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    Dawn to Dawn - Smashwords sample Dawn to Dawn - Smashwords sample Document Transcript

    • What others are saying about Stories from the Strangers Universe (Dawn to Dawn is the second story of the collection of three stories) "This is a great collection ... each story was well written and perfectly in sync .. I dorecommend that you ... enjoy as I did." -- Albert Robbins III, http://freebookreviews.blogspot.com/2011/03/stories-from-strangers-universe.html
    • Dawn to Dawn Sami Salkosuo Smashwords Edition Copyright 2010 Sami Salkosuo Discover other titles by Sami Salkosuo at Smashwords.com: Stories from the Strangers Universe - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/32121 Just Another Scout - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/14403 End of an Era - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31150 Smashwords Edition, License Notes Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends.This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.
    • Chapter 1: Undermine the profits ”Good morning! Today is Tuesday, May 27th, 2927. The time is now 5:25 and the spaceweather is easy today with only a few asteroids blocking the sun.” “If you would like to see the sun in all its beauty, please reserve a trip to Earth. We at the EarthTour Travel Agency are here to help you to enjoy the Earth!” I woke up annoyed at the syrupy voice of the wake-up service commercials and hit the clock totell it I was awake. “Thank you for awaking,” said the stupid clock. Courtesy of the company indeed. “We have afully furnished apartment for you,” the company recruiters said when I joined the company. “Youcan enjoy living, not furnishing, when employed by us,” they said, but they forgot to mention thatcommercials were part of the deal. Feeling tired, I stood up and went to have a quick shower. I then ate a company-sponsoredbreakfast of bacon and eggs out of the company-sponsored fridge and watched the SolGov-sponsored news. “Solar system stock markets continue to build up small but steady gains. The Earth Index wasup for the thirteenth day in the row and rose 0.3% yesterday. The Mars Index was also up and hasgained total of 3.4% in the last ten days,” a lady from the Primary News Service—or PriNS—wasreading the news in monotonous voice. “The mining company Kuiper Cap announced yesterday that it is further expanding into theKuiper Belt in the hope of finding new mining fields to replace some of the older fields wheremining is no longer practical,” the woman continued. Kuiper Cap is my employer and the news reminded me that I should go to work. My shiftstarted in twenty minutes and the night shift didn’t like to be kept waiting. I got dressed, put on myuniform and stepped out of my apartment. Right outside my apartment, the passageways of mining station KCap16 were already full ofpeople going to work or coming from work. Here in the middle-levels, all employees wore identicaluniforms and sometimes I recognized friends only from the nametags. But I saw no friends this timeas I walked towards the office. “The MilFor announced yesterday that the two-year explorer mission to Oort Cloud isscheduled to return tomorrow morning, Earth time. Preliminary analysis indicates that the comets inthe Oort Cloud could be a good prospect for mining. The explorer galleon docks to the MilFor basein Titan, and we will be there to report the welcoming ceremony live. Please join us in welcomingthe crew home!” the woman in PriNS said as I listened via the radio in my uniform. “The SolGov has already had talks with major mining companies about possible permits toexpand to the Oort Cloud,” the news lady continued as I approached the office. I turned the radiooff as I got to the door and entered. “Good morning, Nick,” said my colleague, Jenny, who’d been on the night shift. “Congratulations for coming on time,” she continued. “I’m going straight to bed to be fresh forthe evening. Are you coming?” she asked, referring to McMack’s Pub and Bar complex, wheremost of the station personnel spent their evenings. And any other free time we had. “Of course, where else?” I asked. “You could do some overtime in the mining field. To improve our quota. You know that the endof the quarter is in one month, and we’re a little behind our target,” Jenny said in almost a serioustone. “Yeah, right!” I commented. “How was your night?” I asked. “Pretty good, I found one asteroid that has a good amount of minerals. You can continue there,coordinates are already set.” I looked at Jenny as she came out of the terminal. She was beautiful, and I could only imaginewhat was under the uniform. I started smiling as I looked at her, and she caught me off-guard. “What are you looking at?” she asked sharply.
    • “Ummm…” I started but knew that there was no point lying. “You, of course, you’re beautifulto look at, and I bet you’re even more beautiful without your uniform…” “Hah! I’m sure you’d like to see that,” she said with a tone that clearly told me it wasn’t goingto happen even in my wildest dreams. “Enjoy the day shift,” she said as she left the office. I smiled as I watched her go and then entered the terminal to connect to the Worker interface.The interface is like an extension of the uniform, and it integrates with my brain and nervoussystem. I activated the Worker and felt how the diagnostics system provoked neurons from my brainand body and verified that the neurons were transmitted correctly to the Worker. Then, at theWorker, neurons that were actually meant for my own legs, initiated movement in the Worker’slegs. Or arms or whatever else I moved. I stretched my arms and the Worker responded immediately. I walked a little, or I thought aboutwalking, and saw how the Worker responded without delay. I stomped around the docking bay for amoment to verify that everything was in order. I checked the coordinates of Jenny’s asteroid. Pretty far away, and the flight would take half anhour. No wonder Kuiper Cap was thinking of expanding. If new mineral-rich asteroids were faraway, the travel times would start to undermine the profits. “Heh... ‘Undermine the profits’. Thatwas a nice one, Nick,” I thought and laughed aloud. In the hope of quickening the flight time, I listened to the news again. “Hollywood continues its recent success by releasing a story set almost a thousand years ago.This story tells of an alternate history of what might have happened if the ancient nation calledJapan had won World War Two. The viewer may participate in the story not only as the maincharacter but also as a supporting character,” the same news lady continued. “Another newsworthy event in Hollywood is that the executives of a major company have beencaught trying to manipulate public opinions of expensive but unpopular stories related to the Marsmythology,” the lady said as I turned the news off. I didn’t understand why the Mars mythology stories were so unpopular. Sure, they’d beenproved wrong centuries ago, but they were still entertaining—especially the latest story where themain characters had to hike their way to Olympus Mons to meet the builders of the ancient Marscatacombs. I sensed that we were approaching the asteroid, and I commanded the Worker to slowly pull upbeside it. Jenny was right, there was a good amount of minerals here—enough for the evening shiftand probably for the night shift too. The drill in the Worker touched the asteroid, and I could feel that the rock was heavy withminerals. The drill sensors gave me feedback on where most of the minerals were. I made a few holes in the asteroid wall and put a wedge in one of the holes, hammering it inwith my hands. “Ouch!” I said as the Worker gave feedback from the impact. A large piece of rock separated from the asteroid surface and revealed a lode. There were way more minerals than Jenny’s “good amount” estimate. We could spend quite afew shifts mining just this one asteroid. Good, we don’t have to spend time searching for asteroids,and we can concentrate on the actual work, I thought. I hovered close to the asteroid surface and started to extract the minerals. Chapter 2: I lost a leg My shift was halfway through, and I was still working on the same asteroid wall I was when Iarrived. That was a welcome change, normally I’d fly around searching asteroids for mining, andthat was boring. Now I could concentrate on actual mining and get the much-needed minerals intoWorker’s backbag. I grabbed the asteroid wall and kicked it to reveal even more minerals. As the asteroid rotatedslowly around its axis, I continued to extract the minerals without much thought.
    • Suddenly I sensed that something was approaching. Oh hell! Another asteroid was on acollision course, and it was close, very close. I assessed the situation as best as I could and decidedto push myself upwards in the hope that I could avoid the coming asteroid. I floated upwards and watched the asteroid come closer. There was nothing I could do. I wastoo slow and asteroid was going to hit. It was coming directly towards me and... Autch! Theasteroid collided with my leg and then shattered against wall where I’d just been extractingminerals. The collision threw small rocks towards me, and I used my arms to hit them away. After the bigger rocks were gone, I checked my leg. No sign of it, and I wondered where it was.My left leg was totally gone below the waist, and I couldn’t even see any debris of it. Oh hell, I thought again. The company was not going to like this. “Hey, Nick! Are you OK?” a voice on the intercom asked. It was Bruce, the day shiftsupervisor. “We noticed a collision.” “Well, I lost a leg but otherwise I’m OK,” I answered. “OK, don’t worry. The computer just finished analyzing your logs, and you couldn’t haveprevented it. In fact, if you’d evaded to any other direction you might have lost much more than aleg. I’ll send you a report of our analysis after you get back,” Bruce said. “Thanks,” I said, relieved. Last month one guy in another sector lost the entire Worker, andhe’d to pay it from his salary. He actually had to take a loan from the company and got himself anextra five years of the company-sponsored wake-up service. And that really sucked, I thought as avision of some extra years working in the asteroid fields came to mind. I continued to extract more minerals from the asteroid. The smaller asteroid that collided withme didn’t have many minerals, and I could only get a small amount of new minerals from theimpact area. After a few more hours of working, the alarm on the Worker sounded; telling me the day shiftwas coming to an end. And since I had a half-hour flight back to the station, I stopped and headedback. “The Earth Index is on the rise again. That’s the fourteenth day in the row,” said the news ladywhen I turned the PriNS on. “Professor Remington, thank you for coming. Is this up-trend in the Earth stock market a markof something special? I believe that these kind of long up-trends are rare,” the news lady askedsome expert commentator. “Well, they are rare, but this is not unique. In the last thousand years, there have been dozens ofeven longer up-trends. But I admit, the last one was nearly ten years ago so it’s no wonder thisappears to be very special time,” Professor Remington commented. Who cares? I thought and turned the news off. All the trading was done by algorithms anyway,and I guessed the algorithms had decided that now was the time for a good, long up-trend. I did the rest of the flight back in silence and analyzed the extracted minerals. There was iron,copper, zinc, silicon and some water as well. All in all, two tons of minerals, and after separating thevaluables from the minerals, I was left with a couple of hundred kilograms of various metals and alittle water. As per my contract with the company, I could keep 1% of the metals for myself anddeposit them. The contract said eligible employees could sell them back to the company at marketprice when we wished, or when we left the company. I decided to take the iron this time, and myiron deposit would then have—I checked my account—a total of ninety-five kilograms. That waspretty good. I also had other metals, and with the current market prices, the total amount wasalready valuable. Even with the company-sponsored wake-up service, this job had been very goodone. I approached the station and docked the Worker to the repair yard. “Where’s your leg?” one of the mechanics said as he looked at the Worker. “Do you have topay for it?” “No,” I said as I disconnected from the Worker interface and stood up from the terminal. “Hi, Nick,” said Hugh, the evening shift guy who was already at the office. “Hi, Hugh. There’s a good asteroid half an hour away. Jenny found it, and there’s still enough
    • minerals for several shifts,” I told him. “And watch for the other asteroids. I lost a leg there.” “Well, enjoy your evening,” I said and left the office before Hugh could say anything. Chapter 3: Press conference at 20:00 I walked towards my apartment without hurry and watched the news headlines on the monitors. “Indices up for two weeks in the row,” said one of the headlines. Who cares? I thought again. “Baltic Sea rises two meters because of spring floods and more than average rain,” said anotherheadline. “The MilFor holds press conference at 20:00 Earth Time,” said a third. That was 23:00 localtime, and I wondered what it was all about. Probably the explorer galleon from the Oort Cloudcame back ahead of schedule. Before I got to my apartment, I read the report Bruce had sent me. He was right; I couldn’thave prevented the collision. The small asteroid was totally blocked by the large one, and it wasdetected only because I rotated towards it. Bruce had added some simulations to the report, and theyshowed that if I’d tried to evade in any other direction, I’d have lost more than just one leg. Perhapseven the whole Worker. In his report, Bruce recommended a small bonus for my quick thinking andsaving the Worker. I smiled to myself; this would look good on my service record. The apartment greeted me with a company-sponsored welcome message as I entered. I turnedthe message off before it started to annoy me, got out of my uniform and went to the fridge to getsomething to eat. My fridge had been filled while I was at work, and I looked at the selection...pizza, pasta, tex-mex, meatballs. I remembered Jenny as I looked at the contents of the fridge andchose meatballs for my dinner. I put the meal in the oven, and in an instant, I had a nice, warm meal. A cold beer went togetherwith the meatballs and I sat down, opening the news service. Primary Local News this time. “The day shift gathered a good amount of minerals today,” the woman on the news said. “After the day shift, the quota for the second quarter is 63% complete. Well done, miners!” shecontinued cheerfully. “There was one small incident today, a Worker lost a leg in a collision with an asteroid andofficials say the miner’s quick thinking saved the Worker from complete destruction. Big cheers forNick!” the newswoman said, and I almost choked on my meatballs. “The evening shift will miss yet another good time in McMack’s Pub and Bar tonight.McMack’s will have live music from local rock group The Kays,” the woman said just before Iturned the service off. I finished my meal and went to the computer to check the latest news from the Secondary NewsService, or SeNS, which carried news didn’t make the Primary News Service. There were usuallymuch more interesting news stories available there. There were even rumors that the SolGov wascensoring the news, but I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t think of any reason for them to do such athing. “The MilFor is holding a press conference regarding the explorer mission to Oort Cloud. Thismorning it was announced that the explorer galleon would return tomorrow, and since the pressconference will be held tonight, that means two things: first, surprisingly, the explorer got homeahead of schedule, and second, they found something they have to go public with as soon aspossible,” the SeNS announcer said. “Any guesses what they found?” the lady continued. “Our viewers have voted, and it seemsthat public opinion is that they have found many more minerals than they thought, and our miningcompanies can make a lot more profit than was previously expected. And that makes the MilForhappy, of course. They own a sizable quantity of shares in each of the mining companies.” Yeah, I thought, Kuiper Cap can expand again, and no doubt they’ll start offering new jobstomorrow. Not for me though, after my contract was over, I was going to Earth to find myself a newjob. The SeNS was showing commercials that I didn’t want to listen to, so I went to get another
    • beer. I looked at the beer selection in the fridge... I didn’t remember ordering lager, but I guess thefridge thought I could use a change from my usual beer. Good thinking, I decided and took thelager, silently cheering the fridge programmer before going back to watch the news. “We have had an unusual amount of traffic in the solar system in recent days. We’ve hadreports that the MilFor base in Titan has had more visitors than usually at this time. Or at any othertime as a matter of fact, as one viewer commented when he saw a great many vessels going thereyesterday. Reportedly, all kinds of ships, from civilian yachts to corporate galleons, and evenMilFor frigates and cruisers. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to confirm the viewer’s report,and we’ve had no new reports today, so we can’t say what is happening at the Titan base or evenwhether they are still getting more visitors than usual,” the woman on the news service said with aperpetual smile. The announcer continued on about something, but I wasn’t listening anymore. I finished mybeer and closed my eyes, but with no intention to sleeping. Chapter 4: Moments of knowing I woke up with a cold sweat on my forehead. A stupid nightmare, I’d dreamed that I’d lost myown leg in the collision with the asteroid, and I was just learning to live with just one single leg. Idespaired in the dream and started to think that this couldn’t be real. Luckily it wasn’t. I checked the time: half past eight. Already so late. I took a quick shower, changed my clothesand hurried to McMack’s. On my way to the pub, I noticed the usual amount of people in the passageways, and most ofthem are going to McMack’s. Perhaps a few would go outside to do some kiting, but since we wereso far away, kites needed to be very large, and it could be dangerous to kite near the station and theasteroids, but there were some people who did it even here. I think Bruce was one of them. After a few minutes, I was in McMack’s. It was full as always. Probably the whole day shiftwas there, close to five hundred people plus those who waited for the night shift. And a few touristswere there as well. I tried to find some friends but couldn’t spot any right away, so I went to get adrink. “Hey barkeep!” I say to Quentin, our always-on-duty bartender. He seemed to live behind thebar. “Hey, Nick,” Quentin replied. “I saw you on the news. You saved the Worker and became thehero of the day,” he said with a grin. “Yeah right. I almost choked on my meatballs when I heard that.” “Meatballs, you say. So you aren’t hungry?” Quentin asked with a grin. “No, not now but later,” I grinned back. “A drink is fine for now. Anyone I know here?” I askedQuentin before he went to get my drink. “I saw Jenny a while ago. With a friend,” Quentin said knowingly. “Bruce had a drink beforehe went to kiting. The others aren’t here yet.” If Quentin says that the others weren’t there, then they weren’t, I’d learned to trust what hesaid. I believed that he actually knew everyone on the station and somehow he always knew whatwas happening with everyone. But I wondered who Jenny’s friend was. I didn’t know she was supposed to see anyone therethat night. I thanked Quentin when he brought me a drink and turned away from the bar. I looked at thepeople in the pub, and as I looked, I started to recognize familiar faces. I’d seen many of the facesin station passageways going to work in the morning, and in the afternoon when the shift was over.Most of us had limited time contracts and no plans after the contract. Some would probably extendtheir contracts, but I wasn’t going to do that. I’d already thought it through, and I was definitely not staying here any longer than I had to. Istill had two years to go in my five-year contract, and since we were well taken care of by the
    • company, and with the money I was going to make here, I could start a new life in two years. OnEarth most likely, perhaps I’d start my own company. I didn’t think I’d like to work in any of thelarger companies after working for Kuiper Cap. I took my drink and went to stroll around the bar. I saw some familiar faces that worked next tomy sector, and we talked about the events of the day. After a while, I’d finished my drink and went back to get another. As I walked towards the bar,I saw two girls, a blonde and a brunette, leaning against the bar looking at the people in the pub. Ihadn’t seen them there before. They were maybe on the night shift, or perhaps visitors. I got lucky I thought as I saw an opening at the bar right next to the girls where I could go andget my drink. I barely kept my smile from showing as I went next to girls to get a drink. I didn’t see Quentin, so I tried to listen to the girls. I could only hear some words here andthere. Something was apparently starting soon, and they couldn’t go back… or something like that.I got the impression they were going to start work on the station. Perhaps they’d just changed jobs. When I saw Quentin coming over with a drink already in his hand, I managed to catch quiteclearly what the other girl said. “That’s him,” the brunette said, and I turned to look where they were looking. They werewatching the table near us, and at the table sat Alex, who was working in the day shift in a differentsector. With Alex, I saw Jenny. “You girls know Alex?” I asked. “Yes,” the blonde replied, and there was an almost unnoticeable pause before she continued,“we work in the same sector.” “Really,” I smiled. “Good for you.” I took my drink and went to see Alex at the table. “Hi, Alex. Hi, Jenny,” I said. “Oh, hi, Nick,” Jenny said. “You know Alex?” “Sure. We’ve had some good times together,” I said to Jenny with a smile and leaned towardsAlex. “Hey, Alex. I didn’t know there were girls working in your sector.” “What girls?” Alex asked. “Those girls,” I said and nodded towards the bar. Alex glanced dismissively at the bar and said, “They don’t work in my sector.” Before he’d finished his sentence, time seemed to stop. Sometimes there are moments of knowing and understanding, and you know that your life willchange forever. Like a moment in a math class when you understand perfectly what the significanceof Fast Fourier Transform is or knowing that the decision to go to a certain place will change thecourse of the rest of the life. When Alex said the girls didn’t work in his sector, I knew that something was wrong, and Iknew my life would change forever. I didn’t know why I was certain about it, I just knew it, withoutany doubt, and I fully intended to find out what was going to happen to me. As soon as Alex had finished his sentence, I felt as if I were in a slow motion scene in a story. Iturned my head towards the girls and heard myself saying, “They’re not?” and I saw the girlswatching me and talking with each other. Immediately they turned to leave, and it confirmed mysuspicion that something was wrong. Still in slow motion, I said to Alex to enjoy the evening and started to go after the girls. They had gone outside, my slow motion ended, and I rushed towards the door. I opened the front door and saw that the girls had separated, the blonde going to the right andthe brunette to the left. Which one should I follow? I decided to follow the blonde girl. Chapter 5: It came from Titan The passageways were still crowded; quite a few from the evening shift had already left theiroffices and were on their way to their apartments or to McMack’s. I could see the blonde girl ahead
    • in the crowd. She probably didn’t realize that I’d followed here since she was walking normally. Or maybe she did realize. She stopped beside a store window and began to stare in at the goods on display. I could donothing but slow my pace and pretend to look in the windows also. But I couldn’t stop, as it wouldbe too obvious. The blonde didn’t look like she was going to move. She’s waiting for me to pass herso she can get behind me. Damn! I thought and then suddenly saw a door with sign “EmployeesOnly” and I sighed in relief. Louis, a good friend of mine, was working in station security, and his workplace was usuallythe control room behind that very door. I knocked on the door and heard an annoyed voice ask who was there. “Louis, were you sleeping again?” I asked from the door and it opened. “Nick. What are you doing here?” Louis wondered. “I’m following a blonde. Can I come in?” I asked. “A blonde. Sure. Come on in.” Louis invited me in with a grin. “This blonde is strange. She and her friend lied to me and said they worked with Alex. Andwhen I asked Alex about them, they ran away. Something’s wrong,” I said. “Hmm... Where is she now?” Louis asked. “She’s right out there beside a store window,” I said, and Louis pointed to a monitor showingthe blonde still looking in the window. “Is that her?” Louis asked. “Yes. That’s her. Can you follow her?” I asked. “Sure. Do you know anything about her? Have you seen her before?” Louis asked. “No, I saw them at McMack’s for the first time, and I thought that they might be newemployees here. Or visitors. They seemed to know Alex, and they said they worked with him in thesame sector. That’s why I went to Alex to ask more about them, but he said that they didn’t workwith him,” I explained. “When he said that, I knew that something was wrong. The girlsimmediately left the pub, and they separated outside. I decided to follow this blonde girl. But I thinkshe saw me and stopped by the window. And then I came here,” I said, explaining the story toLouis. “She’s still looking in the window,” Louis pointed. “Can you zoom in on the blonde’s reflection on the glass? We could see what’s she’s lookingat,” I asked. “Sure,” Louis said and zoomed the camera on the window. The image quality was good, andwe saw clearly that she was definitely not looking at the contents of the store window. Her eyeswere jumping from left to right. “Looks like she’s trying to find you,” Louis commented. “So it seems. I was right, you know,” I said. “Right about what?” Louis asked. “That there’s something wrong here. Why would they lie about knowing Alex, and why run,and why is she trying to find me now?” “You don’t have to convince me,” Louis said. “And it’s obvious that something’s wrong. Myguess is that she’s a pro.” “A pro?” I asked. “A pro of what?” “She could be a criminal. Or she could be police. Or even MilFor,” Louis said. “I don’t think they’re criminals. Police perhaps, but why would they be undercover? And theMilFor? Now that’s something to think about. But the question is again, why?” I commented. “Why indeed? This is a corporate station, and the MilFor has no business here. Or shouldn’thave any business anyway,” Louis also wondered. “Any vessels arrived this evening? Or today?” I asked as I thought about something. “Just a moment,” Louis said and checked the logs from the computer. “Nothing unusual. A fewcompany galleons. And one civilian yacht. A visitor.” “Where did the visitor come from?” I asked, but I already had a hunch.
    • “It came from...” Louis started, “…well, well. Very interesting. Can you guess where it camefrom?” “If it didn’t come from Titan, I’ll give you half of my metals,” I said. “Heh. You’re right. It came from Titan,” Louis confirmed. “Seems like they are MilForpeople.” “This is getting serious. Why in the world would the MilFor be here, and more importantlywhy so interested in Alex?” I wondered aloud. “Is the blonde still looking in the window?” “She’s no longer trying to be discreet. She’s obviously looking for you,” Louis said, and Ilooked at the monitor. She wasn’t looking at the windows anymore but looking at the passing crowd, trying to findme. And she was getting annoyed, I could tell. I leaned closer to the monitor and said aloud, “Whoare you?” “What are you going to do?” Louis asked. “I’m going to follow her, and you’re going to help me,” I said, but I saw that Louis didn’t likethe idea at all. “Are you sure you want to get involved with the MilFor?” he asked. “I have to find out what they’re after,” I said and continued, “Do you have your intercom? Youfollow the blonde from here and tell me where she’s going. I’ll follow her so that she can’t see me.” “Oow... Nick,” Louis said. “You are getting both of us in trouble.” “Hey, what can they do? MilFor is on our side,” I said. “Besides, I have a good feeling aboutthis.” “Good in what way?” Louis asked. “Good in a way that this will change my life,” I told him. “I thought you were going to say that,” Louis said smiling. “The last time you said that, weended up here.” Chapter 6: Tennis court is reserved “The blonde is leaving,” Louis said. “Check your intercom. Can you hear me?” “Loud and clear,” I said after putting the intercom on. “Tell me when she’s out of sight.” I went at the door and waited for Louis’ signal to go on. Now we were going to find out whereshe was going and what she was doing here. “Go,” Louis said on the intercom. “To your right. And keep your distance. There’s enoughpeople so she can’t see you.” I opened the door to the passageway and tried to walk normally even though I really wanted torun after the blonde. “She’s not looking back,” Louis said. “Perhaps she thinks that she lost you or you left. Veryunprofessional,” Louis added, and I’m sure he was smiling. It made me smile too. After all, twoamateurs like us were following a MilFor professional. She’d been walking for a few minutes when Louis instructed to me to slow down. “She’s slowing her pace. Going towards another girl. A brunette,” Louis said. “You should stop.Go to the restroom nearby. I’ll keep an eye on them.” I did as Louis suggested. Fortunately, the restroom was empty. “What’s going on?” I asked. “The blonde stopped and she’s talking to the brunette,” Louis commented. “They’re lookingback in direction the blonde came. Looks like the brunette is annoyed.” “Wait a minute!” Louis said loudly and startled me. “What? What’s going on?” I asked, irritated because I couldn’t see what was happening. “Talkto me. I need to know what’s going on!” “They’re coming back. Any place to hide there?” Louis asked anxiously. “I have a feeling youshould hide.” Where? I thought. Where can I hide? There was nothing in the restroom, so I tried to find
    • someplace to hide outside. “There’s maintenance room outside.” “Go there quickly!” Louis said. “You don’t have much time. I’ll lock it after you get in.” I ran towards the maintenance room door, and to my relief it was open. I went in and closed thedoor behind me. Louis locked it, which caused the lights go off. “OK, the door is locked. Keep quiet. I’ll contact you when it’s safe,” Louis said. I almost stopped breathing, but I could hear my heart pounding in the darkness like taikodrums. I couldn’t hear anything outside. I wanted to put my ear to the door and listen, but instead Imoved further into the room. I heard someone at the door! Voices. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I heard whenthey tried to open the door. I’m in trouble if they decide to open it. I heard some more voices andthen nothing. Perhaps they were leaving I thought and took a deep breath. “They left,” I heard Louis say and the lights went on again as he unlocked the door. “Theychecked the restroom and had a few words with each other then moved on.” “They seem to be more relaxed now,” Louis continued. “They really don’t know we’refollowing them.” “Who’s the pro now? Eh?” I smirked. “Is it safe?” “Yes, come out and follow them, but keep your distance,” Louis said. There were only a couple of offices and the station’s sports center in the direction they wereheaded. “Anything booked in the sports center?” I asked. Louis was silent for a moment and then said, “The tennis court is reserved. Otherwise nobody’sthere.” “Who reserved it?” I asked. “There’s no name here,” Louis said. “Then that’s where they’re going,” I said. “Any way I could get there before them?” “Let’s see.... you could go to the basketball court and then use the maintenance corridor to go tothere. But you’ll have to run when you get in to the basketball court,” Louis answered. “Wait untilthey can’t see you.” I knew where the basketball court was and hurried towards it. I waited for the signal fromLouis for when it was safe to get in. “Now!” Louis shouted at the intercom, and I ran towards the door. It was unlocked, and after Igot in, I ran as fast as I could to the maintenance corridor. The corridor was dark. “It’s dark here. Can you turn on the lights?” There was no answer from Louis but after a second, I saw dim green lights above the doors. “That’s the best I can do from here,” Louis answered. “That’s good enough,” I said and ran towards the tennis court. “Hurry up!” Louis said. “They’re almost there!” I sprinted the last few meters and was at the door ready to open it when Louis shouted in theintercom, “Wait! Wait!” “What is it?” I asked annoyed. “I have to get in!” “No! There’s someone already there,” Louis said and I froze. “Can you see them? Are theyplayers?” “Wait...” Louis said and was quiet for a moment before continuing, “No players. Two menstanding in the middle of the court. They’re talking to each other, but it’s dark there. I can’t see whothey are.” “Can I get in?” I asked Louis. “I don’t know...” he said and then all the green lights went off. “Perhaps you can open the doorand they won’t see you...” “What about the girls? Are they here yet?” I asked. “Soon...” Louis said. “Are the girls walking in the dark?” I asked as I thought of something.
    • “Of course not,” Louis said. “Why do you ask?” “Tell me exactly when they open the door, and I’ll open mine. The girls and the light from thecorridor should distract the men enough so I can get in without them noticing,” I said. “Good thinking,” Louis commented. “They’re almost there. Ten meters... eight... six... three...the blonde is opening the door... Now!” I opened the door as quickly and as silently as I could and slipped in, crouching on the floor. “Don’t say anything,” Louis said. “I can’t see you on my monitors. That’s good. The girls aregoing towards the men. They definitely know each other. You should hear what they are saying... SoI’ll shut up now.” I saw and heard them. The brunette was at the front and started to talk. “Welcome,” she said to the two men. “How was your journey?” “It was fine. Everything is going according to plan,” one of the men said. I tried to see them from my position on the floor, but I couldn’t see anything, and I couldn’t riskstanding. “What about you?” the other man said. “You’re late. What happened?” “We found him, but there was another local, and we had to leave before the we could completethe assessment,” the blonde one said, and I knew that by ‘him’ she meant Alex and I was the otherlocal. “The other local followed me, but I managed to lose him,” the blonde continued. “At least Ithink I did...” “What do you mean?” one of the men inquired. “He was following me, I’m sure of it. But when I stopped to confront him, he was gone.Perhaps he wasn’t following me after all,” the blonde said. “Is that so?” the man stated as if he were thinking aloud. “Perhaps that was...” The man’s voicewent silent, but I couldn’t see what was happening. Then Louis said, “A man is walking away from the center... but where is he going...?” “Oh hell!” Louis shouted into the intercom. “He’s walking toward the control board. Get out ofthere now!” Damn! I thought and turned to crawl toward the maintenance door. I opened the door as quicklyas I dared and got it open almost enough to slip outside when the lights went on. Chapter 7: Pint of beer from the tap “There!” the man shouted still in the center of the room shouted, and I went through the doorlike lightning. “Close the door so I can lock it!” Louis shouted in the intercom, and I slammed the door behindme and ran. I saw another door, which would lead to the locker rooms I thought. I ran forward and opened it just as Louis shouted, “Don’t go in there! There’s no way out!” I knew that, but I decided to be clever. I opened the door but instead of going in, I hid behindthe opened door and hoped that it’d fool the MilFor people. It all depended on how well they knewthis station; if they knew it was a locker room, they might not go in. At least not all of them. I didn’t have to wait for long to find out. After they got the door open, all four of the MilForpeople came running from the tennis court. They saw the opened door right away. “There!” the blonde girl said, and I could hear them coming towards the door. And to my relief—and surprise—they all went in. I didn’t stick around, and I used the cover of darkness of the corridor and sneaked quickly backto the tennis court. “Unbelievable,” I heard Louis say, mostly to himself. “All four of them are in the locker room,and they’re looking for you. They’ve separated and are searching from bathrooms, shower and eveninside the lockers. Get out of there as fast as you can,” Louis continued. “Leave from the main doorand go to the nearest McMack’s. You may get there before they realize you aren’t in the lockerroom.”
    • As Louis was instructing me to leave, I was already doing so. I left the tennis court and rantowards the pub, which wasn’t so far away. When I got there, I noticed that it was emptier than usual. But then again, this was Tuesdaynight, not really a pub evening. The music was also not so loud, and I couldn’t even see thebartender. I went to the bar and tried to find the bartender so I could order a drink. “What are you doing?” Louis asked. “You shouldn’t be drinking.” “Of course not,” I said. “But what should I do? I don’t intend to run away from them, but Iintend to follow them and I’m sure, they’ll get here sooner or later.” “But won’t they recognize you?” Louis asked. “Perhaps,” I said. “Keep an eye on them. You should see if they recognize me, and then I canplan accordingly.” “What are your plans anyway?” Louis asked. “There’s four against us.” “Yes, but they don’t know about you, and that’s our advantage,” I pointed out. “Are they still inthe locker room?” “One of them is already looking in the other rooms,” Louis informed. “But since I locked mostof the doors, they’re sure to go back to the tennis court soon.” “Where’s that bartender?” I asked angrily. The guy near me said that he saw bartender watching the news behind the bar. I was about togo to him, but then he suddenly turned the monitor off and left the pub. Odd, I thought, but I didn’tthink more about it and instead got myself a pint of beer from the tap. If no one was there to collectpayment, I wasn’t going to pay, I shrugged. “OK, Nick,” Louis said into the intercom with a smile. “They are back in the tennis court, and Ican tell they are more than a little annoyed. They are leaving now,” Louis continued. “They’re inthe passageway and talking... they separated. The men are coming towards your location, and thegirls are going to the other way.” “Heh,” I smiled aloud. “I got lucky. The men won’t recognize me. Are they coming here?” “Yes, they’ll be there in less than a minute,” Louis said. I drank half of my pint and relaxed. “Tell me what they’re doing,” I told Louis. “They’re looking around and walking towards the pub. Don’t do anything, they’re opening thedoor right about... now,” Louis said, and I saw a little light from the mirror that indicated door hadopened, but I didn’t look and acted like a normal guy drinking beer alone in the bar on a Tuesdaynight. “Very good, Nick. They aren’t acting like they’ve recognized you,” Louis was telling me.“They’re looking around and walking slowly towards the bar. They are coming in your directionand they’re right behind you... now,” Louis said, and I could feel them behind me. “They definitely glanced at your pint,” Louis said and he sounded relieved. “Nice move, Nick.To drink half of your pint. They seem to be ignoring you and looking at the others.” I was relieved too, as I thought about how close they were. Just a small thing, to drink half of apint, and it seemed to save me from getting caught. For now, at least. “They’re talking to each other,” Louis continued. “If I’d guess, they’re discussing whether ornot to leave the pub, since they’ve looked at the bar more than once. They seem to be alsowondering where the bartender is... Now they’re both looking at the monitors, and they seem to betalking more quickly. Any chance you can hear them?” I couldn’t answer of course, but I couldn’t hear them anyway and took a sip from the pintagain. “They’ve decided to leave,” Louis said. Again I could feel them going behind me, and I saw the little light from the mirror when theyleft the pub. “They’re in the passageway again. Drink your beer and follow them after a short while,” Louissaid. “I’ll keep an eye on them.” “What about the girls?” I asked.
    • “They’re looking at other pubs. It is, by the way, unusually quiet. Even if it is Tuesday,” Louiscommented. “Where’s their yacht docked?” I asked. “You don’t intend to go there now, do you?” Louis asked, but he already knew the answer. “You bet I am. There may be some answers there,” I said. “It’s in docking bay 3, unguarded,” Louis said. “If you want to go there, go now. You have togo in same direction as the men, but you should get to the docking bays while they’re looking youat another pub.” Timing would be crucial, and I left my pint on the bar and quickly walked out toward thedocking bays. Louis was right, it seemed to be quieter than usual, even the monitors were off. “Stop right there. The men are around the corner just about to enter a pub,” Louis warned, and Istopped, trying to look normal, even though there was no one in the passageways. It made mewonder what had happened. “Go now!” Louis instructed, and I went quickly past the pub door and on to the docking bays. Chapter 8: Definitely not humans The docking bays were lit, but there was nobody around. I wondered again what could havehappened, but I couldn’t stop to find out. Docking bay 3 was a little further away, so I hurriedtowards it. “Where is everybody?” I asked aloud into the intercom. “I don’t know,” Louis answered. “But hurry up! The men seem to have realized that you aren’tin any of the pubs, and the girls are no longer looking in the pubs.” I went to docking bay 3, where their yacht was, and hoped to find something that could beuseful. “Anything special about this yacht?” I asked Louis. “Nothing on the surface. Looks like a normal civilian yacht to me,” Louis answered, andconfirmed my first impression. “Is it open?” I asked. “Looks that way, but be careful,” Louis cautioned. I opened the yacht airlock, but before going in, I tried to find anything unusual. “Anything?” Louis asked in the intercom. “I don’t see anything special,” I said. “I’m going in.” I entered the yacht carefully, and the lights went on automatically. As I walked towards thecockpit, I tried again to find anything that was out of the ordinary, but nothing caught my eye. After a brief walk, I entered the cockpit and the lights went on automatically again. “I’m in the cockpit now. And there’s something... not right here...” I said to Louis as Iexamined a cockpit that didn’t look like any cockpit I’d seen before. “There are four chairs, andeach of them has a console in front of it. No passenger seats.” “There’s also a large table near the side wall. And there seems to be something on the table,” Icontinued. “I’ll go and see.” “Be careful. The men and the girls are moving towards each other, and they’re likely to meetnear the pub you went in from the tennis court,” Louis informed me. I walked toward the table, and I saw map of our solar system. “Wait just a second...” I said aloud when I saw the map more clearly. “What is it?” Louis asked. “There’s a map on the table. I thought it was our solar system, but it’s not. It’s a solar system allright, but not ours, and there’s a map of the galaxy that seems to show where the star in the othermap is,” I told Louis. “This looks like the real thing…” I continued quietly as I began to think aboutwhat this would mean. “There’s a button here.” “Don’t press it!” Louis warned. “You don’t know what might happen.” “Relax, they’re far away, and they don’t know I’m here,” I said and tried to sound relaxed. I pressed the button and was taken aback.
    • Above the table, a hologram became visible that showed some text written with characters thatI didn’t recognize. And there were holograms of two humanoids that were definitely not humans! “Holy hell, Louis! You can’t guess what I’m looking at!” I said with a wonder in my voice. “You can tell me about it later!” Louis shouted, “Something’s wrong. The men and the girls juststopped.” “They’re talking with each other... and now they running. Get out of there now!” Louis shoutedagain. “They know you’re there!” Damn! I thought and started to run away from the cockpit, and as I was running, Louis shoutedin the intercom again, “They’re running fast! You’ll never get out of there in time!” But I had to try. I got out of the yacht and tried to find any place to hide. I saw nothing but theyacht’s landing gear. Luckily, it was dark in the docking bay, and I hid behind the landing gear justin time. The four people came running from the docking bay door and went straight inside the yacht.Now was my chance! I sprinted towards the door and got out, running away from the docking bays. I was thinkingwhere should I go and I thought about what I’d just seen in the MilFor yacht... “I’m coming to the control room. Let’s think about our next move,” I stated to Louis anddecided not to tell him what I’d seen. Not yet anyway. I found myself doubting my own eyes andwhat I really saw. Louis didn’t answer, and I hurried towards the control room. “Where is everybody, by the way?” Louis was wondering again with slight worry in his tone,and I wondered the same thing as I entered the control room. Usually people were strolling aroundthe station all the time—night or day. “Beats me,” I commented flatly. “What about the MilFor people? Are they still aboard theiryacht?” “I saw the blonde girl coming out briefly, but she went back, and they’ve been there for the lastten minutes or so,” Louis told me. I sat down on an uncomfortable guest chair in the control room and thought about what weshould, or what I should, do. Perhaps it was time to leave the MilFor people alone before anythingserious happened. If it wasn’t already too late for that. If what I saw on the yacht, the map and thehumanoid figures, were real, that was something big—very big. As I thought about it, my doubts vanished from my mind, and I could only conclude that thosehumanoid holograms were images of extraterrestrials—aliens!—and the map was their homesystem. I took a deep breath, and I felt goose bumps on my arms and neck. “Hey, Nick,” Louis said, “they’re coming outside.” I stood up and went to watch the monitors beside Louis and saw all four of them standing infront of their yacht and apparently talking. Then, suddenly, the brunette made a sign with her handsand they all stopped talking. They listened to the brunette as she said something to the others.Perhaps the brunette was their leader, I thought as I watched the monitor. “She’s not talking anymore,” Louis said, and I could tell that something was about to happen.All four were trying to find something, and they were searching around the docking bay. Then theycame near the yacht again, and there seemed to be some more discussion. Then the brunette raised her head and looked directly at the camera. “Hell and damnation!” Louis cursed, and the brunette pointed her finger towards the camera.The others also raised their heads and looked at the camera. “Holy hell!” I cursed after Louis. “This is not good!” The brunette apparently said something to the blonde, since the blonde took her phone andcalled someone. “I wonder who she’s calling,” I thought aloud. “Whoever it is, I’m sure it’s not good. Not good at all,” Louis suggested. “What should wedo?” I didn’t answer because I didn’t have a clue.
    • Chapter 9: They called the CEO I watched the monitor and saw the blonde talking on the phone. The others waited until she wasfinished, and then she said something to them. Too bad we couldn’t hear them. “What are they waiting for?” Louis wondered after they’d been quiet and stood still for severalmoments. And just as he finished his sentence, the phone rang! “Holy hell!” Louis jumped. “This can’t be good. Be quiet and keep an eye on them.” I glanced at the MilFor people from the monitors, but none of them were making the call. Louisanswered the phone, and I could hear how he swallowed hard. “Mmm-mmm... Mr. Stanton!” Louis stuttered, and I got tense. Stanton was the station CEO. Louis was listening to the man on the phone and said nothing. “Yes, sir,” Louis said, and he hang up the phone. Not much of a dialogue, I thought. “What did he say?” I asked. “He said I should go to his office, and he’s sending someone to escort me there,” Louis saidquietly. “I’m in trouble... Hey! Look! The blonde just answered her phone!” I turned quickly to see that the blonde was talking, and when she finished, she put the phoneaway with a smile on her face. She said something and the brunette glanced at the camera, smiling. “They called the CEO,” I stated. “They’re definitely not any ordinary MilFor officers.” “Just look at her. How she’s smiling...” I said, annoyed. “We are in trouble,” Louis said. “Somebody will be here shortly. You should go.” “Where?” I asked. “I don’t think I can go anywhere. They’ll surely find out who I am.” “I’m sorry, Nick,” Louis said and shook his head. “Hey, don’t worry. Besides, I was right. This is going to change my life. And yours too,” I said. “You were right about that. But I wonder what kind of change is ahead for us?” Louis statedanxiously. I looked at the monitor. The MilFor people were still in the docking bay. The other monitorsshowed empty passageways. “Where in the world is everybody? The night shift is almost over, and there should be peoplewalking around the station already. There’s definitely something going on, and I wouldn’t besurprised if MilFor was behind it,” I wondered again and pointed towards the four people in thedocking bay. On another monitor, I saw two station security officers walking towards the control room. “Here they come. Don’t tell them I’m here,” I said and went to hide behind the bathroom door,and after a moment, I heard the door open and the security officers came in. “Hi, Louis,” one of them said. “We should go to see Mr. Stanton.” “Sure, let’s go,” I heard Louis say. “What have you done by the way?” the other officer asked, but I couldn’t hear what Louisanswered, as they left and closed to the door behind them. I went back to the control room andwatched the monitors to see Louis and the guards on their way to see Stanton. The MilFor people were still in the docking bay, but as I watched them, the blonde answered acall again. She talked briefly and then said something to the others. The men left, I guess to seeLouis in Stanton’s office, but the girls stayed and talked between themselves. The situation didn’t look good because as they were talking, both the girls glanced at thecamera several times, and they perhaps suspected I was watching them. I assumed they knew where this control room was, but I had no idea whether they knew I wasthere. I don’t even know if they knew who I was. At least not until Louis told them who I was. Butwould Louis tell? Or, a better question, what would Stanton or MilFor do if he didn’t tell themwillingly? As I quickly thought about different alternatives, I was positive that Louis wouldn’t tell themwho I was, and MilFor would keep him for questioning until he told them, but they wouldn’tactually do anything to him. That would give me a little time to get out of the station. I was going to
    • my apartment, packing my things, terminating my contract with Kuiper Cap and leaving with thenext transport back to Earth. Just before I left, I looked at the screens and saw both the girls looking at the camera. I actuallystopped for a second to look at them. As I looked, I think I saw something out of place about them. The fact that they were good-looking girls aside, there was something else... I shook my head to clear any ideas that I didn’t yethave—no time for that now. I left the control room and entered the empty, abandoned, station passageways. Chapter 10: We arent really part of MilFor I ran through the passageways back to my apartment, and when I got there, I packed theessentials as fast as I could. After packing, I sat on the couch to catch my breath. There was no reason to rush, since thenext transport wouldn’t be leaving right away. I thought about what had happened, about Alex, thegirls, the men, and most of all about the hologram on the yacht. If it were really showing aliens, the consequences would be... Well, too much for me, I thoughtand left my apartment to catch the next transport out. Or at least I tried to, for when I opened the door, I saw the two girls standing outside. I was so startled that I actually cursed something aloud! “Hello, Nick,” the brunette said. The blonde at her side smiled. “May we come in?” It wasn’t even a question, and they were already coming in before she was finished speaking,pushing me back into my apartment. Please do come in, I thought but didn’t say anything. The girls stood in the front of me butdidn’t say anything. Well, I wasn’t saying anything either. As the girls were clearly waiting for me to say something, I could feel discomfort in the air, butas the seconds passed, the blonde was the first to show signs of irritation. She glanced at thebrunette several times, but the brunette didn’t move or say anything. Even more seconds passed and nothing happened. I was looking at the brunette’s eyes, but Icouldn’t read anything in them. I don’t know how much time passed, it could have been a few seconds or even several minutes,but finally the brunette sighed and smiled. “You are good, Nick. Very good,” she said. “There aren’t many people who can follow usundetected. Very good indeed.” “Who is ‘us’?” I asked and answered that question myself. “MilFor isn’t known for beingaround corporate mining stations.” “You’re right,” the brunette said, “they aren’t. But we aren’t really part of MilFor.” “Then who are you? And why are you here?” I asked. The brunette’s smile widened and she said, “Well, you can find that out if you want. We have aproposition for you.” “Yes?” I said, a little surprised. “We want you with us. We have a job opening just right for you,” the brunette said, and I wasvery surprised indeed! “A job? For whom?” I asked. “Can’t you guess?” the blonde asked, and I didn’t have to think long, there was only one groupthat could be their employer, but it was almost too much to believe. “You have to be Special Intelligence. And the rumors that Special Intelligence is much morethan a standard MilFor intelligence division are true,” I guessed. “You’re right and you’re right,” the brunette confirmed my guesses. I was quiet for a moment, and I thought that this was really going to change my life. But Iwondered what was ahead for me. “What about my friend?” I asked as I remembered that it was these people who called Stanton,
    • who in turn called Louis, and had him for questioning. “You mean Louis?” the brunette said. “Very good move, by the way, to involve him and worktogether to track us.” “We also offered him a job, and he already accepted it, but he’s going to be in a differentsection to you,” the brunette continued. “And he’s already waiting for you in the yacht.” “Do you want the job or not?” the brunette said, and I had to smile. “You don’t really think that I could say no to that,” I said. “No, but we had to ask,” the brunette stated. “Come now, let’s go to the yacht and leave the station,” the brunette said, and we left myapartment. While we walked towards the docking bay, I realized that I didn’t know their names yet. “The first thing you’re going to do is to watch the latest news,” the brunette said before weentered the yacht. “We have very interesting times ahead of us.” ### About the Author: Sami Salkosuo was born 1973 in Finland. He graduated as Engineer in Information Technology in 1997 and after one year assignment in Germany, he joined IBM Finland where he has worked since 1999. Sami has written several programming and IBM technology articles for IBM developerWorks. He is also author of "DWR Java AJAX Applications" and co-author of an IBM Redbook: "Portalizing Domino Applications". A twenty-year dream of writing science fiction began to realize in late 2007 when an idea surfaced about stories that take place in a parallel universe: The Strangers Universe. Discover other titles by Sami Salkosuo at Smashwords.com: Just Another Scout - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/14403 End of an Era - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/31150 Stories from the Strangers Universe - http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/32121 Connect with Me Online: Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/samsal Blog: http://strangersuniverse.blogspot.com/ Twitter: http://twitter.com/SamiSalkosuo