The rain against her window slowly woke Jude from her dream. She surfaced reluctantly from her passionate clinch with Dirk Middleston and threw back the covers.
Another day, another step on the road to failure. It was hard being the talentless one in the family.
Judith Marie had been born 24 years ago. Her parents were Tomeo Sadako and Dory Anderson-Sadako. They had been on tour with their new compositions and a pregnant Dory had convinced herself that she had at least another month before she’d have to put down her drumsticks but with what was to become the first of many inconveniences, baby Jude had decided to make her entry into the world.
It had been a marriage of unlikelihoods – the sober, studious Japanese composer hiding behind his biwa and the wild child Scottish drummer – but somehow they had made it work and their blend of traditional Gigaku strings and crashing percussion saw them travel the world and off-planet.
Little Jude became part of that world – home-schooled in as much as anyone can be without a place to call home, moving from one city to another, her life in a suitcase. The Sadakos loved their little girl but they loved their music more. Jude wanted for nothing and knew no life other than rehearsal rooms and recording studios.
They had tried – lessons in flute, piano, guitar. Singing teachers, dance classes. Even a brief flirtation with J-pop and an album of enka ballads. Jude just wasn’t cut out to be the prodigious product of their union that they had hoped for.
So she found herself here, in a clean but cramped Tokyo apartment block on a dull and wet morning, looking for some purpose in life. Her parents paid her rent and gave her a small allowance and she was grateful for that. They had also told her that anytime she wanted to come back on the road, which would be fine, maybe some PR work or bookings. Jude knew how easy it would be, so of course it was out of the question.
So, today meant job-hunting. In a city of almost nine million people, there was always work for those who wanted it. Waitressing, bar work, admin. But nothing that fired her up. Nothing extraordinary.
Her phone pinged.
“Hey Jude,” – that joke had got old fast. It was Coop. “Word is that there’s some cleaning jobs going out near Sandai University. Interested?” Jude scribbled down the details.
The Yamabiko train took her from town to Sendai, where she changed for one to Funaoka station, where she jumped a cab out towards the university. The address that Coop had given her was the Kakuda Propulsion Centre – the propulsion of what she had no idea. From the outside it looked like any other ramshackle of collegiate buildings, except for the tall tower ahead of her.
“Jude Sadako to see Colette Chouinard.” The security guard directed her to a lift.
The sign above reception stated “Cosmic Cleaners” and the smiling young man there directed Jude to a seat. A few minutes later, he called to her. “You can go in now.”
Colette Chouinard looked up from reading a file. “Ah, Ms. Sadako. An interesting resume. You come highly recommended.”
Highly recommended? What in hell had Coop told this woman? “I’ve had some cleaning experience, yes. Whatever you need, I’m sure I can turn my hand to.”
The woman smiled weakly. “What exactly did Doctor Cooper tell you? About the kind of work we do here?”
Jude stifled a giggle. DOCTOR Cooper – that was new one. Composing herself quickly, she replied.
“He told it me it was specialised but he didn’t go into many details. He mentioned it wasn’t the run-of-the mill assignment. That I’d maybe be working off-world?” The slippery sod hadn’t told her much, in point of fact.
Chouinard sniffed. “Yes. The mainstay of our business is in space, hence the name. Much of what we do involves the maintenance, upkeep and repair of satellites, space stations, geosynchronous habitats, interstellar craft and moon bases. We also recycle and salvage. The nature of our business requires that our staff move around a lot. Is that acceptable to you?”
“Not a problem. Where do I sign up?”
“It’s not as easy as that, Ms. Sadako. “ It never was. “There have to be checks. Your health and fitness, including your psychological well-being. Your suitability for working in low-grav environments. Then there will be training. Moving and handling, health and safety, working with specialised chemical and materials. This isn’t sanitising telephones, you know.”
Bitch, though Jude. “Yes, I gathered that.”
“Here.” Jude was handed a slip of paper. “If you are still interested, report back here tomorrow for assessment and orientation.”
Jude hailed a cab that took her back to the station. On the way she called Coop.
“Dude, what the Fak?”
“And hello to you too, Miss Ray-Of Sunshine.”
“Seriously. What have you got me into? And since when were you a Doctor?”
“It got you in. So, are you going to take it?”
“I don’t know. Sounds kind of lame.”
“Yes, but it’s a living. And a good one from what I hear. You can thank me later.”
I’m sure I will, Jude mused.
Next morning, Jude took a bus (taxis don’t come cheap, even on the stipend from her folks) and two trains back out to Kakuda. She’d managed to do a bit of research about the former home of JAXA, the Japanese space programme. This was where a lot of the groundwork on rocket technology and re-useable systems had taken place, so it made sense for a company who, she had also found out, serviced and repaired orbiting satellites to be based there.
Instead of heading toward the tower block, Jude made her way to one of the single-storey blocks. Inside, she was met by another smiling receptionist.
“I have a meeting with…” she rechecked the slip she had been given,”… Dug Howe.”
Directed to a waiting area, Jude sat down. She had expected there to be a few other people here for the first day of training but so far only one other person had turned up. A rather sullen looking guy, sitting uncomfortably, head down. He didn’t look excited at the prospect of assessment and testing. Maybe he was here on a government work programme?
The chirpy receptionist piped up.
“Miss Sadako and Miss Hennessey, Chief Howe is ready for you now. Please head to room 4.”
The guy – surely not “Miss” – muttered “baka yarou” as he got up. Jude followed him through the door.
Chief Howe was waiting for them inside.
“Welcome, welcome. Just the two of you today, is it? Not a problem.” He directed them to a desk and two chairs. “Now, we have Judith Sadako, “, he looked towards her. “Jude, “she indicated. “Cool, and…” “Shawn.”, her companion grunted. “Shawn Hennessey. Good, good. Today’s mainly going to be questionnaires I’m afraid and some physical testing. If you’d like to come this way.” They moved in behind him. Howe chatted on.
“Nothing to concern yourselves with. Here at Cee-Cee we like to make sure our people know what they’re getting into. A lot of folks think it’s all going to be glamorous and exciting because we work in space. But really, it’s just cleaning. In space. Oh, we go to the habitat stations and we service some of the top of the line cruisers but for you newbies, I’m afraid you’re in at the bottom. Literally.”
He handed Jude and her fellow trainee a pad and stylus each.
“Just a few details, particulars, some questions then we’ll get you off for your physical exam.”
Jude and Hennessey sat down. Her companion busied himself with filling in the blanks, head down and silent. Jude stared at the pad. Name, address, all the usual stuff. Previous experience. Oh heck. She did her best, embellishing and evading as needed. It was cleaning, not rocket science, after all.
Howe came back over, took their completed pads from them and indicated that they should follow him. He took them into a standard looking medical room. Hennessey flinched.
“Nothing to worry about. Just a few measurements, more for your suit than anything else. Height weight, bloods, a bit of medical history. See if we need to do any preparatory work.
“What do you mean by that?” Jude asked. It sounded ominous.
“Oh, nothing drastic. As you can be on long rotations, of a few weeks, sometimes months, we like to make sure that you are in tip-top shape. Make sure there are no surprises, like a wisdom tooth waiting to erupt and that your blood pressure and cardio-pulmonary gubbins are fine. Sometimes, we suggest having your appendix out, especially if you are heading out to Mars base or beyond.”
Howe indicated two medibeds, side by side. “Just get out of your shoes and jackets, hop up on there and we can scan you.”
Jude and Hennessey did as directed, although she noticed that her fellow trainee was obviously out of his comfort zone. She whispered to him.
“I hate medicals too.” He made a “humph” nose back at her.
As they lay back on the couches and the diagnostic machines did their work, Jude wondered what she had got herself into.
A couple of med technicians hovered round, taking blood and other samples. One brushed against Hennessey.
“Watch it, ama, “he growled at the startled tech, who scurried away.
Nice, thought Jude. Just her luck to get stuck with a grumpy one.
Chief Howe swooped in again. “All done. Here, “and he handed them each a duffel-type bag as they got up from the beds. “Your training kit and light reading. See you back here at nine and we can get started. I have a good feeling about you two.”
I don’t, Jude said to herself. She pulled on her boots and coat and headed back out into the reception area. She turned to Hennessey to ask him if he was heading back to T-City and if he wanted to share a cab, but he was already gone.