The earth was blue, but there was no god in space.

-Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the first human in space

Chapter 1

The choice is simple, yet mind-numbingly hard to accomplish. I turn over my right hand and look at the analogue wrist oxygen meter. The hand is almost at the edge, long past the red area. What is hard about the choice laid out before me isn't how to make it possible, but to choose it. The emergency batteries in my EVA suit ran out about half a minute ago, the only thing that works is the oxygen supply system, for oxygen that's about to run out. HUD in the helmet flickers, then fades to black. I can't use the compressed gas to move. You float and float and realize that sooner or later you're going to be swallowed by utter darkness of the eternal void. I can't contact Fee on the ship, neither the fishbone. I'm still connected to Tanabe in the fishbone by the cable though, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the choice. I reach my belt and pull off the standard issue emergency knife. I stuck it under my visor and try to break it open to see at least. My helmet creaks and my visor opens automatically pulled by tiny slides on the sides of it. What matters is the choice. About thirty feet from me there floats a switch, a transmitter I lost. I can't reach it. I have to reach it. The cable is too short and Tanabe wouldn't have enough fuel to get back if we went for it. If Fee went for Tanabe, she wouldn't have enough fuel to get back to Moon. And they can't move an inch with the damned thing still targeting ships. And either way we don't have the time. The clock is ticking. I have to reach it. I turn my left hand and use the mirror on it to see behind me. Behind me there's a secret device of some private army. An EMP cannon in a satellite disguise. I grab the cable and pull, but it won't get longer no matter how hard I try. I have to reach the switch for the bombs planted on the EMP device. I look at my hands, I have the tools necessary. I have the means, but that would mean...

The choice is simple, it's either me or everyone in the world.


I had a dream.

In it I could see an astronaut in some prototype EVA space suit sitting near the American flag memorial and talking to himself. I couldn't hear him, it was more of a whisper. He was sitting on the second step of the Apollo 11 module statue, looking deeply on that first human step covered in a bulletproof showcase. Suddenly I began to inch closer and the guy in the suit saw me somehow. Or he knew I was there all the time and I just remember it afterwards. Anyway, he looked at me and nodded. Then he switched the safety-catch on his helmet and before I could stop him took his helmet off. It wasn't Neil Armstrong, nor someone else, not even the pessimistic reflection of me. It was a human sized lizard with a crown on his head. Its face was distorted. Maybe it wasn't, but it looked it was smiling. Laughing its ass off actually. But maybe it was just how these lizards were. There was a writing on its crown, 'He who fights monsters...' Then it walked over to me and handed me a hamster, then closed my hand carefully as if it could save the universe and walked off.

Then I woke up.

I wasn't shocked, nor was I curious about the dream. I was completely lost. It wasn't the first time I dreamed about similar crap though, so I knew it was harmless. No significance. No danger. Just some random bullshit my brain came up with.

Trying to forget about it, I unstrapped myself from the wall and stretched. 23rd June. I yawned slowly realizing that another boring day I have to fight through awaited me. I opened the hygiene cabinet and looked at my face. Scratching my head I decided to screw it and don't shave. I didn't see the point. I just caught toothbrush floating behind my head and cleaned my teeth just so nobody would be able to tell otherwise and shove the fact into my face. I considered fresh clothes, but just went with the usual floating sack in the corner of the room. Just where I left them yesterday too.

I took the tools I borrowed from office yesterday and went out. Not caring about the mass of people going to or from their jobs, I floated like a corpse. I chose the routes by memory like a robot and soon I was exiting the elevator all the way down in the cellar that's our seventh division, or how the bastards call it - the half section. On my way I picked up some WD-40 lubricant, because my suit's left hand got laggy and you could hear loud screeching sound when you used it inside the station. No way I'm getting a new one, not even spares, so I'm forced to use this. With this equipment, it's a miracle nobody died here yet. And maybe that was why I kept up with this job, because there was some danger to it. Other than that and being in space, it led nowhere. And I hate when things become a routine.

As the door opened I saw the utter and complete sameness in the most drastic raw form.

The assistant manager 'Robbie' was doing some strange dance I didn't even want to begin to understand the origins of. Yuri was feeding his animals, changed the bedding sawdust, changed water. Fee smoked in her portable room, reading some magazine. Our fat 'Boss' read something I knew wasn't connected to space in the slightest and ate a pie. Edel typed paperwork for our boss. And I couldn't see Tanabe anywhere, yet.

I closed my eyes hard and tried to scrub off the mold from the surface of my brain and come up with a reason why I kept going here. I could make a photo of the room each day and it would all fit the same.

I heaved a sigh.

"Hey, Hachimaki," said Yuri, then came back to his animals.

Fee made a mocking salute gesture at me from behind the glass, then she was clouded by smoke.

"Just the man I wanted to see, I have news from the office no bonuses this month either Hachi," Assistant manager said, not breaking his dance for a second.

"Like we ever have any," our boss exclaimed through his pie. "Hey there, Hachimaki."

Edel said nothing.

I sighed again.

"Hard morning Senpai?" It was Tanabe, from behind me.

I hate it when she calls me like that, nowadays she does only when she's mocking me.

I turned around, "As hard as any with this bunch. Since when did you start to go late anyway?"

"And when you did?"

"Hey I don't do it all the time and I was punctual too when I started working here," I had to shield myself.

It was for nothing though.

"Yeah, the first week he was pretty punctual I can nod to that," Fee almost couldn't be heard from inside the room. "Then he showed his inner slacker and began to choose his own working hours."

"Couldn't exactly help it with the way the things were going, and I just joined in on the thing anyway," I said.

She shrugged, "All right... all right, I'm just saying not judging."

"And don't listen to them Tanabe, uh I mean Ai, a good astronaut doesn't just... err."

Somewhere in the middle of my speech Tanabe crossed her arms and frowned.

"Well... as I was saying..."

She made a brow gesture – 'well?'

"You can do what you want as long as it's acceptable?"

Fee interrupted again, "Guess we finally figured out who wears the pants there."

"More than clear Fee, more than clear," Yuri joined in on the discussions never breaking eye contact with his animals.

I grumbled.

Tanabe nodded to herself, "Glad we're clear on that."

I began to turn around...

"While we're at it where did you disappear to yesterday, the movie wasn't that long," but Tanabe just wouldn't let it slide.

I turned back, "Not that long, huh? Why did you fall asleep in the middle then?"

"Hmph," she exclaimed. "Maybe I was expecting you to do something, like last Sunday when y-"

Then I leaped. Letting my things fall I covered her mouth as fast as I could.

"Okay, so much for the information leak, let's keep this after we're out of here, alright?"

Tanabe laughing through my hand nodded, then touched my nose lightly as I let her go.

"Just playing with you, dear," she said and sat down at her desk like nothing happened.

The others were shocked, some broke into laughter after a short while.

I shrugged.

Tanabe, containing her laughter, walked to her part of the big desk and began to sort something out. I couldn't exactly see what and moreover I didn't particularly care. I had my own important business after all. I picked up my things and went to my own part of the table, sat down, put my legs up on it, stretched, placed my hands behind my head and tried to continue where I've left off before I had that dream. And strange, I didn't have her for that kind of a person. Could be the territory, this place kind of rubs on you. If we would take a more philosophical approach on it - was I a different person when I first came here? Was I a different person before I forgot my dreams?

But enough of spraying the air with foul mood.

I almost dozed off, but I sprang right back up and decided to repair the glove of my suit as I planned. I already had it with me so I just took a screwdriver and unscrewed a few screws to get to the insides. When I opened it dust fell out, colored dust, the paint. That was bad, it meant that something was ramming or scratching the surface of something else. I sprayed the side I needed with the lubricant and decided to dig deeper in the glove, there could be something wrong with the joint. Now that would be bad.

"Find something better to do, Ai," I said still inspecting the thing.

"What! I-I'm just looking..." She panicked, "I mean watching you what you're doing with that glove. I'm still an amateur when it comes down to mechanics."

"Yeah right and I am a patient man."

Noticed the sarcasm? Good.

I opened the glove further and it looked like that just some parts weren't sitting together properly. Someone just screwed it too much, I carefully got the parts to their proper positions and cleared off the dust with a can of pressurized air. Then I put it back and closed the thing. And I was done. I looked at the clock. Half past nine.

"Damn!"

I guess Einstein was right. Time really is relative to the eyes of observer. I thought I was at least through the morning.

And this is our biggest adversary. Boredom. Even though we're in space and ours is mildly dangerous, it's a job like any other. Sometimes I feel I'm trapped in one small scary loop. I don't know how to describe it but I guess it's like I only live a few days that are repeating forever, with only slight differences. Like living through a pattern with set times and things you should do. Sometimes you have to do an extraordinary debris haul, sometimes you repair your glove. Stuff like that. But even for that there are procedures, methods. For dangerous work there's OSH - Occupational safety and health. The version for people working in space is a little heftier, but basically the same. In other words everything's the same, according to the rules. And here we are, sitting in a cellar of a room pretending to work to our fullest and no sweat our dreams will come back to us tomorrow.

Job like any other.

The boss seemed a little down, he ate just half of the pie. Looking at Yuri he noticed too. He stopped filling up his paperwork and nodded at me.

"What is it boss, digestive problems?" Yuri asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

"If it was that I could deal with it without any problems, but... my mother-in-law died," after he finished the sentence he laughed it up with that annoying laugh of his, he's just that kind of guy I guess. "But it's fine! She was really old, so I suppose we should have expected that."

Leaning back in my chair I said, "Isn't that a good thing for you?"

Everyone gave me a look.

"Hachimaki," Yuri shook his head.

"How can you say such a thing!" Tanabe spun me on my chair, forcing me to look at her. "These are human beings we're talking about."

"I suppose, but it wasn't his mom, but mother-in-law and we all know how they are," I shrugged.

"But still!"

"All right, I'm sorry boss, it just slipped, won't happen again," I apologized turning back in my chair, sparing myself the love speech.

Tanabe nodded to herself, satisfied. Man she really got me around her finger, didn't she. But nevermind.

"I'm fine, it's just that my wife, usually she makes me do all kinds of work so I'd earn those perfect meals she makes, but now she changed..." His voice trailed off. "She's more distant."

Great, now they'll all dig in this issue the whole freaking day. Before the end of the shift, I'll know everything about everyone's family problems. It's just that kind of discussion.

No way out.

Fee opened her smoke room and leaned out, "What happened to her anyway, I thought you said she looked good for eighty-three."

"I wanted to ask the same thing, people just don't pass away all of a sudden!" Tanabe exclaimed and hit my head, probably because she was so pumped up.

"Hey!"

"She complained her stomach hurt so we took her to a hospital and they made a X-ray scan, but didn't find anything," the boss said. "Then they opened her and found a tumor on her liver."

He trailed off as if his own mom died, "The metastasis finished the job."

"How come she had a liver cancer?" The assistant manager said. "I thought that only happens to people who drink gallons of alcohol a week."

"Guess she was just lucky," I said.

"Watch it, Hachirota!" And Tanabe hit me again.

Before I could shout back Fee cut in, "Strange my father-in-law died of lung cancer earlier this week. Though he smoked and all, my husband and I didn't really expect it."

"What's worse is my mother-in-law gone nuts after it," Fee said.

"What do you mean?" Yuri asked, leaning in on the discussion.

"I'm not really sure if she had Alzheimer before her husband died, but now it's like that with dementia combined," Fee took out another cigarette out of her pack and went back to her smoking room. "She doesn't remember where she is, if she does she falls because she can't control her feet."

"That sounds harsh," Tanabe said, still behind me.

"Not as harsh for me as it is for my man and the kids, I mean I'm in space right?" She puffed a cloud of smoke. "They have to deal with her somehow. And she used to take care of my boy when my husband was in work, we'll have to deal with that issue too."

"So does everyone we know die because of a cancer?" The assistant manager shook his head.

Yeah, that went through my head too. But it's not connected, people just die. Do we have to talk about this?

"Now this might sound hard, but you better send her to some nursing home," Yuri said. "I know it's not easy, but it could be the best for her and for your family too."

"You're probably right," Fee agreed, then looked at our boss. "But money don't grow on trees, I'd need a raise so we could afford one."

I chuckled, "There's just no way."

And we're back to the basis of our global reality. No matter who you are, no matter how good you think you are - you still need money. And who says they don't is a fucking hypocrite. There's nothing bad about it really, it's just a matter of not taking a too much liking to those colored papers. Everything has to have some limits. Some kind of a balancing force that's looming over you. We all need money to survive, but we don't have to be monsters because of it. I looked at Tanabe. Though some are still too childishly idealistic to see the truth. But still it won't change the fact that money don't grow on trees and that we all have mouths to feed.

"We'd have enough money though," Fee continued, puffed out smoke. "It's just that my husbands sister wouldn't want to pay her share."

"But why!" Tanabe exclaimed, already too deep in the matter to quit it. "Isn't it her mother too! Doesn't she care about the person that gave her birth?"

Fee closed her eyes showered by the pureness Tanabe represents, "She doesn't have any kids so Mom handed everything material, including her villa to us in her will. So my sister-in-law thinks that since we get everything from Mom, we should take care of her too."

Wretched kind of justice.

Tanabe didn't agree. Given her background, I rather kept my mouth shut.

"But still! Even though she didn't get anything it isn't your fault! And you're still a family."

Tanabe finished and looked at me as if I should say something, telling me to side with her.

I scratched my head, "I don't know Ai. It's her own personal thing, it doesn't matter what we say. We can just give her advice. She'll have to deal with it herself."

And then everyone looked down as if I said something cold. I did. But I was right and they knew it.

World just works that way, nothing is ideal. Things always never turn out as we wish they would. It isn't white and black as in the movies about heroes that will never be. The reality is gray. And this, all this shit in our world. This is real. Back in the movies that's the crazy part.

We just have to somehow get used to it. I'm not saying that we have to be cynical about everything like me, but at least we should accept the truth and our world for what it is. And that is all part of growing up. Tanabe isn't wrong, it's always good to have ideals but you have to put them to use before you lose them. Before you get a shitty job, before you get old and jumpy. Like me.

Then boss cleared his throat and tried to ease up the atmosphere a little, "Anyway we should change the topic, really. So Fee, I heard you're planning a second child."

I hate these in-corporate boredom discussions, you can't keep with one thing for too long. People always tend to jump from this to that, a minute ago we talked about death. Now we talk about kids. Why didn't I have anything better to do? I guess I should have take it as a lesson - always have some work on hand, or you're forced into things like this. Talking about kids and stuff, oh well now I can't exactly run away from it. And looking at Tanabe she needed some more cheerful topic. So I decided not to interrupt this time.

"Nah, not even thinking about it in our current situation," Fee said. "I'd have three kids with my mother-in-law combined."

Then she sighed, "Which I'll probably have anyway, because she wants a dog so she won't be so alone."

"Then you can have ours, he's too big for our office," Yuri cut in.

Fee shook her head, "Thanks but no, she wants it from the pup. I just hope it won't be some kind of a big dog."

I got up and went to a coffee machine.

"Now that you mention it, you're right, it'd be good to get some crossbreed or basset, some home or flat kind like that," Yuri said.

I added coffee and water.

"Raising some dogs is harder than raising kids," Yuri said.

"I'd object to that," Fee finished what could be her third cigarette since I came in.

"Yeah, same here," Robbie broke his dance. "I have six kids, I know what I'm talking about."

"You said you had eight," the boss said, finishing the pie.

"Oh! Yeah, you're right... well probably," he said and came back to his dance.

I watched a drop of coffee fall into the pot. Then another. And another.

"And how is your son doing lately?" Tanabe asked.

Fee waiting for the smoke room to filter all the smoke, leaned back, "He's been wild, but we got it under control. Now he's like an angel."

She cut off for a while, "He's probably the best thing that happened to me."

Those fucking drops of coffee were falling slower and slower.

Is that what she always dreamed to be? A mother. Or did she grew up and abandoned her goals? Did she always wanted to pilot a space garbage truck? I doubt it. When was the turning point, I wonder? What made her do that face-heel turn so easily? Reminded of when I was a kid a little, before I knew that our dreams are just illusions that we'll never be able to reach. Before I knew that hope is just a phrase that you'll grow out of. Before I got trapped in this loop.

"Fuck. That. Shit." I said to myself in synch with the drops of coffee.

And those three were the last and the pot was done. A little bit of destiny there. I felt a rise of some new unfamiliar feeling. Almost as if my thoughts were tempting fate.

"Hey Hachi, stop talking to yourself and bring that thing over here," Fee already out of the smoke room behind her desk, waved at me with her cup. 'Best Mom, ever', was written on the cup.

I grabbed the pot and played a butler for a while because everyone expect Tanabe wanted their share of coffee, which was a good thing because if she wanted too there wouldn't any left there for me.

I sat, sipped my cup of coffee and hoped we would discuss some work related stuff now. I was mistaken.

"How can you forget how many kids you have is beyond me," Fee laughed to herself.

I got fed up.

"All right, that's enough of that emotional crap," I pulled open my desk as loud as I could, reached in and threw the thing on the table. "How about we actually do some work today."

"No need to get hysterical now is there," Fee pulled back a little.

Tanabe picked it up, felt the weight, "What is it?"

"Standard issue army quick action emergency knife - nicknamed Sickvack," I told her and she tensed up knowing that it's a knife.

As if that wasn't obvious from the shape of it.

"Oookayyy, so what?" Tanabe asked.

I leaned in my chair, put my hands behind my head, "New regulations, Technora agreed to work according to a new ISO regulation. I'm not a big fan of playing exactly by the book, but I think this part would come in handy actually."

Tanabe held it and twisted it, then pulled it open by accident, she squeaked and the knife fell on the ground. I picked it up.

"The OSA and army are already using it in EVA environment, though it's still a prototype they praise it quite a lot," I showed it to the others then put it back into it's casing.

"And why do you think we'll need it," Yuri said. "We're debris haulers, not army."

"It's an emergency knife, you never know," I said. "I know we can't get new suits, I don't even start on the spares. But if it's in regulations we can nudge the company to buy a few of those."

"I don't think Technora imposed those regulations on the half section Hachi," boss said. "Even if they did, was there ever control of our equipment? They'll just write it off that we have it and that's all."

"Yeah," Fee cut in. "And then there's Project Ikaro."

"What?"

"They want to find new outsource suppliers for measurement equipment we use on orbit," Yuri said. "In other words they want to turn away from their regular suppliers like Vaisala, Testo or Comet and buy things from China."

"The way I see it, I don't think they'll buy new prototypes of knives that are surely made by Victorinox and such, Hachimaki."

There's no use to try, it's all the same. Your company is before you. Your company is God. They even teach you that in school. They don't encourage you to think, to try things yourself. They just teach you to fit in all that corporate machine. The corporate world. Why did I even try?

"Fine, I figured as much," I took the knife and raised up. "If anyone needs me I'm putting my suit back together."

I took my tools, the glove I repaired, the knife and left.

I walked the maintenance corridor, breathing hard, clearing my head. Before, I actually admired these companies that ran hard, not caring about people who worked for them because they were able to produce results. Then I realized that it wasn't for the goals they set, but for the profit, fame. Money. When they screwed up the Jupiter project, I started to hate all these money printers who didn't care about the space progress, but just wanted to make a name for themselves. I know that hunger is great and money making is addicting, but everything should have it's limits. Everything has limits. Expect human greed.

I approached our ship. The ship was perfect, for a garbage hauler I mean. It had speed, dexterity, good hull design. And Fee loved the ship. We all did, but that's just about it. There's nothing to envy. It isn't her ship, the company owns it. 'This is my ship, there are many like it but this one is mine', she can't say even that. She can fly the space, but she's still missing one thing. Freedom. She isn't free until she gets her own. But this isn't about Fee, I have to get the ship. This isn't greed. I just have to get it.

I sighed and went to the dressing room. I sat down and opened my suit's locker. I took the upper part out, swore about how heavy it is in 1G, put it on a bench in the middle of the room and began to assemble the glove back.

When I finally wedged it together and tightened the screws I put it on and did some basic hand stretching to test it out. I couldn't test the pressure control in the palm switch because I wore just the upper part. But I didn't even touch that so I figured it was okay.

"Kinda like when we first met, don't you think?" It was Tanabe, when did she slip in here?

She was looking right into my eyes, holding her hands behind her back, smiling naturally.

I had to chuckle myself a little, "Yeah, that was when joke was on you. But remember your first space walk? You began spinning around like a rookie, got sick then puked all over me?"

She looked at me confused like, "That's not how I remember it. Are you sure we're talking about the same reality?"

"Depends how you look at it," I said taking off the suit.

Tanabe sat beside me, "Why you stormed off like that anyway? We didn't mean anything by that."

"Yeah, I know."

"Come on, just forget it," she said. "It's just a freaking knife."

"It's not worth going against the odds just to prove your point," she looked at me again, now with that tender look that only she can muster.

She slipped her hand around mine and squeezed, "You could get yourself fired, and nobody would want that."

I didn't squeeze back.

"I don't care about the knife Tanabe, it's the principle. How the company sees us. We're like bugs, no less than that, dust," I laughed. "It's funny really, cuz that's the only way to achieve results."

And Tanabe let my hands go, "Is this about the Jupiter mission again?"

"Look I'm sorry, but you couldn't do anything about that," Tanabe said. "It just happened."

"Nobody expected the core to meltdown in the pre-launch phase," now she took both of my hands. "If you'll continue to beat yourself over it, you're gonna go mad from it."

"Core meltdown, eh?" I smiled. "That's just a pretty fairy tale to slide it all under."

I stood up and placed my suit back in the locker.

"What do you mean?" Tanabe asked, obviously confused.

"That whole core thing is a cover up. We agreed to keep our mouths shut about it, but it doesn't matter."

I closed the locker and leaned on it.

"The core meltdown never happened, it couldn't happen, because we never reached the pre-launch phase in the first place," I said looking for my pack of cigarettes.

"Did Fee take my smokes again?" I asked Tanabe.

"Who cares!" Tanabe shot up, "Now tell me what really happened!"

"Simple the money won, full scale," I scratched my head. "I think they got smart actually. Or maybe scared."

"Who?" Tanabe interrupted me, eager to know the truth.

"The companies around the world. When they found H3 on the moon and realized that it was better than oil, new companies formed on the sole idea of mining the thing. There wasn't much on Mars But if we found some new element, some unlimited power source on Jupiter. Who would want H3?"

Tanabe was silent.

"So they cut the money for the project and made up that shit about the engine still being too dangerous to launch until the repairs are done, which could take years," I put my hand into my pocket and pulled out my bandana. "But that's not all, Locksmith wasn't too pleased about it either and sued just about everyone. Now nobody wants to do anything until the court has decided. More years plus."

"Are you for real?" Tanabe said.

"Yup, we'd be lucky if our grandchildren get there," I said.

Tanabe gave me a long compassionate look. It almost seemed she apologized for it.

She smiled softly, "I guess the humanity just doesn't need Jupiter yet."

"And don't worry, one day you'll get there, I'm sure of it," she said.

Heh, "Well, I'm not so sure."

"But if you'll believe it maybe it-"

"This isn't about love or hate," and I got fed up all over again. "It's about power, control."

"Same as Technora and their stupid regulations they order us not to follow. They don't want to cancel the project, nor they want the money they make. It's not about that at all. They just want to dominate. Have their way. Even the most passive person in the universe wants things to turn out how they want it."

Unless I'm scamming for money for my own spaceship, I'd rather have people hate me than feel sorry for me.

"Humanity may, or may not need Jupiter, but I need some break from this loop or I'm trapped here forever never able to reach my dreams," I put on my bandana. "All these years, all this training and I achieved nothing. The cycle is always the same."

"If you really think you achieved nothing..." Tanabe looked down. "Then I'm sorry for disrupting your dreams."

Hearing all this, I'm not angry. I'm not sad. All I feel anymore is boredom.

But at least I'm not alone. So let's backtrack a little.

"I'm not talking about you, I'm glad you're with me, you're probably the best thing that happened to me. What I'm talking about are my dreams," I sighed. "There are some you can never reach."

Too big of a dream for it to come true. Like space exploration. Humanity will probably never get beyond the solar system, the space is just so vast it's improbable. Reaching light speed is near to impossible and even so it wouldn't be enough. Space is just that big. The light from Sun takes eight minutes to get here, the stars we see on the sky are hundreds to thousands light years away from us. If we achieved light speed travel and it'd take hundreds to thousands of years to get somewhere. What would be the point then? Humans were born on this planet and we'll die here too.

Getting to Jupiter and back could be our apex for quite a while.

We did some smalltalk after that, then went back to the office. We met Fee and Yuri going out of the door.

"So how was it Hoshino-chan," Fee said to Tanabe pulling on her coat, never breaking her stride. "We didn't want to go look for you two so we wouldn't interrupt anything, but we have work to do."

"But we didn't...!" Tanabe got ecstatic, looking at me for some sort of agreement.

"Yup, we didn't, but that won't stop them, come on let's just get to work."

And more denying would just add more water.

I got on the ship and patted Fee on her shoulder, "So what's up?"

She was strapping herself in the pilot's seat, switching on some buttons above her at the same time.

"The usual, some TV company bought a new satellite, asked us to do something about the old one," Fee hit another combination of buttons.

I could feel the engine cough on. Not that it was old, but Fee took always too long in cutting off the fuel and almost always nearly drowned the thing. She's not a bad pilot either, she's the best I know actually. She probably knew what she was doing. It's just this feeling I had, maybe because I was watching and not doing the piloting bit. Maybe because the passenger always tells the driver what to do.

"This is DS-12, we're ready to take off, waiting for approval, over," Fee said into her headset, then turned to me. "What are you floating around here for? Get yourself to suits and make yourself useful."

"Geez," shaking my head I made my leave.

In the changing room, Yuri and Tanabe were already gearing up.

"So how big is this one?" I asked Yuri getting my suit.

"Length ten feet, not that big, no problems," he adjusted the pressure on his glove.

Tanabe already closed her visor.

"Damn you got fast," I said speeding up.


"I don't know Fee," I looked at it again. "It just doesn't look like a satellite."

It did have the solar panels that supplied it with power on each side of the thing, it had a parabolic transmitter pointing to earth. But there was something strange about it, something I couldn't swallow. It kept bugging me the whole trip to it. I got the feeling Obi-Wan had in Star Wars with what others thought was a moon. That couldn't be a satellite. No way. It was just too big.

"What are you babbling about Hachi, it looks like a damned satellite from over here," Fee raised her voice. "Why don't you just get over with it so we can call it quits for today?"

I looked at it again, "Well it does look like one, but no way in hell it has ten feet."

I touched my helmet and brought up a measuring program, I slid the imaginary ruler and set its side ends on each side of the satellite.

"From the angle I'm in it has at least forty-five feet in length," I closed the program and used the pressurized gas in my suit's arm to get closer. "I'm gonna inspect it further. Tanabe park the fishbone under it from the right side."

"On it," Tanabe replied.

"Copy that Hachi, just make it fast, I have an appointment after this," Fee said then added some grumbling remark I couldn't hear.

I caught the emergency railing and hooked myself with a carabiner. Beside me there was a metal casing with a display up on it. I touched the display on the casing, nothing happened. Either the panels weren't working properly and it had no power or the display was shot up.

"Can't get it to work, I'll try to open it manually."

I brought up my tool bag and took out an automatic screwdriver. I put the screws I took out into the bag and opened it easily. Inside was a display with a keyboard under it. On the keyboard were some marks I couldn't understand.

"What's inside Hachimaki?" Yuri decided to get over to me.

"I'm not sure. It's a computer, but all that's on it are flashing lines, I guess it wants password," I said typing something random.

It didn't work.

"And there's a Russian flag there," Yuri said.

"Huh?"

I backed away a little and looked at the side of the satellite. On the hull of it there it really was. A Russian flag, I wasn't sure if it meant anything important. But sure as hell this wasn't some TV company's satellite. They don't put their country's flags on these things, they just go with a logo.

"What's happening over there?" Tanabe got a little anxious on her end.

I didn't reply, I wasn't sure.

"Fee, it's just a long shot but do we have the right satellite?" Yuri got practical and he was probably right.

"I'm forwarding it to Technora, it'll take a while before we get a reply," Fee said. "Just wait and don't do anything in the meantime, all right Hachi?"

I looked at the display again. Password, eh? No problem. We're all the same, everything fills us with the same crap. We're all fed with the same television programs, we all have to deal with the same everyday sameness. My guess was the one who ran checks on this thing was clever the same way everybody thinks they're clever.

I asked Yuri, "Say, how do you type 'password' in Russian alphabet?"

I leaned to the side on the rail and Yuri typed it in, then pressed enter.

Just as he did it, the satellite jerked violently and began to move. Yuri was launched back and I was swung along the thing on my carabiner. I hit the metal hull hard, the suit absorbing some of the impact. I didn't hear anything, but I saw a flash on my side. The satellite had some rocket engines hidden in it or something that began to work just as he pressed enter. It stopped violently, balancing the current direction with rockets on other side. My thought was, it was aiming.

"Senpai! What's going on!" Tanabe shouted.

I looked under me and caught Yuri's hand stopping him from his spinning fit. The parabolic transmitter was aiming at DS-12, our ship. Some handles fell off the hull and the thing started to open.

"What the hell did you type in!" I shouted at Yuri.

"Password! You asked me to, dammit!"

"Senpai!"

And then it happened. I never seen anything like it. I wasn't sure if I was imagining things, but a blue semitransparent ball formed around the transmitter. Then it was gone. But all lights aboard DS-12 had gone out too. It was completely black. Like if you pulled out a plug.

"What the fuck? Fee, are you okay! Fee!" She wasn't replying.

"And where's Tanabe!" I started to look around frantically. "Tanabe, respond!"

"What just happened?" Asked Tanabe. "There was this blue ball, did you guys see it or was it just me."

Thank god.

"We've seen it, it formed around the satellite's transmitter I think it hit Fee," said Yuri. "Fee do you read me? Report. Fee?"

"This is useless, Tanabe haul ass over here, we're going back to the ship," I said unhooking myself off the rail.

I kicked myself father away from the satellite and brought up a camera program in my HUD. I took a few quick pictures just for the sake of evidence.

We boarded the fishbone and Tanabe hit the gas fast.

I instantly jumped off the fishbone and began to open the safety door release with Yuri. We all got in and closed the door, but we didn't take off our suits. Better safe than sorry. We had to open each door manually, so it took forever to get to Fee but when we did she was all right.

"Everything just turned off, I don't understand," Fee shook her head. "I can't get it back online either, I think the circuits burned out."

"It's that satellite," Tanabe pointed at the thing. "It shot something when we tampered with it."

"That's no satellite," I said. "That's a freaking EMP cannon."

And this is how it began.


A/N: Planetes is good. And good hard science fiction. I think that's about enough to say about it, it's a shame not many people know it, but maybe this will change that a little. Anyway about this story, I wasn't sure if I should place it in the Anime or manga universe, but then decided to go with a combined universe. So there's some things from one and others from the other. Anyway hope you'll like this story that's about what we really are inside as human beings and the enternal fight of mind and instinct with the heart and compassion. And about current global reality of course. And it is expanding some of my previous ideas.