(Prologue <|> Episode II | Episode III)
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 sat on the steps of his school, gazing at the late afternoon sky. He was a boy of seventeen; lanky –even for a teenager. His hair had grown to a few weeks longer than school regulation, but the administrators had long stopped harassing him about it. In fact, he’d never have to concern himself with the matter again.
Around him, his compatriots with exit exams in hand said their final goodbyes. Each embrace, each excited fit of laughter, and each happy departure only served to sour his mood further. So elated were they with the results of their tests that only a few even noticed the sullen boy on the steps who was very much not happy with the results of his own.
The campus had nearly emptied before anyone bothered to join Johan to cheer him from his glum fugue. “Hey man, so… that was a rough break.” Keiper muttered. Johan did not reply, leaving his counterpart to shift uncomfortably as he searched for a new catalyst for conversation. “Mr. Rana always had it out for you, everyone knew that.”
“Really? Everyone?” Johan scoffed. “Great, I’ll just jot that down on my work applications. ‘My teacher totally had it out for me; ask anyone’.”
Keiper recoiled. “Hey, I’m just trying to help man.”
“Lucky for you ‘just trying to help’ wasn’t on the exams.” Johan sneered.
“Alright, you know what?” Kieper rose from the steps. “I’ve got better parties to attend tonight than your pity party. Better luck next year, huh?”
With that, Keiper left Johan to wallow in his own misery. As he watched his friend descend the stairs, Johan could not help but stare out into the bustling city. Corporate mega-structures stretched high into the air. Contrails from sky shuttles traced to and from their open-air landing bays. Lavish employee dormitories offered their thousands of workers a very comfortable living. Built-in ‘micro malls’ provided all the food, entertainment, and medical care they could ever want.
At the top of each structure, the name and logo of each corporation they housed blazed like beacons; inviting all those with the qualifications to inquire within. Of course, these were qualifications that Johan did not possess.
And so, when he finally rose from his seat, he made instead for the dilapidated prefabs that rested in the shadows of these monuments of avarice.
* * *
All was quiet at the Asdourian table, save for the soft mechanical whirring of Rebekah Asdourian’s medical chair. Hers was the only proper chair at the table, whereas Johan and his father, George, rested atop repurposed plasteel crates. Adornments around the apartment were sparse as well. All decorations, save for a few treasured holographs depicting happier days, had been sold long ago. What furniture that existed was strictly utilitarian and often repurposed based on the needs in the moment. The Asdourians did have access to the luxury of a radio, but it was as silent as the rest of the house this evening.
George Asdourian, bald and wrinkled, sat with fingers intertwined as he pensively gazed at Johan’s transcripts. While his outward demeanor was relaxed and introspective, Johan had lived long enough to recognize the muscles tightening across his father’s face. He could also see the color of George’s knuckles change as his fingers clasped together in a quiet, but ever growing fury.
Rebekah’s demeanor did not match her spouse. While she was no more pleased about Johan’s results as George was, she remained more concerned than angry. She did not stare at the transcripts, rather it was her husband whom she watched intently.
Johan, however, could bear the silence no longer. “Look, I can join the SDF and-”
“System Defense doesn’t take morons.” His father interjected harshly.
“George, don’t!” Rebekah warned.
“Don’t what!?” He returned. “Don’t keep letting this kid slack off in class while I bust my hump to pay for this family!?”
“I wasn’t slacking off!” Johan insisted defensively.
In response, George slid the tablet before him. “Are you telling me these numbers reflect you doing what you were supposed to be doing?” Johan broke his father’s gaze, knowing better than to offer further excuses. “I’m waiting, boy!” George insisted.
“Obviously there is no right answer, so why don’t you just get it over with!?” Johan said.
George scoffed. “Oh, is that what you think this is? Is that what you think I want? I’m just here to wag my finger at you? Yell at you? Fetch a belt?” George put a hand on Johan’s shoulder. Anger radiated from his grasp, but it was restrained. The act was not meant to harm, but to seize his son’s attention. “Johan, there is nothing I can do to you. The grades are the grades, and I can yell and scream and holler ‘til I’m blue in the face. It still doesn’t change the fact that I have to go to work tomorrow… and you can’t.”
“George, that’s not fair.” Rebekah replied.
“Oh, I agree.” He affirmed. “A couple hundred years ago, he could go and wait some tables or work a farm; but that’s all automated now. Only people who need human hands to do that are out in the colonies.” George turned to Johan. “Is that what you want, son? To be some colonial drone getting attacked by pirates every five minutes!?”
“Oh please!” Rebekah interjected. “If anything, he should be a pirate.” The two of them stared at her in stunned silence until she raised a hooked finger “Yaaar matey!”
Johan tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a snort of amusement at his mother’s jibe. George, however, was not as tickled. “Well, I’m glad the two of you can see the funny side of this.” He remarked caustically. “Why don’t I try to see if I can pick up a second shift, see if the graveyard boys find it funny?” Fuming, he rose from the table; ignoring his wife’s protestations as he made for the door.
Rebekah sighed despondently as the ill-kept automatic door laboriously creaked shut behind him. Again the abode was plunged into silence. However, a faint beeping interrupted the oppressive hush before it lingered too long. Rebekah glanced at her chair and groaned in annoyance as her eyes fell on a blinking light. “Oh perfect.” She muttered.
“I’ve got it.” Johan announced, hopping from his seat to make for the in-unit fabricator.
“Wait!” Rebekah called. Johan turned and she beckoned him nearer.
“What is it, mom?” He asked with concern.
“You know your father doesn’t mean it, right?”
Johan rolled his eyes. “No, I’m pretty sure he means it.”
“Son, listen to me,” her affable humor dissolved to genuine earnestness, “he’s scared. Our lives have taken a turn since…” she knocked on the metal chest plate of her med chair. “It’s not his fault, it’s not your fault; it’s not anyone’s fault. But he’s not sure what to do and he was just hoping that you’d be able to start work before the dry season begins.”
“Well, I can’t.” Johan retorted, more frustrated with himself than anyone else.
“Johan,” she insisted, patiently, “lots of people repeat the last year; it’s difficult for a reason.”
“And lots people don’t have…” Johan caught himself before he said something truly regrettable. Unfortunately, the hurt look his mother gave him informed him that he had said enough regardless. “…all I’m saying is… maybe dad’s right. Maybe it’s best if I go to some colony farm and work for a while. I mean, the money won’t be great-”
Rebekah rolled the chair toward him with a deadly serious glare in her eyes. “Don’t you dare throw your life away on my account.”
“Shut up.” She held his gaze and while there was water in her eyes, her look did not waver. “I’m not going to let you blame me for not striking out for yourself.”
“I’m not blaming you-”
“I’m not finished. Your father and I will be fine. We can easily survive another year, and once you’re out of the house; that’s a fifth of our income freed up. We’ll be fine. But you… you have to decide what you want.” She grasped the discarded tablet. “These… are not the grades of someone who’s going to last long behind a desk. So, next year, when you graduate; you’ll work for a while… and then you go find something you love to do and you go do it. And you do it without an ounce of guilt, you hear me?”
Thoroughly chastised, Johan nodded in contrition. “Okay.”
“Good,” Rebekah’s sunny demeanor instantly returned, “now grab me another dose and fab’ us some dinner while you’re at it.”
Johan smiled and returned to the wall- mounted fabricator. “Asdourian Ten Twenty Eight, requisitioning one forty eight hour supply of Prykosimine and two servings of C-Rations.”
*Processing request.* The synthesized voice replied. *Approved. Dispensing now.* A pulse of light emanated from the receiving tray. Within seconds, two dull brown bars and a cylinder of white liquid appeared on the tray. Johan collected the items and made to return to the make-shift table when the fabricator opted for a continuance. *Be advised: there are presently insufficient funds in your account to fabricate another forty eight hour supply of Prykosimine.*
Johan paused as he considered the message.