Sunset Over the Frontier
Since the Expansion, Frontier Mining & Logistics, Inc. has been at the forefront of the effort to meet the needs of our ongoing exploration and growth. We provide the resources, infrastructure, and networks that form the basis of new organizations. We make this side of the galaxy safer and more civilized for you.
-- "About FML," from ptp://tsn.ngc6494.fml.com
[...] "I worked for the Family for a year," says "Jacob", a former employee of FML, called "the Family" - ironically - by insiders. "Smart businessmen, and ruthless as hell. You could end up anywhere in space with them. I'll take my chances handling toxic waste on the Inner Planets."
-- Excerpt from "The Face of the Frontier," by Jan Zheng
< 1 >
Lee awoke to the hissing of the transport's docking mechanisms locking in. He was in the ship's passenger quarters, a wide compartment crammed with bunks. Most of the others were already awake, some milling around in what open space there was. The monochrome wall at the end of the compartment bore the logo of Frontier Mining & Logistics: a stylized depiction of the Pleiades, suspended over an open hand.
The hissing stopped and gave way to a low grinding. The wall bearing the logo detached itself from the ceiling and began lowering itself into a ramp. One of the passengers sitting next to Lee scoffed. "The main exit is inside the quarters? We could've been sucked out into space or exposed to radiation. Unbelievable, these corporations..."
Lee shrugged, as if to ask, What did you expect?. He had never worked for FML before, but he had been a paramedic on Elythius - his home planet and a former mining colony - and was familiar with the maladies often incurred in working for such companies, usually as the result of cost-reducing measures on the companies' part.
"Let me guess," he met her eyes searchingly. "You're a science officer here?"
She nodded and opened her mouth to speak, but the door-ramp hit the metal floor with a reverberating clang, and then everyone around them was standing up to leave. The passengers wove around the bunks and left the transport in an unbroken wave, Lee and the woman causing nearly imperceptible ripples in the sea of moving bodies.
It was most cost-effective to have everyone leave as quickly as possible. Coop them up for a few days, then provide a wide-open exit.
The woman got to her feet and extended a hand to Lee, who took it. Might as well get to know someone on this base, he thought. They followed everyone else into what looked like a large cave with a metal floor. It was the reception area. Passengers were still pouring into the room. Those who had already found a place to sit or lean were talking amongst themselves. At the front of the room, standing on a dais, were a few official-looking, nicely-dressed men and women looking noticeably out of place. They were waiting for the rest of the passengers to disembark so they could begin orientation.
Lee turned to his companion, taking a moment to notice her wavy, black hair - unusually cared-for, considering the roughshod nature of Frontier Mining's work - and the inquisitive spark in her eyes. "So, what's your name?"
"Rina. I'm new to the base, in case you couldn't tell."
He nodded, understanding. "Me too. I'm Lee."
"And what are you here for, Lee? You don't look like a miner, but you don't look like a foreman, either."
Lee was bemused, but couldn't help but smile. She was sharp. It would suit her well in her work. He supposed that miners all looked the same to outsiders: grubby and fatigued. He was neither. "No, I'm not. I'll be - I guess, I am - the station's medic."
"Well, if the base is as safe as that transport, I'm going to bet we'll be glad to have you," Rina replied with a dry smile.
Again, he couldn't help but smile back. Orientation hadn't even started and he had already made a friend, albeit a very investigative one. He wanted to shoot a question back at her, but didn't get the chance. More people left the transport and jostled between himself and Rina, and before he could return to her side, the ramp clamped itself shut like a metal jaw gnashing its teeth, and the suits on the dais began their speeches.
A handsome man with streaks of grey on his temples stepped up first, shuffling his feet and clearing his throat like he was one of the people gathered before him, in a way that only a practiced professional can do so. It worked. Heads turned and the crowd, like a human spotlight, diverted its collective attention to the speaker. "Welcome, everyone, to Proceus Base. My name's Emil Cameron, and I'm the head of operations here. You are the first employees of Frontier Mining to begin our work in this newly-discovered section of the great frontier, and I'm proud to have every single one of you..."
Lee drifted off and noticed large windows on the wall beside him, opening up to a view of the vast openness of space. He realized that they were in an asteroid field. The distant light of stars flecked the blackness, occluded only by the silhouettes of asteroids turning and drifting across the dark. Past the asteroids was a thick stream of stars - an arm of the Milky Way - flecked with red and purple nebulae. Through another window, he could see the silent glare of the nearest system's star, mitigated only by the polarized nano-glass.
The silent view was soothing. It stood in stark contrast to the soulless meld of metal and rock that surrounded them. Yet Lee knew that working in a mine separated from space only by the very rock they were carving out would be far from idyllic and safe. But ultimately, he was on the base because he needed the work, and Frontier Mining had provided it, and with a fairly large paycheck to boot, so safety had to take a backseat. Evidently, experienced paramedics who were willing to work in such dangerous environments were a rarity among the systems. To the company, he was pure gold.
Looking around curiously, he noticed several distinctly statue-like people standing around the edges of the room. They wore caps and multi-pocketed vests over jackets, all in the same dark blue shade. And they all had guns. Despite this, nobody else seemed to pay them much notice, likely owing to the lighting and the charismatic speaker.
There was something the workers weren't being told. Rina's remark about the base's safety echoed back to him. If the company felt the need to heavily arm its security on a desolate asteroid, then it concerned him. He was, after all, partially responsible for the well-being of everyone on the base.
Cameron finished off his speech, rousing a smattering of applause that seemed to resonate in the cavernous room, giving everyone gathered there the illusion that there was a general feeling of greater enthusiasm.