Disclaimer: This is a free work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2020 Rhea V. May All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form, by an electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except quoted brief passages in a review, post, article or other pieces of content. This work is intended for mature audiences only (18+).
Terran Prime station, year 2398 TST
“Harper?” she whispered into the dark room. Looking behind for one last time, Casey slipped into the huge bay and closed the door. Rows upon rows of machines stretched in front of her, silent and still. The bay had been closed for several years because of a containment breach. They had sealed the breach, but CC saw no point in restarting the hulking life-support machines anymore; requirements were lower on the station with so few people living on it. Now, the bay made for an excellent secret meeting spot.
“Were you followed?” asked the wiry man, stepping out from behind a gravity stabilizer.
“No.” Casey eyed the man, noting how he seemed to have aged in the past few months. Not for the first time, she wondered if he was the big boss, or just one of the many handlers. It was impossible to know for sure, given the nature of their organization. They compartmentalized everything, sending any necessary information to each person directly via their untraceable subdermal implant. Casey herself didn’t know how many of them were on the Eye at the time, nor who was an Alterran, like herself. It could be anybody. She thought there were about fifteen of them, but that was just a guess. Casey had never met another Alterran besides Harper.
“Are you sure?” he retorted, staring at her colorful hair. “You’re not exactly inconspicuous.”
Casey sighed. “There’s no one around the station at this time of night, Harper.”
Harper grumbled but nodded after a few more seconds. “Do you have anything to report?”
Incredulous, Casey scoffed. “You’re the one who called this meeting. I thought it was because you finally have something for me.” At first, she’d been excited to come to the Eye and start on her mission. But more than a year has passed, and her only order had been to watch and wait. Get to know as many people as she could, learn all about the station.
“I might have. Two tasks, in fact, but you need to worry about only one for now. There’re some files I need you to locate and get for me. The specifics will come through your implant.”
Her heart started pounding, but she restrained her excitement. A little worried, she asked, “What files? And from where? I only have the basic Engineering clearance—”
“Enough,” Harper barked. “Have you spent so much time on this side, that you forgot how to conduct yourself in front of a superior?”
Biting back the rest of her stream of questions, Casey shook her head. “No, sir. Sorry.”
Appearing appeased, Harper nodded. “Wait for the instructions. Then, get it done, Jenkins.”
Gulping, Casey nodded.
“If we didn’t need you for exactly that basic engineering clearance, we’d have let you go by now, Jenkins,” Harper muttered darkly. “Remember your true purpose, girl.”
Not until Harper left her alone in the room, did Casey release the breath trapped inside her chest. ‘Let go’ was code for making someone disappear.
Worse, Harper was right. Casey had forgotten her true purpose. She’d done such a great job at blending in and making friends that she forgot how Alterrans worked and acted.
The real Casey Jenkins, the Terran, was dead. She died in a shuttle accident four years ago. Casey Jenkins, the fake, arrived here, on the Eye, with no real personality of her own, just like a true Alterran. She’d done her best to emulate the dead one’s identity. Took her a long time to find balance.
And, in the process, discovered herself.
Such a cliché.
Was it true or not? Some days, Casey felt like she was just a bunch of pieces thrown together and rearranged until they fit the puzzle.
The thrum of the subdermal implant forced Casey to abandon her musings. Behind her right eye, the details of the mission started scrolling down and Casey forced herself to focus because she knew this was the only chance she’d get at reading the message.
The mission seemed simple enough. Casey decided the best time to act was during Jenna’s birthday party that night, when everybody would be distracted.
Back to her cabin, she wore a dark jacket with the hood pulled low to obscure her features. To VALID, she appeared invisible, thanks to the little gadget Harper gave her on the first day on the station. The neuronet tracked her location through the embedded Correslink every Terran had, but she was invisible from any recording. If someone were to check, they’d think it was a glitch or something.
In the safety of her cabin, she switched off the scrambling device and hid it in a little compartment under the floor. After she showered and changed, she began planning for her mission later that night.
She was late to breakfast. By the time she made her way to the engineering canteen, the usual line to the food dispenser was gone and everyone was seated at a table. Casey grabbed her food, waved to her friends at the back of the room, and plopped down in front of Mason, who was eating alone at a table for two.
“Morning, Chief. Haven’t seen you around the last couple of days. How’s the injury?”
Mason gaped at Casey, blinking in disbelief. “M-morning. It’s fine.” It seemed like he wanted to say more, but he was clearly still taken aback. Clearing his throat, Mason asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Getting some breakfast.” She gave him a wide grin. In the past, she always felt intimidated by his huge size and avoided him. But after talking to him at the last job, the one where he got hurt trying to protect her, Casey learned he was a gentle giant. Plus, his propensity to blush when teased, despite his threatening looks, made Mason downright adorable. Around him, she didn’t feel so awkward and shy. “Coming to Jenna’s party tonight?”
“You bet. I will not miss it, like the last one. Though I might be late. Have a CC meeting just before.”
“Oh. There sure have been a lot of those lately,” Casey fished, looking down at her food to pretend disinterest.
Blowing out a breath, Mason nodded. “Yeah. Commander Corvald is worried about these flares tomorrow. The astrophysicist on the Ark updated their threat level, and she said they might be the strongest we ever got.”
Casey shrugged, unperturbed. “We’ll lock the Eye down tight and wait it out.”
“Did you receive the latest procedures from me? I drafted those last night and asked Jamison to forward them to everyone.”
“I did. Every shuttle and transportation will be powered down and secured. Don’t worry, Mason.”
“I’m not. I know you’re a great engineer, Casey.” As he picked up his coffee cup, the back of his fingers slid against hers, curled around her own cup. Casey shivered at the feel of the cool metal, and Mason winced. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to touch you.”
Seeing his embarrassment, Casey’s eyes softened. She never understood these Terrans’ bias against cybernetic implementations. Even here, on this station of misfits, people avoided Mason. Sure, they respected his work and his collected calmness, his fair judgement, but they never went out of their way to get to know him. “Don’t worry about it,” she replied, patting him on his metallic arm to show him she wasn’t offended. “It was just cold.”
“Yeah,” he replied, looking around. Most people in the canteen were staring at them. “Look, Casey. Perhaps it’s not such a great idea we eat together. People might talk, warn you away from the big bad cyborg.”
“What?” Casey scoffed. “It’s no one’s business. Plus, you’re well liked, Chief. You have a lot of friends here.”
Mason shook his head bitterly. “You don’t understand.”
Not worried about repercussions, Casey shrugged. “You have other friends, Mason. I saw you constantly surrounded by them. And I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
“This is different,” he bit out and at his glare, she dropped the subject.
The rest of the breakfast was spent in silence and as soon as he finished, Mason got up from the table and hurried out of the room, like he couldn’t get away from her fast enough.
Fine. It was for the best. Casey couldn’t afford any more distractions. She had to stay on track toward her true purpose.
The rest of the day passed by in a blur. Casey finished with her work well before the party. Once there, she met with the rest of the girls from the Engineering Department and stood by their side until the time to complete her mission came.
At the right moment, Casey snuck inside Mason’s office and copied the required files from his work console.
Just as she was exiting the office, a slightly drunk Patricia stumbled down the corridor. “Casey,” the woman slurred. “Looking for the Chief? He’s just arrived at the party.”
“Hey, Patty. No, I was just, um… uploading some data sheets for the Chief to review tomorrow. I don’t know how hangover I might be and I thought to do it now, in case I forget,” Casey joked.
Patty’s loud laughter hurt Casey’s ears, and she hid a wince. Stumbling a little when the woman threw an arm over her shoulders, Casey smiled and started to lead her back to the party.
“You should be more careful, Casey,” Patricia crooned. “The Chief is hot, despite his undesirable augmentations. But the last woman he was with left here in tears.”
“What?” Casey stopped and forced Patricia to turn to her. “What do you mean?”
“Mean, yes,” the woman slurred. “They were so mean to her for being with him. Mocked her, taunted her, avoided her. Until she couldn’t take it anymore and left the Prime.”
So that’s why Mason acted that way at breakfast. He was trying to protect her from the whispers and the gossip. To protect her reputation, like a knight from ancient times. If people here knew who she really was and what she was here for… she would ruin his reputation.
One look at Mason Miura, at his bionic arm and eye, at his Dreamskin collar, and you knew he’d lived a hard life. In this, they were alike. A lot of bad things had happened to Casey, too.
She didn’t mean to be a liar and a fraud. But she didn’t have a choice.
Sighing, she led Patricia back to the party, trying not to notice the way Mason was staring at her from across the room.
She’d succeeded in the first mission they entrusted to her. But instead of feeling smug and proud, Casey felt only dread pooling in the pit of her stomach. Because now, she was in too deep.
She had too many secrets to form a real and meaningful connection. All her friendships here were perfunctory at best. She became fantastic at feigning interest and prompting discussions in the other direction.
Therefore, Mason? That was nothing but infatuation and wishful thinking.
Toward the end of the party, her subdermal implant thrummed, alerting her of a message. Pretending to pour herself another glass, Casey turned away so the glint in her eye couldn’t be seen as she read the message. It was Harper requesting another meeting.
Sighing, Casey gulped down her glass and waited a bit more. Seeing a larger group preparing to leave, Casey joined the gregarious men and hid between their bodies as they left the room.
“Good job getting these before the flares,” Harper praised her when she handed him the data vial with the copies. “Good to see you refocused, Jenkins.”
“Thank you, sir.” Fidgeting on the spot, Casey scratched her arm. She remained silent as Harper reviewed the information, trying not to look at the documents. She knew she took some plans for an older section of the station, but she didn’t know what for. It was not her place to ask. Harper told her what she needed to know, and that was it.
“So. Now that we know we can trust you, we have another mission for you. The only thing missing from these,” Harper said, gesturing to the plans stretching in the air between them, “is the access codes for the command latch. Chief Technical Officer Miura has them somewhere. We want you to get close to him and find them for us. Use whatever means necessary. We know it may take you some time, so we’re prepared to wait.”
Her breath hitched, and it was only through sheer force of will that she kept her expression from betraying her shock. “Y-yes, sir,” Casey stuttered.
“This isn’t as simple as the last mission. You understand that. Don’t you, Jenkins?”
“I understand, sir.”
“Good. Contact me when you have them.”
For the second time that day, Harper left her alone in the derelict bay. But unlike the last time, Casey crumpled to the floor and sobbed.
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