Like three space stations before it, Zhiminda Station has fallen silent. Zhyara and his crew travel to the very edge of settled space to investigate. Will they find the station dead, its corridors exposed to the vacuum of space? Will they find bodies? Will they run into the unknown killers? Or is the reason much more sinister than that?
First published in Giganotosaurus (Feb 2013)
A novella set in the Earth-gamra world, which I have also used for the Aghyrians series, The Far Horizon and Ambassador.
This novella takes place about 100 years before the Aghyrians series.
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The ship glided into the dock, into the care of grappling arms and snaking robotic leads.
Clang, click, contact.
The navigation hub flashed with the station control override. The screen showed a logo, but no inbound or outbound communication.
Seated next to the pilot, in the bluish glow of the controls, Zhyara didn’t realise how tightly he’d been gripping the edge of the seat, all the way while they’d drifted past the scratched surface of the station, all the way while he listened to the pinging of their unanswered broadbeam probes. His instinct, after being cut off from his associates on Zhiminda station for so long, ached for confirmation that personal networks were still intact.
“I think they could have provided some better damn light in here.” The pilot’s voice pierced the tense silence. The remark, no doubt intended to be light-hearted, fell flat. Everyone aboard the ship was tense.
“But I guess things could have been worse,” the pilot added into the heavy silence.
“Much worse,” Zhyara confirmed.
He breathed out tension. At least someone was still alive aboard the mining station. At too many other stations, they’d found nothing except dead husks of metal, where the emptiness of space had erased evidence of the living.
The floor shook and juddered in time with harsh metallic clangs.
“They’ve used hard-dock,” the pilot observed, unnecessarily; the team knew all the sounds.
“Certainly, we’re not going to get out in a hurry,” Zhyara said.
The pilot glanced aside, a reflection of blue light in gold-flecked black eyes. “Do you think we need to?”
Zhyara didn’t reply to that. Right now, he feared anything was possible.
“Damn,” someone behind him said. “We’re the only ship in this place.”
Zhayra glanced over his shoulder at his seconds, and behind them, their seconds and the third layer of associates behind that. A neat pyramid of order. Eight technicians, four supervisors, two leaders, and him at the top. They were his people, his small branch of the loyalty network. They knew their places and functions down to the smallest flick of an eyebrow.
Aboard this station, his equal, his zhayma, was a woman called Emiru. She would fill him in on the station’s running. Both of them as a team answered to Asha Domiri, the stationmaster; that was how his part of the network slotted together.
But the people out there were all male.
“Who are those guys?” The unease in Zhyara’s mind grew.
“They’re not our associates,” said a technician at the back, reading data from the ID tags on the screen. “Names are unknown. No rank or affiliation known.”
“What happened to Asha Domiri or Emiru Azimi?”
“Truly, anyone’s guess is as good as mine.”
That held no good promise. An unknown man meant Zhyara would have to trace matters of superiority. A normal stationmaster would have been Third Circle, like Zhyara, and there would have been some prior contact, some precedent through which to trace rank. By rights, a stationmaster would have superiority over Zhyara. That was the way things were supposed to be.
The air lock flashed ready. Zhyara got up from his seat. “Is there anything good to report besides that the station is not completely dead?” What if we’ve disturbed the killers of the station halfway through their grisly job?