The scout crew waved Colin and the others off. The airlock doors sealed a short officious looking man stood looking at a data terminal and tapped a few buttons on the screen with a bit of flare and then looked at the five of them.
“Well then, let’s get you to your quarters.” The man pressed a button, and a set of doors slid open leading to a corridor.
“How long until we reach Lava-227?” Yori asked as the man lead them out the corridor was a light grey colour with ample lighting and lots of signage at head height indicating where things were emergency procedures, and such like the same was repeated near their knees but upside down.
“Three days, we’ve got a day here waiting for more people then we jump to Consta-2 recharge and jump to Lava-227 then you get shuttled out to the old ranger survey station there.” He paused momentarily at regular intervals and looked at a data panel next to emergency bulkheads nodding as he did so.
“What are you checking?” Colin asked as he watched the mans practice closely.
“Standard routine making sure that the pressures correct, the door systems are fine, and that kind of thing. You’ve got to stay on top of these kinds of things out here in space one incorrectly aligned thing, and the whole ship could explode.”
“I’d hope it’s not quite that brittle, I was looking at the schematics for these Hooper class jump ships they’ve got a lot of redundancy.” Case added to the discussion.
“True enough, but if enough people don’t do the daily things right and enough little things stop behaving as they problems can spiral out of control, that’s why if you’re crew on any kind of extraterrestrial posting you need to get into the habit of checking everything. Ah, these are your quarters, I believe you should be able to use your companions to find the other facilities also the ship computer responds to voice communications and these panels on the wall will let you talk to anyone connected to the comm system as noted these are for emergency use.” He was pointing at a small microphone next to a red button. The group nodded and went into the room. It was cramped with six sleep capsules, a row of lockers and a table with a couple of benches.
“Well, it’s cosy.” Colin opened up a locker and stuffed his bag inside.
“Just like home,” Leah announced.
“Were you raised on a battery farm? Are you secretly a chicken?” Vivek looked at her with a smile on his face.
“That’d be a turn up for the books.” Case sat on a bench and looked around the small compartment.
“No Vivek, I was not a chicken.” Leah rolled her eyes.
“Good I hate chickens.”
“Why?” Colin looked at Vivek.
“They smell, they bring loads of flies, they’re loud, and they’re a real nuisance to catch!” Vivek waved and hand in front of his nose and scrunched his face up like he’d smelt something unpleasant.
“You had chickens?” Case’s eye went wide.
“My Gran had chickens said it kept you grounded looking after things that feed you.” He waggled his finger and put on an accent as he mimicked his grandmother.
“Did it?” Yori asked as she also picked a locker and stuffed her duffle bag in it.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” With that, they laughed and collected around the table.
It had been a day, and the group was sat in one of the observation lounges with a large platter of junk food between them, Viveks hand was in a pile of fries while Yori devoured the last part of a burger Case was sipping a large glass of drink through a straw, Leah was busy mopping up the sauce with a wedge of bread and Colin was focused on the outside burger in one hand. There were blue lights lit up on panels all about, and there was a countdown that had just past 10 minutes. A sound of machinery started up, and the transparent plasteel of the observation windows was slowly covered by thicker protective plates.
Colin frowned and turned back to the group.
“Don’t worry they’ll open them again once the jumps finished,” Yori reassured him.
“Woah, no snide remark?” Vivek stuffed the chips into his mouth and waited expectantly. Colin didn’t look like he was paying any attention and Yori just shot him a glare. Vivek shrugged with a cheeky smile and swallowed.
“Look at those chubby chipmunk cheeks!” Leah exclaimed, reaching over the table and pinching Vivek’s cheek.
When the ship jumped, they all got to enjoy their first time going interstellar, while visually not much happened the ship simply ceased being in one location and started being in another the feeling of it happening was a bit like when you suddenly drop on a rollercoaster, mixed with the fussy feeling when you’re just going past comfortably drunk. The sensation when you’re spinning around really fast and then suddenly sit down and everything keeps going, and finally, some kind of cosmic awareness comparable to those rare moments when your not thinking about anything at all until you realise you’re not thinking about anything at all and it all becomes a bit meta. If you threw all those in a bottle and shook them up and then magnified them several times, you have the feeling they were feeling at that moment post jump.
“Woah, well, that’s a feeling.” Case put rested her hand on her stomach then looked around the table, pale faces all around apart from Colin. He was focused on the observation window.
“Glad I ate all that food, makes me feel great,” Vivek said, looking like he was going to throw up.
“Here, eat this.” Leah pressed a cold burger up to his face.
“Demon!” He backed away, and she grinned.
Then the blast panels retracted, and a familiar blackness of space glared at them.
“Wow,” Colin exclaimed first.
“Wow,” Yori echoed
“They’re so different!” Leah who was also gawking now added.
“I’d expected it but seeing it now, just, oh my” Colin muttered nose up against the plasteel window.
“Woah, what’s that?” Case pointed at something huge like an asteroid with towers sticking out of it.
“I think that’s Hellios, it’s a fueling station.” Colin confidently stated. “Gura bring up the star charts for Consta-2.”
“On it,” the cartoon shark girl said in a singsong voice and wagged her tail her graphic looked like she was going through a pile of paper, discarding sheets over her shoulders, “here you go.” As she said that the star records began to overlap with the designation for the stars in that alien sky.
“I mean, you know it’s supposed to be different, but I guess it’s not until you go to another system that you really realise just how different the stars are.” Case mused leaning forward.
“Yeah, definitely not near Tera now.” Vivek crossed his legs on his seat.
Several days later they were sat on an uncomfortable chair in a vast hanger a group of gruff-looking rangers stood before them they had chiselled physiques, and their jumpsuits were covered in service patches and storage pouches. A bulky looking bag over each of their shoulders, big sturdy boots and gloves, hanging around there necks were emergency rebreathers and hoods. If for some reason pressure dropped they were ready to leap into action. The five cadets had similar, albeit less impressive looking gear.
“Well you’ve spent the last few days performing drills and almost dying in the simulators, I fully expect you all to die in the cold hard vacuum of space!” One of the rangers a woman with a sour expression and arms folded barked at them.
“You can all quit today, right now, and we’ll ship you all home!” Vivek went to stand up, and Case slapped him around the back of the head.
“Remember the chickens and the beating” she whispered, and he stopped moving to leave.
“No takers? You sure?”
“Nah, we’re losers, not quitters,” Colin said a smile on his face. Yori rolled his eyes.
“Well, in that case, good luck! We’ll see you back here in two weeks, or more likely we’ll be forced to rescue your incompetent arses in a couple of hours.” The Ranger then pointed at an open airlock. “Your chariot awaits.”
The five of them turned to see the doorway leading to their future, a ship of their own if only for the next couple of weeks.
“We’ll try to make it back in one piece.” Colin jumped up, saluted, bowed, and then turned and jogged towards the ship. The others followed, equally excited.
The ship layout was similar to many of the scout vessels they’d been on before except it was older and more worn, the warning messages were fading, the systems all looked a bit more dated, and things had clearly seen use in their time. The five of them stood in the cockpit and surveyed it for a moment.
“Okay, first thing first, let’s get this baby looking space worthy.” Colin turned to them all in turn, and they all nodded. For the next half of the day, they spent their time triple-checking every piece of equipment, every dashboard and reassessing all the emergency procedures. They took an inventory of the cargo and confirmed that they had everything they needed for both the space survey and the ground expedition. They repainted or reapplied all the labelling on the ship and even made sure none of the seat covers or mattresses was frayed. The rangers didn’t get involved but watched from afar.
“Let’s do one last inspection,” Yori suggested.
“Definitely,” Colin nodded in agreement, and the two of them walked the ship one last time, the other three were relaxing in the small lounge playing a game of cards. Eventually, the two of them ended in the cockpit and sat down in the pilot and co-pilot seats, Yori laid her arms out on the control panel and looked out of the screens. Colin slouched down and similarly looked out.
“Let’s not mess this up,” Yori said and turned to look at him.
“Affirmative,” he nodded and looked at her “, besides how could the two best space adventurers in the cosmos leading the greatest ragtag team of misfits ever assembled fail something this simple?” He smiled, she returned the smile, rolled her eyes and looked back outside.