Kaeru woke up from his dream with a shock and for a few seconds he had no idea who or where he was. Slowly it came back to him, he was Kaeru, on board of one of the last busses to his new home, the latest built spaceship to be launched into the big unknow outside the solar system. He was Kaeru, sitting on seat B23 in a dimly lit compartment, with next to him an empty seat which he was very grateful for. The last thing he wanted was somebody next to him during the long trip. He wanted peace, time for himself, time to forget all the reasons why he took a job which would make him leave his home planet forever. He stretched his tired limbs, grabbed a bottle of cold juice out of his bag on the seat next to him and drank some. Then he got up and walked to the bathrooms in the back. The bright light inside blinded him for a while, making him squint and blink. The white interior was in stark contrast to the light gray and dark blue design of the seats and compartment. Splashing some cool water on his face made it a bit more bearable. And because he felt sticky from sleeping in his clothes, he took off his shirt and washed his upper body as best as he could with just water. At least it gave him a refreshed feeling. He wondered what time it was and how long it would be before they arrived. After staring into the mirror for a minute he put his shirt back on, got out of the small bathroom and went back to his seat, glancing at the rest of the passengers sleeping. He was glad he went on one of the last flights because there were less people travveling then. Just before he reached his seat the stewardess to his compartment entered the door at the front.
‘Hi.’ she whispered, ‘Can’t sleep?’
‘I usually wake up in the middle of the night.’ he replied, ‘Can’t you?’
‘Part of the job, checking up once in a while. I can sleep when we arrive and probably on the way back.’
‘I hope you’ll have some good, refreshing sleep then.’
She smiled, ‘Thank you. I hope you can get some more sleep now. We’ll be arriving in a few hours.’
‘Ah, thanks. I was just wondering about that.’
‘Have a good rest of the night.’ she wished him as she went further to the back.
He looked out of the window as he sat down, seeing nothing but stars and darkness. ‘My new life.’ he thought.
Kaeru woke up again a few minutes before the stewardess would wake everyone by announcing their arrival and turning on the interior lights. A light breakfast was being served, and he was glad he could eat something to still his hunger. The few cookies he had taken with him had already been eaten in the first hour on the bus. One of the first things he’d do after boarding the ship would be to find a place to eat, he decided. But, that would probably take a while, having to find his quarters, and getting the tour from Satosana, the head system administrator he’d be working with. He wondered about what he’d be like, not knowing anything except his name, and that he’d been on that ship for a while, helping to set up most of the network and servers. He hadn’t even seen a picture of him, so he hoped Satosana would recognize him. During the first interview they only told about the ship, what its purpose would be, a brief explanation of the responsibilities of the job, and then of course a test to see if he would be able to leave the planet forever. That would be no problem for him, having not a lot of family, not any real friends, and getting sick of the politics on that dirtball rounding the sun. The test was positive, so he was invited for the second round, and figured the reason they choose him was his workaholic side. He could work for hours on end if he had to to fix problems, or to set up a new system. And it helped that there were just a few candidates left after the first round. The tray with the cutlery and bits of trash was being picked up by the crew, and he leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes for a bit more, trying not to think about anything.
Several exciting voices gave him the signal to look out the window at the spaceship. Even from this far, or maybe because they were still this far, he thought, it looked enormous. The bulk of the ship consisted of a dozen green-dishes, six in a circle on top, the other six upside down underneath, all tilted somewhat outwards so the silhouette of the ship looked almost like a flattened ball. The engineers made it so that there was twice as much of life’s neccessities available than needed. The abundance of food and plants should keep the crew healthy and happy as they’d live their life on the ship. And when a habital planet would be found, it could provide the first basis of plantlife on it. Kaeru watched the ship draw closer, and started to think about his own little place there. He hoped he’d get everything he asked for, especially the music center with a full collection of all genres of music. That was the only thing he longed for, sitting down after work, surrounded by waves of music to relax him, or give him energy. The transport bus turned towards the spaceship, blocking the view for the passengers and slowed down a little. Fifteen minutes later he sensed they were slowing down again, and this time the edges of the ship came into view through the windows. Like a huge shadow looming over them, the passengers became silent as the size of the ship became more clear to them. It seemed the lenght of the ship had no end. Going from front to back would take a lifetime. Kaeru examined the complex structure of the outer shell, pipes going everywhere, seemingly random bulges and blocks placed against the surface, it sure wasn’t like the spaceships in the movies, those having a smooth body showing off speed, and not this industrial bulk of metal made for efficiency. Slowly the transport glided into the landing bay, touched down and the bay doors closed behind it. Air pressure was being restored and soon the crew working there returned to their duty. The stewardess came round, notifying everyone the doors would open in a minute. Kaeru didn’t need a minute, having his bag ready, and looked outside again, feeling a little nervous. This was it, the start of a new life.
Satosana threw the bottle in the recycler after drinking the last bit of juice from it. Then he stretched, ruffled with both hands in his long, blond hair and yawned. He hated waiting, but he was the only one appropriate to greet the newcomer. They might be spending the rest of their lives close together, so he’d better make sure the first impression would be right. The light signal turned green, and the doors to the landing bay slid open for him and the bay crew to enter it. Leasurly he strolled towards the transport bus, watching the first passengers get off. He looked at the photo of Kaeru again, short, dark hair, dark eyes, slender nose, should be easy to spot. As he expected, because he would have done the same, Kaeru was one of the last people to get off the transport, and he stepped up to him, extending his hand.
‘Thank goodness you’ve arrived! The C100 has gone down and I just can’t get it running again…’
Kaeru looked at the tall blond kat in black shorts, shirt representing a rainbow on drugs and matching sneakers, shook his hand and looked at him a little suspiciously.
‘The C100 is a coffee machine.’
‘Yes.’ replied Satosana.
For a second it was quiet, then Kaeru straightened himself. ‘Well then. Show me the way! Can’t run a ship without coffee!’
Satosana laughed and hit him friendly on the back. ‘I’m Satosana, but you can call me Sato for short, or long, or whatever height I’m at.’
‘Kaeru, to the rescue.’ Kaeru replied and laughed back.
‘I hope you brought a lot of time with you, we still have a lot of bugs to work out of the systems.’
‘No problem, as long as there’s plenty of bugspray available.’ Kaeru grinned.
‘Let’s first scare the bugs out of your quarters, then we’ll scare the rest of the ship.’ Satosana grinned back. They walked across the large bay towards the main doors, went right and came to the main corridor of the ship.
‘This is our main road. Here we can use motorised bikes to go to any part of the ship. Usually everyone just grabs one that’s available, but we have our own bikes because we need them for emergency repairs.’
Sato hopped on a small bike, marked with all kinds of colourful stickers.
‘This one is mine, hop on.’ he said and patted on the seat behind him.
Kaeru sat down, grabbed the handlebar under the seat and Satosana drove down the corridor between others on similar bikes. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than walking.
‘Our workplace and our quarters are almost at the rear, close to the biggest cluster of servers. That way we’re near everything in case of an emergency.’
‘Ah.’ Kaeru replied.
‘The rest of the crew has their quarters more to the center front, so we’re a little isolated. Hope you don’t mind.’
‘Not at all.’ Kaeru said as he smiled at that idea. It would mean less people around him. Sato turned left, drove for a while longer, then turned into a smaller corridor.
‘We’re close now.’
One minute later he stopped the bike and both got off. Satosana parked it into a niche and walked before Kaeru into their office. One wall of the room was mostly filled with displays showing the status of all the servers and network equipment. Two chairs stood in front of that, supporting their own displays, a keyboard, and joysticks.
‘This is where we do our work.’ Satosana said as he patted on one of the chairs. ‘And where we do our relaxing if you’re into the latest games.’
Kaeru grinned. ‘I’m not too familiar with the latest, but I’m sure I can learn.’
Satosana laughed. ‘Now let’s get you to your corner of this metal world.’
Together they walked down the corridor they arrived in and halted at a door which had admin #2 written on it with white marker.
‘This is yours. Mine is back up there.’ Satosana pointed back into the corridor, then pulled the key out of his pocket and opened the door. ‘After you.’
‘Thanks.’ Kaeru said as he walked into the dimly lit room. It was large enough he thought. On one side there was a comfortable looking couch, and opposite it the music center he had asked for. ‘Lovely.’ he said softly.
‘I’ll leave you to unpack now, when you’re ready for dinner and a quick tour of the ship, just come down. I’m either at our place, or in my room.’
Satosana handed Kaeru his key and left after more thanks from Kaeru. Kaeru closed the door, walked up to the control panel of the music center and selected his favorite grunge band. Then he walked into his bedroom, dropped the bag on the bed and undressed to take a long shower. When he felt clean again he sank into the soft black couch, used the remote to select some soft classical music, and closed his eyes for a nap.
When Kaeru woke up he felt more energized, and hungry. He walked into the bathroom, splashed some water on his face, shaved, got dressed and walked down the corridor to his workplace. Satosana was in his chair, working on something when he looked up.
‘Hullo.’ Kaeru replied, looking round the room.
‘I hope you’re hungry, I am and I was just about to get something.’
‘Yeah, I’m hungry. The food any good here?’
‘Sure is.’ Satosana said as he got out of his chair. ‘Everything is fresh, straight from the farm here. Not the synthetic junk you get on the planet.’
‘Good,’ Kaeru nodded. ‘I could eat a fresh horse.’
‘Let’s go then, we don’t have to go too far because there is a small diner close by. There are a few scattered around the ship so the crew doesn’t have to go far to eat during work. And since this ship runs continuesly, they’re open most of the time.’
Satosana led Kaeru through several corridors, lined with pipes, electrical cabling and equipment and ended up at a white door marked with a fork and spoon.
‘Here we are.’ Satosana said and opened the door to a room with a couple of tables and chairs grouped against the left and right wall, decorated with large pictures of ocean, mountain, and desert views. They were meant to lift the spirit when it felt trapped. At the back was a counter with the usual items like salt and pepper shakers, bottles with sauce, a few dishes, cuttlery and menus. Behind it on shelves more kitchenware, the fridges holding the cool drinks and the entrance to the kitchen where the light scent of baked food came from.
‘Satooo!’ shouted the girl behind the counter. ‘You’re late again.’
She was a Spyder, short, blond hair, blue eyes, wore a tight white shirt covering small breasts and her spiderlegs were slim and had a very lightbrown colour.
Satosana smiled at her. ‘Sorry, but I was waiting on our new addition. This is Kaeru.’
Both of them walked up to the counter and sat down on a stool.
‘Kaeru. Nice to meet you.’ he said as he shook her hand.
‘I’m Zeikre.Nice to meet you too.’ she smiled.
‘Celentia in the kitchen?’ Satosana asked after Zeikre kissed him.
‘Yeah, I’ll go get her.’ she said as she walked into the kitchen.
Kaeru leaned over to Satosana. ‘Your girlfriend?’
‘Yep. We started off right away after we met. It was love at first sight.’
Kaeru nodded approvingly. ‘Good catch.’
Zeikre came back, followed by a Kat with long, almost black hair and tail, dark eyes, and wearing a black shirt under her apron.
‘Hey Cel.’ Satosana said to her.
‘Hey Sato.’ she replied back to him.
‘This is Kaeru who will be working with me from now on.’
Celentia gave Kaeru a gentle handshake, and he got the impression she was very shy despite trying to hide it.
‘Nice to meet you.’ he said.
‘Same here.’ she said.
‘So what brings you here?’ Zeikre asked Kaeru.
Kaeru shrugged. ‘I guess the same reason as most of the people here, looking for something new.’
‘Well, I hope you’ll still feel that way after looking at the same stardust for a year.’ she said with a laugh.
‘At least it’s better than the dust gathering in my previous place.’ Kaeru laughed.
‘Talking about dust, let’s eat.’ Satosana said, followed by a playful punch on the shoulder from Zeikre.
‘Celentia is an excellent cook! Don’t listen to him Kaeru.’
The four of them sat down at a table when the girls brought in the food and Kaeru nodded at Celentia after a few bites. ‘This is indeed very good.’
A faint blush appeared on Celentia’s face. ‘Thanks.’
After they had finished eating they cleaned up the table and stashed the dishes into the dishwasher, then sat back down and talked about what they had done so far in life. Satosana got involved into this project right after finishing his education on information and communication technology. His teacher was impressed by his abilities and had introduced him to the engineer working on the network of the ship. Satosana’s knowledge of the infrastructure made him the ideal candidate to run it on its voyage through the stars. Zeikre wanted to see what was out there, and this was as good a job as any, and Celentia came here because her uncle worked on the construction of the ship, and stayed after he finished work because she liked it here. After what seemed like hours Kaeru couldn’t hold back a yawn and stretched. ‘Guess it’s time for me to get to bed.’
‘Yeah, it’s getting late.’ Satosana said, checking his watch. ‘I’ll show you what we’ve got to do in the morning, then I’ll give you a tour of the ship.’
The both of them said goodbye to the girls and walked off.
‘Isn’t he cute?’ Zeikre asked as she nudged Celentia.
‘Yes. Now shut up.’ she answered and giggled a little.
When Kaeru stared at the ceiling of his bedroom he thought of Celentia for a moment. She didn’t have a slim figure as Zeikre, but it made her look even cuter. He had to smile at that thought. ‘Idiot.’ he said to himself, turned on his side and fell asleep.
When he woke up he saw he had slept only five hours and he wouldn’t be able to sleep more. feeling a bit adventurous he got up, dressed and walked out the door to wonder around a bit. The ship felt like a maze to him but he figured he could find his way back from the main ring. In this part of the ship there wasn’t much interesting to see. there were lots of storage rooms, enough to build a second ship he thought. And he met only one man working on some electical equipment. Just when he was starting to feel lost he passed a familiar door. The light was on in the diner and he decided to get something to drink. Inside all was quiet.
Celentia’s head appeared out the kitchen doorway. ‘Oh, hi.’ she smiled.
‘What are you doing here at this time?’
‘Can’t sleep. Mind if I sit here for a moment?’
‘Of course not. Want something to drink?’
Kaeru sat down and nodded. ‘Another reason I came here. Have you got orange juice?’
Celentia handed him a cold bottle from the fridge.
‘You also seem awake. No sleep for you either?’
‘Nah.’ She shook her head. ‘I don’t sleep a lot.’
‘So what were you doing?’
‘Making up recipes, trying out stuff. If you want to, you can sit down in the kitchen while I try a new desert.’
‘Then I welcome you to my little domain.’
He followed her and sat down next to her while she was creating something out of pineapple, icecream, syrup and cookies.
‘Wanna try?’ she asked him.
Kaeru grinned. ‘Always.’
He took a bite, then tasted the mix of pineapple, mint flavoured icecream, lightly flavored strawberry syrup and nodded. ‘Yummy.’
She smiled. ‘I’ll add it to the menu.’
‘I’ll grow fat here from all the good food.’ he said with a smile.
‘We’ll just have to widen the door then.’ she laughed.
‘Oh yeah…’ he laughed and held a spoonful of desert in front of her.
‘Then I’ll make sure I’m not going to be the only one.’
She stuck out her tongue and ate the spoonful.
When Zeikre walked in much later they noticed they had talked and laughed for hours.
‘Wow, it’s time for me to start on my first day.’ Kaeru said as he saw the time. ‘Thanks for the great time Celentia.’
‘And thank you for the same.’ she replied.
‘See you guys later.’
After Kaeru was out of sight Zeikre nudged Celentia. ‘Sooo… You two have been busy…’
Now Celentia saw how much food lay around in the kitchen, most of it arranged in the weirdest presentations.
‘Oh! We’ve been thinking of new things to add to the menu.’ she said as she quickly started to clean up.
‘Sure.’ Zeikre smiled as she went to the front to serve the first people coming in for breakfast.
Celentia stopped for a moment and looked at her reflection in the steel door of a fridge.
‘Don’t bother thinking of that…’ she told herself, ‘You’re not pretty enough for that.’ and went back to cleaning up the kitchen.
Staring off into deep space through a picture window Kaeru thought about the dreams he used to have, owning a big car, a house build to his own specifications, beautiful loving wife and kids. The dream he had while he was still with her, before things went downhill fast. He drew out a big sigh, bumped his head on the glass once and stood straight. He didn’t feel like dwelling on the past right now, he could do that in his own quarters with some fitting music and booze and started walking to do just that. From the cabinet he grabbed a bottle of the better vodka, filled up a glass and dropped himself into the couch. It took him only a few seconds to find the right depressing music and play it loud enough to sing along.
“Home.” he thought as he looked around his room.
He looked over the near empty shelves on the wall to his right. The only possessions he took with him, a few boxes with books and clothes stood underneath them, the two books he had in his travelling bag were the only items on the bottom shelf. Emptying his glass he wondered how long they’d stay empty. Back home, or rather, former home, he’d not have taken long to fill one seven meter shelf with all sorts of books.
‘Heh, funny.’ he thought. ‘Even with all this technology, I prefer an old-fashioned thing like a book. Perhaps that is why I don’t fit in with people.’
He got up from the couch, walked up to the media centre and turned the volume up, feeling the bass reverberate through his guts from the two loudspeaker columns. Then he walked back to the table beside the couch, grabbed the vodka and filled his glass, emptying it at once and filled it again. He wanted to get really drunk, to feel once more, happiness, sadness, rage, hate towards her who had hurt him so much that he lost all emotions, left him with a vacuum where his heart used to be.