First Frontier

Zeta X 2 Covero

Space station Zeta X 2 Covero was not a name that conjured the greatest that the galaxy had to offer. No vast expanses of beautiful grounds, kept immaculate in zero G. Nor the sweeping neon of commerce, a slick and clear oil of advertising to make every surface shine. Zeta was a trade outpost whose major customers had long since expended their worth. Nearby, a small abandoned was attempting to relaunch itself as a Dire Warning for future worlds – part education, part theme park – on the subject of mis-calibrated terraforming. The early attempt to turn the oceans green in a bid to become a tourist trap having necessitated this strategic pivot as much as it necessitated gas masks.

Zeta’s ambitious makeover in the hopes of becoming Emeralida’s nearest trade post had long since faded to embarrassment. The gold leaf over the entrance plaque was flaking, the burnished bronze of the handrails corroding, and the gleaming white tiles of the floors slowly drowning under a thousand legions of tired boots.

There was little joy to be found anywhere on the station. Most people were passing through on their way somewhere better – or hoped to be. The best place to find somewhere better, however, was in the BetaChow Crew Bank, a vast room of faded blue carpet and stained beige columns and a loop of plastic desks, most of which featured the logo of a trading company long since out of business, sponsored by BetaChow. This was the place where ships passing in the endless night could recruit those who needed somewhere better to be. Apart from the Sisters of Charity and the local Milita Recruiting, it was almost eternally empty.

Alice was getting very tired of sitting by the Sisters in the Crew Bank, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she’d considered looking into the book the Sisters were preaching, but if getting off this place was going to involve selling her soul, she decided she needed a more interesting buyer. The Milita had done nothing but border patrols for decades at this point, and the idea of getting off the station only to return a few days later, then repeat that for a five year term, didn’t bare thinking about.

It had been nearly three months since she’d been stranded on Zeta. Alice had found some work on the station as security crew, which was enough to claim a bunk and meals in the station canteen, but it would take another year of saving to have enough to summon a taxi ship this far, and double to get her somewhere after that. Still, it wasn’t like Zeta offered anything else to spend her money on.

The empty hall felt like an abandoned careers fair, save for the irregular snores of the Milita recruitment guy clashing atonally with the tinny hymns of the Sisters, and Alice was resolved to stay here for another half hour until her shift started. Alice noise-cancelled the stalls out of her attention, and pulled up a book on her slate.

Moments passed.

There was a dog.

Reasonably large as dogs go, extremely fluffy, mostly white with some very light grey patches. It was sat about ten feet in front of her, feet together, and looking directly at Alice with soft brown eyes. When the dog was sure she had noticed it, it padded briskly closer, licked her knee once, padded away again and looked over its shoulder.

“No pocket-watch”, said Alice, “which is a good start, I suppose.” She stood up and walked towards the dog, who trotted away.

Alice, lacking any better options, followed.

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