Sole Remnants

Alright. This week it’s another Sci-Fi story. Again, I’ve managed to keep this one on the shorter end (roughly 10,500 words). This one is a little different as there is no violence. It’s definitely more about the journey. Even had an idea for a follow up. Not going to say anymore as I don’t want to give anything away. So without further delay here is Sole Remnants.

A small, fast, angular anthracite coloured starship named Journeyman drops out of a slipstream space tunnel above an unnamed planet. There the starship lingers and floats amongst the emptiness of space. From the outside there is nothing to say that the Journeyman has any issues. Meanwhile inside, Engineer Vanessa Hall is lying on her back under a console mumbling and grumbling to herself as she tries to work out and fix whatever it is that has just short-circuited.

The five foot nine inch tall woman with the left side of her head shaved and the right side coloured red and a little past her shoulder has a wrench in hand. It’s a primitive tool for such an advanced starship but has proved a useful option more often than it has not.

Suddenly sparks fly from the interior of the console as wires that should not cross touch. Vanessa curses angrily and then in frustration bangs the wrench in her hand against something on the inside of the narrow crowded space she is trying to work in. The strikes are frantic but do the trick as the sparking stops just in time to prevent it from growing enough to risk burning any of the skin on her otherwise sweat covered tanned face. Not that the other two members of the Journeyman’s crew can see her face or exactly what Vanessa has to deal with and suffer through.

Jeff and Sam, the other two members of the starship crew, are both stood less than a metre away from the console, near Vanessa’s feet as she works at efficiently as she is able given the limitations presented to her. Neither of them knows what to say so they keep quiet. Both have made the mistake previously of offering suggestions only to find their heads bitten off and a query as to whether they want to fix the latest in a string of failures all on their own.

However, after a couple additional minutes of grunting, sighing, cursing and grumbling Vanessa withdraws from the too tight space for her to effectively work in. As she stands she turns to cast her bright green eyes across the faces of her fellow travellers.

“Well, what’s the prognosis Van?” Sam asks with a quiet voice as they stand there with both arms folded across their chest.

“Do you want the direct answer or the technical one?” Vanessa replies with a snort and a quick roll of her neck. She hopes the roll of her neck will get rid of the stiffness she now feels in it as a result of having been under the console and held herself at a less than comfortable angle for as long as she did.

Sam says nothing as they instead contemplate what might be the best choice of the two, especially seeing as the look on Vanessa’s face is one of irritation. Whether the look is a result of the question issued to the engineer or the fault she had moments ago been trying to fix Sam cannot say.

“Direct.” Jeff declares without wanting to delay and wait for Sam to make a decision that may or may not be over thought. It’s not surprising given that Sam is the Journeyman’s pilot and navigations officer. They’re competent enough. That might be underselling the blue eyed crew member with curly brown hair down to the chin but it’s the best Jeff is willing to give until he knows Sam can land this bullet shaped vessel without snapping a landing gear or causing more failures than this hunk of metal seems to suffer from without warning.

Jeff has never in all his eighteen years of space travelling known a ship, especially a brand new one like this, suffer from as many faults, failures and glitches as it has. Still, it was the best he could charter in the time he had available to him. Though, had he been able to get a crew before the ship then he might have had a clue as to what to and to not charter for this voyage on behalf of the Coalition of Planetary Governments, more commonly referred to as the CPG.

“It’s fucked.” Is Vanessa’s direct reply that comes less than a second later.

Sam is taken aback by the outburst. They aren’t used to the direct and often colourful language used by Meridians like Vanessa. Jeff on the other hand as a native of the neighbouring Centauri is well versed in the sort of language that is common place amongst Meridians. In truth, if Sam thinks this is bad then they should hear a Meridian once they get going. When such a thing does occur, more words are curses than not. That in itself makes it difficult to fathom as to what exactly it is that has put them in such a foul mood to begin with. Thankfully, Vanessa is more communicative than most of her fellow systemers.

“Can it be fixed?” Jeff asks feeling a need to keep the conversation moving forward.

Vanessa offers no more than a shrug in response. It isn’t the answer Jeff would like but it’s more than he could have got which should have been a string of angry expletives spat right in his face. For that reason alone he’ll take it. He knows Vanessa is more than a decent engineer. If she wasn’t they’ll still be floating within the asteroid belt of Numa near their launch point on Cartouche.

That was when the first system failure occurred aboard the Journeyman. It had been a simple fix, according to Vanessa. He agreed in retrospect, not because of any knowledge of starships but because only one curse left her lips during the diagnostic and repair session that followed. Had it been difficult or troublesome there would have been many more than that.

“Ok. Will it affect our ability to land in-atmosphere and re-launch?” Jeff then asks feeling a need to know how big of an issue and set back this could be to why they are out here.

“It shouldn’t. Don’t think the sparks fried anything else in that shitbox.” Vanessa says wiping her overall sleeves across her thin face in hopes of removing some of the sweat that is beading and running down it even though she is no longer crammed into the tight under space of the console mounting and its electrical innards.

“Is there any way of checking?” Sam sounds nervous as the words leave their mouth. Perhaps more nervous than they would like, but it’s too late now the question has been spoken.

However, they do seem to have gotten over the curse words that have and likely will continue to leak from Vanessa’s mouth. That surprises Jeff, though he isn’t about to comment on it encase the adjustment is subconscious and Sam is not aware of it.

“Yeah, land.” Vanessa replies before offering a forced smile.

Her smile is in no way reassuring nor humourous, but Jeff doesn’t think that it’s supposed to be either. Sam on the other hand gulps and takes a half way step. It seems they have misread Vanessa’s body language and think that the Meridian engineer might be about to try and throw a fist at them. Vanessa won’t, or at least Jeff doesn’t think she will. He can’t be sure. He knows that. He just doesn’t believe it’s in-keeping with the woman’s character. What little he’s managed to ascertain about her character that is.

They could have done with more time to gel and ensure that they would be able to fit and work as a cohesive team but the CPG weren’t willing to delay. This mission is of the highest priority and needed to be underway before anyone started asking questions as to why the foremost expert on pre-human civilizations has suddenly disappeared off the face of human space. Especially as all his bookings and agreed upon public appearances have been cancelled without warning or comment.

Jeff wonders how the CPG managed it without word getting out. He hasn’t a clue but should that really be something on his mind right now? Perhaps not, but it is and he can still scarcely believe that the CPG came to him, Doctor Jeff Welty, with the offer of being sent beyond human occupied space to a planet believed to have an advanced civilization. It was the chance of a lifetime. And not one he could pass up. Though, that was not to say that he didn’t have reservations given his prior commitments. To those reservations the representative appointed to him by the CPG, as he was not allowed to meet the members in person, paid off all the cancellation fees. Or at least that is the impression he got from the rep from what they intimated and insinuated without clearing saying that such a thing is what they categorically did. That’s the trouble with politics, no one speaks plainly. It’s all veiled and flowery. Because of that it can be taken a number of ways. It just depends on the person it’s delivered to as to how it is interpreted, and done so there is wiggle room. Just enough of it in fact to allow the originator of those words to be able to writhe free if things turn sour and they need a quick out. Jeff hates it.

“Hey daydreamer, want to give us an order seeing as this little excursion is your big show?” Vanessa says with a wave of one of her dirt speckled hands across the middle of Jeff’s vision.

The gesture has the desired effect as Jeff snaps out of his daze that is the retreading of events that have led him to this moment.

Still, he feels the need to clear his throat as he would if about to give one of his talks. Then realises where he is and who his audience are. With that he readjusts his intentions and simply says, instead of projects like he would in an auditorium filled with students or adoring fans, “We run a diag just to be sure no other systems are caput and then, if everything is green, we set down.”

Jeff’s sounds gleeful as the last few words of his reply, which in reality are an order, leave his lips. His smile is wide but his eyes are wider still, and sparkling. He can scarcely believe the words that he has spoken yet he cannot bring himself to deliver a pinch to his flesh to ensure this isn’t part of some elaborate dream he might be about to wake from at any moment.

“It’ll take an hour, you good with that Doc?” Vanessa queries with a raised eyebrow that is perfectly timed with the conclusion of the question.

Jeff says nothing. Instead he nods frantically to convey that he is fine with it, though it looks like he might not be able to contain himself and may explode. Vanessa doesn’t get why Doctor Welty is so excited. They’re just visiting a rock. Humans inhabit thousands of them, but he’s paying and so gets to be as excited or not as he likes, as long as he doesn’t expect her to be as well. That is not in the contract. If he wants it to be he’ll have to pay extra, after a negotiation.

Jeff soon realises the dopey look that must be etched on his face so quickly regains composure. It’s too late to deny that it occurred, so he settles on not explaining. However, he wonders whether he should let Sam and Vanessa in on why they are really out here.  After all, it’s not like they can back out now. They are here, above their destination. The one handed to him by the CPG rep, figuratively. The CPG, even their reps, never hand anything over physically and literally. It is no doubt another part of their bureaucracy and gives them the option for plausible deniability.

Suddenly, Jeff realises he hasn’t surveyed the view. He chastises himself for that failing. Especially as at the end of the day it is part of the reason he is here.

Perhaps he’ll be able to view something of importance from orbit. He would be able to with a human occupied world. But as to whether this civilization is as developed he cannot say. Though he can hope.

That is why you should be analysing while we’re still beyond planetary orbit, you dolt. The voice in his head is bitter about his dallying. So without further ado he quickly ask if there is anything else that needs to be determined or whether everything is clear and the process can begin. Vanessa shrugs. It’s what he would expect seeing as in her mind she is here as an engineer, nothing else. The ship is where her responsibilities begin and end. She won’t be leaving the confines of the Journeyman. She had made that clear. Jeff isn’t sure why but he respects her demands and won’t go back on the agreement they’ve entered into. Though, it strikes him that perhaps she would not be interested in why they are out here. Yet, keeping the truth from her is something that he would consider as not being typical or in-keeping with his character.

He’ll tell Sam first. They’ll understand. They will be venturing outside of the Journeyman with him. Jeff had made sure to check if that would be alright for them and they advised that it would. Doctor Welty had been thankful when he’d heard them confirm that such a thing would be acceptable.

If Sam too had refused, or had been the first of the pair he had talked to, then he would have been forced to hire another crew member and with the starship already chartered that could have lead to issues. The Journeyman after all is a small starship, with space for three members of crew. Well, in truth it could house five but that would require significant others to be aboard and that is something this trio are certainly not likely to be. At least in Jeff’s eyes that is the case.

For him this is a purely professional excursion. He expects it is the same for Sam and Vanessa, though he cannot be one hundred percent sure if he is to be brutally honest and frank with himself. Yet, something tells him that Sam and Vanessa are not each other’s type. If either of them have a type that is. They may not he realises soon after making such assumptions that are markedly out of character for him seeing as he is a man who has made his career on never concluding without sufficient detail.

Is this a conclusion however? He doesn’t know. It could just be a possibility and Doctor Jeff Welty often indulges in possibilities, what’s and ifs. He has to in his line of work seeing as humanity has yet to find an advanced sentient civilization and make contact with them. This could be that day. He knows that and absentmindedly rubs his hands together for a few seconds before becoming aware of the action. When he becomes aware of it he goes stiff as panic fills him and he expects to be met with questions. He isn’t and as he looks around he finds to his relief that he is alone. When Sam and Vanessa returned to their work he does not know. Though, he is thankful for it as if they had still been present then he would have felt more embarrassed than he already does for his actions.

He quickly banishes his embarrassment, spins about and heads for the narrow diamond shaped space that serves as the ‘bridge’ of the Journeyman. To call it that is decidedly inaccurate in his mind but apparently correct terminology.

He would describe it, in his own vernacular, as a cockpit because of its limited size and space.

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