Entertainingly Evil

STATION 352A by Wendy Nikel

Seventeen space-clicks out, a light blinked over a battered sign.  “Danger: Asteroids.”  Beneath it, as an afterthought, was another sign: “Refueling Station Ahead.”
            On a clear day, when the asteroids were off bothering someone else and Station 352A’s water system hadn’t fogged up the windows, I could watch it.  On.  Off.  On.  Off.  I’d stare at it for hours.  It was usually more interesting than the single vid station I could get out here.  Not much else a girl could do so far out in no-man’s land.
            Some days, another light would brighten my sky.  A spaceship.  As soon as I’d spot it, I’d stream around the refueling station, wiping glass and straightening freeze-dried snacks on the displays, as if I hadn’t done the same thing each morning since I’d taken up my post here.
            Today’s ship was a sleek, military two-seater, pockmarked with dents.  Good news and bad news.  Dents meant that its pilot might actually get out and chat while the station’s droid repaired the ship.  However, such a fancy craft probably carried an officer, and they tended to be wound too tightly for jawwing with a lowly refuel stationer, especially right after being pummeled by asteroids.
            Tether secured, I floated out to the ship’s hatch.  “Fuel, or just repairs?” I asked, clicking on the short-distance com system.
            The hatch hissed open and a portly man emerged.  Despite his spotless helmet, it was obvious that the war hadn’t treated him well.  He’d lost an eye, and the skin around the socket fell inward like a sinkhole.  I tried to hide my shudder.
            “Both,” he said gruffly.  “Hurry it up, miss.  I’m on military business.”
            I chuckled and pulled out the fuel hose.  “Aren’t we all?”
            The officer scoffed.  Wasn’t the first time I dealt with attitude like his.  They played with their lasers while I played connect-the-star-dots with washable marker on the station’s windows, but we’d both been drafted into this pointless war.  Trouble was, most military felt their job of using up resources was more important than my job of providing them.  No use arguing.  Not like they’d listen.
            “There,” I said an hour later, when the droid’s lights blinked green.  “All set.”
            “About time,” he grumbled, heaving himself up from my armchair and snapping his helmet on.  He stepped into the airlock.  I shrugged, letting him go without a farewell.  The silence of two people trying not to converse is always more silent than the silence of one person alone.  And, no, the droid doesn’t count.
            With Captain Craterface gone, I dimmed the lights and lay on my cot, gazing at the stars.  It wasn’t bunktime yet, at least not by military time, but my time was my own, and the occasional nap helped stem my boredom.
            The light of the officer’s shuttle disappeared, and I entertained myself by watching the warning sign’s light.  On.  Off.  On.  Off.
            Another light.  The officer must have forgotten something.  No, this light was different.  Two shuttles in one day?  What were the chances?
            Shining up the station seemed pointless, having just done so an hour ago, so I donned my suit, tethered myself to the dock, and waited.  I clung to the edge, but my feet hung down into the great nothingness of space.  A vague recollection of summers on a wooden pier, with feet dipped in crisp, cool water flitted through my mind, but I couldn’t recall if that was something I’d actually done, or just something I’d seen on the vids.  My childhood on Earth had become a half-remembered dream.
            I was still staring into the bottomless lake of the universe when the shuttle docked.  It was an older model, and as beat-up as the surface of a moon.
            “Whoo!” I said.  “You must have hit a particularly vengeful patch of ‘roids out there.”
            The hatch hissed open and the ship’s pilot grinned.  “You might say that.”
            He was younger than most, making me question how he’d survived this long.  Most men of my generation had been wiped out in the first decade of fighting.  His face was scarred, and he walked with a limp, so I assumed he’d been one of the ‘lucky ones’ sent home early with injuries.  Their luck wore off a few years later, when injured veterans were included in subsequent drafts, but at least they got to enjoy a few years of their youth.
            “Just fuel,” he said, winking.
            “Just fuel?”  I started the pump.  “Hate to say it, but your ship’s a mess.  You ought to get it repaired.  My droid here’s pretty good—”
            He shook his head.  “Just fuel.  I can’t afford to stop.”
            He looked about nervously and it all clicked into place.
            “You’re a deserter.”
            “Officially, I’m dead,” he said, shrugging, “and my ship destroyed.  Now if you use that droid of yours on it, though, someone might discover it’s a little less destroyed than they assumed.  We wouldn’t want that.”
            I crossed my arms, studying him.  He wasn’t like anyone I’d seen in all the years I’d been stuck here.  Most were either hyper-focused and hardened, or beat-down and tired.  Here was someone who looked… alive.
            “All right,” I said.  “What’s in it for me?  I’m risking my livelihood here, you know.”
            “You mean this job?”  When I nodded, a smile played out over his face.  “What do you need this job for?  Come with me.”
            I balked, but his face was hopeful, sincere.  How long had I been here, anyway?  How much of my life had been spent killing time, waiting, hoping someone would show up just so I’d have someone to talk to?  He raised his eyebrows, daring, pleading me to say yes.
            The pump’s light blinked green.  The tank was full.  I looked over my shoulder at my station, at my perfectly-aligned rows of freeze-dried snacks and my cot that looked into the heavens.  Then I looked at the pilot, at his smile made crooked by scars.
            “All right.  Let’s go.”

When Wendy Nikel isn’t traveling in time, exploring magical islands, or investigating mysterious events, she enjoys a quiet life in suburban Utah with her husband and two sons. She has a BA in elementary education. For more info on her previously published works, see her website: www.wendynikel.com. This story originally appeared in Spider Road Press’s Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers anthology.

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