Hannigan was a corporation town, a small settlement on a moon nobody really cared about, other than the Iladium deposits it contained. A mining operation and a town to go with it. And, as could be expected, a bar in the center of town called the Iladium. It wasn't creative, but it was a name.
Sylia had been the product of two scientists, but her corporation aptitude tests had given her a different goal in life. She would not be a scientist like her parents. She would be a bartender. Specifically, the aptitude test had shown she was best suited for the service sector, and the bar was one of the few service-oriented establishments on Hannigan. Her parents had told her it was what the corporation wanted -- nay, needed -- and that it was in her best interest -- and theirs -- that she comply.
She had convinced herself that it was better this way, that she asked too many questions to be a scientist anyway, that she would cause conflict or somehow influence the scientific process in a negative way.
She would be a bartender and that would be okay. Once you're in the corporate system, you're in it for as long as you haven't bought your freedom, and as her parents calmly explained to her, once the first contract is signed, the others simply follow.
And that first contract -- though not hers but her parents' -- had been signed. Any child that her parents chose to acknowledge would be part of the corporate structure as their parents were. They were in service of the corporation from birth.
"Hey, Sylia," one of the regulars said as he sat down. He was a miner, just working off his time like she was, and they had had conversations before. They didn't go particularly deep, since neither of them were really all that happy about what life had brought them, but that in itself gave something to bond over.
She poured him his regular drink and put it in front of him.
"Thanks, Sylia," he said as he bowed his head forward and took a sip.
Then the door opened and someone unknown walked in. They were wearing non-corporate clothing, and lacked the distinct "I don't care about anything" glare that most corporate workers all seemed to have.
"One ale, please," the stranger said as he walked towards the bar.
"S-Sure," Sylia said, turning to grab a bottle of ale and a glass to pour it in.
Hannigan didn't get many non-corporates, and it made her uncomfortable. With corporate workers, you knew who you were dealing with, they were like her, part of a system that was known. Sure, the system felt broken to her, but at least it added a certain predictability to everyday life.
Whether that was a good thing or not, she was constantly unsure of.
"Where are you from, stranger?" she managed to ask eventually, playing the bartender game.
The stranger had sat down at the bar by now, and he had taken his grimy, dust-covered hat off. She could see that the stranger definitely didn't look like anyone else on Hannigan.
"I'm from about," the stranger said with a grin. "And you?"
"I'm from here, Hannigan, producer of the finest Iladium ore in human space."
"And what's your name?" he said, looking sideways at the news on the screen.
"Uhm, Sylia," she said uncomfortably.
"Nice to meet you, Sylia. My name's Jory. Jory McNamara."
"Hi," she said, again uncomfortably. "And what brings you to Hannigan?"
"Business. I'm looking for a man called Buresh," he said, turning to look her straight in the eyes.
She knew Buresh. He ran the local branch of the Church of the Luresites. He was a strange man, but some found solace in their teachings. The Luresites were staunch believers that it was humanity's right to colonize and own every single habitable place in the known universe. If they could reach it, they could -- and should -- own it.
"And what business do you have with Buresh?" she asked warily.
"I just want to talk to him about something," the stranger said, downing his drink. He gestured for another.
"Well, Mr. McNamara," she said as she poured him another one, "you can find the church outside of Hannigan's walls."
"Thank you, Sylia. You seem like a smart girl," he said, looking at her intently.
"Uhm, thank you?"
"Actually, can I ask you a personal question?"
She was taken aback, and recoiled a little. Sure, patrons often wanted to talk personal, but she had no experience dealing with strangers like this guy. What was she expected to do? Corporate guidelines weren't terribly specific about them, or at least she couldn't remember them being so.
"Uh, sure, I guess? What about?"
"What did you want to be when you grew up, Sylia?"
She went quiet again. The stranger downed his drink and returned his gaze to her.
"I... I wanted to go into science like my parents," she eventually said, deciding that if she didn't know how to deal with this, she may as well default to honesty.
"And yet here you are, pouring drinks to people like me, wanderers, workers, those who themselves have very little to offer the world but their hard work. Not intelligent work like being a scientist."
"I... I guess?" she said awkwardly.
"Now, any specific field of science? What did you parents study?"
"My... My mom studied geology, and my dad was an astrophysicist."
"Well, I'm a bartender," she said, smiling a take smile of confidence.
"But what would you have become?"
"I... I don't know. I took the aptitude test and this is where it took me," she said.
She coughed a little. This stranger knew nothing. Or pretended very effectively.
"Aptitude test. Hannigan is owned by Crosslink Incorporated. They specialize in mining and refining the ores. My mother works for them. All children are supposed to take an aptitude test to see where their skills are needed most."
"And this is where it sent you?"
The stranger got up, and straightened his dusty coat.
"Sylia? You're better than this. You're too smart to waste your time here."
She was, again, taken aback. She didn't know how to respond. Some of the other patrons, including the miner, were looking at the stranger with distrust.
The stranger put credits on the bar, nodded, and walked towards the exit.
"My ship's outside the town walls. If you decide that, perhaps, life has more to offer, find me. I could use someone who thinks like a scientist."
She nodded, but by that time McNamara had already left the Iladium.
"Sylia, one more, please," the miner said, holding up his glass.
Sylia didn't respond. She was too busy thinking. She knew she was more than a bartender, but Crosslink had been very adamant. She could choose to go with this stranger, whom she didn't know, and take a risk. But Crosslink would not be thankful. They would dock her 'potential revenue' and that debt would be hers to deal with -- or not, if she never returned to a Crosslink-owned colony -- and it made her consider her options very carefully.
"Sylia? Drink?" the miner repeated after a few minutes of silence.
"Sorry," Sylia said, putting down her towel. "I need to go."
She walked from behind the bar, paused for a second, took a deep breath, and then walked out the door.
Time for a new aptitude test.