“We’re going to have to delay exploring the base of the escarpment until Reggie and Austin repair the lander’s main engines.” I don’t want us to encounter anything out there we can’t runaway from in a hurry if we have to.”
Captain John Weiss was addressing the other four crew members of the freighter “Joseph Conrad” in the galley.
“Well what the screw is taking them so long, John? They’ve been at it for over six hours and if we don’t recover the Company’s lost probe, we’ll never collect our cut of the reward.”
“Calm down, Linda. You know this kind of work takes time.” His first officer was intelligent and competent but impatient which is why even with her service record, she’d never made Captain.
“They’re probably snoozing down in the engineering bay.”
“Not likely, Santiago. I just got a progress report from Reggie fifteen minutes ago. They don’t want to be down there any longer than necessary.”
“Probably true, John. It’s as dark as a raven‘s wing down there with only aux power available.” Aziz Hamid was looking out the small port at the little he could see. “Not much better out there, either.”
“How about I take Santiago and Aziz and we go scout the perimeter. We might get lucky.”
“Or your impatience might get the three of you killed.”
“I have to agree with John on this one, Linda. My scans show forty-eight kilometer winds out there with gusts up to eighty, and the atmosphere is nitrogen-methane. Temp’s a balmy minus nine celsius.”
“You’re such a pussy, Aziz.”
“I don’t have to take crap from you, Lin…”
“Alright, both of you knock it off.” Let me get on the comm and get an update on the engines.”
Weiss walked over to the communications panel mounted in the wall next to the hatch, picked up the hand mike and keyed it. “Reggie. Austin. What’s your status?” He released the button.
Static crackled out of the gray metal speaker and then a voice. “Austin here, Cap. We’re just about finished. Reg got the capacitors aligned faster than he thought. Give us another thirty minutes and we’ll test the engines.”
“Roger that, Austin. Thirty minutes. Weiss out.”
“Austin out.” The static cut out as the engineer stopped transmitting.
“Fine.” Linda Thabana stood up pressing her hands against the countertop. “I’ll go check the suits and get them ready.” She wheeled away from the group and stormed out the hatch.
“She’s really pissy today, John.” Aziz turned back toward the other three and then took Linda’s seat.
Weiss picked up his cup and poured himself another cup of thick coffee from the dispenser. “Been a long voyage, then the priority call from the Company interrupting the trip home. She misses her daughter.” He sat back down. “Nothing for us to do now but wait.”
Carla Ng, the medical officer remained impassive at the far end of the counter sipping on now cold green tea. She looked as if she were in a state of contemplation, afraid she might reveal something if she spoke.
It was over ninety minutes later that Thabana led Austin, Santiago, and Aziz to the base of the escarpment, the tests of the engines taking longer than the first officer thought necessary. The Captain and the two others remained on board the lander in case something went wrong.
“I still say you and Reggie were dragging your heels with the engine repairs.”
“I’m telling you that we weren’t, Linda. The first test turned up a weak power connection to the secondary manifold and we had to replace it and test again. Hell, you know the engines almost like I do so…”
The trio approaching the base of the plateau heard their helmet speakers crackle. “Keep the chatter down out there. Don’t get careless. You’ve only got about an hour’s worth of daylight left.”
“Thanks to Austin and Reggie.”
“I told you to knock off. Stick to business.”
Aziz manipulated thick switches on the panel mounted on the left arm of his suit. “I’ve got the probe’s signal. You were right, John. It’s right at the base. Re-entry sequence cut in automatically for a soft landing. It think it’s intact.”
“Roger that, Aziz. Linda. How long?”
“It’s not far. Maybe fifteen minutes or a little longer. Hard to see though this soup.”
“Don’t waste time. When you find it, just pull the data module. That’s the money. Make sure none of the seals are broken.”
“No shit, John. That’s you, Austin. Check your tools.”
“I did before we left the lander. No problem. As long as the probe’s main assembly is intact, I’ll have it out smooth as ice.”
“Good. Let’s get this over with. I hate it out here.”
“We’re on our way back, John. For once, Austin managed to work fast. Probably because I was breathing down his neck the whole time.”
“Back off. I worked fast because I’m damn good at my job.”
“We’ll see when we actually have to leave this ball of mud.”
“Can it out there. If you hustle, you’ll make it back here right at sunset. Temps will drop to, what was that, Santiago?”
John keyed his mike again. “Santiago says minus twenty degrees C.” Your suit heaters will drain your batteries dry if you’re out in that too long.”
“We’ll make it, John, money in hand.” Thabana eyed the insulated case Aziz was holding which contained the probe’s memory module. Whatever was on it was worth a small fortune and her slice of the payout would put her years closer to retirement. She could finally leave this lousy business and stay home with her little girl.
We’d better wait it out here, John.” Santiago was sitting at his station in the control cabin. “Winds are up to gale force. The lander is shielded by the escarpment down here, but we’d never be able to control our ascent back to the main ship.”
“Linda will have kittens.” The Captain chuckled humorlessly.
“Let her. I’d rather spend a few more hours down here then get killed doing something stupid. Good thing the moon’s rotation is fast. Sunrise in about four hours.”
“I’ll tell the others.”
“Wait til I get a pair of earmuffs on. I don’t what to listen to her bitching.”
“You haven’t said much about this, Doc.”
When Linda found out that the Captain’s orders were to give the module to their med officer, she decided to pay Carla a visit in the lander’s tiny sick bay. She found the other woman unhooking the probe’s memory from power and sensor leads attached to a diagnostic scanner.
“Not much to say. Company orders.”
“Is that why you’ve been so quiet. You’re normally such a chatterbox, especially when you have a new toy to play with.”
Ng put the module in a storage locker mounted into the back wall, secured it, and then turned. “Do you want to get paid or not?”
“Then stop asking them. Company says mum’s the word if we want to get paid.”
“Captain know what it is?”
“Yes and he won’t tell you anymore than I will.”
“You’re a pain in the ass.”
“Look in the mirror lately?”
Linda turned and left. Yes, she wanted to get paid, but what was the big secret?
All of the speakers including those on the wall of the main corridor came alive with static and feedback. “This is Weiss. We’ve got about thirty minutes until local sunrise. Everyone assume your stations and we’ll get started with the pre-flight.”
One by one, everyone acknowledged and then headed to either the control cabin or the engineering bay. Ng’s station was in sick bay and after one last trip to the lavatory, she strapped herself into her acceleration couch. She hated take offs and their landing here yesterday was rough enough to damage the engines. Thank God they were repaired and they were getting out of here. Now if Thabana would just stay off her back until they reached Rigel Station. At least they’d be in hibernation most of the time and sixteen months from now, the module would be someone else’s problem.
The doctor listened passively to the voices of the rest of the crew over the comm as they went through the pre-flight checklist. The lander shuddered and vibrated when Austin and Reggie first powered up the main engines. As the five minute countdown progressed toward launch, she looked to her right toward the lockers imagining the data module inside.
Her instruments confirmed its presence. Good thing it was a sealed vessel because its contents weren’t a computerized device. It was a bio-sample unit and it was occupied. The diagnostics confirmed it was dormant but alive, the first living organism discovered in a century of human space travel and exploration.
Naturally, the Company thought they could weaponize the virus. With her cut, she could buy passage to one of the outer rim colonies and stay out of the way of the next war.
I wrote this for the Saturday Mix – Same Same But Different, 24 February 2018 challenge hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. In this case, the idea is to use the synonyms for five target words in the body of a poem, short story, or other creative work. Here are the words and some of their synonyms:
table = delay
sleep = catnap, slumber, doze, snooze
take = booty, cut, gate, haul, receipts
foot = base as in base of a cliff
black = ebony, charcoal, onyx, raven, sable