Ammona, Part 4 [Short Story]

“State your name. Last name first, please.” A computer voice said. It carried the note of a tenor, and spoke in a British accent.

“King, Ammona.” The young woman watched the screen calculate for a moment to find her in the registry of accepted students. Its background was an image of the Sierra Nevada mountains in western America. The mountains looked so beautiful they might not be real. Ammona wondered briefly if the image had been enhanced or created by someone in any way, as the computer brought up her room assignments for the trip to Pluto Colony.

“Welcome, Miss King. Please make your way to Bunk Room 942.” The screen blipped, and a beautifully rendered map of the space ship appeared. An animated arrow started at a dot that said You Are Here and moved around several corridors towards Bunk Room 942. “Please do not leave Bunk Room 942 until after departure. Your Bunk Room monitor will inform you when you are free to roam about the ship. Enjoy your stay, and please call for any assistance on your Bunk Room monitor.” The cheerful British voice had politely told her to go find her bunk room.

Ammona grabbed her bag, which she had placed on the grated steel floor, and turned around the assignment console, to the right. She smiled to herself in excitement.

Miss King followed a few right and left turns down a series of hallways that looked identical to her. She’d been on a few starships before, but not many. It was expensive to fly unless someone else was paying for you. Ammona slowed her rapid walk, and observed her environment. There were not a lot of other students wandering around the halls. They were, no doubt, faithfully stowed away in their various quarters.

The hallways were covered in steel grates, everywhere. There was no space wasted on the ship. Beneath Ammona there was floor storage. On either side, storage bins covered with the steel grated gates that held the cargo safely intact. There was symmetry to the pattern of storage bins, in many different shapes and sizes. Ammona saw a bicycle storage bin, and another bin that had a motorcycle. Another held three beautiful magnorcycles, shiny and clean. Ammona’s breath caught when she saw one with a royal blue seat, and matching handles.

You’ll have to find out who owns that. She told herself, and tried to reach through the grate to touch the shiny chrome and leather seat. The gate’s bars were too close together. She gave up after a moment, and moved on. More reason to find the owner. Ammona liked giving herself goals, so she wouldn’t be bored.

The rest of the storage bins were full of indiscernible crates, plastic bins, and dark packages wrapped in canvas. The hallways became just as indiscernible, and Ammona looked at some of the numbers by the doorways to indicate where she could find Bunk Room 942.

914. She read the numbers to herself. 926, 928, 930, 932. This is the even side. She followed the even numbers around a left corner and saw the worst person stepping into a doorway. Please, god, let this not be 942. She thought, as she approached the doorway Eric Barrett had entered. Seriously, the last thing I need. Someone tempting me to sock them in the mouth. She stood outside the door for a moment, and saw the comm panel on the outside.

Ammona pressed an access key into the awaiting touch screen on the wall.

“Welcome, Miss King.” Said the British computer man, and Ammona watched the door slide to one side. The bunk room was tiny. She stepped in.

The room was a 12-foot by 12-foot by 12-foot box with a bunkbed on either side. Ammona tried not to let panic engulf her, show on her face, or even change whatever she felt like saying next. She didn’t have time to think about any of that.

“Hey!” Said a friendly voice, and she looked down into the face of an androgynous person with a heart shaped face, clear brown eyes and a shaved head. They sat on the bottom bunk on the right, and their sheets were a purple-blue that appealed to Ammona. They wore a casual green t-shirt that said Lucky Stars and had an interesting illustration of the constellation Sagittarius, the Archer. Their jeans and high top black boots struck Ammona as neopunk, and she liked it. “Nice to meet you. I’m Hian.” Hian extended their hand. “Welcome to BR 942.”

“Nice to meet you, Hian.” Ammona said, trying to smile away her shock at the tiny room she was going to be in for the next several weeks. “I’m King.” Hian laughed, as if it were a joke. When they laughed, their eyes twinkled. It made Ammona smile.

“That’s pretty cool.” Said Hian.

“It’s you!” Said Barrett, who had undoubtedly taken the other lower bunk. He’d had his back turned before, but turned to see Ammona after she announced her name. “How funny that we’ll be in the same bunk!”

“Yes,” Ammona swallowed her irritation. “How funny.” Hian looked at her, and Ammona ignored their gaze. “I’ll take this bunk.” She threw her bag up onto the bed above Hian’s and climbed up the attached ladder.

“Well, it’s going to be nice to get to know some people before classes start.” Said Barrett. “You know, get a crew going. We’ll be best friends before this is over.”

Somehow I doubt that. Ammona thought. Barrett continued to mess up his sheets with his hands.

“Bunk friends aren’t necessarily best friends.” Said Hian.

“Just doesn’t feel like home unless I get the sheets all messy.” He said. “I wonder when our last roommate will get here.”

“Who knows?” Hian shrugged.

We are not roommates. This made her think of her favorite roommate and her real best friend. Ammona took out her PTD* and checked her messages. Still nothing from Drea. She thought. I wonder what’s she doing now. 

The room was quiet for a little while. Ammona was grateful, though from time to time when Barrett shuffled around or moved on his bunk, she felt awkward. Social guilt plagued her, but she would truly rather read a book on her PTD than listen to Barrett gab on. Ammona looked around and saw that there were two lockers on either side of the room, at the foot of the bunk beds. She hadn’t noticed them before because they were on her right and left when she walked in. Cool, at least we have that. She thought. I wonder when we’re taking off.


Previously, with Ammona:

Ammona, Part 1

Ammona, Part 2

Ammona, Part 3


Glossary of Acronyms

* Personal Tech Device

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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

Continue Reading

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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