The Frontier: Chapter 9
“Alright, here’s the deal,” Jones Davenport said. “We’ll be docked for the next thirty hours. Nisha, you and Dom pair up. I’ll pair up with Eryn. Malissa is staying here with the ship and will be on call if anyone needs her help. Siberio, you’re on leave, but just remember that as soon as we get out of here, you will have plenty to do. And you two,” he said looking at Regan and Dalia, “please try not to get arrested or anything. We’ve got some tight deadlines to meet over the next week.”
“I can’t make any promises,” Dalia said.
Jones shook his head.
“See you tonight.”
The mob dispersed, and they all headed off the ship and through the dock.
“Later at the bar,” Dalia said as she and Regan dashed off.
Nisha and Dom traveled across a maze of corridors from their parking spot to the station’s center. They had docked at one of many ‘super stations’ in the star system on the other side of the Meridian Gate. Because it was the primary travel hub into the Frontier, an entire industry grew out of catering to travelers. Each of these gigantic space stations were capable of docking tens of thousands of space ships, an oasis of civilization for those coming to and from the edge of the galaxy.
After almost ten minutes of walking down curved hallways, Nisha and Dom finally exited the dock area. Fifteen floors of businesses lay in front of them; markets, restaurants, shopping centers and stores of all kinds stretched down a giant, endless tunnel. Hordes of people scrambled between the storefronts. It was an indoor mall larger than any Nisha had seen on Orbatron.
“This is crazy,” Nisha said, scanning around.
“This isn’t even the biggest one,” Dom said. “There’s another space station that’s got a mall with twenty floors.”
“You’re getting all this, right?”
“Of course. We’re live from a hundred angles.”
Nisha looked back to see him typing away on his pad, operating microscopic cameras that circled around them. Dom was an ogre of a man, tall, stocky, bald with a grizzly beard. He looked more like a wrestler than a videographer.
“Good, take me into the belly of the beast,” Nisha said.
Dom led Nisha across the station. The mall area between the stores appeared as if it had been recently built or remodeled. The stores didn’t bear brand names that Nisha recognized, yet they mimicked the slick architecture of the more upscale malls back home. The clerks inside the shops wore classic business suits in bright and oddly combined colors, and they all hard sold their wares. They were eager to converse, and Nisha engaged them to hear their perspective on life in a space station.
“I work about twelve hours a day for four or five days in a row, then I’m off for a few days. We’re always open, so we just flip back and forth between a few crews,” said a wide-eyed, pale-skin kid that was barely nineteen.
“The mall never closes?”
“Nope, everyone’s on different time zones when they come through here. There’s always business coming through those doors.”
“So what do you do on your off days?”
“Well, there’s another side to the station. This is for the tourists. Then there’s another, smaller section for the natives.”
“I want to see that.”
“Tourists aren’t allowed.”
He changed the subject.
Nisha interviewed other clerks, but all were reluctant to give up much information on the ‘natives only’ part of the station.
“This is what we were telling you,” Dom said. “There’s two worlds out here. There’s the Frontier, and then there’s the Boonies.”
“Show me the Boonies, then,” Nisha said.
“I will. Be patient.”
After hours of frustration, Nisha decided to start interviewing random people walking around the mall. Almost half of who she talked to were Exploration soldiers or civilians that worked for the Exploration Department. None of them wore their uniforms; they dressed in street clothes. But their clothing looked expensive, and they all carried shopping bags.
“Everything that comes in and out of the Frontier comes through here. You can find anything here.”
“The farther out you go into the Frontier, the more expensive things get. So I try to do as much shopping as possible when I come through here.”
Nisha and Dom ate dinner and then visited a heavily populated park on the top floor of the mall. Above the park, a glass ceiling faced a giant, gaseous planet, which the station orbited. After strolling around the park for a while, they decided to call it a day and go meet the others at a bar. They arrived a half an hour before their designated meeting time, but Dalia and Regan were already there, talking to a group of guys wearing neon-colored, sleeveless shirts.
“Those two do nothing but get diued up, huh?” Dom asked as they stood at the bar’s doorway.
“Regan runs a multi-billion dollar company. She started it from nothing. I think she’s entitled to have a little fun.”
Nisha walked off from him, trotting across the bar alone, studying the walls, which appeared to be made of stone, or at least a material that looked identical to rock. The beams between the rocks and ceiling were made of wood. Nisha could almost forget that she was inside a space station.
“Nisha,” Dalia screeched. “Let’s do some shots.” Dalia turned to find a bartender.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re here,” Regan said, putting her arm around Nisha. “Dalia is out of control. And I’m about to punch these lunds.”
“Have you been here all day?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s going on any more,” Regan said only a couple centimeters from Nisha’s face, blowing out a stench of alcohol.
“And what’s your name,” said one of the guys, wearing a grey suit over a green pastel shirt.
“Excuse me,” Dalia said pushing the guy back, swaying back and forth, and spilling splashes of the three shots that she carried. “Here.”
Nisha, Regan, and Dalia threw back the shots.
“Whew, I’m fucked up.” Dalia said, stumbling.
“Let’s go smoke,” Regan said.
“I don’t want to go all the way back to the ship right now,” Nisha said.
“No, there’s a smoking room right there. There’s even a bar in there. Come on.”
The three of them shuffled off together
They stayed in the room for hours, huddled in a corner, taking shots, passing cigarettes back and forth.
“Hey, wake the fuck up, bitch,” Regan shouted in Dalia’s ear.
Dalia, with her eyes closed, swiped her hand at Regan’s face but missed.
“Come on, you’re snoring. It’s time to go crash,” Regan said, pushing at Dalia’s shoulder.
“Okay, okay.” Dalia rubbed her eyes and stood up.
“Meet you back at the ship,” Regan said, putting her hand on Dalia’s back. “Let’s go. We got a long walk.”
After they wandered off, Nisha sat by herself for a while, sipping on a green ale. Her mind drifted, and she thought of Eirian. Loneliness and sadness washed across her. Then Jones Davenport walked inside the room and sat down next to her.
“Why are you hiding in here? You’re not even smoking,” he said.
“Sorry, I’m a little tired. That’s all.”
“Space travel is wearing. You get off your internal clock and your sleep goes all wack. Get some rest tonight. I think we have enough today that we don’t really need anything tomorrow if you want to recover.”
“I’ll be fine for tomorrow. I want one more crack at finding the native hideaway.”
“Well, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find it. It’s not all that interesting. It just looked like a college campus. This is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“You saw it? They showed you and not me? Diu that.”
Jones laughed. “That’s why I’m on this assignment. I’ll get you inside. Don’t worry. Dom said you did fine out there today. We’re meeting with some opposition leaders on Narano in a week. You’ll have full access to some of the most powerful people in the Frontier. They’ll tell you what’s really going on.”
Nisha smiled and sipped her brew.
“So,” Jones continued, “why don’t you come on out and hang out with the rest of us. I’ll buy you a shot. We don’t crash out early like your friends.” He grinned.
“Yeah, well, they’ve probably been up for a week without sleeping, so I wouldn’t assume you’re outlasting them. But alright, I could go for a shot.”
Nisha and Jones strolled out of the smoking room and back over to the main bar, where the rest of their crew lingered. They spent the night drinking heavily, talking about what they had seen on the space station. But as Nisha became more intoxicated, she withdrew from socializing. Her mood grew darker. Surrounded by hundreds of strangers and a handful of people she barely knew, Nisha never felt more alone. She slipped off, walked back to the docks, and lay in her bed, waiting for unconsciousness to rescue her from her sullen thoughts.