Zroya’s reflected light shone through her window the evening they came for her.
Zroya shone through the window that evening, that afternoon, that morning— at the latitude where she lived, Zroya was never not shining. Had Zroya appeared before she bought the unit, she would have picked something with a southern exposure instead. But she was young, then, and she hated houseplants that needed so much light, and she loved sleeping-in, sleeping-in after the parties, after the revelry, after she drank too much and enjoyed too much of her fame, back when she still had fame.
In the days right before Zroya appeared, her fame had already been waning, but she could still manage a free cocktail at the Corporate bars, extra dessert at the cafeteria, skip the line at a local premiere. No longer red carpet worthy, but still respected, still recognized for her contribution in securing the Corporation’s holdings when Luna Colony first broke ground.
But by now, even that fame had gone, and she was just another Instructor, on contract, for the Corporation. Her time in the public memory had set, just as Zroya never did, and no one cared about the Luna Colony Pioneers now anyway, and she was getting older, and she was feeling very old, and tired, and winded. But they came for her anyway.
Three corporate shills, in cheap suits with ugly ties and scuffed loafers, stood glowering in her doorway.
“Comrade Commander,” the first shill said, “You have been chosen for a new mission. Please recite your identity code to receive your instructions.”
“Gentlemen,” she said, a perfunctory gesture moving through her, “welcome. Come in. Sit down. Have tea.”
“Thank you, Comrade Commander, no,” the second shill said from behind the first, “we need only to deliver the mission portfolio and we’ll be leaving.”
“Your identity code, please, Comrade Commander,” the first shill said again.
“Gentlemen,” she said, “I am old, and tired, and my memory is not what it once was— ”
She left the door open and moved back into the unit, back to the small, tattered recliner where she would sit, back to her view of Zroya in the window.
“It has been so long since I needed to remember my ID code, and longer still since I needed to use it. I honestly don’t know if I will remember how it goes. Surely you were meant to deliver this portfolio to someone else. What can the Corporation want with a tired, winded, old woman like me? Please verify your orders before we proceed, gentlemen. I would hate for you to have to report to Corporation HR for such a mistake.”
“We have made no mistake, Comrade Commander,” the third shill said, stepping forward.
She noticed a nicer suit on this shill— a more bespoke cut, a better tie, newly polished boots rather than loafers, and the distinct outline of a firearm beneath the jacket, revealing the true gravity of the situation. At this her training returned, her posture stiffened, and the memory of her ID code snapped back to the forefront of her mind.
“I see,” she said, now attentive, but still old, and still nonplussed by Corporate shills, no matter how well dressed and well armed they might be, “well, then. Identity Code: Ikarie XB 2289-Omega, Command level officer, Eastern Conglomeration, Corporate Pilot Level B3.”
“Your mission, Comrade Commander,” the first shill said again, handing her a heavy brown valise, as the third shill retreated, and the second continued not to blink.
“I will institute security protocol Kresnik before accessing the portfolio,” she said, accepting the bag, “Thank you.”
The three shills turned and left without saying goodbye, without a nod, without recognition at all, and she took the valise into her kitchen, and sat it on the counter and opened it, security protocols be damned. She had served her time, she had done her duty for Branch Office, she had gone on her last mission many years ago and surely this was a mistake, surely the Corporation did not need her, surely she would have to report to Corporation HR for seeing a document she was not meant to see, and the shills would have to report to Corporation HR for giving her a document she was not meant to see, and she was too tired for all this nonsense now.
She pulled out the first envelope, there on her kitchen counter, and as she confirmed that she was, indeed, the intended recipient, and as she read the mission briefing under Zroya’s evening light, for the first time in many, many, many years, the Commander felt something other than old.
[Keep reading: Chapter Eight]
[Or, go to: The Beginning]