Freya's Tears

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Chapte Seven - Lafayette Response

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: New Pacifica - Freya's Tears
Timeline: Day Eleven

“Skipper.”

Els blinked awake, fuzzy-headed with exhaustion. “Huh?”

Austin’s bored tenor spoke over the ship’s intercom. “Time to get up, Skip. You’re on duty in an hour.”

She ran her tongue around her mouth with a grimace, pushing up onto her elbows. Her cabin was dark, illuminated only by the blinking lights from her workstation.

“Skipper?”

“All right, all right,” Els mumbled, forcing herself up and throwing her feet over the edge of the bed. “I hear you. I’m up.”

“Tobias made fish for dinner,” Austin announced. “See you in a bit.”

Els nodded despite the audible click of Austin closing the connection. Fish for dinner. Tobias had been with Els on her second shuttle run. He’d had the bright idea to grab the catch of the day from a school of frozen fish floating in the New Pacifica wasteland. Her childhood in an underwater colony had gifted her with abilities she’d thought long atrophied. With a little creative maneuvering and a lot of patience, they’d been able to pull several good-sized fish toward the ship, using the grapple and robotic arms as an impromptu net. It seemed deep sea fishing and deep space fishing utilized the same skill sets.

The few hours of sleep she’d gotten wasn’t enough to completely curtail her weariness. She swayed to her feet and stumbled toward the head, catching her foot on the sheet with a muttered curse. Once she’d heeded the demands of her bladder, she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Smudges under her eyes testified to her fatigue, and her hair corkscrewed up one side of her head. She made a face at herself as she brushed the curly hair into some order before splashing cold water on her face. That and a long, cold drink of water did wonders to her alertness.

When fully dressed, Els left her cabin, rubbing her face with one hand, unable to hold back a giant yawn.

The view out the front windows hadn’t changed since she’d hit her bunk hours ago. Chunks of metal and ice sparkled in the light of the system’s sun, glistening in the distance as they slowly spiraled outward from the destructive center. Smaller items floated among them, non-reflective bits and pieces of rubble, the physical remains of an entire world. The glittering mass initially drew attention but it was the smaller debris that kept it focused, demanded satisfaction as the mind attempted to make sense of what it saw. Even half asleep, Els couldn’t help but be drawn to the view, mentally shying away from the panorama as her eyes automatically tried to gather more data.

As morbidly fascinating as the scene was, the aroma of grilled fish distracted her, and her stomach rumbled in demand. Gratefully turning away, she headed aft toward the kitchenette, perking up at the sight of steaming food laid out on the dining table.

“You’re just in time.” Tobias stood at the stove, his strapping muscle-bound, tattooed form incongruent in the dainty apron he’d donned to protect his clothes. “The shuttle’s almost here, and you’ve got first dibs on dinner.”

“Did you get any sleep at all?” Tobias had been on the first shuttle shift with Els and would be going out on the next team.

“I got a few hours nap.” He shrugged, chuckling. “Don’t worry. I sleep where and when I can. You know how it is.”

Els had to agree. Tobias had been in the SRN for sixteen years as a gunner. He’d seen battles throughout multiple sectors and knew how the military worked.

He finished transferring gravy to a bowl and carried it to the table. “Dig in while it’s hot.”

Needing no more urging, she claimed two plates from the stack on the kitchen counter and headed toward the delicious smell of food. Though everyone aboard took a turn at cooking, Tobias had a significant flare for the task. He had the ability to combine the worst tasting ingredients into a delectable treat. Everyone looked forward to his kitchen rotation, and leftovers were a rarity. As she dished up crispy fish filets from the platter she felt and heard a clunk overhead of the shuttle docking with the ship.

Tobias grinned, stripping off the apron and tossing it over the eating bar counter. He picked up a plate for himself. “Told you.”

“Better hurry then. Hrothgar’s on that shuttle.” While there was no love lost between her brother and Tobias, Hrothgar had never let his feelings stand in the way of his belly. Els filled both plates with fish, mounds of mashed potatoes and greens that Tobias had sautéed with onions. Dribbling both plates with liberal amounts of gravy, she heard the door open.

“Oh, that smells fantastic!” Hrothgar led the way to the table, fairly drooling. “I am starved!”

Kasli entered behind him, circling him and the table. Els set the gravy down and hugged her. She studied Kasli, noting the same haunted look that she’d seen in the mirror a few minutes earlier. “How’d it go?”

“As well as could be expected.” Kasli reached out to snag a chunk of steaming fish from one of Els’s plates, easily avoiding the half-hearted slap of Els’s fingers. “Lots of destruction, no salvage, no fuel.”

Nodding, Els glanced back at the aft door. “Where’s Naya?”

Kasli jerked her head back the way she’d come. “Post flight checks.” She looked around for the plates.

“Dish up for both of you. I don’t think Hroth is going to leave any crumbs behind.” Kasli chuckled and went to retrieve the dinnerware as Els hoisted both her plates. “Tobias, call Kol before Hroth eats everything.”

“Aw, Els…” Hrothgar groaned, his fair skin reddening. She noticed that his embarrassment didn’t forestall his piling three filets onto his plate.

Tobias grinned. “Will do, Skipper.”

“Skipper to the bridge. Incoming message.”

Els stopped to grab silverware before bringing her plates downstairs. She set one on the nav station and handed the other to Austin. “Here. Figured by the time you got up there, my brother would devour the lot.”

“Thanks!” Austin shoveled a forkful of greens into his mouth. “Reco-ded me-age fom Lafe-tte,” he mumbled through the food.

She’d figured Folsum’s response would be recorded. Transmit times extended with distance and it was doubtful anyone had jumped into the edges of the system yet. It had taken her message close to eight hours to reach Lafayette and the same returning. There was no way to have a meaningful two-way conversation with such time distortions. She pinched off a piece of fish, enjoying its crispy flakiness as she accessed the tachcomm. Commander Folsum’s image played across the screen.

“Captain Ulfarsdottir, your message and attached data has been received.” He paused, dismay etched into his features. “I can’t even begin to fathom what you’re seeing first hand. It’s impossible to grasp.” Swallowing, his gaze intensified as his military training took over. “I know you’ve stated that there were no survivors, but I’ve dispatched several ships to assist in search and rescue procedures. I’ll be commanding them.”

She shook her head, knowing his mission was futile. No one had survived here to be rescued. She continued eating her dinner as she listened to the rest.

“My ships will reach your initial translation point in approximately three days. I’ve contacted my superiors with your information and have asked for reinforcements, but it’ll be several days before I receive responses let alone see any fresh troops in the area. At this time it will be beneficial for you to continue on your transport schedule to Bliss and alert their authorities. Please continue along your planned route through the system and stay safe. If you note anything unusual, leave a buoy marker and message. See you in a few days. Folsum out.”

“See anything unusual?” Austin gestured out the window at the fresh asteroid field. “What does he call that?”

Els grinned. “An unfortunate incident in military-speak.”

He shook his head, grumbling as he stuffed a third of a fish fillet into his maw.

Accessing the intercom, Els made an announcement. “All hands, Lafayette troops will be in system in about three days. We’ll continue as we have been—staying on our current heading with shuttle shifts to search for salvage. Eat up. Austin will be ready for launch within the next hour.” She accessed the shuttle schedule that Kasli had generated. “Kol and Tobias, you’ll go with him. The rest of you get some rest.”

Closing down the comm, Els made some adjustments on her navigation panel and took the control wheel in her hands. “I’m ready to play.”

Austin crammed a final forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth and leaned forward to reach the appropriate switches on his station. “Passing the ball to you.”

The wheel shifted in Els’s hands, the feeling of weight and pressure filling her palms as the controls switched over to her station. During the brief seconds of transfer, Freya drifted a few degrees off course. She flipped switches and studied the monitors, easing the ship back onto its projected and somewhat safe path. “Got it.” She glanced at him. “Take a ten and prep the shuttle.”

“Okay.” Austin pushed away from his station and stood, patting his stomach in appreciation for the excellent meal, having cleaned his plate down to the last bite. He gathered it and the eating utensils. “Do you need anything? I can have someone bring in coffee.”

“That might be a good idea.” After a long day, short sleep and a filling dinner, Els knew she’d be battling slumber. “Ja, if you could.”

“See you in a few hours, Skip.”

Els yawned as he passed behind her, silently cursing her weariness. She forced herself to sit straight and not slouch in the chair. Taking another bite of fish, she resolved to stay awake for the next eight hours.

 

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