Cornelia Station – Vesta – The Expanse
Lydia attempted her homework whilst she waited patiently for her father to return from his shift. She flicked through rudimentary calculations on the holographic chartboard, trying to get the equations to match and turn green, but whenever she changed one set of numbers, another would turn red. Lydia didn’t care much for math. Her father had tried in vain to explain the importance of math, tirelessly describing it as the language of the universe, but to 9 year old Lydia Liss it was simply characters on a holographic chartboard that wouldn’t turn green. Life on an asteroid was pretty dull for a 9 year old girl but Lydia had known no other home. She was born on Vesta, attended Kalpana Chawla Educational Facilities on Vesta, and waited for her father, every night, in their quarters on Vesta. Lydia’s mother had died when she was very young, so long ago that she often had trouble remembering. But, every once in a long while, a smell or a sensation would inexplicably bring the memories flooding back and she would struggle to hold back the tears. She selfishly thought for a very long time, that her father had been unaffected by the death of her mother, such was his cheerful nature around her. Lydia soon realized that he spent most of his nights sobbing into his pillow as soon as he thought Lydia was asleep. When she woke, however, as though he were a new person, the bulky brute with an infectious smile and a bionic metal arm would be singing ancient songs and smiling whilst frying ration-pack eggs and fake bacon; or reggs and facon as he would embarrassingly call it every time.
Lydia heard the buzz of the bio-scanner and immediately jumped into her fathers’ bed, pretending to look interested in her math. Their quarters, at least compared to the few other quarters she’d visited, could be considered fairly plush for the home of a miner and his daughter on an asteroid. The apartment consisted of a storage compartment that Artem had made into a bedroom fit for a princess and a larger living area that doubled as his own bedroom. A miniscule kitchen and a petite bathroom completed the setup; it wasn’t much, but it was home and they almost always had enough hot water and electricity. She often wondered why they’d stayed on the asteroid for so long, when other Belters often came and went very quickly; rock-hoppers they were called. Artem walked through the door and dropped his case in the usual spot. He looked scruffy and tired, with a disheveled jumpsuit and bags under his eyes, but he still smiled a smile as wide as ever when he saw his daughter.
“Oye setara mali!” Artem wailed as his daughter ran and jumped in to his arms.
“Papa!” She wailed “You know we have to speak English at school”
“Well maybe I should find a nice little Belter school for you then hey? You can learn how to break rocks huh?” He laughed, holding her tightly with his mechanical arm.
“Haha – there is only one school on Vesta Papa!”
“Well perhaps I will put my little chicken on a shuttle and send her to Earth! You can speak English with all the tumang” Artem bellowed as he swung her around carelessly and she giggled hysterically.
“Well my best friend Olga is from Earth and she said she would show me one day”
“The tumang at your school?” He inquired, placing her back on the bed and heading for the kitchen.
“She’s just the same as me, just a bit shorter”
“I am just kidding my dear. Your own great-grandfather was born on Earth. He told me all about a place called England and the sports they would play. Real grass and fresh air. But it’s mostly polluted now.”
“Do you want to go to Earth one day?” She asked. She almost asked if he’d like to go when he was older, but then she realized Papa was old, compared to her at least. She caught him off guard
“I don’t know; I don’t think so. I’m an old pampa It might hurt; we’re Belters my dear. So, I will make us a nice Belter dinner, and you can tell me all about what you learned at school. How does that sound?”
“Belter dinner? Not rations again Papa?”
After a short while, a drone sounded outside and delivered something that smelled vaguely like Chinese food, although the taste was rather more questionable. Artem had decided to test the new Chinese store that had opened, Wong’s Wok, and Lydia remarked that the son of the chef was in the same class as her at school. They finished the meal, disposed of the waste in the chute and settled to talk and sleep. Artem didn’t have too much time for anything other than sleep and nutrition on his short breaks between shifts, but he always made time to speak to his daughter, even if it meant he was a little more fatigued at work. He removed his arm as he settled down with her.
“So what did they teach you today at school my Belter princess?”
“Not a lot really.”
“So that’s where all my credits go! On not a lot hey!” He jokingly complained.
“Papa” Lydia whined and she rested her head on his chest. “Today was July 1st, and that was the birthday of Kalpana Chawla, so we did some art about her and learnt about NASA and the early launches.”
“That’s more like it princess. Tell me about your friends at school now?”
“Well everybody likes me, I think, but Dagmar Hradczuk is a Martian and she is really cool. And Olga Olomouc, of course. And Dennis Wong is new, but he is nice. He was living on Burnell Station for years.” She smiled and yawned at the same time. She kept talking for a while before she heard the heavy breathing of her father had become louder and realized he’d drifted off. She thought about waking him, but instead pushed a cover over him, turned out the lights and headed for her own bed. She would have played games on her holoboard, but it had a lock after 20:00 Earth Time so she cleaned her teeth and climbed into bed to dream of Earth and other worlds.
Lydia awoke to the faint rumbling sound of an explosion. That, in itself wasn’t unusual, afterall a mining facility was a loud and dangerous place and explosives were often used to dig deeper into the core. But, this explosion felt different. Lydia couldn’t put her finger on it, but after hearing these rumblings for years, she had an intuition about what they should feel like; and this didn’t feel like it was normal. She called for her father, realizing that he’d probably already left for work and a quick check of the sofa confirmed her suspicion. Another explosion reverberated around the room, this time louder, sending vibrations along the decking and she began to panic. Something wasn’t right. The light above then flickered, which heightened her anxiety and as she quickly washed her face in the kitchen sink to wake herself before the siren sounded. Every few months they had a test of the alarm system and they even had an evacuation drill once, but she had the distinct feeling that this was no test. Loud footsteps ran past the front door; heavy Grav-boots which meant the generator that boosted the gravitational field was down. She noticed her steps getting lighter and the water falling very slowly and unnaturally from the tap which she shut down. Vesta had about 1/40th of the gravity of Earth, but the fusion generator boosted that to about 50 to 60%. The generator had been down before but it was fun then, now she was scared and wished her Papa would come home. She dressed quickly and took the heavy grab-bag that her father had prepared in case of an emergency, before putting the large Grav-boots, several sizes too big, on her small feet. A nervous tear ran extremely slowly down her cheek as she pondered her next move. She took the bag and opened the front door.
15 years later…
Lockyer Station – The Expanse
Lockyer station was a festering hive of putridity. It was said that despite having an adequate shipyard where repairs could be bought, you might spend the next few months venting your ship to get rid of the Lockyer musk. Named after Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer, the discoverer of helium, it was a giant rusting melting-pot of traders, mechanics, drifters and wasters looking to get high. It was rumored that much of the solar system’s supply of illegal drugs and technology came via Lockyer Station, and Lydia didn’t doubt it after docking. She and Dennis bought respirators from a vending machine in the docking bay which covered their mouths and filtered the oxygen but left their eyes exposed to toxic fumes; everyone on Lockyer had red, irritated eyes. Nobody stayed on Lockyer very long, unless they had no other choice.
Dennis immediately wished he stayed in the relevant comfort of their trusty ship, Recalcitrant. He sighed every few minutes and rolled his eyes at everyone they passed in the grimy corridors on route to the habitat ring. Lydia seemed oblivious to the suspicious looks of the populous and the crying beggars and drug addicts that littered the hallways. Dennis asked her to stop whilst he adjusted his boot.
“You could have stayed on the ship”
“And leave you alone in this dump? Not likely” He moaned through the mask. “Where are we supposed to meet this guy anyway?”
“A bar in the habitat ring; Burton’s Bar”
“Sounds terrific, I hope they have steak” Dennis whined, sarcastically at first then thinking about the taste of real meat. When he finished adjusting and stood, Lydia nodded and he continued to follow her for another 10 minutes, passing grimy signs, unfortunate Belters and graffiti-ridden walls until they went through a tunnel and arrived on the plaza. They scanned the vicinity for their intended meeting point. The plaza had the intended feeling of a huge dome, with a pleasant view of the sky above providing ample lighting. Although there was no sky in reality, it was screens depicting an Earth sky, and half of them were turned off or smashed. Food vendors of various origins and traders selling their wares were lining the rim, with street performers and hagglers congregating the middle. People came and went about their business and ate and drank and fought; just like most stations, except dirtier here. The station wasn’t owned or operated by Earth, Mars or even the OPA; it was an independent station which meant that security was lackadaisical at best and violence was commonplace
“There” Lydia pointed, Dennis following her arm to a rickety dwelling on the upper level. The ‘N’ had fallen off so it was now ‘Burto’s Bar’ and he sighed, loudly, again. Dennis followed Lydia as she plotted a course towards the target establishment and weaved through bedraggled passers-by and traders trying to haggle with customers. The decibel level increased and Dennis felt his heart rate multiply as they moved closer. A bearded man with facial tattoos mocked him as he maneuvered around and another reprobate tried offering him a white substance that would make him see dragons. He was worried about Lydia and thought about how far they’d come. They’d done business with the most unscrupulous men in the solar system, on all sides of the political spectrum, and they’d killed a great many as well. Ever since that fatal day on Vesta, when their lives were torn apart and yet simultaneously brought together, Dennis and Lydia had sought retribution and vengeance against the terrorists that had murdered their families. They were not lovers, although they had tried at passion; it never worked for them. They were close to finding the answers now. Dennis saw that Lydia was as focused as ever, going from hit to hit with increased violence as she sought the answers she believed were close. Dennis didn’t believe it as she did, and started to feel that each kill they made led them further from the truth. He started to feel that revenge was a dish best left unserved.
When they reached the bar they adopted the well versed routine that they’d become accustomed to. Lydia went in and Dennis waited outside in case of any trouble. Lydia pushed through the ancient glass door and scanned the bar. It was rustic in design, foul smelling and dirty through lack of cleaning. Some dwellers drank, smoked and injected at their seats, passing time by whatever means they could and less than a dozen people in total were in the bar. The burly barman with artificial eyes and scars around his face scanned her and then nodded sideways, gesturing her towards a discrete table with a man in a hat. She checked her sidearm slyly, but the artificial eyes saw and he shook his head. She took a seat opposite the man who was scanning through the holographic menu coming from the metal table.
“What do you want?”
“You’re an impatient one. I meant a drink?”
“I don’t want a drink. I want answers”
“My, my. They did warn me you were very forthright.” He smiled revealing pearly white teeth; too white to be his own. He was a small man with a big neck and pockmarked cheeks. He evidently had some eye implants as he scanned her up and down unnaturally, spending far too long in areas that he shouldn’t have. He continued “I’ll put this bluntly my dear. My superiors have the information you are looking for, but they want one more favor before they pass it to you”
“That wasn’t the deal.”
“There never was a deal.”
“We had a deal. Your superiors have the information about who killed my father. I did your bidding for 3 years; now give me what I’m owed.”
“How does it feel being a Belter who murders Belter’s?” He smiled
“Imagine if we told the OPA who you were and what you’ve been doing? Huh? Taking out high-ranking members of their organization. That would get you into a lot of trouble I imagine.” He smiled again, ponderously. She lost patience and slowly reached for her sidearm which he saw.
“Give me the information I’m owed. Then I’ll discuss further transactions.”
“Don’t be a fool Liss; how far do you think you’d make it off this shithole if you shot me. And would that bring you any closer to finding the person who killed your father?” The smile faded. She thought about her father and how she’d missed his infectious grin. The anger subsided. Then it quickly came back. She pulled the pistol and repeatedly hit the man in the face with the butt, bloodying his nose whilst he whined. The barman had seen the scuffle so Lydia quickly dragged the bloodied man to the toilets and locked the door behind her. She tapped her ear and indicated to Dennis that things had escalated. Lydia smashed the man’s face against the sink and let him slump to the floor, dazed and confused. Someone started to bang on the door behind her.
“What happened?” She screamed. Hitting the pathetic man violently, again and again. She held the gun to his head and he could see in her eyes that she would use it without a moments hesitation.
“I don’t know” He yelled. “Nobody does. The UN are just using you. They have theories but nothing concrete” He cried, blubbering with blood bubbling at the corners of his mouth. She shook her head and screamed at him, accusing him of lying to her. “It was probably the OPA because Vesta was a secret facility, mining a new type of mineral for the UN. They think it was an OPA splinter cell; some guy named Dunhill, but they don’t know anything for sure. Mars and the UN both went to investigate but got in each other’s way.” He squealed as she Lydia Stepped on his neck. Blood covered his face and she could see that he’d broken his nose, cheek and eye socket. The thumping at the bathroom door increased and Lydia knew it would open with the next hit. Fortunately for her, Dennis had her back and the last thump, which opened the door, was the bald barman with artificial eyes and bullet in the back of his skull collapsing through it. She saw Dennis, leapt over the barman and dragged him back out into the plaza.
“Run!’ She shouted, ushering him to follow.