Leo picked up his fork and started eating because – face it squarely – Lissa was right. The group Trevor had volunteered onto was under orders to focus on sealing hulls and ensuring operation of the over distance engines. Component transporters were pressuring completed sections of fleet ships with safe atmosphere from their own systems, and Dockland’s remaining seven lifeboats had all undergone tethering connections being added to their life supports.
It was a small hope Leo had been clinging to for believing the fleet would be prepared for safe departure in the time they had to finish assembly; Daion installers had already decided life support was a system they could finish once out of orbit and on course. Getting away from being a group of easy to target and capture, planet-bound people was the main focus.
Leo’s plate was empty and the countdown for Shiner’s arrival was now two hours and thirteen minutes when breakfast was over. In the lift from the galley deck to where Leo parted with Lissa, the older man going to the bridge for InterStel and Leo to the below decks control room for NavCom, Lissa declined the offer of using Leo’s smart to vid with anyone landside. The installer explained – mockingly slow in a play of being condescending – that he still expected to speak with them after all the happenings of this cycle were finished. Leo nodded and agreed, waving as the lift doors closed and left him alone.
He knew Lissa was right and there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, but knowing didn’t stop the scroll of potentially terrible outcomes from running through his mind. Captain behaved distrustfully toward Shiner’s crew and, despite Daions currently doubling activity to complete evacuation ships, all of Dockland’s lifeboats were ready to launch from their holds instead of dropping landside to fill with evacuees. A lot of the tension in Leo’s shoulders came from knowing Dockland’s lifeboats were prepped to evacuate rather than for helping with an evacuation.
The walk from the lift to the below decks control room was short, but for Leo it was just enough time to vid Trevor and save a record. He assumed she’d either be working or sleeping right now. If he was forced to risk currency on it, he’d gamble she was working. Lissa had bragged unabashedly (at every opportunity) about what a gifted installer Trevor was, and Leo knew her work ethic when things were important, so he already had the short message planned when he tapped her contact for a vid request. It was a plan she completely ruined by accepting the vid request.
He blazed ahead with the quick monologue as if talking only to her personal recorder for her to watch the saved message later. The skin around her eyes was swollen from lack of sleep and even her hair looked tired, but she smiled and then chuckled when she realized what he was doing. He wrapped up the message speech with how much he loved her.
“You’re a bolt and you’re wasting my time. I’ll see you soon,” she promised. “Three cycles, remember?” she added.
“The new cycle started so technically only two,” he argued. Her brows dropped into a scowl, her tired mind ready to fight at the drop of a pin over whatever space rotted things he decided to poke at. “I’m only making sure you stay angry at me,” he added quickly and beamed a smile at her when she glared at him.
“Go to work,” she snapped, swiping out of the vid. He messaged her a holo heart, getting only a vomit image in reply as he stopped beside his crossover.
Nothing had changed during his single shift away. It was a fast conversation with his crossover and then Leo dropped into the seat in front of NavCom to monitor the scrolling numbers in the progress bar showing the initial course starting point.
He couldn’t focus on the news pages he looked up with his smart, and the few conversations in the control room were muted and awkwardly short. His smart dinged for a message and he felt a smile pull at one side of his lips at the holo of a heart around a shuffling, single-suited zombie from Trevor. He looked closer at it when the vid hitched, usually meaning she’d changed the coding quickly, and realized she’d added a large bolt stabbed into the zombie’s head, half hidden by the oversized helmet with his name on it. (He’d never known what a zombie even was until coming shipside, but out here apparently it was funny for corpses in single-suits to revive after death and walk around smashing up ship systems. Trevor said zombies were the reference for where the term ‘space rot’ had come from.)
“Do you think this is what it was like going into battles back before demilitarization?” Mollin asked. It was a question pitched loud enough to be asking anyone in the room, but he was looking at Leo.
“I don’t know,” Leo answered honestly. “But this is definitely the way I felt walking into Academy the first time with only my lottery-won scholarship and good enough test scores behind my entrance,” he added, swiping away the holo of stumbling death as he turned to face Mollin and his question about battle.
Lastin, stationed at the long range weapon panels beside where Mollin was sitting at short range weapons, cleared his throat nervously. “I was, um, just thinking that this waiting, it’s a lot like waiting for my mom’s surgery outcome when her heart failed suddenly a couple of standard years ago,” Lastin said, quietly adding to the conversation.
In halted admissions and hesitating sentences, the below decks control room lead crew members each put out a short tale of fearful waiting or of facing down some unknown they’d been terrified of. Nobody seemed to be boasting, and nothing said could be mistaken as a pridefully modest confession. Everyone was just scared, and it was easier to be scared together. They talked together about other times when they’d gotten through these feelings safely, instead of silently worrying alone about what might happen this time.
Captain had made it a generally known secret among Dockland’s remaining crew that there was another pre-InterStel ship out there from before Coalition demilitarization, but she didn’t admit to knowing where or what it was. She assured everyone it wasn’t Shiner, a difficult assurance to believe when Shiner was the only ship arriving in a comparable time frame to Dockland and from a similarly distant starting point. When this worry got mentioned, Leo chuckled gently. His own anxiety about it at breakfast had been squashed by Lissa’s level-thinking advice.
Everyone in the below decks control room stared at Leo when he chuckled. “We don’t have to worry about Shiner being pre-InterStel because we can all look up Shiner’s construction and assembly records,” Leo said, repeating exactly what Lissa had told him earlier. “I did, at breakfast before this shift, and Shiner is only twenty standard years old.”
Mollin scoffed. “Yeah, but –”
“There isn’t any ‘yeah, but’ to add,” Leo said, interrupting Mollin. “If you look up Dockland, you won’t find anything specifically wrong. What you will find is a lot of information that, knowing what we all know from living on the ship, doesn’t add up correctly if you really think about it. It’s all spot on for registration audits, but none of it is right. Shiner’s records don’t have any of those gaps or weirdly worded sentences. It’s a twenty standard year old ship designed and built for scanning. The blunted, smooth shape and the lack of transglass in the hull tells us just by looking at stills of it that Shiner is new construction. Dockland’s lifeboat holds look like misplaced water pontoons and our unevenly bumped hull has just as much transglass window panelling as it does normal glassteel. Even upgraded, Dockland looks old. But Shiner doesn’t.”
This was a weekly blog updating on Fridays, but life got busy so now I pop in now and then to let you know I'm still chipping away at my stories. If you look back through the archive you'll find weekly quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free! Check out my Short Stories section for free downloads of most of my writing, too!