The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 8

The student library on the innermost deck of Ring Three was widely agreed upon to be the most comfortable room aboard Zeta Station. It was, of course, not a library in the traditional sense. This was mostly due to the absence of any kind of physical book. Those would have been out of place, and also taken up way too much space.

Ironically, space was one of the most valuable commodities in the enclosed environment of a space station, which as the name indicates is surrounded by near infinite amounts of space. Every amenity, every bit of infrastructure, down to the smallest component, had to balance functionality, efficiency, and comfort, usually to the detriment of the latter.

Therefore, having a somewhat open area, with wide and comfortable seats, spaced out enough to allow for relative privacy should it be required, was quite extravagant for a remote space station. While they were not completely unaware of this fact, the Cadets mostly ignored this reality and took it for granted that they had this room at their disposal.

Here, the Cadets studying at ROTA could lean back and relax while going over lecture notes, working on assignments, or researching information, while enjoying an unprecedented view of the galaxy through the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up one side of the library.

Defour, Lundström, Osondu, and Garcìa had moved four of the comfortable seats closer together so that they could brainstorm about their next assignment for Major-Professor Everton’s class.

“I can’t believe that we spend so much time with Everton’s stuff,” Osondu complained, “it’s as if we don’t have any other classes going on.”

“I know, right,” Lundström added.

“Well, you have to admit, his class covers the most complex subject, so it makes sense to spend more time on that,” Defour countered.

“Of course you’d say that, Sky. But most of us don’t even need to know all of this.”

García, who had so far remained silent, said, “I have to side with Sky on that one.”

The three others looked at him, eyes wide open.

“I know, I know,” he continued, “but it’s never a bad thing to know what we’re fighting for, and why. Even if you don’t use the information on a daily basis.”

“I guess,” Lundström conceded. After a short pause, she continued, “so, how are we supposed to show that the colonies were mismanaged?”

“Should be pretty straightforward,” Osondu said, “after all, it was so bad that one of them ended up going to war with us.”

“Makes you think, though,” Defour interjected.

“What does?”

“The fact that they’re still at war with us, even though the situation for the colonies supposedly is a lot better.”

“Maybe they don’t believe things are that much better,” García added, “let’s face it, things are tough for the colonies with all that’s being asked of them to help with the war effort.”

“Yes, but if the Tarhinan colony rejoined Earth, the war would be over, so the strain on the colonies would be a lot less.”

“Would it, though?” Defour asked no one in particular.

“What do you mean, Sky?” Lundström asked her friend.

“Earth has a massive economy compared to the colonies, and is home to twenty billion people. That’s a lot more than the planet can sustain on its own.”

“So you’re saying we need the colonies more than they need us?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, at least not for now. It will be a while before the colonies can truly sustain themselves, and they keep relying on the ISDF fleet for protection.”

“I think the colonies are pretty well-off,” Osondu said.

Lundström looked at him sideways, raising an eyebrow. She opened her mouth to retort, but closed it again, having decided to keep her comment to herself. Instead, It was Defour who wanted to know more about his point of view.

“How so?” the young woman from the UCC simply asked.

“Easy. They’re getting supplied by Earth in exchange for the raw materials they produce, and we build up their infrastructure, provide education, and whatnot,” he explained.

Defour stifled a laugh, “You’ve been watching too many propaganda films from when the war just started, haven’t you?”

“So what if I have?” Osondu asked, defensively.

“Pretty much ninety percent of what was made and distributed to a wide audience under the old Central Government is completely made up nonsense with no ties to reality.”

Cadet Defour leaned forward, swiped away a strand of hair that had come lose from her bun, and was about to start talking when Lundström interrupted her.

“Watch out, Osondu, she’s going into teacher-mode.”

“I’m not!” Defour exclaimed, holding her hands to her chest.

They all laughed wholeheartedly, earning reprimanding looks from other Cadets that were scattered about the library.

“Sorry, Sky,” Lundström said, wiping a tear from her eye. “You were saying?”

“I was about to say that pretty much all the colonies, except the first two, were corporate ventures with the aim to gather more resources for Earth’s economy. In those colonies, any kind of law or regulation regarding working conditions, workplace safety, vacation, overtime, and so on went out the window. Since they were outside of Earth’s jurisdiction, the corporations wrote their own laws, with only their profit margin in mind.”

She took a deep breath, then reached for her water bottle and drank a long sip.

Meanwhile, Osondu said, “Yes, but all that was ages ago. Since then, Laws were put in place and the Central Government regulated life in the colonies.”

“Only on paper. In some of the smaller colonies, this went on even after the Atlantis Charter was signed. Even after we were born. This happened in our lifetime.”

“Wait, that can’t be right,” García interjected, “we were never taught any of that.”

“Just because it isn’t in the official curriculum doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The information is publicly available, you just have to know where to look. And read between the lines sometimes.”

García massaged the bridge of his nose, then rubbed his eyes briefly, before speaking again.

“So you’re saying it’s alright for them to fight this war?”

“No, of course not. War should only be a means of last resort, when all else has failed. I think it’s about time the Tarhinans returned to the negotiating table. They should have done so after learning that the other colonies had been granted autonomy.”

“Maybe autonomy wasn’t enough for them?” Lundström asked.

“But that’s not a reason to keep fighting and wasting so many lives. Even though they’re not perfect, things are a lot better now than they were,” Defour replied.

“Yeah, at least now everyone is treated equally,” Osondu added.

“Except that they’re not. It may appear that way, but in many small ways, colonists still don’t have the same status as people from Earth.”

“They don’t?”

“Of course not. For example, have you met any colonists here on Zeta?”

Osondu considered the question for a moment before replying, “Come to think of it, no, I haven’t.”

“Of course not,” Defour explained, “because colonists are not allowed to become officers in the ISDF.”

“Wait. They’re not?”

“No. They’re not. And for no specific reason whatsoever. The guidelines only specify somewhere in the fine print that all applicants must be Earth-born. You can’t tell me that this is equal treatment.”

Lundström raised an eyebrow at Defour’s last words. She smiled, thinking how her friend was pretty and smart.

“Before we all get carried away, why don’t we break for lunch?”

The three others nodded in agreement. They packed up their things, moved the seats back into their original position, and headed towards the door. Once back in the corridor, Lundström turned towards the others.

“You three go ahead with out me, I’ll meet up with you in the mess hall,” she said.

“You’re disappearing on us again, Sparks?” Defour asked, and began to pout.

“Don’t worry guys, I’ll catch up with you later.”

After leaving the three others behind in front of the library, Lundström made her way towards the nearest vertical access shaft and climbed towards the station’s central cylinder. As she got closer, she could feel her perceived weight decrease, being replaced by the familiar floating sensation of moving about in microgravity.

She had just reached the end of the ladder and was about to exit the narrow shaft, when she overheard two people talking within the confines of the station’s central tunnel.

“... have no idea where else to look. It feels like I’ve looked twice in some places already. I keep forgetting how much of a maze this station is,” a male voice spoke.

“Just keep at it, Lieutenant,” a female voice answered, more softly, “we have to find it. Start over from this end and work your way back to the other side.”

Cadet Lundström considered going back down and taking the starbridge to reach the other ring after all. She decided to press on, however. While she had no real purpose for being in the central cylinder, the area was also not off-limits, except for the engineering decks.

She gently pushed off from the shaft’s opening and floated into the centre of the tunnel. After orienting herself, she looked around and caught a glimpse of a man wearing the standard gold-and-grey jumpsuit disappearing through a hatch into a side compartment.

The woman she had overheard was still there, however, and immediately spotted her. Lundström had never seen her before, and she would have definitely remembered her silvery-white hair. The woman was also wearing the standard jumpsuit, and as she moved closer, Lundström was able to determine that she had the rank of Captain.

“What are you doing up here, Cadet?”

“Just passing through to Ring Four, Ma’am.” Cadet Lundström replied, without saluting.

The ISDF’s rules for saluting superior officers never applied in microgravity, for safety reasons. It had often led to lower ranks beginning to spin mid-air uncontrollably, and was therefore abolished.

“Why not use the starbridge then? It can be unsafe here at times.”

“I enjoy the feeling of weightlessness from time to time, Ma’am.”

“Don’t we all?” the Captain replied, “don’t hang around here for too long, though.”

“I won’t, Ma’am. I’ll head straight to the mess hall.”

“Alright, off you go, Cadet,” she said, and smiled broadly.

This strange encounter left Lundström feeling slightly worried. Even after being out of view and earshot from the Captain, she still had the impression that she was being followed, or at least observed.

She pulled herself along the handrails towards the access shafts to Ring Four. Normally, she would enjoy the weightlessness. But this time, the poorly lit tunnel, combined with the distant sound of machinery, sent a shiver down her spine.

Cadet Lundström followed the tunnel until she was face to face with a closed gate, barring the access to the technical levels that lay ahead. Instead of pushing off and reaching for the end of the ladder that would leat down into Ring Four, she pulled herself closer to the gate.

As she was about to touch it, right by the sign stating that the access was restricted, the young blonde heard the familiar hiss of an opening airlock ahead of her.

She gasped and pulled herself away again, putting some distance between herself and the gate. While floating about the central corridor might have been innocent enough, lingering next to the entrance to a restricted area, was a lot less so.

Before anyone else could see her, she flipped her body in mid-air, and dove into the access shaft feet first. Her head disappeared through the opening just as a figure appeared in the restricted part of the tunnel.

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