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Category: Toran Station

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 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.   

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