Carna’ is a spacefaring mail carrier, fed up with working for the Universal Courier Service. Instead of using violence to fight her way out of conflict as is typical of sci-fi stories, Carna’ works through her problems with dialogue, introspection, and direct action. In the end, the final decision Carna’ makes is up to her. (Note: Carna’ is an Arabic name — the apostrophe is meant to simulate a letter written in Arabic.)
Carna’ Karaki’s Cerva had just enough fuel to reach the Narra Harbor. But as she struggled to maneuver her scooter through the cosmic turbulence, she realized that, for the first time in her career as a courier, she was running on empty. Securing her grappling hook against the nearest comet, she landed as gently as she could on its surface, then lay back and let gravity handle the rest. If she was lucky, she could hitch a ride without having to refill her tank.
Earlier, Carna’ had gone missing and needed to be tracked down to the resto-café at the other end of the universe. Though she was never one for alcohol, Carna’ could always drink her problems away here at the Leafs of Lebanon — except, that is, on the night that would’ve been her thirtieth birthday back on Earth, where she just sat there at the counter, contemplatively staring down at the crystal glass in her hands as old Fairuz songs played in the background.
Expecting the worst when her supervisor Achut arrived with the return order stamped by the Courier-Master General herself, Carna’ was surprised to see him sit down quietly beside her instead and casually order tabbouleh and drinks. The man seemed to be minding his own business, and for the first time, Carna’ noticed that his carved face had furrowed since she had first met him, giving him more distinguished features that had aged him beyond his years.
“You’ve finally joined me for a meal,” Carna’ mused out loud, hoping to end the prolonged silence that seemed to dictate their conversations. However, her manager chose not to reply, enjoying his salad silently, seemingly unconcerned with having to clock back in on time.
“You know…” Achut finally remarked, sipping at a shot of arak after the tabbouleh was picked to the last shred of parsley. “Ever since you told me about this dish, I’d been meaning to try it when — if I ever made it back to Earth. But this might be my last chance…for a while…”
Carna’ leaned in playfully. “Finally saved up enough for a vacation?”
“No,” Achut dabbed his mouth with a napkin. “Not that I’m looking forward to leaving the UCS to become a shipping super.” He then studied his watch, looking like he was fighting the urge to get up and go. “Moving on to more of the same isn’t what I had in mind when I thought I’d finally get the chance to leave this job, but the husband and I are looking to adopt, and I can’t afford to be doing this in my forties.”
Carna’ drunkenly rested her chin on her palm.
“Come on, being a courier’s not that bad.”
“You mean the low pay, long hours, and nonexistent benefits aren’t that bad.”
“Well, maybe a little.”
“Like you, I signed up to be a courier because the final frontier was where I had to be, and money was an object. But, having done this for more than a decade now, I wonder why I thought it would be any different than Earth.”
“But, chasing me down’s not so bad.”
Achut opened his mouth to say something clever but seemed to reconsider before looking around the resto-café with a tinge of regret in his eyes and said:
“Yeah.” He sighed. “This place is wonderful.”
To think that Carna’s fading nation could be found all the way across the known universe was as remarkable to her as her being here — here, instead of the monotony of life back in southern Lebanon. Though she found herself comforted by the familiarity of the establishment she was in, this served little to quell the profound wistfulness that had set in.
“I wish I could come here whenever I wanted.”
“I’m sorry management felt the need to ‘limit’ your mobility after the last couple of ‘detours.’”
“Come to think of it, this job was fine before that.” Carna’ buried her head in her hands and groaned. “You know — if you don’t think too much about the low pay, long hours, and nonexistent benefits. Being a courier meant that there were places to be, people to meet, and all the adventure you could ever want out of life.”
“Honestly, I’ve been meaning to ask for a while.” Achut took off his spectacles and ran his hand over his face, rubbing his eyes. “But why haven’t you left yet?”
“What do you mean?” Carna’ was taken aback.
“You seem miserable.”
Carna’ frowned. “I’m not sure. I’m having trouble understanding it myself. Something doesn’t feel right about leaving this life. I mean, what else would I do? Where else would I go?”
Achut sighed again. “It’s going to be a pain. But…” He paused, looking like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to propose something. “Before I vacate the position, I can sign off on an all-expenses-paid vacation that’ll let you head back home. Of course, you’ll have to spend most of it delivering packages to some of the most unsavory places on the planet, but it’ll all be worth it with the low pay, long hours, and nonexistent benefits.”
Carna’ laughed. “Sounds lovely.” Then she closed her eyes and tried to imagine what life would be like for her back on the farm. “Maybe…”
Now lost in her own thoughts (and five shots of arak), Carna’ was on the verge of falling asleep when Achut suddenly snapped his fingers, bringing her back to the Leafs of Lebanon.
“I just remembered…” Achut seemed to speak sheepishly now. “There’s one last assignment on your schedule before I can send you back. But…if you’d like, I can reassign it to—”
As Carna’ made her way to one of the military stations off the moons of Resheph, she was surprised to find that her destination was not an outpost but one of the compounds that housed the families of those in service. These required less stringent background checks and pat-downs, but the sight of soldiers was all the same unsettling.
Parking her Cerva in one of the stations designated for guests, she entered the compound anxiously only to be caught off guard by the immaculate presentation of it all. Carefully concreted paths lead to scenic homes with trimmed lawns and identical vehicles designed only for transport in the facility.
The stroll to the home of Eleni Hiraya was, if nothing, pleasant, though she found it too quiet for comfort. The Brigadier General waited for her outside her doorstep, cross-armed, in full uniform and shades. Standing there in silence, she cut an intimidating figure to Carna’, who was nowhere near as tall, and though Carna’ was muscular herself, she could not compare to the soldier’s lifetime of dedicated weight work that had tightly toned every muscle in her body.
Carna’ walked up to her with trepidation, but when the Brigadier General recognized the logo on Carna’s bomber jacket, her expression lost some of its hard edge. Immediately reaching into her bridge coat, she pulled out what appeared to be a pouch and, nestling it in her hands, informed Carna’ with a sincerity that seemed unusual for her:
“Please take care of this.” She paused, then added with a chuckle. “It’s for my parent. I hope you understand.”
“Right.” Carna’ saluted respectfully before carefully taking the pouch and placing it in the pocket dimension inside her jacket. “This’ll be there in no time.”
Cautiously, the Brigadier General studied Carna’ and seemed to like what she saw.
“If this is delivered intact and on time, we could use your services for the war effort.”
Startled, Carna’ did not react, but Hiraya seemed to pick up on the panic in her eyes.
“I’m not so sure I’ll be able to commit to that with my current queue,” Carna’ eventually managed to say. “I hope I can—”
“Obviously,” she cut her off, trying to respond in as pragmatic a way as her stilted idiolect would allow. “Of course, you’ll be well compensated for your time. More so than the UCS could ever provide on its own. Our partnership with them is well-established.”
“Of course.” Carna’ nodded, trying her best to hide what she was thinking.
Taking her leave as quickly as she could, she rushed straight to her Cerva, hoping she had enough fuel.
No one knew what happened to the couriers who went AWOL. Carna’ had never heard of anyone who had tried, and the whispers passed along from those who had worked there before her seemed to be just as unsure, if slightly more cautious, about the whole prospect.
Once the compounds were out of sight, Carna’ slowed her vehicle down so she could check her map for somewhere that she would want to go and that would be extremely difficult for the USC to track her down in. Having traversed far more of the known universe than most spacefarers, few locations piqued her interest, but as she flicked through the location pins on the hologram, one image caught her eye with its intensity.
The globular cluster Araphel is said to be one of the most magnificent sites in the entire universe. With star interspersion ranging from one every 0.4 parsecs to 1000 per cubic parsec, the cluster is immensely dense, offering a rare glimpse of brilliant intensity in an otherwise cold, barren universe. Gazing up at Araphel from the surface of a planet within its span would offer her a night sky to remember — one that Earth could no longer provide.
“Carna’, is something wrong?” A text from Achut appeared on her visor, reminding her that she no longer had the time to plan these excursions out as she once did. “Incoming data says that your Cerva’s stopped in the middle of nowhere, drifting away.”
“Yes,” Carna dictated a text back to him. “There’s a minor mishap that’ll be cleared, but it’ll take time.”
A brief eternity passed before Achut texted back.
“Understood” was all his message said, before adding a moment later: “Be careful.”
There was no doubt in her mind that she could hide out in the Araphel cluster before planning her next move, but how to get there was a matter that needed to be addressed immediately. The sideways path that she mentally mapped would traverse a meteor shower that, if she could navigate, would make it costly for the UCS to chase after her.
Of course, there was risk involved. There was always risk in the life of a cosmic courier.
But, for the first time in a long while, that electrifying surge coursed through her, reinvigorating her dispirited pneuma as she leaned in and gripped the handlebars. Shifting gears towards her new destination, she activated her visor, perceptually slowing down her vision so that, when she hit the pedal, she could steer the Cerva as if she was riding her cobbled “scooter” back on Earth. With no time to spare, she opened the throttle, kicking everything into high gear as her tracker informed her that she was off course and quickly entering a red zone beyond which she should not venture.
“Carna’!” Achut’s voice message coming in, his alarm and exasperation evident but forced. “Is the Cerva going haywire?!”
This stunt only encouraged her to go faster, however, and she found herself in the meteor shower, dodging fragments as she tried to make her way across. But, as she approached the end of it, a counter she’d never seen before began to tick down to an unspecified outcome.
This was when Achut’s incoming call was activated automatically without her express permission.
“Carna’ — we’re unsure if you’re able to hear us.” She moved to end the call, but the screen before her did not respond to her input. “Your signal’s too weak to track, and if you leave the known universe, it’ll be impossible for us to intervene. Vitals and specs seemed fine when the last report came in, but I believe that something may have happened on your way there that could have damaged the vehicle.” Flicking the switch to shut down all communication didn’t work either, and she realized in that moment that whatever control she thought she had over her scooter was a charitable pretense under which the UCS dealt with their couriers.
“If so, all I can do now is wish you good luck and hope you make the right choice…”
Despite fearing that the scooter would somehow immobilize her, or worse, self-destruct, she pressed on, knowing that this might be her only chance to make it out of this mess before she had to return to Earth and figure out how to get back here.
But it was no use.
As soon as she was out of the shower, the Cerva shut down, and Carna’ was left stranded right before the bounds of the known universe with a signal sent out for rescue. The message on her visor explained that if she wanted to reactive her vehicle, she would need to redirect it towards the drop-off point.
Though she was worn out in a way she had never been before, she knew that should the rescue crew bring her back in, she was as good as done, and the offer that her supervisor had made would remain on the table at the Leaves of Lebanon, along with her choices and future.
There was just no way around it.
A parcel needed to be delivered, and as a cosmic courier, she was the one to deliver it.
Whatever it took and whatever that meant anymore…
When Mx. Hiraya, the overseer of Narra Harbor, was notified that a lifeform was detected in one of the colony’s comet collectors, xe rushed to the infirmary hoping whoever was picked up by the drones was alive. But much to xeir dismay, xe found Carna’ laid out, contorted beyond comfort, and prayed that her death was a painless one. Before xe could sign the cross, Carna’ stirred, and politely asked xeir to quiet down and then, by habit, promptly turned over, revealing the “Cosmic Courier” logo on the back of her bomber jacket — before tumbling off the care bed. Having slept through solar storms as serenely as she had on her bunk back at the station, it would take a lot more than falling headfirst to wake her up, but now that Mx. Hiraya knew why she was here, she wanted answers.
After Carna’s vitals were confirmed to be safe, xe ushered to xeir caregiver, GIRASOL, who picked up Carna’ as effortlessly as one would a child and carried her back to the farm.
It wasn’t long before Carna’ woke up to the sound of birds chirping. Though she knew where she was, when she stared out the window, she could’ve sworn that she was back home on the hilly slopes of southern Lebanon. Evergreen hills stretched as far as the eyes could see. Pines, oaks, firs, beeches, cypresses, and junipers inhabited the landscape with turbines elongated high above them, patches of solar panels placed where they could not disturb them, and tidal fences constructed in the gentle streams that flowed amidst all of them. Bucolic in every sense, its vistas of sylvan charm harkened back to mother Earth before humankind had traversed past its home planet into the boundless frontiers of space.
However, when she got out of bed, she almost didn’t notice that for the first time since she had left to explore the universe, she was able to move around the same way she did on Earth.
But she couldn’t. She didn’t know how to anymore. And fatigue finally getting the best of her, she fell back onto the bed with a thud.
“Carna’!” Mx. Hiraya ran to the guest room, rushing over to inspect xeir guest.
Carna’ gazed up at xeir statuesque face, only vaguely familiar to her, and noticed its graceful countenance even in a situation as concerning as this.
“How did you know my name?” Carna’ asked, unusually at ease in xeir slender arms.
Losing no time, Mx. Hiraya responded with controlled urgency as xe inspected Carna’s vitals: “To confirm your identity, we were given access to the tracer on the engine.”
“That’s where it is…” Carna’ muttered in a daze. “If I could just…just…”
“Are you alright, Ms.?” Mx. Hiraya asked, worried that Carna’ might not have had enough time to adjust to Narra Harbor’s specifications, but Carna’ replied without so much as a thought:
Having grown up in Earth’s gravity, navigating outer space was as exhausting as it was thrilling. Each excursion out of the postal station left her enervated — so much so that it was only a matter of time before this would happen, but that was not what had startled her.
“What is it then?”
“This is just how I remember it…”
“Mx. Hiraya!” Carna’ called out as she made her way down the stairs of the cabin. “Where are you?”
When she finally found the kitchen, GARISOL, who was preparing a spinach apple salad with honey balsamic vinaigrette, placed the ingredients on the counter to pull out a chair for its servee. Once Carna’ sat down, GARISOL scanned her vitals before carrying on with its lovely salad — an act that was made all the more amusing to Carna’ as GARISOL seemed to be a repurposed War-Mech painted over in shamrock green and egg-shell white, its hulking figure meticulously arranging the apple slices standing in stark contrast to the picturesque kitchen they were in. Not that this sight was new to her. As a cosmic courier, she encountered more than her fair share of War-Mechs, but GARISOL, with its bulk and outdated tech and gadgets, was a model far older than any she had come across. There was something endearing about it, a gentleness in those old circuits known only to those who’d experienced war.
After carefully placing the salad on the dining table, GARISOL held out a knife before Carna’, startling her until she realized she was being handed utensils.
“Carna’!” Mx. Hiraya called out from outside.
Carna’ rose to meet xem, but GARISOL gently placed its rusted manus on her chest and softly guided her back into her chair, then pointed its index at the bowl. It then threw the towel over its angular shoulder blade and slowly trudged towards the front door.
Carna’ chose to wait before digging in, but having not eaten since she set out here, that resolve did not last. By the time she had picked every last bit of spinach, GARISOL opened the door for Mx. Hiraya, and xe strode in with a smirk that put her at ease.
“I’m told you’ve recovered fully.” GARISOL pulled out a chair for Mx. Hiraya, who chose to stand. “Not that there was anything to recover from other than exhaustion. I must say hightailing a comet was an ‘inventive,’ if peculiar, way to make it to the harbor.”
Mx. Hiraya finished off xeir comment with a self-satisfied smirk. In spite of her desire to maintain professional cordiality, Carna’ found herself smirking back.
“And, somehow, safer.”
“Yes, and I’m sure that cutting down on battery expenses plays a part in it too.”
“A part.” Carna’ affirmed, amused. “We couriers aren’t exactly paid well.”
Mx. Hiraya laughed, then sat down and untied xeir long black hair, letting xeir painstakingly brushed hair flow.
“How long before you have to head back?”
“This harbor is as remote as it gets for a courier in the known universe, so I’ve been given ‘ample time,’ considering I’m the first one ever to journey out here.”
“My, my. I guess you are. And you’re so young too. How on Earth were you talked into it?”
Carna’ thought about it but couldn’t come up with an answer. Mx. Hiraya carried on without missing a beat.
“And you must’ve bought yourself time with that extravagant joyride.”
“I’m hoping to get back as soon as I can.”
“I’m not sure, to be honest.” Carna’ eyes went blank. “This might be my last delivery before I head back home.”
“You don’t seem to be happy about it.”
“I won’t know till I get back, I guess.”
“You don’t seem to enjoy your work much either.” For a moment, the vivacity in Mx. Hiraya’s manner seemed to fade.” Not that I can blame you. I was in a similar position myself once upon a time.”
“Were you a cosmic courier too?”
“Not exactly.” Mx. Hiraya theatrically brought xeir palm to a heavy brow. “In some respects, it was far worse.”
Carna’ turned towards one of the windows and stared out into the evergreen hills with a disaffected gaze.
“Any advice on what I can do to get myself out of this rut?”
“That’s a good question, and I think I might even be able to help.”
Hearing this, Carna’ lit up, but Mx. Hiraya seemed to be considering xeir next words carefully.
“Carna’,” xe clasped xeir hands. “GARISOL and I were wondering if you’d be interested in helping out while you’re here.”
Farming was the last thing Carna’ ever wanted to do. The agrarian life she led back on Earth was even more suffocating than her life working for the UCS, but she owed it to her host, who seemed keen on having her participate in it.
As Carna’ put on her motorcycle helmet, a hover-tractor driven by GARISOL — now sporting what seemed to be an oversized, hand-woven straw hat — to pick up Mx. Hiraya, who raised xeir baro’t saya and hopped on, taking the wheel and driving with exhilarated delight as GARISOL held onto its hat.
“Park over there, Carna’!” Mx. Hiraya called out.
Arriving first, xe positioned the tractor right in front of the entrance and then hopped off with an electrified zeel — unlike GARISOL, who, despite its lack of discernible facial features, seemed quite shaken from how long it awkwardly held on to the safety handle after the vehicle had stopped moving.
For some reason, Carna’ expected a far more elaborate structure, but the aeroponic farm was modest, contained in a white translucent tent as far from the lodge as it would be sensible to traverse in regular intervals. By the time Carna’ managed to find stable ground to park her Cerva safely, GARISOL was able to let go of the handle but chose to sit there silently, as if contemplating its choices in life.
“Are you alright?” Carna’ asked, her helmet still on, but GARISOL did not reply, and she realized that she hadn’t heard it say anything the entire time she was there. “We’ll be inside if you need anything, GARISOL!”
Carna’ left her helmet on the Cerva’s handle, grateful that, for once, she didn’t have to hide it in her scooter’s seat before some punks spotted her until she realized that there was no fun in that.
Mx. Hiraya inspected each crop in the aisle carefully, even though all the tech that surrounded them gave Carna’ the impression that there was no need to.
“By the look on your face, I can tell this is new to you,” Mx. Hiraya commented without taking xeir eyes off the crops.
“Maybe.” Carna’ shrugged. “Maybe not. I guess it is in a sense…”
“Oh!’ Mx. Hiraya seemed intrigued. “I thought you were from one of the settlements.”
Carna’ suddenly couldn’t hide her bewilderment. “Why?”
“Oh,” Mx. Hiraya started grinning. “You give off the impression.”
“No,” Carna’ audibly sucked in air through her teeth. “I wish I had lived in one of those settlements.”
“You wish?” Mx. Hiraya raised an eyebrow. “Be careful what you wish for, dear.”
For once, the cosmic courier thought a moment before responding.
“I guess, life, where I’m from, is that solar dream without the punk…”
“Oh, my lord. It can’t be that bad. My guess, life there is…” Mx. Hiraya motioned xeir hands, trying to find the right word, but Carna’ beat xem to it:
Basket-in-hand, Mx. Hiraya walked away from the tractor, heading to what appeared to be a forest from a distance.
“Where are you going?” Carna’ asked, exasperated.
Mx. Hiraya carried on cheerfully.
Carna’ got off her scooter and followed Mx. Hiraya, who led her through the forest and into a glade by a river where xe had placed a blanket and taken out food and drinks for what looked like a picnic.
“Yes.” Mx. Hiraya sat down and patted the ground. GARISOL walked past Carna’ and sat down on the grass near xem. “GARISOL and I thought you could use a change of pace.”
“Is this it?” Carna’ asked, sounding more dissatisfied than she would’ve liked.
“More or less.” Mx. Hiraya laughed. “GARISOL and I could also use the company.”
“Then why stay here at the harbor?”
“This is where I’ve always wanted to live.”
Carna’ looked around as if she was flustered by the whole arrangement.
“You designed it?”
“Yes.” Mx. Hiraya stood up to stretch xeir arms and legs. “Years of engineering finally put to good use.”
“Why?” Carna’ realized she sounded more baffled than she thought herself to be. “I mean, if you had the chance to design anything, why this?”
“These environments are good for the soul.”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
By the time she had her third biscuit, Carna’ had grown restless, staring off into the distance where she became transfixed with the path that led uphill to where a lone wind turbine had stood.
Without a word to Mx. Hiraya and GARISOL, she quietly stood up, brushed herself off, and walked towards it as if in a dream…
The Narra Harbor was far larger than she could have ever imagined, but she did not know what this confirmation meant to her. Perhaps, she was hoping for something different or even something she had grown familiar with over the years. From the peak, she could take in the wide landscape in all its wonder, but to Carna’, it was much of the same — just more of it.
All she wanted to do was take her Cerva up here to ride it off the cliff and see how far it would take off before she would need to hover. The thrill of the thought alone had her surging with renewed vitality. But that would disturb the carefully constructed serenity on which Mx. Hiraya was no doubt keen. There was a time and place for adventure, but it was not now and not here.
And, besides, she would have to go back eventually — as she always did.
When she returned to the farm, Mx. Hiraya and GARISOL greeted her in much the same way she would have expected her family member if she ever returned to Earth.
“Where have you been?!” Mx. Hiraya asked, concerned. “Are you alright, my dear? You seem discouraged.”
“We know.” Mx. Hiraya brushed the hair out of her face, gazing at her with a tinge of worry. “That tracer installed in the Cerva allows us access to the chips installed in tracking your location and vitals at all times and warns us if you’re in danger.”
Carna’ frowned. “I should head back.”
“You really want it gone, don’t you?” Mx. Hiraya put xeir hands on xeir hips, trying to size up the situation. “How are you liking the Harbor? It’s a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of spacefaring, isn’t it?”
“It’s wonderful,” was all Carna’ could reply, but Mx. Hiraya still looked concerned.
Noticing xeir expression, Carna’ silently walked away, making her way to the Cerva, where she discreetly pulled out the parcel from the pocket-dimension in her sac and placed it where GARISOL and xe could see it. Without so much as a goodbye, she hit the pedal of her Cerva’, speeding in the direction of the lone wind turbine up the slope where she would ride off the cliff and blast off into space.
There was no time to spare. While she flew within the confines of the Narra Harbor, a signal would not be sent back to the UCS HQ. But, as she exited the force-shield that encompassed it, she knew that the counter to shut down her scooter would start ticking and time was not on her side.
True, the distance between her and the boundaries of the known universe was shorter here at the edge of civilization, but that did not make anything easier. The UCS was on to her now, and there wasn’t much Achut could say or even do to mitigate the fallout from this one.
Knowing that it was now or never, Carna’ activated her visor and opened the throttle, reaching speeds that no sane courier would ever dare, just so she could buy enough time to hopefully make it into the unforgiving depths that no person in their right mind had ever traversed before.
And it was exhilarating.
Dodging debris and projectiles hurtling at her so fast that she barely could register their presence before having to dodge them left, right, up, or down, Carna’ could feel life surging through her again. Every successful miss brought her atom-by-atom, scrap-by-scrap, closer to the freedom she had longed for when she was just that farm girl back on Earth. But the clock kept ticking. No matter what she dodged, no matter how fast or skilfully she maneuvered, the counter relentlessly ticked down, and there would be no Achut this time to put his reputation on the line to intervene and talk some sense into her with messages, voice notes, or calls. Years of experience were finally being put to the test, and the weight of this strain would slowly but surely, wear her out.
But she had to press on — she needed to. Except, that she didn’t expect that she would drain so soon…
For the first time since hightailing that comet, she realized just how exhausted she was, and she could feel that numbness in her legs, that cramping in her hands that soon dulled their capabilities. Each dodge and maneuver was now less instinctive, less methodical, and that soon gave way to carelessness.
When her grip had finally locked on the handles in an uncomfortable clutch, she could do nothing but move left and right, up and down, unable to take her hands off the handlebars and hoped that she could outpace the timer on the speed her hands could no longer adjust.
But that would not matter any longer. The Cerva’s sensor glared red, suffocating Carna’ in sight and sound, warning her of an asteroid that was coming straight at her.
Knowing what was coming, however, did not mean she could dodge it.
Carna’s only hope now would be to relinquish control to the AI, but that would allow HQ to wrest over the Cerva from her and direct her back to the Narra Harbor — the last place she ever wanted to be, or perhaps, the penultimate one.
Indifferent to a life that bound her to the Earth, she lay back and let gravity handle the rest. If she were lucky, she wouldn’t feel a thing. Not that she felt much of anything as the asteroid hurtled toward her.
However, as she closed her eyes and accepted her fate, a hulking figure of shamrock green and egg-shell white soared before her visor — right before she passed out.
“Come now.” Mx. Hiraya called xeir guest over with emphatic grace, taking her by the hand, as she was preparing her Cerva to depart back to HQ and receive the brunt of Courier-Master General’s unrestrained rage. “Our tea is waiting downstairs.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.” Carna’ sheepishly waved off the offer needing as much time as she could save up to try and dismantle the tracer in her scooter. “I really have to head back now —”
But Mx. Hiraya wouldn’t entertain the thought, and Carna’ followed xem to the patio without protest. There, GARISOL was pouring green tea into yunomi against a backdrop of pastoral wonder. To think that it was only a short while ago that bulky frame had raced for her Cerva at the speed of light and smashed through an asteroid with a deteriorated manus. Having been all over, few things could wow Carna’ in the known universe, but this old hunk of junk was somehow, someway, one of them.
Taking the chair facing the solar panel fields, Carna’ sat there silently, taking it all in, wondering what her next move would be, if there were one.
“Ms. Karaki,” Mx. Hiraya turned to Carna’ with a firm, but patient gaze, as GARISOL left their company. “I’m assuming there’s something that was meant to be delivered to me.”
“Oh, yes. I almost forgot.” Carna’ laughed nervously, unzipping her inner pocket-dimension and reaching inside to pull out a pouch that wasn’t there. “Wait, but I left it back at —”
Mx. Hiraya nodded patiently.
“Yes, and here it is.” Mx. Hiraya pulled the pouch out of her pocket and handed it to Carna’. “It would be ideal if the sensors picked up on the fact that you’re handing it to me by hand — as opposed to leaving it near the woods. Don’t you agree?”
Shamefacedly, Carna’ nodded and promptly followed Mx. Hiraya’s instructions. In spite of the terse turn their conversation had taken, no irritation or grievance could be discerned from xeir face, and Carna’ found herself cheering up when xe lovingly cradled the sack in xeir hands with a smile that could melt Ganymede and untied it with bated breath.
“Oh, this is just what I’ve wanted!” Mx, Hiraya exclaimed, hands clasping xeir cheeks.
“My family would love this too.” Carna’ mused. “We used to plant these cedar seeds back home.”
“You mean back on Earth?”
“How did you know?”
Mx. Hiraya shook xeir head, trying xeir best not to chuckle.
“That look on your face back in that room. Let’s say it’s not one I’m unfamiliar with. Is that why you left?”
“No.” Carna’ struggled to find the words. “There was this yearning in me to blast off into space and live — for once.”
“Ah,” Hiraya smiled. “You’re a sensation seeker.”
Carna’ nodded, though she had never thought of it that way. Hearing Mx. Hiraya say it, however, made it sound true.
“You’re right. I am a sensation seeker, but I’m not sure if I could continue living a courier’s life. This all makes me wonder if I should…”
Carna’ suddenly went quiet. The mere thought would’ve been unthinkable only a couple of years ago.
“In a way, I was once an explorer — one of the first, actually,” Mx. Hiraya remarked then, with an amused grin, glanced over at xeir guest. Carna’ though taken back, tried not to show it. “That’s all right. I know. I never seemed the type for that kind of living. Too prim and proper. This sanctuary was, in fact, my retirement gift for a life of service.”
“But why this?”
“It’s the complete opposite of the army sites that I’d gotten sick of.”
Carna’ shifted uncomfortably in her chair, but she was unsure why.
“You don’t seem happy,” Mx. Hiraya remarked empathetically.
“I am. It’s just—”
“Have you considered heading back home?”
“Why haven’t you?”
“The same reason you haven’t. Not that home was ever as nice.”
“Maybe I should find somewhere in the universe to settle.”
“You think?” Mx. Hiraya leaned in and tapped the table. “How about here, dear?”
Carna’ blinked, bewildered, but Mx. Hiraya carried on as if it was the most casual invitation:
“GARISOL and I could always use more—”
“No.” Carna’ paused for a moment before adding with a nod, “And thank you.”
Mx. Hiraya chuckled.
“That was the answer I was expecting.” Xe rolled xeir eyes playfully. “Maybe not as promptly.”
“But I know I can’t keep going on like this with the UCS.”
“How about striking out on your own?”
“You mean as an independent courier? I’ve got no money for my own scooter, and it would take years for me to save up. I don’t think I have the years in me to give to the Universal Courier Service.”
“Ah, I had a feeling,” Mx. Hiraya said, then told her — seeming quite assured of what xe was saying: “That’s not something you need to worry about anymore.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, just as GARISOL made its way back to the patio, then walked over to their table and gently placed some broken chips onto it.
“Are those —”
Mx. Hiraya nodded, and chuckled.
“Yes, the tracer and a bunch of other “restrictors” placed on UCS space-scooters.” Xe then brushed the instruments of Carna’s torment off the table as causally one would dust. “The last report sent to the UCS was that the parcel had finally been delivered to the Narra Harbor.” Mx. Hiraya winked playfully. “We thought the UCS would prefer that the queue be completed before you hijack one of their scooters. It’s all yours now, of course. No reason for the UCS to send someone here if there’s nothing more to deliver. No way they could find you now, or reason enough to waste the resources to try to recover one scooter out here.”
Carna’ was speechless.
All she could think to do was lunge and hug Mx. Hiraya, then GARISOL, who both managed to hug back in their own way.
“Thank you for this — for all of this.”
“You know,” Mx. Hiraya leaned back in xeir chair, pondering the possibilities. “We would have loved to have you here.”
“I can always come back.” Carna’ took a deep breath. “Maybe someday.”
“Will you?” Hiraya asked, amused — already knowing the answer.
But Carna’ considered it seriously, for just a moment, before gazing up at the endless expanse beyond the clear blue sky.