A small crowd observed the Venusian craft’s arrival. They cheered as the freighter’s wheels hit the runway, happy for the safe return of the interplanetary craft affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bling Ship’.
For Barney, the descent through Earth’s atmosphere and into the Berlin Interplanetary Industry Depot was uneventful. He had observed the lands surrounding the Depot, and felt disgusted by what he saw. The former Berlin Tegel Airport had been closed as the city’s main international airport in the early 21st century, with the construction of the Brandenburg Airport across town. The then-fledgling interplanetary precious metals and stones industry had invested heavily in the area, with the promise of future prosperity unable to be ignored by the financially struggling European Union. The Reinickendorf borough, and predominantly the Tegel locality, had transformed, covered by vast warehouses owned by the now-interplanetary mining companies from the inland to the banks of Lake Tegel.
The ‘Bling Ship’ docked at the Depot’s Hexagon One, the area dedicated to the returning materials from Venus. As Barney collected his personal effects from his quarters, he looked out the window. A multitude of vehicles surrounded the returning freighter, many of them covered in the insignia of prominent mining companies. Seeing the embodiment of capitalism writ large made him long for home even more.
He stepped out of his quarters, and began his movement to the front of the ship. The halls were filled with people carrying either duffel bags across their shoulders, or wheeling travel suitcases behind them. Everyone had a smile on their face, looking as happy to be back on Earth as Barney was. Many of the people around him were speaking German, making Barney feel a little jealous for how little time is was going to take for their returning home to friends and family.
Reaching the front of the ship, all the Venusian mine staff were swiping their cards before disembarking. As he reached the swipe screen, he utilised its passenger tracking system. He typed in the surname Stirling, and was advised that Léana remained in the vessel’s Quarantine Area. Seeing this, he stepped out of line, moved the nearby Phone Station and dialled to the Medical Area.
“Hello, Medical Area.”
“Hi, this is Barney Puyngu. I was checking after Léana Stirling.”
The voice took on a measure of sadness. “Oh yes. Unfortunately, she will be remaining in Quarantine for the foreseeable future.”
Barney tightly closed his eyes. “Is she stable, at the very least?”
“Thankfully. All her vital signs are stable. She remains unconscious, and unresponsive to any stimuli.”
“So she hasn’t woken up at all?”
“Every now and then, she wakes up for an average duration of ten seconds. Her eyes open, and her eyes are pure black. No iris, no pupil, no whites, just a deep black. She says ‘Take me home’, and then falls back into her unconscious state.”
“Will I be able to check in on her?”
“Not at the moment. Feel free to call your employer’s Human Resources division, who will be kept up-to-date on any change in her situation.”
“I certainly will. Thank you.”
He tapped the phone against his forehead as he leaned against the wall. Sighing, he placed the phone back on the hook and returned to the line of disembarking travellers. His mind focused on Léana , he was not paying attention to those around him. He felt a light punch to his right shoulder, and he turned to see Juan and Carolina smiling at him.
Juan spoke first. “Where are you headed, Barney?”
Barney held up a foam sample container. “Claudio’s sending me to see a family member in Geneva. He needs a second opinion on some material we gathered on our exploration at Mertseger Mons.” He looked to Carolina. “Where are you headed to, Argie?”
Carolina smiled, with a wistful look in her eye. “Argentina and Spain have got a four-game series of international friendlies. The first is at Estadio La Rosaleda in Málaga, Spain. We’re heading there first, and then Juan will spend a couple of weeks showing me the best parts of the Costa del Sol. From there, we follow the football teams to Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.”
Barney nodded appreciatively. “That sounds like a good way to spend a northern summer.” He looked to Juan, and gave him a knowing wink. “You behave yourself, Helldog. If I get good news from Cheesy’s relative, I want you two on the team to start collecting the goods.”
Juan nodded, with a mischievous gleam in his eye and a cheeky grin. “Have no fear, fearless leader. We will back, fully tanned, fully rested and raring to go.”
The trio reached the swipe screen, and promptly disembarked. They made their way through the terminal, making a brief stop at Customs to declare any contraband. Only Barney’s sample container drew notice, but Claudio’s sign-off was satisfactory. As they reached the terminal proper, they saw Woody and Kumar making their way to the exit doors and the awaiting cab ranks.
Barney broke into a jog, looking over his shoulder at Juan and Carolina. “Quick you two! We can split a cab to Brandenburg if we catch up to them.”
The couple rolled their eyes before beginning their own brisk runs.
– X –