This is the first part of my sequel to Aphelion’s Demise. It is not yet complete but I wanted to post it and possibly get feedback on it. The second part should be posted in a couple of days.
Sean Beechum stepped through the doorway into the dim flight control room and looked out at the darkness of space, broken only by a dusting of stars. It was a view that made him feel comfortable. After five years in the military with four years of it in space aboard the Aphelion, it was like looking out at his front yard. Space was home. Four years before the destruction of the Aphelion and the death of the entire crew, another year on board the Patera, formerly the Bounty. Looking to his left at the one occupant in the control room he could see his partner Derek’s face in the glow of the controls. For some reason the man kept the lights turned down when he was navigating. Reaching over to the button next to the door Beech turned the lights on and sat down in the chair to his right. The heat of his body activated the suction of the chair and which pulled him into the cushion like gravity would..
“Did you have a good workout?” Derek asked without looking up from the dim screen he was poking at with his finger.
“Yes I did,” Beech replied, “She’s getting harder to beat every day.”
“Don’t tell her that, she’s already got an attitude,” Derek said with a faint smile.
“You got that right,” Beech chuckled.
Hearing the soft clank of grav boots they both looked towards the door in expectation as she stepped through. Her short black hair was still tangled from sparing with Beech, her cheeks were flushed and all she had on over her skin tight, white thermal suit was a pair of shorts. Keri was a very beautiful woman and she knew it. “I’m going to shower, Derek, and then I’ll be back to relieve you,” their third partner said then turned and left.
Rubbing his hands over the stubble on his face Derek yawned and said, “I’m ready for a break. A month with no planets or ships to see makes a shift at the controls boring.”
“Another week and we should be at the refueling station and then you can look at something different,”Beech replied.
“I know,” Derek sighed. “And I’m ready. No offense but I want to have a conversation with someone besides you two.”
“You could spar with Keri sometimes. That would break up the monotony. It would help you lose some of that gut you’re getting, too,” Beech told him with a grin.
Derek looked down at his midsection and grunted. “Maybe so. I think I should start with you though and let you teach me. She knows more than I do and might hurt me.”
Beech laughed and said, “She might.” Standing he told his partner, “She should be done in the shower soon. I’m gonna clean up and sleep for a few hours. If you’re up in time we’ll start then.”
Stepping back out the door he saw Keri heading towards him on the catwalk. Her hair was still slightly wet and she had changed into a pair of baggy, tan cargo pants and a blue long sleeved t-shirt with a skull and the name of some band on it. She had a rather large fighting knife hanging from her belt and he knew she had a throwing knife strapped to the inside of each forearm under her shirt. There was a pistol with a short suppressor in a holster under her left arm. Since she had been kidnapped by the pirates and then rescued by the two men she was always armed. There was no way she was going to let herself be taken again. Beech was pretty sure she even slept with her gun and knives.
“I’m going to bed, see you later,” he told her as they passed.
“What’s wrong, did I wear you out?” she asked laughingly.
Beech chuckled politely, shaking his head and headed for the shower. Keri continued on to the control room and relieved Derek, who went straight to bed. Punching the control screen she set the com to the control room only and turned some music on. Leaning back in the control chair she sighed, Finally some decent music. All the others listened too was jazz or classical and it grated on her nerves. Nothing like some good hard metal to sooth the soul, she thought as she turned the volume up.
Derek let out a grunt as he slammed into the catwalk railing. Beads of sweat clung annoyingly to his face as he tried to catch his breath. He had been learning from Beech for the last hour how to control his body as he fought. He’d had a few fights when he was growing up and knew how to defend himself but it was different without gravity. In all his time hauling cargo he’d never had problems, so he’d never learned to fight in space. That had changed a year ago when he’d been boarded by the pirates. Now he was always armed, but he knew a gun could be taken away and he needed to learn self defense with his hands and feet. Running his hand down his ribs, he winced as he touched the fresh bruises where he had slammed into railings or cargo when he accidentally broke loose his grav boots.
“I think you’ve had enough for today,” Beech told him sympathetically. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
“If I can move tomorrow,” Derek groaned as he headed for the shower.
Beech went into the control room, turned down the music and sat down to rest. “You feel like a workout today?” he asked the girl at the controls.
“Sure as soon as Derek takes over the controls,” she answered. Beech was still learning how to work the controls, so he didn’t take a shift yet. “How did he do?”
Beech smiled, and replied, “He’s got a long way to go, but he’ll learn, you did.”
The girl nodded and they sat in silence till Derek came to relieve her. They spent the next hour trading punches and throwing each other across the hold.
The days were almost identical for the next week. The three sparing, sleeping, and maintaining the ship. Late on the seventh day Keri’s voice came over the com, “Refueling station is in sight!”
The two men hurried to the flight control room as fast as they could. Beech from the workout area they had set up in the cargo hold, and Derek came floating across the hold from his quarters. Arriving almost simultaneously, they entered the room trying to glimpse the station out the window. Barely visible in the darkness was a large reddish asteroid. As they looked a brief flash of light appeared on the right side of the huge rock as one of the positioning drives fired. Almost instantly they saw the same flash from the left side as the opposite drive fired to stop the momentum. Six of these drives worked together to keep the asteroid within a few centimeters of its proper position in space. A few blinking lights were visible on the surface to guide them to the landing area. Derek took Keri’s place at the controls to guide the ship in.
It took an hour to get the Patera lined up and settled on the landing pad. As the ship touched down in a cloud of red dust and Derek shut the drives down the platform started to move into the fueling bay. As the ship shuddered to a stop in the dim light of the bay, a docking tube attached with a thud and hiss. Finishing the shutdown, Derek stepped out of the control room and pushed off towards the boarding platform. Not having used enough force he almost went under the platform and had to reach out and grab the railing.
“Lousy gravity!” he growled. The asteroid apparently had enough mass to create a slight gravitational field. Now he knew why the landing had seemed a little hard. The ship actually had a little weight here.
“I’m going into the station to oversee the fueling,”he called over his shoulder as he opened the hatch and pushed himself up the tube. “I’ll let them know there are three of us and make sure it’s ok that we all come in.”
“Let us know as soon as you can,” Keri called after him. She wanted to get off the ship for a while and see something new. Beech was more comfortable in space and didn’t care about going on board the station.
Ten minutes later the com crackled and Dereks voice said, “Come on in guys, they said it was ok.”
“Let’s go,” Keri said excitedly, and headed through the boarding tube. Beech followed with less enthusiasm.
Entering the station they followed the signs and arrows to the fueling office and found Derek busy fussing over the refueling process. The drive fuel was a gel that pumped slowly and would probably take several hours to fill the tank on the Patera. “Hi, guys,” he said when he saw them. “Tom, the station manager said to go ahead and wander around. He said any place you shouldn’t go is marked so as long as you obey the signs it’s alright to wander around. I’ll be around in a while after they start pumping fuel.”
He turned back to the window overlooking the fueling bay and warned the technician working the controls, “Watch out for the com antenna, it’s right next to the fuel port.”
Beech could see the young tech rolling his eyes in the control screen reflection. He smiled and said, “See you later.” And to the tech, “Don’t let him get on your nerves. He thinks that old ship is his baby.”
Walking on the steel grating floor of the tubular corridors the pair realized the station was basically an octagon with a refueling dock on each side. Fifteen minutes after they started they wound up at their starting point. Turning into one of the interior hallways they walked until they found a central area where food and clothing could be purchased. They each bought an extra thermal suit and then some food from the cafeteria. Sitting down at one of the small tables in the center of the room they ate. There was actually enough gravity here on the surface that the food stayed on a plate and they could eat with plastic silverware. On the ship all their food was either in tubes or was something they had to hold onto. It had been a long time since they ate normally and they were a little clumsy. Keri giggled as she knocked food off her plate onto the table. Picking up the re-hydrated green beans she looked up at Beech with a smile that faded away when she saw the look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.
“I just saw a ghost,” Beech replied. “Finish eating and let’s get back to the ship.”
“Why? It’s going to be hours before they are finished loading fuel.” Keri queried.
“Just eat so we can go,” he told her. And then seeing the angry flush on her face, “Please?”
“I’m finished,” Keri growled, grabbing her plate and heading for the recycling receptacle. Beech picked up his own plate and followed, keeping an eye on the doorways as he did. Picking up their new thermal suits they headed back to the fueling control room. As they turned the corner into the outer corridor Beech stopped so quickly his partner ran into him.