way that told me I had been screaming again.  The gagging sensation returned with a feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach.  Only by sheer instinct did I lean over the edge of the bed before I vomited everything I had eaten for breakfast.  Gasping for breath I finally lay back with my water filed eyes being assaulted by the light.   Every time I tried to sleep the same dream would haunt me. 

               “Do you want to talk about it?”  Nurse Kirby stood at the door inputting something into the data tablet he always carried around with him.  His tone as always was lighthearted, but I could have done without it.  After a moment an automated wet vac rolled into the room and started to clean up my vomit.  They were certainly getting their money worth out of that thing from my stay.

               As my breath finally slowed, I realized that he was waiting for an answer.  I wanted to lash out and tell him that no I didn’t want to fucking talk about it.  The assassin had tried to kill me, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about killing her instead.   That my stupid mind just kept reliving the look in her eyes as she died and every time, I tried to sleep she was waiting for me.  I had no idea if she had people out there grieving for her.   A husband, kids, or even just friends?  Instead of all that I just answered, “No.”

               “You don’t have to talk to me about it but trust me you need to talk to someone.  I’ve seen it before.  The adrenaline wears off and the trauma starts to set in.  You’re going to have to work through it the only question is if you do it now or after it has settled so deep into you that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.”

               “Well, who asked you?”

                 “No one.  Just sharing some advice based on experience.  Besides it’s my job to take care of you until you get released.  I like to think that means more than just checking your vitals and bringing you ice water because your throat is raw from screaming.”  For the first time I noticed that he was indeed holding a glass of ice water with a bendy straw in it.  I thought about his words and hated to admit that he might be right. 

               “Have you ever watched someone die?”

               “Working in medical on this station?  More times than I care to think about.” 

               I wasn’t sure what he meant by that comment, but I pressed on.  “Were you ever responsible for any of those deaths?”

               He sighed as he handed me my water.  “No, I can’t say that I was.  That doesn’t stop me from blaming myself for some of them though.  Guilt and self-doubt aren’t exactly rational.”  I handed him the glass back and he sat it on my side table.  “Let me ask you a question.  If you hadn’t managed to get control of the gun what would have happened to you?”

               “She would have killed me.”

               “There is no hesitation there.  You know that and don’t doubt it for a second?”

               “Yes.  Not the slightest doubt.”

               “Well then it seems to me that she made the decisions that led to her death.  You reacted and did what you needed to survive.”

               I knew that he was right.  I logically had been telling myself the same thing for the last two days.  Something about hearing someone else say it though did make it feel a bit more real.  My mind was not ready to let go just yet though.  “Then why do I keep thinking I should have done something else?”

               “Because you James Wetherford are a good man despite being an auditor.”  I laughed at his joke, and it hurt more than I had expected.  For someone who was being released that evening I still had quite a bit of pain.  “I read your file and unless I missed something I think it’s safe to say this is the first time anything like this has ever happened to you.”

               “You might be surprised how many death threats you get as an auditor, but no.  Until now no one has actually tried to kill me.”  I thought about his words for a moment.  “How do you know I’m a good man?”

               “Two reasons.  First Janice told me you were.  The first thing that woman does after she meets someone, she thinks could be a source is start the background checks.  When I say I read your file I don’t mean this one.”  He tapped on his data tablet.  “I mean her file on you.  Trust me it is much larger and has way more detailed information.  In fact, I fixed a few typos in your medical file based on it. “

               “You know Janice?”  I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was.

               “Everyone on the station knows Janice, but she is a special pain in the butt for me.  I married her brother.  Trust me if you think her file on you is long you should see the background checks, she does on the guys her brother dates.” 

               I winced in pain.  “Please stop making me laugh.”  I took a moment to catch my breath before responding.  “You said there were two reasons.  What is the second one?”    

               “You just went through an extremely traumatic event.  Instead of obsessing about how you were almost killed you keep beating yourself up over the death of the woman who was trying to kill you.  If that isn’t the sign of a good man, I don’t know what is.” 

He left me alone in the room with my thoughts after that.  I had to admit just talking about it had actually made me feel a bit better.  I knew that I still had things to work through and made a mental note to see if there was a reputable counselor onboard.  That was just a few lines down on my mental checklist after finding out what Janice Harrington has in her files about me.  By the time I had reached twelve entries on that checklist I decided to reach for my data tablet and make it an actual list.  There was time to deal with emotional trauma later.  For now, I had work to do.       

Toran Station Part IV

Fiction Fragment Friday

Well I guess this has become serial fiction instead of flash fiction at this point.

     The first thing I noticed when I woke up were beeping sounds coming from the health monitors.  I will never understand why they do that.  I understand alarms, but they could have those just go off on the nurse’s tablets.  Regular beeps for normal conditions though just do not make sense.  I think it is just to let us know they are doing something.  Keep you so frustrated you can’t think about why you’re in medical to begin with.  I knew why I was in medical though.  Someone tried to kill me.

     After breakfast I was walking the corridors on my way back to the administration office.  The longer I worked through the audit the more disturbing it was getting.  There was so much obvious that I was starting to obsess about how much worse anything actually hidden could be.  When you stumble across incompetence everything is typically as it seems, but this didn’t feel like that.  This felt like corruption and Administrator Foster going to such effort to avoid me told me that he was involved.  I suspected that he was the source, but I couldn’t figure out how he was profiting.

     I was lost in my own mind and completely unaware of my surroundings.  Lack of sleep due to stress was likely making it even worse.  That is the only reason I can think of to explain why I didn’t notice that the corridor was empty.  That time of the morning there should have been crowds on their way to work, but I was completely alone.  I don’t know how they did it, but there were no witnesses around and the security cameras were conveniently off-line.  As it turns out there are many corridors around the station with the cameras out where anything can happen.

     As I went around a corner pain wracked my side.  I screamed as my insides burned and the light above my head went out.  My knees went out from under me, but I grabbed the wall on my way down.  Nothing made sense, but I knew I had to move or I wouldn’t survive.  The adrenaline hit and I had a moment of clarity to take in my surroundings.  The corridor in front of me was clear, but every movement was excruciating.  If someone was coming, they could easily overtake me before I could get to the end of the corridor. 

     I leaned up against the wall and listened to the sound of footsteps on the corridor.  Running wasn’t an option so I had to fight and if they were running, they might not be cautious.  It was a long shot, but I was desperate.  I could feel the vibrations in the floor as they got close to the bend.  I braced myself and the moment they rounded I lunged.  It hurt so bad I knew that I would only have one shot with the element of surprise. 

     I hit the woman hard tackling her to the ground and grabbing the wrist of the hand holding a microwave pistol.  I was larger than her, but not particularly strong and the pain from having part of my body cooked alive was not helping.  We wrestled for control of the gun, but the best I could do was keep it pointed away from me.  I was fading fast and knew that the longer we fought the weaker I would get.  I let her think that she had control and gathered my strength for one last push.

     When the gun turned towards me she moved to pull the trigger.  At that moment I pushed with every bit of my remaining strength and swung the gun up at her face.  The microwave gun went off unloading the full blast directly into her head.  I will never forget the look on her face as her brain cooked from the inside out.  It was one of sheer terror.  That was the last thing I saw as I passed out from my own injuries.

     “Welcome back to the land of the living sleeping beauty.”  Janice was sitting in a chair next to my bed. 

     “What are you doing here?”  My voice came out raspy and pained. 

     “Who do you think brought you in here?  I was trying to nail Administrator Foster down for an interview and his new assistant mentioned you hadn’t shown up this morning.  I was worried so I backtracked from there to your hotel.  I and found you in the hall barely alive.   More than I can say for whoever you were fighting with.”

     “She tried to kill me.”   The realization that someone had tried to murder me was finally sinking in.  Auditing doesn’t make you any friends, but it isn’t exactly dangerous work either.  My first fight ever and it was for my very life. 

     “You get used to it.”

     “I certainly hope not.”

                We both laughed for a moment, and it sent waves of pain through my body.  She told me to rest and left me alone with my thoughts.  Thoughts of what I had done in a moment of panic.  I slipped away into fitful dreams.  Nightmares where I was haunted by the face of the woman I had killed.    

Toran Station Part III

Fiction Fragment Friday

Toran Station

Toran Station Part II

Well I think this has officially become a series. With this week I’m adding a category for Toran Station so you can easily find all these stories. I’m not sure if this is a short story in the works, a novella, or a full novel. I do plan on putting them all together when it is complete and doing some rewrites. I will add in the connecting tissue at that point as well.

     “I don’t understand how you got such poor terms on these contracts.  You’re paying base rate prices for bulk orders, twice the standard price for shipping, and no penalties for late deliveries.”  I had been going through Toran Station’s supply contracts for three hours and the one thing they all had in common was the station being screwed over.  In all my years of auditing books I had never seen anything even close to this bad before.

     “Beats me.  I just started last week.”

     “When can I meet with the station administrator?”

     She just shrugged her shoulders and took a big drink of her coffee.  “No clue.  I haven’t even met him yet.  He doesn’t really come into the office.  Apparently, he does all his work remotely.”

     I couldn’t help but shake my head and roll my eyes at this latest revelation.  A few puzzle pieces were starting to come together in my mind, but I still didn’t quite know what the final picture I was building would look like.  “Are you hungry?”

     She looked up at me with a bit of a smirk.  “Why Mr. Wetherford are you trying to ask me out on a date?”

     “Not at all Miss Sakuraba.  I’m just ready for a lunch break because if I stare at this screen any longer, I think I’m going to lose my mind.  Plus I have some questions and I think I would rather ask them outside of this office.”

     “Are you insinuating the room might be bugged?  That’s a little paranoid don’t you think?”  Her tone sounded incredulous, but her expression gave away quite a bit of concern.

     “I would never dream of accusing Administrator Foster of installing surveillance equipment in his office.  However, I do see invoices for such equipment here that were never marked as received.  I also see contracts for undisclosed installation services.”  I tried to read her face at hearing this news, but she seemed to be getting more guarded by the moment.  “So back to my question.  Are you hungry?”

     “You know now that you mention it I do seem to be getting a bit hungry.”

     “Excellent.  I’ve only tried one restaurant on the station, so I think I’ll let you lead the way.”

     She led me out of the administration office and towards the closest lift.  Once we were on board and the doors closed behind us she turned to me.  “Do you really think he installed surveillance equipment in the office?”

     “Well that would be more reassuring than my other suspicion.”

     “And what would that be?”

     “That he had them installed throughout the station to spy on everyone else.”

     She led me out of the lift to a little sandwich shop called Jeremy’s in a shopping district I had not been to yet.  The menu was simple, but the prices were very good.  I couldn’t help but wonder if she was being underpaid and made a mental note to check salaries in the afternoon.  I had a feeling it might tell me a lot about who might be in the know and who wasn’t.  We made small talk while we ate with her mostly telling me about the businesses on the station and asking what I had already tried. 

     When I finished eating, I decided it was time to try and get some of my questions answered.  “So you said you’ve never actually met administrator Foster?”

     “That’s right.  I was hired by his assistant, and he hasn’t been in the office since I started.  Honestly, it’s been really boring and most of my time has been spent either trying to get my access sorted out or telling people I don’t know where he is.”

     “Didn’t you find that a bit strange?”

     “Of course, I did, but it’s not easy to find stable work around here.  You get a job you don’t ask too many questions.”

     “I’m not so sure about the stable part.”

     “What do you mean?  You can’t get more stable than station administration.”

     “Maybe on another station. From what I’m seeing this station is so far in debt it won’t be able to pay basic operating costs for more than another month.  Did you know you have half the maintenance crew recommended for a station half this size?  The engineering crew was let go over a year ago.  There’s nowhere left to cut costs and I’ll be honest I’m starting to get nervous about the safety of the station itself seeing how run down it’s gotten.”

     Now she did look concerned.  “He let the engineers go?”  I nodded.  “I think I owe the maintenance crew an apology.  I’ve been fielding complaints all week and had just assumed they were incompetent.”

     “They might be.  I haven’t actually looked into them, but they’re stretched really thin and having to cover for the engineering tasks they likely aren’t qualified for as well.  I plan on checking in with them because I suspect the supplies, they’re getting might be low quality.”

     “You can tell that from the orders?”

     “Nope, just a feeling.  I don’t know anything about the supplies themselves.  I couldn’t tell you a good brand from a bad one.  It’s just a feeling I have though.  I’m seeing the same supplier being granted the contract for disposal.  I suspect the station might be paying them to haul off the parts that they then refurbish and sell right back to you.”

     “That is insane.”  An expression crossed her face that I couldn’t quite place.  “If we are out of money, why did he hire me?  Why hire anyone?”  I couldn’t make eye contact with her.  “Wait what have you figured out?”

     “I don’t know anything for sure.”

     “Don’t bullshit me.  You figured something out.”

     “You said yourself you were told to babysit me.  He knew I was coming, he needed someone to work with me, and he didn’t want anyone who actually knew anything to let it slip.”  I could see the anger on her face.  “Please don’t take that the wrong way.  I’m not saying you’re dumb or bad at your job.  I’m just saying that you are too new and haven’t been told anything he doesn’t want me to know.”

     “That son of a bitch.”

     “For what it’s worth you seem pretty observant and seem to be asking all the right questions.”

     “Not soon enough.  Come on let’s get back to work.  You have a lot of files to go through and I’m going to help you do it.  I grew up on this station.  It’s my home, and I’m not about to let him destroy it without a fight.”

                I grabbed the bill and paid the entire thing before she could protest.  It still felt like I was missing large parts of the puzzle, but I had a bit of hope.  Two days in and I already had two allies who were dedicated to finding the truth.  Things were starting to come together so of course the next day someone tried to kill me.

Toran Station Part II

Fiction Fragment Friday

This week’s story is a sequel to Toran Station. I don’t often return to these stories and I’m not sure if I have ever done a sequel that starts immediately where the last one ended. If this were in a book it would be in the same chapter. When I wrote the original I felt like it could be the start of something larger and writing this second part has really driven that home.

I find that writing these character and this setting flows very easily. I sit down to write and before long I have written a much longer story than intended. I’m not sure this or the first one could really be called a full story and not just slices of life being presented. After this week I think maybe it is time to sit down and outline a much larger story that these scenes fit into.

                My room wasn’t the worst I had ever stayed in, but it was in the bottom five.  When I hit the light switch the light by the door just flickered on and off.  There was a stench to the room that I couldn’t quite place, but I made a note to get disinfectant before touching anything.  I also needed new sheets because there was no way I was going to lay down on the bed as it was. After two weeks of sleeping in bunk beds set into a bulkhead though I was just grateful to have my own room again. 

                When I stayed on station as a kid, I remember the rooms being the nicest I had ever stayed in.  It felt like we were the first people to ever stay in that room.  It was clean and everything looked brand new.  I still couldn’t understand how the air had gotten so poor.  Even tiny shuttles with much smaller ecosystems were not this bad.  Simple lack of money could not account for just how bad things had gotten.  I knew that I was only here to sort out some accounting issues, but I needed to know what had caused this.  It hurt too much to see it without getting to the bottom.

                It was time to get some answers.  I pulled out my tabled and shot off four messages.  The first was to my station contact to let them know I had arrived and requesting a meeting first thing in the morning.   The second message was to station information.  I requested an updated list of all businesses operating on the station and contact information for them.  My third message was to my boss back home.  I needed him to know what I had already seen.  Finally, I messaged Janice and offered to buy her dinner tonight wherever she wanted to go.

                After a couple minutes my tablet dinged, and I saw that Janice had already responded.  To my surprise she had picked the restaurant I remember my father taking us to as a kid.  My first instinct had been to suggest it, but after all the other disappointments of the day I just didn’t want to assume anything at this point.  I didn’t know if it was still here or what shape it might be in.  I couldn’t help but smile knowing that it was not only still here, but that if she had picked it then it couldn’t be too bad.  Still, I tried to keep my expectations low. 

                With a few hours left before dinner I decided to take a walk.  Instead of just wandering around I used the map on my tablet to plan my path carefully.  I needed to start getting used to the layout and find all the location I would need for work.  Shopping was going to be important as well so I needed to know where the important shops and services were.  If what I had already seen was any indication this would not be a short project.  What I did not expect was to feel unsafe in certain parts of the station.  It felt like I was being watched so I made a point to stay to the more trafficked corridors. 

                I showed up to dinner about fifteen minutes early.  I wanted to make sure we had a table and that I had time to let any disappointment fade from my face.  I won’t say that I was as impressed with the restaurant as my childhood self had been, but it did not show the same degree of ware as the rest of the station.  Papa Guido’s was clean, well lit, and the food smelled incredible.  I was met at the door by a waitress dressed in a red and white frilly top with an ankle length green skirt.  I made note of her nametag.

                “Welcome to Papa Guido’s.  How many in your party?”

                Her smile seemed genuine and so far, it was the nicest greeting I had received on station.  “There will just be two of us.  I’m meeting someone.”

                She nodded and grabbed two actual printed menus from the podium.  “Right this way sir.” 

                “I have to say Erica this is the only place on the station so far that lives up to my memories.”

                She seemed taken aback at first by my use of her name, but I just pointed to her name tag, and she nodded.  “Well, I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve been here, but this is a family restaurant.  I may be his daughter, but this place is dad’s really baby.”

                “Well, it shows.  Gives me a little hope.”

                She led me to a small table in a corner and set the menus down.  Nothing looked new, but the furniture was all very well maintained, and I had not seen a single light fixture that wasn’t fully functional.  Mostly I was just grateful that the air didn’t have the grease scent that the rest of the station seemed to linger with.  As I looked over the menu, I was surprised that the prices were not as high as I anticipated.  No matter the cost though I knew the conversation was going to be worth it.

                “Well, well, well.  I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.  I thought you were worried I would get you in trouble with your bosses.”  I jumped a bit as Janice caught me off guard.  She sat down at the table across from me with a big smile on her face.  It was the kind of smile someone gives when they know something that you don’t.

                “Oh I’m pretty sure you are going to get me into trouble, but I’m hoping you can help me avoid some too.”

                “Go on.”

                “Let’s order some dinner first.  This place smells incredible.”  I ordered the chicken parmigiana, and she ordered the manicotti.  We made small talk while we waited for the food not talking about anything in particular.  We spoke about our jobs, and I told her all about my trip to the station as a child.  It was a pleasant conversation and I found her very easy to talk to and had to watch myself to avoid sharing too much.  Something told me she was a very good reporter who could get people to share without even realizing it.

                “So, James why don’t you tell me why I’m here?”

                “Well besides finding out what restaurant might be safe to eat at I have a feeling you have a better idea of what is going on around this station than anyone else.  No way poor management alone let things get this bad.  When I start digging in am I going to be in danger?”

                She actually laughed.  “Oh James.  You were in danger the moment you accepted this assignment.”  She took a sip of her wine and game me another smile.  “You have no idea how lucky you were to run into me.”

Toran Station

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 Harrington.  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.   

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