Chapter 1 : Incoming Message
The lights blinked on one by one till the spacious grey room had been illuminated. The room contained eight deep space cryogenic sleep pods, only seven were occupied at the start of the voyage from the space port located on Saturn’s moon Titan.
The crew consisted of the captain, two engineers, a science officer, a doctor, two gun-hands and as with all ships there was a synthetic onboard with every crew as part of company procedure with all sectors of the Wei Conglomerate. This is their; I mean, my story.
My name is Isabel Clarke, I am the junior engineer onboard the WSC Alexia; I only joined Captain Hayden’s crew and the Wei Conglomerate seven months ago, I am the youngest member of the crew at twenty-one, and also the only member of the crew; not including the captain; that has not been with the Wei Conglomerate for all of their life.
The ship was larger than I’d ever been on in an official capacity than what I’d done with the Wu Corporation, with them the most I’d ever have to do was repair a solenoid in a slightly busted relay, only slightly in the sense that it still worked but you couldn’t watch a full dive stream of whatever show, event or game you wanted without dropping the quality of what you experienced. That’s why I switched company allegiance; the challenge of working under Hayden was better than wasting away working where I was back then, better to actually fix a ship and make an impact than work for a company that was more interested in just buying a new ship when the air purification needed a simple clean; or a repair; or a replacement to the filtration segment. There were so many ships wasted, I’d seen it too many times, such ornate state of the art ships built up and painted in feudal red with lustrous gold rimming just to be decommissioned after a few missions just because the Wu corporation policy was to replace the entire ship with a slightly newer version, with slightly different decor instead of repair it. This practice had become a major profit point for smaller ship building and furnishing companies that relied on the raw materials that the Wu corp had mined from cracking open desolate planets and big asteroids with a high ore quantity.
I don’t know much about my parents, only that they were young when they had me and that they died shortly after; leaving me, alone, in a universe full of people who didn’t care for me or even knew that I existed. I grew up on Titan in an orphanage funded by the state of science, a semi-religious group that only cared about the acceptance of science plus the teaching and training a new generation of devoted scientists. Needless to say, I was a great student of theirs and learned everything they had to offer about space, space travel, human biology, material working and electronics among a few other things. The important thing was they taught me how to work on every part of a ship, from how the components are made and fitted; to what polish would be best to apply onto the exterior of the vessel in order to properly protect from rust, electrical interference insulation and even prevent the magnetic warping of the hull and corridors. All the key skills and knowledge to be a top-class engineer were mine, all passed down and refined from person to person ’til that culmination of skill and knowledge came to be mine, maybe I’d settle down one day, grow old and then return to the orphanage and free some children with my skills so that they might explore the stars and return one day with the knowledge that they have obtained and refined. Until then though, I’d explore and experience the stars with my own two hands and eyes. This desire to know more, to see more. To do more, Hayden had seen this burning need in my eyes when we first met in passing at the Apollo free-port station in the Toshiro system which was neutral space for all three major companies. I was refuelling the ship I was signed to when she approached me. She asked me “Have you ever seen the sun set on Mars?” I told her “No, but I’d damn well like to”. She laughed heartily, asked my name and what I did for a living. I told her I was a traveler and one that knew about every facet a good ship could hope to have and that her zipper containing her I.D on her left breast pocket on her jumpsuit was open. She pushed the card back in, secured the pocket and then proceeded to pat herself down quickly to check if she’d presumably lost something else or if another zip had opened. Laughing to herself she looked back to me and almost shouting “You’re a good kid, I like you anyway, you’re to the point.” She said this and paused for a second her face going between the expressions of ‘no I shouldn’t’ to ‘yeah, sure, why the hell not’ and opened her mouth again only to close it all through this process till the words formed on her tongue, “Look, kid, I don’t normally do this but, but do you want a job, the pay will be alright, but the hours will probably be long and hard, I’ll expect you to earn your keep and if you cause any trouble, that I don’t approve of then I’ll leave you nude in the abyss, got it?” I looked at her with wide, surprised eyes and equally agape mouth. I managed to gather myself enough to stutter out “But…I’m on contract for at least another year and, and I want to go with you and do some REAL work…but how can I?” Looking back at me, she shrugged and muttered “Look, this is the only time I’ll make this offer, are you coming or not, we can sort out the little details later.” In saying this she lowered her hand, puffed out her chest, dropped her change from another pocket and as if to drown out the sound of the coins hitting the metallic floor boldly exclaimed “So what’ll it be baby?” I reached up to her hand with mine, wavering for a second and then grasping her hand tightly I pulled myself up to her eye level and replied, “Aye captain, when do we leave?” She smirked pulled me in close and whispered into my ear “Immediately, quickly lets hurry before your boss checks up on you, follow me”, and then bolted off in the direction of a third-class Helios cruiser her boots clicking off the metal grating that made up the floors of the station.
That day marked that my life was about to be forever changed, I had a new home, a new family and eventually this new life would bring me a lover. A ship to love and repair. Life could only get as sweet as maple syrup on sugar coated pancakes from here on in.
Chapter 2 : Singing to the Moon
Once aboard the cruiser, I found it to be dubbed the WSC Alexia. A third-class Helios cruiser under the Wei Conglomerate; it was spacious and a sanitary grey. However, the first thing I really noticed was the fragrant aroma of curry gently assailing my nostrils. My stomach grumbled, it had been months since I had enjoyed real food and not some processed meal bar that had all the nutrients that a person needed to stay strong and healthy; but the bars tasted like shit, they looked it too. The captain, Hayden Dogma, gave out a laugh that wasn’t quite loud enough to cover up for her growling stomach, looked at me and sighed “Ewan can wait before he gets you initiated and rolled into work…let’s have dinner.” Never before have I beamed as hard at someone ever before than when I heard her say the D word. It probably didn’t mean much to her but working for a company that spent all of its money on ships and gear but not on food really wears down on you like a steel razor shaving a stone obelisk for ten years straight, without a change of pace in this case in food I would’ve killed for anything that wasn’t a shitty meal bar.
Hayden grasped my hand and led me down the corridor and down a set of steel grated stairs right into the mess hall. It wasn’t grey like what I’d seen so far more of a copper orange seemed to be the colour of choice in here. There was a large standard looking table with stools all around it in the centre of the room, this was flanked to the right by what appeared to be a hot drinks machine and a small fridge. behind the table was a cooking unit, it had a stove, an oven, a pressure cooker, some sort of pasta machine, various herbs and a section of cupboards up and down the unit; some see through and others, well not so much.
“Hi, captain, what’ve you dragged in this time? Another kid with no talents to put on the pay role, then train them to do something kinda useful and feed them?” grumbled an older man hunched over and methodically stirring a large pot with his back to us. “That’s rude of you, you old fart, last I checked you were one of the people with no skills that I took on board, seems hypocritical of you to complain now,” Hayden retorted opening her arms to shrug and smirking at the man as he slowly turned around and straightened his back out to finally face us, “plus the kid’s not useless, probably better than you, in fact,” Hayden chuckled before saying, “this kid is your new partner, be nice Ewan.” Now facing us and straightening up, I could see that he wasn’t old at all, well older than me, but that wasn’t a hard task, but his skin was a glossy dark brown. His eyes were a soft emerald colour, he didn’t really have hair to speak of as it seemed to be all just shaved down to a good buzz cut, it was a common enough hair cut really thinking about it, it was easier to maintain than a full head of hair as you just didn’t have hair to be fair. He scanned me with those green eyes of his from tip to toe before opening his mouth again, “yea sure, you look like you’ve been with those science nuts back on titan, maybe I’ll be able to find some stuff for you to do; and maybe I’ll finally be able to get some sleep when we’re traveling.” “That’s the dream isn’t it,” Hayden groaned back in his direction, “well Ewan lets have some of that world class curry of yours then.” “People would die back home for a bowl of my world class curry for your information captain,” he grumbled before pouring two bowls of fragrant curry stew.
This was my first time meeting Ewan the ‘head’ engineer onboard the Alexia and I had to see him every day and as he grew on he with his grumpy persona I could see why everyone on the ship called him old man as he acted as though he was double his actual age. Since I ended up doing most of the physical repair and maintenance jobs on the ship and simply just reported to him for my next task, it gave him more free time on the ship such as flirt with Jenny the gun hand or to sit in the social area and plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner and then cook all of them. He was sweet, in a get off my lawn or I’ll cook you some bacon and eggs kind of way.
Jenny was from Earth, she grew up there around the ruins of Detroit. She learned the hard way how to look after herself and to not trust people, she conducted several raids and gun fights with rival territories and with refugee camps. It got so bad to the point that the Wei Conglomerate was forced to put boots on the ground to snuff out this street warfare. It was a bloodbath for anyone caught in the sights of the Wei gun hounds that had been set upon the ruined city; refugees and gangs alike disappeared overnight in bloody firefights through the city. Jenny got lucky, she was only a teenager when she stumbled into the captain as she gunned down the gang camp which Jenny had been returning to. Hayden didn’t like killing people who didn’t try to shoot at her first; Jenny was unarmed so she made her an offer. If she’d work under Hayden as a hired gun then she’d get her away from Earth. Since then I heard that she had performed amicably and was worth every grain of salt that she might throw at her team during her free time.
Around the end of my first month onboard was when I had the pleasure of really meeting Jenny for the first time. I had just finished sorting the pressure distributer for the crew shower unit as it had been too high and was causing some displeasure. To actually be honest about it I had played a prank on Ewan by waiting for him to go for a shower and then blasting him by putting the pressure all the way up. He was so furious that he ran across the ship stark naked to punch me in the back. I tuned the pressure back down but obviously not low enough for some people’s tastes, I had fixed pretty much everything on the Alexia that I had been tasked to at this point and was bored but fulfilled. So, when I tuned it back to the original setting that people were used to I went into the shower area to check that everything was working, not wanting to have made a mistake after pulling a prank.
That’s when I heard her. It’s not uncommon to hear singing from the shower area, but I had never heard Jenny talk let alone sing. It was mesmerising, she could captivate a whole asteroid dome worth of gig goers looking to see the main act and not caring about the support acts but her voice would captivate even them. I rushed over unable to control myself and yanked the curtain to the stall where the sound was coming from. Of course, she screamed and decked me instantly, I blacked out before I even hit the floor. When I woke up I found myself in her cabin, her face was scarlet and she was staring me down with a how dare you kind of look and began to slowly walk towards me. “Jenny? You can sing? That was amazing, I didn’t know you could talk let alone sing.” She stopped in her tracks, “I’m sorry I knocked you out cold kid, I thought you were maybe Jerome trying to sneak a peek at the goods again.” She paused for some time and we just stared at each other for a while, until I realised that she was barely wearing anything, and what she was wearing was soaked through, then I found a corner of the room to divert my stare into. Which I soon found to be the corner of the room that she was using to dry her underwear. Flustered and blushing I flicked my head around the room till I decided the only thing to do was to either die or to close my eyes; spoiler I closed my eyes. I didn’t open them again till I felt a pair of slightly wet but tender hands caress my cheeks. “Looks like you found me out kid, I can sing, now don’t go telling anyone about this.” “Hmm, yea sure, whatever you’d like Jenny.” “Good, now go, I think Ewan buzzed you five minutes ago and my only audience is the moon raggedly floating above Earth.” With that I scampered out of the room with a dazed but blinding urgency.
“Where in sweet hell have you been hiding kiddo?” “Ah sorry, I sneaked into a concert for astral bodies only.” “Sure, sure, now here’s that list of repairs I told you I had been working on, you should start with the climate control in the training deck, Jerome set it too low and now the setting is stuck and Jenny keeps refusing to train with the rest of the gun hands.” I took the list and smiled knowing exactly why she wouldn’t go into a freezing room with Jerome. “what’re you grinning for, beat it, I’ve got a mean pot of chilli to start making for dinner tonight.”
Chapter 3 : Affirming the Situation
Hayden Dogma was the captain of the WSC Alexia; a class three Helios Cruiser. She had originally left Earth with her family but sold everything she had left to get her wings after the terrorist attack on the Mars colony that initially left a third of the population dead and another third of the colony suffering from radiation exposure waiting to die. Those lucky enough to not to be dead; or in waiting, had to wait six months until the Shu Confederation stepped in and sent an evacuation force to the colony. Only by the time help arrived it became all too clear that the terrorists had not died earlier; half of the response ships were scattered into atoms when the terraformer went critical. The absolute-zero fusion reactors froze half of the green planet in a matter of seconds. Of the seven billion population that Mars had boasted, only thirty thousand escaped what had been home for humanity for the past three hundred years. The captain doesn’t talk about what she left behind, the only reason we know that she came from Mars is from her snow-white complexion that the residents of Mars evolved as a result of the lower than earth atmosphere and reduced UV exposure thanks to being inside complexes for most of their lives, the sun was not a Martians friend. She also had an old sweater that she wore late at night and early in the morning; not that you could ever tell half the time in deep space since time of day is relative; which had an old picture of the two moons Phobos and Deimos rising over the Mars University of Technology and Agriculture.
She was as kind a captain that you could ever ask for in the Wei fleet considering she had only been on contract with them for the last fifteen years. However, that didn’t mean that she was soft and wouldn’t load you into an airlock in your underwear and then launch you into space to float in the buff forever if you crossed her intentionally or said something about the Iscariot Runners, her favourite Turbo Plasma Death-match team who also came from Mars. She liked nothing more than to kick back in the evening, drink fruity tea and watch terrible horror movies from before her time in her quarters.
I had been with the crew for time and while not everyone ate at the same time, I seemed to decide to eat at the same irregular pattern that Hayden also ate. Over this time, we shared at the table I got close and really bonded with the captain; listening eagerly to all the stories that she would swear had actually happened both from her life and the lives of other crews and ships. One time she told me that ships had encountered a race of angels that drifted through deep space that were, apparently, the most beautiful beings in all of creation and that their skin was as pure as snow atop the highest mountain of Earth three and their long flowing hair as bright a red as the common fox. Now this was really something unfathomable to me. Earth three was the third planet outside our solar system that had been colonised, the planet was almost identical to Earth except that it was five times the size of Earth and in one other crucial regard. The planet had been untouched by man; meaning that everything on this planet was how ours should’ve been, the sky, ground and sea were all clean. A no pollution planet that could easily home and support the entirety of the human race. The snow fall atop mount King was said to be so pure that it could make the worst war criminal weep with true remorse till they froze. Earth three was hailed as a paradise on its discovery and millions flocked to what seemed like the new home for humanity. Earth three was a fairy tale when I was born, one that existed but had long since vanished from the known universe. One day it was there with all the new hopefuls and the next; poof, gone along with every trace of everyone that had dared to hope. I’m still kind of confused as to if it was real and serves to tell us to look for this fairy tale utopia; or if it’s a horror story as we don’t know why it disappeared.
Thinking back on it Hayden was always getting us the deep space jobs that most people wouldn’t take. Not because the rewards were bad or that they were dangerous. But deep space is inherently scary and beautiful at the same time. The darkness of the deep void with stars twinkling in the distance, but the whole time you are years away from any kind of help or contact that isn’t already on your ship. It was lonely and it wasn’t unusual for members of a crew to go crazy from the isolation if they were on the awake shift. Luckily, we had number three-forty-five to watch over us while we all slept in cryogenic pods.
It was the last day of the year and I wanted to be the first to wish the captain a happy new year and to tell her how glad I am that she took me into her home and gave me a better life. I looked everywhere for her. The ‘gym’ room was occupied by Jenny and Jerome now that the temperature regulator was working again. The common room or kitchen was busy with everyone else except the captain tucking into the roast turkey dinner that Ewan had made to celebrate the coming of the new year, dozens of empty bottles lined the pool table and the counter. Hayden wasn’t there joining her crew for the celebration. I ran with worry up to bridge to find it empty, the monitors and instruments giving off the usual lights and bleeps. Clutching at my chest, I staggered in the direction of Hayden’s private quarters.
The door was like all the other doors on the ship. It was capable of locking and trapping or protecting the person inside or outside the room; it really depended on how you used it I guess, it was made up of two grey slate panels that slid together and apart. I got closer, my heart beating quicker and quicker, sick with worry. The door was open.