My life changed on an impossibly ordinary day. No warnings came my way, nothing to indicate that all I believe in is about to change—for the worst.
As I think back on it after all the space dust settled, I wish someone had given me a warning that I was about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life. Then again, I'm BD Bradford, intrepid investigator. No case is too big, no problem too monumental. Nothing would make me change a second of that very exciting day.
Nothing marks this Thursday as extraordinary. Canoples Station orbits Jupiter, and my eyes pop open like they do every other day. The illumination in my quarters changes from artificial moonlight to artificial sunlight at the same time it does every other day. My mom and older brother get ready for work like they always do. Even I get into the act by zapping breakfast while they take their sonic showers. When I take over a kitchen, watch out galaxy. Great teen food is about to erupt.
"What are your plans for today?" Mom pushes the pancakes around her plate.
They look more like asteroids after impact than pancakes. Lesson learned. Zapping everyone's breakfast at the same time is a rotten idea.
Wade, my nauseatingly perfect older brother, eats the food without commenting. Kind of makes me feel worthless, as usual, but only worthless cooking. Nothing else in my life is lousy.
Uh, well, that's not quite true. That problem I have to solve at another time, as soon as I figure out girls.
"Nothing," I tell Mom around a mouthful of the mashed pancakes. "Hang around the promenade. Look up Carl and Terry. You know. Same old thing."
She and Wade glance at each other, exchanging a look I know all too well. Gotta work on my "I'm not up to anything” face. They can't ruin one of my last days of freedom with made-up chores to keep me out of trouble.
Where is it? Come on, don't disappoint me. One of you give me that unwanted advice you hand out every other day.
Mom opens her mouth but snaps her lips together when a vu-screen on the refrigerator flickers on. My heart pounds in anticipation of the upcoming broadcast. Sweat beads my forehead.
Saved by the governor's idea of an important announcement. Someone in the Milky Way loves me!
"Attention residents of Canoples Station." To the accompaniment of the disembodied computer voice, a visual of the Twelve Stations logo fills the vu-screen. "Several space-liner captains have reported encounters with possible space pirates during the station's sleep cycle. All small flitters are advised to remain on the station. Tour shuttles may launch, but at their own risk. Larger ships should check with Security before departing the station. That is all."
That is all? Who thinks up these messages?
Questions zoom through my head—What do the space pirates look like? How many are there? What kind of ships do they fly?
My mind whirls with ways to get off the station so my buds and I can track down the space pirates. Bringing in those criminals will keep us in creds for a week or two.
"I know that look." Mom's flat tone of voice brings me back to reality. "You won't get involved, BD. Or else."
Cold fear cramps my muscles. I see the color red, as in red chips spelling my doom. Those are Mom's way of telling me that I've gone too far. If I get five or more in a week, my whole life swirls into a black hole.
"Me? Get involved?" My voice squeaks, and I swallow a couple of times. "Would I break the rules?"
She and Wade cover their mouths and cough. They sound more like a couple of laughing Pluto baboons.
"Stay out of trouble, BD." Wade stands and dusts food bits off his pukey green jumpsuit. His uniform is the most awful color I have ever seen; a greenish-yellow that resembles what I did after eating a bad Gut-Buster pizza. "See you tonight, Mom. Chief Pelham probably needs everyone on duty to deal with this problem," Wade says.
He stares at me for six extremely long heartbeats.
"Don't dig up any new 'cases.' Leave anything you see that's wrong to Security."
There it is. No matter how rushed he is, Wade always finds a way to mention me staying out of trouble. He always makes my life as miserable as he can, but I refuse to let him stop me today.
After he leaves, I spend a couple of minutes checking out files from my business, one Wade keeps trying to shut down despite how successful it is. Mom attacks the breakfast mess in the kitchen. No matter how rushed she is, she never breaks her own rule. The person who makes the meal skates on cleaning duty, which is why I zapped those pancakes on the highest setting and in half the recommended time.
"Later, Mom," I call after shoving my PerSys to one side. "Gotta catch up with Terry and Carl."
She pokes her head out of the kitchen. I race for the door in an attempt to avoid whatever she has on her mind.
What did I do now? Why is she tracking me like I'm still three?
"Do something with your hair," she says. "I don't mind it long, but I won't let you run around with it a mess."
My hair is an argument whenever she and Wade think I'm acting up. Unlike most of the station residents, mine comes down to my shoulders, and it has a whole lot of waves in it. Usually, I run a comb through it, and forget about it. Her order means I have to bind my hair back, so if she happens to see me sometime today, she'll have proof that I didn't ignore her.
Frustrated by her speed, I sprint into the refresher and yank a comb through my unruly, wavy, shoulder length black hair. As I fasten a clip at neck level, deep black eyes peer back at me from the mirror and what looks like a zit raises a bump on the tip of my nose. It doesn't matter that I'm seventeen, those pesky teen abominations still appear at the worst moments. Thankfully, in the twenty-fourth century, all we need to do is apply a bit of patch powder to the offensive bump before it grows to the point where everyone will notice, which I do with all due speed. Then, with nervous energy charging my wiry body, I sneak past the kitchen.
I make it to the corridor before she has a change of heart, and figures I need to hang around our quarters all day cleaning or moving stuff around in a new decorating scheme she saw on the vid.
Thoughts run through my head, absolutely ordinary thoughts. The same kind of thoughts I have every other day. This is nothing more than an ordinary day, one with the promise of hanging around the promenade, gaming with my buds, and longing for my gal to talk to me. No thoughts of doing serious work enter my mind. School is a far off threat—when I have to return on Monday. This is my last semester break as a kid, and I plan to enjoy every second. By this time next year, I will have celebrated my eighteenth birthday and be on my way to the Law Enforcement Academy on Mars. Like most other kids on the station, I'm following in my family's footsteps in my career choice, but there are other options I still want to explore.
Life on a space station just can't get any better than it is this fine morning. The best part is figuring out a way to take on those space pirates. Maybe not today, but I'll find those creeps before school drags me back into homework and tests!
I saunter toward the stairs just beyond the lifts with nothing more important on my mind than when Canoples Investigations will get another job to replace the creds I spent last week. The newest version of Asteroids debuts today. My plans include acing the fantastic game involving a masterful demonstration of flying skills to destroy an asteroid shower before it trashes any of the Twelve Stations. Then I can sit back and teach those without my enviable skills how to survive the massive meteor storm at the end—the hook ad I've seen for the last two months during the advertising blitz.
"Gotta figure out how to convince Carl and Terry to hunt down those space pirates." I nod. "We'll show Security how to keep the station safe from marauders."
I reach for the door, but at the last second, my hand freezes. Now, I'm not one of those fools who believes in premonitions or anything else so dumb. I have this ugly feeling running through my body, and I never ignore ugly feelings. Eyes darting in all directions, I step away from the door before someone catches me breaking a rule.
Mom's voice brings a terror I barely manage to hide. Only two people have the power to do what she has, and the other stopped speaking to me a while back after we had a fight. I turn around and gulp at the look on her face, a mixture of flat-out fury and exasperation.
"Your computers are all over the place." She reaches past me to push the lift actuator. "Clean up before you find your friends."
"We have a job," I respond, hoping she believes me.
She has this funny talent that lets her spot lies on the other side of the galaxy, but only if the other person looks away from her. With one glaring exception. Me. Not that I keep a scorecard or anything, but I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I got away with lying to her, and have a couple of those fingers left over.
Besides, I can't look her in the eye and lie. Impossible. To stare into those hazel eyes, still holding a hint of grief over my dad's death seven years ago, and even think about trying to fool her puts a nasty feeling in my stomach that has nothing to do with my love for Gut-Buster Pizzas. My eyes focus on a bulkhead behind her right ear, and I work hard on not shifting my feet around on the deck.
"The job can wait," Mom says.
A ding takes her attention away from my face. Thank you, whoever made sure the lift arrived! She reads me better than the vid-romances she loves. The lift doors open, and she goes inside.
"Remember, clean up your mess before you find your friends." Mom holds up a finger.
Hoo, boy, I sure don't want to see that ever again.
One single finger is all it takes to put cold fear into my body. Fear I work very hard to shove into the deep recesses of my mind. What she wants me to do will take all of two seconds. Who am I to ignore her simple request?
Unless you live inside a glass station without any connection to the rest of the galaxy, I'm BD Bradford, intrepid investigator. Nothing scares me. Nothing at all. Except my mom holding up one finger after telling me to do something. But I can't take those lousy two seconds to do what she wants. Later, much later will work, long before she comes home. Now, I have a very important mission, one that won't wait.
Our gazes lock, and I hope Mom understands I'll do what she wants, but when I have time, not on her schedule. After another ding, the lift doors close, and she disappears from sight, to spend the day working in the pediatric section of the station's hospital. Mom is a nurse, a good one, and often comes home wiped from everything she has to do. Kids, according to her, never change no matter how many rules adults put on them. If she bothers to ask, I can explain. All kids love trying the impossible, even if it hurts them. A great example lives with her; I never slow down when facing danger.
My immediate problem lies back in my quarters, and I have no desire to waste time cleaning up a couple of computers I'll put back where I left them later.
"Sorry, Mom." I walk over to the door leading to the stairs and open it. "No way will I let anyone get the drop on me playing Asteroids."
Using the stairs burns off some of the nervous energy I've felt all morning. I'm not sure why, but I have the feeling me and my buds are about to dive into the biggest case of our career and need to be where the action happens. On Canoples Station, that's either Io, one of Jupiter's moons, or the promenade. Since I have no reason to join the scientists studying the volcano about to erupt, there is only one other place—the teen gathering zone. I take the stairs two at a time and arrive on the promenade in seconds. Even though it's only eight, teens already surround the shops and arcades.
The sounds and smells, so familiar to a boy raised on one of the Twelve Stations, invite me to join the fun. But I'm no ordinary boy. No one living on the Twelve Stations classifies themselves as ordinary. All of us descended from Earth's survivors, after humans abandoned the dying planet during the mid-twenty-first century. Global warming caused weird storms, and left residents fighting to survive. Every government got together and decided to evacuate to stations built as part of the United States exploration of the Milky Way. No ships ever went back to the planet. If someone wants to, they can view the massive storms and pollution still hanging around after three centuries when they visit Aldebbaran Station.
No urge ever prods me to ask Mom to go there. Like most teens, visiting a planet filled with a bunch of politicians sounds boring.
"Where are they?" I search for my buds, but they're nowhere in sight.
It's early. Maybe Carl Wills and Terry Ashley decided to catch a few more zzzs before showing up to join the fun.
I take off across the promenade with determination in my step. Gaming Zone is clear on the other side. Unless I ignore everyone and everything around me, the chances of making it to my destination before one of my many friends, or enemies, stops me are zero.
My quarry in sight, I freeze in shocked amazement when the emergency klaxon blares. Glances to the left and right provide no insight as to what troubles the station. Asking one of the Security types now racing for the lifts and stairs will do no good. None of them like me much, except the chief and my older brother. They tolerate me because I come up with solutions to problems, and show them how I figured it out. Wade says I shove my solutions into everybody's face, but he's my brother. What does he know?
Left to figure out what's going on myself, a situation I love, I begin a slow check of the stores and arcades. There's nothing unusual going on, but a bunch of people hanging at the doors stare at something behind me. That leaves one choice. I spin around, and my mouth drops open.
Five flitters arrow around the massive tetra-flex porthole giving everyone a view of Jupiter and her moons. These are ships capable of seating two to four people for station-to-planet hops. The largest thing in sight, Io, is in synchronous orbit between the station and Jupiter. According to a science team on the moon's surface, its volcano might erupt soon. More than anything, I hope they figure out if it really will happen soon. One of my best buds, Terry, wants his mom to come home. She's the lead scientist and has to stay until they complete their research.
Another worry settles around me as I stare at those flitters. From the maneuvers, it's obvious the pilots aren't a bunch of teens with brand new licenses. They aim straight at the tetra-flex but veer off before striking it. Each ship is a different color with wild patterns, and what looks like strange animal faces painted on their forward area.
My immediate thought is pirates, but that's close to impossible. Pirates lie in wait along the space lanes between the stations and planets. They rob passengers of long distance liners and avoid capture by roving Security patrols. My dad and his team vanished without a trace seven years ago while looking for a pirate gang harassing ships coming to Canoples.
I long ago came to terms with losing him. Seeing evidence of the men who might have killed Dad starts a slow burn inside me, and a determination to figure out why pirates are attacking the station.
"The announcement," I whisper. "The pirates are real. There really are pirates at Canoples Station."
"Oh!" a girl squeals, turning my joyous thoughts into ones of disgust. "Those nasty pirates will steal us away. We'll never see our parents again!"
It's time for me to beat feet before I make the situation worse. The speaker is none other than the governor's daughter, and one of my sworn enemies. Deciding to check out the Canoples Investigations office for any jobs that might have come up, I race into the nearest stairwell and slide along the railing between floors. No way will Lisa Tulane ruin my day.