Augmentation and Unfolding

A science fiction story in Alpha Station by Gary Bloom

Characters: Derek Maguin

Derek Maguin, Minister of Alpha Station and general optimist, slammed down on his desk. He had been standing while talking, and the action sent a sharp jar through his right knuckles. Sitting down in the high-backed swivel chair, he rubbed the bruised hand and felt the anger slowly slide away. He had just finished speaking to his fourth fellow Jovian Space Station Minister. The message had been quite the same as the previous three, and he couldn't help but wonder if there was a connection.

It had been two months since the meteorite had torn through their hull. Disrepair and neglect had led to the incident in the first place. Alpha Station simply wasn't near the top of the Olympus Union's priority list. Still, he had at least thought he could find a little bit of sympathy from his fellow Ministers. Each of them sympathized with his situation, having heard, and fearing the same scenario for themselves. Of course, the latest in shielding and anti-meteor technology made that worry a foolish affectation. On Alpha, however, things were rough, and getting a bit rougher. Each station claimed not to have the water reserves to send them enough to matter. He argued, in turn, that every little drop would matter, and there was no such thing as too little. They all smiled and promised some help when their next water shipments came through, and bid him good day. Of course, no one knew when something like that might happen.

Jovian Stations were supposed to be closed systems and the Hydras had spent far less time on this side of the asteroid belt. There was news that two comets had been overtaken, and were currently being mined for water. How long it would take for that to be worthwhile was unknown.

He had sent word of their troubles out to both Mars and Earth. In both cases, they were unwilling to send out an extra shipment. The mere fact that Alpha Station remained functional was enough to prove a lack of need. He reminded them that, if his quarry had ceased functioning, there would be no time to send off a shipment anyway. In both cases, that seemed to be taken as if Maguin understood the situation well enough.

He was dismissed and the calls ended. It left the man heartsick. He had sent his Vice Minister, Natanya Petrov, off to Mars to fight for them in person. She was young, but had spent years working on and around the Red Planet. He held out hope that she would have more success. The argument had been going on for hours and she was getting nowhere.

It seemed odd to Natanya that these men could be so heartless and so dismissive. Dickinson was, admittedly, a very long way from Alpha Station; Mars had an entire asteroid belt between it and the Jovian System. And yet, she had spent so much time in this city, talking to these very people!Dickinson's Mayor, Vasha Joseph, had considered Natanya a friend. The Martian head of Water Resources, Delina Berce, had invited the Vice Minister to the Berce twins' second birthday celebration, and the woman spent the entire day in conversation with Natanya! So why, now, when she came with a dire need, were these two being so cold? She was carrying a request to help their fellow Olympus Union citizens. Certainly the one man in the room, a minor deputy named Ja-Ron Hosea, had little to do with the situation.

"We're really hurting out there," she tried explaining again. "Maybe you could spare something else? Even send me back with some food? We've had to cut food rations in half to ensure we'll have enough. Two restaurants have completely shut down for lack of supplies."

"It really isn't our concern," Hosea said without waiting for the other two woman to give a response.

"Ja-Ron, please," Mayor Joseph admonished him. She gave Natanya an apologetic smile. "He doesn't mean that as harshly as it sounded," Vasha explained. "We are simply being given a great deal of pressure to make Mars a bit more of a closed system," she explained.

"You know how tight the water supplies are out here, too," Delina added. Her smooth, ebony skin was oddly marked with worry lines in her brow. They hadn't been there when Natanya left for Jupiter. "The water mining the polar caps is taking a bit longer than we had previously expected."

"Still, couldn't you spare just a little bit? Please, you need to understand what's happening out there. This is really cutting into our food production!""So move the water from somewhere else. You don't need to bathe in order to stay alive," Ja-Ron said, sparkly. "Besides, you Jovian filth never struck me as much of a soap-loving folk anyway. Wouldn't your natives be pleased to hear that baths were off the table for a week at a time? I certainly think so."

"Ja-Ron, that is enough!" Mayor Joseph yelled. "The Vice Minister is a friend. While we may not be able to help her, we certainly don't want to insult her."

"She knows nothing," Hosea countered. "I checked up on your little friend before our meeting. It turns out she's from out there. She's one of them, Jovian through and through. When Minister Maguin requested her, it was really a summons home. Wasn't it girl?"The question was directed right at Natanya. She had absolutely no idea how to answer it. Was this a trap? Was there something against being Jovian that she didn't know about? The two women knew all about her past. Who was this man? She packed up her things without answering and slowly made for the door. Vasha Joseph walked her out of the room and down the hall. At the front entrance, she stopped and extended a hand but the Vice Minister just stared at it blankly.

"Listen, Natanya, I'm really very sorry that we couldn't help you. Things are just different now," the woman explained.

"I can't say that I understand. That was the first time anyone had ever attacked me for being born in the Jovian System."

"Ja-Ron is just a different sort of man. He's talked about some sort of proud warrior heritage that his family comes from. Often times, he forgets that you can't just bully people like that."

"But it seems like he only made the decision to deny us help because of where we're from."

"Well, he does have a strange view of you and the other colonists. He thinks that you're just feeders for the inner worlds. That's not an entirely uncommon feeling, especially coming from the Earth bound people."

"I-I just can't believe that the Olympus Union doesn't care about us. We're their people! Aren't they supposed to protect us all?" Director Susan Philips, head of the Hydroponics Farms, knocked lightly on the Minister's open door. He looked up from his work, tiredly, and forced a smile that he didn't feel. Standing up, he welcomed the woman as warmly as he could, gesturing to a chair. She took no offense to his weariness, closing the door and dropping casually into the chair.

"It's probably important to note," he said, sitting back down, "that I'm only accepting good news for the rest of the week."

Director Philips smiled. His attempt at humor meant Maguin hadn't lost all hope. Just most of it.

"I've got some actual good news, some potentially good news, and some news that I'm not sure what to make of. Which one would you like first?""Go ahead and give them to me in the order you just listed ‘em," he said, rubbing tired eyes and shutting off his computer screen.

"Well," she smiled, "the first bit of good news is that I've found a new lowered water ratio that I can grow some of the hydroponics in. That'll boost our food supply a little bit, although I'm not sure we want to open either of those restaurants back up yet."

"No worries. We're doing our best to support the families for now. A few more weeks out of work shouldn't hurt that badly. I've got new foodstuffs coming over from Europa Station.

They were a lot more ready to send us supplies than anyone else, and suggested we come to them first. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I knew that."

"What about water?"

"Nothing on that front yet, although Europa is going to run some tests. If they can dial back their water use on any projects, they'll send us whatever can be spared. It's something. I just hope it's enough."

"Well, the other two parts of my news are straight out of rumors. I can't tell you where I heard them, but just listen, all right? First, I'm hearing that there may be a new way to get water, soon, out here in the Jovian System. No more reliance on Earth. If it becomes available to the space stations, we'll probably have a good chance of coming up first, since we're the original Jovian System settlement. They apparently care about that. That brings me to my other news," she said, hesitating.

Minister Maguin had started to smile, ever so slightly, at the news. It wasn't much, but it was long-term hope. Susan's hesitation worried him, though. He nodded for her to continue, and waited.

"Well, again, this is just a rumor, but," she paused again and let out a deep breath. "It sou nds like the resistance that we've been hearing about is something more. There's talk of open revolution in the Jovian System. I don't know how serious it is, but the talk is out there."

"Interesting," was all that Derek said. It was, in fact, very interesting. That water production without need of the Olympus Union's Earth-bound control, however, was far more interesting at this moment. He would have to look deeper into both, but for now, he needed to get out of his office. Rising, he offered to walk Susan back to her facility. As the Minister swung the door shut, he caught himself musing. Life without the Olympus Union. It was an interesting thing to contemplate.