Leave Hokusai

Ten minutes before docking, the thrust alert sounds, a loud, shrill tone. Red warning lights flash, and around the hold, the embassy staff plant their boots on the deck and activate the gecko pads on the bottom of their skinsuits. Not a moment too soon, as the ship’s fusion drive cuts out, and zero-g takes over. A loose pair of socks drifts toward the vent in what had been the ceiling.

The Hokusai docks with a barely perceptible shudder. Outside the airlock window, a patch of green appears. Curious, you crane your neck. Unity . . . The living space station grown/build/made by whatever the hell Kira Navárez had become. And now here you are to live and work on it.

The station is a wonder. The airlock rolls open with a hiss of equalizing air, and you walk over, looking around like a wide-eyed hab-farmer on their first visit to Earth. . . . But even Earth isn’t this amazing. Walls of metal and wood. Great green vines wrapping around fluted trunks. Glowlights that appear like fruits on the branches overhead. Decorative tracery along the peaks and curves of the ceiling, as well as the stonelike floor.

You’d seen all the pictures. UMCI briefings are very thorough. But no picture or vid could have truly prepared you for the vast grandeur of Unity. It’s a cathedral in space, a living, breathing entity unlike anything else in the galaxy. . . .

Enough gawking. The ambassador is waiting.

Down the concourse, following the directions on your overlays. Near the walls, several of the station Caretakers skitter along, carrying what looks to be an electrical cable of some sort. The lead Caretaker has its feathered frill raised, like a rooster’s comb.

A fork in the concourse. You study your directions. Your assigned quarters are nearby. You could drop off your bag before going to see the ambassador. . . .