Arriving at the Hub was a much easier task when you were a regularly scheduled Endoleon trade ship. For two SRA saboteurs who accidentally had a prisoner on board, it was a little trickier. Janny hadn’t even realised you could enter from the underside.
The Hub - at least, this particular Hub, and it was the only Hub for milons around - had begun life as a pleasingly symmetrical star pattern arrangement of platforms. The original platforms were attached by long straight lines of thick, solid metal. The more recent additions were linked together by shoerner strands of flexible metal, or in some cases carbon fibre, all bolted together and criss-crossing all over the place. The arrangement looked like the tangles of wires behind panels of electronics, like the sort Janny had been on his way to unfankle earlier that morning.
Underneath the Hub, you faced off with all the other unscheduled arrivals to earn your spot in the docks. There were ‘roads’ marked out with parallel lines of what honestly appeared to be red spray paint, floating in space. Across the road from Janny and the Scentians, another craft flashed its headlights. Grescin flashed her headlights back and waved her hand, elaborately mouthing “No, you first!” towards the windscreen. Ennet had one hand on his forehead and his shoulders sagged.
“Can’t we just go?” he muttered, “This ridiculous battle be damned!”
“How many times?” Grescin replied, continuing her war of politeness with the driver on the other side of the intersection. “Nobody actually means ‘you go first’.”
“Well why can’t people just say what they mean?” Ennet exclaimed, throwing both hands forward so fast that they elasticated briefly and almost reached the windscreen.
“You were a businessman.” Grescin shrugged. She tilted her head upwards to call to Janny, but didn’t turn around now that the autopilot was turned off. “He used to co-ordinate contracts and services for all the companies in Scentaer so you really think he should be used to it!”
“Yeah well now I’m considered completely frivolous by all the companies in Scentaer,” Ennet snapped back. “The only good thing about the economy collapsing is that I don’t have to deal with businessmen anymore.” Ennet crossed his arms over his chest. “And now we’re all just stuck here not moving.”
Grescin shrugged again as the other craft finally gave in and drifted forward. Its headlights flashed in thanks as Grescin filed in behind. “Better than both of us powering forward and smashing into each other.”
“Are there no signalling lights?” Janny asked, remembering for a moment the chaos that had ensued when the maintenance team had got confused about what colour represented whom in their rota system.
“I think there’s plans to build something coming down from the underside of the Hub,” Ennet said, “But it’s hardly a priority when you lot keep commissioning expansions up top.”
Janny’s eyes widened. Ennet’s gaze locked onto his in the reflection on the windscreen. Grescin shot him a look.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean ‘you lot’ like that. Again, it’s the Endoleons really. The keep expanding the economy of ‘you lot’ bigger and bigger until you’ve basically emigrated here,” Ennet explained, as Grescin indicated upwards and the craft began to tilt. “I mean, that must be how you got out here. I bet you jumped at the chance to come see the stars.”
Janny shrugged. “I just got transferred here.”
Ennet twisted around. “Wait, you don’t want to be here?”
“I don’t mind,” Janny said. He perkened up a bit, straightening his posture. “My mother and father are very proud of me for making Head of Maintenance.”
They pushed upwards and forwards towards a large square hatch that rumbled slowly open and shut to let the crafts in one at a time. It was finally their turn.
They were tipped so far back that Janny's feet couldn't compensate for the gradient any longer, so he found himself stumbling backwards and catching himself on the back window. There were crafts of all sizes and shapes zooming around outside. Well, not zooming, so much as waiting irritably in a traffic jam.
Janny's favourite was the one that had these massive spikes starting at the front, tracking along the top edges, then shooting out far from the back. It was like the craft had its hair slicked back. Their progress up was slow, so by the time they'd passed through the threshold of the hatch, Janny had all the lines of cars in all four directions they were herded from. There was one little dark red one that even reminded him of the motorcarts that had just started to populate the streets of Flad-Ta, his home city in Fladaer.
Inside the belly of the Hub, there was yet more admin to plod through. The craft kept accelerating and stopping every few seconds as the traffic was moved along by the craft at the front being assigned its next destination. Janny didn’t begrudge the wait, really; after all he knew how tricky organisation could be. Besides, so many crafts, ships and carriers came through here every day to await their day for teleportation. There was bound to be a backlog.
“You’re talking out loud again,” Ennet grumbled, slumped down so far that his head couldn’t be seen over the back of his chair.
“Oh. Sorry,” Janny said. The angle of the craft had levelled out but he’d stayed by the window, lounging lazily against it and fidgeting with his translation ring. He sat up properly.
“You ever been through teleportation before?” Grescin asked, drumming her fingers against the side of the control cube.
Janny stood up and took a step towards them. “I haven’t. The TS Daer-Hub picked me up from Flad-Ta. Actually… is it true people wait weeks for their turn? I heard rumours back home from people who’ve been out here but I never asked.”
“Oh boy is that true,” Ennet muttered. Janny could see him better now, looking over the shoulders of the Scentians. Ennet was slouched so far down that his head barely reached halfway up his chair. “Some people rent properties here for the duration of their stay, instead of going to a hotel. Some people, if they’re frequent flickers, even buy properties.”
“Heck,” Grescin added, “I know a guy who built a whole miniature island here just so he’d have somewhere to stay when he waited a whole month.”
Ennet nodded. “The sooner someone figures out lightspeed travel the better, that’s what I say. And I don’t even care whose competitor does it.”
Grescin chuckled, and Janny found himself laughing too.
“You really have turned your back on the business community, haven’t you?” Grescin giggled.
“Yeah, well, you hate admin these days, Head Administrator Ledool!” Ennet snapped, but he was smiling too.
“I’ve always hated admin.” Grescin shrugged. “Oh, speaking of - look at your screen.”
A message had popped up on Ennet’s screen. He drew himself upwards and practically creaked as he leaned forward to read it.
“Ugh, why?” he groaned. “Okay, they’re not convinced of our origin so we have to take the next left for a confirmation check.”
Grescin sighed but when she spoke her voice was soft. “Come on, trade traitor, that’s only a few metres away. And that’s probably the best we could have hoped for with three passengers in a two-man message craft.”
Ennet gasped as they lurched forward a little. “Oh, that reminds me! Janny, take off your translation ring and if you have to say anything at all try and say it in Scentian.”
Janny put his hand up to his head automatically, and almost had the ring off before he realised he didn’t know why he was obeying the Scentians. Then he remembered Ennet tapping impatiently on his gun, all those hours ago. Still… maybe he ought to be wondering how to get out of this without violence, but with his memories in tact.
“Dude, seriously!” Ennet snapped, this time without a smile. “Do you have zero awareness of when words are coming out of your mouth?”
Janny’s dark red skin blushed a deep, mottled purple.
“If you get away from us fair play,” Grescin said, her voice quiet and maybe a little sad. “But we could easily stun you just now and say you’re ill.”
Now Janny shrugged and sat back down with his legs crossed. “Alright, I understand.”
They rumbled around the left turn into a short corridor of which they were the only occupants. Without further delay, which was probably good for Ennet’s cholesterol levels, they passed through a set of circular sliding doors.
The craft came to a stop in a much wider room, a bustling thoroughfare. As the Scentians led Janny out of the craft, Janny took in a crowded network of desks and paperwork. Every few metres there was a being from a different species, quizzing another being or two about their origins, destinations, reasons for stays. There was one species, tall, skinny green beings with at least ten fingers on each hand, who seemed to be somewhat more numerous in these office jobs, but the walls and floor of the room were green anyway, so it was hard to tell just how prominent they were.
It was a being of this species who spoke to his Scentian companions. As she spoke, her fingers held three pencils that took notes down all over the place. Janny had to stop himself reaching for his forehead, where his translator ring had been. But it was fine. He just had to stay silent and it would be fine.