Ammona, Part 3 [Short Story]

Ammona knew she had to contain her excitement. Otherwise, she might scream, dance, or freak out, and then the STSA would probably suspect her of something other than travel. So she stood in line like any good citizen would, and waited for someone to tell her to step through the weapons detector. With her boots and bag off and in a glass bin, she had nothing to clutch nervously. Her hands felt sweaty, warm. She tried to dry them on her pant legs. The denim felt scratchy, and her hands were still slick with their salty film afterward.

I can’t believe this is actually happening! She thought.

“Please step forward,” an orange-suited STSA* agent beckoned her through the scanner. She nodded and did so. Ammona placed her sock-covered feet on the two blue feet at the bottom of the scanner. It was over in a minute. She put her boots back on and laced them up. She grabbed her bag, and was off towards her destination, Docking Bay B-12. She looked at her watch, which told her the time, the temperature inside the station, the cycle of the moon, and held her flight pass. She had time to get coffee.

Should you really get a coffee when your hands are already sweaty? She asked herself. Ammona knew she probably shouldn’t pump more caffeine into her nervous body, but something about it was appealing. The dark, toasty liquid steaming up toward her over the edge of a coffee cup. The creamy taste of earth and cream, swirled together in a hot storm. Yeah, I need coffee. She decided. She looked at her watch again. Not boarding yet, I’ve got time.

There was a coffee shop near Docking Bay B-11, and B-12 wasn’t far. She could see the sign for it down the clean, aluminum hall teeming with passengers. There was a line of students, perhaps a few hundred, waiting. Not going to miss that flight. They all have to board first.

“We’ll have time,” said a voice behind her. She turned to face a young person with dark hair and a round face. His nose sloped towards a chin that made his face look much like a cheerful basketball.

“Eric Barrett,” he smiled a polite smile, and extended his hand to shake hers. “I’m going on the same flight.” He was younger than her by a few years. She could tell because of his attitude and his round cheeks. He seemed comfortable in his own skin, though, and that was a mark of maturity. Maybe. She corrected herself. Cautiously she extended her sweaty hand to meet his. His grip was soft, cushioned with a little extra flesh. Not a laborer by any means. Ammona calculated whether or not she cared to be friends with this person.

“I see,” she broke her silence. “Sorry, I’m in another world right now.”

“You said it,” said Barrett.  “We’ll be on another world soon enough.”

Ammona groaned. A cheesy jokester. Great. 

They moved forward in the coffee line.

“So what’s your specialty?” Inquired Barrett.

“Don’t have one yet.” Ammona shrugged. “I’m just happy to be going to the Academy.”

“That makes, oh, 500 of us or so.” Barrett produced a cheshire cat grin that split his round face with a fence of perfectly white teeth. Blinded by the light… Of teeth. Ammona preferred her own sarcastic humor.

“Indeed.” She said, smiling. But not at his joke.

“So, you a first year, too? Or are you returning?”

“First year,” she said, and stepped closer to the counter. Just two more people in line

“You seem a bit old for a first year, I’d have pegged you for a fifth year at least, maybe sixth.” Barrett chattered on.

“…Thanks?” I can’t help it if this kid brings out my inner sarcasm. “And you look like you belong in high school, who cares what year people look like they are?”

“Oh, oh!” Barrett grinned again, then chuckled. “Got ourselves a live one?”

“Yes, I’m alive. Coffee time.” Not a moment too soon. Ammona knew she could turn into a bully quickly, but didn’t want to let herself. I have to be better this time. I can’t give in to being shitty if I want to make it at the Academy. “Yeah, I’d like a medium dark roast please, with room for cream.” The cashier nodded, and they exchanged money via Ammona’s PTD**.

Coffee in hand, cream swirled in, first sip taken, Ammona marched towards the line of students. Hundreds of them had gathered in the area to wait for the flight. She knew Barrett, looking for a friend, would probably try to find her. She got lost in the crowd on purpose. At least he got the message I don’t want to talk very much… For now.

Most of the other students were chatting with another, listening to something on their PTD, or looking out the huge windows down on Earth. Ammona could see the moon in the far distance beyond the horizon of the planet, but it was hard. The sun was bright.

She was excited and scared. Her heart had moved into the bottom of her throat, right where her neck met her torso. She could feel that it would live there for a while, just sitting there. She wished she could already message Drea but they’d said goodbye less than an hour ago.

Maybe I’ll send her a message. She thought. But I don’t have anything to say, other than lame goodbye shit. She hates that. Ammona thought of her best friend’s face, angry, and sad. She tried to think of something else.

“The Luna V is now boarding.” A robotic voice announced to the general area.

The line began to move. She stepped closer to the ramp entrance. I’m getting on a ship and going to Pluto Colony, where I’ll train for the outer regions of space. Train for space flight. Specialty, she thought of Barrett’s question. She had lied to him when she’d answered. I want to fly among the stars. She thought. Maybe it won’t happen right away, maybe it will take me years. But I want to fly, I want to explore, I want to see worlds no one has ever seen. But first… Classes, and grades, and teachers. And before that, getting on this two-week flight to Pluto Colony.

She held her coffee cup, hot in her hands. Her bag was slung over her shoulder. Her heart was with Drea, somewhere else on the Base. Her hands were still slick with perspiration, their warmth amplified by the coffee cup.

“You can do this,” she whispered to herself. “Grandfather did it, you can do it.”

She stepped forward in line, ever closer to her goal.


Previously, with Ammona:

Part 1 of the Ammona Series

Part 2 of the Ammona Series


Glossary of Acronyms

* Space Travel Security Agent

** Personal Tech Device

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Ammona, Part 2 [Short Story]

“Come on, let’s go.” Ammona picked up her travel bag.

Drea munched on a bag of chips. She said nothing.

“Come on.” Ammona crossed the hall, and stood in front of her. “I have to go or I’ll miss the flight.” Her roommate slouched over the arm of their couch in the common room, downing comfort food.

“I kind of wish you would.” Drea made a face. “Do you have to go? The new roommate is a nightmare and we haven’t even met in person yet. Just saw the profile.” Flavor-dusted chip fragments surrounded her mouth, the remnants of crunchy comrades slain in a snack battle. Drea licked her lips.

“Your fault for not finding someone you like.”

“I didn’t have enough time!” Drea crunched down on a couple of chips she’d just shoved in her mouth. Bits of potato chip popped out, a frag grenade of sour cream and onion exploded over the carpet. “It was like, too fast after you came back from orientation.”

Ammona raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Enjoy cleaning that up later. And I don’t have enough time to sit around here while you’re moping. My flight’s gonna leave without me and you’re not stopping this.”

“I don’t care about cleaning, you know that.” Drea followed this with the projection of a chip piece onto Ammona’s jacket. “Ugh, fine.” She conceded.

“You’re gonna play it like that?” Ammona giggled and picked the chip off her jacket, flicking it into the kitchen. “Put your slippers on, no time for shoes.”

“Hope my next roommate isn’t as bossy,” Drea mumbled. She placed her crinkly bag of chips on the couch.

“Har, har.” Ammona headed down the long, clean hallway to the door. “And didn’t you say you’ve never met her? I doubt she’s a nightmare.”

“It’s not a she, it’s a he.” Drea followed Ammona down the hall.

“Wow, really? That’s surprising.” Ammona turned to the comm on the side of the door. She pushed a few keys on the panel.

“Please state your name and dock destination.” The friendly female computer voice said.

“Ammona King, Docking Bay B-12, the Luna V.” A tiny scrubbing sound emitted from the comm panel, alerting the two girls of the computer’s processing.

“Enjoy your trip, Ammona,” The computer’s voice continued. “Please go immediately to your transport station for clearance. You have one hour before departure. Average wait time for clearance is 25 minutes. Luna V boards in 30 minutes.” The voice sounded disjointed as it stumbled over the numbers in its recitation.

“Joy,” Said Ammona, pushing a button to silence the comm. “I love people digging through my shit to make sure I’m not carrying anything illegal.”

“Let’s go, you only have an hour before it takes off.” Drea stood at the door, which opened quickly to the side when it sensed her presence.

“Oh, now you’re in a hurry.” Ammona followed her roommate. For a moment she stood in the doorway, looking back down the clean, whitewashed hall that had become so familiar in the last couple of years. So strange, she thought, to leave a place I’ve known as home… For the millionth time.

“Please move away from the door.” Said the computer. A subsequent warning beep began its incessant repetition. “Please move away from the door.”

“Okay, okay.” Ammona growled. “No long farewells around here.”

“Please move away from the door.”

Drea laughed. “Duh! Computers couldn’t care less about farewells.”

With one last glance at her old home, Ammona stepped out of the way of the door and it shut. The warning beeps ceased, and the comm screen on the outside of the door went black.

“Don’t forget to format my vocal imprint.” Ammona told Drea as they walked towards an elevator that would take them to B level.

They walked down a long corridor that had apartment doors staggered across from one another on either side. After a few minutes of walking in silence, they emerged from the residential areas on their level and into the food court. Tables were scattered in a lounge area, and even at this early hour there were hundreds of people getting breakfast, chatting, or shopping. 24-hour shops and restaurants lined the walls as they approached a transport elevator. Both girls weaved between tables to skip the normal walkway, which was crowded with people going about their morning business.

“You alright?” Ammona noticed that Drea had yet to respond to her earlier remark.

“I think so.” Drea said. They approached the elevators. Thirty people stood around, waiting to take them to another deck on the ORB. “This is just so new to me. You’re the first roommate I’ve ever had. And now I have to live with some dude.”

“It will be fine. He’ll probably stay in his room a lot.” They stopped to wait in line. All around them the subtle vibration of the base resonated. The quiet hum of the central grav-core, a thrumming heartthrob in the center of the Orbital Relay Base.

“Or he’ll be the kind of guy that wants to hang out all the time, and then I’ll stay in my room a lot.” Drea said as they got onto an elevator with twelve other people.

“Maybe. There are endless possibilities. B-Level, please.” Ammona said to a person who was pressing all the buttons for the other passengers.

“If you forget to video chat me every day I swear to god I’ll come find you.”

“I wish you would!” Ammona smiled. “I’d be more than happy to have you there. You know that.”

“No thanks.” Said Drea. Her black locks bounced back and forth as she shook her head, brushing her cheeks. Ammona tried not to think about how much she was going to miss her friend. “You know I’m not that brave. I don’t want to go out into uncharted parts of space.”

“You’re already out in space, it’s not that different.”

“It is when they send you through the Gates.” Drea shuddered. “I’ve heard the stories.” She looked up at Ammona. For a moment, as they rode the elevator, they looked into each other’s eyes. Ammona didn’t want to look, but she had nothing else in the elevator to look at. She didn’t want to look away, either.

“Drea…” She started.

“Don’t.” Drea looked away. “I don’t want to hear about all the reasons you wanna do this. I know them, I’ve been listening for years.”

“It’s not about that.” Ammona started again. “It’s about needing to do it. You know I’d rather have you there with me.” She touched Drea’s arm, but the girl stepped back. Ammona felt a cold chill come over her, as Drea pulled away from her emotionally and physically. Goosebumps prickled her skin and made her even more uncomfortable.

“Here we are.” Said Drea, and they both stepped out at B Level after excusing themselves to several other passengers they pushed through. Ammona watched Drea walk towards Docking Bay B-12, and sighed.

She’s never going to get over this. Ammona thought. Not after our conversation last week.

“Are you coming, lazy butt?” Drea turned, hands on her hips, and waited.

“Yeah, I’m coming.”

The two of them walked through the food court on B Level, past shops for coffee, clothing, furniture, toys, candy, groceries, beauty products, and space gear. The huge glass windows on their left let just enough of the blinding, exposed sunlight stream into the base. They walked down the shopping hall, through some residential halls, and came out into an open space.

There were lines of people getting ready for travel clearance, and signs that pointed them towards Docking Bays B-1 through B-6 down the left hallway, and B-7 through B-12 down the right hallway. Space Travel Security Agents looked through travel bags with orange-gloved hands that matched their bright uniforms. Children wailed as they were forced to walk through the weapons detectors without a parent. Shoes, jewelry, and Personal Tech Devices were removed, and discarded into glass bins that slid through mechanical detection devices.

“You’d think they wouldn’t need this many STSA agents just for civilian travel.” Drea broke their silence.

“I think it’s because of the ship that was bombed last week. Even with all the safety efforts on the ORB, people still die because of violent idiots.” Ammona stood at the entrance to the ramp that would carry her up to clearance.

Drea looked worried.

“But I’m sure that won’t happen to me. It’s just a ship full of students.” Ammona finished.

“Sure.” Drea agreed, and looked away.

“Don’t I get a goodbye, or anything like that?” Ammona prompted. She hoped for some of Drea’s usual cheerfulness, her playful personality. “How about a smile to remember you by?”

Drea’s face twisted into annoyance, confusion, and then back to annoyance. She was unable to smile. “Don’t tell me to smile.”

Ammona looked at her friend and rolled her eyes.

“What? I don’t feel like smiling, and you shouldn’t make me.”

“I guess that’s fair.” Said Ammona, “How about a hug then?”

“I can manage a hug.” Drea said, looking up at her best friend. “But you have to promise to send me a video entry the minute you get there.”

“I’ll try.” Said Ammona. “I’m not sure what the Academy is expecting when we arrive.”

Drea stepped forward and hugged her best friend, and the two of them held on to each other for a moment.

“Everything will be okay.” Ammona said quietly, amid the bustle of other human beings and the hum of the base.

“I’m sure it will.” Drea didn’t sound like she believed her own words, but she broke away from the hug. “Now get your ass on that flight.”

“Sure thing.” Ammona grinned. “I’ll miss you.” She began walking backwards, watching Drea.

“I’ll miss you too.” Drea waved. “See you soon.” She watched as Ammona turned her back, and headed for the security line.

 


Read Part 1 of the Ammona Series

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Ammona, Part I [Short Story]

It is the end of a long work day at the cafe. Serving everyone their triple-shot-sugar-free-vanilla-light-foam latte for eight hours a day, forty hours a week, felt like a drag after three years of repetitive words and motions. She arrives at her apartment door and punches in the unlock code on the panel.

“Please state your name.” The little electronic screen speaks in an automated female voice.

“Ammona King.” She enunciates for the computer’s voice recognition so it can translate her name. The words sound exaggerated.

“Access granted. Please enter. Welcome home, Ammona.” The female voice plays a digital mantra over a tiny speaker. The door slides open, and reveals the entryway into her apartment.

“Thanks.” She mutters. I know she can’t hear me. What a ridiculous thing to program into an access panel. Ammona knows they try to make apartments on the base station seem more like home, but sometimes it feels downright silly.

“Hello?” She calls, as she removes her boots in the hallway.

“Hiiiiiiiiiii!” Drea’s voice elongates her greeting somewhere towards the living room. “Welcome back!” She shouts.

Ammona shoves off her left boot with her right foot, and then does the same with the left foot, right boot. It feels good to get rid of them. She lets out a prolonged sigh, allowing all the stress of the day to push itself out through her lungs.

The pristine hallway, made of aluminum and falsely dyed decorative walls, is a surreal place to come home to. By now she is used to it. Three years ago when I arrived at the Orbital Relay Base, the place felt sterile. I usually regard it as ‘clean’ these days. 

After she kicks off her boots, she drops her bag to the ground. The small hallway table has a repository bowl for her ID badge and wallet. She grabs her smartphone out of her back pocket to check the Internet, and makes her way to the living room.

She stands in the doorway, watching Drea play a game on a giant screen wall. Her roommate is racing against several other hover cars. In the upper left hand corner, Ammona sees a marker that indicates where Drea is in the race.

“Sixth place, huh?” She teases Drea. The other girl doesn’t look over to acknowledge Ammona’s friendly ribbing. Instead, her brows furrow into a scowl. “What is that, out of nine? Ten?” Ammona prods, trying to get a reaction.

“Shut up.” She snaps, pressing buttons with a ferocity Ammona could never match. “You wouldn’t be able to do any better. I am playing a race above my car’s highest level.”

“Now why would you do a thing like that?” Asks Ammona, grinning while she stands in the doorway and replies to some messages on her device.

Drea says nothing, but concentrates on crashing past the car in 5th place.

“Excellent.” Ammona encourages. I feel like I should after making fun of her. 

“Good thing you’re being nice now.” Drea counters, as the race ends with her in 5th. She chucks the game controller across the room. It bounds off some cushy pillows on a clean green couch, and lands in between two of the seat cushions.

“Don’t break the controller.” Laughs her roommate.

Drea looks up from the couch, her brown eyes pinpointed on the tall girl in the doorway. Her sharp face looks like a living knife. She points at Ammona.

“You got a courier-delivered letter today!” Drea grins. “I wasn’t going to tell you after that bit about sixth place, but you saved yourself.” She bounces off the couch and pushes past Ammona to get to the kitchen.

“What?” Ammona demands. “What courier? When? What letter? Where is it?” She follows Drea into the next room, and watches her rummage around in the fridge. Ammona follows and peeks over the refrigerator door. “Drea!” She insists. “Where is it?”

Drea lifts her head from the bottom shelf where she was retrieving some real imported Earth yogurt.  She waves the yogurt container at Ammona. “In your room, on your desk.”

Ammona bounds up the stairs to the bedrooms as Drea’s voice follows her down the hall. “I wanted you to see it later, but it might be important.”

You’re damn right it’s important. Ammona thinks, as she jumps the stairs two at a time. It’s my letter from the Academy.

She enters her bedroom without a second thought, looking for the letter. The room is messy. She kicks away some sweatshirts and socks on the floor, and looks down at the desk.

There it is. A bright yellow and blue envelope, larger than it likely needs to be. Who uses paper any more? She wonders.

Traditionalists. She answers her own question. It must be from the Academy. I thought they would send me an email. More thoughts rush through her head as she reaches forward, and grabs the envelope.

She looks for the tab that will let her pull it open. It slides right off. She tips open the top of the envelope, careful not to disturb the design. Her fingers are cold. Her hands shake. She notices; it’s hard for her to feel for the piece of paper inside. She reaches inside the envelope nervously, the tension in her body visible. She breathes in, and out. She pulls the sheet of paper halfway out of the envelope.

“Well?” Drea is in the doorway. “What is it?”

“I don’t know yet!” The words are sharp, quick. “It’s from the Academy.” She tries to calm her impatient voice. “I haven’t looked.”

“Look! Look!”

“Hush.” Ammona replies, as Drea looks over her shoulder. The paper is partially out of the envelope, flat, pristine like the aluminum walls around them. Ammona’s heart is pounding. She slides it out the rest of the way, and reads the letter as fast as she can, eager for the news.

Congratulations, it begins, and Drea doesn’t need to read the rest but Ammona does. Drea shrieks with happiness.

“I knew it!” She dances around the room.

I didn’t. Ammona thinks. This is welcome news. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe it.  Her heart feels full, and happy, and heavy all at the same time. So many things will change. Nostalgia hits her, a packed fist tight and ready to fight from the years it’s been dormant.

“What will happen to our place?” Ammona says aloud.

Drea stops her dancing and looks over at her roommate. “I’ll probably try to find another roommate.” She shrugs. She always was so honest. Ammona’s heart squeezes in her chest. I hope I’m not so easily replaceable. 

Drea approaches her. “Stop looking so pouty. Don’t be sad. Be happy! This is what you’ve always wanted! Your grandfather was in the Academy. You can continue a legacy your mother would never have dared to. This is fantastic! We need to celebrate!”

It is what I’ve always wanted. Ammona thinks. I’m just anxious about change, as always. She looks at the rest of the letter, and soaks in the words of acceptance. The practical matters she must attend to in order to finish her admittance to the Academy become rapidly apparent.

A deposit of a few thousand yuan is needed to secure my spot. 

I must send a letter of intent to register as soon as possible. 

There will be an admittance day at this campus location on this date that I must attend. 

All of these items flash before Ammona’s eyes, and she begins to plan. She slides her device out of her pants pocket, and looks at the calendar app. I can easily get several of these days off. She notes that the campus is across the solar system, on Pluto Colony. I’ll need a few days to go and come back. I need to look at the shuttles to the Colonies to find out how much a ticket will be.

“Ammona! What are you doing?” Drea’s voice calls from downstairs. “Morgan and Rona are coming over. I’m messaging Hyatt right now. We need to order some food before everyone gets here.”

“Coming!” She yells down. So much to do. So much to think about. In a few weeks I’ll be headed to Admittance Day. 

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