By S. Alex Martin
A black line streaks through the light of the stars: the Perihelid asteroid field. We dropped out of FTL this morning, so far away that the Perihelids weren’t visible yet, but over the last few hours, they’ve grown larger…and larger…and larger. Now the field is a cloud of darkness. As the fleet drifts closer, I can make out individual asteroids, and the pilots activate the Ember’s floodlights.
Officer Remmit’s voice echoes through the intercoms. He’s monitoring our deceleration from his lab. Down in Station Control, Glacia stands behind one of the pilots to observe the process.
“Hold straight,” Officer Remmit says. “Hold, hold, now.”
A pilot activates the reverse thrusters, and a faint blue glow emanates from the front side of the engines. The Ember slows even more. Above us and to our sides, the engines of the other three stations flare as those crews mimic the sequence. We’re within a thousand miles of the field, then five hundred, then one hundred.
And then we’re inside.
Asteroids surround us. Some are massive pock- marked boulders and others are harmless chunks of debris. The MRRs deflect the asteroids in gradual arcs above and below the Ember. On the platform below Orcher’s, a panel displays the full range of the MRRs, which extend more than one hundred yards around the Ember. Whenever an asteroid comes into contact with the MRRs, a patch of light radiates on the panel at its exact location. The pilots fire the thrusters to compensate for the slight change in course.
“Normal patterns achieved,” Officer Remmit’s voice announces. “No anomalies detected. Velocity is as predicted. Forty-seven hours, and we’ll be out.”
The intercom goes silent. Down in Station Control, Captain Fallsten walks over to Glacia and says something. Glacia points at an empty control panel, Captain Fallsten nods, and Glacia sits down. She didn’t train last night so she would be awake for this, and Orcher told me Captain Fallsten agreed to adjust her schedule after we clear the Perihelids.
“Nice change of scenery,” Orcher says from his desk. His hands are clasped behind his head, and I can see the movement of his fingers as he plays with his watch.
“Could use some color though,” I say.
He chuckles. “Yes, yes it could. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of color on Belvun.”
I look up when more asteroids arc over the Bridge, matching the magnetic contours of the MRRs. Two boulders crash into each other and chunks of rock spray out, a dusty explosion that fogs the floodlights as the Ember passes through. Chinks rap against the windows as smaller rocks bump the station, rocks that don’t have metal composites in them.
“I don’t miss the plasma shields,” Orcher tells me, his eyes following another boulder as it sweeps overhead. “All they did was protect the hull and maybe dulled the impacts. But you still felt them. Some of the larger hits could knock you off your feet if you weren’t careful. Lucky Larson was here to think up the MRRs.”
I’m only half-listening, and nod when I hear him stop talking. Down in Station Control, Glacia switches seats with Captain Fallsten, who must be showing her a maneuver. Glacia’s first practice run is after lunch, and her second one will be tomorrow morning.
“Lieutenant Hofhen told me that you and Miss Haverns used the StarPad last night?”
“She wanted to teach me some constellations to show Ladia.”
“I see.” Orcher leans his head toward me. “Speaking of which: did Chancellor Green give you Miss Purnell’s address?”
Orcher bobs his head but doesn’t say anything else. Shadows glide over us, specks of light flicker in the windows. It’s kind of peaceful, even if our lives are in the hands of a small group of people in Station Control.
Arman Lance was supposed to travel the galaxy with his father, not watch him die. He was supposed to experience the adventures from his father’s stories, not isolate himself from the world. He was going to join the Embassy Program, fly across the galaxy, and find Ladia Purnell, a girl from another planet whom he loved years before.
Clinging to his fading hopes and dreams, Arman joins the Embassy Program to fulfill that last promise. If he can reach Ladia, he’ll never have to worry, never have to feel alone. But it doesn’t take long for his plan to fall apart when he’s confronted by his fellow Embassy recruit, Glacia Haverns, the ever-smiling adrenaline junkie who decides it’s her job to show Arman there’s more to life than chasing a desperate obsession.
In the words of Stephen Hawking: “There should be no boundary to human endeavor.”