If you’ve just joined in, start at the beginning here.
With his duffle bag slung over his shoulder, Lucas entered the gangway to his ship. The Angler’s scent always struck him first—not that his ship smelled bad exactly; it was just that the air on Maximillian Station smelled exceptionally fresh, even in the docking bay. As he pondered why a commercial enterprise spent so much on air purification, his continued down the narrow passageway. With each step, his footfalls rang out on the metal flooring.
“Well, you’re not subtle.” Ash stepped into view from the ship’s side. Her black skin shone, suggesting she’d been doing something physical, yet her grey and sky blue uniform was crisp as though just pressed.
Lucas smiled at the sight of his first officer and long-time friend. With a final stomp on the metal flooring of the gangway tube, he entered the Angler’s cargo hold.
“It’s my ship, I can make as much noise as I like.”
“I’m not complaining.” She crossed her arms and leaned against the packed grappling equipment stacked in the centre of the space. “It’s always good to know when the captain is coming.”
Lucas shrugged his bag off his shoulder and let it fall onto the deck. While docked to Maximillian Station they had gravity, which made most things easier. He sized up the new equipment, the parts were big and probably heavy. It still needed to be installed—having gravity didn’t make everything easier.
“Aren’t you supposed to blow a whistle or something whenever I show up?” Lucas raised an eyebrow.
“I think you need to find a ship with sails for that kind of shit.” Her deadpan delivery hid her sense of humour, as always.
“On a different note, is Werner on board?”
“He’s up on the bridge doing pre-departure checks,” Ash said “Are we really going to get close to the incoming asteroid?”
“101946 Tlaloc,” Lucas confirmed. “And yes, those are our orders.”
“But why?” Ash uncrossed her arms. “At our max speed we’ll arrive only hours before Earth’s defences blast it away.”
He shook his head and took a long inhale. “I just spent an hour in a room full of middle management and I still have no idea why they want us to go.”
“Oh, shit.” Ash ran a hand over her closely cropped hair. “It’s going to be that kind of mission.”
“And it gets worse.” He frowned. “We’re getting a passenger for the trip.”
Just as Ash opened her mouth to retort, a second set of footfalls sounded in the gangway tube. A moment later a stout woman in civilian clothes emerged towing an oversized suitcase with undersized wheels. In her other hand, she gripped a briefcase so tightly her knuckles shone white. The pasty hue to her skin revealed she’d spent a lifetime on a space station far from any UV light.
“Can we help you?” Lucas asked, hoping the woman was just lost. She appeared more ready for a trip on a passenger liner than on a working ship like his.
“I’m Dr. Paxton.” Her buckteeth and darting eyes gave her a rodent air. After surveying the space, she fixated on Lucas with an expression like she’d just sucked a lemon. “Is this the Angler?”
Both Lucas and Ash nodded—big, bold letters listed the name of the ship above the entry to the gangway.
“I’m here to oversee the extraction from the asteroid. Has the grappling gear been delivered?” She shifted her gaze between Lucas and Ash as though she was uncertain who she should talk to.
“It’s here.” Lucas pointed to where the equipment sat, still packed in crates. “We’ll get it installed en route.”
Paxton frowned as she stared at the equipment. “Our timeline is tight, why hasn’t it already been done?” She turned her glare on Lucas.
Ash cocked her head to study the other woman. “Moving heavy stuff is easier in zero-g.”
Paxton’s cheeks flushed as she scrunched up her face in a way that made her appear more like a mouse. She brushed a lock of brown hair away from her right eye before angling her body towards Lucas. “You’re Commander Ordaz, right?”
“Yes, I’m in command of this ship,” Lucas said. “Our window for departure is at 1400hrs. How about I show you around?”
She let out an audible exhale. “Fine.”
“This way.” Lucas turned and walked into the corridor leading forward from the cargo bay and currently attached gangway. Paxton followed close behind.
The only compartment further aft of the cargo bay was the engine room, which he made a mental note to put a passcode on. Paxton struck him as someone who wouldn’t keep her nose out of how he operated his ship.
“The Angler has a crew of three. You already met Lt. Jones, my first officer. My pilot, Lt. Werner is on the bridge getting us ready to go,” he explained as they entered the common space and stopped. In an alcove next to a minimalist kitchen counter was a banquet style table and seats. Even though there were no facilities for cooking anything from scratch, the room always smelled slightly of bacon.
With a thunk, Paxton pulled her suitcase over the doorframe lip and into the room.
“Only three? Do you understand how important this mission is?”
He looked her square in the eye. “Perhaps I don’t. How about you fill me in?”
She swallowed and glanced around. “It’s classified. You only get what you need to know, nothing more.”
“Fine.” He took three steps over to the wall and slid open an accordion door on the bottom half. Inside was just enough space for a narrow mattress. “This is your bunk.”
“What?” She stared at the coffin-sized space with wide eyes. “I need a cabin.”
“Nevertheless, this is your bunk. You can have the bottom two drawers over here.” He gestured to a bank of drawers on an adjacent wall.
“I’ll take your cabin then.” She glared at him. “My status as chief scientist demands a cabin.”
“My bunk is the top one.” He pointed to the one above hers. “I haven’t changed the sheets in a while, but you’re welcome to it. There aren’t any cabins.”
She continued to stare at him.
“Through here is the bridge.” He pointed to an open doorway leading forward. “And through here is the bathroom, complete with a shower that only works when we have gravity.” He gestured to a smaller closed door. “And that’s the entire ship.”
She let go of the suitcase handle, but it wasn’t balanced on the wheels. It tipped, then crashed to the rubberized floor. Her face went red as she tossed her briefcase onto the table.
“This is unacceptable.” She put her hands on her hips and tried to stare down on Lucas—which didn’t work as they were roughly the same height. “I need to make a call to my boss.”
“Sure.” He suppressed an urge to laugh. “Let’s head up to the bridge.”