by Tom Dillon

“Hey Ava, check this out!” The curtain that muffled Remi’s voice did nothing to filter out the excitement.

“Do you know what time it is?”

“Yeah, it’s . . . 3:07 in the morning, why?” Remi had never quite gotten the whole morning/night thing, feeling that it was just a crutch for planetsiders who couldn’t hack it on a station.

“You know how I feel about my sleep, this had better be good,” Ava said, getting out of bed and taking her blanket with her, wrapped around her shoulders.

“I know, I know, you’d gladly sacrifice your own parents for an extra hour’s worth,” Remi muttered, then her voice picked up again. “But this is just too awesome to pass up.”

Ava pushed her way past the curtain that separated her from her over-excitable roommate to see Remi sitting in front of her computer. In front of her was what looked like a live feed of a black chunk of metal, revolving lazily.

“What am I looking at,” Ava asked.

“That,” Remi said, tapping the screen, ” is an abandoned space station.”

“Yeah, and?” There were thousands of stations just floating out in the void between planets. Most of them were abandoned for a good reason.

“It looks like it’s in pretty good shape. We should go check it out.”

Ava was thinking of a response when there was a knock at the door.

“You called Vance, didn’t you.” Remi shrugged. She loved Remi like a sister, but sometimes she wondered if Remi wouldn’t make a better dead sister than a live one.

Remi pushed a button. And the door slid open, stopping halfway where there was a dent in its track. Vance was waiting outside, looking excited, if sleepy. It hadn’t surprised Ava when they had gotten together, and it hadn’t surprised her when they broke up due to Remi’s manic sleep schedule.

“So when do we leave?” Vance asked. Both he and Remi were looking at Ava, and despite herself she was excited.

“As soon as possible, I guess,” she said. She was going to tell Remi to rent them a shuttle and some suits, but Remi was already completing the payment forms.

Remi had booked them the smallest shuttle that would fit five people and their gear. It had been cramped to start with, and the bulky Extra-Atmospheric suits didn’t help. Although none of them had gone through Pilot training, Vance had been a simulator hobbyist for years and was perfectly comfortable at the helm.

Two hours after they left the shuttle bay on Habitat, they reached the abandoned station. The shuttle sealed up against the hull of the station, and the light above the airlock cycled from red to green.

“That’s a good sign, at least,” Vance said. “It would suck to get all the way out here and have the thing be locked down.”

Remi finished doing whatever she was doing with her handheld and the door panel and the lights that still worked turned on. The floor vibrated as the fans that ran the atmo started up, coughing a little as they pumped out fresh air for the first time decades.

“That’s as much as I’m going to be able to do from here,” Remi said, folding her handheld closed. “The atmo appears to be good, as does everything else, but I won’t be able to tell for sure until I can get direct access to the system.”

“Then let’s go,” Ava said.

“I really like these old stations,” Remi said. “It feels so open.” It did feel open, and Ava just stopped when she got out of the stairwell, staring up through the atrium, four decks above. She didn’t realize what she was doing until Vance tapped her on her shoulder.

“Or at the bottom of a well,” Vance said, after Ava got out of the way. Remi shot him a dark look.

The room that they were was huge, running up through the core of the station. When she was young, she had taken trips with her family to the gardens that covered the outside of Habitat Station, and the feeling had been similar.

As they made their way through the station, Ava could see signs of deferred maintenance everywhere. Nothing that absolutely needed to be fixed, but very little that worked properly, either. Unlike newer designs, the entire station was built with practicality in mind, for every system that was automated, there appeared to be an auxiliary system that wasn’t.

There was a lift that ran straight up one side of the room, but it was out of commission, so they took the stairs. The second deck was consumed by utility, nothing but mechanical rooms and vacant storage. On the third deck, they found the central operations room as well as a machine shop and an infirmary that had long since been stripped of anything of value. The fourth deck had all of the quarters, as well as a kitchen and some other rooms. Finally, the fifth deck was covered in dirt that had once been a garden. They found themselves standing in the middle of it, staring out through the ceiling at the stars.

“Wow,” Vance said, and neither Remi nor Ava responded. On the station where they had grown up, almost the entire exterior layer was taken up by the estates and gardens of the wealthy. Despite living in space, they had rarely gotten the chance to see the stars.

“Amazing. It looks like someone just couldn’t be bothered to keep this station running,” Ava said.

“Yeah, it doesn’t look like anything is really wrong with it,” Remi said.

“The owner probably just upgraded and abandoned it here,” Vance said.

“We should go and check out Central Ops,” Remi said.

Central Ops was a mess. Many of the panels and screens had been pulled out, as scavengers had picked out the most valuable electronics. Still, the backup systems were too inexpensive and difficult to remove for anyone to bother with, and had been left alone.

There was a large round table in the middle of the room, lacking chairs, of course, and Ava unshouldered her bag and spread the contents out. There was bread, some dried meat, and a bottle of cider.

“What is this, a picnic?” Vance asked, tearing off a piece of bread.

“I figured that if we were going to be out here, we might as well have something nice to eat. You want something?” she asked Remi, who was digging through her pack to find a cable to attach her handheld to the panel on the wall.

“Sure,” Remi replied without looking up, and Ava took her a piece of meat and a cup of cider. After that, they all ate in silence for a few minutes, Ava and Vance sitting on the table and Remi working at the panel. The wall that faced the center of the station was entirely transparent, and Ava found her gaze being drawn out and up towards the atrium.

After another quarter hour, Remi finished what she was doing and joined them at the table. “So what do you guys think?” she asked.

“This is fun, I’m glad we came,” Ava said.

“Me too, wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” Vance said.

Remi looked back and forth between them, and took a deep breath before she spoke. “I think that we should claim it.” If she hadn’t been so serious, Ava would have sworn that she was joking.

Ava looked over at Vance. He was as surprised as she was, and looking to her for guidance. “Can we even do that?” she asked. “Doesn’t this station, you know, belong to someone?”

“Nope,” Remi said, “It was registered as abandoned a decade ago. It’s just a matter of a small fee for the registration and it’s ours.”

“So you really want to live here?” Vance asked. “Give up everything and move to an abandoned station?”

After the initial shock wore off, Ava was starting to like the idea. “What do you mean everything we have? Do you think that we’ll ever be able to afford to live someplace with a view? Unless we win the lottery, that won’t happen.”

“I get that part. My question is, how would it work out?” he asked. “What would we eat? What would we do when something goes wrong?”

“With just three of us, we could probably get enough out of the garden to feed ourselves pretty easily,” Ava said. “The thing that bothers me is that we would be stuck here unless someone would lend us a half-million credits for a shuttle. If we could somehow get that, I would go along with it.”

“When we got here, I saw two hulks in the bay, maybe we could get one of them working again,” Remi said.

“If we could, and pooled our resources, we might be able to make this work, I think,” Ava said.

“I . . . I don’t know,” he said. “I need to think about it.”

Remi opened her mouth, but was silenced by a look from Ava. Pushing him wouldn’t do any good; he needed time to make up his own mind.

An hour later, Vance found Ava and Remi in the atrium, laying on the dirt and staring at the stars. There was grease on his hands and smudged under his eyes. He was smiling so hard that it looked painful.

“Good news?” Remi asked.

“Yeah, the one of the hulls down in the bay looks to be spaceworthy,” he said. “Its engine appears to be mostly intact, too. It looks like someone just ripped out all of the electronics and didn’t bother with anything else.”

“Wouldn’t those be a pain to replace?” Ava asked.

“No, those shuttles are decades old, at least,” Remi said. When she saw that her explanation did nothing for Ava, she continued. “That means that people have had a lot of time to work on them, which means that the whole thing has probably been duplicated by now, you could run it on a handheld.”

“You mean that we basically have a free shuttle down there?”

“Basically, yeah,” Vance said.

“So are there any other reasons why we might not want to claim this station, because if we do this, we’ll be out of range of Habitat in less than a day.” There was a long silence after Ava spoke as they all gave the question serious consideration. She would have preferred to sleep on it, but she knew that it was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I honestly think that we can make this work,” Remi said.

“I’m with Remi,” Vance said.

“Then it’s agreed,” Ava said. “We have time for me to make one trip to Habitat and back before it’s out of range, so tell me what we need.”

Together they came up with a list of what they needed: food, water, suits, tools, spare parts, the contents of their apartments, and a couple of other miscellaneous things. Ava left Vance and Remi at the station to start working on things, and took the shuttle back to Habitat station. She didn’t really know what she was doing, but it knew its way home and Vance had programmed in a flight back.

They had transferred all of their funds to her account so that she would be able to take care of supplies. First, she hired a crew to pack up all of their stuff, because if she had done it herself, it would have taken a week. After that, it was a trip to one of the general stores on a lower level, where she took care of most of what they needed, splurging on nice EA suits and a full set of tools. The spare parts were a bit more difficult, as they didn’t know exactly what they would need. Ava purchased several large crates containing mixed lots of parts from shuttles and large ships.

Still, it wasn’t until she was as the Merchant office that what she was about to do hit her. Her number was called, and for a heartbeat she just stood there. When the man behind the counter started to call the next number, she rushed forward with her slip of paper outstretched.

“What can I help you with, miss?” he asked. She could tell by the tone of his voice that he was preparing to tell her that she was at the wrong place.

“I would like to claim a piece of abandoned equipment,” she said, going by the script that Remi had given her.

“Where is it located?”

She gave him the location of the station, and saw his eyes widen with surprise as he pulled it up on his screen.

“You are aware that in order to claim an abandoned station, you have to occupy it, right? But if it’s just salvage rights you’re looking for, you don’t need a permit.”

“I’m aware of that, yes,” she said. “And I plan on occupying it.”

“You’re sure you want to do this? There are any number of things that can go wrong out there–”

“I’m aware of the risks, and I’m sure,” she cut him off.

He looked at her for a long moment before handing her a piece of paper. “Just fill this out, then.”

A few minutes later, she brought it back, completely filled out. The three of them had agreed that it would be easiest for her to put everything in her name, they could change it over at their leisure after that. He scanned it through the reader, then smiled at her, which took her off guard.

“You know, even though you might die a horrible death out there, I sort of envy you.”

“Thanks, I guess,” she said.

“One piece of advice, though, if you don’t mind?”


“Buy a gun. It’s not always friendly out there.”

“Thanks,” she said. They had discussed it, and decided that a gun would be a bad idea. It could only cause trouble, and wouldn’t really afford that much protection anyway.

“Good luck out there.”

By then, the new title to the station was printed out. She took it and headed out to where her gear and shuttle were waiting for her. She had to rent a much larger shuttle to hold everything that she had purchased, but it accepted Vance’s flight plan without any complaint, and she was off. She made sure to have the shuttle make a full copy of the video log, not knowing if they would ever see Habitat Station again.

By the time Ava arrived back at the station, Remi and Vance had already gotten a lot done. The communications rig was back online, and she was welcomed by a recording of Remi’s voice. When the airlock cycled open, the air inside the station smelled much fresher than it had before.

“I see you’ve been hard at work out here,” she said when Remi and Vance greeted her.

“Yeah,” Remi said. “I managed to route the station communications through my handheld, and Vance figured out how to get the CO2 scrubbers working properly.

“Good work, guys,” Ava said, producing the station title. “After we add your names to the form, we will be the proud new owners of Station . . . X1311879.”

“We’re going to need a new name,” Vance said.

“I know, but that can wait. We need to unload the shuttle before the rental runs out. I don’t want it returning with half of our stuff.”

After they finished unloading the shuttle, Vance dug through the box with the food supplies and pulled out three bars in metallic grey wrappers. Ava opened hers and took a bite. It tasted like clay.

“Are you sure this is food?” Remi asked.

“Sorry, I was looking for stuff that would keep us alive, these are more emergency rations than anything. They’ll keep forever, though.”

“Yeah, it tastes like they already have,” Vance said.

“I did get us some real food, enough to last a couple of months, I think. But if we don’t want to live on the rations, we need to get the garden going.” At the mention of real food, both of the others looked relieved.

“In order to prevent us from being blanded to death by those ‘rations’ as you call them, I’ll volunteer to work the garden,” Vance said.

“Vance, do you even know anything about gardening?” Remi asked.

“Well . . . I know that you put the seeds in dirt and then eat the stuff that comes up.”

“It’s a good thing that I have a copy of the Wiki, then,” Remi said, looking at the five crates that had been labeled simply ‘electronics’.

“All of that is well and good, but before this shuttle flies back home, I want to make sure that our EO suits work, okay?”

The packages that contained the suits were easy to find, as they were the only things that looked expensive. The suits inside weren’t the exotic skin tight ones that the rich kids wore when they were out on their needleships, instead, they were utilitarian, designed to be comfortable, reliable, and practical. It took everyone some time to figure out how all of the pieces fit together, but once they did, all of their diagnostics checked out.

The shuttle let out a loud beep, indicating that their rental was almost up.

“Are we sure about this. When that shuttle leaves, that’s it. If anyone wants to go back, now is the time,” Ava said.

“I’m good,” Vance said.

“Me too,” Remi said.

“Well, then I’m sending it home.” Ava went into the shuttle, and activated the homing system, then closed the door behind her. After the airlock closed, the three of them stood there as the shuttle detached itself from the station and started back towards Habitat.

“You know, I hate cooking in other people’s kitchens,” Remi said. “Nothing’s in the right place, and you don’t want to fix it because it’s not yours to fix.”

“Well, no need to worry about that anymore, Remi, this is your kitchen, now,” Ava said. Something about the words caused Remi to stop working and just look around.

“You know that Ava says that because neither of us wants anything to do with it, right?” he asked.

“I figured,” she said.

The fourth deck had a relatively large balcony, and they found a spot where they could set a table and also see the stars through the atrium. For the occasion, Ava had purchased a dried ingredient package and tofu. The small herb garden that Remi had kept in their flat, now transplanted in a small plot of the garden on the top deck, had provided spices.

“To a new life,” Vance said after they had finished, holding his glass of rice-wine out for a toast.

“To Remi’s wonderful cooking,” Ava said.

“To us three,” Remi said.

They clinked the glasses together before drinking. As they set the glasses down on the table, the lights blinked out.

Ava froze, thinking that her worst fears had just come true, and the station had just died, and was going to take them with it. When the lights came back on, she could see the others letting out their breath. The lights didn’t return to full brightness, though, but only provided a gloomy dimness. What was worse, she could no longer hear the near silent fans running.

“What just happened?” Ava asked, getting up from the table.

“If I had to guess, power failure, but I would need to be in Central Ops to be sure,” Remi said.

“Then get yourself there,” Ava said. “Vance, come with me.”

Vance didn’t say anything as they went down the steps, but just ran. Remi stopped at Central Ops, and Ava just kept going. Finally, they made it down to the bay on Deck 1, where Ava started to put on her suit. Vance did the same, and they both stopped short of the helmets.

“Come on, Remi’s going to need hers, too,” she said.

When they reached Central Ops, they found Remi sitting on the floor, looking at something on her handheld. “It looks like we aren’t getting any power from the primary solar array.”

“What? What happened?” Vance asked.

“It looks like the auxiliary batteries ran dry. Some of the secondary solar cells are running, but they are just enough to power the lights.”

“Do you know what’s wrong with the solar array?” Ava asked.

“No, I’m able to confirm that it’s still there, but that’s it,” she said. “You’re going to have to go out there.”

“Don’t you want to do it?” Ava asked.

“Yes and no,” Remi said. “By all rights, I should be the one to do it, unless one of you has a background in welding that I don’t know about. But the truth is that the thought of working out there in the void scares the hell out of me. I can hook the station into your comms, though, I’ll guide you through it.”

The thought of working out there scared the hell out of Ava, too, but she didn’t want to say anything. Vance was helping Remi into her suit, and told Ava that he would catch up to her on Deck One.

In the basic toolkit that she had purchased, she found a bandolier that with clips and loops filled with things like wrenches and screwdrivers. It stood to reason that they would need a welder, too, and so she unpacked that, pulling it carefully out of its padded case and attaching the straps and battery. By the time she was finished, Vance had made his way down. He was had his handheld at eyelevel and appeared to be talking to himself.

“Ava, can you hear me?” Remi’s voice said, from speaker concealed in her suit.

“Yeah, you?” she asked.

“Loud and clear,” Remi said.

“Is the picture coming through all right?” Vance asked, his voice amplified by her speaker. He pointed the handheld’s lens at Ava.

“Yep. Ava, don’t look so worried,” Remi said. “Things are going to be fine.”

“Do you want to do the welding?” Ava asked Vance.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” he said. “You?”

“I’ve helped Remi with her projects before, I think I can do it,” Ava said.

“Don’t worry,” Remi said. “Welding is pretty simple, I’m sure you can handle it.” Ava found the confidence in Remi’s voice very reassuring, and hoped that she was right.

Ava put the welder on the ground and put her helmet on, snapping the latches around the neck shut. The air pressurized inside of the suit. She looked over and Vance had done the same. She clipped the welder’s safety strap to her waist and picked it up.

Vance opened the package containing the rope that she had bought, and looped the coil over his shoulder. It was a few hundred yards long, and about half the diameter of her pinkie. It was weirdly light, but the packaging had assured her that it was designed for the sort of thing they were about to do.

She pressed a button and the inner door of the airlock cycled open. They stepped inside, and it cycled shut behind them. “You ready?” she asked. He gave her a thumbs up and a big fake smile. She pushed the button to open the outer door.

The airlock door opened, and there were just stars, separated from her by nothing more than her EA Suit and more empty space than she could wrap her head around. The rope ended in a heavy clip with a screw-lock on it, and she held on to the stanchion while Vance attached the rope to it. Once he had finished, they threaded the rope through loops in both of their suits.

“So Remi, where are we headed?” she asked.

“Straight up,” Remi said. “The connection for the main solar array is by the edge of the atrium window.”

“You heard her,” she told Vance, and they started to walk across the outside of the station.

The outside of the station was a smooth, gently curving matte black surface punctuated only by circular windows. She was glad to have the rope. If something were to happen and they weren’t tied in, there would be absolutely nothing to grab. As it was, she kept a hand on the rope and tried not to think about it too much.

There was a bracket at the other end of the station, at the border of the atrium. Vance wound the end of the rope through it, leaving maybe ten meters of slack. Ava was glad that she hadn’t gone with the shorter one.

Vance was panning the handheld across the surface of the station. It all looked the same to Ava, just a large expanse of outer hull. That was when she realized that she didn’t see any actual solar cells. Then again, she had never seen any solar panels in person, and didn’t even know what to look for.

“Stop!” Remi said, her voice sounding thin through the comms. “Right there, do you see that panel?”

“I see it,” Vance said. “Hey Ava, can you open this up?”

She moved so that she was next to him and saw the rectangular outline in the hull. She slung the welder over her shoulder, and knelt down to get a better look. Along the edges of the panel were regularly spaced screws with hexagonal indentations. She pulled out the box that had all of the bits for the driver and found one that fit. A couple of minutes later, all of the screws were out, clinging to a magnetic patch on the bandolier.

She couldn’t get her fingers into the crack to pry the panel up. She looked up at Vance, who just shrugged. “Any ideas?” she asked.

“Try pushing against one of the edges,” Remi said over the intercom.

After a couple of tries, the plate rocked in, with the opposite edge sticking up enough to grab. The panel didn’t come off, but hinged up and was stuck open revealing a shallow cavity with a thick cable running through it. Ava reached in and grabbed the cable. Before she had even started to pull, it came loose. She looked at it, and could see where corrosion had eaten through the braided wires.

“Let me see,” Remi said, and Vance brought the handheld closer to the cable. “You’re going to have to cut the end of that off and weld it back into the connection.”

“Okay,” Ava said. The shears that came with the toolkit were just barely big enough to fit around the cable, and she had to use both hands to get them to cut through it. Vance grabbed the piece that started to float away. Ava used the shears to cut through the casing several centimeters up from the cut and then stripped it off. The welder had a wire brush that detached and she used it to clean out the connection point in the panel.

“Now reattach the cable and weld the connection shut,” Remi said. Ava hoped that she was imagining the wheezing sound in Remi’s voice.

Ava replaced the cable in the socket, making sure it was tight, then turned on the welder. Vance gave her the cut section of cable and she pulled the casing off of it, putting the remaining metal into the welder’s chamber.

“Here goes,” she said. She touched the business end of the welder to the connection and pulled the trigger. A spark jumped from the contact of the welder to the cable. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the station go dark. “Oh shit.”

“Remi, are you there?” she heard Vance ask, but there was no response. She could see his eyes go wide and his body stiffen up. He wouldn’t last much longer.

“Come on, we need to get this done,” Ava said. She finished the weld and wrapped a new rubber boot around the connection, pulling off the protective film as she did. The chemical in the rubber did its thing and fused itself in place.

She closed the panel and replaced the screws as Vance unhooked the end of the rope from the bracket, and they started to pull themselves along it back towards the airlock. The control panel for the airlock was dark, and though they both tried to get it to work, nothing happened.

The suits had rebreathers, and Ava’s gauge read that she had another hour of air left at current consumption. She looked at Vance. He had relaxed a little, but his eyes were focused downward, looking at the same numbers. When he did look up, he gave a halfhearted smile and reached out to squeeze her hand. She tried to smile back.

Out there in the void, there was nothing for them to do while they waited for some sign of life from inside the station. She thought about the events of the past 24 hours. The day before she hadn’t had a future, there was nothing waiting for her but a drone job with the hope of maybe saving enough to retire comfortably. Being in control of her life, had been a great feeling, and even the prospect of dying as a result of it could not dim that.

“It’s going to be OK,” Vance said. Ava realized that she had been crying, and tried to wipe her eye, forgetting that she was wearing a suit and bumping her hand into the hard visor. Vance tried to hide his smile, but failed.

“You know, the only thing that I regret is getting you two into this,” she said.

“What, do we smell bad or something?” He asked, miming sniffing his armpits. “I am no responsibility of yours, and at least out here, I’m alive.”

She moved to hug him, both of them clumsy in their padded suits.

“Hey,” he said, and she saw the light reflected in his visor.

The outer airlock door had opened, and they looked inside to see Remi, waving at them from behind both sets of airlock doors. “I know you guys are having a shared moment out there and all, but I just can’t let this go any further. It’s just sad,” she said over the comm.

“What happened with the power?” Ava asked once they were back inside the station.

“When you fixed the connection, the station got a surge of power, and it took everything a few minutes to reset,” Remi said.

“For a minute there, I thought that we had really screwed up,” Vance said.

“Well, I’m glad we didn’t,” Ava said.

Remi’s handheld beeped, and she pulled it out of her pocket, looking intently at the screen for a minute, then relaxing.

“Everything looks good. But with the whole skin of the station covered in solar cells, there are several other connections to the solar array that we’re going to have to go out and check,” Remi said.

“But not immediately,” she added when she saw the look of panic on their faces.

The three of them were sitting in the atrium, decompressing after the stress of the past few hours. They had all been up for too long, but were too wired to get any sleep, so they had opened a bottle of wine that had been in Vance’s room.

“So, it looks like we’re going to live, for now, at least. What do we do next?” Ava said.

“We should name the station,” Vance said.

“We should. Any suggestions?” Ava asked. The three of them looked around at each other, no ideas coming forth.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Remi said. “I’m fried.”

“I think you’re–” Ava said, before being cut off by Vance who was looking up through the atrium.

“Wow, I’ve seen pictures, but . . .”

Ava and Remi looked up as well. Above them, a planet was entering their view. Covered in oceans with green continents, it appeared to be the size of Ava’s thumb. Still, she could make out the verdant green, and the line where day was turning into night as the planet spun.

“You know, only a few hours ago, that was us,” Ava said.

“You mean incredibly rich and living in the middle of a garden paradise?” Remi asked.

“No, I mean, until you’ve seen for yourself, someone can explain all they want about planets and rotations and revolutions, but until you’ve seen it from up here, it’s just an idea.”

Vance handed her the registration sheet that they had all signed. He had written a name in the ‘New Designation’ field.

“It looks like we have a name,” she said.

“What is it?” Remi asked, leaning forward in her seat to try and read what Vance had written.

“Horizon. We live on Horizon station,” he said.