She gazed out the window, watched at the planet rotated slowly beneath her. It was once beautiful, in its own way. She had seen pictures of what it had looked like before the Final War, the bright blue and spotty brown and green. White clouds had flitted across the top of the atmosphere, shielding its surface from the rest of space.
But that was years ago. There wasn’t anything left down there anymore, and even if there was, she wouldn’t be able to see it from here. The planet was shrouded in a thick veil of smog and ash, completely obscuring the land masses and oceans below. Not to mention the layer of space trash between that and the stations. They actually harvested the detritus sometimes, used it to make repairs, or sometimes just to mess about with and try and get it to work again. There were all sorts of clubs and hobbyists who were obsessed with prewar tech. Ankhora understood the appeal, to an extent. She loved to read about the Groundlings, but she wasn’t going to waste her whole life fiddling with dead tech.
But even though she was happy at Station 009, where she had been born and raised and now worked as a nurse, something always drew her back to the window. Something always seemed to be at the corner of her vision, a tug that turned her head to peer down through the layers of grime and trash to imagine what life would be like on the planet Earth.
Can you miss someplace you’ve never been? Can something be in your DNA so deeply, so thoroughly, that even though you’ve never set foot on real earth, never breathed fresh air, never seen plants grow outside a greenhouse, you long for those things as though experiencing nostalgia? Can you be homesick for a home you’ve never known?
Palamane called from the break room table, and Ankhora sighed and turned her back to the window.
“What is it?” she asked, sliding back into her chair.
“Did you hear? About the recovery?”
Ankhora shook her head as she bit into her sandwich. Many of the recordings from the Groundlings included detailed accounts of food, rich, delicious, spicy, savory, or sweet. She couldn’t imagine what that must be like, to have food you actually ate for enjoyment.
“They’re sending an expedition down. To the planet.”
Ankhora almost choked and grabbed Palamane’s arm.
“What?” Ankhora sputtered, swallowing with difficulty. “When? Where did you hear about this?”
“It was in the Bulletin. Don’t you listen?”
Ankhora shook her head while she drank some water to help the last few crumbs dislodge from her throat. No one really listened to the Bulletin. If something was that important it would show up on the Viz.
“They’re looking for volunteers,” Palamane said casually, and anything else she might have said was lost as Ankhora’s attention turned inward.
An expedition? To Earth? Palamane had called it a recovery. A recovery of what? What was left down there to recover?
She had heard rumors, from people who could be called disreputable at best, that traders sometimes sent down parties to bring back Earth objects from the surface to sell on the black market. The first stations had been built before the war, so not every artifact had intrinsic value. It was more the cultural stuff, the artwork, the non-practical items that were worth finding. But it was insanely difficult to get authorization for that kind of run (it was mostly limited to historical and government entities) and if you didn’t get authorization, it was insanely illegal.
Not to mention suicidal. If there was one thing Ankhora learned from reading about the Groundlings, it was that the structure of power up here was not so different from what it was down there. And no one would really miss the black marketeers who were too stupid to try an unauthorized run through the satellite belt. Many had tried and were promptly blown up, adding to the ring of space trash that was still caught in Earth’s orbit. She only knew of a handful that had gotten through, and for the most part only the artifacts came back, not the traders.
But if this was a sanctioned expedition, that probably meant they were interested in more than what would sell on the black market. That could mean any number of things…including a lengthy trip. Which would probably mean they needed medical staff.
Ankhora hastily wrapped the rest of her sandwich, mumbled a hasty goodbye to the startled and somewhat disappointed Palamane, and rushed to the nearest Vizor.
It only took her a moment to find what she was looking for, although it was buried more deeply in the Bulletin than she would have expected. She was surprised it wasn’t being blasted all over the Viz. But perhaps they only wanted very serious candidates, people who were more interested in the importance of the recovery mission (whatever it was) than those who wanted the thrill of an on-world adventure.
She scrolled quickly through the post, only skimming the information about “opportunities for research” and “completely controlled environments with highly skilled managers utilizing the highest safety standards.”
And then there it was, shining through the Vizor, pulsing slightly, as if expectant. The word: Recruitment.
Without a moment of hesitation, Ankhora soared forward.