Monday, May 18, 2015

The Orbitals, Part II

This is a story set in a relatively near future in outer space. National governments have built stations on the moon and private companies have started shepherding asteroids into the lunar neighborhood for mining purposes.

This is Part II, the first part of the second chapter.
Chapter 2: Space Control

“You’ve had a rough go of it, kid,” said Jean-Paul, peering from the ceiling. “But we'll get through this. We'll be fine. Hermes is a great little station, even if you do have to float around like me.”

“Oh gosh,” sighed Spencer, still too nervous to swear in front of adults. “How did I get us into this?”

“Come on now,” said Jean-Paul. “You didn’t do any such thing. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. No crime in that. Just a freak accident. They happen sometimes.”

“The last time there was an explosion in space was when I was two years old," said Spencer. "And I hear they almost shut down the Platform for good because of it. Besides, this wasn't an accident."

“What do you mean?” asked Zephyr.

“Just before you got on, I heard a noise in the vestibule. I went back there and there was this guy banging at something inside the threshold. I scared him off, I guess, but I’d be surprised if that's not what blew up the docking seal," Spencer's face fell even more. "I shouldn't have been here. I shouldn't have been here."

“Passengers and crew of the ship Twelve Parsecs, prepare for departure to Hermes Mid-Earth Orbit Station,” came the ship's female annunciator voice. Spencer sighed and slowly rose to his feet, pushing up on the wall with a backward-facing hand.

“Better strap in,” he said to Jean-Paul.

“You got seatbelts up front?” Jean-Paul asked.

“Sure,” said Spencer.

“Then I’ll come up there” said Jean-Paul. And he pushed off. Zephyr walked out the door in front of him.

In the cockpit, the stars stood still in the windows, like decorations. Spencer thought they looked like nails in the glass, the tiny rays of glare like cracks. He tapped on the glass, scratched it gently. It wasn’t glass so much as the inner layer of a complicated, transparent sandwich of polymers, glass, gases, and who knows what else. The last barrier between this moving extension of the living, breathing, fragile Earth and the dead nothing of space. Spencer winced subtly.

“Sierra november bravo one two papa, this is Space Traffic Control - Joint Docking. You are synced with the tower and cleared for departure. If you have set autopilot, your ship should leave the platform within twenty seconds. Safe travels, and good luck.” The stars began to move, points swimming gently in the eternal night.

“Control, one two papa confirms,” said Spencer, without a trace of agitation.

“You’re really good at that,” offered Zephyr.

“Thanks, I...well, I guess I practiced a lot.”

“Following in your sister’s footsteps?” asked Zephyr.

“Well, no, not really. Truth is, I guess, I’ve always wanted to fly, but I never wanted people to think I was going to race,” said Spencer. He flushed.

“Now’s your big chance,” said Jean-Paul.

“Hey, did you ever tell Space Control about the man in black?” asked Zephyr.

“I never got time,” said Spencer.

“We should probably contact Space Control at JDSP right now,” she said, “He could be planning something else.”

Spencer tapped the button. “Space Traffic Control juliet delta, this is sierra november bravo one two papa, come in.”

No response.

“Control juliet delta, come in.”


“Huh. I wonder why they’re not responding,” said Spencer.

“Probably dealing with the blowout,” said Jean-Paul. “We’ll tell the folks at Hermes.”

There was about a thirty-second pause. “I’m terrified,” admitted Spencer. His brows folded in the center of his forehead. He breathed deeply and irregularly, and it sounded as though a broken machine controlled it.

“It is safe to move around the ship,” announced the synthesized female voice again.

Jean-Paul unstrapped his seat harness, and floated vaguely, maintaining the seated position.

“So, we’ve got a little while. Tell us a little about yourself. Relax. Everything’s going to be OK.”

Spencer forced a sigh. “There’s not much to tell—I’m just a normal fourteen-year-old kid. Pretty boring.”

Jean-Paul laughed again, and smiled like he knew a happy secret. “Perfectly normal in every way, huh? They teach dealing with Space Traffic Control and piloting a racing shuttle in school now?”

Spencer conceded a tiny smile. “No, I just...No, it’s that,” he paused, looking up, “I don’t really know what to say. I never know what to say when people ask me that. I've never been, you know, interesting.”

“Well, how about your family? We all know your sister. What about your mom and dad? Any other siblings?”

“Well, my mom and dad are named Ava and Oliver and they’re living at Shackleton Base right now. You know, lunar south pole?”

Zephyr interrupted, “Oliver Sanchez—I’ve heard that name before.”

“Yep,” offered Spencer, mildly annoyed. “You’ve probably been to the museum.”

“Museum? Oh, on the moon. That NASA Museum.”

“Yeah, he’s the director of the Apollo Mission Sites Museum, out in the maria.”

“It sounds like you come from a great family,” said Jean-Paul. “Or at least a famous one.”

“Tell me about it,” said Spencer.

“You don’t sound too thrilled about this fact.”

“No, it’s fine. I just...I guess I’m tired of people talking about them all the time. It’s...never mind.” Spencer looked down, as if staring at an imaginary stain on his suit.