(Gerhard Richter - Station)
THE SUN WAS RISING ABOVE CYNOSURA when the station bell rang and a young man shuffled out of the covered seating area, hands in his pockets, scowling. He carried a duffel bag and wore a green jumpsuit with a nameplate that read only: REINHART. Except for the guard to the man’s left, and a few gently whirring bufferbots, there was, of course, no one else on the platform.
"Boarding Platform Y for the 05:22 Class D-11 commercial shuttle service to Algenib Harbor Station. Calling at Naos, Rukbat, and Trion Major…"
Reinhart glanced around. No incoming transport. No sighing hatchbays. No loud, rumbling docklift. Not a sign. Nothing. Pacing back and forth, Reinhart wandered over to the refreshment machine. There were only a few bits to spare on his voucher card, but what the hell. He purchased a canteen of Mare Vaporum Springwater and a packet of ChocoNebulas. He snacked in silence, gazing at an advertisement for a holiday on the winter-star of Memnon.
"Hoy there! Hoooy!"
Far down the runway, by Platform U, a small figure ran toward Reinhart, who scarfed down the last ChocoNebula and began walking in that direction. It was an elderly man dressed in an identical, albeit smaller, green jumpsuit. His nameplate read: JANOS.
"Terribly sorry!" Janos wheezed. "An accident on the Olympic Causeway… a shipment of saber-tooth manatees… and tourists… very nasty…"
"I been waiting damn near three hours." Reinhart crossed his arms. "Where’s the ship?"
"Of course! Right this way." The old man took Reinhart by the elbow and walked back toward Platform U. They passed a number of impressive freighters and mining vessels before descending a flight of stairs. "Due to the, ah, nature of the ship, it was necessary to dock in the landing bay…"
"You mean the ship’s small."
"To that effect, yes. Do you know something about flying? They informed me that you might…"
"I’m a pilot." Reinhart paused. "Well, I used to be, anyway."
"Oh! Civilian or military?"
"Civilian. Kind of. I was… a courier."
"How wonderful! As was I, back in the war. Of course I am as you see now." Janos chuckled. "I think we will get along beautifully, Reinmark—"
"Oh, yes—ha ha, terribly sorry, Ragnar. Did you know that the average rehabilitation period for new parolees is six-and-a-half years? Why, with our rapport, the years will go by in no time at all.”
"And here we are!" They stopped at an alcove in the landing bay. "May I introduce your new matron – the Turtledove!"
Reinhart stared. The ship was a decrepit thing salvaged from the rigs of a tugboat, a trawler, and an old-war schooner. It was the color and shape of a dead fish. There were two sub-light engines rotting aft, a shaky mining apparatus and drill bits starboard, and a fuselage-mounted weapons pod that looked more like a sewage pipe.
Reinhart drew a hand across his face. “Holy hell.”
Janos laughed. The port-side door hissed open. “What are you waiting for? Climb in!”
As Reinhart feared, the interior was just as appalling, if not worse, than the exterior. There were food wrappers in the flight cabin. Something had charred the escape unit. The control panel was begrimed and several knobs were taped over with a note that said: DON’T.
"Listen," Reinhart breathed, "I don’t expect a luxury cruise liner but when’s the last time you got a safety e-val? Looks like you tried to roast a pig in the escape hatch, or what, I can’t even…"
"Fear not! The Turtledove is a sturdy old girl. Besides, she has a few tricks up her sleeve, you’ll see."
Reinhart said nothing. Tricks. The last thing he needed. He buckled into the co-pilot seat and looked out the canopy while Janos initiated the Turtledove’s take-off sequence.
"I saw your file, you know." The old man said at last. "You were a runner for the Korjev Syndicate, weren’t you? Arrested for smuggling ten years ago."
Reinhart did not reply at once. He scratched his nose and cleared his throat. “… Suppose I was. You gonna do something about it?”
“I was only going to suggest that you take that control stick over there and fly us into the infinite beyond. Or at least,” Janos laughed, “to the next station. Unless you can’t manage?”
So that was it then. Would it be this easy? Reinhart gripped the controls. “Like hell I can’t. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s manage.”
"Splendid! Spoken like a true Korjev vassal.” Janos winked. “Once a faction man, always a faction man, eh?"
"Wouldn’t go that far." Reinhart adjusted the flight tunings and set the coordinates for Naos. The landing portal dilated. A sea of darkness, with so many stars, rose up to meet them. "Just that a bird never forgets how to fly."
Written for a project I’m working on with my friend Adam. Different from my usual output, but it was a lot of fun! It may have a continuation… we’ll see!