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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2243368
Solar system based science fiction
         In the hell year of 2759, as the Earth continued to decay environmentally, socially, economically, and in myriad other ways, the station at the L4 Lagrange point around Neptune provided a destination of sorts for spacefarers. But it didn't provide a refuge. The station was created in an attempt to satisfy everybody. The L4 point had access to the tiny moons trapped in its natural area of stable gravity, while still being near Neptune, Triton, and the non-elliptical planetoids beyond. However, the L1 point was closest to both Neptune and Triton, and had been preferred from the start of colonization centuries ago. L4 was the choice of those who preferred a private staging area for missions to the beyond, dubious experiments in long term bio-habitats using organics from the near ice moons, mining of the rock asteroids, or simple secrecy. Travel there was difficult enough, and information was scarce enough, that people didn’t know whether to call it dangerous or a mystery, when they remembered it at all.
         The majority of habitats in the solar system were made by the old consortium PAC-HAB, so named because they sourced from around the pacific ocean of earth. Their dull gray walls were known to all, as was their slow and proprietary maintenance cycle. The Ruhr-Siberian company was based in Europe, making a more expensive and desired habitat that almost all other spacefarers lived in. At L4 a vastly lesser known system was used, utilizing open source and modular design to create a loose cluster of variable shaped pods held together with the barest communication and life support possible. It was a do-it-yourself project for all involved. The whole habitat had shut down zones, and odd, irrelevant projects barley supported, others often not clearly functional. Just learning to live their had a steep learning curve.
         Those who were in charge did not make themselves known, the older designers having been driven off, retired, or long since deceased. But they advertised that everyone was welcome if they could get there, and live the lifestyle. There were countless stories of people who left in the tightly packed reverse refugee rockets back to the rest of the solar system,having felt little more than confusion and disappointment in their isolation from the modern overcrowded human mass habitats in space, or the old cities of earth.
         Not everyone failed so near to the beyond, and not everything there was human.

         As a deputy of the volunteer observe and report corp of L4 cluster, Carey Fogg had seen a lot of strange things, he mused. Most of them involving people, but some of them involving unknown craft. Some of those craft had done things that weren’t believed to be possible by any known science, or even a semi-reasonable hypothesis. One thing the human race had proven to itself, though the majority of its members seemed to not get it, was its inability to process the reality of the strange events around it that could only be of alien origin. He had made more than one attempt to relate events witnessed by him only to be told he needed to talk to someone with counseling experience, or needed time off, or should learn some common sense. He thought it was obvious humanity wasn’t ready to admit what real contact would be like, and if not now then when? Of course it was always possible that the solar government, only barely existent by treaty, had it all secretly wrapped up nice and neat. That line of thought assumed aliens would even want to contact humans, instead of watching them with interest, loathing, or some unfathomable motivation. He believed that one solution to the so-called Fermi paradox regarding the lack of visible extra-terrestrial civilizations was simply that Earth had the smallest viable biosphere, literally all other near alien home-worlds being much larger, thus making earth appear virtually irrelevant to outsiders. Nobody would talk about a simple boring solution like that though.
         These thoughts distracted him as his standard scan and patrol on his orbital skis proceeded through the ill-shaped, poorly maintained central part of the cluster, largely abandoned and useless except for structural reasons, and the few necessary communication nodes still in use. Without warning a ship appeared, only visible because of the stars it blacked out. At first its size couldn’t be ascertained because of the problem of scale, but it resolved to something of impressive size that blacked out several cluster modules with lengths of hundreds of meters. Still wholly obscured with regard to any function or origin, it launched a drone at deputy Fogg aimed right at his skis, snapping one and crumpling the other. Luckily he was aimed squarely at a module and would get a low speed impact in a few minutes, proceeding from module to module was part of the safety protocol out here should any propulsion system fail. Checking his comm he saw that he still had that. Right as he looked up the craft dropped its occlusion field, revealing an oblong spheroid with windows on what could only be called its top, and its bottom two-thirds covered in drones nestled in little nooks. The drones launched all at once, each one moving in a trajectory aimed at the connecting nodes of the whole cluster.
         Deputy Fogg began to broadcast to all the terminals in the cluster on the emergency frequency. “We’re under attack by forces unknown.” He knew better than to say anything too specific about what he could see through the windows of the craft in front of him. The huge alien bodies, tentacles like an undersea creature grown too large, a true alien-like countenance to the things that most would blanch from. “Seal all airlocks and evacuate all nodes, full and catastrophic breach is immanent.” He didn’t even know if the aliens cared to monitor his communications, or knew how, but he acted as if he was just drifting free, paying no particular attention to anything. “Prepare crews for spacewalk to clear incursion apparatus.” Best not be too specific about what they would see outside, since it wouldn’t help them and they wouldn’t believe it. As he continued to transmit to all cluster terminals he could only hope the decentralized nature of the system was capable of any reasonable response at all.

         Just before the first emergency messages arrived on all terminals, Boyd Lees, slightly built with straight dirty blonde hair in a standard gray jumpsuit, slipped into communication node nineteen and cut all contact with the outside world. Nothing would be getting out from this little corner of the cluster as far as he was concerned. He would hole up here and wait for his ticket out. He had posed as an aspiring miner who just wanted to see the beyond, he had even agreed to be frozen on his trip here. He had conned his way onto a work crew by acting as a space-struck fool who would do almost anything to get the real spacer experience. The least pay, no benefits, dangerous conditions, it was all fine with him. He had seemed like just another Earther working for the shadowy cluster consortium that ran this place. But he had come prepared. Working on the smallest, most obscure asteroids had certain perks. One of those perks was the easy ability to achieve escape velocity from those asteroids. Having found and mined a wide variety of rare earth elements, he had then launched them into space with a micro-rocket guidance system. It would activate again at the precise time of departure of the vehicle he would be leaving on, that time already known and impossible to alter without missing the launch window, then attach itself to the exiting transport. The system was perfect, he was now posing as a failed miner who had given up benefits to leave early. Even if the elements were found they couldn’t be traced back to him without a forensic investigation that would hardly commence on a ship impromtu.
         Just as he was reaching a crescendo of self-congratulation he felt a concussive jolt as the module he was in suddenly floated free. He reoriented himself to the new three dimensional spin of every spacial axis and wondered if he had been found out, but why separate the module? It was important on the blueprints he had seen, because of its nodes, but almost always deserted. Such considerations were eclipsed as the terminal on the wall reacquired connectivity. Split into two broadcast channels, not the normal format, one sent out continued warnings of an attack against the cluster centers, the other was a private line from within this module. That made no sense because this module was one large room filled with sensitive electronic equipment nobody could effectively hide in. It must be an outside hack. Unless the blueprints had omitted something and he had slightly misjudged the area needed. His questions started to be answered as the private channel began to project a hologram face. It was the woman who had met him in visual form when he first disembarked from the transport out from earth.
         “Hi, were you successful at finding any rare earths to smuggle out?” she asked without any preliminaries.
         “I’m not that kind of guy. I’m a totally loyal spacer. I admit that some of my illusions about the romance of space have been tarnished, and now I know I didn’t have it that bad on earth. I just need to get back there, get some ground under me.” he dissembled. That was nonsense, he wanted the good life and the part of earth he was from wasn’t it, but she didn’t need to know that. When he had first seen her he had only part of her attention, these modern pseudo-cyborg like assistant station heads were all alike, actually doing scores of things at once. Now he had all of her scrutiny, he didn’t like that.
         “No, I don’t think so. Your purchases on earth didn’t go unremarked and were forwarded to us, at least in part. It looks like a fairly typical kit for smuggling of rare earths out of system by latching onto an outbound transport”.
         She looked exactly the same as she did before, he observed to himself, it was obviously enhanced and wondered what she actually looked like. She looked too much like a video game character, in this case a quintessential redhead.
         “That’s a slander, I wouldn’t know the first thing about smuggling. Where are you anyway?”
         “Oh, I’m in a small room attached to this module, I can’t establish contact with the outside world yet but I’m working on it. And I’m locked in most of the time, they say it’s for my own safety.”
         She shouldn’t have said that, he thinks, as he looks at the module again and spies where the hidden hatch would have to be. As it becomes apparent he is going to break into her alcove she wordlessly cuts the terminal with something like fear and anger on her face. All of his old skills as a hacker come back to him surprisingly quick. Only a cursory attempt had been made to hide the door, the outside security of its mini-terminal designed more to delay with obscurity in its commands rather than complexity, it was obviously mostly for keeping someone in. The door opened onto a circular, white paneled room, somewhat larger than he had expected. In the center was a tall woman strapped into a full data-chair, currently showing the same emergency warnings on all thirty channels. She had alabaster skin, a long face, and thick dark black curly ringlet hair grown out unruly as if she had not too long ago cut it quite short. Floating in the chamber at her side was an advanced techno-mace, she might be impossible to subdue for one man if it was fully operational.
         “Thank you for breaking me out, I could never have done it myself. Now if we can get out of here I’m sure we can talk about your little crime.” she said with a smile.
         “I’m just gonna cut your comm so you don’t tell anyone those fanciful ideas. That’s all. No big thing. Then you’re staying here all nice and safe like until my rocket is away.” he replied.
         “You can’t cut my comm, I have wireless with enough range. Besides, I have decided to leave Neptune space. I’ll be leaving on the same ship as you. You were pretty easy to manipulate here, only a few bread crumbs were needed.”
         Just at that moment another channel took priority over all the others of her data-chair. It showed a data-center with various worried and busy people. An older, cruel looking woman in an open face-plate environment suit said, “Human node unit MS-Ultra, your application for earth-side leave is denied, you’re to stay here and help with the rebuild. Pleases respond with your compliance to this message.”
         The younger woman in the chair responded by cutting all the feeds in and out, leaving silence to descend on the two of them as they drifted through space. She said to him, “They won’t even give me a real name, just MS-Ultra. I’ve lived here my whole life, almost everyday I’ve been cared for adequately. Some days have even been fun. But it has been getting worse every year. They will never repair this place, not really. I could really use your help to escape, no law abiding citizen would do it and I’m out of time."
         He considered what she had said and made a snap decision. “Yeah, yeah, OK, I’ll help you. But I ain’t no criminal. I just like computers, space, and finding out how things work. And I understand the law, it’s all legal if it’s just floating out there. The thing is, this will only work if you listen to me, I’m the expert at running away, honey.”
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