by Dave Cardwell / FoolsErrand
'Join the race to the Edge' proclaimed the recruitment screen. The Edge; the fringe of the Galaxy, humanity's next big adventure. Cal stood staring at the advertisement. He placed his hand on the glowing screen, closed his eyes and listened. There it was, the whir of the ventilation system. When you grow up on a space station it was always there, your ears simply zone it out. Cal made himself listen to it; it reminded him of how precarious life was for an orphan on the stations. Now in his twenties, Cal had grown tired of just surviving; this was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Some of the passengers groaned in their sleep as the beat up passenger shuttle banked gently out of the vast freight lanes. Soon a hazy orange planet loomed large in the observation port. Its pockmarked surface dominated by a large impact crater that they would soon be calling home. Cal gazed at the rocky world; he yearned to feel the rock beneath his feet, connected to something more than metal.
"Welcome to the farm, nothing but crops and cattle as far as the eye can see," announced the pilot wearily as the shuttle set gently down on one of the landing bays. The access ramp opened, and the cabin was flooded with light from the planet's two suns. The shadow of a tall man, waiting at the bottom of the ramp, was cast over them.
"The name's Buck, and I'm in charge around here" he spoke with a deep gravelly voice. "And just so we are clear, there ain't no fortune here. But if you work hard, then someday, and it ain't going to be soon, you might just earn enough to get off this little rock of mine," and with that he let out a raspy laugh. The passengers stared at the wizened face framed by a red bandana; he looked as though he was a relic from another era. They all eyed with curiosity the brass arm that glinted in the daylight.
"Now, follow me, and you'll get the tour," he barked.
Cal shaded his eyes as he set his foot on solid rock for the first time—he had looked forward to this moment his whole life, and now it had arrived.
"Is there something wrong with you boy?" enquired Buck mockingly as he watched the young man take his first tentative step.
"No sir," replied Cal, "just my first time, is all," but Buck wasn't listening, he was already yelling at one of the other passengers. Cal stared out across the plain, shading his eyes from the Suns, pasture lands stretched to a rocky horizon, it was beautiful.
Orientation began with the dormitory buildings where each arrival was allocated a bunk. Buck laughed heartily as each man was disinfected in the medical centre.
"You must be the kid from the stations. I think you might like it here" he chuckled as Cal disappeared into a cloud of the delousing powder. Cal was surprised Buck knew anything about him and was about to reply, but as the haze cleared, Buck had moved on.
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