The signal to return to the station manifested as a sharp pain in Salvia's upper arm. She flinched and a soft eddy hit her in the back, propelling her forward. It had been several Earth-months since she'd last received a signal and she was surprised to get it.
Hadn't they forgotten her yet?
Duty warred with rebellion before finally winning. Taking a deep breath, Salvia swam to the station, knowing it would take her the best part of a day to reach it. She wasn't worried about feeling another painful jab. The tracking device located somewhere on her body should have relayed her position and direction of travel. And she was doing what they wanted, after all.
Her route would take her past the Bayless Plume, which was good. She needed to remind herself that she had achieved great things in the past year and a half. Things that nobody else from the station could have achieved. Things that had increased the profits and prestige of the company she worked for. She kept those thoughts in mind as she swam, effortlessly cutting through the dark water that was her home.
The station shone like a brilliant jewel set into the ice crust. Salvia blinked down her inner eyelid against the glare of light and grimaced. Sometimes she couldn't believe she was related to the station's inhabitants. They had no inner membrane to block the bright stabs of illumination that constantly surrounded them. How could anybody see anything clearly under such bleaching? It beggared belief.
She swam up the high tube situated off-centre at the bottom of the station. Even though she was used to the dark, the inside of the tube always appeared to her to be menacing and claustrophobic. Flicking her legs, she headed up almost to the top. Curved rectangles of light patterned her body as she swept past windows peering out into the funnel, but nobody was watching her. It would have been rare if there had been.
Doctor Faisbain was waiting for her in the Interaction Room. Salvia would have laughed at the title if she didn't already know there were cameras everywhere, watching each move she made. Interaction Room? More like Getting Orders Room. Out in the ocean, she was free. Here in the station, she felt pinned down and shackled.
As if responding to her thoughts, a clear panel below her feet slid shut, trapping her in a cylinder of water. Salvia watched her exit from the station narrow and disappear before looking up again.
"Hello, Dr Faisbain," she sub-vocalised.
She wasn't sure how it worked, but that little bit of sound seemed to be enough to communicate with the humans on the other side of the thick transparent panel.
The doctor was an older woman with grey streaks in her hair. Whenever she smiled, the wrinkles on her face grew deeper. She had always been nice to Salvia but Salvia knew the woman was constrained by the company. If Dr Faisbain was ordered to imprison Salvia indefinitely within the station, there was no doubt she would do it.
"You're looking well," the doctor continued. "It's been a while, hasn't it? Five months, I believe."
Salvia flicked her feet, a movement that sent her bobbing further up in the water. Moving her arms slightly, she approached the window, lowering herself again so she was eye-level with the xeno-marine biologist.
You're looking older, she thought. More tired. Has the company been bullying you while I've been away?
"You're looking well too," was all she said.