The two days Elina and Linford spent on the U.N. Spacy shuttle Daedalus as they travelled to the L5 point between the Earth and Moon where the O’Neil-style Asimov Station was located passed uneventfully. During the trip, Elina had remained uncommunicative and Linford had been unable to strike up a conversation that hadn’t ended in an abrupt one-word reply and a look that implied that if he didn’t stop trying to talk to her, she would pull out his spleen and show it to him. Confident that the blonde woman could actually do it, he had eventually given up and resorted to amusing himself during the trip, passing most of the time in the zero-g entertainment cubicles and hanging out with some of the other passengers.
When the Daedalus’ pilot announced that the space station was in view and only a few hours away, there was a scattered cheer amongst the passengers and Linford thought he saw Elina smile and lighten up a touch, as if the knowledge that she was almost home had changed her mood.
Once the shuttle had synchronised itself with the rotating sections of the docking bay and had clamped firmly into place, the passengers disembarked into the Acclimatisation Lounge where complimentary refreshments were provided as they grew accustomed to the simulated gravity of the spinning station. The sensation was a little weird to Lewis and he chose to stick close to Elina, whom he noticed had made the transition with seemingly no problem at all. The blonde remained silentand clutched her hand luggage that contained, along with her personal items, the precious software chip. Knowing that she had the program in her possession and that she was so close to actually completing her mission, Elina couldn’t help but feel the tingle of nerves in the pit of her stomach as the passengers filed out of the Acclimatisation Lounge towards the awaiting customs officials.
As their turn came to be checked, Linford could feel the tension radiating off of the woman in waves and he realised that, despite her harsh exterior, the volatile blonde was just as new to this kind of life as he was. He was convinced that the customs officials were going to spot her discomfort, drag them both off for interrogation, search their various body cavities with latex gloved fingers and then throw both of them into whatever served as a prison on Asimov.
Or out an airlock.
Fortunately, Elina was able to keep her nerves in check as the official went through her bag with a hand-held scanner. The uniformed man looked bored and didn’t seem to notice Elina’s pale complexion, slightly elevated breathing rate, and the single bead of sweat that ran down the side of her face. Either that or he just didn’t care. Regardless of the reason, be it fortune or professional incompetence, the bag was returned to Elina and both she and Linford were waved through without challenge.
As the young programmer followed closely behind his blonde guide, he stared about with an expression of wide-eyed wonderment at the station around him as the realisation of where he actually was began to sink in. The sights and sounds of the busy arrivals lounge were unlike anything he had experienced back in The City. Sure, it had a similar feel to any of the transport terminals back home with its display boards, advertisements, shops, boutiques, vendors and buskers, but there was one underlying difference that made it all completely unique: he was in space!
With no real idea where he was going, he followed Elina out of the arrivals lounge, past the couples and families and friends that were reuniting in emotional embraces. Once out of the shuttle terminal and onto the station proper, Elina led Linford through throngs of travellers and residents until they came to a transport tube stop. The platform resembled an old Metro Rail station on Earth, with the line running to all the major sectors within Asimov.
Elina swiped her cash-card through the vendor and got two tickets then led Linford on to the platform where they mingled in with the rest of the waiting crowd. A few moments later the automated carriages glided to a halt by the platform and the rows of evenly spaced doors hissed open. The cluster of people shuffled their way onto the train.
For the initial part of their journey Linford and Elina were forced to stand crushed together amongst the packed passengers, the young man aware that the blonde was uncomfortable with the close physical contact. As the Metro began to make stops, people got off in drips and drabs and, eventually, there was room for them to sit down.
As the Metro continued to travel the length of the station, the type of passengers changed from normal colonists and corporate employees to those that, judging by their overalls and tool belts, were construction workers and maintenance personnel.
After a further hour of transit, the carriage Elina and Linford rode in was empty and the programmer had grew bored with just staring out the window as the grey tube walls whizzed by. He turned and looked at the woman opposite, noticing that her demeanour had radically changed from the hostile person he had first met in Cordite. She looked much more relaxed and at ease with herself, though Linford still thought she should be approached with caution. Even so, seeing as they were now alone for the first time since they had met, he thought it was time to try and get some information.
‘So,’ he began as he leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and letting his hands hang between his legs in a relaxed manner. ‘Do you want to tell me who you’re involved with and what brought you to The City? And, like, what you need that chip for?’ He pointed at Elina’s bag.
Elina frowned at him, turned her head to look out the window as if she was just going to ignore him, then let out a sigh and faced Linford. ‘I guess you should know something of what is going on, seeing as you are here now.’
‘Cool. Fill me in.’ Linford leaned back in his seat and folded his arms.
‘I am part of what you people refer to as the Marooned.’
‘Hey! I’ve heard of those!’ Linford interrupted. ‘The news is always saying stuff about how you guys are like the homeless of space.’
The remark elicited a scowl from Elina and her tone became frosty. ‘The media of your precious planet Earth have no clue about who we are. We are not homeless, we are not trash, and we are not troublemakers or terrorists!’
The young man realised he’d touched a nerve and held up his hands in a placating manner. ‘Whoa, hey! I’m sorry! It’s just what I heard, that’s all. I didn’t say I believed any of it.’
Elina calmed marginally at that. ‘Well, okay. Just so long as you understand.’
‘Good. So you’ve heard of the Marooned. But you won’t have heard of what we have been put through over the last year or so. You see, while most of the colonists on this station view us as homeless trash that is easily ignored, we have our own community and are happy to remain unnoticed. That is until our people started disappearing.’
‘A little while ago there was an incident at the McKenzie building. A small explosion killed some people and was explained away as an accident in one of the labs. At least that is what the media reported.’
Linford nodded as he remembered the incident. ‘Yeah, I heard about that. That was months ago.’
‘Seven months ago and I guarantee that you did not hear about the three-year-old girl that was found wandering around the blast site.’ Elina’s voice cracked slightly as she recalled the memory.
The young programmer blinked in surprise at this information. ‘Er… no. I never heard that. Who was she?’
Elina’s pained expression turned to one of anger as she hid her feelings behind fury, talking through clenched teeth. ‘Her name was Natasha. She had been missing for a week.’
Linford put two and two together. ‘Shit! So you think the corporation has been snatching your people to use in lab experiments?’
‘I don’t think it I know it!’ The words were spat.
‘Whoa there! I’m not calling you a liar!’
Elina forced herself to calm down. ‘I know, I know. It’s just… you sound like them.’
‘Who?’ asked Linford with a confused frown.
‘Most of my own people!’
‘What?’ Linford was incredulous. ‘What about the girl? How can they-’
Elina interrupted him. ‘There is no girl. Not any more. Seconds after I…’ The memory was becoming too much for Elina and she closed her eyes as she tried to compose herself.
‘Wait,’ said Linford. ‘You found the girl, didn’t you?’
Elina nodded and opened her tear-filled eyes. ‘After I found little Natasha wandering around the accident site she… she just turned to ash as if burned from the inside out. There was nothing left to prove she had ever existed.’ She closed her eyes again, the tears running down her cheeks as she remembered the child crumbling to pieces in her arms. Again she gritted her teeth and anger flashed in her eyes when she opened them again. ‘When I went to our leaders with what I had seen they said they needed concrete proof of what had happened before they risked a confrontation with a corporation as powerful as McKenzie. They fear that accusations would lead to us being persecuted or thrown out of our homes. So the cowards have done nothing! Those of us that have lost people felt that this was unacceptable and have decided to take action ourselves.’
This was all getting a bit hard for Linford to take in. He gazed out of the carriage window for a moment before turning back to Elina. ‘Wait a minute. So what exactly do you think is going on?’
The blonde let out another sigh. ‘We have done what little digging we could into McKenzie Corporation. Their main focus of research on the station is developing nanotechnology. During their time here they had yielded little to no results. Then, a year ago, a new CEO was brought in. A man named Mark Sinclair. His arrival coincides with the time around which our people started disappearing. Following the incident with Natasha we are convinced that he is snatching people to be used in furthering his experiments. Those of us that are prepared to take action have decided to try and find a way to stop him.’
‘But why not just go to the authorities? Station security or whatever passes as police in this place?’
Elina snorted. ‘They are also unwilling to help without evidence. Plus it is their opinion that missing people and dead bodies are not an uncommon occurrence in the lower sectors.’
‘Huh, sounds like the police back in The City. They don’t think they get paid enough to get involved in the troubles in the Zone.’
Elina gave a weary smile. ‘It would seem that some problems are universal.’
Linford nodded then leaned forward again. ‘So you need my program to hack through their Sphere security and get proof of what they’re doing.’ He was beginning to feel that he had stepped onto a runaway train that was about to get derailed. Getting involved with plots to overthrow powerful corporations wasn’t exactly what he had bargained on when he agreed to come to the station.
‘We will use it to do whatever we can to make Sinclair pay for what he has done. My people want him exposed… I want him dead.’ She regarded Lewis with cold eyes that sent an involuntary shiver through the young programmer. ‘Bet you wish you had stayed in your nice safe city, huh?’
The statement showed Linford that Elina obviously knew nothing of The City and the fate that awaited him if he had remained there to be picked up by Omni Technology. Sure, given the information that Elina had just imparted he didn’t feel like he had really improved his situation that much. But at least McKenzie Corporation wasn’t actively looking to fill him with bullets. Not yet, at any rate. He figured he would just do what he always did: go with the flow and either come out smelling of roses or crash and burn. He shrugged as he looked at the blonde opposite. ‘Stay with you. Go home. Either way I think I’m fucked. Besides, you’ll need my help with that program so I may as well stick around.’
The blonde woman looked at Linford, re-evaluating him. Perhaps he wasn’t the pathetic, weak, self-centred ego-maniac she had assumed him to be. ‘Very well,’ she said with something approximating a genuine smile before she turned away and gazed out the Metro window.
When the Metro eventually came to a halt at the last stop on the line, Elina and Linford were the only people that got off. The signs that the young programmer saw as he was led from the platform indicated that they were in the Environmental Systems sector with directions pointing to places such as water recycling, waste management, air purification and the power supply hub, amongst others.
After a short walk amongst the heavy pipes and conduits that comprised the majority of the area, Elina led Linford to an elevator and took him to the bottom level of the sector. The noise of the machinery around him as they stepped out of the lift was loud and constant; not deafening, but enough to require a raised voice if conversation was to be had. Linford felt as if he had been swallowed by a gigantic mechanical beast and that he was walking about in its guts as the pipes and machinery gurgled and thrummed around him.
After a few minutes of walking, Elina came to a stop outside an old, disused maintenance shack with a single grey steel door. The blonde woman turned the handle and walked in, Linford following after her.
The moment the door was closed, the loud background noise of the sector all but vanished. A short, strip-lighted hallway opened up into a chamber that was full of makeshift cots and desks holding an array of equipment and a small selection of weapons, the like of which Linford had never seen before. Standing at one of the tables was a large, middle-aged, dark-skinned man and a young Japanese girl in her mid to late teens. They looked up as Elina entered, the man smiling.
‘Elina! Welcome back. It’s good to see you again.’ The man’s voice was deep and warm. The Japanese girl just smiled and waved.
Elina gestured to Linford. ‘This is the programmer I told you about, Linford Johnson. Linford this is Jacob and Mina.’ She indicated the man and woman respectively.
Linford nodded and gave a brief wave. ‘Er, hi.’
‘How long to make the program?’ demanded the young Japanese girl.
‘Um-’ he began with a raised hand but was interrupted by Elina.
‘Not necessary. We have the program,’ she said triumphantly.
‘You got the chip?’ Mina asked Elina in child-like excitement.
The blonde held up her bag and walked into the room where she placed it on a table amidst a mixture of machine parts, food cartons, and Sphere Terminal components. Linford hung back for a moment then followed her into the chamber.
‘I thought the program was lost,’ said Jacob with a puzzled look.
Linford smiled. ‘In my line of work it’s handy to keep back-ups.’
Jacob approached him, holding out his hand and giving a warm smile.
‘It’s good to meet you Linford.’ He took the programmer’s hand in a powerful grip and shook it. ‘You’ve come a long way to help us.’
Linford rubbed his hand where it had been gripped and shrugged nonchalantly. ‘No big deal, I was needing a vacation anyway. Um…’ He watched as the spikey-haired Japanese girl opened Elina’s bag and rifled through it before taking out the chip. ‘You’ll need my help with the encryption on that.’ He turned back to Jacob. ‘That’s kinda one of the main reasons why I’m here.’
Mina scowled as she held up the chip, scrutinising it as if she could fathom the mysteries of the program that lay inside just by looking at it.
‘So,’ continued Linford as he looked about the room. ‘Is it just the three of you? I thought there’d be more.’
‘No, it’s just us,’ answered Jacob. ‘We are all that are prepared to take action to expose Sinclair and what he’s doing. Others feel the same as us but are unwilling to go against the word of our leaders.’
‘Huh!’ snorted Elina. ‘You mean they are too afraid to do what is necessary! Despite the fact that they have lost loved ones.’
The large man looked sad for a moment. ‘Perhaps…’
‘Um…’ murmured Linford as he looked around. ‘If this is all there is then where’s the little girl’s family? From what Elina told me I was sure they’d be involved.’ He knew he’d said the wrong thing when all three turned to look at him with solemn expressions. Elina turned away and Mina walked over to a Sphere Terminal. Jacob shook his head and briefly glanced at the short blonde woman before speaking to Linford.
‘Natasha’s mother-’ he began.
‘When are we going to use the chip?’ interrupted Elina as she turned back around, her eyes red.
Jacob paused for a moment then sat down at the table and indicated that the others should do the same. ‘We are going to wait a day or so before we attempt to break the data-fortress.’ Elina opened her mouth to protest but the Jacob held up a hand as he continued. ‘While you were away there was an incident at Bowman’s. Some McKenzie agents were involved in a shoot-out while they were chasing someone through the sector. There were some deaths, including the two agents. Lenny was also killed.’
Elina seemed to sag. ‘Lenny’s dead?’ She couldn’t believe that Bowman’s popular barman was dead. She held her head as she let out a long, slow breath.
‘I’m afraid so,’ confirmed Jacob. ‘After the company agents were killed, McKenzie upped its presence in the lower sectors and they are bound to have increased their Sphere security so we’re going to lay low for a while until things settle down a bit. We’ve waited this long, we can stand to wait a bit longer.’
Linford knew that patience wasn’t one of Elina’s qualities so he wasn’t at all surprised when she slammed her palms down on the table and stood up. He heard her mutter something in Russian as she walked off and slumped onto one of the nearby cots.
Jacob turned to the programmer. ‘Now, I would appreciate it if you could give Mina the key to the encryption you have on the chip. Just so we can use it when we need to.’
‘Sure, of course.’ With the distinct impression that he had gotten himself into something that was way over his head, the he stood and went over to the waiting Japanese girl. He was beginning to wish he’d never written the program in the first place.
Thanks for reading.
Looking at past comments on the story, it seems Angel is something of a fan favourite. Funny, had a few people say that before. Wonder what it is that makes her so appealing.
Oct 29, 2012 11:31:55 amby barryjeffer Homepage »
I agree with Doc... you've a knack for creating visual connections with your descriptions. Between you and Ray, I am enjoying reading again for the first time in a very long time. I can digest small amounts of typed words at a time and you both allow me to follow at a perfect pace.
I don't have a favorite character yet... still formulating my final opinion.!
Oct 29, 2012 1:05:50 pmby Nonsolum Online Now! Homepage »
More than the story itself, it's a good way for me to lurn more english lol.
English I said ? Mmmmm except to forget Stirling Bridge...yeh ;-)
Incù a forza immensa d’una mossa cumuna
Per mughjà à l’inglese chì ‘ssa tarra ùn s’affuna
È chì regnanu quì u sole cù a luna...
Oct 29, 2012 5:17:28 pmby RodS Online Now! Homepage »
I keep saying this........ But it's true..... It just keeps getting better, Alex! I can see a whole lot of possible things happening in this story - lots of twists and turns; how all the characters' parts in the story will interact.
Excellent writing, Bro! You paint images in my mind with your words.
Oct 29, 2012 6:24:15 pmby auntietk Online Now! Homepage »
I think people like Angel because most of us have had times in our lives when we were in over our heads and afraid of the outcome. Angel is brave and competent (as are most people when engaging in something about which they're passionate) and we'd all like to believe that faced with a dangerous situation we would rise to the occasion and deliver the goods with style. While a lot of people admire the bluster and bravado of the action hero, Angel is easier to relate to. She combines vulnerability with bravery and is therefore someone we can both identify with and save from harm. Just mho, but it doesn't surprise me at all that people are drawn to her character. And wasn't Rod's render amazing? :)
I like this second story line (or the resumption of the first, I suppose). I'm looking forward to getting to know the space station characters and seeing how this all comes together!
Oct 29, 2012 9:09:23 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
I liked how you pulled the very beginning back into this in this segment Alex. While it explains a few things, it also raises more questions. I'm thinking Lewis and Shona & Co. will become involved with this little crew of rebels...but I'm sure there will be some surprises in store here. Wonderful writing as always - very descriptive and driving.