Jhel Phen climbed out of the instrumentation and service module barely able to keep the nausea from the space adaption syndrome out of his expression. He knew once they were docked he’d be able to move into a standard gravity environment, but the orbital craft didn’t provide the luxury of that spatial orientation. So until they arrived his otolith organs would continue to feel like they were floating in water and his stomach would translate this as a desire to give up its contents.
And he needed to keep control. He could tell that Lee was living in a state of near panic since their sensory encounter with Hans Persson. The technician was handling it with a near complete ejection of his emotions, but Jhel was aware of how close that could put one to an all-out panic attack. He had seen it cripple his father, once a premier researcher, a man who could have requested experimental trips to places like Nemea, GT’s low-earth orbit hub, without any anxiety that it would be rejected.
Jhel struggled to keep the image of his father’s oblong face from his mind, his nausea further elongating and twisting the simulacrum as if it were water swirling down a bathroom drain. The pressure to continually produce under a lifetime contract at GT had broken the old man and he had looked to his son to take over the reins. Jhel, though, had never developed his father’s genius, at least not in any way that his father had hoped.
Out of sight from Lee, Jhel gripped the struts of a bulkhead for support, his feet floating out behind him. He remembered his father’s last days, increasing time in the lab becoming complete absences, Jhel unable to reach him at any time from the dormitory at Columbia. Jhel presumed he died there. Perhaps from some ethnically agnostic version of karoshi. Or perhaps an administrator had decided he wasn’t worth the monumental salary he was being paid so arranged for his assassination.
So Lee’s reaction to proximity contact to Hans Persson was perfectly understandable. The force that was Persson, the founder of GT, could wipe out entire conglomerates if he wished to do so. Jhel had felt that panic and nearly given into it himself. Then he had steeled himself with the very same knowledge. If Persson could wipe out entire zaibatsu then he and Lee could pose no real trouble.
Yet he had shown up to deliver his threats in person. Or as close as his condition would allow. Jhel bet he and Persson shared a genius that the senior Phen had never possessed and might have saved his life: A genius for spotting talent. Rather than simply eliminating the pair Persson was setting them to a difficult task to see if they’d rise to the occasion.
Jhel gazed out the small quartz window next to the bulkhead. The orbital station he and Lee were floating towards had been built around a central module that had been launched from a sub-Saharan spaceport nearly 13 years ago. Since then the deadly miscreants that crewed the station had salvaged abandoned satellites and space-stations from the floating junkyard around Earth to grow the criminal haven. The station appeared to be held together with little more than tendrils, platforms, and compliant towers. While much less aesthetic than a place like Nemea it would be a safe haven while the pair searched for Kansas.
Jhel thought about the station’s owners and what he’d owe to them after this. If he and Lee succeeded, he reasoned, that wouldn’t matter. Ambition over fear, Jhel thought, is what will win the day.