Now, that was unexpected…

Like everyone who was in that artificially silent environment that was the flight deck of a shuttle, unexpected sounds caused unexpected results.

The Engineer cursed.

The Pilot, Myrtle, hesitated for a moment, as if not quite sure what to do, highlighting the fact she had not been in such a situation before, but quickly recovered, and brought up the incoming object on screen.

Note to self: amend the training program to allow for random objects to come out of nowhere.

We all looked at the object. Myrtle should have been taking us into the freighter, but had got overawed by the not easily identifiable ship approaching.

“Our ship will take care of the problem,” I said. “Take us into the freighter.”

AS if surprised that she should be asked to do so, she realised it was not her job to be staring at the screen, and muttered, “Oh, yes,” before resuming our passage.

Another note to self: Proper command structures and language should be used at all times.

A minute or so later we were in the cargo bay and the cargo doors were closing. Once closed and the atmosphere adjusted, the deck would become a hive of activity.

There was still a static picture of the craft on the screen, and it was one I’d seen before, an old vessel that dated back over a hundred years. I’d seen it in a space museum on the moon.

I was tempted to ask the Captain what was happening, but knew that to interrupt would not be worth the reprimand.

The engineer had seen one before too. “You don’t see those craft very often, if at all. Or this far out in space. They only had a limited trave distance, didn’t they?”

“Unless someone had been tinkering.” Several had been built as exploration ships, but the majority were freighters, used to build the outer colonies on the nearest planets.

A new drive would enable it to travel to the outer rim of our galaxy, but not much further if there were no readily available fuel supplies. Those that were available were tightly regulated by space command.

Cargo doors closed, deck pressurised, suddenly the whole deck was alive with people and machinery, our people meeting with the freighter crew and arranging for the cargo for Venus to be loaded. Myrtle was to stay with the shuttle, monitoring the loading.

I went down the ramp and was greeted by the first officer of the freighter, a chap I’d once served with, Jacko Miles. Jacko loved being in space, but no longer interested in the machinations of Space Command. The simple life of a freighter first officer was all he desired.

Except his face, right now, had the visual lines of worry.

“What happened?” We were past the usual introductions, and general bonhomie.

“Stopped, boarded, and a crate removed.”

“What was in the crate?”

“No one is saying, but whatever it was, it must have been important to attack us for it.”

My private communicator vibrated in my pocket. The captain was calling, and didn’t want anyone else listening in.

“Just give me a moment,” I said taking the communicator out of my pocket and answering the call. “Yes sir?”

“We have a problem.”

And in that moment, I had to agree with him. Jacko now had his hands in the air, and behind him were two people with hand held weapons trained on him, and me.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

What’s the worst that could happen?

Captains invariably hated the word ‘problem’. I did too, because it conjured up so many different scenarios, each more scarier than the last, and maginified exponentially because we were in space.

We took a closer look, and it was the sort of damage if it was back on Earth, one would associate with weapons fire, lasers to be exact.

Yes, in the 24th century we had ray guns, hand held, and ship bound.

The only problem was, only the cruise class vessels, like the one I was now on, were allowed to have them, and using them, well, the paperwork alone could keep a complement of 20 working day and night for a month.

Test them, yes, less paper work, use them, no. There had never been a reason to.

But someone had, and on a freighter, which only meant one possibility, that whatever the freighter had been carrying, had been worth violating a thousand regulations and rules.

And bring their ship and selves out into the light.

It was, of course, Space Command’s worst nightmare realised, that the ideal of space exploration as a united effort by everyone, had a member who had decided against unity.

Unless, of course, the improbably had happened, there was life outside our solar system, and we were dealing with a new planet, or people.

Except I would not expect them to use something as conventional as a laser.

Myrtle had put us very close to the damaged area and taken a number of photographs, and the engineer had analysed the damaged area.

Then, cleared to enter the freighter, she took us up to the cargo doors and waited as we watched them open.

It was the same time the engineer’s hand held computer started beeping.

And a warning light on the console in front of Myrtle started flashing, accompanied by a warning klaxon.

Another vessel had just entered our proximity zone.

© Charles Heath 2020-2021

A trip back through memory lane

We were diverting to Venus, sitting out there in screen, lonely as a cloud, if there could be clouds in space.

So, I wondered if the Captain had a special reason why I should head the team going to the freighter.

It was an opportunity to take one of the new class of shuttles, reported to be faster, more stable, and larger so that we could carry more people and cargo. It would be overkill today.

The crew assigned to collect the cargo were aboard, and my co-pilot for want of a better name was Myrtle, an officer that joined the ship with me, and had excellent qualifications.

We were going through the preflight, ready to lift off.

“First time?”

“In a shuttle, no. In space, real space, more or less.”

I don’t think I wanted to know what more or less meant.

“There’s nothing to it.”

The captain’s voice came over the speaker, “You’re cleared for departure, they’re expecting you imminently.”

“Very good, sir.”

It was never a gentle lift off, unlike landing, and that initial jerk was an annoyance. Then engaging the thrusters, we began to move forward slowly towards the cargo door, and at the synchronised time, the doors opened and there was nothing but empty space before us.

Outside, we increased speed, turned, and flying under our ship, just to get a look at it, something I knew the people aboard might be interested in seeing, then onto the Aloysius 5 drifting off our port bow.

“Do you see what I see?” Nice to see Myrtle wasn’t blind.

“I do, and that’s worrying.”

What was it? A scorch mark on the side of the Aloysius 5, in a place where we couldn’t see it from our ship, and a direct hit on one of the exhaust manifolds. That would stop a ship dead in it’s tracks without wrecking it.

“Captain,” I said, hoping he was listening.

“Number one?”

“I think we have a problem.”

© Charles Heath 2020

It’s not like you can pull over to the side of the road…

In space, it’s a little difficult to just suddenly stop.

But, given several hundred thousand kilometers, anything is possible.

Especially when there’s a request to divert to Venus.

You can’t always tell when the ship drops out of cruise to what could be considered a dead stop, not that a dead stop is necessarily achievable.

I was down in the mess hall when the call came from the officer of the deck for me to return. I was half way through a half decent cup of coffee, and had just had the donut delivered.

Both now had to be sacrificed.

I looked out the window into the inky blackness of space and it was difficult to say if we were in idle mode. There was, however, another ship just off the port bow, a old cargo ship that had seen better days, and we both looked like we were drifting together.

I suspect that meant we were keeping station, much the same as we would if we were visiting a planet.

I took the elevator and arrived on the bridge where the captain was in earnest conversation with the chief engineer and chief scientist.

He looked up when he saw me approach.

“Ah, number one, there’s a team waiting down on the transport deck. The Aloysius 5 has some vital equipment on board for repairs at the mining colony on Venus, and we’ve been diverted to pick them up and them there post haste.”

“Out of commission?”

“A temporary issue with the drive. We’re sending an engineering team over to help with the repairs and will pick them up on the way back. They should arrive on the deck the same time you will.”

“Yes, sir.”

Should be simple, I thought. Take one of the shuttle craft over, load up, drop the engineers, get back, head for Venus, about 5 hours from out current position. Much the same as a pleasant drive in the country.

And I needed more shuttle time.

In the elevator I was joined by one of the security staff, a gung ho type lieutenant named Andrews. A man always looking for trouble, the sort who would shoot first and ask questions later.

Maybe it was not going to be a pleasant outing after all.

© Charles Heath 2020