In case anyone reads this… Oh, hell, I’m kidding myself.
The ringing of the phone shook a rather annoyed Aya out of her dreams. Reflexively she groped for the alarm clock on her bedside table and, with an of accuracy that hinted at years of practice, hurled it against the phone panel on the wall – where it ineffectively bounced off. After the first few times both alarm clock and phone panel had been replaced with especially sturdy models, bereaving her both of an excuse not to answer the phone and the satisfaction of shutting the alarm off for good. The fact that the repair costs exceeded her allowance on a regular basis might although have had something to do with it.
The phone kept ringing. Aya gave it a growl, only half heartedly disguised as a groan, disentangled herself from the mess she had made of her bed and, still half asleep, crossed the handful of steps to the wall. This had better be important.
At the touch of her hand the painted landscape next to the panel disappeared, and was replaced by the view of a man in his forties. He was dressed casually in an uniform-like brown jacket and a mess of black hair stuck out from odd angles on his head, partially obscuring a face that didn’t seem in the habit of showing any more emotions than its owner meant it to.
‘Anyara La… You do realise, that the video feed is on, don’t you?’
She hadn’t, but why would he say that? Aya glanced down her body; she hit the video kill-button with such ferocity that she pretty much hurt her hand. Right. Her bathrobe had to be somewhere among her blanket and her sheets and she had felt too tired to bother putting on her pyjamas. She really hated phones.
‘Where was I…’ the man on the phone was giving the impression of a talker who had been interrupted in a well planned speech and was now trying to remember his script. Knowing him, that very likely was the case.
‘Anyara Laeevah Asani,’ he started, making Aya flinch. Calling her by her full name? He had to be seriously mad at her then.
‘you have exactly twenty-three minutes, or your first day as my pilot is going to be your last. Have I made myself clear?’
With this, he hung up, giving her no chance to reply; the display returned once again to the painting of light flooded landscape. Aya was rather fond of the picture. It was only a poor copy of the original hanging in the Museum of Contemplatory Art – contact sensors in walls and floor, rotating light barriers; nothing overly complicated – but then hanging the original on her wall might have been a bit too suspicious. Besides, it belonged in a museum.
This was no time to dwell on art, however. It was late – she was late; and time was running. Aya ripped her wardrobe open and started digging through its contents. By the time she had found something suitable the floor was covered in an ankle deep layer of clothes. She quickly dressed, gabbed her necklace and in record time was out of the door.
With a breakneck pace she dashed down the stairs, taking three steps at once and jumping down twice that much before the landings. She almost collided with the automatic front door, when it didn’t open fast enough and once in the street took up speed.
Most people would agree, that the underground was the fastest way to move through the city, but Aya wasn’t most people and she didn’t have time to waste. The trains had to stop at every station and that was their weakness. Aya didn’t have to stop, she didn’t have to wait for people embarking and disembarking; all she had to do was run.
‘Out of the way!’
A cluster of people managed to dissolve just in time for Aya not to crash into them. They cursed under their breath, but she was already too far away to hear them. She didn’t care. She didn’t care about all the looks she was drawing either. They didn’t matter, all that mattered was the time and time was running out.
One building after the next flew past her, grey cuboids under a grey sky, populated by little grey people with little grey lives. You could replace all of them with robots and nobody would notice. Not that it was their fault, it was the place. Terraforming had made the planet liveable, but it hadn’t made it alive, not yet. The only real wildlife had to be kept in large biosphere domes with artificial atmosphere, artificial light, artificial everything. Very wild a life indeed. It was about time she put some distance between her and that rock. In space everything was artificial as well, but at least there wasn’t all the pretence. Besides, she missed being able to see the stars.
Aya passed the queue in front of the Arcton Gallery of Cruel and Unusual Art and turned right into the Port Lane. She would never get how they attracted that many visitors. The only thing worth visiting was the cellar where, as she had learned on one of her business trips, all the authentic Assian hunting spears, genuine Jaglian shrunken heads and the other exhibits were lovingly hand-crafted; the only real pieces were probably the paintings in the offices.
When she passed the planet side end of the elevator, the road did a little bend off and then she could see the ground port in front of her. It was a rather small affair, with a handful of runways and couple of dozen hangars. Only a few ships were based here, anything else had to dock in orbit, both to cut down on air traffic and to guarantee the elevator and shuttle companies a steady income, and the government a well balanced budget. It was to anyone’s benefit; at least anyone who mattered, but who was she to complain?
With the gates of the port already in view, Aya mobilized the last of her reserves and broke into sprint, throwing her full speed into the last metres. A young man in the uniform of the port authority and a face Aya didn’t recognise moved to block her way, but was gently held back by his partner who gave Aya an acknowledging nod as she dashed past them. One of the new guards, now doubt.
A few moments later Aya skidded to a halt in front of the ‘Shadow Flux’, an unremarkable small freighter painted in greys and blacks. It was in the progress of being loaded, the hatchway wide open and the ramp let down. Directing the operation was Forrester Kendri, his black hair even more of a mess than it had been when he called. Aya had given up trying to understand how he managed that.
‘Nineteen minutes and thirty-two seconds; new personal record, isn’t it?’ he greeted her, then turned his attention back to the cargo handlers.
Aya was standing bend over, hands braced against her hips and panting heavily. Only slowly the burning in her lungs subsided and her breath returned to a somewhat regular rhythm. After a minute or so he noticed she was still standing next to him.
‘Well, off to the cockpit with you. Run the preflight checks, transmit the flight plan, you know the drill. I want to take off as soon as the cargo is on board.’
Aya sighed. At least didn’t seem to be mad at her any more.
‘And then we’ll have a nice long talk about punctuality.’
There it was. Oh well, one could hope.
‘Love you too, dad.’