"I don't know how you could possibly be bored," Savitri said to me, leaning on an observation deck rail as we looked out from Phoenix Station to the Magellan. "This place is great."
I looked over at her with mock suspicion. "Who are you, and what have you done with Savitri Guntupalli?"
"I don't know what you mean," Savitri said, blandly.
"The Savitri I know was sarcastic and bitter," I said. "You are all gushy, like a schoolgirl. Therefore: You're not Savitri. You are some horrible spunky camouflaged alien thing, and I hate you."
"Point of order," Savitri said. "You're a schoolgirl, and you hardly ever gush. I've known you for years and I don't believe I have ever seen you involved in a gushing incident. You are almost entirely gush-free."
"Fine, you gush even more than a schoolgirl," I said. "Which just makes it worse. I hope you're happy."
"I am," Savitri said. "Thank you for noticing."
"Hrrrumph," I said, rolled my eyes for extra effect, and applied myself to the observation deck rail with renewed moodiness.
I was not actually irritated with Savitri. She had an excellent reason to be excited; all her life she'd been on Huckleberry and now, finally, she was somewhere else: on Phoenix Station, the space station, the largest single thing humans had ever built, hovering above Phoenix, the home planet of the entire Colonial Union. For as long as I had known her - which was for as long as she had been my dad's assistant, back in New Goa, on Huckleberry - Savitri had cultivated an air of general smart-assery, which is one reason I adored her and looked up to her. One has to have role models, you know.
But after we had lifted from Huckleberry her excitement from finally getting to see more of the universe had gotten to her. She'd been unguardedly excited about everything; she even got up early to watch the Magellan, the ship that would take us to Roanoke, dock with Phoenix Station. I was happy for her that she was so excited about everything, and I mocked her mercilessly for it every chance I got. One day, yes, there would be payback - Savitri taught me much of what I know about being a smartass, but not everything she knew about it - but until then it was one of the few things keeping me entertained.
Listen: Phoenix Station is huge, it's busy, and unless you have an actual job - or like Savitri are just in from the sticks - there is nothing going on. It's not an amusement park, it's just a big dull combination of government offices, docks and military headquarters, all jammed into space. If it weren't for the fact that stepping outside to get some fresh air would kill you - no fresh air, just lung-popping vacuum - it could be any big, faceless, dead-boring civic center anywhere humans come together to do big, faceless, dead-boring civic things. It is not designed for fun, or at least any sort of fun I was interested in having. I suppose I could have filed something. That would have been a kick.
Savitri, in addition to being insensibly excited not to be on Huckleberry, was also being worked like a dog by John and Jane: The three of them had spent nearly all their time since we arrived at Phoenix Station getting up to speed on Roanoke, learning about the colonists who would be with us, and overseeing the loading of supplies and equipment onto the Magellan. This didn't come as news to me, but it did leave me with not a whole lot to do, and no one much to do it with. I couldn't even do much with Hickory, Dickory, or Babar; Dad told Hickory and Dickory to lay low while we were on Phoenix Station, and dogs weren't really allowed the run of the station. We had to lay out paper towels for Babar to do his thing on. The first night I did this and tried to get him to take care of business, he gave me a look that said you have got to be kidding. Sorry, buddy. Now pee, damn it.
The only reason I was getting some time with Savitri at all was that through a clever combination of whining and guilt I had convinced her to take her lunch break with me. Even then she had brought her PDA and spent half of lunch going over manifests. She was even excited about that. I told her I thought she might be ill.
"I'm sorry you're bored," Savitri said, back in the present. "You might want to hint to your parents."
"Trust me, I did," I said. "Dad actually stepped up, too. He said he's going to take me down to Phoenix. Do some last-minute shopping and other things." The other things were the main reason for us to go, but I didn't want to bring them up to Savitri; I was moody enough as it was.
"You haven't come across any other colonists your own age yet?" Savitri asked.
I shrugged. "I've seen some of them."
"But you haven't spoken to any of them," Savitri said.
"Not really," I said.
"Because you're shy," Savitri said.
"Now your sarcasm comes back," I said.
"I'm sympathetic to your boredom," Savitri said. "But less so if you're just marinating in it." She looked around at the observation desk, which had a few other people in it, sitting or reading or staring out at the ships docked at the station. "What about her?" she said, pointing to a girl who looked about my age, who was looking out the deck window.
I glanced over. "What about her?" I said.
"She looks about as bored as you," Savitri said.
"Appearances can be deceiving," I said.
"Let's check," Savitri said, and before I could stop her called to the other girl. "Hey," Savitri said.
"Yes?" the girl said.
"My friend here thinks she's the most bored teenage girl on the entire station," Savitri said, pointing at me. I had nowhere to cringe. "I was wondering if you had anything to say about that."
"Well," the girl said, after a minute. "I don't want to brag, but the quality of my boredom is outstanding."
"Oh, I like her," Savitri said to me, and then waved the girl over. "This is Zoe," she said, introducing me.
"I can talk," I said to Savitri.
"Gretchen," she said, extending her hand to me.
"Hello," I said, taking it.
"I'm interested in your boredom and would like to hear more," Gretchen said.
Okay, I thought. I like her too.
Savitri smiled. "Well, since you two seem to be equally matched, I have to go," she said. "There are containers of soil conditioners that need my attention." She gave me a peck, waved to Gretchen, and left.
"Soil conditioners?" Gretchen said to me, after she had gone.
"It's a long story," I said.
"I've got nothing but time," Gretchen said.
"Savitri is the assistant to my parents, who are heading up a new colony," I said, and pointed to the Magellan. "That's the ship we're going on. One of Savitri's jobs is to make sure that everything that's on the manifest list actually gets put on the ship. I guess she's up to soil conditioners."
"Your parents are John Perry and Jane Sagan," Gretchen said.
I stared at her for a minute. "Yeah," I said. "How do you know?"
"Because my dad talks about them a lot," she said, and motioned toward the Magellan. "This colony your parents are leading? It was his idea. He was Erie's representative on the CU legislature, and for years he argued that people from established colonies should be able to colonize, not just people from Earth. Finally the Department of Colonization agreed with him - and then it gave the leadership of the colony to your parents instead of him. They told my dad it was a political compromise."
"What did your dad think about that?" I asked.
"Well, I just met you," Gretchen said. "I don't know what sort of language you can handle."
"Oh. Well, that's not good," I said.
"I don't think he hates your parents," Gretchen said, quickly. "It's not like that. He just assumed that after everything he did, he'd get to lead the colony. 'Disappointment' doesn't even begin to cover it. Although I wouldn't say he likes your parents, either. He got a file on them when they were appointed and then spent the day muttering to himself as he read it."
"I'm sorry he's disappointed," I said. In my head I was wondering if I needed to write Gretchen off as a possible friend; one of those stupid "our houses are at war" scenarios. The first person my age I meet, going to Roanoke, and we were already in different camps.
But then she said, "Yeah, well. At a certain point he got a little stupid about it. He was comparing himself to Moses, like, Oh, I've led my people to the promised land but I can't enter myself" - and here she made little hand movements to accentuate the point - "and that's when I decided he was overreacting. Because we're going, you know. And he's on your parents' advisory council. So I told him to suck it up."
I blinked. "You actually used those words?" I said.
"Well, no," Gretchen said. "What I actually said was I wondered if I kicked a puppy if it would whine more than he did." She shrugged. "What can I say. Sometimes he needs to get over himself."
"You and I are so totally going to be best friends," I said.
"Are we?" she said, and grinned at me. "I don't know. What are the hours?"
"The hours are terrible," I said. "And the pay is even worse."
"Will I be treated horribly?" she asked.
"You will cry yourself to sleep on a nightly basis," I said.
"Fed crusts?" she asked.
"Of course not," I said. "We feed the crusts to the dogs."
"Oh, very nice," she said. "Okay, you pass. We can be best friends."
"Good," I said. "Another life decision taken care of."
"Yes," she said, and then moved away from the rail. "Now, come on. No point wasting all this attitude on ourselves. Let's go find something to point and laugh at."
Phoenix Station was a lot more interesting after that.