Our heroine finally shows up:
Monday morning, nine o’clock was three hours into main-shift on Mitsubishi 3. April Lewis was listening to the Earth news for October 4, 2083 while she walked to the cafeteria to meet her friend Heather. M3 ran on North American Pacific Time, the unofficial standard time of near Earth space, and Disney News was on the same time zone being California based.
April was station born and more interested in what was happening locally, but followed the Earth news to please her parents who were Earthborn. They’d lived in California before coming to M3, and seemed to appreciate it if she knew what was going on below, even though it often didn’t make any sense to her. Disney was more likely to have California or space stories than most foreign news channels, so she picked it even though you had to factor in that their news was run through USNA censors. April didn’t know a news service that wasn’t run through somebody’s filter.
There were two thousand residents in M3, surpassed in orbit only by New Las Vegas when they had a full tourist load. The habitat produced a lot of valuable goods that couldn’t be made groundside, and was home to quite a bit of research and development, yet the news channels rarely mentioned M3 unless a celebrity was visiting. When they did mention Spacers lately they seemed to be unfairly critical and April was tired of hearing it. Station dwellers were portrayed by the media as overpaid opportunists and dangerously lacking in social conformity. Newsies even complained they ate too well. The high cost of living, and salaries to match, made the residents easy targets of resentment as surely as someone living in Palm Springs or the Principality of Monaco.
* * *
In World News the Japanese cut off imports of Canadian bio-Diesel claiming active turkey prions were present in the exhaust.
The European Union was threatening Switzerland with sanctions for holding gold and platinum for EU citizens in safe deposit after private ownership of the metals was outlawed again last year.
In National News the honorable Senator Smith from Puerto Rico had demanded the honorable Senator Macmillan from The Yukon allow his Federal Identity data be checked against the genome of her fraternal twins ‑ and he had matched ‑ for one of them. The comedians and cartoonists were having a field day speculating on how far afield a search for the other twin’s father should proceed.
The mayor of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio was assassinated by a proximity bomb outside his garage door, and a group calling themselves Buckeyes for Property Rights claimed responsibility.
The fall colors in Vermont were forecast to be the best in years later this month due to unseasonably early cool weather. The program ended with a required public service spot urging vigilant citizens to call their Neighborhood Defender and report unusual activity to combat the blight of black markets and unregistered businesses.
* * *
April was dressed casually like most people in the corridors. She wore gray sweats with loose pants and a zippered, hooded top. Her snug moon boots were a popular fashion now, but with regular soles not the expensive slick and stick nanotech soles like the real thing. It was just old-fashioned unpowered clothing without heating or cooling, precut to size not even auto tailored.
Her spex were thin film wrap-arounds, frameless except for the temple pieces. She didn’t like watching video while she was walking so the news was audio only, just the base spex menu riding in the upper left corner of her vision. She left them set untinted so her face was fully visible.
Her features retained some of the soft look of childhood and an arch of coppery freckles across her cheeks and nose were faint because she was never in sunlight. April’s reddish brown hair was cut short, boyish really by the current styles, with just enough on top to have a little shape, and clipped very short all around the sides. It wanted to flip up in front and she didn’t fight it, brushing the front up in a spiky line. The short hair made the gold pirate hoops she wore in her ears stand out.
Overall she looked like normal a thirteen year old, not far from her fourteenth birthday. She was short and slight framed like her father, but athletic looking not the awkward lanky look some teens have until they fill out. Her appearance would not be changing as quickly as might be expected at her age because she had started basic life extension therapy three months ago.
Eventually the full treatment would slow down her visible aging even more as the therapies took hold. She’d only have the appearance of a sixteen or seventeen-year-old until she was about thirty. It was something she worried about. She was convinced as long as she looked young, her parents would continue to resist treating her like an adult no matter how she acted. Life extension just voided all the visual clues of age people depended on to form their impressions of others. Her parents had grown up knowing how old, and supposedly how mature, anyone was at a glance. So she could picture them still talking to her like a twelve year old when she was twenty-five.
Bob her brother looked much older than April. He even shaved now, although he was only three years older. He had taken after their mom instead of Dad or Gramps so he was bigger. Her folks had only recently had the funds to start both their treatments, so Bob had to wait a few more years than she had. It might give her an advantage far in the future. But Bob’s older appearance was a huge advantage right now. An advantage she begrudged him due to her firm conviction he wasn’t really as mature as she was in many ways, and not nearly as honest.
Most everyone who worked away from home had a nine o’clock report time on main-shift if it was one of their workdays, so there was no line at the cafeteria and no big noisy crowd. At this hour, it was mostly youngsters like her and Heather who didn’t have a real job yet, retirees here to socialize, and people who were self employed like Heather’s mom who was an artist or Mr. Hathaway who was a writer.
The aroma of hot bread and fresh coffee brewing was strong at the entry. April usually came before the main shift rush, not after, so she was hungry and her stomach was growling at the smell of all the hot food. She ordered a huge breakfast and piled butter for her hot cakes, syrup, coffee, jam and orange juice on her tray off the self serve bar.
Now that she wasn’t walking she set the spex to show market and news alerts to the top left of her view. Her brother had gotten her into a medical stock a week ago.
It was up twenty percent and she was getting twitchy to sell it. She rarely rode them as far as Bob. He was either fearless or crazy when investing.
Getting a carton of milk was best done when her mother was not along to preach at her about junk food. The milk supposedly had all the antibodies and hormones filtered out now, and was checked for viruses and xenoprions. It wasn’t supposed to give you Beta Alzheimer’s or Crohn’s now, but her mom’s generation still didn’t trust it, feeling safer with soy milk.
April ordered heavily because her parents had done some significant gene tweaking when they had her. Her metabolism was capable of running at a higher pitch with correspondingly increased physical capacity and requirements.
Down below those that insisted there was a world shortage of food found her modification an abomination, snatching needed food from the mouths of the world poor. April had seen the hypocrisy of that even before her dad explained it. When the world’s poor had something worthwhile to trade, ships full of grain would race each other to make deliveries.
Her favorite cook and friend Ruby was working at the grill so she took her time saying good morning, chatting while she waited for her double stack of pancakes with four eggs over very easy on top. Ruby was tall and slender, with a dark chocolate complexion, shrewd eyes, and long thin fingers. She was full of nervous energy, always moving. She was too old to have a gene-modified metabolism like April but she appeared to be one of those people who ran on a natural overdrive. She always chatted with Ruby and the exchanges had progressed as she grew older. If business was slow Ruby would take her break when April came by and talk.
She had no success at all getting information out of her dad the same way. For some reason her dad clammed up when she asked anything, yet he kept the files and schedules for supply and maintenance wide open on the com console at home, not even password protected. It must not seem important to him, but April could find advantage in knowing anything not posted to a public board.
It was surprising how much you could infer about what else was going on in the station just by watching what people ordered, and April wanted to know everything that was going on. A desire increasingly frustrated because people seemed to be clamming up more than usual the last few months. People were tense and seemed to be hoarding supplies. The supply schedule gave her something to trade Ruby for information. April let her know when filler freight like gloves or hygienic wipes got bumped back a flight so she could get extra before they ran out.
It was a fair trade given the high quality of Ruby’s news. Almost everyone ate at the cafeteria, and Ruby was very observant. She was aware if a couple stopped coming in together or someone started meeting a new person. She probably had her finger on the pulse of the station’s social life better than anyone else April knew.
Seeing Ruby made April remember how valuable her information had been just a few month ago. What a mess things could have been without it…
* * *
Her dad and grandpa were discussing the possibilities for the new Chief of Security. Her dad held out with Mitsubishi for the right to appoint the job locally. The last fellow they’d sent up had never adjusted to the culture and he didn’t want a repeat. She was in the living room supposedly reading but following every word they said, being a snoop as usual.
Both of them were favorably impressed with Eric Willard. April thought him a horrible sort of man. Well sure, he worked long hard hours, but for all the wrong reasons. He’d do just about anything to avoid going home. He couldn’t speak three words to his own boy without a fight resulting, and he didn’t get along with Mrs. Willard much better.
People like him were dismissive of children. After all why should he waste any courtesy on her? She had no power in his eyes. So he didn’t guard what he said around her like he would have if an adult had been close by. She had thus seen far too much of his true nature.
It had been no big surprise when Ruby saw Mrs. Willard chat and flirt all touchy on the fore-shift with the nice looking new construction foreman, then she left with him.
She just couldn’t stay silent and let them make such a mistake so she spoke up.
“Dad, Grandpa, honestly, you don’t want to make Mr. Willard Head of Security. If you do it will end as badly as the last one, and you’ll need a different guy anyway in just a few months.”
Her dad put on that patronizing look he wasn’t aware he used with her. “Why Sugar? Don’t you like Mr. Willard?”
“No, I do not like Mr. Willard,” she answered without apology. “He’s so hateful to anyone he thinks he can safely belittle that Security will be full of angry people in no time at all. He’s such a hopeless bully that he honestly thinks if he browbeats his people it makes them respect him and work harder. What’s more important is this ‑ Do you want a Security Chief who is too dense to know his wife is running around on him with the cute new construction foreman? Hmm?” she asked when there was no response.
She thought her dad was going to choke on the unexpected revelation, but her grandpa just quietly said, “I’ll look into it, Steve,” as if it was her dad’s idea all along to check it out. Later, privately, her grandpa thanked her.
“Thank you for not treating me like an idiot.” She hadn’t outright said it was in contrast to the way her father acted with her, or drawn a comparison with her brother.
“Well, I had to have my nose rubbed in it a few times before I was able to look at your dad as an adult,” he recalled. “You know, he’s really quite smart for someone who is not even forty yet.” He smiled to show he was at least partially joking.
“Believe it or not, he really does remember you figured out it was the Lab Director who hoarded water when everyone else was looking for a leak. You should have seen his face when we went in the man’s apartment and saw the hot tub he had set up. Damn near filled up the whole place,” he showed with arms spread wide.
“I’ll work on it until he really listens to me,” she vowed.
“He will in time Honey. I know you’re a really bright young woman,” he assured her, and he gave her a double handed hug before he ambled off down the corridor.
* * *
The platter deliberately clattered on the counter to break her reverie…
“Wake up Sweetie – time to stuff your face,” Ruby said with no malice at all. She turned away, busy, before April could thank her. April picked a table at the far wall, alone, far from the usual crowd which stayed close to the serving counter. She wanted some privacy to talk with Heather. The noises of dishes and utensils and others chatting close to the coffee machine was low this far away.
The overhead was all waffle board with little noise canceling nodes poked down through the overhead near the corners of the room. The walls were carpeted to mute the noise, and because it showed wear less than paint, which was so hard to refresh in a sealed environment. Best of all they didn’t inflict someone else’s taste in music on you here while you tried to enjoy your meal.
April invited friends to breakfast whenever she could, but she also had business with Heather this morning. She was putting pats of butter between the hot cakes, and had managed a quick bite of bacon, when Heather caught up with her. She hit the seat opposite like a shuttle that missed its docking collar. It was a good thing the table was bolted down solid. Somehow she managed to crash the tray down without spilling her breakfast.