Freya's Tears

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Chapter Four - Liftoff

Mission: Book Two - Ginnungagap
Location: Lafayette
Timeline: Day Three

The intercom opened in the common room. “Skipper to the bridge. Prepare for lift-off in T minus fifteen minutes.”

Austin’s announcement began a flurry of activity aboard ship. Els stood up from the dining room table, taking her coffee cup and plate to the kitchenette. She was followed by Hrothgar and Kasli. Kolodka had already disappeared out the door on his way to the engine bay as Els rinsed her dishes and silverware.

“Here, I’ll take it.” Kasli reached over and appropriated Els’s items. “Get to the bridge.”

Danke.” Els left the kitchenette, trailing after Tobias who headed to the promenade at the nose of the ship. There he and Kasli would strap in for the bumpy ride, being only passengers during lift off or landing procedures. Their expertise wouldn’t be called upon unless the ship or crew needed protection from pirates and thugs, skills that made them as vital as the engineers and the pilot when necessary.

Austin must have fired up the engine as the deck rumbled beneath Els’s feet. The sensation soothed her. Soon they’d be back where they belonged, soaring through the black of space. Behind her she heard the heavy clunk of the common room door as Hrothgar secured it before following Kolodka. The pair would remain aft, vigilant against unforeseen engine problems. The two biggest stressors to a ship were launches and landings. Freya’s Tears was over twenty years old and her crew had spent the majority of that time in hand-to-mouth poverty, forced to purchase substandard parts rather than quality components upon occasion. The chances of a technical glitch or failure during times of heavy mechanical stress were common though most issues employed an easy fix. It was a damned good thing that Els had two technological wizards to affect repairs literally on the fly.

While Tobias continued forward, Els headed downstairs to the bustling bridge. She’d filed their flight path and departure time with Port Authority the previous evening. Her navigation route already entered into the computer, her job was to keep an eye on shipboard systems while Austin got them off the ground. Naya, already curled into the comp sys station, would monitor communications and the computer activity to confirm all remained well.

Els’s board was green as she strapped into her chair, the lights indicating systems were normal. From her position, she noted the same on Austin’s board but couldn’t quite see Naya’s in its entirety from this angle. “How’s it going?”

“All good, Skipper.” Austin made another adjustment on his console, dropping a set of laminated cards dangling from a chain beneath his station—his checklists for pre- and post-flight tasks. Each station had them, but the pilot’s job was much more extensive than either Els’s or Naya’s jobs. He’d been at his post for nearly an hour as he worked through the safety checks. “Helm is green across the board.”

“Comp sys green across the board,” Naya piped. She turned toward Austin with a grin. “Everyone’s strapped in or at their stations.”

Els scanned her checklist and then the console. “Navigation green.” She quadruple-checked her computations. “Course laid in. Helm is go. The ship’s yours, Austin.” While technically the captain had final authority aboard ship, Els practiced what all captains did during this procedure and handed full control to her pilot. Until the ship was beyond the confines of Lafayette’s planetary atmosphere, Austin’s commands were law.

“Contact Port Authority,” he ordered.

Naya opened communications, the tachcomm crackling through the room. “Comms open.”

“Lafayette, this is Freya’s Tears preparing for lift off.”

Freya’s Tears, we have your window for lift off. Supplying airspace vector adjustments.”

Naya corroborated the arrival of the updated information and Els plugged the changes into navigation. “Navigation confirms, flight path adjusted for new vectors.”

Austin nodded, accessing the updated information. “Affirmative, Lafayette. Flight path is locked and engines are hot.”

Freya’s Tears, you’re free to commence lift off. Docking area is clear and air traffic rerouted.”

With an odd delicacy, Austin caressed his console. He was a small, irascible hermit endowed with an aversion to clothing. But when he flew a ship he was in his element, an artist. Freya gently lifted, gray dust rising from the expulsion of energy from her thrusters.

Els continued to monitor the instruments, pleased to see nothing flickered yellow or, worse, blinked dangerous red. Gray dust faded from view as the ship gained altitude.

“Adjusting for flight path,” Austin stated, as he turned the nose of the ship into the direction of their projected route. Pale green sky darkened in hue as the ship gained altitude. “Preparing to fire boosters. Later days, Lafayette.”

“All clear from our end. Have a safe trip, Freya’s Tears. Lafayette Port authority out.”

“Tachcomm closed,” Naya stated, her voice almost lost in the deepening rumble as Austin fired the booster rockets.

Gravitational pressure pressed Els into her chair as Austin monitored the boosters that would push the ship past the planetary ionosphere. The darkening sky showed no sense of speed, only the increasing weight of her body indicated the monstrous force of the engines and movement. A low growl shook the ship and the vibration increased while Freya fought against the gravity and planetary atmosphere. Faint orange licked the nose of the ship, barely visible at the lower edge of the plastisteel window as friction super-heated the hull. The ship punched through, the sky abruptly deepening to blackness as the rumble and shaking ceased. No stars were visible this close to the reflective albedo of Lafayette though Els saw the trailing edge of one moon starboard.

Austin studied his instruments, apparently satisfied as he fired thrusters to put the ship in place for the next leg of their journey. “We’ll reach jump position in about nine minutes.”

Els scanned her station, pleased. “Still green across the board.”

“Mine too!” Naya chuckled. “I think that’s the first time since I’ve come on board, isn’t it?”

Smiling, Els agreed. “I think so. It’s always been one thing or another.” Naya had been her most recent hire, the third computer systems analyst in the last six months. Prior to that, Els hadn’t had a comp sys on the crew for almost a year. The lack had been decidedly noticeable as programming glitches popped up with increasing regularity.

Austin grimaced, refusing to look Naya’s way or answer her question. Naya preened, utterly failing to catch his attention. After a moment, she shot him an exasperated glare.

Els smothered her humor. Naya had been flirting with Austin from the beginning, but he wouldn’t give her the time of day. He was such an odd bird. Els didn’t know if his behavior was active disapproval of Naya or a manifestation of his uncertainty because of an attraction to her. Els mentally shrugged. It had taken Austin two years before he’d done more than work professionally with Els. Who knew how long it would take for him to warm up to Naya. She wondered if Naya’s flighty personality had the tenacity to wait him out.

Setting aside her thoughts on the matter of Austin’s love life, Els reached for the intercom. “We’re clear. Drive fires in approximately eight minutes.” She shut it off and released the straps holding her to her chair. “Do you need me for anything?”

Austin shook his head in the negative. Naya was already locking down her console.

“Okay. Once drives are fired, Tobias will relieve you for the first watch.” Austin indicated understanding with a shrug. Els stood and stretched, leaning over to shut down the extraneous instruments at her station. While in space, energy conservation was the norm. Additionally, one member of the crew was on the bridge at all times—an early warning device should things go south in a hurry.

Naya exited the bridge through the second door, the one leading to the computer room directly behind. She’d spend the next few hours tweaking programs and checking the system despite the fact that the computer ran like a dream these days.

Els took the stairs up to the common area.

Tobias met her at the top, having already removed his safety restraints and gone to his cabin. He juggled a rifle, three pistols and his cleaning kit. “How long before New Pacifica?”

She stepped aside to allow him past. “Seven days.”

He nodded and winked. “Good thing I picked up some new books at the PX.” He trotted past, preparing to spend quality time with his weapons while he knocked out eight hours on the bridge.

Hrothgar entered the common area from aft as Kasli sidled up to Els from forward. His eyes lit up and he leered. “Kasli and E-els, sitting in a tree…”

Els raised an icy eyebrow which didn’t daunt her brother.

Kasli shook her head. “Hroth, can you be any more juvenile?”

Hrothgar paused in thought. “You know, I’m sure I could ramp it up a bit. Should I?”

“Not if you want to live,” Kasli intoned, feigning a scowl.

“Warning heeded.” Laughing, Hrothgar entered his cabin and closed the door.

“Wish he’d heed my warnings,” Els grumbled.

Kasli chuckled. “Words spoken by elder siblings throughout the universe.” She teased a grin from Els with a kiss. “I have next watch but I’m not tired. Do you want to watch a vid with me? I picked up a couple of new titles on Lafayette.”

Cheered, Els nodded. “Ja, that would be fun. Let me give the cargo a quick check.”

“All right.” Kasli bestowed another kiss upon Els’s lips and stepped away. “See you in a few minutes.”

Els left the common area for the cargo bay below. At the last minute, she’d been able to finagle one ton of freight for New Pacifica from the quartermaster, a load of aviation tires that had been dropped at Lafayette en route to its next destination. The load looked woefully small against the backdrop of the sixty tons of space in her cargo hold, but every little bit of income counted. Austin’s voice reverberated over the intercom. “Drive firing in five. Four. Three. Two. One. Ignition.”

Els shivered, seeming to feel the slightest tremble of the deck below her feet. Scientists insisted humans couldn’t feel the moment of translation between real space and null. Like every good spacer, Els didn’t believe them. Whenever the drives were fired, propelling a ship into that odd fold of reality between the starting and ending points on the celestial map, she sensed something out of place, as did many others. Shaking off the tremors, she reached the floor of the hold, eager to complete her duties and get back upstairs to Kasli.


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