The Frontier: Chapter 9
â€śAlright, hereâ€™s the deal,â€ť Jones Davenport said. â€śWeâ€™ll be docked for the next thirty hours. Nisha, you and Dom pair up. Iâ€™ll pair up with Eryn. Malissa is staying here with the ship and will be on call if anyone needs her help. Siberio, youâ€™re on leave, but just remember that as soon as we get out of here, you will have plenty to do. And you two,â€ť he said looking at Regan and Dalia, â€śplease try not to get arrested or anything. Weâ€™ve got some tight deadlines to meet over the next week.â€ť
â€śI canâ€™t make any promises,â€ť Dalia said.
Jones shook his head.
â€śSee you tonight.â€ť
The mob dispersed, and they all headed off the ship and through the dock.
â€śLater at the bar,â€ť 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.
â€śThis is crazy,â€ť Nisha said, scanning around.
â€śThis isnâ€™t even the biggest one,â€ť Dom said. â€śThereâ€™s another space station thatâ€™s got a mall with twenty floors.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re getting all this, right?â€ť
â€śOf course. Weâ€™re live from a hundred angles.â€ť
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.
â€śGood, take me into the belly of the beast,â€ť 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 didnâ€™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.
â€śI work about twelve hours a day for four or five days in a row, then Iâ€™m off for a few days. Weâ€™re always open, so we just flip back and forth between a few crews,â€ť said a wide-eyed, pale-skin kid that was barely nineteen.
â€śThe mall never closes?â€ť
â€śNope, everyoneâ€™s on different time zones when they come through here. Thereâ€™s always business coming through those doors.â€ť
â€śSo what do you do on your off days?â€ť
â€śWell, thereâ€™s another side to the station. This is for the tourists. Then thereâ€™s another, smaller section for the natives.â€ť
â€śI want to see that.â€ť
â€śTourists arenâ€™t allowed.â€ť
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.
â€śThis is what we were telling you,â€ť Dom said. â€śThereâ€™s two worlds out here. Thereâ€™s the Frontier, and then thereâ€™s the Boonies.â€ť
â€śShow me the Boonies, then,â€ť Nisha said.
â€śI will. Be patient.â€ť
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.
â€śEverything that comes in and out of the Frontier comes through here. You can find anything here.â€ť
â€śThe 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.â€ť
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.
â€śThose two do nothing but get diued up, huh?â€ť Dom asked as they stood at the barâ€™s doorway.
â€śRegan runs a multi-billion dollar company. She started it from nothing. I think sheâ€™s entitled to have a little fun.â€ť
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.
â€śNisha,â€ť Dalia screeched. â€śLetâ€™s do some shots.â€ť Dalia turned to find a bartender.
â€śOh, thank goodness youâ€™re here,â€ť Regan said, putting her arm around Nisha. â€śDalia is out of control. And Iâ€™m about to punch these lunds.â€ť
â€śHave you been here all day?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t even know whatâ€™s going on any more,â€ť Regan said only a couple centimeters from Nishaâ€™s face, blowing out a stench of alcohol.
â€śAnd whatâ€™s your name,â€ť said one of the guys, wearing a grey suit over a green pastel shirt.
â€śExcuse me,â€ť Dalia said pushing the guy back, swaying back and forth, and spilling splashes of the three shots that she carried. â€śHere.â€ť
Nisha, Regan, and Dalia threw back the shots.
â€śWhew, Iâ€™m fucked up.â€ť Dalia said, stumbling.
â€śLetâ€™s go smoke,â€ť Regan said.
â€śI donâ€™t want to go all the way back to the ship right now,â€ť Nisha said.
â€śNo, thereâ€™s a smoking room right there. Thereâ€™s even a bar in there. Come on.â€ť
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.
â€śHey, wake the fuck up, bitch,â€ť Regan shouted in Daliaâ€™s ear.
Dalia, with her eyes closed, swiped her hand at Reganâ€™s face but missed.
â€śCome on, youâ€™re snoring. Itâ€™s time to go crash,â€ť Regan said, pushing at Daliaâ€™s shoulder.
â€śOkay, okay.â€ť Dalia rubbed her eyes and stood up.
â€śMeet you back at the ship,â€ť Regan said, putting her hand on Daliaâ€™s back. â€śLetâ€™s go. We got a long walk.â€ť
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.
â€śWhy are you hiding in here? Youâ€™re not even smoking,â€ť he said.
â€śSorry, Iâ€™m a little tired. Thatâ€™s all.â€ť
â€śSpace 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 donâ€™t really need anything tomorrow if you want to recover.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll be fine for tomorrow. I want one more crack at finding the native hideaway.â€ť
â€śWell, donâ€™t beat yourself up if you donâ€™t find it. Itâ€™s not all that interesting. It just looked like a college campus. This is only the tip of the iceberg.â€ť
â€śYou saw it? They showed you and not me? Diu that.â€ť
Jones laughed. â€śThatâ€™s why Iâ€™m on this assignment. Iâ€™ll get you inside. Donâ€™t worry. Dom said you did fine out there today. Weâ€™re meeting with some opposition leaders on Narano in a week. Youâ€™ll have full access to some of the most powerful people in the Frontier. Theyâ€™ll tell you whatâ€™s really going on.â€ť
Nisha smiled and sipped her brew.
â€śSo,â€ť Jones continued, â€śwhy donâ€™t you come on out and hang out with the rest of us. Iâ€™ll buy you a shot. We donâ€™t crash out early like your friends.â€ť He grinned.
â€śYeah, well, theyâ€™ve probably been up for a week without sleeping, so I wouldnâ€™t assume youâ€™re outlasting them. But alright, I could go for a shot.â€ť
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.