Araminta watched through the viewport as the first passenger shuttles of the day left the station. Far below her, Belanger began to glisten orange, as the light of its star bathed it. Cargo vessels lumbered overhead, heading to parking orbits. Araminta shifted in her seat, stretching her arms and legs. The light of the station's concourse was still dim, reflecting the night of the main starport on Belanger. Shop employees arrived to set up stores before the crush of transient shoppers arrived. Lights in the shops came on, one by one.
Feeling the buzz in her jumpsuit's pocket, Araminta pulled out her comm. The message it had let her smile; her next ship out reported its midday departure time and its docking hangar. That gave her plenty of time to get last-minute supplies and finish her meager packing. The doors to the shop behind her swished open. Araminta stood, adjusting her orange jumpsuit to make sure the Exploration Service insignia on her sleeves sat straight. She entered the store and started walking among the bookshelves, checking each title. When Araminta left the bookshop, the bewildered clerk began placing the books into whatever crates he could find.
Shoppers began to trickle into the concourse as Araminta worked her way to the food court. The smell of coffee drew her to a small kiosk. She ordered a cup, light on the sweetener, and a pastry before sitting down to watch people walk by. Behind the building bustle, starships flew past, shuttles arriving from Belanger entering the docking bay as independent liners left. With each shuttle, more people walked through the concourse. One figure caught Araminta's attention; he wore the same Exploration Service orange jumpsuit she had and he walked against the flow of the crowd, up the stream of people coming from the docking bays. He spotted Araminta; the orange of the jumpsuit ensured that she couldn't disappear into either the black of space or the growing throng of people, even if she wanted.
When he arrived at the table, the man peered down at Araminta's name tag. "Long?" he asked. "Araminta Long?"
"That's me." Araminta offered her hand as she read his tag. "Russo?"
"Jared Russo," he confirmed as he shook Araminta's hand. "I'm the pilot of the The Dusty Crater. I'm supposed to take you to Colony Base 183. I didn't see you come in on the shuttle."
"I wasn't on it." Araminta pulled out a chair for Jared. "Have a seat."
"Give me a moment. I need a coffee." Jared dashed off to the kiosk, returning once he received his tall steaming cup of java. He sat down in the offered chair. "When did you get here, if you don't mind me asking? I thought you arrived a week ago."
"Five days." Araminta took a sip of her coffee. "I spent the time up here."
Jared leaned over the table. "On the highport?" He shook his head in disbelief. "When Belanger City is down there?"
"And full of particulate that filters get clogged by the end of the day." Araminta set down her coffee cup. "I kept busy. I helped at the office here until Juliette tossed me out."
"How long did that take her to do?" Jared chuckled.
"Three hours. I didn't know she was that fussy on just how her datawork got done." Araminta allowed herself to laugh. "I spent a lot of time here just watching people. I spent a lot of time at Look On High in the evenings, too." She plucked at her sleeve. "Obviously, not in this."
"Explains why I didn't notice you. Still, it must have been dull."
"Dull was the third week in a mailship. I should have taken the week off on Polonaise before coming here."
"Yeah, that's not a good idea."
Araminta shrugged. "The ship was there. Beats arriving yesterday and rushing through everything and missing something. I know better now."
Jared leaned back in his chair. "Look, you're young. You have a promising career in the Service. Don't burn yourself out too early."
Keeping back a sigh, Araminta said, "I'm just eager to get to my assignment, that's all."
"Keeping the peace on a new colony." Jared hid his dubiousness behind a long sip of his coffee.
"I know. I'm barely out of basic and I volunteered for this." Araminta looked down at her cup. "I've got my reasons."
"We all do. The Service attracts all types."
Araminta raised her head. "How long have you been in?"
"And if you don't mind a personal question, why did you join the Service?"
Jared set down his coffee. "I hated being tied down to one spot."
"Why not join the Navy, then?"
"I'm too independent. What about you? Why not join the Navy?"
"Ever hear of Zlyhala?"
"Zlyhala?" Jared gave a low whistle. "Yeah, frontier world, attacked by pirates or someone. You were there?"
"Yeah." Araminta's eyes flicked down. "The first people in came from the Service. It took a month before the Navy arrived, but I remember the Service vessels all coming down daily. I figured if I wanted to prevent something like that in the future, I was better off in the Exploration Service. This assignment? If something happens to Colony Base 183, I'm there. If nothing happens, I move on to a new assignment, wherever the Service sends me."
Jared nodded. "I get it. Hell, I hope the colonists appreciate you being there." He drained the dregs of his coffee. "Say, er, what should I call you? Seeing that we're going to be stuck with each other for a couple of weeks. Araminta, or?"
"Mint's fine." She smiled. "Just, not Minty."
"Well, Mint, I should get back to the Crater. Meet me there at 1130 station time so we can get you squared away."
Araminta finished her coffee. "Sure. I've got some cargo heading there later this morning. Don't be too surprised."
Jared got up. "I'll keep an eye out. See you later."