On Charis Station

by D.G.P. Rector

Mors crouched with his back to the darkness. He was tethered, his boots magnetized to the hull. Secure in the station’s embrace, he felt the slow turn of its central drum beneath him. The protrusion of the sensor disc always created a little patch of dark where the sun’s light couldn’t reach the hull. Mors used that as a sort of landmark during his excursions. It was easy to become disoriented on the surface, even though his home was small by most standards. Perhaps a few hundred people could have lived in it, packed tight.

Mors was alone though.

The first scouts, in their infinite mirth and infinite wisdom, had called the star he orbited “Charis”, and so his home was called Charis Station. The star was young, still burning blue and bright, and it had birthed nothing but clouds of radiation and electromagnetism, and a few million rocks that could barely be called asteroids, let alone planets. Charis was small and Charis was empty, and it would have been easy for the system to be added to the star charts and forgotten about like so many others: just another miraculous ball of burning gas in the infinite, cold darkness.

But Charis was odd in that it was what was called in those days a Slip Nexus, a place where many routes through the Slip came together, and made it easy for starships to return to real space. There was no reason to stay around Charis of course, but for the spacers journeying from one end of the Frontier to another, it was a fortuitous point. It let them get their bearings before diving back into the nothingness of the Slip. And since it was a mid-point between so many places, it was decided to build a station there.

The reactor core was donated by the Parashads, the Kwatma provided finest metal for the station’s hull, and the design was one bought from the exo-architects in the Epilotii Mandate. Barely two hundred meters in diameter, with a central drum and docking ports on each end, it was nothing but a small grey tube floating in space. It had all the basic amenities expected of a station its size: automated refueling, a few Slip Beacons and the like.

The heart of Charis Station though, was its fleet of repair drones. Small and boxy devices, studded with sensors and drooping silver arms like mechanical jellyfish, the drones could run for a thousand years on their own. They would maintain the station itself, but their primary purpose was rescue. If a ship in dire straits came upon Charis Station, then the drones would do their work. They could patch hulls and stabilize fusion cores, seal bulkheads and reroute circuits. In their electronic brains were stored the designs of more than a million types of craft, stretching all the way back to the days of Old Earth.

But the drones were not human, and they lacked the minds of human beings. They could learn and adapt and improvise, but they could not imagine. So it was decided, rather archaically, that Charis Station should have a crew.

The first had been families, in the vain hope the station could become some sort of colony. When they grew weary and left, Charis was manned by professionals. These were drawn from merchant fleets by the Frontier Station Authority, an order far more dedicated to graft than it was to making sure that remote, life-saving space stations were maintained. These crews had dwindled over the years, more people leaving with every long shift. First a crew of twenty, then twelve, then five.

Now, it was just Mors.

He’d taken the job without hesitation more than a decade ago. There had been batteries of psychological tests, and the Station Authority had hammered home over and over again that he would be completely alone, with relief weeks, if not months, away from the moment he sent a beacon.

Mors had simply told them that that was why he wanted the job in the first place.

So, now he sat on the hull of Charis Station, enjoying the quiet and the solitude. He’d finished his day’s work, little as it was, and donned his EVA suit for his weekly spacewalk. Mors would have liked to have spent more time in the void, but alone as he was there were risks he couldn’t completely ignore. Once a week was enough indulgence for him.

The stars stretched out around him. Uncounted trillions of burning lights, incalculably distant, incomprehensibly varied. He thought about the strange green nebulae and the roar of the pulsars, and about bright young stars like Charis and the dying old crimson giants of his homeworld.

He spared a thought, too, for the countless people out there in the void. There were the colonists and travelers, the miners turning untouched rocks into metal and water, and the scouts forging routes deeper and deeper into the cosmos. He knew armies clashed on worlds he couldn’t name for reasons he’d never understand, and that pirates killed for a scrap of food and another lungful of air. Mors thought on all his brothers and sisters, his estranged family, fellow children of God.

He thought on this as he sat alone on Charis Station. Just him and Creation.


Mors returned to the central cylinder. It was an old-fashioned way of simulating gravity, but it was cheap and it was reliable. The station could be completely powerless for days before the spin slowed enough for him to notice. He walked around the cylinder, his small, curved world, checking in at different monitors and examining the greenhouse where all his food that wasn’t dried rations grew.

There were still a few remnants from the previous generations of occupants: bits of graffiti, floral patterns etched around comm stations. There was even a little doll some poor child had abandoned when their family left. These things Mors never disturbed. He felt like it would have been disrespectful to the people who had kept the watch before him, whoever they had been.

The next stop was the Auto-Doc. A bed with dozens of mechanical arms and sensors, it was meant to replace an entire wing of physicians. It would tell him nothing he did not already know. Still, Mors was a creature of habit. He strapped himself down and waited as the machine took samples of his blood, monitored his heart rate, and gave him the same suggestion it always did.

Tomorrow, he decided. Tomorrow he would send the beacon. You can’t fight fate forever.

When his final checks for the night were done, he ate his simple meal, then went to his bedroom. It was a luxurious set of quarters compared to how he had lived for much of his life. There was enough room for him to completely stretch out, a personal computer link, holoscreens all around him if he wished it. He even had an old-fashioned desk with a stylus and tablet, for whenever he wanted to jot down his thoughts by hand.

He had a few old holo-recordings, and quite a bit of music to entertain himself, but he seldom indulged in it. This night was no exception. Instead, he knelt by his bed, feeling the subtle vibration of the station in his naked knees.

Mors emptied his mind of thoughts, breathing in and out, feeling everything that was happening within his body. When he was ready, he started his nightly prayer.

Mors’ prayers were always simple ones. He’d been told as a child that the Lord approved of brevity, and he tried to hold to that. He prayed for his family, far scattered across the Frontier, and for peace between the quarreling Nations. Lastly, he gave thanks for the time God had given him, and the smooth running of the station.

Then, he took the Word from around his neck, where it had hung by a woven cord since he was a boy. It was a simple green data-wafer, barely larger than his thumb. He studied it for a moment, regarding the tiny crucifix etched into its surface. What a great boon it was to have such a device. He put it into the station’s computer and set it to recite mode.

Mors could hear his Grandfather’s voice, reading the text as it displayed across the screens in a clear, earnest baritone. The old man had been dead a long time, and language had changed since his day, rendering some of his pronunciations comically archaic. But Mors always listened with a smile on his face as he drifted slowly off to sleep, comforted by the words of God, as had been handed down through his family since the days of Old Earth.


It was halfway through morning, and Mors was busy with his daily chores. There was little to do besides keep the station tidy, but keep it tidy he did. He drifted through the outer corridors, pushing himself along the straight racks of repair drones and checking that each one was resting in its cradle properly.

Someone had tried to give them all individual names on a prior watch, but had clearly given up around the fiftieth or sixtieth. About half the drone cradles had eccentric little titles emblazoned above them. Mors always had to stop and laugh at “Maximo The Destroyer!”, a drone equipped with a heavy welding torch that had obviously impressed one of the little boys of the station’s past. Maximo was, of course, not a Destroyer but a repair device like all the others. He could see how a bored child might conjure up all sorts of fanciful adventures for the machine on an idle night. He was just about to continue pushing himself along the corridor when the warning lights lit.

The Station’s AI spoke to him in its bland monotone. It wasn’t programmed with anything other than a basic personality, so it communicated urgency with the volume of its voice.


Four thousand kliks? In spacer’s terms, whoever was coming in was practically on top of the station. Usually, ships came out of the Slip at a safe distance from every large concentration of mass. Failing to do that could cause horrific accidents. They could be ripped into pieces, or crunched into little balls of metal, or simply appear with half their mass nowhere to be found.

“Lock and scan object!” Mors shouted to the station as he spun around and propelled himself as fast as he could for the central drum.

“AFFIRMATIVE. PROCESSING,” the station replied.

It was in emergency mode, alarms blasting from every speaker at high volume. Charis Station was a quiet place, and Mors hadn’t raised his voice in years. Now the computer was screaming at him.


Mors slid into the central drum, his feet hitting the deck and shifting awkwardly to simulated gravity again. He pounded to the command station and settled himself down in front of one of the consoles. The station was already prepping its drones, it didn’t actually need him for anything, but it was still his duty to be there.

He tapped a series of commands into the console, pulling up images on the screens around him. First he conjured a display of the relative position of the ship and the station. It was hurtling towards them fast. Mors tapped in a command to calculate the incoming ship’s trajectory, and breathed a sigh of relief when he realized it wouldn’t strike the station. The odds had been against it, but it was still a possibility, and even a vessel with a smaller mass like that could have easily destroyed him.

“Station, prep a flight of repair drones. They’ll be within range in thirty seconds,” Mors said, the most he’d spoken aloud in a month. “I’m going to try to get them on short range comms. Huh, that’s odd…”

The ship wasn’t broadcasting a distress signal. That was a bad sign: it had been an emergency transition out of the Slip. The only reason they wouldn’t trigger a distress call immediately was if there was something wrong with their power systems, or the whole crew was already dead.

“Unidentified vessel, this is Charis Station,” Mors said crisply. “We’re prepping repair drones. Can you adjust heading by three? Over.”

There was no response from the ship. It was hurtling through space, close enough now that it was on the station’s visual scanners. He watched it, a small, bright object drawing closer. Then he realized it was flickering in and out, trailing tiny points of light behind it like a comet.

Something had gone catastrophically wrong. The ship was tearing itself apart.

“Vessel, this is Charis Station. Can anyone hear me over there? Hold tight, I’m sending drones out to you, do you have helm control, anything?”

Again, he heard nothing. Mors sent the command to calculate the drone’s launch vector, silently fearing the worst. Their approach wasn’t optimal, but the drones were smart enough to compensate with their own thrusters. He just hoped they wouldn’t be too late.

“Launch drones,” Mors said.

He watched from one of the camera links as a score of the machines fired out of the sides of the station, their tiny ion engines flaring brief gouts of blue light before they hurtled into the darkness. He was glad he didn’t have to directly control any of them. Only a machine had the precision to track an object moving that fast, calculate an intercept course, and adjust itself for a soft impact instead of striking the hull like a missile.

The station spoke up again.



Mors turned to the station’s main screen. It was showing him the scanning data. Sure enough, there were the tell-tale signs of energy weapons being charged. But why?

Then his heart sank. Whoever was on that ship must have mistaken the drone swarm for an attack. Clearly they were in a panic. They had no idea that Mors was trying to rescue them, not kill them.

“Attention ship! This is Charis Station, we are a repair facility, do not fire your weapons, I repeat do not fire! I’m trying to help you!”

There was a burst of green light on one of the view screens. Four of the drone’s signals went dead.

“Evasive action, continue approach!” Mors shouted to the station, and the swarm instantly obeyed, slowing down and following an erratic pattern as they sped towards the vessel.

“Listen, you’ve got to believe me, whoever you are, I’m trying to help you!” Mors shouted into the comms.

All he could do was watch and wait. He flicked his eyes back and forth between different screens, watching the drone’s approach and every bit of information he could get about this strange ship. Suddenly, there was a spike in energy readings from the vessel. Not a weapon, Mors realized.

“They’re going critical,” he breathed.

Their reactor core, already overtaxed from severe damage, couldn’t take the strain of firing their weapons. In moments, the ship would explode, killing everyone on board.

The drones and the station already knew his orders, so it was for Mors to do the only thing he could think to do. He dropped to one knee, clasped his hands above his head, and began to pray.

“Lord God, please spare the lives of the people aboard that ship,” Mors whispered. “Give your travelers’ mercy to them, and turn this evil away. Spare their lives, O Lord, I beseech thee. Spare their lives.”

His heart sank again when he heard the computer speak.


He was almost too afraid to look up at the viewing screen, but Mors had a duty and he would not shirk from it. He watched as a bright light flared across the screen. The ship had blown itself apart.

Mors stared at the black screen in mute sorrow. The first real rescue he’d needed to do in ten years, and he had failed. Whoever they were, he had failed them.

There had to be something he could have done, some crucial step he had missed. He would have to take apart the communication system bolt by bolt and make absolutely certain it was functioning properly. If they hadn’t fired their weapons, they would be alive. If he’d been able to tell them he wasn’t a danger, they never would have fired in the first place.

Mors’ mind was racing with thoughts, solutions to a problem that couldn’t be fixed. Then, he saw one of the stars on the view screen move, ever so slightly.

An idiotic grin spread across his face.

“Track object! What is that?” he demanded, leaning over the console.


An escape pod. An escape pod! Mors wanted to shout hallelujahs in thanks for that sign, but he was a spacer first. He gave orders hastily as he donned his own vac suit.

“Drones, adjust path. Intercept that new object. Deploy your manipulators, and bring it to the docking ring. Station, full power to the Auto-Doc.”

His suit in place, Mors darted to the infirmary and grabbed the nearest crash kit. Whoever was on that escape pod would need help.

And Mors was going to give it to them.


He had to wait a good thirty minutes for the pod to arrive. There was still a considerable distance for the vessel to cross, and even with the aid of the drones it wasn’t going to move faster than basic thrust. Caution was important, too. The pod wouldn’t be much use to its occupants if it crashed through the side of the station, or bounced off of it. No, like everything in the void, it involved a series of slow, precise maneuvers, making absolutely certain that nothing could go wrong.

For his part, Mors had checked over the crash kit three times, and made sure the seals on his suit were working properly. There was a chance he’d have to cross if the pod wasn’t able to dock. Most escape craft had a clamp compatible with just about every docking ring someone could come up with, but there was always the chance of a malfunction. Then he would have to drift out to the pod himself, and pray that whoever was inside had a proper suit on too, before he hauled them back to the station.

It was terrifying, really. Mors had never realized that even with years of preparation, so much of this would be out of his hands. When he was still a young spacer, he’d once been caught inside a utility shaft during a ship-wide power failure. Mors had been told by command to sit tight. Stuck in the dark, suddenly aware of how cold everything had become, he had run through the millions of ways he could have died back then.

Then as now, he trusted God’s hands, and he waited.

It seemed like only a moment had passed, and then he felt vibrations pass through the handrail he was holding. He was floating a few feet away from the main port of the docking ring. This one had a pair of bulkhead doors, one smaller to allow human passengers, the other larger for cargo. The lights around the ring flashed green. A good sign.

The pod had made it intact.

“Station, give me broadband comms. Hello? Can anyone hear me in there?” Mors called out. “If you can, trigger the airlock cycle on your side, alright? I’m coming in from my end.”

Mors pushed himself off and drifted towards the airlock. He gracefully caught himself on its frame, and quickly tapped in the commands to start the cycle. He waited a moment for the corridor between the pod and the station to pressurize, and then, keeping his helmet on as a safety precaution, he went into the airlock.

The space was about three meters across. It was tall and wide enough to push supply containers through, but it still had hand and foot rungs for people, too. It was bathed in dim blue light. Mors drifted through it slowly, feeling a sudden apprehension as he saw what was at the other end of the airlock.

The station-side door had been opened, but the escape pod hadn’t. He could see the surface of the pod. It was a dull, rusty red, chipped and blacked by energy fire. No wonder the newcomers had been paranoid. They’d come here from some kind of fight.

Mors pushed himself off again, drifting to the escape pod’s doors. He brushed a hand across its surface, trying to find a control panel. Whoever was inside had probably been knocked senseless, if they weren’t dead.

He noticed there was strange writing on the pod’s surface, in a language he didn’t understand. The letters were more like symbols, the pictographs of Old Earth. They were obviously hand painted. He recognized warning signs for a gravity-less environment, an airless environment, all the standards that would mark an escape pod.

There were other symbols, too, crude ones he did not understand. He saw, in particular, a symbol of what looked like a vac suit helmet, with a skull beneath the visor. Death, obviously. A hazard?

No, Mors realized a moment too late. A promise.

The pod doors shrieked open, a cloud of coolant mist spraying out and fogging his visor. Before Mors could clear it, something struck him and he went hurtling through the air, bouncing off one of the walls before something heavy crashed into him and pinned him to the deck.

Mors blinked as his visor cleared. The muzzle of a gun was pressed to it. Another spacer was crouching over him, pinning him to the ground with one foot. She was tall, her own vac suit decorated with brightly colored patches and jangling charms. The helmet she wore had an opaque black visor, with a crude skull stenciled over it.

“How many of you are there?” she demanded, speaking over the same broadband Mors had used.

There was a slight echo to her words. He heard them first through her helmet, muffled slightly, then a half second delay broadcast them over his own helmet’s receivers.

“Just me,” Mors said. “There’s oxygen, you can take your helmet off.”

“Switch off your security systems right now, or I vent you.”

The barrel of her gun hadn’t moved an inch. Mors didn’t doubt for a moment that she was perfectly willing to kill him. Still, in microgravity it was hard to keep someone pinned in place. He might, if he was bold, be able to knock this woman away and make a break down the corridor. A shot in the back was all he was likely to get for that, though.

“I’m the only security system Charis Station has,” he said. “Think, uh, I think you’ve got me pretty well sorted out.”


A second voice broke in, another woman speaking on the broad comms.

“Tica. We gotta hurry. Cap looks bad.”

Tica inclined her head slightly, a glance over her shoulder. The gun still hadn’t moved. She didn’t speak though.

“Your captain,” Mors said. “Injured?”

“Abdominal puncture,” Tica said. “Something in that kit of yours might help?”

Mors had lost his grip on the crash kit, and it was now resting gently in a corner above them. He glanced up at it, then returned his gaze to Tica.

“Maybe,” he said. “But you know as well as I do that he’s going to be hemorrhaging. I’ve got an Auto-Doc in the Drum. Help me get him there, and there’s a chance he’ll live.”

“You think I can’t run an Auto-Doc?”

“I think without me leading you, you’ll waste a lot of time looking for traps and ambushes.”

“Or you’ll lead us right into one.”

Mors looked into the place on her visor where he thought her eyes would be. He spoke carefully and earnestly.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Mors said. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t.”

Slowly, Tica raised her pistol, then slipped it back into its holster.

“Help the Captain,” she said. “If he goes, you go with him. Understand?”

“Perfectly,” Mors said as he righted himself at last. “Now, if you’ll follow me…”


The Captain’s name was Wode, Mors learned, and his two surviving companions were Tica and Shen. With her helmet reluctantly removed, he found Tica to have a pale, bony face and streaks of silver, like lightning, in her black hair. Shen was the youngest of the three, golden eyed and healthy. The Captain was older than Mors, his beard streaked with white. It was no secret that they were pirates.

Wode now lay in the Auto-Doc, glassy-eyed and empty headed. There had been other injuries besides the shrapnel that had punched his gut, and Mors had no choice but to medically induce a coma under Tica’s watchful eye. He had removed the shrapnel by hand, a dagger-shaped hunk of metal longer than his finger. Now the Auto-Doc would set to work on Wode and his fate would be in another’s hands.

The three of them stood outside the medical bay, watching the operation. Shen’s golden eyes were fixed on the Captain’s limp body, but Tica kept glowering at Mors. Her hand never strayed far from her pistol.

“What are his odds?” she asked after a long silence.

“Internal bleeding isn’t good,” Mors said. “The ’Doc is sophisticated, but it’s not perfect.”

“You think he’ll die?” Shen asked.

Her voice had a slight tremor to it, a fragility that contrasted sharply with her companion.

“It is… it’s likely, but it isn’t certain,” Mors said finally. “He’s fighting very hard right now. I’ll do all I can for him, and so will the ’Doc.”

“Cap’s never lost a fair fight,” Shen said.

“Damn right,” Tica added, patting her on the shoulder.

Mors gave the two young women a moment before he spoke. He had only been with these people an hour or so, but he was already coming to understand them.

“Are either of you hungry?” he asked. “The galley’s this way.”

Shen looked to Tica. Tica nodded.

“I could go for some chow,” Shen said.

Mors led them to the galley. It was big enough to seat perhaps ten people around the central table, though of course Mors had grown accustomed to using it alone. He puttered around for a few minutes, washing and chopping vegetables and heating up dried Gene-Bear meat into a passable stew. Tica and Shen spoke to each other quietly while he worked. He only caught small scraps of their conversation, but he did hear a quiet sob from Shen, and saw Tica rub her shoulder out of the corner of his eye. He pretended to work on the far side of the galley a little longer, and when their conversation had died down, he brought them each a bowl of stew and a plate of greens. It wasn’t much, but it was more than he could usually keep down himself.

He sat down next to Shen. The two women watched him cautiously, not touching their food.

Mors folded his hands and quietly said grace, then scooped up a spoonful of stew. It wasn’t half bad, and he did feel a little conceited pride at the quality of the greens. He never thought he’d be a gardener on Charis Station, but he spent far more time in the green house than he did anywhere else. He made sure to sample each portion of the meal, while Shen and Tica watched.

Then, the two women began eating with gusto. Clearly they hadn’t had a solid meal in a long time, and neither of them showed any hesitation when it came to slurping down broth. He noticed that despite his having laid out forks and spoons, they both also happily ate with their hands when it was convenient.

“Why’d you do that?” Shen asked, pointing at him with her fork. “Whisper before you ate?”

“I was saying grace,” Mors replied.

“That like, a good luck thing?”

“Kind of.” Mors smiled. “More a way of saying thanks.”


Shen chewed her food thoughtfully.

“So,” Tica said as she pushed aside her empty plate, “You’re the only crew here?”

“That’s right.”

“Who owns this place?”

“Technically, the Station Authority maintains it. But it’s basically neutral ground.”

“How often you get ships out here?”

“You’re the first ones in about three months,” Mors said. “Sometimes people pop in at system’s edge, but they usually don’t stay more than a day before they’re back in the Slip. I, uh, don’t get many visitors.”

“You don’t have your own craft? Anything that can go into the Slip?”

Mors shook his head.

“No, just the rescue boat. Couple maintenance pods. Only things on Charis with a Slip drive are the beacons.”

“You send one of those out yet?”

Tica was watching him hard-eyed now. She had a way of speaking that made everything she said sound like an interrogation.

“Not yet,” Mors admitted. “I was planning to. There’s another station near Galhadan that has craft, they could probably pick you up and get you where you need to be in a week or so.”

She smirked.

“Well,” she said. “At least you’re honest. You send that beacon and I’m going to put a round right through your head.”

In a flash she had drawn her pistol again and was pointing it at Mors.

“Teec! What the fuck?” Shen stammered as she rose.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Tica grunted. “You know what’s on Galhadan, right? Bondsmen. You planning to make a little deal? Sell us for a cut of the reward? Don’t try to lie to me, you fucking oxygen-rat.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mors replied levelly. “I haven’t sent any beacon, and I haven’t made any deals—”


“Tica, you need to calm down—”

“For once just let me handle this,” Tica snarled.

Shen backed away, staring at the other woman.

“I’m not letting you kill this man.”

“I’m the oldest, I’m in charge, you got that? Now go check on—on the Captain. Do it. Quick!”

“Teec, this isn’t right,” Shen said quietly.

“Walk away,” Tica said, voice icy calm now. “And let me handle this. That’s an order.”

Shen looked to Tica, then to Mors, eyes full of guilt and fear.

“Do what she says,” Mors said. “It’ll be alright. Your Captain needs you right now.”

Shen nodded subtly, then left the two of them alone. Tica stared Mors down, her weapon in an iron grip.

“Your sister’s a good kid,” Mors said. He saw recognition pass briefly over Tica’s face before it became stony again.

“Been doing this for years,” Tica said. “She still hasn’t learned. Soft heart.”

“That’s a good thing,” Mors replied. “Need more soft hearts in the Frontier.”

“Sure we do. More people to step on, right? Easier if they don’t fight back.”

“Is that what you think I’m doing? Trying to step on you?”

“Cut the crap,” Tica growled. “You know as well as I do what’s going on here. You got some shit job, probably punishment detail for who knows what, and now a pile of money just dropped into your lap.”


“The bounty on us, vac-brain. You play dumb with me one more time and I will end you, understand?”

“I do,” Mors said. “I figured out you were pirates, but I’m telling you the truth when I say I don’t know anything about any bounties. And I don’t intend to collect any, either.”

“Right. You’d never jump at thirty k-creds a head, because you’re living so high and mighty here.”

“I like it here,” Mors said. “Money doesn’t do me much good anymore.”


Tica looked like she was going to say more when there was a buzzing noise from the comm unit on her collar. She spoke briefly into it, then looked back at Mors.

“Captain’s awake,” Tica said. “Come on, we’re going to see him. He’ll know what to do with you.”


Mors had spent a lot of time in the bed where Captain Wode now lay. It was as much a part of his daily ritual as checking the drones or tending the hydroponics. In the last few years, the Auto-Doc hadn’t had anything to say to him that he didn’t already know, but there was a part of him that always felt that little fear that comes from confronting the cold, hard fact of mortality. He wondered if Captain Wode felt the same way. After all, he could see what the ’Doc’s monitors were saying just as well as anyone else.

He looked between the three of them, eyes still glassy. The drug haze would dull his sense of pain, but how clear his mind would be was anyone’s guess.

“You… alright, Shen?” Wode asked.

His voice was brittle, not too much more than a whisper. His brow was damp. Shen took his hand.

“I’m alright, Cap.”

“Teec? Teec, I can’t see ya…”

“Watching the prisoner, Captain,” Tica replied. She still had a gun trained on Mors’ back.

“Come away. Let me look at ya.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Captain.”

“Come away, dammit. Might be… might be my last chance.”

Reluctantly, Tica stepped to the Captain’s side. She shot Mors a deathly glare before crouching down next to the dying man. Then, she took the Captain’s other hand.

“I’m here,” she said quietly.

Wode turned his head towards the sound of her voice. A smile spread across his face.

“Toughest… tougher than diamonds you two are. Hearts of hull steel. P-proud… I’m damn proud.”

Shen was gripping the Captain’s hand tight, tears silently streaking down her face. When Tica spoke, her voice was flat and controlled.

“Captain, we’ve got a prisoner. This man says he runs the station. He’s its only crew, rest is automated. No money, no ship with a Slip drive. What should we do with him?”

Wode seemed to see Mors for the first time. He blinked a few times, scanning Mors up and down. Then he swallowed.

“He try to hurt either of you?” Wode asked.

“No,” Tica said.

“Let me talk to him a minute in private. You wait outside, girls.”

“Captain, I don’t think that’s—”

Wode squeezed Tica’s hand.

“Nothing he can do to me that hasn’t already been done,” he said.

Tica opened her mouth, but she could find no words. Shen let go of the Captain, and took Tica’s arm.

“Come on, Teec,” she said. “Captain’s orders.”


“Trust me,” she said. “Like you trust him.”

Tica gave Mors one last deadly glare, then she and her sister left. There was a moment where the only sound in the room was the hum of the Auto-Doc and Captain Wode’s labored breathing. He and Mors studied each other, neither as enemies, nor as friends. Mors was the first to speak.

“Your daughters are very resilient,” he said. “You’ve got a right to be proud of them.”

The Captain gave a dry chuckle.

“Only thing I ever did right in my life,” he said. “Wish their mommas were still around. Long gone, with everyone else. I’m… I’m Captain Wode, of the Lochaber.

“Mors. I watch Charis Station.”

“Yeah… girls said you do that alone. How long you been out here?”

“Ten years. Or so.”

Captain Wode slowly shook his head in disbelief.

“That’s no way for a man to live,” he said.

“You’re not the first person to tell me that,” Mors replied.

“Why ya do it? You running from something?”

“Yes,” Mors said.

The Captain chuckled again.

“Well, I know what that’s like. Had a death mark since around the time little Shen was born. Sometimes… ah, sometimes I wonder how I wound up here. You make a hard call once, then it gets easier and easier to do things you shouldn’t be proud of. Not much left to it now, though.”

“The Auto-Doc can keep you alive for two weeks, if we’re lucky,” Mors said. “The station has beacons. I can call for a medical ship, and it might arrive in time to save you.”

“No. No, it’s already too late. Suppose I should clue you in. Ain’t decent putting a man in danger for no reason, especially after you’ve done me a good turn,” Wode said.

He propped himself up in the bed, an effort that clearly brought him pain. Mors stepped forward to help him, but the Captain waved him off.

“Last run we made on Gruman’s Nebula, we were gunning for a Kwatma fleet. You know, those big fat merchant ships? Turned out the signals we were following, all fakes,” Wode explained. “Bondsman called Sundancer, guess he hired a gunboat full of mercs to help take us in. We fought hard, but the Lochaber took the worst of it. Slipped as far and as fast as we could, but she was done. Our scanners and comms were fried when we came in here, we thought you were a military station. I panicked, overloaded the reactors to get a shot off on you. Thought you were trying to kill us…”

“I’m sorry it happened,” Mors said honestly.

“Heh, don’t be. If I still had my ship, me and the crew would have killed you, gutted the station for parts, and moved on. Done it before.”

Wode had a bitter smile on his face, but it slowly faded away. He cast his eyes downward.

“Guess you’re not so happy about putting me in your Auto-Doc now, are ya?” Wode asked.

“I only wish it could do more, Captain Wode.”

“That’s a load for the fecal recycler!” Wode said with a laugh.

Mors shrugged.

“It’s true,” he said. “There’s still a chance, Captain. I can send a Slip beacon out, maybe get you help in time.”

Wode shook his head again.

“Only bring more trouble down on the girls’ heads. Sundancer… he’s a mad dog. He won’t stop until he’s got us. Just a matter of time. Send that beacon, he’ll catch our scent quick as you like. Might not matter anyway. He might already be coming here.”

“I’m very sorry, Captain.”

Wode reached out for Mors’ hand suddenly, and grasped it tight.

“You listen to me,” he said, staring Mors in the face. “You listen to me. I—I’ll tell Tica, I’ll order her not to kill you, you understand? Shen you don’t gotta worry about, but Teec, she’s always been the hard one. But if I order it, she won’t harm a hair on your head, alright? But for that, you’ve got to swear to me, swear by everything you got that you… you won’t let anything happen to my girls when I’m gone. You promise me that. Please.”

Mors placed his other hand around Wode’s.

“I promise,” Mors said. “Anyone who comes to Charis Station is safe with me.”


It was strange, having other people on the station. The first few days were tense, and truth be told, Mors wasn’t certain whether Wode would keep his promise, or that Tica would actually obey him. But he did not feel a bullet in his back, and the only thing the woman really did was keep a hawkish eye on him when she wasn’t tending to her father.

Shen was much easier to get along with. She was the first to suggest helping Mors with his daily work, and Tica reluctantly agreed. It meant someone who was armed was always with him, after all.

Shen was a quick study, and by the end of the first week she knew how to tend the hydroponics just as well as Mors could on his best day. She was talkative and cheerful much of the time, but there was still a tension in the air. They were all four of them waiting for something none of them wanted to name.

The change in sounds was hardest for Mors to get used to. He had never thought about how much noise other humans make: snoring, coughing, laughing. Talking.

During one of the rare occasions Mors was left unattended, he decided to do some manual repairs on one of the drones. While he was carrying the machine back to its cradle, he caught a snippet of conversation. Shen and Tica were in the galley, speaking to each other in low voices.

“… back to Noxia, maybe,” Tica said. “Hitch on with one of those crews.”

“I don’t want to hitch anymore,” Shen said.

“Gotta work. Can’t eat for free forever,” Tica said between mouthfuls of cabbage.

“Maybe Sannat? I hear it’s nice there these days. Lots of work on rebuilding projects.”

“We aren’t Dirtfoots. Void’s in our blood.”

“Maybe. Doesn’t have to be, though.”

“You really want to walk away? Live planetside?”

Lochaber’s gone, Teec. And pretty soon…”

“Pretty soon there’ll be nothing keeping us here,” Tica said quietly.


“I don’t know,” Tica said. “Not a lot of places to run to when you’re on a planet. We keep flying, then maybe… Maybe they’ll never find us.”

“Run or hide,” Shen said. “Not much different from the rest of our lives.”

“Yeah. Only this time, we’re alone.”

Mors looked down at the drone. It could wait. He set it aside, and headed for the medical bay. He hated himself for it, but there was something he had to do.


“You knew about this?” Tica shouted. “Da, I can’t believe I’m hearing this crap!”

“Shouting ain’t gonna solve anything, Teec,” Captain Wode said.

They were in the medical bay again. This time it was Shen who had a gun pointed at Mors. Unlike her sister, she looked far more reluctant, but she was the one who had uncovered his treachery. The moment she discovered a beacon missing from its launch bay that morning, she had confronted Mors and dragged him in front of the Captain.

“We were trying to figure out the best way to tell you,” Captain Wode said. “But it’s already done.”

“You didn’t think we should get a vote? At all?” Tica snapped. “Da, do you know how dangerous this is?”

“Sundancer was going to find us sooner or later,” Captain Wode said. “This is the only way. Please, you have to trust me.”

“I did trust you,” Tica hissed. “All my life. And this is how you treat me? Now, of all times?”

“It was my idea,” Mors said quietly.

Tica shot him a dark look.

“We should have vented you a long time ago.”

“It’s done,” Wode interjected. “Now, you can either accept it, or—”

Tica thrust a finger at Mors.

“You really trust him over us?” she demanded.

“He helped us, Teec. He’s still helping us. Maybe I didn’t raise you right, but I sure as shit never taught you to spit on someone who―”

“Screw you, Da,” Tica cut in. “Screw both of you.”

“Teec, wait!”

The Captain’s words came too late. His daughter had already stormed out of the room. He looked to Shen, but she only shook her head. Then she left too.

“Well, this is fucked,” the Captain said. “Kind of was hoping I’d get through the end without my kids pissed at me.”

“They’ll forgive you. They just need time to come around.”

“You think so?”

“They will. Because as much as it hurts, you’re doing the right thing,” Mors said, and tried his hardest to believe it was true.


Mors waited at the airlock’s inner door, a shotgun slung under his shoulder. It had come out of the security locker, the one carefully concealed in his quarters. The feel of the sling was familiar, but it brought no comfort. It had been a bad life when last he’d used one.

Sundancer had not kept him waiting. The Bondsman had probably been headed to Charis anyway, for his ship arrived only a few days after the beacon was launched. Their communications had been brief and direct. Now all Mors had to do was play his part, and hope that the plan worked.

The outer door opened, and Mors saw three figures drift into the airlock. One was a mercenary, his suit armored and scarred, heavy pistol on his belt. The other was a Med-Tech, small and slim, carrying a physician’s kit under her shoulder. The last was Sundancer.

He was large, head and shoulders above the other two. Unlike them, he had not bothered with a suit, for it would have done him little good. From his neck downwards he was clad in dark, angular armor. His skin was a semi-translucent grey that clung tight to his skull-like features, bald head circled with metal studs that looked like a perverse crown. The eyes were black sockets, with a pair of tiny burning lights deep within. They looked like lonely stars.

Like all Bondsmen, he was a cyborg. How much of his flesh remained beneath that metal and armor, Mors could not guess at. How much of his soul was left, Mors had a good idea. It made him want to weep.

Sundancer reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out three amber credit chits. He held them against the viewing panel, showing Mors their value. Mors nodded, and pressed the button to finish the airlock cycle, letting Sundancer and his crew onto Charis Station.

Sundancer drifted forward, and caught the handrail next to Mors. He was uncomfortably close when he spoke.

“So,” Sundancer said. “This is the one that brought down Wode and the Lochaber, huh? Some feat for a rescue station.”

“I did what I did,” Mors said. “I want my cut.”

“You’ll get it. Once we’ve got Wode. You gonna take us to him or we gonna fool around?”

“Alright,” Mors said. “Let’s get this done, so you can get off my station.”

“Lead the way.”

Mors took Sundancer and his comrades to the Drum. The trio scoffed a few times at the decor, and the obvious modesty with which Mors lived his life. He took that as a point of pride. At last, they came to the Med Bay.

Captain Wode was where he had left him. His eyes were closed, and his hands were folded in his lap. He looked like he was sleeping.

The smell of medical chemicals was heavy in the air. The Med-Tech stepped to Wode’s side, and took a sample of his skin, checking it against her datapad.

“It’s him,” she said briskly.

“Huh,” Sundancer said. “Kind of a shame. Thought I’d be the one to finally slot him. How long ago did he die?”

“Two hours,” Mors said. “I tried my best to keep him alive.”

“Yeah, reward money’s more that way. Nobody else got out of the Lochaber?”

“No,” Mors said. “He was alone in his escape pod.”

“Hmm. Alright, take what we need. An eye, a hand, and the heart should be enough proof.”

Mors and Sundancer stepped out of the room while the Med-Tech set to her grim work. Mors had tried to think of a way to keep them from desecrating Captain Wode’s body, but there was no way around it. Bounty Killers just had to have their proof.

“How much you make on this?” Sundancer asked, glancing around at the station.

“Five hundred credit stipend a year,” Mors replied.

“Ha! To run this place by yourself? Well, I’ll bet you’ll be retiring with your payout on this one, huh?”


“You’re a real pro,” Sundancer said, black eyes fixing on Mors. “I can respect that. Kind of odd for a Believer, though.”

Sundancer’s hand moved faster than Mors could react. He caught hold of the data-wafer Mors wore about his neck, yanked it off, and held it up in the light between them. His metallic thumb brushed across its surface, and the miniature crucifix relief.

Sundancer smirked at the look on Mors’ face.

“What? You thought a Bondsman wouldn’t know anything about Old Earth religion?” he asked. “Or are you just shocked it doesn’t burn my hand?”

Mors swallowed, holding Sundancer’s gaze.

“Little of both,” he said.

Sundancer dropped the wafer to the ground, and let out a loud, cruel cackle. He slapped Mors on the shoulder, much too hard.

“You aren’t half bad, Mors. You aren’t half bad.”

The Med-Tech and the other mercenary emerged. Her gloves were drenched crimson. She held up the medical case, and Sundancer nodded to her.

“Alright. We’re done here.”

“Wait just a minute,” Mors said, catching Sundancer’s arm. “My cut. Now.”

Sundancer looked down at him and laughed again. He took out the amber credit chits, and pressed them into Mors’ hand. He started to walk away, but then stopped and turned.

“You know, I heard that Captain Wode had two kids. Bounty’s still up on his girls. You sure nobody else made it off the Lochaber?”

“No one,” Mors said.

“You positive?”

“Wode couldn’t stop talking about how he’d failed those girls. They’re gone.”

“Huh. Alright. Just don’t spend all that money in one place,” Sundancer said. “See you around, Mors.”

“Godspeed,” Mors said, as he watched the Bondsman walk away.

Then he knelt, and picked up the Word. He tied the cord about his neck again, and breathed a sigh of relief.


Mors cleaned the Captain’s body as best he could, and bound it up before he went to find Shen and Tica. He had hidden them in the utility shafts, far from where any scanners would find them, and when he brought them back up, he let them grieve their father for as long as they needed. That night, he prepared the best meal for them that he could.

“We should have fought,” Tica said. “We could have held them off.”

“Maybe,” Shen said. “Wouldn’t have done Da any good, though.”

“Better than… better than what happened.”

Mors had finished quietly saying grace. Neither of the women were eating. They both stared at the floor.

“There’s a very old story,” he said. “A man on Old Earth realized that the only way he could save the people he loved was if he died. He knew his death would be slow and ugly. I think the worst part though, was that he knew what everyone that cared about him would feel when he was gone. In the end, he still did what he had to do. He gave himself up, so they could go on.”

“That’s that story you listen to at night,” Shen said. “The one on the old recording.”

“It is,” Mors replied. “I don’t have much time left myself. I came to Charis Station because I didn’t want to be part of people’s tangled lives anymore. I wanted to spend my last years focused on the world of the spirit. But I’ve done my best to help the people I came across. I don’t know if I helped you. But I tried to help your father. If I could have taken his place, I would have.”

“I know,” Shen said.

Tica looked at him and nodded. Then the three of them quietly ate their supper together.


Mors sent another beacon and made a deal with a merchant ship. He had the sisters smuggled aboard three months later. He was sad to see them go, but he knew they didn’t belong on Charis Station. Not yet, anyway.

He sent another beacon to the Station Authority, informing them that he’d be needing a replacement soon. The Auto-Doc hadn’t given him much longer to live, but he felt no fear.

After he said his prayers that night and lay in bed, listening to his grandfather’s voice, he felt a sense of calm and peace for the first time in a long, long while. He remembered seeing the sisters off, how Tica had stopped at the last moment and drifted back to him through the airlock.

She had leaned in close to him, and whispered three words.

“You are forgiven.”

Mors thought that he would be happy if those were the last words he ever heard.

Then he drifted off to sleep.

D.G.P. Rector is a Pacific Northwest based author of SF and Fantasy. He has a background in theatre and also works as a dramaturge for playwrights in Seattle and across the US. “On Charis Station” is his debut story with Mysterion. He has previously been published in Analog and Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Habitats anthology. You can find more of his work at www.rectorwriter.com, on Facebook @DGPRectorAuthor, and on Twitter @DgpRector.

“On Charis Station” by D.G.P. Rector. Copyright © 2022 by D.G.P. Rector.

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