So many stories of leaving Earth to establish new homes on distant planets don’t consider what happens when we reach the fringes of our new territory—when distant space stations, and little else, mark the edges of human expansion. Some of these stations are established in neutral zones for negotiating with alien races; others are outposts to watch for old enemies’ returns; still others are cut off from the center of civilization, failed colonies or secret hiding places.
Space is limitless, human civilization less so. Hop aboard and set a course to explore the edges of space (and, in some cases, time) with these five stations.
Armistice Station, Battlestar Galactica
After the long and bloody war caused by the Cylons’ decision to rebel against their human masters, both sides came to an agreement—so says the opening of Battlestar Galactica, the 2003 miniseries rebooting the classic sci-fi TV series. The creation of Armistice Station established a neutral zone where each side could send a representative to maintain diplomatic relations. Each year for over forty years, the Colonial representative stands on ceremony, waiting in the allotted period of time on an empty, remote station for a Cylon diplomat who will never appear. Until one year, when Armistice Station transforms from no-man’s-land to the site of the Cylons’ first shots (well, explosions) of the next generation’s war.
The Citadel, The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott
In a remarkable stroke of bad luck, Ensign Ronaldo Aldo is assigned to the Citadel, an old space station constructed out of a warship at the literal and figurative edge of space. Well, Aldo himself gets to stay on Earth—it’s his clone, Ronaldo Aldo II, who is sent through the ansible to a listening station that’s really a prison. Filled with officers who stave off their boredom by either engaging in corruption or killing themselves (the latter condemning future clones to this sentence in a vicious cycle), they take no joy out of what is ostensibly a noble posting. Worse, their weekly poker games and “philosophy club” meetings are just opportunities to indulge conspiracy theories about how the war was invented to fund the colonies, and the aliens who are supposedly returning any day now are just a myth. Aldo’s misfortune is even more gutting when he finally articulates the dream he had had for himself: “I wanted to fly on patrol, to hunt the enemy out in the long night between galaxies. I wanted to have a brilliant career and transcend to other colonies, and expand with humanity, where my descendants became as numerous as the stars.” Instead, the increasing isolation from HR on Earth, and the realization that transcendence is an even bigger myth than the return of the enemy, spurs him to an unforgivable choice—because, as he tells his confessor, he has learned “how pointless it was to concern oneself with prison cells when so much of our life is indistinguishable from prison out in the far colonies.”
Treasure Planet, Treasure Planet
Disney’s take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel kept the brigands but moved the action from an island in the sea to a mythical lost planet out in space. Adventure-seeking teenager Jim Hawkins gets his wish when the dying pilot of a crashed spaceship bequeathes him the map to Treasure Planet, where feared pirate Captain Flint is rumored to store his loot. Yet no one but Flint knows where to find Treasure Planet, nor how he conducts his raids and then seemingly disappears. It turns out that the map doesn’t just show the location of Treasure Planet, but also opens portals to any spot in the universe—granting Flint the ability to slip from world to world without being chased. But the real revelation isn’t locating Treasure Planet itself—it’s the discovery that it’s not a planet at all, but a space station, rigged to explode upon discovery of the treasure. Jim probably shouldn’t have been surprised, seeing as he grew up on a spaceport shaped like a crescent moon.
Athoek Station, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
After the events of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Breq is sent by her enemy Anaander Mianaai to “the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go”: the remote Athoek Station, cut off from the rest of space due to broken gates. It’s not as if Athoek is an isolated utopia, either; the societal divide between the Ychana, a local ethnic minority, and the station’s governors who subject them to squalid living conditions, has caused the Station AI to take sides (as much as it can, anyway). While other Radchaai would do everything in their power to avoid getting stranded in the Athoek System—especially because the only real way “out” is through the supposedly haunted Ghost Gate—Breq seeks Basnaaid Elming, to whom she owes a personal debt based on her history with Lieutenant Awn Elming.
Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The station formerly known as Terok Nor is not as remote as the other locations on this list; indeed, it serves as a trading and travel hub. But here’s what makes Deep Space 9 unique and gives it its new moniker: It’s located right near the Bajoran wormhole, allowing for travel between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. And considering that the creators of this spatial anomaly are strange, noncorporeal beings known as the “Prophets” (according to the Bajoran religion—the Federation just calls them “wormhole aliens”), it lends an air of eerieness to the proceedings. Thanks to its proximity to the wormhole, in a sense, Deep Space 9 is on the edge of space and time.
What are your favorite faraway space stations?