Date Night on Union Station

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Date Night on Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador Book 1)

“Good SciFi comedy is as rare as hen’s teeth. This was a fun read.”

Kelly Frank is EarthCent’s top diplomat on Union Station, but her job description has always been a bit vague. The pay is horrible and she’s in hock up to her ears for her furniture, which is likely to end up in a corridor because she’s behind on rent for her room. Sometimes she has to wonder if the career she has put ahead of her personal life for fifteen years is worth it.

When Kelly receives a gift subscription to the dating service that’s rumored to be powered by the same benevolent artificial intelligence that runs the huge station, she decides to swallow her pride and give it a shot. But as her dates go from bad to worse, she can only hope that the supposedly omniscient AI is planning a happy ending.

Chapter One

“In conclusion, it is the view of Union Station Consulate that the trade in counterfeit Earth chess sets has not been impacted by enforcement activities, and perversely, the crackdown has forced the principal actors to master molecular tagging, thus accelerating their technical competency and leading to increasingly sophisticated forgeries of other high value exports, especially playing cards and kitchen gadgets.” Kelly grimaced at the length of her last sentence. Perhaps it needed a few more commas or another period? 

But she suspected that the transcription program wrote better English than she spoke, so she decided to leave well enough alone. The report to EarthCent concluded her Friday afternoon ritual of taking stock in the week, even though she knew from experience that some diplomats flooded EarthCent with multiple missives a day, while others preferred to lay low unless something was going very wrong.

“Are you going to go home and get ready for your date now, or do I have to tell the girls to come and drag you?” asked Donna, the office manager for the consulate. Donna had accepted a post as the office gopher when she was still a teenager, but quickly grew disillusioned with the romance of living in space when she realized that the employees of the recently established consulate never took a day off from work. In a display of innate executive potential, Donna convinced Gryph, the Stryx intelligence who ran Union Station, to begin operating the corridor lights of the human sections on a 24 hour cycle. Then she counted five days and declared a weekend. The two hundred thousand plus Earth expatriates living on the station at the time assumed this was another mysterious decision of the Stryx, and they settled into the new schedule with no more than the usual complaining.
“I’m going, I’m going,” Kelly replied, and pushed back from the display table that served as her desk. “I only received the details a few minutes ago. It’s kind of embarrassing, you know, for the top Earth diplomat on the station to be using a dating service. You’d think after fifteen years of practice negotiating with everything that walks, flies or crawls, I’d be a better judge of character. But somehow I always end up with the creeps, the basket cases, or the dreamers who can’t stay around because they know that somewhere in space, there’s a solid gold asteroid just waiting for them to stake a claim.” “And I’ll bet that on every rock you’ve been posted, you left behind a broken hearted guy crying to his bar buddies that you loved your job more than him. You may be the top Earth representative within a hundred light years, but if you don’t get moving, this career is going to be the only marriage you’ll ever make.”
“You sound like my mother,” Kelly grumped, but she impulsively kissed her best friend on the cheek as she passed into the corridor. “Give my love to the girls.” “And you fill us in as soon as you get home. We want to know all the gory details. It’s part of the deal,” Donna warned her, before they headed off in separate directions. Donna’s home was just a few minutes away on the same upscale residential deck as the consulate, while Kelly lived on a low-rent deck, populated mainly by station transients. The corridors were lined with wall-height display panels that could show real-time feeds from exterior cameras or anything from station memory. At the moment, the displays were showing the riot of ships approaching and departing the station, and Kelly couldn’t help but feel that familiar, yet transient thrill, that humans had finally reached the stars.
The fly in the ointment was that interstellar space travel had arrived for humanity through a remedial program run by a highly advanced race of artificial intelligences, the Stryx. Humans tended to think of the Stryx as robots, since some of them occupied mobile mechanical bodies to move about, but many lived in the structures of ships or space stations, and it was probable that others existed in forms that were beyond human comprehension. Why they had assumed the role of nursemaids to the galaxy’s low-achieving life forms was known as “The Mystery of the Stryx,” and the robots weren’t telling. The knowledge base of the Stryx was many orders of magnitude beyond that of the hundreds of life forms they nurtured, but it was suspected they were somewhat lacking in imagination, since they could find nothing better to do with their time than to interfere with the natural development of primitives. Biologicals who reached the stars under their own power often looked down their breathing protuberances at Earth and the other worlds the Stryx had taken under their metallic wings.
Kelly wasn’t really interested in watching the comings and goings of starships tonight, even though her position as Earth’s top diplomat on Union Station made her responsible for an endless parade of first contacts and requests for trade concessions. Well, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration, she confessed to herself, since interest in Earth was mainly limited to oxygen/nitrogen breathing aliens looking for cheap domestic help or a retro vacation experience. But in the two years since her arrival, Kelly had never regretted signing on to a five-year tour of duty on the farthest Stryx station from Earth, except for one little thing. A chime sounded in her right ear, and ghostly letters spelling “Collect call from mother,” suddenly appeared to be floating in space before her eyes. Kelly grimaced, turned into the primary radial corridor, then subvocalized, “Accept charges.”
“I just had a terrible dream about you, Kelly.” Her mother’s voice sounded as clear as if she had been right there walking by Kelly’s side. “You were thirty-five years old and you still weren’t married, plus you moved all the way across the galaxy to a moon-sized alien space station where there weren’t any eligible men.” “That’s very funny, Mother,” Kelly replied, rolling her eyes. “You know perfectly well that there are over four hundred thousand humans on Union Station these days, even if we’re just a drop in the bucket of the total population. And how do you expect me to save enough money to buy my own apartment when each of these collect calls costs me a day’s pay?”
“Oh, don’t be such a killjoy,” her mother chided. “I worry about you out there all alone while your younger brother and sister have settled down and started families. Besides, I don’t call you that often.” “It’s the third time this week, Mother!” Kelly suppressed a moan, forgetting that the subvoc pick-up embedded in her larynx would reproduce this as something like whoopee cushion sounds. Such minor foibles aside, the technology was so seamless that she had to study the lips of humanoids to figure out if they were speaking English, or if it was being simultaneously translated even as the sound from their native tongue was cancelled out by her ear implants………..

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E. M. Foner