Sunita came through her trip across Wonderland unscathed and unlike Alice, at the same size that she came in. This was a relief for her. She started to check over her ship to make sure that it hadn’t lost any bits as Mary called over on the radio.
“Hey, Sunita”, she said, “Apart from one broken tea cup, we seem to have come through OK. You ready to head to Spider?”
“Give me a couple of minutes”, Sunita replied, “Then I’ll be ready”.
As her ship computer started to run its automated diagnostics, she took a moment to look out of the window. Space was a very beautiful thing that those on most planets never got to fully appreciate the beauty of from the surface because of things like light pollution and atmospheric distortion. That said, it was impossible for a human being to get a completely clear view of space because there was always something between your eyes and the airless void of the deep black.
The computer completed the checks and determined that everything was working OK. This was going to be essential here; while her four missiles and two forward facing guns were not much of a firing capability against a pirate attack, it was better than having nothing at all… while to be honest, having missiles put you at an advantage in some regards if the bandit pilot forgot to activate his ECM system. The gun purists could go taking a flying leap for all she cared.
“Yes, I’m ready”, the Aurora owner replied, “Programming course for Spider and preparing Quantum Drive”.
Sunita activated her navigation display and a string of potential destinations popped up on the screen. She ignored most of them, namely sleazy motels and low-rent mining facilities. She saw Spider and adjusted her facing to line up with the planet.
“Lined up and ready to go Quebec Delta. I’ll let you count”.
“Roger that”, Mary said, “Jumping in 5…”
Mary reached the end of the countdown and both of them activated their Quantum Drives. The two of them raced sharply forward towards the planet, space distorting around them as they travelled. In the corner of her HUD, the display showed how much fuel she had left and how far the two ships had to go.
After about twenty seconds, they had arrived and the two vessels dropped out of Quantum Drive barely fifty kilometres from the station.
“Ugly looking thing isn’t it?” Mary said.
Sunita couldn’t disagree with that comment at all.
The Spider space station was what might be termed a hybrid design – a half-finished dedicated platform lashed together with a large array of ship hulls. Various parts of the station were closed at any one time due to the need to make repairs; in addition, there was the small risk of finding out just how long you could survive in hard vacuum without a spacesuit.
As a result, the docking computers were, to put it mildly, slightly unreliable and as a result, both ships had to come on manual for their docking. Both pilots managed it without damaging the paintwork or worse.
Cathcart was of course a pretty lawless place and those visiting Spider could access an array of illegal ‘delights’ ranging from narcotics to prostitution to pit fighting. Those were just some of the less depraved things available.
Thus it did not surprise Sunita in the slightest that as soon as she exited the ship, she was accosted by a digital advert for a place called the Blue Tulip, whose primary product appeared to be the opportunity to share a bed with a naked woman. Sunita was not one for brothels in general, but she knew that women in them didn’t tend to be as gorgeous as the ads made out – if you were that attractive, then there were more reputable professions like modelling, acting or weather forecasting.
As she secured her ship, she noticed that there was a no weapons rule on the station, so she left her pistol on board. She supposed that it wasn’t good for business to have gunfights on the station… which also of course ran the risk of treating bystanders to the aforementioned Hard Vacuum Experience.
Mary had arrived in a separate larger hangar and she waited in the atrium for her friend to arrive with her crew.
“Wow”, she said when Mary had come out with three others of her crew. She was now dressed in a black leather coat with four rings on her fingers instead of her usual two and earrings in the shapes of spikes. A liberal application of black eyeshadow completed the look.
“When in Rome”, Mary said.
“Staying on the ship. Do you really think a woman that religious is going to touch this place with a barge pole. Unless she was on an evangelism mission that is…”
The ‘customs’ officer was definitely of the custom variety, with a big green Mohawk, loads of body piercings and a split tongue that made Sunita almost gag. Earrings were quite enough for her, thank you.
The five visitors were patted down by the custom officer’s buddy, who smelt of sweat, tobacco and cologne that could be used to break up rioting crowds.
“I sincerely hope that’s the worst thing we have to go through here”, Sunita said when they had done.
The small bunk on the Aurora was suitable enough for a few hour's sleep during a space flight, but not exactly ideal for being well rested. Thus the disguised Sunita needed to check into a hotel.
Walking her way through the main bazaar of the station, people tried to sell various strange and dangerous objects ranging from concealed weapons to hot dogs. She kept her wallet tightly zipped inside her pocket and her head on a swivel, checking for threats.
She arrived at a venue known as the Kitty Cat Mansion, which advertised itself by neon signs and had a reception playing soft easy listening music. The receptionist was a surly teenager who chewed bubble-gum the whole time that ‘Alice’ was checking in and asked if she wanted an overnight room or was paying by the hour.
The room itself was a very strange affair; consisting of black painted walls, a large mirror covered in graffiti… The bed had red sheets… and handcuffs already attached.
Sunita decided not to even look at the drawers, but instead decided to hop straight in the shower. Which was in the shape of a phone booth.
Was someone on drugs when they designed this room?
Once this was done, she went to sleep, hoping to be rested ahead of a difficult day tomorrow.
TO BE CONTINUED