The flight from the Corazón Space Port was not only short, but it was the smoothest Audrey Lilton had ever flown on. Granted, this was her first time off world, but any of the regular air flights were never this smooth, bustling and shaking and rattling across the skies like a tin can. Of course, she knew it was because of the gravity drivers; no conventional propulsion. More like suddenly becoming lighter than air and floating right up into space.
Despite the lack of flight sickness and the glorious view as blue skies faded into star streaked blackness, Audrey still couldn't help the butterflies in her stomach. This wasn't just her first time off world; this was a whole new adventure to a brand new home.
Her compatriots for this flight, three other young women her age, sat comfortably nearby. Each of them watched through their windows, hoping to catch a first glimpse of the Space Habitat. Alicia and Melina seemed just as excited as Audrey, bustling and jostling in their seats. Silvina looked a little more subdued, mostly focused on her tablet. Audrey couldn't help but smirk at that. Silvina always tried to look bored with any novel experience. Like she was trying so hard to be grown up or something.
"There it is!" Alicia suddenly squealed, her short blonde hair bouncing up and down as she did. "I can see it!"
Audrey edged closer to her window, finally catching first sight of Sunflower Station. It somehow seemed smaller in person, but they were still thousands of kilometers off, weren't they? Her eyes remained fixated on it as it slowly grew into its true size, and suddenly it didn't seem quite so small anymore. According to their program packets, the station was home to nearly six thousand people. Audrey could see through the large glass structure surrounding the main business promenade. She saw countless arrays of flashy lights and businesses inside, no doubt filled with life and excitement.
There's a whole other world in there.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the overhead intercom crackled, "we will be docking at Sunflower Station A-Ring in a few short moments. We please ask that you retake your seats and remain strapped in during gravitational synchronization. Thank you for flying with Cypress Shuttle Services."
Audrey promptly reached for her own harness, briefly remembering the strange sensation that had flooded the shuttle when they lifted off from the port. It took a stewardess to get Alicia and Melina back in their seats. Silvina hadn't even unstrapped herself.
Not so slowly, the large face of A-ring grew in size until had entirely eclipsed the rest of Audrey's view. It was essentially a giant circular plate with various arms and docking ports, but a giant one at that. Just as soon as Audrey heard the faint rumble of connectors touching the shuttle, she couldn't even glance out her window without seeing some part of A-Ring.
This place is enormous!
"Ladies and gentlemen, you are now free to disembark from the shuttle."
There was a strange swoosh through the compartment. It wasn't a movement of air and there was no sound to it, but Audrey felt it to very center of her stomach. The gravity drivers were now adjusting to Sunflower Station, which had its own gravitational field. The feeling was fleeting, but still left Audrey a little nauseated. It soon fled.
"C'mon!" Melina insisted. She was scrambling to grab her carry-on bag from the overhead compartment. "I wanna see the station!"
Audrey blinked as Alicia was already headed up the isle to the airlock. Melina was quickly on her tail, leaving Silvina to gingerly un-strap herself. She obviously wasn't in a hurry.
Audrey stifled a laugh as she grabbed her own bag. The four of them made an interesting group for the university program. Silvina definitely seemed the right kind of candidate. Although the University of Corazón wasn't anything expensive or exclusive, the girl had been involved in all of the advanced groups and programs. Now here she was, acting all business and uninterested that they were freaking in space.
She, Audrey, and Alicia had all come from the same class. Melina was a different story altogether, and even though she had claimed high enough scores on the entrance exam for this program, Silvina had made it abundantly clear in private that she didn't expect her to last long once they were on the station.
That made Audrey grimace to herself as she started up the main isle herself. Silvina's well-kept and styled raven hair flashed in her face. This program, sponsored by Sunflower's Social Admin of Space Habitat Lifestyles, was time sensitive and eliminative. Three of them would get some valuable intern experience and then go home; one of them would be lucky enough to be hired on as a full-fledged Social Admin Assistant. That was something Silvina hadn't been shy about waving around in their faces since the four of them had won selection in the program two months ago.
Silvina had scored the highest of the four of them. That hadn't surprised Audrey. Ever since she and Alicia had first met in their last semester class, Audrey had figured she would score high on whatever program she chose. What had surprised her was the choice Silvina made to follow Alicia and Audrey into this particular program. Alicia and Audrey both had majors in this field; Silvina did not. So Audrey couldn't help but wonder if this wasn't Silvina's attempt at upstaging them. But Audrey tried not to be so cynical of her friend.
Maybe she really fancied herself a Habitat Life Assistant. There were more surprising things in the universe…
Audrey took in a sharp breath as she stepped through the airlock into A-Ring shuttle customs. The chamber beyond was essentially a giant vertical shaft that spanned the entire length of A-Ring. Through various openings in the floor and ceiling, Audrey could spy up and down the various levels of other airlocks where different ships docked. It was a dizzying height, almost taller than some of the high-rises in Corazón were.
She soon regained her senses, spotting where Alicia was further along waving to her. Melina and Silvina were already engrossed in the station entry line. Audrey jogged to catch up.
"Sorry, just getting lost in it all," Audrey said as she joined Alicia in line.
Alicia chuckled, tucking a strand of her jaw-length blonde hair behind her ear. She glanced over the edge of a nearby railing down a few dozen more floors, each bustling with various in-coming and out-going passengers. Somewhere far below all the white washed floors and walls there was the faint outline of A-Ring's circular edge, made of what looked like glass and letting star light in.
"You'd think with a station this size they'd have better safety measures," said Alicia.
Audrey shrugged. "Maybe the empty space is null gravity."
Alicia glanced skeptically out of the corner of her eye. "Right. Because you can do that kind of stuff with gravity."
Audrey shrugged. "I didn't take a Gravitational Engineering class; I don't know!"
The line was taking it's time, so Alicia fished around in her pockets for some trash. When she found some, she glanced around briefly before flinging it out into one of the open spaces between floors. The unlucky snack wrapper floated briefly in mid air before being sucked into a pressurized vacuum tube along the wall.
Alicia gasped. "No fair!"
Audrey laughed. "So that's how they keep this place so sparkly white."
Melina and Silvina were already waiting for them on the other side of the booth. Well, Silvina was. Melina was more or less walking around in circles, taking in all of the new sights.
"Any sign of our greeters?" Audrey asked as they joined the other two girls.
Silvina jerked her head back towards the archways that led into Sunflower Station proper. "We'll meet whoever they are at one of the custom offices. Didn't any of you read the fliers in your program packets?"
They made their way over to a series of office booths that lined the archways. Audrey glanced beyond the arches out into the open promenade of Sunflower Station. It was absolutely gorgeous. They were essentially inside of a giant glass cylinder, though the bottom half was filled with ground plazas and walkways, and most of the sides filled up with buildings parked right up against the wall. Only the top roof was actually completely visible to the empty, starry space beyond. She could faintly see the large circular structure of B-Ring on the far side, with the sun peeking up over the edge.
"Here we are," Silvina proclaimed as they walked inside one particular office.
Sure enough, it didn't take long for the four lost girls to get in touch with the Sunflower Social Admin representative sent to fetch them. It turned out to be a middle-aged woman in uniform with short golden hair folded neatly in a bun. Her name-tag read Jousten, Maggie.
She glanced down briefly at her tablet, then back at them, counting off heads. "Right. Welcome aboard Sunflower! You can call Mrs. Jousten and I'll be your supervisor for your stay aboard."
There were some introductions and hand shaking. Nothing too important and Mrs. Jousten didn't have anything really to say to them, so Audrey kept her attention mostly focused on the interior promenade. In some ways, it looked like a giant hand had scooped up an entire city block and fit it gingerly inside a glass tank. A central pathway stayed level with their docking ring, but the ground floor—if that was what it was called, since up and down were relative—had several lower sections that bowled out from the main walkway. And then there were more floor holes that left brief views of even deeper walkways and plazas below the "ground."
A short walk later, and they arrived at a block of apartments that sat cusped up against an important looking civic building that reached up nearly to the top of the rounded glass ceiling. Audrey guessed right away that this must be Sunflower's equivalent of city hall, which was precisely where Social Admin would be located. Their domiciles obviously weren't a far walk.
Mrs. Jousten led them inside to a second floor apartment that had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a combined kitchenette and living room. It was only a little bigger than some of the apartments around the University of Corazón were, but obviously in much better condition.
"I'll give you some time to unpack and settle in," Mrs. Jousten said, staying close to the front door. "You'll find that the rest of your luggage was already delivered from the shuttle. After that, we'll have lunch in an hour back in Social Admin offices and go from there."
The girls thanked her and soon they had the domicile to themselves. Melina immediately rushed to the main window on the far side of the living room that overlooked the promenade.
"This is incredible!" she squealed in delight. "I can't believe we're actually here!"
"Only for a little while," Silvina chimed in. "And this isn't a vacation, either, so I suggest you start unpacking. We've got a busy day ahead of us."
Audrey headed into her own room, where her luggage was indeed waiting. There was a smaller window in here that also looked out over the promenade. And for a moment, all of those people and buildings seemed slightly intimidating. This was a whole other world, one with its own cultures and customs. Space life was a lot different from planet-side life.
She felt like a fish out of water.
Glancing over her shoulder briefly, she spotted Alicia and Silvina heading into their room to unpack. Melina was somewhere else, which gave Audrey a little time to herself.
Dropping down onto her knees, Audrey closed her eyes and offered a short prayer. Please, God…just let me do what I'm supposed to do while I'm here.
She blinked open her eyes again just as Melina came dashing in. She was saying something about how much she liked their new room, but Audrey honestly missed most of it.
Right now, she felt all right. Things would be okay.