The first thing you need to understand about what we do is that space is huge! Like super duper holy moly BIG! In fact, it’s a little too big. That’s why humanity has only developed about four ‘Homeworlds’; Firma, Atlas, Gaius, and Horizon. Everywhere outside of those four planets are… well…‘wild space’. That’s not to say it’s uninhabited; you’ve got colonies, asteroid mines, space stations – you name it!
The thing is: there’s no permit process or laws or really any regulations whatsoever to establish a facility or colony outside of a Homeworld’s start system. If you’ve got the ship, equipment, crew, and money; you’re free to knock yourself out. That said, there’s not much to pull your butt out of the fire if your equipment breaks or if you get attacked by pirates or if the local wildlife starts thinking you’re tasty. There’s no police, no navy, no nothing!
That’s where we come in. We’re the Colonial Assistance Company or ‘ColAidCorp’ for short. If you’ve got a problem, and the money to pay for a solution, we’ll fix it!
Most of the time.
Johan Asdourian gazed in awe through the porthole. From his vantage aboard the ColAidCorp space station, he could see all of Atlas below. Where night had fallen, huge sections of land glittered like brilliant gemstones embedded into the planet itself. He found himself wondering what was happening in the places where his eyes fell upon. In Capucian City, it was late evening but with a turn of his head he realized it was barely afternoon in Pinnacle City, his home.
He wondered what his parents were doing at this very moment. His father was most likely at work, but his mother… was likely worrying herself even sicker than she already was. Johan felt a twinge of guilt as his thoughts drifted to her. He had not even told his parents that he had joined the company until he was already on the shuttle to the training campus. He had honestly believed it would be easier on all of them that way. In the eight intervening weeks, he had come to realize that this wasn’t the case. In all that time, he had only communicated with them via video and text mail. The thought of interacting with them in real-time, he found, was strangely terrifying.
His PDA beeped, and a new message appeared on his updates. J. Asdourian: New Assignment. Report Collar 14. Johan took a breath, steeling his nerves. Below that message, mixed in with earlier clipped and clinical company mails, were a plethora of more emotional messages. The most recent of which read: We don’t need the money!!! Just please come home!!
Johan sighed and dropped his PDA back into the pocket of his standard issue Space Duty coveralls. He caught a glimpse of himself in the reflection of the porthole. His head had been shaven, his orange and white coveralls had been tailored and fitted to his figure; a far cry from the too-small clothes which had vested him just a season ago. While at first he had told himself he had taken this job for his parents’ sake, a small part of him had to begrudgingly admit that he might take some measure of enjoyment in the days to come.
* * *
The station was shockingly well-kept and clean. Maintenance crews attended a malfunctioning light. Various lounges and stores provided diversions for contractors in-between assignments. These establishments were appointed with fab-leather stools and seats, expensive wares, and a fair amount of customers within. The only thing that seemed out of place were the company contractors themselves. As they bustled from place-to-place, Johan could not help but observe that their coveralls were frayed and faded. The once-white trim of their uniforms had been abused to a dull grey and many of them had seen fit to attach various pieces of equipment to their clothes.
Many of them took note of Johan as they passed, smiling knowingly as the obvious neophyte tried desperately to make sense of the station map on his PDA. After some trying, Johan found the docking ring and stole glances at the ships ensconced in their docking collars. To the boy’s surprise, not a one was alike. Some sported large sensor arrays, others were outfitted with massive cargo containers. Johan lingered to regard a rather impressive ship nestled in collar number twelve. From stem to stern, the vessel was equipped with guns of nearly every size and class.
No longer able to contain himself, Johan excitedly sprinted to collar fourteen and pressed himself against the porthole. His face fell when he observed his ship was nothing like the one docked at collar twelve. In fact, it was clearly a rather aged ship with a narrow, tube-like hull. Two mismatched exterior pods had been attached to the main superstructure; one labeled “Lab” and one labeled “Rover”. Four engine nacelles serviced the ship; two of which matched the style of the rest of the ship with the second pair being a clear after-market purchase. The bridge section was a smooth trapezoid blister that rose from the dorsal amidships. It would have been an unremarkable feature of the craft if not for the fact that much of the hull plating on the starboard side of the bridge appeared to have been recently replaced. Behind the bridge blister was a smaller but nearly identical edifice which Johan surmised must be the crew quarters. Slowly, the boy began to realize that his new home was within spitting distance of a quartette of well abused ion engines and he immediately began to wonder if any of the shops on the station carried noise-cancelling earbuds. The last feature of note was the worn lettering painted on the side of the hull. Though it had been scored and scraped by numerous impacts ranging from small asteroids to high-velocity bolt rounds, Johan could just make out the vessel’s name: Cassiopeia.
After traversing the docking umbilical, Johan hesitated at the airlock. He understood that it was largely considered poor manners to board a vessel without the captain’s permission, but no one had met him thus far. He inspected a keypad beside the door and hesitantly thumbed the ‘open airlock’ button. A small panel flipped open beneath the main keypad, revealing a thumbprint scanner. Intuiting that his biometrics must have been already uploaded to the ship’s databanks, Johan pressed his thumb to the scanner, however the screen immediately flashed No Access.
Frustrated, Johan regarded the keypad again and spotted a ‘call bridge’ key. No response came when he pressed it, however, nor when he tried again. Frustrated, he tapped the button in rapid succession more to give an outlet to his annoyance than summon anyone.
The young man nearly fell backward in surprise when the console screen lit and snapped a harried Ava Mujarez into view. *What!?* She demanded through the intercom.
“Uh… I’m… I’m here for the… crew assignment.”
She did not reply immediately, instead massaging her temple. Though the image quality of the console was well below standard, it was clear even to Johan that Mujarez was exhausted. *Is Captain Stiles with you?* she asked at length.
*Oh… good…* she mumbled. *I have to…* Mujarez stood and when she did, the piercing sound of shattering glass was broadcast through the console’s speaker. *Oh… fantastic!* Mujarez shouted as she stumbled out of the frame.
“Hello?” Johan asked, utterly at a loss. “Hello? Wh…what am I supposed to do?”
*Hang on.* She bade between grumbled curses. Mujarez returned to the frame with a rag, and knelt to soak up some unseen mess.
“Should I… come back?”
She rose back into frame. The irritation in her eyes was clear even on the low-resolution screen. *Look, I don’t care what you do. Until the captain brings you onboard, you are not my problem and I’ve got enough of those as it is.* The screen abruptly flicked to black, leaving Johan staring at the console in witless shock.
* * *
Bakur Stiles found the docking umbilical occupied when he entered. He tried to mask his outward disappointed when a young man in a brand new utility suit stood to greet him. “Hey there, son,” he said as cheerfully as he could muster, “did you get lost?”
“Uh… I’m here for the work assignment.” The boy fumbled for a PDA to prove his bona fides.
“Just relax, okay?” Stiles soothed. “Put that away.”
The boy froze, neither complying nor continuing. His face was awash in flustered confusion. Stiles tried to keep his composure even, reminding himself that everyone was in this kid’s position once. He coolly reached into one of his pockets and produced a packet of candy. “You like cinnamon?” Stiles asked as he popped one of the morsels into his mouth.
“Uh… I guess.” His counterpart replied.
“Okay,” Stiles tossed the remaining packet to him, “there you go.” He wiped his thumb and pressed it to the biometric sensor. The airlock door hissed open, and Stiles nodded his head inside. “Let’s get in there, kiddo.”
“Are you the captain?”
“Hmm… now that you mention it, that would explain why my shares are bigger than everyone else’s.”
The boy shot his hand forward in formal greeting. “Johan Asdourian.” He announced.
“Uh huh.” Stiles replied, entering his ship without taking Johan’s hand. They proceeded through the cramped and stuffy corridors to the bridge. The apprentice crewman followed just behind Stiles; clearly full of question but at an utter loss as to when to ask them.
“Lights up.” Stiles called as soon as he came onto the command deck. Someone twitched in one of the officer’s chairs as the chemical lights were excited to full illumination. “Hey Ava, didn’t see you there,” he declared in a far louder registered than was required, “it was just so dark up here.”
Mujarez laboriously massaged her eyes between her thumb and forefinger. “Do you really have to do that?” She muttered.
“You tell me.” Stiles answer, flicking consoles and monitors to active.
“It’s just a headache.” She sighed.
“I’m not surprised. Obviously you were scrubbing the bridge all night. I can smell the disinfectant in the air still.” The captain paused, hoping his point was made. “That is what I’m smelling, right Ava?”
Mujarez glared at him. “Are you planning on giving Diz this same treatment when she comes on board?”
“Diz doesn’t get ‘headaches’.” Stiles retorted.
“Well Diz didn’t lose…” Mujarez aborted her outburst when she spotted Johan observing the proceedings with the uncomfortable befuddlement of one who has stumbled upon an argument he knows nothing about.
After a few pregnant moments passed, Stiles broke the silence “Ava, are you up for this hop or do you need some time away?”
She glanced between Stiles and Johan in clear irritation before answering. “Just call me when everyone gets here.” With that, she stormed off the bridge. Stiles sighed and continued switching consoles on.
“You ever been in space before?” He asked.
“Space. Ever seen it?”
“Yeah, sure. Uh… my mom and I took a few trips to Anchor Station when-”
“No, no, no, no,” the captain interjected, “I mean have you even been in space?” He gestured beyond the bulkhead. “Out there.”
Stiles nodded. “You’re going to hate every second of it.”
Johan waited, crossing his arms expectantly. As the seconds elapsed, he grew more anxious. “Isn’t this the part where you tell me the good part like ‘it’s hard, but it’s the greatest thing you’ll never love’…or something like that?”
Stiles scoffed. “What, you looking for a pep talk? Some mentoring? Advice?”
“If you need a pep talk to do this, then you’d best leave now. The only people on this tin can either do it because they choose it, or because they’re that desperate. No one’s going to bother with convincing you.”
Johan furrowed his brow in consternation. Stiles watched him, reading the boy’s character with each twitch of his face. Several expressions played across his face: confusion, fear, consideration, irritation, and ultimately resolve. “You sticking?” Stiles asked, reaching into one of the overhead compartments.
Johan nodded. Stiles seized upon a manual for one of the bridge consoles. It was a hard coded read-only tablet. “Okay,” Stiles conceded, tossing the device to Johan, “then make yourself useful.”