It took half a dozen tries before the station doors would let Carlos in. Darn reclaimed bloodstones, thinking they knew what was best for everyone. They kept opening on mysterious non-station landscapes, like the zoo or a nice relaxing sauna or a vast empty desert with a mountain in the distance, until Carlos explained very patiently that he knew it was dangerous, but he needed to go inside for professional reasons, and he would keep his guard up and try not to get killed.
With the distinct sound of a groan, the doors opened on the familiar NVCR lobby.
Carlos wheeled in his equipment, to-do list safely in his pocket and latex gloves already on his hands. He signed in — choosing to take a temporary visitor badge rather than a "permanent visitor implant" — and carried everything up to the floor where the booth was located...then stopped in the men's room, because Cecil had asked him to say hi to Khoshekh and the kittens.
The floating, spiny, intermittently-poisonous probably-not-felines were all hovering in their usual spaces. And an intern was there too, spooning wet food into the various floating bowls: a young woman with red-orange curls and square glasses who looked strangely familiar. ("Strangely" because Carlos had first seen her at the station...and that had been weeks ago.)
"Intern Maureen? You're still here?"
"Shhh!" hissed Maureen. "Don't jinx it! This internship was dangerous enough already before the Eyeless Wonder showed up."
"Sorry," said Carlos to the intern.
"Cecil says hello," said Carlos to Khoshekh and the kittens.
"Achoo," said Carlos to no one in particular.
Carlos had always gotten bad physical reactions when he hung around Khoshekh for too long. First sneezing. Then itching. Then, if he hadn't done the sensible thing and fled the area yet, raised purple patterns developing on his skin in the shapes of dark swirls, elder signs, and the occasional eyeball. "Did you not know you were allergic to cats?" asked Cecil sympathetically. "I'll pick up some Claritin for you on the way home."