Fabrique Intersolar Deep Space Station
30,000 kilometers from Aldebaran b, Aldebaran
Zephyr Athabasca never truly stopped moving. The youthful CEO seemed to be perpetually fidgeting some part of her body; if not twitching her knee, then she was drumming her fingers on whatever surface was conviennent, clicking her teeth together, or performing some other semiconscious repetitive body motion.
Her fingers rapidly tapped out a pattern on her glass topped desk as she tried to smother her growing sense of agitation, and her CTO chuckled as he watched her from the other side of said desk.
“You’re going to wear a hole in the glass like that.” Douglas Farragut said as he reclined in his chair and stroked his salt and pepper beard.
Zephyr ignored him, focusing on the screens embedded in her retinas. A timer was counting down on her implant’s HUD, displaying the time remaining until the scheduled arrival of the next Lighthorse from The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.
“Maybe this time.” Douglas said hopefully. Zephyr was less optimistic, The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg had gone dark over four months ago, and they hadn’t gotten a Lighthorse back from them in all that time.
The timer reached zero, and the space around the station remained empty. Zephyr let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and let her head fall against the glass desk with a soft thud; her short dark hair splayed out like a fan from her head.
Douglas pat her on the head in a paternal gesture that she would have had a problem with if she was in a better state of mind.
“Better Margins should arrive in Theta Tauri in another 29 days.” He said softly. “Whatever happened, we’ll figure it out.”
“Yeah, in another 200 days at minimum.” Zephyr snorted, not lifting her face from the desk. “There were over two hundred people on that ship, and we don’t even know if they’re alive or dead.”
“We’re doing everything we can for them, don’t beat yourself up over this.” Douglas sighed. He’d had nearly this exact conversation with Zephyr several times since the Golden Goose had gone dark, and he doubted it would be the last time either.
“Are we doing everything we can? Are we really Doug?” She looked up from the desk and met his eyes. He’d always found the intensity of her gaze to be somewhat unnerving, and in the mood she was in, he could practically see the emotion emanating from her.
Douglas didn’t have an easy answer for her. They certainly weren’t sparing any obvious effort they could be applying toward the problem, but were they really doing everything in their power? Had they missed something?
Zephyr smiled faintly, having silenced Doug’s attempt to ease her anxiety with platitudes. She started going into her clever reasoning for why it was totally rational and logical for her to place the blame for this on herself, when all the lights in the room suddenly flashed red.
The voice of the station’s AI erupted from every speaker in audible range. “Alert: Unscheduled Arrival of FI-002 EMV Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.”
Zephyr and Doug were both sprinting for the command deck before the message had ended.
Cameras studding the surface of Pioneer Station captured the moment that space seemed to relax itself and eject the 2.8 kilometer long exploratory mining vessel. As the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg shed its spacetime cocoon after the 168 day journey from Theta Tauri, the ship seemed to just fall to pieces. The hulk was dark and cold, it was unevenly venting gases as rooms depressurized and fluid lines ruptured, putting the ship into a slow spin. She made no braking actions, leaving the vessel in the hyperbolic warp exit trajectory that would see her cross the Aldebaran system and eject herself into deep space in a matter of months. Modules broke loose of the hull as it tumbled, and the entire thing gave the impression of a building that was frozen in mid-collapse.
Zephyr’s face was a mask of intense worry and unease. Chase shuttles had already launched from the station, performing long 2 gee burns to catch up with the fleeing pile of wreckage. All around her, the command deck was abuzz with activity. The station commander currently on deck was waking up everyone they had on hand for emergencies, monitoring stations were calling out readings and data as they went over the tumbling hulk with the electromagnetic equivalent of a fine toothed comb, and speakers crackled as the pilots of the chase shuttles reported back on their progress.
“This is Grasshopper FI-0819, we are two minutes off matched velocities with a close approach of 500 meters.”
The station commander, Gyeong Huygens, snapped his fingers at a tech and pointed at one of the larger monitors, “Get me FI-0819 on that screen, I want close range visual data on the Golden Goose.” He pointed to another screen nearby, “And put near infrared to terahertz on that one.” He grabbed the radio from its holster in the console. “FI-0819, proceed with rendezvous and turn spotlights onto the hull. Give us some steady visuals.”
“Is there any sign of survivors?” Zephyr asked with apprehension.
“We’ll know once we get crews over there to take a look at things. It seems like slow going right now, but in the fullness of time, we’ll have a complete picture Ms. Athabasca.” The commander spoke smoothly. The aging korean sipped at the tea he had perched on the arm of his console, remaining the perfect portrait of discipline and order.
Zephyr on the other hand, started pacing as she resisted the urge to chew on her nails or pull her hair out. Despite being in charge of everything going on around her, Zephyr still felt rather out of control about the entire situation. The inability to do everything herself never sat well with her.
Her eyes snapped to a screen as the spotlights on FI-0819 turned on and lit up the side of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. The command deck was silent as the camera panned along the hull, showing signs of a long and desperate struggle. Holes and craters pockmarked the hulk, struts and cables were snapped, twisted, or fouled together, and the entire ship was slowly turning into a pile of wreckage as modules broke loose and bounced off each other in slow motion. Hasty jury rigging jobs covered some of the damaged sites, but in the end, it appeared as if whatever force that had acted upon the vessel had won out over the efforts of her occupants.
“I’m seeing heat sources around the MIC core decks, as well as from the reactor chamber.” One of the techs called out from across the room, breaking the uneasy silence.
Zephyr hustled across the room and leaned against the back of the technician’s chair. “Survivors?” She asked him.
“Maybe?” The tech answered hesitantly. Someone of his pay grade rarely interacted with Zephyr, and she knew a surprise encounter with the CEO made some people intensely uneasy.
“Just give me your best guess.” She persisted, squeezing his shoulder for encouragement.
“Well it looks like the reactor might still be somewhat hot, there could still be power and pressure in some areas, based on these heat readings.”
Zephyr nodded, starting to ask him another question, when a different technician on another sensor system suddenly shouted, “localized Ionizing radiation source detected!” and the deck thundered into motion.
The sudden burst of activity hit Zephyr like a wall. There were instantly way too many conversations going on for her to listen to all of them and the cacophony of voices and equipment nearly overwhelmed her.
She could feel her heart racing and her breathing becoming ragged as she fought down the anxiety attack. She focused in on Huygens voice, filtering it out from the mass of sound assaulting her ears.
“…away from the reactor chamber just to be on the safe side. How much of a radiation hazard are we looking at here?”
She couldn’t pick out the voice of the tech he was speaking with, but she could hear his response clearly.
“Alright, thank you.” He said. There was something in his tone. She didn’t have to hear it, she knew. She knew as soon as he’d spoken. They were dead. They were all dead. She’d killed them all. The world spun as Zephyr began hyperventilating, and then there was darkness.
Constellation Project Colony
UNDSV 15-18 Jericho Ridge
Hyperbolic Stellar Escape Trajectory
1.95 Light Years from Sol
Regan McKinley woke up to the sound of dishes and pans crashing downstairs. It sounded like her mother was on another rampage. She groaned and rolled off the bed, peeling herself away from the sheets. She could already feel the summer heat already pooling in the upper areas of her bedroom, and the floor was a blissful few degrees cooler. She had long ago decided that whoever had included seasons in the design of their vessel deserved eternity in a special kind of hell.
Regan had turned 18 a few weeks ago. She could legally buy cigarettes and join the UNDF. She supposed that in the grand scheme of humanity, making it this long was something of an accomplishment.
She tried to hold onto that as she labored through the efforts of dressing herself, shoving her legs into grungy cargo pants and dumping a band t-shirt over her head. It was February according to the UN Coordinated Time Constant, but the colony had kept time differently, anticipating its isolation from the rest of humanity. According to the old pre-FTL colony calendars, it was August.
Regan’s mother would be coming upstairs looking for her before too much time passed. She’d pound on the door with a list of demands including chores, job applications, and daily prayer. Regan didn’t particularly want to take part in any of that, and so the next step in her routine took her out her bedroom window onto the rooftop.
Despite the lack of air conditioning in her house, the heat still hit her hard as she exited onto the roof. The black tiles shimmered in the morning light; she had a feeling if she stayed up there too long, her sneakers would start sticking to the shingles. She could feel the heat radiating upwards from them as she scampered across the rooftop and gingerly hopped the gap onto the roof of the shed. From there her escape was the simple matter of climbing down the trellis into the neighbor’s yard. Regan had turned the avoidance of her parents into something of an artform; the more they tried to reign her in, the more she struggled to break free.
She crossed the rooftops quickly and got down out of sight. The shade was marginally cooler, but the humidity leaked into every crevice and permeated every corner, leaving everything feeling sticky, the air thick and dense.
Once she was on the street behind her house, Regan made a beeline for the local charging station to pick up cigarettes and energy drinks. She thought often in those days about leaving home for good. She was 18, she could move out, join the navy, get an apartment, or get a sleeper pod on a Lighthorse and just run away. She hadn’t done any of those things yet, because she had quite a lot of things, and it would be a pain to move any of them. Plus, all those things required an awful expenditure of effort and that was something she’d managed to studiously avoid so far. So she simply basked in her newfound freedom as she drifted into the town.
The blissful cold of the convenience store billowed out of the door as she wandered in. Regan paused, taking a few moments just basking in the glory of the AC.
“Our father, who art in air condititioning, HVAC be thy name…” She mumbled under her breath as she grabbed a drink from the cooler, pausing for a few more moments in the even colder part of the story where the drinks lived.
Eventually her sweat started to cool enough for her to start getting chilled, and she strolled up to the counter and asked for a pack of cigarettes. The cashier gave her matted down blonde hair a look and scanned her identification. She vaguely wondered if the pimply faced twenty-something was working up the courage to talk to her, but he just handed her the cigarettes with a nod and told her to have a nice day.
Going out into the heat a second time was like walking into a brick wall. Warmth radiated up off the pavement in a haze of distortions and humidity, giving the parking lot an oppressive depth. Regan lit her cigarette and hurried across the pavement, hoping her shoes weren’t about to start melting into the hot black surface.
The commercial section of town was an oasis of concrete and metal, and was easily five degrees warmer than the surrounding area. She didn’t linger there for long, cutting down back alleys and side streets, wandering down the middle of quiet roads. She stayed away from the main streets and invariably ended up on the run down cul-de-sac that Seth Fiegel, her partner in crime, lived on.
The street was named ‘Maple’ which Regan always thought was funny; all the maple trees that had been planted along the street had died and their withered husks were now all that provided shade on the quiet lane. Seth’s house was a beat up ranch style that hadn’t been repainted since the turn of the century. The front yard was a jungle of overgrown weeds, dead grass, and discarded and damaged toys owned by Seth’s younger brother Caleb.
She pounded on the door, feeling slightly silly having not called in advance before she made her way over, but knowing most of Seth’s social life involved her anyway, it wasn’t what either of them would consider a big deal.
It was Caleb who answered the door, still wearing his pajamas, wireless game controller in his hand,
“Hey Regan,” the twelve year old said, clearly trying to resist the urge to pick his nose in front of her, “Looking for Seth?”
The teenager nodded mutely, taking a drag of her cigarette. Caleb was a cute kid; she liked him, he was smart for his age, but that didn’t mean she was very good at talking to him. She followed him inside, not bothering to put her cigarette out. It wasn’t like anyone else in the household bothered with that; the top sides of rooms had all acquired a permanent yellow stain from years of smoking, and the place reeked of ash and cat pee.
“I don’t think Seth is awake yet.” Caleb said. He looked nervously at Regan and glanced at the kitchen table. Despite having been friends with Seth for over a decade, Caleb always seemed somewhat intimidated by the older girl. She peered at the collection of snack food piled up on the kitchen table that appeared to have been opened by twelve year old hands. She snatched a cookie from a half eaten packet of them.
“Go play your game,” She said, motioning to the controller still in his hand, “I’ll go bug him.” Caleb gave her about a third of a second to finish her dismissal before vanishing in the direction of the gaming console. She put out her cigarette in the ashtray on the kitchen counter, and descended into Seth’s lair.
Seth’s father had formerly been a heavy drinker, and had turned the basement into a ‘for the guys’ chill out space. Then, when he’d remarried, his new wife Helen had forced him to clean up. Regan had been there with Seth for all of that. The end result was that the basement ended up unoccupied, and it didn’t take long for Seth to abandon his bedroom and take it over for himself. He said he liked the ambiance, Regan thought it smelled like mildew. That said, if pressed, she was willing to concede that it was the coolest place around that she wouldn’t get trouble for loitering around in.
She pounded on the door at the bottom of the stairs, but when Seth didn’t answer, She didn’t let that stop her. He’d previously given Regan an emergency key to his room ages ago and forgotten about it. She felt around the top of the doorframe until she found it’s hiding place in the gap between two pieces of wood. The lock was new, she been there when he switched it out, conquering the basement and shutting his parents out in what Regan had at the time compared to a judo move. With with a rather self satisfied grin, she unlocked the door, strolled inside, and locked the door behind herself.
The windows of the basement were all high up and blocked out with blackout curtains besides, leaving the space in near total darkness. Regan felt her way carefully down the last three steps beyond the door, running her hands along the low ceiling until she found the set of cords that controlled ‘red alert,’ the system of red Christmas lights that Seth had run throughout the basement. She fumbled the plugs into their sockets and the space was thrown into the dim relief of red light and shadow that characterized the area.
Seth was a lump under a pile of blankets, his mattress sitting on the floor amidst piles of clothes and other more questionable things. It was a pretty large space, he had the whole basement to himself and he’d luxuriously filled up the entire volume of it with trash and dirty laundry, in the true tradition of every seventeen year old boy in human history.
Regan picked her way over to his aging computer, careful to tiptoe around the more suspicious looking articles of clothing, and started up his music app. The Seth-blanket-mattress creature mumbled something unintelligible from the other side of the room as the bass started thumping into the concrete floor. She then picked up a small wooden box from his desk and wandered over to the mattress.
“Seth, it’s two in the afternoon.” She said flatly.
From within the blankets she heard “It’s not morning until I say it is.”
Her response was to drop heavily onto the mattress beside him and lounge against the blanket lump. “Well, I’ll just be smoking this weed you left on your desk” She opened up the box and took out the small bag of weed and his glass pipe. Regan had brought her own weed with her, she just wanted to irritate him enough that he’d actually emerge from his mattress-cocoon into a beautiful Sethurfly.
He mumbled a string of profanities, but it took until the smoke started to spread out into the air around the mattress that she finally managed to stir him from his blanket nest.
“Regan?” He mumbled, “You know how early it is?”
“It’s two in the afternoon Seth.” She answered, smoke puffing out with each word.
He groaned and rubbed his eyes, “Damnit, I was supposed to get up at nine to watch Caleb.” he swiped the pipe from her and took a long drag from it, sighing out a cloud of smoke.
“Nine has long come and gone I’m afraid. Were you also supposed to make sure he ate? Because it’s two hours past lunch and I’m pretty sure he got into the junk food.” She let him have the pipe and fished two cigarettes out of her pack, propping them in the crook of her ear.
He handed her back the pipe, rubbing his face. She hit the piece while he answered, “Yeah I was. Did he let you in?”
She nodded silently and passed him back the bowl, smoke curling out of her nose and lips as she studied him in the dimly lit space. Seth was easily her best friend. They had dated for a bit back when they’d turned sixteen, but after a few awkward sexual encounters, had gone back to being friends. He was scruffy, not unattractive but he did the grunge thing more strongly than anyone really needed to. Besides, Regan’s sexuality was a terrifying knot of self loathing and repressed desires, and that particular time-bomb was one she was hoping to dodge until at least her twenties.
Seth twisted out of the blanket cocoon he’d slept in and shrugged into a pair of jeans. He fished a t-shirt from what she hoped was a clean clothes pile, before he turned and trudged through the drifts of stuff to his desk.
“I am so done with this town,” Regan announced before taking another hit of the bowl. She followed him over to the desk and leaned against his shoulders while he scrolled through his music library.
“I hear that.” Seth said, taking the pipe back from her, “Dad’s started drinking again. Helen doesn’t like it.” He rolled his eyes and took a hit of the pipe, then knocked the ash from it out across the back of his hand, “I give the marriage another year or two at most.”
Regan took the pipe from him and returned it to its home before lighting up her two cigarettes and handing him one.
“You gonna stick around for the fireworks?” She asked with a bitter chuckle.
He snorted out smoke in response, “Yeah, I doubt it. I’m gonna buy a car and go up the valley at the very least, maybe even cross the glass sea, you up for that?”
“You know it.” She answered, dropping into the chair next to his that she always sat in.
“Helen’s gonna be home soon, wanna help me hide the evidence of Caleb’s rampage?” he asked.
“Not really. He’s your brother. I’ll lurk around and keep you company though,” the teenager answered honestly.
He grunted in affirmation and turned up his music to the earsplitting volume required to shake the floors of the entire house. “Once more unto the breach!” He shouted with a grin, and waded back towards the stairs.
Regan followed him upstairs, traveling through his wake until they’d cleared the sea of stuff that was the basement floor and then charged after him up the stairs.
Seth managed to coerce a bit of aid from Regan at first, but she quickly took to lurking around the kitchen, perched on the edge of the counter smoking with ashtray in hand. Seth meanwhile, convinced Caleb that if the two of them got the house cleaned before Helen got home at four, that he could run around doing whatever he wanted again tomorrow. Regan was fairly certain this was the standard routine. At some point she migrated to the living room and started merging with the sofa as the effects of the weed settled in. Even after the arrival of FTL ships, colony television was lackluster at best, overloaded with locally produced filler, occasionally spiced with something brought in by a Lighthorse. The soap opera Regan found managed to produce boredom of an intensity that seemed potentially lethal to her, and when it suddenly cut out, the transition made her jump.
“This is a Constellation Action News Alert” The screen announced to her, displaying the CAN logo with the words News Alert in bright red across the screen.
Regan perked up in her seat, taking a drag of the cigarette she’d forgotten in her hand, only to realise it’d gone out. The image changed to an anchor woman, standing in front of a wallscreen showing ships in space.
“Shockwaves of a yet to be determined event are being felt across space. Two hours ago, Martian naval forces began a massive and unprecedented deployment. CAN Affiliates captured the images you see behind me of Martian ships preparing to enter warp. Experts are reporting that almost half the fleet has been launched in the direction of Procyon, although their exact destination and the reason for their sudden departure, remain unknown.”
Regan was suddenly very interested. Unlike local news, which was inevitably boring, this was something big, something involving the world outside of their habitat.
“UNDF forces have been scrambling to react to this surprise move by the Martians, and as a response have begun deploying their own fleet, which will rendezvous here at Jericho Ridge before continuing onwards to Procyon, residents are advised to expect the first of the UNDF forces within the day, and all intercolonial shipping will be halted for the duration of the operation. Residents of Jericho Ridge are advised that the colony may undergo active maneuvering in order to receive the UNDF fleet.
We’ll be here every step of the way to keep you informed as the situation unfolds, for Constellation Action News I’m Hannah Dehamilton: your source for local and interstellar news.”
The cut back to the soap opera was so jarring that for a moment, Regan thought she had imagined the entire thing. The scrolling news bar at the bottom was the only thing that confirmed she hadn’t hallucinated the incident.
“Hey Seth!” She called out. “Take a look at this.”