The Dana Addendum


“Sarah. Sarah. Sarah!

“What is it?”

Sarah turned to face her sister. Dana’s freckled head peeked out from behind a wheeled tool cabinet by the edge of the landing pad, her hair forming a slowly descending cloud in the low gravity. Behind her, the slowly rotating drum of the station’s docking bay curved upwards, at first only as a slight incline, but soon it rose like a wall, dotted with landing pads and buildings, until it finally became a distant roof more than half a kilometre above their heads. Sarah looked towards the rectangular slot in the far wall, waiting.

“Do you want to play hide and seek?” Dana’s voice was bright and exited.

“Sure, but we have to wait.”

“Wait?” Dana frowned. “Wait for what?”

Sarah nodded towards the slot a couple of hundred metres away in the thin haze of the drum, “We have to wait for that.”

Dana followed her older sister’s gaze. A small freighter was slowly making its way through the four ionised forcefields of the slot and headed for their landing pad. The two girls scurried along the edge of the pad to a group of cargo canisters where they hid. Like oversized mice they huddled, invisible to the pilot.

“My little critters,” their father always called them. He was working as deputy dockmaster to Jeroen Pieters, the dockmaster of their station.

They were not allowed to be in the drum, let alone close to the landing pads, but they were dock kids, raised in the smells and sounds of spaceships. They had lived all their lives near the docks. The station was their world, the docks their home, and ever so often they snuck out to play. Sarah suspected her father knew, but he never commented on it if he did.

The freighter Taphos came closer, firing manoeuvring thrusters this way and that, until it finally came to rest on the landing pad next to the girls. Its huge shadow blocked the view to the dockmaster’s tower as the engines shut down, leaving only the metallic clicking of the cooling thruster nozzles. Sarah waited a little longer, her sister’s eyes resting upon her.

“OK, now.”

Dana gave a triumphant cheer and began running away between the canisters in a series of long low-g jumps, carefully avoiding the ground crew that had appeared and had begun working on the Taphos.

“You’re it!” she shouted. “You’ll never find me!”

Sarah rolled her eyes.

“Remember, no further than pad 18!” she shouted at her sister’s back, then closed her eyes and began counting.


An hour later, Sarah’s gut was hurting. Dana was gone.

At first she had looked for her sister in all the usual hiding places, feigning bewilderment and muttering the occasional “Where can she be?” but as the minutes turned to quarter-hours and the quarter-hours turned to an hour, a growing lump in her throat made her breathing wheeze.

She had looked everywhere. Everywhere. Only as the Taphos, now fully laden, had taken off and headed for the slot had she paused, before she continued her search, more random and frantic as the minutes ticked by.

You’ll never find me,” her sister’s voice rang in the back of her mind.

As another hour had passed, she collapsed, her back against an old power distributor, tears drawing clean lines across her cheeks, her shoulders jerking back and forth with her sobs. She couldn’t tell how long she sat like that, but after a while the tears stopped and she drew a few deep shuddering breaths. She knew what she had to do. There would be hell to pay, but she had no choice.


At the dockmaster’s office, Pieters was warming his hands on a mug of coffee while going through the schedule and making the occasional note or check mark next to a ship name or cargo manifest. Apart from the sound of the magnetic soles of his shoes under the table, the office was quiet. Once he felt satisfied, he placed the pen next to the terminal and looked out at the docking bay behind the tower windows.

Almost inaudible the door behind him opened and closed and he looked over his shoulder, more out of a feeling of being watched than actually having heard the door. The oldest of the Larson girls was standing just inside the door, her arms hugging her chest. Pieters swivelled his chair and rose to greet her.

“Sarah,” he said with a smile, “what are you doing here..?”

His smile froze as he saw the girl’s eyes. They were wide, red from crying and seemed to jump back and forth between him and random objects in the office.

“Sarah … what has happened?”

The next hour felt as if in a blur. He called port security, then the Larson parents. Within minutes the small office was full of people talking, pacing back and forth, making calls. Sarah was guided to a chair by the wall, where she now sat, looking fragile, lost and confused. Pieters leaned against the door frame as he looked at the girl. His heart ached as he let out a sigh. What could he possibly say to her? Using more willpower than he had thought he would need, he cautiously went across the room to stand beside her.

“Sarah,” he began, searching for the words as he spoke, “I’m sure they’ll find Dana soon. I don’t know... perhaps she just got tired of hiding and went somewhere else. To the flats … or the park. Right?”

Sarah didn’t react. Pieters tried to make his voice soft. To make the words less of an accusation.

“But, Sarah … once Dana’s found, it’s really important you never go out to play in the docking bay again, do you understand? It is simply too dangerous for kids out there. We do things the way we do here in the docks for a reason.”

He hunched down beside her.

“It’s for the safety of you, and the safety of others,” he said, trying to catch her eye. For a moment he reached out to stroke her hair … give her a comforting pat on the shoulder. Anything really. He hesitated as the girl’s blank stare didn’t even seem to notice him.


Sarah didn’t hear him either. All sounds somehow seemed muffled as the grown ups around her darted back and forth in the room, their voices talking fast and with urgency, but the words never quite making it through to her. She was vaguely aware of the mass-printed armless chair, far to big for a nine-year-old, of her skinny legs dangling over the edge without reaching the floor, of her mother’s distressed sobbing from the adjacent room. She looked down at her hands clawing each other in her lap. A drop of blood had formed at the edge of a nail where she had scratched off the skin. Still, all sounds seemed to be drowned out by the memory of her sister’s voice insistently repeating over and over. Sarah’s lips were forming words as she gently rocked back and forth, but the ever repeating sentence came softer than a whisper.

“You’ll never find me.”

“You’ll never find me.”

“You’ll never find me.”


They found Dana the next day. She was found seven light-years away as the cargo canisters had been unloaded from the Taphos and were being opened at the distribution centre. She lay at the bottom of an empty canister, her hair spread in a disc of tangled rays around her head, her fingers bloody from clawing at the metal in the dark as she was running out of air.

Nothing could have saved her, the doctor at the hospital later told them. Had she been found only a few minutes later.


It’s all just a matter of procedures, really. Checking that everything is in place, secure and ready. Then checking again. As with everything beyond the slot of the station, you quickly learn the steps. Well, it’s either that or you die.

As she left the dockmaster’s office and walked across the pad to the towering hull of her Ocelot Explorer, she glanced at the manifest, then stored it in her terminal and called up the preflight checklist.

From below, the hull seemed to hover above her as she walked in and out of its shadow, checking the landing gear, the fuel synthesiser, the sensor arrays. She took a quick glance back at the office where Pieters was standing behind a window, mug in hand. He seemed so much older now as he raised his hand and waved to her. She waved back, then turned and climbed the ladder of her ship.

Inside, the familiar scents of the ship greeted her as she walked down the length of it. The oily smell of the bulkhead doors, coffee from the galley. As she did so, she checked off point after point on the list, finally making it to the cockpit. Systems, mainframe, core. All in the green. She gazed out through the canopy at the immense drum of the station docking bay, but somehow seemed to lose her focus in the distant haze. For a moment she stood silently, then flipped to the last page of the checklist and walked back through her ship towards the cargo racks.

She grabbed a wrench by the door, then proceeded to carefully tap each canister, each time pausing, listening. Each time greeted by silence. She lingered a little longer by the last canister before finally checking off the last point on the list. Detection of Accidental Stowaways, or as it was more commonly referred to by the pilots: The Dana Addendum.

She returned to the pilot’s chair, strapped in, then closed her eyes. Inhaled. Exhaled. She opened the comms.

“Traffic Control, this is commander Sarah Larson of the Ocelot Explorer Hide and Seek requesting clearance for takeoff.”

“This is Traffic Control. Hide and Seek, you are clear for takeoff.”

“Roger that,” Dana’s voice replied from the navigator’s chair a level below Sarah’s in the cockpit and Sarah could hear her sister plotting the course.

She sat back and relaxed as her ship lifted them away from the docks and out towards the stars.

They would always be dock kids, Dana and she. Ever since that day almost twenty years earlier they had only grown closer. Sarah had Dana’s back, and Dana had Sarah’s. It was just what dock kids did. Checked, then checked again.

And just like an echo from a distant past, a soft, concerned voice came rolling to the back of her mind: “It’s for the safety of you, and the safety of others.”