Austin Station


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 Austin Station

A story of new beginnings….

By Kalin Ringkvist

 

(Read all of Austin Station on Kindle)


Chapter 1

Sareena, rather than concentrating on her calculus homework like she had meant to do, found herself staring out the huge windows that lined the little cafe. At this time of day, on this end of the station, she was able to get a pretty amazing view of the earth, a planet she had never in her life set foot on. That is why she came here every day at the same time to eat her lunch and study her math. But today, it seemed, she was unable to concentrate on either of these two. She simply sat and stared out the windows. How beautiful the world looked today! She wished she could visit it, somehow, but she would never in her life be able to afford a trip down there. Instead, she accepted Austin Station as her home. She was content enough with that.

She glanced away just quick enough to grab her tofu-burger and begin eating. She gagged on the first bite and spit it back onto her plate. That was enough to kill the mood. She shoved the plate quickly away from her, grabbed her books and backpack and headed out of the quaint little cafe. She glanced back momentarily to see a droid immediately disposing of the mess she had made.

It was a twenty minute walk home, through the wide corridors crammed full of people. The sidewalks seemed to be moving slowly so she went at a brisk walk next to them. This was an easy way of avoiding the crowds. She needed her exercise anyway. Since she was moving toward the center of the station, down spoke four, the earth was to her back and she couldn’t look at it as she was walking.

Austin Station had a fairly simple design, eight spokes, extending from a central hub, and connecting with an outer wheel. A ninth spoke extended from the center at a perpendicular angle to the other eight. At the end, there was a large knob, that looked like a giant cattail. The knob housed the artificial gravity systems for the entire station. As Sareena continued on toward the center, closer to the ninth spoke, she could feel her weight increasing. She might weigh forty pounds now, when three minutes ago, in the cafe she only weighed thirty.

As compared to other, newer, stations in orbit around the homeworld, Austin was one of the smaller ones. Built nearly a hundred years earlier, it housed less than fifty thousand people. Sareena, however, did not see it as being at all small. She still hadn’t explored every corridor, shop, or cafe, but she had never been off the station to even visit others. This was her home, and while she did wish she could see other places, she had no plans to leave. It was simply too expensive.

She turned the last corner on her way home. She stopped at her door. The identi fication system beeped happily as it scanned her thumbprint. The door slid open with a barely audible hum. Stepping inside, the first thing Sareena noticed was the strange woman standing in the kitchen. That didn’t surprise her. Her father was constantly bringing home strange women. She was tall, blond, heavy chested. The exact type of woman Sareena would expect from her father.

“Hello,” said the woman. “I’m assuming you must be Sareena, correct?”

“That would be me, yes,” replied Sareena. “And you’re Sarah right?”

The woman looked confused. “What? I’m Carol. Hasn’t your father told you about me?”

“He never mentioned any Carol to me.”

“He hasn’t?”

“Nope.”

“So who’s Sarah.”

Sareena paused. Should I tell her?, she wondered. Dad might get pretty mad. But he had never mentioned anything about any Carol person to her. She had no obligation to help him keep secrets. Sareena said, “She’s this girl he’s been seeing for the last couple weeks.”

Carol stared at her. “Like a girlfriend?”

“That’s what he’s been telling me.”

“I see.”

Sareena watched with stifled amusement as Carol glanced around the room as if she had just awoken in a place she had never before seen. “I think I’d better be leaving now,” Carol said.

“All right, it was nice meeting you,” Sareena said in a cheerful, almost mocking voice. “Is my dad here, by the way?”

“No, no. He’s not here. I don’t know where he is.” And with that, Carol quickly left the apartment, with what seemed like a dazed look on her face.

Sareena chuckled lightly to herself as she carried her book bag to her room and flung it on the bed. “Music,” she commanded, and the home computer immediately began playing a randomly selected mix of her preprogrammed favorite tunes. “Volume down three,” and the sound was lowered accordingly. “I have to study,” she murmured to herself.

She took her Calculus book from her bag and flipped through to the page she had been trying to read before she had left the cafe. She found it a little easier to concentrate on her work, in here where there were no windows to distract her. However, she was still unable to make sense of any of the problems. She tried for nearly half an hour, but in the end, gave up and went on to other homework.

Forty-five minutes later, she was done with everything but her Calculus. She did not want to go back to that again, so she simply sat and listened to her music and eventually fell asleep.

She was awakened by her father as he burst into her room.

He was not a large nor threatening looking figure. He was about forty-two, and starting to bald. He was short for a man of his age but still stood a few inches above Sareena.

“What did you say to Carol today?” he demanded of her.

“What? What are you talking about?” Sareena asked quickly.

“You know what I mean. You had a little chat with Carol. What did you tell her?”

“I talked to her for barely two minutes.”

“But what did you say to her? You said something about me and Sarah, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, so?” Sareena replied.

“Did you tell her she was my girlfriend.”

“Yeah.”

He paused, and stared at her, looking perplexed. “Why would you say that?”

“It’s true isn’t it?” Sareena said. “You told me yourself the other day.”

“Well what right do you have to go announcing it to everyone?”

“She asked me who Sarah was. What was I supposed to say?”

He sighed angrily and glared at her as she glared back. “Music off,” he said.

The music that had been playing throughout the conversation, continued.

“Music off!” he shouted.

The music continued.

“Computer, pause music,” Sareena said, and the sound accordingly stopped. “You have to address yourself to it when there’s another person in the room. You really ought to know that by now.”

He looked at her, angrily. “Shut up,” he said.

She chuckled lightly, raised her eyebrows at him, and pointed at the door. “Get out,” she said, mocking his voice.

He took a threatening step toward her. “Don’t you tell me what to do in my own home.”

She shrugged in a mockingly apologetic way.

“Do you have any idea how much trouble you’ve caused me today?” he half shouted. “Now Carol says she never wants to see me again.”

“Yeah, well, it seems to me that that’s more your fault than it is mine.”

And that’s when her father stepped forward and struck Sareena, hard, across the face.

______   ______   ______

            “Yo, Peterman, We’re getting in the first pictures of Earth.”

Stanley Peterman, slightly startled from the obtrusive voice, looked up, over his handheld computer pad he had been reading from. Estian, a short man in his mid to late twenties, working maintenance on the lower three decks of the ship, stood over Stanley, grinning wildly, apparently genuinely excited about the event.

“They’re in already?” Stan asked quickly.

“Not yet,” replied Estian, “but they’re coming in, in about ten minutes. Are you coming down to see em with the rest of the crew?”

“Yes, sure I will. I wouldn’t want to miss the excitement.”

“Let’s go.”

The two went off together, walking briskly down the long corridors of the spacecraft. The meeting hall on deck four was their destination.

The Galaxy Four was the largest interstellar craft ever constructed, nearly six kilometers in length. It had twenty six decks, four mess halls, several general meeting areas, fifty or sixty bathrooms, and half a dozen massive “parks” or “gardens,” complete with grass and trees and fruit and flowers and anything you could hope to find in a genuine park on Earth. There were no windows on the ship. Ninety-nine percent of the time spent by the crew inside was when the ship was traveling at light speed, and there is absolutely nothing to see at light speed. Despite it’s large size, the ship carried only forty-three people, making it’s halls rather barren and lonely most of the time, but it gave each person a great deal of free space, and made it easy for someone to be alone when they wanted to. It had been carrying these forty-three people for seven years now.

It took the two about five minutes to get to the meeting hall. When they got there, Stanley noticed that the giant viewscreen had been erected at the far end. He scanned the room. At first glance, it seemed to him as if the whole ship was in attendance, even the captain. He looked around, searching for missing faces, but everyone was here. After spending seven years with the same small group of people, you learn to recognize them all at a glance, and can always tell the exact number missing from the total.

This was certainly not a required meeting. The pictures could just as easily be viewed from any other part of the ship, but apparently everyone had wished to see everyone else’s reaction to the first glimpse of something that they hadn’t seen for more than a half decade.

Everyone was talking at once. Stanley switched his attention back and forth from several different conversations he was hearing, as he sat down in an unoccupied seat next to Estian. They were all talking, in one form or another, about what they were about to see or about their voyage that was now about to draw to a close.

“This is great, isn’t it?” Estian said, as his hands twitched excitedly in his lap. “It’s all going to be over in a few days. I, for one, am glad too. No offense, but I’m getting pretty damn sick of you people.”

Stanley, more interested in the event than with talking with Estian, simply mumbled something unintelligible, and stared forward at the front viewscreen.

“So what’s the first thing you’re going to do when we get back to Earth,” Estian asked.

Stan looked at the young man. He thought about the question. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe go swimming.”

“You know what I’m going to do? I want to go up into the mountains and go snow boarding. Doing that may be what I’ve missed most on this trip.”

“Huh,” Stan replied, staring again towards the front of the room.

“Hey Peterman?”

He looked at Estian. The boy had a serious look on his face. They stared at each other for several seconds until Estian let out what was obviously a completely artificial sob. “I’m gonna miss you man,” and he buried his face in Stanley’s shoulder. After several long seconds of emitting loud, fake cries, he pulled away from Stan, grinned at him and giggled wildly. “What’d you think? Good? Did I fool you?”

Stanley shook his head, annoyed.

“Oh, hell. Really, you didn’t–?” but he was cut off as the captain stood up in front of the crowd and began to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “As you well know, we are about to receive the first pictures of the home world. They should be coming up on the viewscreen in another couple of minutes. Let’s turn it on now,”–the screen flashed on and was filled with an array of dazzling, swirling colors–“and wait until we see something.” The captain, seemingly normal and calm, sat down in the front row, facing the huge screen, looming over head.

The crowd fell silent as the view changed from the swirling colors to a clear view of plain stars. There were hundreds of stars to be seen, dotting across the blackness of the viewscreen. They all were slowly moving towards the outer edges, and replaced in the center by what appeared as a blank spot. And there it was, in the center of the spot. It was tiny, impossible to make out anything but it’s overall shape but it grew. A low murmur went up in the crowd, but died out as the planet grew larger–large enough to make out colors, oceans, continents. After several minutes went by, the Earth was large enough to fill the entire screen. The view stopped zooming in. Someone started clapping, and then a few more. There was a cheer that slowly began to rise from the mass of people seated in the room. It continued to rise, slowly, until all present were on their feet, screaming with joy. Stanley looked around the room and saw actual tears on some of the faces of his crewmates.

It was something he had seen hundreds of times since their departure seven years ago. Often times he had gone into the computer data banks and retrieved a picture of the planet he was now staring at, but those had simply been recreations, artificial, photographs. This was live. This was the real world he had come from. This was where he was going home to. Those old pictures had never effected him like this.

The sound eventually began to die down, and when it did, the captain, once again got up and stood to one side of the viewscreen and gave a speech. “All right, folks,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “I have some progress to report: We have begun to decelerate. We are now traveling at a little less than light speed. By noon tomorrow, we will be moving at half that rate. We are now less than forty-eight hours from our destination. In case you’re wondering, we will be docking at a small space station in orbit around the planet. You can look it up. It’s called Austin.”

______   ______   ______

            As he stood, looking at his face in the mirror, Tyson couldn’t help feeling that dreadful pain in his stomach. At first he had thought it was simply caused from the extreme hangover he was enduring, but no, this pain was not something that could be brought on by a simple physical ailment. Not even close. It was the pain of guilt. It was the level of pain that cannot be reached but once in a lifetime. It was the pain you feel when you realize that you have taken someone’s life.

He looked at himself, his bloodshot eyes, his reddened face. The events of the night before came rushing back. He remembered everything. He wished he couldn’t.

*   *   *

            He was out drinking at a downtown sports bar with a few of his friends last night. There had been drinking contests between the four of them. They played little games and such, chatted with the barkeeper, tried to pick up women. They became interested in a bowling game that was playing on a few of the television sets around the bar. They placed small wagers on the players. Tyson was the heaviest drinker between them, but that was mostly due to the fact that the others all had to go to work the next morning. His friends took off early and Tyson was left to himself and his drinking. He stayed for a couple more hours, drinking more and more, hitting on the ladies sitting near him, generally enjoying himself. After he was shot down a good two dozen times, and received a great deal of threats from some of the women’s boyfriends, he became frustrated, and got more and more loud and sometimes violent. The bartender finally kicked him out of the establishment, a little after three in the morning.

It was raining hard now, as Tyson tried for several moments to get the lock on his car door open. Finally, he got in, thoroughly soaked, sat down and told the vehicle to take him home. When the car did not respond, it took Tyson another minute or two to remember he had to turn it on first. He did this and said, “Take me to 2141 East Terrace. That’s south of here.”

The car slowly pulled out of the parking space, into the street and began to take Tyson home at exactly sixty kilometers per hour. “You can go a hell of a lot faster than this. There’s no one in the way.”

“Speed limit on this highway is sixty kilometers,” the car responded with a computerized voice. “That is our current velocity.”

“I don’t care what our velocity is! Let’s move it!”

Tyson watched as the digital speedometer went from sixty to sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, and finally stopped at sixty-five.

“Faster!” Tyson shouted.

“Speed limit on this highway is sixty kilometers. Our current velocity is sixty-five.”

“I want to go a-hundred and ten. Increase velocity to one hundred ten.”

“That would be an unsafe speed. Recommend we increase to seventy kilometers.”

“Ah, hell,” he said to himself. “To hell with this crap. Release autodrive.”

The car immediately responded. A steering wheel popped out from the dashboard, two small peddles emerged from the floor, and the car swerved to the left, toward oncoming traffic. Tyson grabbed frantically at the wheel and swung it violently back to the right. He felt a jolt as the car slammed into the curb, and bounced back into the street. He continued to drive on, the gas peddle to the floor, weaving back and forth across both lanes of traffic.

Occasionally he met with oncoming traffic but the autopilots in their cars expertly avoided him. Often times they needed to swerve off the road completely, but they never came dangerously close to hitting him. The cars in his own lane of traffic similarly avoided him and he easily passed them all, as he sped along the highway at well over one hundred twenty kilometers per hour. It was a rather entertaining experience–for awhile. He hadn’t actually driven a car in many months.

But his fun ended quickly when he saw a young women step into the street, a good ways in front of his vehicle. She was young, maybe twenty-two. Short, blond. She carried a small purse in her left hand.

Tyson’s reaction took several seconds. He slammed his foot down on the brake, and the car immediately began to skid. Things became blurred as the car spun wildly across his lane. He caught a second quick glimpse of the woman. She was the only thing he could see clearly. He frantically tried to bring the car under control but was only successful in making things worse.

He saw her again, out of the driver’s side window. Much closer this time. And then she was there, her face against the window. He heard a thud as she connected with his vehicle. He looked at her. She had blue eyes that seemed to look back at him. Her long blond hair, tinted slightly blood red, surrounded her head and pressed itself against his window. She had the most perfectly formed face he had ever seen. Clear complexion, two separate, well placed eyebrows, and full lips with just a hint of pink lipstick. A beautiful face. She could be a model, was the only thought he had.

Then the car spun back around to the left and was positioned straight, in line with the road. She fell away, and immediately the back left part of the car lurched upward suddenly.

The car eventually skidded to a stop, positioned sideways, across the center of the highway. He looked back and there she was, lying motionless in the middle of the road a good distance back, and he looked at the blood splattered across the left window and the left side of the windshield. The hard rain was already beginning to wash it away.

He never considered going back. He simply told the car to take him south, somewhere. He thought about going home, but simply couldn’t bring himself to tell the car to stop. He went on through the night, until about noon the next day when he stopped and got a room at a small motel somewhere in northern California. He fell asleep immediately after getting into bed after not being able to get to sleep in the car. He slept for seven hours, and woke up just ten minutes ago.

*   *   *

            He stared at himself for a few seconds more, then turned to the toilet and vomited. It was time to leave. He needed to go somewhere else. He had no idea how far he had come last night but however far it was, it was not far enough. He needed to get out of the country. Maybe Mexico.

He went out of the bathroom, into the main area of his hotel room. He found his bank terminal in his coat pocket and checked it to see his current funds. He had several thousand dollars to his name but it was in the form of electronic currency. Currency that could be traced. He would have to stop at a bank machine and exchange it for cash and would have to do it soon, before the police figured out who he was and put a tracer on his bank terminal. Hopefully they hadn’t done that yet.

Another thing he would have to do was find a computer hacker who could get into the databanks of his car and erase all traces of what had happened and where he had been, but until then he would have to be careful to always drive under the limit, and hope that he didn’t get pulled over.

Looking out the window, he was surprised to see that it was already starting to get dark. Fortunately he saw no police cars, and he recognized his own car parked at the far end of the lot. Still feeling dreadfully sick, he gathered his things and went down to check out.

It took Tyson about fifteen minutes driving around town before he found a bank machine. He parked the car across the street and sat for several moments, fearing what would happen when he inserted his terminal into the slot in the machine. He could see in his mind, dozens of police bursting out of nowhere, sirens blaring, pouncing on him as he tried to get at his life savings. He tried desperately to force the vision from his mind but found that he could not.

After another few moments, he gathered his will, ignoring the thoughts running through his mind, opened the door and walked across the street. He checked to his right and left to make sure no one was watching him before he inserted his terminal quickly into the slot in the side of the machine. He pressed his hands tightly together, trying to suppress the shaking.

“I want to withdraw all of my money,” he said quickly, as soon as the small computer screen prompted him to enter his command. “In cash. Fifties.”

He expected alarms, something telling him he was under arrest. He at least expected to be told he couldn’t withdraw his money. But no, nothing like that. His heart leapt with joy as the small tray at the bottom of the machine opened up and crisp, new, fifty dollar bills began pouring out in a neat little stack. He waited nervously until it was finished, grabbed the pile in two hands and managed to stuff it into his coat pocket.

Holding the wad of money in his pocket with one hand, he sprinted back across the street and got into the car as quickly as he knew how. “Go, now,” he said. “Hurry. Go straight on this road.”

He continued south, like he had the night before. As the car carried him along the freeway at one hundred twenty kilometers per hour, well under the legal limit, he tried to go over his options. There were so many things he needed to find out, but couldn’t because he would need to go into a computer and give his identification. He needed to find a police report, something to tell him how the investigation was going. He needed to know if they were able to retrieve eyeflashes, pictures pulled straight from the woman’s brain of the last thing she would have seen before her death. If so, they would have pictures of his vehicle, possibly even a license number–or maybe, he feared, even an eyeflash photo of himself. He needed to know but it was impossible to find out. He thought they might say something on the radio about it, but flipping continuously through the stations revealed no useful information.

Eventually he noticed a highway sign, giving directions to the local airport. He thought about that. He had enough money to buy a ticket somewhere but he would have to ditch the car, which was not something he wanted to do, but if it had already been identified, he would have to get rid of it sometime. The longer he drove, the closer he was to being caught.

“Pull off, next right,” he said, and gave the directions to the airport.

He paid eighteen dollars for parking, parked, and walked briskly into the main terminal, constantly glancing over his shoulder at anyone that passed near him. He wandered the airport for a long while, asking himself where it was exactly that he wanted to go. He stopped at a computer terminal and asked it to bring up a list of all outgoing flights within the next forty-eight hours. The screen that popped up contained hundreds of different flight numbers, destinations, and corresponding prices. Off to one side he saw a listing of flights to the habitat worlds. This caught his attention. He brought it up. This list was much shorter, only nine entries. He checked the list. All were out of his price range–all except one. Flight 2131 to Austin Station. Four thousand, three hundred dollars for a one way ticket. He would have just enough left over to start his life over again.

Without giving the idea a second thought, he told the computer he wanted to buy the ticket. Immediately he began pushing fifties into the slot in the terminal that was specially designed for the rare occasion when someone wished to buy something with cash.

 

Chapter 2

It was several days before Stanley was able to get away from the group, the reporters and all his interviews, and wander Austin Station by himself. In fact, he had to sneak away when nobody seemed to be watching.

The place was huge. The captain had said that it was a small station. Stanley couldn’t even begin to imagine what a large one would be like. He wandered aimlessly, frequently crashing into various people he had never before seen, and managed to make a great number of them mad at him. What amazed him most was the sheer number of people crammed into such a small space. He eventually became claustrophobic and spent all his energy, dodging left and right across the corridors, trying to find one without too many people. He had expected there to be more open spaces here than had been on the Galaxy Four, but the halls here seemed even more cramped for some reason.

He eventually came across a little cafe at one end of the station where he could sit down. This area was a little less crowded but even so, he was only able to find a single unoccupied table. He sat down and looked out at the stars through the giant picture windows that lined the far wall and the ceiling. He wanted something to eat. He looked down at the console on the end of his table that would allow him to order anything he wanted, but he had no money, no way of paying for anything that he could get. So he simply sat, rested, listened to other people’s conversations, and stared out the windows.

After a few minutes of this, he heard a woman’s voice. “Do you mind if I sit here?”

He looked up, startled. “No,” he said. “Go right ahead.”

“Thanks,” she said as she dropped a backpack onto the table and sat down. “There’s no other empty places.”

He watched her as she studied the computer console and selected an entree for herself and paid for it with a handheld banking terminal. She was young. He judged maybe eighteen. She opened her bag and began rummaging through it but then simply set it on the floor under her seat and began rapping her knuckles on the table top.

A polite little droid brought out her plate a few minutes later. Stanley stared at her dinner. He was hungrier than he had thought. But she didn’t take any notice to his gaze. He turned and continued looking out the windows.

“Aren’t you eating anything?” he heard her ask.

“No, I’m not getting anything,” he replied.

“Not hungry?” she said through a mouthful of hamburger.

“No money.”

“No money?,” she asked, startled. “What, did you forget your terminal at home?”

“I don’t have a terminal. I just got off a ship, you see, and I haven’t gotten around to finding out if I have any money left over from before I left.”

“How long ago did you leave?” she asked.

“Seven years.”

“You were on a spaceship for seven years?”

“That’s right.”

“Why would you want to do that? Was this one of those expensive cruise ships? Is that what you blew all your money on?”

“It was an interstellar craft, capable of light speed.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No. We were exploring a star system about ten light years away.”

She looked at him suspiciously. “Are you completely serious?”

“Of course.”

“Wow, I’ve never met anyone who’s actually left the solar system.” She held out her hand. “I’m Sareena.”

“Stanley Peterman.”

“Look buddy,” she said, “I don’t care what you tell me but I’m not buying you dinner. I thought I should tell you that in order to intice you towards truthfulness.”

“You think I’m lying?”

“The thought crossed my mind.”

“Well I’m not,” he said. “And I’m not that hungry anyway.”

“So what did you do on this ship?”

“I was an engineer. Helped make sure everything ran okay.”

“An engineer, huh? Aren’t engineers supposed to have backgrounds in math?.”

“I do. Why?”

Taking a bite of a potato wedge from off her plate, she said, “I’m having a little trouble in my math class,”

He gave a little motion with his hand. “Let’s see the book.”

She fetched a thick blue Calculus book from her pack and gently laid it on the table in front of him. She got up and walked around behind him and stood looking over his shoulder. She reached down and selected a page. “Right there,” she said, pointing to a particular problem. “I can’t figure it out. I keep getting different answers.”

He looked at the problem. “That’s it?” he said sarcastically. “Don’t you have anything harder than that?”

She looked at him angrily. “I knew it,” she said. “You don’t have a clue, do you?” She reached for the book like she was going to take it back.

He grabbed for her hand and held it back. “No, I can do this. Just give me a second.” He thought for a few seconds about how to do the problem. His hand was lying over hers, resting on the table top. “Okay, so here’s what you do…”

It took ten minutes or so until she had grasped the concept of the first problem. Then they went on to more problems. She sat down beside him. They spent nearly forty-five minutes working. She seemed to get truly interested in the subject of mathematics and she was obviously understanding at least most of what he was telling her. He was actually pretty proud of himself. I should be a teacher, he thought.

Finally, it came to a close. Apparently satisfied with her new found knowledge, Sareena closed and put away her book. “Are you really not hungry?” she said.

“I’m starving.”

She smiled, pulled out her bank terminal, and inserted it into the slot at the end of the table. “What do you want?”

He found a nice, moderately priced pasta dinner and ordered it. “Thank you,” he said.

“I should be thanking you,” she said. “You have no idea how much you’ve helped me out today.”

He looked at her, smiled. “You have no idea how hungry I am.”

She laughed lightly.

Then she did something completely unexpected. She pulled herself closer to him. She leaned her face in towards his, pausing slightly before closing the gap and kissing him quickly on his lips. She pulled away again and looked down at the table top. His stunned gaze remained constant. She turned back to him. She looked strange, nervous, embarrassed, and Stanley could think of nothing to do to relieve her, but lean back and return the kiss. This one remained for longer. He felt her start to move her lips across his, he felt a little wetness, and finally, he felt a tiny tongue, burrowing it’s way between his clenched teeth. He opened up and let her in but he looked upward, away from her and saw out of the giant windows, what he had been missing since he had been concentrating on her calculus. The view of the planet below now filled his entire line of sight. It was enormously, overpoweringly, beautiful, much bigger and fuller than he had seen on the Galaxy Four’s computer screen and this time he knew he was looking directly at it.

“Holy shit!” he blurted.

She screamed and pulled away from him. She put her hand across her mouth. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You bit me!”

But he was still staring up at the Earth looming above him and her voice didn’t quite reach his inner consciousness.

She pressed her tongue against the back of her hand for a few seconds then looked closely at her hand. “Owe, hell. That hurts. Now why’d you have to go and do that?”

Now he looked at her. “What?”

“I’m leaving,” she said, and grabbed her bag and slung it across her back.

Stanley looked back up at the windows. Then he realized what had just happened. “No! Wait!” He reached out for her but she was already beyond his grasp. At a last desperate attempt, he leapt from his seat, fell on his stomach flat on the floor but managed at least to grab a strap hanging down from her pack and hold her back. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. It caught me off guard, that’s all.” As he looked up at her, he noticed, on the edge of his vision, all the people in the cafe seated near them were now staring intently at him.

“You bit me,” she said softly enough so only he could hear.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said.

“Get up,” she said. “You look like an idiot.”

He picked himself off the floor and they stared at each other, consciously aware of the dozens of people still watching. “Can we sit down now?” he asked her quietly.

They sat back down at their table and tried to look calm as they waited for everyone around them to lose interest. “I’m sorry,” Stanley finally said. “I’ve been away a long time.”

“It shows,” she replied.

“Next time we do this, ” he said, “do you think it would be possible to find someplace without so many people watching?”

She smiled. “I think that could be arranged.”

______   ______   ______

            Take-off was delayed six hours because of technical difficulties on the shuttle. This made Tyson a little uneasy. He had already had to wait nearly thirty hours. He didn’t want to wait any more. It was as if he could sense the authorities getting closer and closer to his location with every minute he idly wasted.

He sat in the passenger lounge near his terminal for most of this time. The droids servicing the shops in that section of the airport got to know him rather intimately as he would pass through each one every couple hours, rarely buying anything. He did however, buy a short horror fiction novel to pass the time but was done with it within just a few hours. He thought about getting a second but decided it was necessary for him to save his money for when he finally got to Austin. If he ever would get there.

The car was still out in the lot. He had gotten a two day parking pass so they wouldn’t have towed it yet. In a way he wished they would. The car was something that could be traced and if it wasn’t in the same location he was, he would be a great deal safer. As he thought about his vehicle sitting alone out there in the parking garage, he became more and more worried that someone would find it and recognize it. He finally decided, as much as he feared going back, he would have to check to see if the car was okay.

He decided not to ride the high-speed subway that ran the entire length of the airport. It would kill time to walk, and he was not at all anxious to arrive at his destination anyway. It took Tyson nearly forty-five minutes to fight the crowds all the way back across the other side of the airport and into the massive, sixty-six story parking garage. When he arrived in front of the elevator that would take him up, he pulled out the little card his car had printed out for him to remind him where he had parked. He looked at it and read:

Lot: B

Level: 23

Blue Section

Row: 19

space # 63

            When the lift hit the twenty-third floor, he stepped off slowly and cautiously, prepared to see masses of cops gathered around just waiting for him to return. He saw no police around, however, just a few stray people searching for their cars. He allowed himself to breath a quick sigh of relief before he continued on.

The big blue arrows painted on the walls pointed him in the right direction. He followed the numbers down the walkway, frequently glancing over his shoulder and around in any direction searching for any sign of someone that might be watching him.

He reached row nineteen and began cautiously walking down it, scanning in all directions and eventually he saw his car, nestled snugly between a large family station wagon and a full-sized pick-up truck. No one was in sight.

After walking around his car once he slipped into the drivers seat and relaxed. It was much more comfortable in here than it had been in the waiting area inside the airport. He allowed himself five minutes to rest and calm down, then he told the car to bring up the video log-book.

The little viewscreen built into the dashboard flashed on and Tyson saw a view of the parking garage, much how it looked if he simply looked out the window.

“Scan log,” he said. “Look for anything out of the ordinary.”

The screen blurred and another view of the surrounding parking lot came up, this one from a different angle. A man, possibly thirty years old, crossed in front of the screen and disappeared on the other side. The screen blurred again and Tyson watched and waited as he saw dozens of people walk past along the viewscreen, none of them ever looking in his direction and probably completely unaware of the fact that they were being recorded.

“When was this recorded?” he asked at one point.

The computer responded by putting up a readout on the screen, displaying the time when each significant event–if you could call them significant–happened.

At one point when the screen blurred, Tyson was greeted by an old woman with severely wrinkled and hanging skin and too much eye-shadow, staring directly at him. She turned away from him and yelled, “I think–I think I might have found it.” She looked back, squinted. “What?” she called out to someone obviously several rows away. “I think this is it. What? Oh, you have it? Oh, okay.” She backed away, turned and was gone from view. “Why didn’t you tell me you got a printout?” she said just before she was out of audio range.

“Forget this,” Tyson said. “There’s nothing here. Cancel search.”

The screen obediently went blank again.

He thought about what he should do now. Would it be safe to leave the car here?, he wondered. He didn’t like the thought of abandoning it. It was an expensive piece of machinery and to simply throw it away would be such a waste. And it provided for him a sense of security, that if anything happened to go wrong, he could just drive away. Without it he would be stuck. If he told it to leave, then the flight to Austin was canceled, he would be stuck here forever.

But he knew that the car was something that could be traced. As soon as the police found it, they would simply go through the list of outgoing flights and it would only be a matter of finding which one was paid for with cash. They would have him pinpointed, trapped on one of the puny habitat worlds.

I have to ditch the car, he decided. There’s no getting around it.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, in three minutes I want you to pull out of this parking lot, head towards the freeway going east and travel in that direction until there’s no you’re out of gas.”

The vehicle made a little beep that meant it understood the directions. A map appeared on the computer screen and the route Tyson had just programmed was shown in red. He looked at it. “Yeah, that’s good,” he said.

He got out slowly and walked back towards the elevator. Halfway down the row of cars, he stopped and watched his car pull easily out of it’s space and drive off. It was like watching the last bit of his former life drifting away.

On his way back towards the waiting area, he noticed an unoccupied computer terminal. He thought about the danger of being caught. He knew almost nothing about the inner workings of a computer and had no idea how much information he could retrieve before someone caught on to who he was and what he had done. He didn’t even know if he would be able to get any information. Any police report might be classified and not open to just anyone wanting to see it. However, he was simply too curious about the fate of that young woman to head off without finding out whether or not she was actually dead.

He slipped his bank terminal into the slot and watched in suspense as he logged on to the world-wide net. There were probably thousands, maybe millions of people logged onto computers in this area. It would probably be nearly impossible for someone to get a good lock in on his terminal. Just the same, Tyson wanted to get in, get the information and get out as quickly as possible.

“Show me the obituaries for Roseburg, Oregon.” That seemed like a good and safe place to start.

A list of names appeared on the screen. Too many of them.

“Exclude the males,” he told the computer.

The list shortened by about half.

“Exclude all that died of natural causes.”

The list was still too long.

“Exclude everyone that died in their home.”

Now the list was only six names long. Alphabetical order. He touched the first name. “Bring up this one,” he said.

The words “Auto Accident,” caught his attention. He read on, not paying much attention to the photo in the upper right corner of the screen. He thought he might have dreamed up what she looked like and couldn’t trust a picture alone. He found that this woman had been driving a vehicle with faulty auto drive and had been dozing. The report said she had died instantly when her car crashed into a large pine tree at 190 kph.

Tyson went on to the second obituary, an elderly woman who had been knifed to death by an anxious mugger.

The third woman had died of a drug overdose.

The fourth was a suicide.

Tyson was, by this time, growing a little less concerned. Perhaps he hadn’t killed her. Maybe she was just fine, in a hospital somewhere, recovering slowly but surely.

He brought up the fifth one and was relieved to find she had died falling from the sixth floor of an office building.

With shaking fingers he touched the sixth name. The screen flashed, seemed to pause longer than it had on the previous names, and went clear again to reveal the last obituary.

And there she was.

He recognized the picture immediately: the young blond, clear complexion, perfectly shaped facial features as if they had been carved from stone. He read the words, “killed by drunk driver,” and nearly doubled over from the return of that terrible pain in his stomach.

He closed his eyes, tried to calm himself. “Oh, God.”

He read the caption. She had been a law student, home for the weekend. Her name was Anathene Ravanis. She had grown up in north-west Washington with her natural parents. They moved to Oregon to be closer to the rest of the family when Anathene was fourteen. She moved back to Washington state when she was barely into her twenties to study to become a lawyer. She was twenty-four when she was tragically run down in the middle of the street three days earlier. She was survived by her two parents, her husband of three years, and her six month old daughter.

“Exit out,” Tyson said quickly, now suddenly, not wanting to learn any more. “Turn it off.”

The screen changed to show him that it had charged him three dollars for the retrieval of the information. His bank terminal popped out of it’s slot. He grabbed it and hurried off towards his shuttle, the tears just barely standing out in his eyes, the pain in his stomach spreading towards his chest and growing with every step he took.

______   ______   ______

            Sareena decided to bring Stanley back to her apartment. When the two arrived, she was happy to find that her father was not home. They sat on the couch in the living room, listening to music, talking. Their conversation shifted from subject to subject, never sticking in one place too long. Stanley told her a good deal about life aboard a starship, and she told him bits and pieces of what it’s like to live on Austin station. She mostly tried to avoid talking about herself though. She felt her life was small and meaningless when compared to his.

Eventually they became bored with talk and moved on to other things.

They started out small–little pecks on the cheek–but it did not take them long before they were into the long, deep, passionate kisses that Sareena enjoyed so much. She pulled herself close to him. As she felt his hand, slowly and cautiously, moving under her shirt, she thought to herself, perhaps things are moving a little too quickly. At first she had an urge to push his arm back, to tell him she wasn’t ready, but she quickly rejected the idea. She was too into the moment.

Then, suddenly, she heard a low, almost silent, hiss as the front door slid open.

Her reactions were quick. She slammed her hand down on his arm, driving his hand out from under her clothing and at the same time leapt away from him. She turned, straitened herself on the sofa and looked towards the door as her father entered, looking somewhat tired out.

“Hello, Daddy,” she said, trying her best to sound calm.

“Hi,” he replied. He seemed to immediately notice Stanley, sitting next to Sareena “And who would this be?”

“This–” Sareena thought as quickly as she could to come up with a worthy lie. “This is my math tutor, Stanley Peterman.” That seemed believable enough. She paused. “Oh, and Stanley, this is Spanfell, my father.”

“It’s nice to meet you.”

The two men shook hands.

Her father’s eyes visibly narrowed. “Where’s your math book, Sareena?”

“We haven’t started studying yet,” she replied quickly. “We were just talking”

“Well then, I guess I’ll leave you two alone,” He quietly left the room and headed towards the back of the apartment. Sareena saw him glance back over his shoulder at them once as if he suspected something.

“You live with your parents?” Stanley asked after Spanfell was completely out of earshot.

“Just my dad,” Sareena replied.

“I figured you lived by yourself. It’s a little surprising to have someone burst in like that. What does your father do anyway?”

“He’s a courier,” Sareena answered.

Stanley didn’t seem to understand her meaning.

“He pressures people into giving him money so he can show them around Austin. He gets them hotel rooms but that’s about it. They pay him pretty good money for it too–when he actually has a client. Most of the time he’s just looking for newcomers who don’t know their way around.”

“That sounds like fairly interesting work,” Stanley said.

“He seems to think so.”

Sareena looked at him. She wanted to restart what had been so rudely interrupted. She wanted to move in closer to him again but couldn’t seem to bring herself to close the gap between them. It didn’t seem appropriate anymore. They sat silently for a long while.

Finally, Stanley said, “They’re probably missing me back at the docking bay and on the ship. I never told anyone I was leaving. I really ought to be getting back.”

“All right,” she said. “Are you coming back here sometime?”

“Sure. I’ll stop by in a couple of days.”

“I guess I’ll see you then,” she said as she watched him cross the room to the door.

“Thanks for the pasta,” he said, just before the door closed.

Sareena was left to herself. She contemplated what she was going to do for the rest of the day. She sat for a long while, thinking. It had been a strange day, one to remember. She didn’t know what to make of it all.

Eventually she got up and went to her room.

Before she had settled in, her father entered. “Did your friend leave already?” he asked.

“He just left,” she said.

“Did you two get much studying done in that short time?”

“Some.”

They stared at each other for several seconds, not speaking. She tried her best to put on an innocent-looking face, but, while she could not see herself, she was unsatisfied with her attempts.

Spanfell sat down on the edge of Sareena’s bed. “So who is he?”

“He’s my Calculus tutor.”

“That’s a likely story.”

“He is!”

“Why’d he have to take off so quickly after I got home?”

“He had to get back to his class.”

“Is he a student or a teacher?”

Sareena randomly chose one of the two options. “Teacher,” she replied.

“So why did he come here at all if he had to leave so early?”

“He didn’t leave early,” she said. “We were studying for a couple hours before you got here.”

“You told me you hadn’t started yet.”

“I said that?”

“Yes you did.”

“I don’t remember saying anything like that. No, we studied for a long time before you came home. I had just put my book away.”

“What were you studying?”

“My math!” Her voice was raised to a high level now from the frustration of the conversation. “Don’t you listen to anything I say?”

“I happen to listen very well,” he said, calmly. “I have very good ears. I also have very good eyes. I can see what’s going on between you and that guy.”

“What makes you think anything is going on between us?”

“You’re tongue down his throat was my first clue.”

She stopped, glared at him. He glared back, but in a sort of triumphant way, apparently proud of himself for discovering her lies.

“Well so what?” she said after a long while. “What does it matter to you anyway?”

“I’m your father, Sareena. I worry about you.”

“I’m sure you do but I think I can make my own decisions about who I spend my time with.”

“You don’t seem to be making very sound choices, Sareena. He’s too old for you.”

“That’s for me to decide,” she said.

“So you’re not going to obey your father?”

She thought about how to handle the situation. He seemed to be acting coolly. He seemed to be calm, rational–at least on the outside. He had probably planned out everything he was going to say to her.

“What do you want me to say?” she said.

“I want you to say you’ll stop seeing him.”

“I’m not going to do that.”

She could see his anger rising. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a second. “He’s no good for you, Sareena. What is he, twice your age?”

“I doubt the difference is that great,” she said.

He sighed. “So how long have you been seeing this guy anyway.”

“Oh, I’m not seeing him,” she said. “I’ve just been fucking him off and on. Surely you of all people would understand that.” She regretted saying the line even before the words had exited her mouth.

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KalinBooks.com is the ramblings of Kalin Ringkvist, a science fiction author with a passion for peace and freedom.