Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

Kema Port. Hot, dry and dusty in general; the uncomfortable atmosphere an unavoidable side-effect of the equatorial location of the port. A walled city, surrounded on all sides by sand and rock, Kema is unforgiving. However, Kema the city is inextricably linked with Kema the spaceport, and by extension with the transfer station in orbit above. And so, linked into the rest of the continent by a maglev grid, Kema throngs with traders and pilots and mercenaries.

Inorian was feeling conspicuous in his standard-issue jumpsuit with his standard-issue tote bag, and slightly uncomfortable in what he perceived to be a standard-issue body. The beguilingly attractive tech that had woken him up and explained that it was baseline human, little different to the one he’d left on the near-earth habitat when he’s signed up for the colonies. It had dozens of little fixes, of course, and was in better shape than the one he’d left behind, but it was him. They’d even made sure that they’d got his face right. The pamphlet in his bag had told him of all the different adaptations his new body could take, and that feelings of dismorphia were normal, and would pass in a few hours.

Feeling very much like a cookie-cutter person falling off the end of a production line, he walked out of the arrivals terminal.

And into Kema’s biggest marketplace. For the first few minutes, he just stood there, letting the crowd flow around him. Every so often, he saw a flash of another standard-issue jumpsuit, but the majority of the throng were dressed in styles totally alien to him. There were rows of stalls everywhere, nothing more than wooden tables covered with racks of food, clothes and electronics. Most had awnings, but some didn’t, and you could barely move between them for the press of bodies or hear yourself think for the shouts of the sellers or the offers of the traders. It was intoxicating.

Slowly, the crowd began to resolve into individuals, rather than just an overwhelming mass of bodies. Inorian began to notice types and subtle repeating variations amongst the people: the adaptations that the pamphlet had listed for him. Photosynths wearing next to nothing, relaxing on rooftops, doing their ‘chlorophyll thing’. Diminutive, pale anaerobes dodged through the crowd, signing to one another and to the stallowners.

Shining metalotolerants practically screamed for attention;the most obvious ones looked like they’d been electroplated in silver and gold. Ino saw one or two caked in rust and grease, looking like walking industrial accidents. Uplinkers walked beside robotic ‘pets’, tethered to them by an interface cable. They directed the movements of heavy lifters and loaders, lending the machines a grace and subtlety that Ino had never thought a machine could be capable of.

“What’s your name, new fish?” A girl with a gleaming arm and a shock of black hair had peeled off from the flow and was grinning at Inorian.

“I’m Ino. And fish?”

“I’m Scout. Pleased to meet’cha.” She looked him over. “Fish means newbie. Colonist. Fresh out the vat. I’ve got a couple of hours to kill: d’you know your way around yet?”

“Nope. I was-“

“Awesome!” Scout reached out and grabbed Ino’s hand with her metallic one. For some reason, he was surprised at the warmth of her touch. “First things first, let’s get out of this crowd.”

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