The station was a large one, built as a staging site for a mining operation that hadn’t yet opened for business. The population was a mix of species, some former members of the Coalition and others that had chosen to remain outside it. Jianyu had no idea which group, if any, officially ran it. It was probably privately owned, either by a corporation or by one of the families who’d turned themselves into corporate entities.
The structure was barrel-shaped, studded with docks on the exterior where ships of all sizes could be latched onto the station. Most of those spaces were empty, and would stay that way until the mines were ready to begin shipping refined ore to the stars. That meant the station was currently underpopulated. There wasn’t a formal commercial area set up, just a collection of shops run by merchants claiming what they thought the prime real estate would be in the future. They were spread out across several floors without any apparent rhyme or reason.
Jianyu checked the time on his com screen again. He still had a couple of hours before the Benevolence was scheduled for departure. He was halfway down his checklist already, and the bag he’d brought with him was filling up with all the little luxuries that kept a crew sane on a long-haul flight: game controllers, toiletries that didn’t come from a bargain bin, spices, and chocolate bars.
He needed a new set of towels. The Benevolence had plenty, but most of them were sized for the fully human members of the crew. He’d marked a likely spot on his map of the station, and he walked toward the store, checking his com screen occasionally to make sure he was on the right track. The store was on the station’s highest-numbered level; whether that was the top or bottom was a debatable concept in microgravity, although by the logic of the station’s artificial gravity, he was heading down in a lift.
Even by the underpopulated station’s standards, this floor was deserted. Jianyu tucked his com screen in his pocket, confident that he could find his way without checking it again. Most of the halls were empty, the doors locked over vacant rooms, waiting for residents who were still in transit. The store was set up in a central corridor that would someday be a lovely plaza, with a ceiling designed to glow with full-spectrum light and planters big enough to house ornamental trees. It was all empty now, the planters just holes at the edges of the path, the light too harsh as it bounced off the metal grates closing off unoccupied storefronts.
The shop he was looking for was the only one open. It even had a hand-painted sign, cheery in white and yellow, reading Daisy’s Linens & More. There was music on, something soft and tinkling, but no one was behind the counter.
They were probably in the back. Jianyu strolled around the shop. He found a towel that was almost as big as what he’d wanted and a set of sheets that could probably fit his bed. By the time he walked up to the counter to pay, he was still alone in the room. There wasn’t any sort of bell or buzzer on the counter, so he just said “Hello?” as loudly as he thought would be polite.
His com screen was vibrating. It was probably some last-minute request for supplies from another crew member who’d found themselves on the wrong end of the station. His arms were full of fabric, so he ignored it.
No one was coming out, even when he said “Anyone there?” Jianyu dropped his purchases onto the counter and fumbled for his com screen. He’d have to load a credit chip with the right amount and leave it behind for the shopkeeper to find.
When he pulled out his com screen to make the transaction, he stared at it for a long moment, not fully understanding what he was reading. There were no details, no explanations of how to reset it, just Security Lockdown in white over the red background.
Powering the screen off and turning it back on didn’t fix it. A hard reset didn’t do anything either. The whole machine was broken, in a way he’d never seen a com screen break before. There was a screen on the wall too, angled so that someone standing behind the counter could watch it, but that had the same error message on display.
He left his purchases on the counter and walked out. There was no way to pay while the system was down. That must have been why the store’s owner had left, to find the person who could fix this connection problem.
When he got back to the lift, the door wouldn’t open for him. He pressed the call button, tapping it rapidly and then pushing it down harder, but nothing happened. He could see the elevator car just beyond the glass column of the lift, standing empty and waiting for him, but he was locked out of it.
Weird. Someone must have really screwed up in wiring this station; a connection outage should never shut down a whole floor. Jianyu doubled back, looking for a maintenance hatch, and found one that opened into a narrow hallway. The light was bluer in here, more obviously artificial, and the walls were covered in pipes and bundled cords. This would never be a public area.
“Hello?” Jianyu called again, in case whoever was repairing this glitch was working nearby. He didn’t get an answer back, so he picked a direction and started walking. Within a few minutes he found a narrow ladder leading to the floor above, and beyond that, he could see an access hole stretching up through the station.
He sighed, shifted the bag so it hung more securely on his shoulder, and started climbing.