Chapter 1 | El
May 16th, 2023 Terra Space Station
I woke up and took a deep breath.
The same metallic scent. There is no getting rid of it. It surrounds us from everywhere. It’s soaked in our skins, our clothes, our hair. We get used to it over the time, but even if I had all the time in the world I would never accept the fact that I am practically a prisoner in this narrow, metal-smelling place, which by some ridiculous coincidence is located 5,986,050 km away from Earth that makes escaping practically impossible. Unless I have one of those high-tech ships, but you probably already know that I don’t have one in hand. From my words, it looks like I live in prison, but it’s not. At least not formally. I’ve been living at the Terra Space Station for 15 years. I’ve never seen the Earth except for photos because when my parents brought me here I was only a few months old so I don’t remember anything. Quite annoying huh? Over the years, I spent a lot of time trying to make them take me with them on the Earth, but at some point I got tired and it was pretty obvious that there was no way out of here. Speaking of my wonderful parents, they don’t live here. I haven’t seen them in person for 2 or 3 years, but even when they spent a little time with me they didn’t pay much attention.
As a kid, I didn’t understand the reason why I couldn’t go with them, but I think they just didn’t want to get in the way. At about 12 I gave up completely. Now my plan is simple. I turn 18, I graduate from school, save enough money, and get out of this shitty place, living the life I think I deserve. Well, no one told me that it would be extremely difficult to save money so I needed to engage in activities that, let’s just say it, are not normal for a 15-16-year-old girl. And no, that’s not what you think. A station with over 3000 people will still find one person to be involved in illegal activity. In our case, one level. My apartment (if I may call that the small place I live in) is located on level 12, also known as the level giving a home to all of the drug dealers, hackers, prostitutes, and any shitheads you can think of. To be honest, I deal with two of the things I have listed.
I have been selling drugs to the upper levels for the third year now and over that time, though I am not proud of it, I have become quite good. The money is good, much more than my parents send me every month. With my second so-called job, things are a little different. Over the years, I spent a lot of time alone because, apart from level 12, I don’t have many friends. I sat in front of the computer for hours, searching through all its features, and so day by day I became better and better until finally, a level 29 kid knocked on my door with a bundle of money and a request to hack the server of the class he was in to delete some note. Pff spoiled kids and their problems. It all started so harmlessly, but things didn’t stay that for long and soon I became Terra’s most wanted hacker. But at least it gives me pleasure. It’s good to know that even though I’m locked up in here somehow, I’m pulling the strings. Just a little bit.
And when I said that I don’t have many friends, I mean that I don’t need them. Over the years, I have learned that, although the people of the lower levels consider us scum, most are much better than the rich, spoiled kids who were just lucky enough to come across with parents who care about them and pleases them for absolutely everything. From the above levels, I have only one friend who chose to be nice to me.
I met Jimmy a year ago when we were together at one of the Level 23 lectures. The lecture was, of course, so fucking boring, and we were side by side and from one word to another we became friends. In this one year, I have helped him more than once as he has helped me. Jimmy lives at level 28 because his parents are the station’s chief engineers and are also involved in designing the fighters and ships the station use. But as I said before, he is a nice guy who obviously has no prejudices about people. I personally don’t trust everyone blindly because I don’t want to be disappointed. I realize I’m not an angel myself, but you become what they bring you up to and you know the case with my parents so ... Not a big surprise, right?
You have noticed that I am talking about levels and now I will explain to you how things work here. About 70 years ago, brilliant scientists, engineers and other people like them, made a brilliant discovery for humanity, building a station capable of sustaining life on it. The building of the station was finished about 42 years after that and the first group was sent almost immediately, so 3 years later people started giving crazy money to live at the Tera station. (Silly if you ask me. If I was lucky enough to live on Earth I would never replace the fresh air and nature for metal walls and recycled oxygen.) It’s free to come here now, but you have to wait in line and believe me the tail is very, very long.
The station is home to over 3000 people divided into 30 levels. As hight as you live, you are more influential than the others. Level 1 is the main one and is used as a launch bay for all of the ships and fighters. From Level 2 to Level 10, there are only halls, workshops, and prisons that are already full. I don’t know why, but the past few years, they’ve started to send prisoners from the Earth here as if their prisons are full. Level 11 is for the kitchens that feed us. There is a lot of fun in there by the way and one of the cooks is a very nice lady. She is giving me food for free so I kinda love her for that.
From there begin the residential and business levels. Each level accommodates a certain number of people, but the more people who came to live here, the more rooms started to get smaller. In addition, the levels also have school classes in which we are divided by age just like on the Earth. We choose which subjects to study, but even so, they try not to mix the levels much, because some kids are mildly envious and there were a few incidents due to various taunts. The classrooms at the lower levels are not large, but on the other hand, the teachers are too demanding which is very annoying when all you want to do is to go through the 19th level of “Killer dragons”. Sometimes we attend lectures at the upper levels for better learning, but this is rare. I personally chose to study advanced physics because, except that this is the only subject I can understand (except for computers and art class), it is my parents’ specialty. They work for NASA. And if their life is settled, mine can be too. But it’s not just that. Something in physics has always attracted me. As a kid, I liked to read books for it, I liked to know that there was a logical reason behind our existence. Then I became interested in planets, galaxies, and stars. The only star I want to see is still the sun, but one day I’ll have a chance. I hope.
We also have Level 27 witch is for the VR League. The Virtual Reality Game League is something that came into the station about 3 years ago, but at least 20 years ago on the Earth. It is some kind of video game sport, but in order to play, you have to put on special glasses and thus enter the game. You have to make an avatar for yourself and start to play. The games, as far as I have heard, are many and taken very seriously, there are whole teams that are rivals and don’t even talk to each other. They are participating in money-making tournaments also. I would give it a try, but this whole thing is terribly expensive and I don’t want to spend money on something that requires training and skills that I don’t have. Being a hacker is one thing, being a gamer is something completely different.
Our station is led by Commander Sanderson and the board. The board is made up of 8 people all close to the commander. It is not difficult to guess that they and their families live at level 30. Imagine 30 people live widely while the other 3000 are like sardines in a can. And then why we don’t like it here anymore. All the work comes from management, that’s the mistake. No one knows what is really going on and what kind of nonsense the others are doing, because if something is not good for someone, it can easily be got rid of with a little money. And those who really have things to hide have a lot. A LOT. I try not to go so deep because I don’t want to end up being judged and probably shot for stealing classified information. And yes, shootings are justice here. That’s fucked up don’t you think? Anyway, I don’t want to be killed, that’s why I don’t put my nose where I shouldn’t. But if I do, I do it masterfully.
I got up. My feet touched the cold metal floor and the little warmth left in me after sleeping was replaced by the weight of another difficult day in my metal house. The place I live in is not large, it is a room that has a bed, a desk with a computer, a small closet for my clothes and things, a TV and a chair. At the bottom, there is a door leading to the bathroom, which is even smaller in size.
I went inside and look in the mirror. Something I do every morning, not out of vanity, but out of curiosity. To know how much I have changed with each passing day. To see how this place, this life, changes me not only outside but also inside. I see the same pale face, almost sick in appearance, due to the fact that it didn’t see sunlight. The bright green eyes look tired, but also somehow alive, expecting to see something better. The thick pale pink lips cracked by the dry air, waiting for me to put another layer of bright lipstick on. And let’s not forget the straight purple hair, reaching to the waist, tangled and dry. Yeah, I’ve been the same for years. Except for the hair. I dyed it a few months ago to give a little color. It used to be blond, almost white. Now it has soft purple color. It was a bold change, but I’m not sorry for it.
Many people say that my face is pretty, but in my opinion, it is rather impersonal. Quite normal like any other. If it wasn’t for the hair, they would hardly have recognized me among the hundreds of pale faces and blond hair. Otherwise, I’m slim, not particularly tall or strong. Maybe if I trained more instead of playing “Killer dragons”, but whatever.
I washed my hair, tied it in a high ponytail so in that way it doesn’t bother me, and returned to the room. As a kid, I hated the solid metal walls and decorated them the way I like. I painted the ceiling like the Milky Way, with a variety of planets, stars, and galaxies. It is as if I have a view of the world beyond the metal. Of course in the upper levels there is a way to see the real galaxy, but not here. I don’t know how, but many people talk about seeing outside the station. Well, I don’t really know what’s going on at the top levels, because I didn’t go up from level 23, but I guess it’s nice. This is one of the few things I really envy them. Not about their money or power, but because of the privilege of seeing a miracle called a galaxy. Another dream on my list by the way. And that is why I decided to paint the walls so that I could flatter my consciousness and feel freedom.
Well, we are done with the tearful part, so don’t think I’m some sort of depressed crying girl. Now it’s time to dive into the action. However, even in the fucking world, I found myself in, I found a way to have fun.
I jumped on the bed and picked up my phone to check for messages. I had quite a few from clients and a lot from Liza - my best friend. As always work goes first, that’s why I opened them.
Mike Donovan: 15 grams tonight? At 6:00pm level 16!
Jenna Dixon: 20 grams for 2:30 pm tomorrow, usual place.
Harry B.: Can you do me a favor? Call me!!!
Harry always asks me for favors that in most cases are like deleting some video material of him breaking in somewhere. I guess it’s going to be the same today, so I keep in mind to call him later.
I was about to call Liza when I heard a furious knock on the door. I pushed a button next to my bed, which I installed myself, not that I’m boasting, and the door opened. As I expected, Liza ran into the room and gave me a fierce look.
“When were you going to call me Evelynn?” she asked me and put her hands on her waist.
“Don’t call me Evelynn.” - I said and looked at her badly. I hate it when people use my full name. There are 164 more girls with that name on the station, and I think I’m even more impersonal if that’s what I’m called. My friends call me El because I told them so. Some people call me Eva or Eve, but I prefer El. I have some weird memory of the time when I was a baby in which a woman - my mother - calls me Ellie. Well, it turned out that’s not true, my mom told me I’m wrong, but my memory is real, so I tell everyone to call me El. I even have a necklace with the letter E that I never take off. It’s a little strange how my reserved parents gave me something like this and paid attention to me, but apparently, they changed as I grew up. That sucks indeed.
Let’s go back to the present. Liza has been my best friend since.... forever. She, of course, leaves the station from time to time, but her fate is the same as mine. Shitty parents. Her father was selling drugs and weapons, but he was imprisoned at some point. Her mother abandoned them when she was little, so she now lives with her aunt, who is just like her brother (Liza’s father) in the business. Liza and I sell the drugs together and then divide the prize, but I know she is not into this. Neither do I, but we have to survive somehow. The funny thing is, when someone sees her for the first time, they don’t have any idea what she’s doing, because Liza is a tiny, pretty girl with freckles and dashes. She is so nice but if it comes to work she is professional to the bone. We get along so well that even on the day I dyed my hair purple, she made her pink. My friends may be criminals, but at least I can count on them.
Lisa slumped on the bed next to me and spoked with that businesslike tone she only uses when it comes to working.
“I wouldn’t have called you Evelynn if you had picked me up. I called you 17 times.” her tone was still angry, but it was getting soften, I guess. I looked at her a little guilty and shrugged. I really have this habit of not looking at my phone for hours. Liza rolled her eyes and continued. “How many deliveries do we have today?”
“One new and three from yesterday”. I replied.
“Hmm”. she went silent for a moment. “They caught Joe last night. They locked him in one of the cells in Level 3"
“What?” I almost shouted. “How did they get him? ” It really shocked me because Joe is a pro. If they somehow managed to catch him, then I should be seriously worried. I’m good, but I have flaws.
“I don’t know” she shrugged and lied down next to me. “Seriously, this is so fucked up. But I think we should cancel all orders at least until they stop searching around.”
“And since when do they make so many checks?” I asked. No seriously ... they’ve checked us out before, but this is the sixth check this month. Previously, they did 2 at most.
“Sanderson has been very serious since he became commander” Liza sighed leaning against my pillow. “You didn’t watch his speech?”
“Nope. Did I have to?”
“Nothing important, he is trying to look like the saint who came to rescue Terra from a great calamity called Level 12” she laughed, making it clear that he was actually talking utter nonsense because Liza is always serious about our security. “He wants to increase security, cameras, and all. And also that if you are sentenced to death you have no right to appeal.”
The last thing she threw in with the tone like she was telling me that she was going to eat. The death penalty is not very common, but as I said before, the convicts were given the right to appeal, to defend themselves. In fact, quite a lot of people, though guilty, managed to escape. Just because they were able to eliminate the right witnesses. I even helped one without knowing, but that’s an old story. But abolishing the right to appeal is more than a bad thing because it is the only thing that made us feel a little more relaxed.
“That’s really ...” I began
“Fucked up” she finished, “I know. Do you think the incident with the old commander was really an accident?”
“Pff of course not. I don’t think anyone believes this at all. They don’t say out loud what they think just because they don’t want to end up like him.”
“How exactly did he end up ... They never found the body.”
“No idea. I dug around a bit after the incident but there were missing records that even I couldn’t recover. Apparently, they really want the case to go unanswered.”
Five months ago, a tragic incident occurred in which our old commander died out of mystical reasons. We didn’t understand much about the case, but shortly after, Sanderson took his place, and so far we only have trouble with that. Not many details were given, but Sanderson had the idea of commanding the entire station, and I personally find it a little strange this whole thing with an unknown death.
“Times change El. The last time I went home, things were definitely not the same. They said that people want to rebel against the Terrans because of our privilege to live here.”
“The Terrans? God, they talk about us as if we are a different race, not just people living in space. If anyone wants my place feel free to take it” I laughed sadly ” What is wrong with these people. Who would want to live here .. Closed all the time among metal walls, while the earth is full of life and colors.”
“Yeah right. It’s all so fucked up. I wish I could forget for a moment that I’m here and just enjoy life like a normal person. You know, lately, I was wondering what we do to deserve all this? Yes, we do things that we shouldn’t, our parents are assholes, but still. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t mean we can’t be happy.”
“That’s life, Liza. That is our life... And we must survive at any cost. Because the sole purpose of life is not to make it easy. It wants to get us through the greatest difficulties to show the strong ones, those who really live at fullest and those who just exist.”
“God... That was inspiring. And wise”
I laughed ...
“I’m always wise”
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