Authors: Phil Stern
Tags: #A Science Fiction Novella
A TIME FOR
A Science Fiction Novella
A Time For Ryda
Copyright © 2012 by Phil Stern
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are entirely the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Time For Ryda
THERE WAS A GENTLE bump as the great interstellar ship nudged up against the outer docking ring. Breathing a sigh of relief, the captain engaged the mooring beams while commencing a controlled shut down of the engines. His work now complete, the ship’s commander gazed eagerly at the gigantic space station and the planet down below, only now realizing just how much he was anticipating his two-week vacation in the Rydian system.
Three decks below the cockpit, a young woman stared out at the same vista. However, for her it evoked a completely diametrical response. Indeed, it was all she could do to retain her composure, forcibly willing the swirling, violent cacophony of emotions down to a manageable level.
For unlike the captain, the young woman’s mission was just beginning.
Tall and attractive, with a white, button down shirt and short blue skirt, Eve Scott appeared an average graduate student traveling to one of Ryda’s many universities. Attracting a number of appreciative stares while leaving her seat, she briefly flirted with a man offering to help with her two small bags. Politely turning down an invitation for dinner later that night, Eve then quickly made her way out through the forward passenger hatchway, where she was immediately faced by a long line of people waiting to be cleared by Border and Immigration Control.
Posing as a provocative Rydian coed was an unusual cover, yet made a great deal of sense. In the two years since the Gandian Coalition had reopened Ryda’s borders, students had once again begun streaming in and out of the capital planet. The undergrad persona also gave Eve more room to maneuver, as curious, excited students often violated minor rules, or came up with the wrong answers when questioned by Gandian authorities.
A classic example of “hiding in the open,” as her Terran Alliance Intelligence Network instructors would say. If nothing else, it was far more comfortable than stowing away in a luggage compartment and then sneaking around town.
But unlike many covers, which were learned entirely by rote, Eve had closely observed the role she was to assume. As a teenager, in fact, before the Gandian invasion, she could remember wistfully watching the beautiful, confident young women laughing gaily as they bustled around town. They seemed so mature and confident, reveling in their own energy and boundless youth.
Now, she would at least have the chance to mimic the independent, carefree Rydian lifestyle, though with far graver responsibilities than any student would ever assume. Life, as Eve had already come to realize, wasn’t always fair.
But fair or not, the role must be played to perfection. If anything, reports out of occupied Ryda showed the population’s libidinous tastes had become even more inflamed by the events of the past eight years. Without question, an otherwise fit woman of twenty-four who failed to conform with the natural dictates of her position might draw attention for all the wrong reasons.
Thus, after an hour of standing around, it was with a fair amount of bravado that she flourished her passport and other documents to the Gandian officer seated behind the desk.
“Heather Duprie,” she announced. “I’m going to be studying at Venter University.”
“Indeed,” the lieutenant drawled, flicking the passport cover open to Eve’s smiling face. “Place of birth?”
“Kentara, Roberts System,” she promptly replied.
“Date of birth?”
“March 10th, 2204.” The lieutenant, she knew, was testing to see if she would hesitate. Many a cover had been blown over such minor matters.
“Really?” Now the official looked up, with just the barest hint of amusement. “Happy birthday, Heather.”
“Oh. Thank you!” she blushed. “But not for another two weeks.”
“Well, let me be the first to congratulate you.” Leaning back, he now studied her with greater interest, letting the passport drop to the desk. “Is this your first visit to Ryda?”
“Well, I did visit here with my parents when I was twelve.” Thank God she was able to drop that line now. Though the Rydian government had methodically destroyed every database it knew of before the surrender, Eve was worried a spare DNA sample might still be around, not to mention ocular or finger prints. Now it was at least possible such a find could be explained by her fictitious trip.
“You know, before...” Awkwardly pausing, she allowed herself to appear a bit flustered.
“Ah, yes. Before.” Languidly staring up at her, the lieutenant seemed quite unmoved by the long line of people, shifting from one foot to the other, waiting behind Eve. “Well, things are different now, so give me a moment to explain. We wouldn’t want you to get in trouble here, now would we?”
“Oh, no.” Nervously, Eve leaned forward, intent on his every word.
“Good.” The lieutenant became more serious. “As you’re apparently aware, Ryda now enjoys the protection of Gandian Coalition. However, there are criminals, opportunists, who seek to oppose Ryda’s rightful authorities for their own gain.” A dismissive wave of the hand.
“I see.” Rightful authorities indeed! Carefully suppressing her own anger, Eve remained focused on the weasel-faced Gandian storm trooper.
“These undesirables often seek to use outsiders as pawns in their own perverted schemes,” he continued. “So be very wary of strangers who ask for favors, such as delivering a package somewhere, or taking a message back to Kentara. Often they may invite you to meetings, where you would then be subjected to their neurotic rants. In short, these people seek to abuse your good will in order to involve you in their own treasonous behavior.”
“That’s awful!” Eve replied. “I’m not interested in any of that.”
“Good.” The weasel eyes grew narrow. “Because you’re exactly the sort of person they would wish to compromise in this fashion. So I encourage you to be careful.”
The lieutenant held out her documents. Just as Eve was about to take them, though, he pulled his hand back.
“Keep in mind, Ms. Duprie, the Gandian legal system takes a very dim view of such matters. These people are murderers and saboteurs. If you should be caught assisting them in any way, whether knowingly or otherwise, it should go very hard on you.”
Eve solemnly nodded. “I understand.”
“I hope that you do. Keep in mind that all visitors are required to check in with Border and Immigration Control on a weekly basis. If you fail to do so, a warrant will be issued for your arrest.” Now giving her the passport and other papers, the lieutenant nodded curtly. “Enjoy your stay.”
Immediately past the interview official were two more uniformed storm troopers. One held a thick black wand. They methodically scanned her from head to toe, making a particular point of pressing the sensor against every sensitive part of her body. At this point it was within character to show some indignation, especially when the leering male storm trooper made a great show of snatching and examining her jewelry, letting his hands linger far too long as he roughly unclasped her necklace.
After that, a white-coated lab technician took samples of her DNA and ocular prints, along with fresh photographs. Though nerve racking, Eve managed to appear chipper as the information was entered into a small computer, and then cross-referenced, she was sure, with the Vextar, the Gandian secret police. Whatever the result, however, the technician seemed unconcerned.
Thus, it was with sweet relief that she strode past the final checkpoint into the space station proper. The outer ring was crowded with merchants, hawking everything the freshly arrived traveler could want. It was an odd scene, with everyone doing their best to ignore the bored pairs of Gandian troops slowly walking about, rifles casually slung over the shoulder. As a curious student, Eve made a point of taking a long stroll along the various stalls, eagerly purchasing a few cheap tourist items and a richly colored skirt.
Though very tempted, Eve only took a peek at the long tables laden with Rodasia leaves. Both the sight and scent of the popular Rydian recreational drug were nearly overpowering, and she yearned for the sensation of fresh, lush leaves on her tongue, along with the soft, tranquil glow coursing throughout her entire body.
Better to wait, though. Rodasia had a fearsome reputation outside of the Rydian system, and a single newcomer would be unlikely to brave it first off. Besides, right now she needed all of her senses intact. The Rodasia salesman made a point of holding up a large, succulent leaf with one hand while motioning her over with the other. But she simply gave a half-wave of her own, quickly retreating down the causeway.
Catching the next shuttle down to the surface, Eve soon found herself walking the streets of Blasaria, the capital city of the capital planet.
As a child, Eve recalled how dazzling Blasaria had been, with gleaming streets and proud citizens. Now, though, the full impact of the Gandian occupation fully sank in.
Standing outside the spaceport, Eve saw black uniformed troops everywhere, strutting about with an entitled air. The skies over Blasaria used to buzz with private cars and public transports. Now, there was only the occasional small vehicle, interspersed with frequent military patrols. The entire area appeared covered with a layer of grime, the people downcast.
With her two bags hovering in tow, Eve spent an hour walking about the once majestic city. On three separate occasions she was required to present her visitor identification badge, the Gandian troops releasing her with a disappointed glower. As was the local custom, several men tried to talk with her along the way, but she politely brushed them off. Perhaps in time, but now she simply needed to get her bearings.
It was very sad, though. Her potential suitors took the rejection with great disappointment, as if some anonymous interlude with a stranger was the only real pleasure left to them.
After a while she passed a corner department store, a famous shopping destination of a decade before. Eve could still remember her own excitement upon being taken there by her mother, the beautiful dresses they had bought. Now it was a commandeered Gandian military center, the grand open windows crackling with the sick yellow hue of a force field.
Depressed, she dragged herself several more blocks to the Promenade, the once trendy business and government center split down the middle by the Farensia River. The water’s surface was now fouled with flotsam and garbage, completely devoid of the small craft that once stretched as far as the eye could see. Many of the lofty, arching bridges had been blocked off completely, with military guards controlling the rest.
Casually stretching, she once more checked to see if she was being followed. The man with the dark jacket, hadn’t she seen him near the spaceport? Her pulse quickening, she now turned back, walking directly past him in the opposite direction. But the man just kept going, hunched over, taking little notice of her. A professional Vextar operative wasn’t likely to be flushed by such a simple trick anyway, but you never knew.
Stop imagining things, Eve told herself, walking halfway out on one of the few open river spans, resting her arms on the once pleasant stone railing, now scarred and half torn down. Paranoia could often be a more dangerous enemy to the undercover operative than any real opponent, her instructors had often told her. Take note of everything that’s really there, but don’t imagine anything that isn’t. Only now was she beginning to see the value of such advice.
Well, it was time to get going, before somebody really did take notice. Turning about, however, Eve stopped short at the sight of the building behind her.
The lower level was a small café, with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk, bordered on either side by small beds of flowers. At least, that’s how it had looked eight years ago, when she and Peter had stopped there after a busy day in the city.
Oh, how often she’d thought back on that afternoon! Of the many memories of her girlhood here on Ryda, this was perhaps the most vivid. Sitting at the café, she’d been spellbound by the golden boy framed against the Promenade, laughing lightly as he took her hand. Munching on Rodasia leaves and drinking blue wine, they both considered themselves very cosmopolitan.