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Chapter 1 [section 4a]

I stopped outside the hab-ring and pulled my handy out of my left sleeve pocket. Two things had to happen if I was gonna have a chance of meeting the captain’s departure schedule. Venus Station was much too large for me to search even just the rings by myself. I texted a quick order to First Sargent Bryans and Sargent Castanza, “Marine Teams 1 and 2 report to docking port ASAP for search and recovery.” Both sargents confirmed receipt immediately, so I had about a minute to do the second thing that needed doing.

Beside me in the corridor was the hatch to the number six head. I popped it open and pulled myself inside. I could feel my body shaking from the adrenaline crash that I had known would follow being a part of events like what-all had just happened on the bridge – the rescue mission, the recall order, and now being sent to recover missing crewmen.

I needed my head clear of the mix of terror and excitement and numb disbelief, and it had to happen in the next thirty seconds. What I wouldn’t give for a presstab or a full night’s sleep. Right. I looked around the head, and saw that the polished chrome mirror caught my reflection face-on, showing my hands in the periphery of my vision. My knuckles were a milky brown from the strain of holding onto the wash basin. It was the only way I could keep them from shaking.

I stared myself dead in the eyes, and took a moment to examine the nebulous interplay between dark brown and an almost amber highlight in each iris. I followed the anatomical contours around my dark, furrowed brow, and down the strong arch of my nose, the… who was I kidding? The deformed skin on my left cheek and the pitting from a long, adolescent war with acne defined my face.

It wasn’t self-pity. I was an officer aboard the newest ship in the system. I was about to lead two teams of marines in a boarding party onto a space station orbiting over the planet Venus on the far side of the sun from Earth. So what if my visage wasn’t one of godlike beauty like Colonel Kelly, or a mature authority like Doc Godderson? I’d just have to make up for the lack of automatic authority someway else.

I looked down at my hands, now released from the wash basin’s death grip, and I saw that they were no longer shaking. My handy chimed that the marines were waiting for me at the air lock. It was game time.

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