Eni walked the corridors of Phoenix station, trying to determine just where she was in relation to where she wanted to be. The mid-level corridor crawled with off-duty station’s crews at shift’s end. Most just hurried home to their beds, but in places people strolled or clumped together in small drifts before the brightly-lit shops and numerous galleys. Station life ran to its own rhythm, one that groundsiders were not privy to and it left them confused. She hoped she didn’t look like one of them. Eni had little trouble with the rotating schedule, which she suspected might be her cop’s instinct to adapt to what existed rather than wishing it was something else. Station markings and directions were still somewhat of a challenge. This was her first time on the mid-level and the spare and bare look of the lower level had been replaced by stores and eateries and wall coverings in bright but bewildering designs. She had no time to stop or window shop, striding forth to find the odds and ends she felt she needed for her stay on the Shortest Mile. First, she would go to be fitted for her ship’s uniform. She smiled, watching parents shopping for bright gowns for their daughters who were coming out, this strange practice which had worked its way into station life. They also bought crisp, formal suits for their sons to be escorts, to be seen in the best light.
All the people here had tales of why their children were the best and the brightest. Their handsome young man or darling daughter would make the family’s fortune, so their parents could lay down their burdens. Eni shook her head at the thought and gave all of her attention to finding the Mile’s tailor. She knew that on the upper and lower levels, other people dreamed and hoped and envied. They couldn’t take their lives as they found them or realize the treasure they already possessed. That wasn’t human nature, seeking growth and plenty. She scanned the faces of them, strangers all, hoping to see Stavo, though it left Eni feeling more alone and empty.
The station population, crew and workers, as well as their families had the look of being space bound, space born. Though not exceeding tall, the requirement of the first chosen of being six feet or under, they were thin in body, arms and legs. She no longer felt so short here. Yet, they saw her, too, another stranger in their midst, hoping she didn’t spell trouble for their lives, their closed world. Change was never good when locked within steel walls. Even the station’s own, who wanted out, were quickly spotted and redirected into the star lanes or some planet’s harsh gravity.
Eni returned to her room with a carry sack hanging from one shoulder and a wrapped bundle under her arm. She could have had it sent to meet her, but she’d gone back after her shopping to retrieve it. She wasn’t sure why. As she returned to her station room one last time, she hardly registered the steel deck, the steel-clad walls so carefully disguised, or how they curved and brought her to her to the drop tube that lowered her to near her modest hostel room. In her mind, she pictured the Mile’s hull, the the juggler, balanced on one foot, stars in the air. She smiled brightly above her motely garb, as comets streamed from her flowing hair. She could see the crisp type, The Shortest Mile, arcing over the top of the image. Eni realized she was excited by this new adventure, and that it might help her find Stavo.
No one could vanish without a trace. Eni would use her police training and the mobility of space to help her search. Humans had conquered the distances of space, but had never been able to render digital communication at the same speed. This trip gave her the opportunity of travelling in Brotherhood space without the need to raise the costly fair most passenger liners charged. She felt sure Brotherhood space would be where Stavo would go, if he were able. Along the way, she could keep an eye out for others, Brother Dom or Luusile, in case they’d had any word. She would be vigilant, scanning every face, listening to every footstep and voice.
Eni changed slowly in front of the room’s cracked mirror, admiring the changes it made in her stance. Born to wear a uniform, she’d wear this one proudly, once more a part of a group. It made her feel less lost, more safe, though she knew space could be dangerous. Like being a police officer, danger came with the territory. Short gathered her few belongings and purchases, having already settle up with the room. Outside, she walked proudly, at a steady pace, in the spacer’s lane, that area kept clear for when crew might need to scramble to the ships or be left behind. She hailed the Shortest Mile out beyond the deck space reserved for them. A woman came to the hatch and waved her to approach. Eni did her best to hide her smile, hoping to appear the sober and steady crew member they were expecting.
“Camile Hinks,” the woman introduced herself with an answering smile. “I’m the CE, Chief of Engineering. Welcome aboard.”
“Glad to be here,” Eni said, taking a tentative step forward.
“I know we met before, but now you are part of the crew,” Camile continued. “There will be times at dock when more formality will be expected.”
“Yes Ser.” Eni came to attention and snapped her best new-recruit’s best salute.”
Camile gave her a questioning eye. “You don’t seem as new to this as I was led to believe.” Eni started to respond, but Camile raised a hand to stop her. “Yes Ser or yes sir are appropriate forms of address, in fine sailing tradition, but we do not salute. Ever.” Camile paused a few moments waiting to see how Eni would respond. When she said nothing, Camile got a twinkle in her eye, there and briefly gone. “Stand down. Permission to speak granted.”
Eni relaxed into a parade rest stance, hands behind her back. “I just wanted to say I have a background in law enforcement and a history of following orders.”
“Can you handle a weapon?”
“Yes, several in fact.”
Camile smiled and turned and started into the ship. “C’mon she said. Let’s get you settled.