Florian set his grocery basket on the conveyor belt, and the grocery bot at the checkout stand began processing the items, starting with the lab-meat schnitzel, today’s deli special.
“Good to see you, Florian,” Hans, one of the deli’s owners, said from across the store, where he was cleaning a table. “Let me know if you need anything.”
Florian had been at Odin North for just a few months, but Hans had already learned he didn’t like to chat. While the robot did its job, Florian thought about the tense conversation he’d had with Popov, his supervisor at Galactic Mining. The company would be opening a new mine in the Eastern Mountains, and she wanted him to lead that team and establish the Odin East settlement.
Florian had worked all his adult life to get a supervisor position at Galactic, but now he didn’t really want to take it.
“I’m not a people’s person,” he’d told Popov.
“You’re our best engineer,” she’d said. “You’ve worked for us for more than two decades. We trust you. Pick someone who can help you manage the team, but we want you to lead it.”
He’d be taking the job just as he’d finally moved past the get-to-know-you questions with the Odin North folks. He didn’t like to talk about his home planet, the first question people everywhere in the galaxy asked newcomers. Odrysian was long gone, blown to bits by Galactic when Florian was only a child, so the company could reach the planet’s metal core. Ever since, his people had been living as refugees across the galaxy.
Or trying to infiltrate Galactic in order to cause real damage. As a skilled engineer, Florian could’ve blown up a cargo dock on Vesta IX over the years, or sabotaged the water supply on Minerva, but that wouldn’t have been enough. Instead, he’d worked his way through Galactic’s company structure and learned everything he could about their connections with contractors and suppliers. What had slowed him down was not being a people’s person.
“That’d be all?” the robot asked, its arm holding out the mesh grocery bag.
Florian touched his wrist fob to the pay station, and heard the familiar beep. He then picked up his bagged groceries and waved goodbye to Hans. If he went ahead with his plan to destroy Galactic, what would happen to Hans and Ray, the two old pals with the best schnitzel recipe in this arm of the galaxy? What would happen to this entire settlement?
Florian stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and looked around at the familiar faces and bright storefronts. A self-driving car zoomed by. Blue-leafed trees lined the street. He liked this scattered little town. The ore-rich mountain that had brought Galactic to Odin III was also where he found joy in his work. Up on a ledge above the mine’s entrance, there was a spot where he sometimes watched the suns go down at the end of a workday. In the center of the valley, there was a pond where people like Florian tried out their remote-controlled model boats on weekends. A few blocks away stood the tall glass-and-steel building where he had his own cozy pod. He had good neighbors, with friendly pets. This was a nice town to settle down.
He crossed the street to Weber’s Place, as he did every Thursday, to nurse a drink and think about his week. Today he had a lot to think about: Popov’s offer, the hefty pay raise, his life at Odin North.
He pushed open the metal door to the familiar smell of liquor and sweat, and to the welcoming smile of Ingrid the barkeeper.
“Must be Thursday,” she said, polishing a glass. “Good to see you, Florian.”
He set the grocery bag down by his barstool as Ingrid brought his usual shot of firewater with a dried plum thrown in. As a child, he’d never had that drink on Odrysian, but with Galactic shuffling him to ten worlds in twenty years, the only sense of home came from that simple glass of plum brandy, the color of water.
He thanked Ingrid with a nod of his head, then took a sip and the hard alcohol hit the top of his mouth, and slithered down his throat, warming up his belly.
If he took the job and gained supervisor privileges, he’d be able to access the company’s financial backend. He could alter profit statements to make Galactic look insolvent. He could introduce malware into the corporate network and its satellites. His lifelong dream of hurting that century-old corporate monster was within reach.
But it wouldn’t happen overnight. Could take years to bring them down. And then? Ingrid here would be forced to leave this planet and wander the galaxy like Florian’s people. He glanced around and spotted her pouring a glass of wine for Constable Jenkins. The constable nodded at Florian, and he returned her smile by tapping his forehead in a vague salute. She had great taste in old movies, so Florian had learned to pay attention to her recommendations.
The door opened and a disheveled man walked in.
“Father Luigi,” Ingrid called to him, motioning to Florian that trouble was coming. “You’ve lost some weight while in those tunnels. How’s everything going down there?”
Luigi plopped himself on the barstool next to Florian and heaved a sigh. “Better than good. Still no Rico beer?”
“You’d be the only one buying,” Ingrid said. “So, no. Sorry?” She made a not-sorry face.
“Then give me… whatever he’s having.” He pointed at Florian. “I’m Father Luigi, by the way.”
Florian nodded and took another sip of firewater.
“Haven’t seen you around here,” Luigi said, “but then I haven’t been around much. Always on the go.”
“Florian prefers to enjoy his drink in peace,” Ingrid explained as she set the shot of firewater before Luigi.
Florian appreciated her looking out for him. He focused on the plum at the bottom of his glass. Galactic had been around more than twice as long he’d been alive, so who was he to think he could sink it? Most likely he’d get himself killed. Just when he’d grown used to watching the sunset from the mountain. And having a shot of firewater at Weber’s on Thursdays.
“Ooh, it burns,” Luigi said, smacking his lips. “I myself like my alcohol on the milder side.” He laughed, a grating guffaw.
The guy talked too much; time for Florian to go. He chugged the rehydrated plum and chewed it—sweet and smoky—while reaching for his groceries by his barstool.
“So, where’re you from, Florian?” Luigi said, wiping his mouth.
Florian cringed. With all those nice people around him, he’d let his guard down.
“I told you to leave him alone,” Ingrid said, her brows knotted.
“I’m from here, Father,” Florian said, “just like everyone else.”
“Of course,” Luigi said, “but I meant—”
Florian took off before he could hear the rest. He wasn’t really from here, as the well-meaning Father Luigi had just reminded him. This settlement would never be his true home. He’d always be from Odrysian, the long-gone planet.
He headed home to his comfortable pod, to warm up Hans’s delicious schnitzel. He’d then stream Moon, the movie Constable Jenkins had recommended last week. He’d savor every bite and every minute. Because on Monday he’d head out to yet another place, as the new supervisor of Galactic’s Odin East settlement.