Chapter 1: Prologue
Something about lobbies sets MC on edge. They're liminal spaces to her, like airport terminals and shitty gas stations. No one is supposed to stay in a lobby. It is a place of transition from one place to the next.
She can't decide whether empty lobbies are worse, or lobbies with people in them. They're both bad, though, that much is true.
The lobby of Transstellar Travels isn't the worst lobby she's ever been in. It's minimalistic and pristine. The chairs are nice and lightly padded, dark blue contrasting with the grey walls. In the far corner, a single white orchid with three blooms presides over a table of download kiosks containing e-magazines and brochures detailing the different ships and destinations the company offers.
MC sits in the chair farthest from the desk and fiddles with her green tie patterned with red poppies. It was a gift from her father when she graduated from flight school, and going to an important engagement without it is unthinkable. Her leg bounces up and down, and she can hear her flight instructor telling her to “Put that energy to good use, don't waste it when you could be checking slipstream lines.” But she isn't on a ship, so instead, she scrolls through the holograms that shine softly above her paper-thin display portal.
Her feed is filled with lists of different galaxies, planets, and flights. Reading them helps ease her nerves. If anyone were sitting next to her, the information would be nothing more than incomprehensible jargon, but it makes sense to MC. She clicks on a sub-feed for calculations in the Milky Way – the other galaxies in her feed are wishful thinking on her part. One day, she'll pilot an extended space flight, but for now, she'll have to settle for what's in her home galaxy.
The feed expands when she clicks on it, showing calculations for sub-light travel and available slipstream jump points, as well as distances from other inhabited planets. When she selected a jump point, it spreads to cover most of the hologram, displaying dates and times where Earth will be closest to it. Elliptical orbit calculations are easier to predict – usually there's a window of a couple of months where Earth is significantly closer. Orbital axis calculations are harder; exact dates and times always are.
MC makes several pinching motions that return her to the original feed. A swipe to the left brings her to a new one filled with pictures and posts. She scrolls for a few minutes, admiring the series of pictures her mother took of her dad in their bookstore. Her mom's photos are good enough to be professional – her dad looks like a model shelving books. MC downloads the last two – one of her dad bending over a tall pile of books with a small smile on his face while he attempts to save his glasses, and the other of him and her mother standing by one of the displays of new books. They look like an Asian and Caucasian salt-and-pepper shaker set, with her blonde hair and his darker skin.
She closes her display portal and stands, tucking it into the inside pocket of her suit coat and adjusting her tie ever-so-slightly as she walks up to the front desk. The receptionist – Yvette, her name tag says – smiles up at her. “Mr. Yin will see you now, First Mate.”
“Thank you,” MC replies, mustering up a smile. She can't stand that the staff here have to refer to her by her flight ranks – it's something that she thinks should stay with the crew and other affiliated flight members. But she brushes it off. “His office is in the back left corner of the floor, yes?”
Yvette nods. “Straight down the hall, then take a left. His office is at the end of the hall.”
MC heads through the door to her right and forces herself not to jog down the hallways. The whole building is painted in the same shade of grey as the lobby, and everything looks washed out under the fluorescent lights. After years of flight school and spending most of her time in hangers for air and spacecraft alike, being inside of a normal building is strange. Almost unnatural, even. It makes her skin crawl, and she picks up the pace a little, dodging what looks like a secretary heading the opposite direction.
She turns the corner and the door to Mr. Yin's office appears, a sleek black affair at the end of an unnecessarily long hallway. Walking down it makes MC feel like she's been sent to the principal's office – it's an experience she's intimately familiar with. She's unnerved by the time she's close enough to knock. A voice tells her to come in, and she does.
“Ah, MC. Thank you for coming on such short notice. Please, sit.” He gestures to the stiff metal chair sitting in front of his sleek desk.
His office is much the same as the lobby, clean and spartan in its design. The same designer must have been employed – it's too similar. MC has only been in the office once before, for her callback interview, and as far as she can tell, nothing has changed. It's almost eerie.
Through the floor to ceiling windows on her right, MC can see the city rising into the sky around them. Seoul is a metropolis, so very different from her hometown in the Independent Republic of Japan. Everything that she has seen of the Chinese Empire is urban, but she expected that – it's difficult to leave the city limits without documentation proving where you are going and when you are to arrive. The glowing of tall buildings and the rush of people wear on her uncomfortably, like a second skin that doesn't quite fit. She misses Iwatobi more and more every day that passes.
MC pulls her gaze from the view and focuses on Mr. Yin. “Of course,” she replies, inclining her head. “What can I do for you?”
Mr. Yin rests his elbows on the top of his desk, ignoring the feed from the large display portal sitting on the desktop. MC notices that he has a physical keyboard – mechanical, judging from the design of the keys themselves. It's an odd anachronism to the room, but she can understand that – her father does run a physical bookshop, after all. The little antiquities that she can find in her day-to-day make her smile.
Her superior's next words wipe the smile from her face. “We've received complaints from some of the other crew members about threatening emails being sent to their private accounts from an unknown source. Have you had any such emails?”
MC thinks for a moment. She keeps her email fairly private, and her spam filters do a good job. One slipped through the cracks yesterday – an invitation offering to take her to Magenta and Paradise, wherever that is. She remembered the logo, more than anything else, a beautifully stylized eye – she had marked it as spam and deleted it. But it certainly wasn't threatening in any way – she couldn't even remember the name attached to it. Probably a weird spa retreat or something. She decided it wasn't worth mentioning.
“No, sir, I haven't,” she replies, shaking her head. “Am I permitted to know the contents of the emails?”
Mr. Yin relaxes in his chair, a slight change of body language that is almost unnoticeable. “No, unfortunately. It's been marked confidential.” He sits up straight. “In that case, I have some news concerning your flight tomorrow. Captain Markyl has been removed from the flight, along with several other crew members. I'm promoting you to Captain for the duration of the journey. If all goes well, you may consider your probationary flight over and your promotion permanent.”
MC sucks in a sharp breath. “Ah, thank you for such an honor, sir, but this goes against the Interstellar Flight Conventions. I'm not supposed to run a ship until I've served as a first mate on at least one voyage.”
His smile grows wide, and MC doesn't like the decidedly feline turn it has taken. He looks very much like the cat who caught the canary. “Ah, but these are extenuating circumstances. We have some high profile guests on this flight, and I cannot afford to garner their ill will. If I could transfer them to another flight, I would, but this is the only one I have available, and there's no time to assemble another crew. I assure you, all will be fine. I have every faith in the scores that Seoul Flight Academy gave you.”
MC swallows, and she isn't sure how to tell her boss that this is a violation of intergalactic law. “Sir, this is a violation of company policy,” she insists, making the crime inward rather than outward. Surely, he wouldn't go against his own company rules.
Mr. Yin narrows his eyes and smooths down his tie. “Refusing to comply with orders goes on a permanent flight record, MC. I think it would be rather hard to find a new job without any flight experience and insubordination marked on your docket, don't you?”
It's not a particularly subtle threat, and MC hears it loud and clear. Her mouth freezes for a minute in panic as her mind scrambles to find a response. She swallows again, throat dry this time, and nods. “I would agree that such a situation would be difficult, sir.”
Difficult is an understatement. It would be impossible. Companies and captains view insubordination as just below mutiny in terms of danger to crew and passengers. Such a mark on her record would ruin any future prospects she might have – and it would certainly mean an end to her flight career.
Mr. Yin's face breaks into a smile again. “Excellent! I am glad we could come to an agreement. I expect you to clock in for the pre-boarding systems check at 0500 hours as planned. New uniforms befitting you rank as Captain will be delivered to your rooms before you arrive. Are there any questions you have for me?”
Her mouth and throat are still dry, and it feels like a stone has sunk into the pit of her stomach. “No, sir.”
“Well, then, that will be all. You can show yourself out, I presume?” He's already turning to his display, a clear dismissal if MC has ever seen one.
“Yes, sir.” She does not thank him as she stands, nor attempt to shake his hand. When the door shuts behind her, it sounds like an airlock slamming closed.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
Alright, so I have some important definitions for y'all so you don't have to refer to google! The directional terms are for water-boat-ships and not spacecraft, but they work the same way.
Bow: The bow of a ship is the part of the ship that faces forward when the ship underway. The bow is usually distinguished by a sharply angled hull, which provides less resistance, making it easier for the ship to plow through water.
Stern: The stern is located at the back end of the ship, opposite from the bow.
Forward: Forward on a ship means toward the direction of the bow. This is a directional term rather than a specific part of the ship, so crew can move forward, but not to the forward (because that would be "to the bow")
Aft: Aft on a ship means toward the direction of the stern. So characters can move aftward, but not to the aft (because that would be "to the stern")
Port: Port refers to the left side of the ship, when facing forward. Port side will always remain the same because it's direction is oriented in relation to the bow. So if you're facing the stern, port will be on your right, and on your left when you face the bow.
Starboard: Starboard refers to the right side of the ship, when facing forward. The same rules for port side apply to starboard side, except starboard is right in relation to the bow.
Terraform: to transform a planet so that it resembles earth, especially in relation to supporting human life. So if the characters refer to a planet as "terraformed," they mean it's been altered to support human life.
Also, DISCLAIMER: I'm American so I don't /really/ understand the metric system, but it's used in the story so if something is way off, please know that I did my best, and that I'm three-dimensionally challenged in American units of measurement too, so I'm TRYING Y'ALL. Also drop me a comment to let me know so I can fix it.
... And I think that's everything as far as definitions go. Hope that was helpful, and enjoy the chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Shooting Star sits on the launch platform, its form an indistinct patch of black against the dark night sky. Some parts of the glow with a soft but bright white light. At least someone is in there, even though she realizes belatedly that she has no way to tell them that she’s arrived. She should have checked in with the staff at the flight tower first.
MC pauses in her walking, wincing at the burning pain in her thighs. Her magboots add an extra twenty-two pounds to her feet, give or take, and she hasn’t worn them in a while. The ship isn’t far, though, so MC tells herself that she’ll get used to it and marches onwards.
Her duffel bag bounces on her shoulders as she comes to a stop underneath the ship’s airlock. Close up, she can see that the hull is scorched black — it must have entered a planetary atmosphere at some point. MC is glad that she won’t be flying an untested ship, at the very least.
She weaves among the landing gear, looking for a set of stairs, but there’s nothing but asphalt below her and the ship above her. With a sigh, she returns to the foot underneath the airlock and gives the rungs a long look. Climbing them is the last thing she wants to do.
But there’s nothing else she can do. She whispers, “You can do this,” to herself, not sure whether she’s talking about the ladder or the flight, and grabs hold of the first rung.
The ladder leads her up the landing gear and underneath the belly of the spacecraft towards the airlock. MC hooks her knees through each rung, like she’s going across the monkey bars upside down. Her duffel, even though it only has clothes and a few books in it, seems to get heavier with each rung. The monkey bar comparison helps her to forget she’s dangling several dozen feet in almost pitch darkness above the unforgiving tarmac with nothing except her own muscles between her and a long way down.
By the time she finally pulls herself over the edge and sits on the lip outside of the first airlock door, she’s breathing hard. Her head hits the door with a dull thunk as she lets her legs hang over the edge and waits for them to stop shaking.
Only a few minutes pass by before the airlock opens with a soft whoosh, and MC nearly falls backward. She manages to catch herself on her still weak arms. Someone yelps, and she tilts her head back to look at them.
The lights blind her for a good moment or two, but her eyes adjust quickly. A young blond man stands just behind her, purple eyes wide with surprise or shock — MC can’t tell which. He’s in uniform, with the name Kim Yoosung embroidered on his left breast of the navy blue fabric.
“Hello,” she says, still a touch out of breath.
This jerks the boy out of his act as a silent statue, and he bows to her. “Hi! I’m so sorry, you scared the life out of me. How did you get up here?”
She gestures over the edge. “Ladder.”
His eyes grow even wider, if that’s possible. “You climbed the ladder?”
“Magboots and all,” MC replies, lifting one shaky leg to show off the magnetized steel sole of her shoe. “God, I’m so out of shape.”
“You must be our captain, then?”
She struggles to her feet, accepting his proffered hand. “I- yes, that’s me. Captain MC.” The title tastes sour on her tongue, and she resolves to use it as little as possible.
“A pleasure to meet you! I’m Kim Yoosung, Senior Medical Officer. I’m sorry we didn’t have the stairs out — Captain Markyl usually leaves the preparations to staff and shows up about half an hour before takeoff.”
MC doesn’t know what to say to that. “I’m not Captain Markyl,” she shrugs. “Can I come in? It’s cold as shit out here.”
Yoosung backpedals, opening the inner airlock door. “This way. Are you familiar with this ship model?”
“Not as much as I would like to be,” she says. MC only had a few hours to look at the blueprints for the ship, and while she has a general sense of where everything is, she isn’t confident. “I’ll need some help with the more intricate parts of the system from someone with experience.”
“Right, okay then. Let’s get you to first deck so Seven — Choi Luciel is his actual name — can help you. He’s our Head Navigator, and was just promoted to First Mate for this flight.”
MC follows him through the hallway. It wraps around the whole ship in a circle, dumping out to the viewing room at the bow. The walls look just like the ones she was shown in simulation after simulation at flight school — smooth sheets of metal broken up by lines of rivets with lights running in two parallel lines along the length of the ceiling. Inside the viewing room, there are chairs hanging from the ceiling that aren’t dissimilar to the seats on a roller coaster, with the restraints to match. They face the bow, which is lined with thick glass windows. MC can just imagine how the stars are going to look through the windows when they finally get into space, and she’s a little lightheaded at the thought.
“That’s the viewing room,” Yoosung says, gesturing over his shoulder. “The passengers will sit there during liftoff and when we dock. Under normal circumstances, we’d take off from a station orbiting the planet, but the Shooting Star needed to come down for repairs that couldn’t be done in space.”
MC knows all this, but it’s easy to tell that Yoosung is nervous, so she lets him ramble. “And what were those repairs, exactly?”
“I… uh, I’m not sure. Captain Markyl and First Mate Fischer weren’t overly forthcoming with details to the rest of the crew.”
She blinks several times, and she wants to make a comment about how that’s not very considerate, but it’s probably not the best idea to badmouth a superior in front of their subordinate. Instead, she keeps her mouth shut and makes a silent promise that she won’t do the same while she’s in charge.
“On your starboard side here is the mess hall, and after that is Med Bay — passenger rooms are also on second deck, but on the port side of the ship.”
They move past the mess hall, and MC gets a glimpse of metal tables bolted into the floor. She’s struck by the resemblance to a cafeteria, but considering that’s what it is, she shouldn’t be half so surprised. Her VR simulations at flight school didn’t spend a lot of time with anything that wasn’t flight controls, navigation setups, and engines.
Med Bay is open and lit up like a beacon. There are several beds lined against the wall, and MC can see blank display portals on stands next to them. That wasn’t something MC was very familiar with either. Beyond basic first aid and CPR, she was useless, and she was glad that there was medical staff on board.
“And right here,” Yoosung says, stopping in front of a smooth door, “is the entrance to first and third decks.”
Yoosung steps towards the small blue screen on the right side of the door and leans down a bit. The iris scanner flickers to life, and a bright light flashes past his right eye. The metal door slides open in silence, revealing an elevator. They step in and Yoosung punches the button with a one on it.
The elevator moves smoothly. It would have been calming, almost, if Yoosung wasn’t bobbing up and down on the balls of his feet. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath as the doors open onto first deck.
Yoosung doesn’t even give her enough time to look around. He’s already walking down towards the bow and gesturing for her to follow. At the end of the hallway, three doors identical to the elevator present themselves — one on port, one on forward, and one on starboard.
“Starboard door,” Yoosung says. “You’ll have to open it, though — my credentials aren’t high enough.”
MC nods. It makes sense that a senior medical officer wouldn’t be given clearance to flight-related rooms. No one would, other than navigation, IT, and the flight crew. She steps around him and leans forward for the iris scan.
The door slides open with a gust of cool air to reveal a redhead with glasses in a chair sitting in darkness, staring one of the largest holographic displays that MC has ever seen outside of a university. It’s at least a meter and a half tall, if not taller, and several separate programs are running. The redhead — Seven, MC assumes — watches the screens intensely, not even blinking as he sips a soda. The lights from the display create a blue wash over his pale skin, his face and the fact that he’s dressed in civilian clothes.
He turns to look at the light from the hallway that spills into the navigation room, blinking rapidly as his eyes try to adjust. MC takes a step back into the hallway so that she isn’t a dark silhouette.
Getting a good look at her face, he scrambles up out of his chair and holds a hand out. “You must be our new captain, yeah?”
MC shakes his hand, surprised at both the gesture and the firm grip that she returns. “MC,” she says. “Are you American, by any chance?”
He shakes his head and drops her hand. He’s taller than Yoosung by a good bit, at least three centimeters, if not more. “I studied there for a while, but no, I’m Seoul born and bred.” His smile seems a bit forced at that, but it disappears before MC is sure she even saw it. “I’m Seven, Head Navigator and your First Mate.”
“A pleasure, I’m sure.” She glances back down the empty hallway. “And where might the rest of the crew be?”
“Ah, yes,” Seven says, his smile disappearing as sits back down in his chair. He threads his fingers together and rests his elbows on his knees. “I was just notified last night that, um. We are the whole crew.”
MC looks at him in undisguised shock. “You’ve got to be fucking with me. This vessel is supposed to have a minimum staff of six!”
Yoosung looks a little pale, and MC isn’t sure if it’s from her language or Seven’s news.
“Seven, actually,” Seven corrects.
MC wants to swear more, but she composes herself. “Okay. Alright then. Three of us.” She could call it off right now, the whole flight. But the threat of an insubordination clause on her report makes her straighten her shoulders.
“Should we cancel the flight?” Yoosung asks.
His face is pinched with worry, and MC immediately moves to soothe him. “I was assured by the company that this was a small flight with few passengers. If they give the green light for the flight, then there’s no reason that we shouldn’t go ahead with it.”
“But what about an engineer?” Yoosung asks. “We don’t have one of those on board.”
Seven shoots a quick smirk at MC before saying, “Yoosung, you’re the engineer. Don’t you remember?”
“I- I am? No I’m not. I work the Med Bay. I don’t know anything about engines.”
MC catches on almost immediately. “I was told by the company that you’re one of the finest engineers in the Chinese Empire,” she says, raising one eyebrow. “Are you telling me you’ve forgotten years of training between the time you were hired and now?”
Yoosung starts to look a little pale. “I… I’m sure I work Med Bay,” he says, but his voice falters and he sounds unsure.
“Did you hit your head?” Seven asks. “This is some serious amnesia we’re talking about here. We should get you to the Med Bay immediately, so the intern can take a look at you. Don’t worry, though — he’s very experienced.”
“I… I thought I was the intern… Seven, I don’t feel so good.”
MC has to cover her mouth to hide a smile but fails to muffle her laughter. Yoosung is visibly upset.
“Captain, this isn’t funny! This could jeopardize the whole flight!” he says, clearly panicking.
“Everything’s going to be fine, Yoosung,” she says with a placating voice. “I’m the engineer on board, as well as a certified mechanic. Seven was just messing with you.”
Seven starts laughing again, setting his drink down on the desk so he doesn’t spill it. “Poor Yoosungie… so trusting!” he coos between gasps.
“Gah! That’s so mean!” Yoosung turns to MC, a small pout on his face. “He always does this!”
MC hefts her bag on her shoulder. “Then you should know better by now.” Her words are harsh, but she tempers them with a smile that she hopes is kind and understanding. “Okay, let’s be serious now. Yoosung, what prep work do you do on the ship?”
“Med Bay, Mess Hall, passenger rooms, takeoff seats in the viewing room. Oh, and I test the airlock.”
“Okay, start on that, then,” MC says, and Yoosung throws up a salute before running down the hall, magboots clomping the whole way. She turns to Seven, who is looking at her expectantly. “What were you doing before we interrupted?”
Seven pushes his chair back and gestures at the display. “Running diagnostics scans on the software. It would be a shame to find a bug in the flight controls or navigation software after we took off.” He turns in his chair and starts tapping at the holographic buttons on his keypad display. “They just finished, actually, so you have good timing. It looks like everything is functional.” He closes the windows and stands with a stretch. It pulls his shirt up, and MC can see a peek of skin at his abdomen. “How about I show you to your room? You can change into your uniforms and then I’ll show you around first and third decks — Yoosung did show you around second deck, right?”
“A cursory walkthrough, yes,” MC says. “And you can change as well.”
Seven looks down at his clothes. “What’s wrong with this?”
MC steps out of the doorway, allowing Seven to pass. “I prefer my men in uniform.”
Seven waggles his eyebrows at her as he passes. “Oh, you do? I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
For a moment, MC is confused. Then it clicks, and her hand whips up to cover her mouth as a deep blush spreads across her cheeks. “No, I didn’t mean it like that!” she protests to Seven’s back.
“Of course not!” Seven says with a laugh. “That would be very unprofessional of you!”
MC rubs her forehead before moving to follows Seven to the stern. She has a feeling this is going to be a long flight.
There are fifteen rooms for staff on first deck. Thirteen of them are going unused on their current flight. Seven informed her that Yoosung had rooms in the Med Bay so that medical staff was always available to the passengers, and would not be rooming on first deck with the rest of the crew.
MC’s room is spacious but spartan. The bunk is welded into the wall, with a mattress and covers tied down to it by elastic bands. On the right wall are the doors to a closet. On the left is the entrance to the bathroom. Other than that, there’s nothing except an end table with charging ports in it.
She sits on her bunk and takes a couple minutes to breathe. Everything about this flight is a disaster. Three crew members, including herself. Three crew members. There are fifteen rooms on this floor! It’s only eleven days, not long at all by interstellar standards, but she’s never piloted a real ship before and her crew is worse than skeleton. She buries her face on her hands and tries to breathe evenly.
In and out. In and out. She can do this. In and out. In and out. She can do this.
She has to do this. If she doesn’t, she’ll never fly again.
MC stands and moves to the door, locking it with a quick tap on the interior keypad. Her duffel gets tucked into the small space underneath the cot. It won’t be very useful to her, since she likely won’t have as much free time as she thought. She glances mournfully at the pocket with her books as she sits on the floor and removes her magboots. Her civilian clothes get tucked back into the duffel.
The metal floor is cold as ice on her feet, and her jaw chatters involuntarily as she moves to her closet. The doors open at her touch on the keypad — fingerprints for the closets. It must have seemed like overkill to install iris scanners on the closets AND the door. A long row of uniforms hangs from a single bar, all navy blue with her name embroidered in white: Captain MC. Her rank is denoted on the arm as well — four arrows point down on the left shoulder.
She changes as quickly as she can. The clothes are a bit stiff and a little tight, but MC doesn’t mind. They’re heavy as well — military grade cloth, with Kevlar fibers woven into the fabrics themselves, and required by the International Flight Federation to be able to withstand the vacuum of space. Even if the rank is wrong, the uniform feels right. For the first time since graduating from flight school, she’s at ease. She sits on the edge of her bunk as she locks her magboots back onto her feet.
By the time she exits, Seven is leaning against the wall across from her door. He’s dressed in uniform as well, three arrows on his left shoulder denoting him as first mate, and scrolling through the holograms that hover above his display portal. When he sees her come through the door, he smiles and turns the display portal off. It disappears into his pocket, and he gestures towards the bow.
“Quick tour of first deck for you,” he says brightly. “These are obviously the crews’ rooms. There are laundry machines in the back of your closet if you need them. Those took me forever to find, so I just wanted to give you a heads up before cornbread started to go sideways in the winter.”
MC’s eyes widen, and she grins. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” she says, affecting an old American Southern accent, “I may be just a simple country boy, but cornbread don’t go sideways in the winter.”
Seven stops dead in his tracks and turns around with eyes as wide as MC’s. “You like Vines?”
“I LOVE Vines. I was obsessed with them when I was like sixteen? I wrote a paper on them for my history class.” She stops, rearranges her face into something she hopes is semi-professional, and clears her throat. “Anyways. Please continue.”
Seven nodded slowly, resuming his pace towards the bow. “So, you’ve already seen the navigation room. We’ll save the flight deck until after we’ve finished the engine checks and are ready for takeoff — if that’s all right with you?”
“That sounds like a good plan.”
“So that leaves the Riot Control Room.” Seven stops at the three doors again and heads to the starboard. He leans down for the iris scan and the door opens, revealing a wall lined with weapons, some lethal and some non-lethal, as well as batons. “It only opens for the captain and the first mate, and the whole first deck is crew-access only, as I’m sure you know.”
MC leans her head in to get a closer look and nods at the equipment lining the walls, both lethal and nonlethal. She doesn’t look for long. “Alright, then. Engine rooms it is, then?”
The two of them make their way back to the elevator in silence. MC knows that the riot control rooms exist on every ship — after the disaster in 2074 on The Interstellar, every spacecraft was required to have one. But that doesn’t change the fact that she doesn’t like it. The simulations in flight school made her physically ill — she hadn’t passed those ones with particularly high marks.
The elevator ride is quiet — MC has never realized how used to elevator music she was until she was in one without it. It was nice though, to stand in silence. She takes the moment to get a better look at Seven.
He’s tall, considerably taller than her, with hair so red it must be dyed — or at the very least, he’s got some Caucasian parentage in his family. And he doesn’t look half bad, either. Considerably handsome is what MC would say if she were asked. The glasses are a cute quirk, too. Most people got their eyesight issues fixed with corrective laser surgery.
Seven catches her looking, and he gives her a crooked grin. MC blushes slightly and focuses back on the doors.
They open into a hallway. On the right side, towards the stern, MC can feel a familiar thrum vibrating through the walls and the floor. She smiles, walking ahead of Seven and straight to the door of the engine room. It opens with a manual keypad instead of an iris scan. MC gives Seven a raised eyebrow.
He shrugs. “It’s the only one on the ship. I guess it’s considered a failsafe, if the iris scanners are ever compromised. Can’t hack a physical keypad. My theory is that it’s just old. The door itself doesn’t really shut right — it’ll stay open if you don’t kick it.” He shows her the code; the door opens and doesn’t shut. Seven kicks it near the bottom and it shudders before sliding back down the rail in the floor.
“Is it a security concern?”
Seven scratches the back of his head. “Technically? But the mechanic never called it in and it didn’t get fixed during the ground repairs, so it can’t have been that bad of an issue.”
MC taps the code back into the keypad and strides into the room. The engine is large, one of the models that spread out rather than sitting in a compact form – they were designed to minimize density and spread the weight across the ship. Pipes run along the floor and up the walls. Some of them even cross through the middle of the walkway, and MC has to duck to avoid hitting her head.
“What kind of a power source are we running?”
Seven is only a step behind her. “Molten salt reactor.”
“Excellent,” MC says, smile widening.
They don’t say anything else as they go through the checks. Pipe maintenance, reactor diagnostics, pressure gauges, fuel levels. MC knows this engine like the back of her hand — a Raptor 63X. Not the newest engine, but easily one of the most reliable on the market. She has a glass display portal from the maintenance closet in her hand, the kind that shows everything directly on the screen instead of above it, and she hums to herself as she works.
It takes a couple hours to finish, and when they finally do, MC has to stretch and pop her back. The pipes in this room make checks a contortionist’s business, and MC is strong, but not particularly flexible. Also, her legs still hurt from her climb, but she muscles through the pain as she follows Seven back to the elevator. She kicks the door on her way out, and it slides back into place.
“You ready to greet the passengers?” Seven asks, nudging her shoulder as they ride the elevator back up.
MC purses her lips. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Don’t be nervous. You’re a natural. Just don’t worry too much and you’ll be fine.”
MC gives him a tight smile, and he gives her an easy grin as the elevator doors open.
MC is waiting in the viewing room for the passengers to board. Seven is leaning against the glass windows, staring intently at his display portal and moving his fingers in rapid sequences. Even in his uniform, he manages to look casual. She wonders what he’s doing, and if the gestures are coded — rumor has it that coders can write in their own software for gesture recognition, though she’s never heard it confirmed.
Unlike Seven, she’s nervous. Shaking-in-her-mag-boots-and-biting-her-nails nervous. Her nails are already chewed down to nubs as it is, and the skin around them is peeling. It leaves sore red patches behind. MC has to make an effort to keep her hands at her sides.
Yoosung is outside the ship, greeting passengers and escorting them to their rooms. They should be here any minute for the introductory briefing. She takes deep breaths, wishing that this was already done and they could take off. Ships were easy; people were hard.
A young man, stunning in appearance with ghostly skin, long white hair, and red eyes, walks in, chatting amiably with Yoosung. Yoosung doesn’t seem particularly charmed, but he keeps a smile affixed on his face.
MC smiles when the man looks up. “Good morning. Please have a seat; we’ll do introductions when everyone has arrived.”
He raises an eyebrow and eyes one of the chairs with suspicion. He keeps smiling, though, so MC doesn’t think she said anything too wrong.
Then he gets a look at Seven.
“Hey, 707!” he says, grinning and hopping off the chair. “Long time no see! I didn’t know you worked on a ship!”
MC blinks. What?
Seven looks up and smiles at him. “Zen, hey! How did auditions go?”
Zen pulls him in for a quick hug. Seven claps him on the back. “I got the part! I’m actually doing shooting on Talis-39. I can’t tell you how excited I am to work with this director — she’s famous, and she does really great pieces.”
MC has to interrupt. “You two know each other?”
They both look at her, and Zen laughs. “Kind of? We’ve hung out a couple times, but we have a mutual friend. This guy was actually instrumental when it came to getting me noticed by agents. I owe him big time.”
“God! Seven! Oh! Seven!” he says, posing on every word for emphasis. “Hero of the known universe!”
Zen gives him a weird look and shakes his head. “Still the same old Seven, I see.” He gives Seven another pat on the shoulder.
A man and woman in business suits walk in soon after. The man is holding out his arm in support for another man with blue hair and dark shades covering his eyes. That’s four — all the passengers. Yoosung follows them in, glaring at the blue-haired man.
A small sneer mars Zen’s face. “Trust fund kind.”
The man in the business suit inclines his head. “Zen. Nice to see you again.”
“You didn’t bring your cat with you, did you?” Zen asks, edging backward.
The woman smiles at Zen. “No, Elizabeth the 3rd is at home. Spaceflight isn’t good for cats.”
“And Jaehee! How’s my number one fan?” Zen asks, moving forward and hugging the shorter woman.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that, but I’m well, thank you for asking,” Jaehee says, blushing ever so slightly.
“Hello, Zen.” The blue haired man waves from where the man in the business suit is helping him into his chair.
“V! Good to see you. How are your eyes doing?”
MC casts a near-panicked look at Seven, who simply smiles and shrugs. Acquaintances, he mouths.
Do you know all of them? she mouths back.
He seesaws his hand in a so-so gesture, and MC isn’t quite sure what to make of it.
MC smiles at all of them and gestures to the chairs. “Good morning. If you’ll have a seat, we can do some introductions and go through a briefing. After that, we’ll be ready for takeoff. I’m Captain MC, and I’ll be your pilot for this flight.”
The passengers all begin to seat themselves, maneuvering up and onto the chairs with ease. It tells her this isn’t their first time, with the exception ofon board Zen, who is being helped by Jaehee. Yoosung moves to stand next to MC, and Seven does the same.
MC clears her throat and gestures to Seven. “This is First Mate Choi to my right. He’ll be assisting me, as well as keeping an eye on navigation. To my left is Senior Medical Officer Kim. He’ll be running our Med Bay. You all seem to be familiar with each other, though, so this probably isn’t necessary.” Her voice is wry, like it’s raising an eyebrow at all of them. “Would any of you like to introduce yourselves?”
Zen smiles, situated perfectly in his chair, and it’s dazzling against his albino complexion. “I’m Zen, actor and musical star. You may have heard of me.” He throws her a slightly saucy wink.
MC fixes her customer service smile on her face. “I’m afraid I haven’t, but it’s a pleasure to meet you all the same.”
“My name is Han Jumin, and I’m Executive Director for C&R,” the man in the business suit says. “The woman is my assistant, Kang Jaehee, and the man next to me is my friend and associate, V.”
This makes MC raise her eyebrow. “The photographer?” Her mother is a big fan -- there's even some of his photos in her living room.
V smiles in her general direction, and she wonders how bad his eyesight is. He can’t be totally blind, if he’s a photographer -- right? “The one and only,” he replies.
“It’s a pleasure to meet all of you.” She clears her throat again and takes a deep breath. “Alright, so I’m going to go through my spiel as quick as I can, and we’ll take questions afterward. Bear with me, please, this is my first time, so it might get a little rocky.
“First off, let’s start with our safety instructions here aboard the Shooting Star. Follow any and all directions given by crew members within reason. Obviously, if one of us tells you to jump into the void, don’t do that. That would be bad. But if emergency protocol is initiated, or we’re having technical difficulties, please follow orders given by First Mate Choi, Officer Kim, or myself. Decks one and three are off limits to passengers for their own safety, as well as the crew’s. Please remain on Deck 2 for the duration of the flight, unless otherwise directed by me or First Mate Choi.
“As far as takeoff is concerned, please note that it may be rough, since we are taking off from ground level and will have to break out of the atmosphere. Normally, we would be leaving from an orbiting station, but the ship was receiving repairs, so we’ll be going old school. After takeoff, please be advised that no outside communication will be possible once we have left the Earth’s atmosphere. Outside communication will be restored once we have docked at Station 2661J above Talis-39.
“In your rooms, there are sets of magnetized boots for your use during the trip. Please keep the boots on at all times in case of the deactivation of the artificial gravity. The weight will take some getting used to, but this is important to your safety, so please keep them on.”
Zen raises an eyebrow at MC, but she ignores it, continuing on with the lecture.
“It’s not uncommon to feel sick for the first day or so after takeoff. Spacepox isn’t dangerous and is treatable with onboard medication. If you feel nauseous, dizzy, irritable, experience mild paranoia, have balance issues, or are unable to walk, please remember that this is all very normal. You are more than welcome to contact Officer Kim for treatment if you don’t want to tough it out.”
MC glances at Seven for the briefest of moments, and he gives her a quick nod. “Okay, that’s all for the safety briefing. As you all know, our destination is Satellite Station 2661J, which orbits around Talis-39. The station will have methods of getting you planet-side; we’ll only be shuttling you as far as the station. It should take eleven days for us to get there.” She looks around at the passengers. “Any questions?”
Zen’s arm goes up in the air like he’s in a classroom. “There’s been some news reports of pirates taking ships and kidnapping crews.”
MC nods an affirmative. “Those news reports have been coming from the Triangulum Galaxy, where terraforming efforts are still in place. Our destination is located in the Andromeda Galaxy, which already has terraformed and Earth-like planets, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be encountering pirates on our journey. Even if we do, it’s unlikely that we’ll be a target, since we’re small, and also not a cargo ship.”
MC glances at both Yoosung and Seven before looking at Zen again. “Not what?”
“A cargo ship?”
“People aren’t cargo,” she says flatly. “People are passengers. We are a passenger ship. Any other questions?”
“What do we do in the event that we run into pirates?” V asks. It’s a little unnerving, how he doesn’t quite manage to look her directly in the eyes.
“As I said, attacks on commercial flights like this one are virtually nonexistent. There is no reason to suspect that we will be the target of any pirate attack,” MC says in a firm voice. “In the event that such an attack does occur, all flight crews receive extensive training to prepare for every eventuality, so as long as you follow the orders of the flight crew, there shouldn’t be any issues.”
She wishes they would stop asking about pirate attacks. While she is very aware that the statistics are overwhelmingly in their favor, the fact that they keep bringing it up is starting to make her doubt herself. And she really, really needs what little confidence she has.
Seven steps up in her silence. “Are there any other questions?”
The passengers all shake their heads, and he smiles, giving them finger guns. “Alright! Captain MC and I are heading up to first deck to start our takeoff sequence. Yoosung will be making sure all of you are appropriately strapped in and familiarize you all with the various stages of takeoff as we go through them! The next time we all see each other, we’ll be embraced by the sweet void.”
MC gives him a strange look that she hopes conveys something along the lines of what the fuck, but Seven doesn’t respond and Yoosung and the passengers just shake it off like it’s no big deal. She gives a quick wave with her index and middle finger and follows Seven out of the viewing room and into the halls.
The flight deck is everything MC hoped it would be. Consoles with holograms displayed horizontally above the display portals line the windows on the forward side. Two seats hang from the ceiling, and in the dim lighting, MC can just make out the high-grade magnets attaching them. There must have been more chairs at one point — the deck is big enough to fit six or seven standing people. She steps forward, speechless with awe, and places a somewhat shaky hand on the joystick on the left arm of the pilot’s chair. When she moves it, the chair moves. The windows, which would normally be bright with sunlight around now are black — MC assumes the shields must be down as a precaution.
Seven is already strapping himself into a chair, and he grins when he notices her standing there. “It’s really something, isn’t it?”
MC nods, still speechless with wonder. Part of her cannot believe she is actually here, at the helm of a ship. It’s hers now, for the next eleven days. Everything she’s ever done in life has been with the goal of getting her to a pilot’s chair, and now she’s actually here. Her eyes start to burn, and she wills herself not to cry. Especially not in front of her first mate, not before she’s even sat down in the chair.
“I remember my first time walking onto a flight deck,” Seven says, eyes focused on the holograms in front of him. “My first thought was that the chairs looked exactly like the ones from Independence Day.”
She moves reverently forward and begins to strap herself in. “Independence Day? Like the holiday?”
“Nah, the movie.” When MC gives him a blank stare, he looks aghast. “How can you know Vines but not the single greatest American patriotic piece ever shown on the silver screen?”
MC shrugs, moving her seat closer to the console. “Not really a big movie person. I’m more into video games, myself.” She starts to work her way through the mental list of checks drilled into her head since flight school: engine, airlocks, oxygen levels, gravity settings.
“As the resident IT guy, I get that.” They’re silent for a few minutes as they work their respective stations. “What kind? I’m more of a classic MMO guy — so is Yoosung. We both play LOLOL when we aren’t on-ship.”
MC laughs a little. “I like VR. Any kind of game, really. I’ve got this whole rig set up at my apartment. Some of my friends and I will play together and upload them to GameTube.”
“I’ll have to check them out next time I’m planetside.”
The lapse into silence after that, moving their chairs across the flight deck. At first, they kept running into each other, but after a short while, they fell into a sort of groove, with MC listening for the soft sound of the magnets on Seven’s chair moving before she moved her own. The vibrations of the engine hum around MC, and her and Seven’s breathing is the only other sound in the room.
The silence is calm, not unlike her father’s bookstore on slow days, when it’s just her and her dad and the books. A studious atmosphere, one of concentration. But underlying it is a sort of tension, the hum of excitement and the thrill of knowing that for the first time in her life, she’s going to be in space. She’s exhilarated, and even though she’s already checked that the artificial gravity is ready to go as soon as they’re out of orbit, MC still feels like she’s floating.
It doesn’t take long for them to finish. When they do, both Seven and MC check once more to make sure they are properly strapped in and pull their headsets over their ears. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Seven adjust his frequency from the officer’s line to the PA system on one of the holograms in front of him.
“This is God Seven-Zero-Seven speaking. Is everyone kneeling before me?”
His voice echoes around them from the speakers, and MC covers her mic as she laughs. Seven shoots her a thumbs up.
Through her headset, MC can hear Yoosung’s voice. “This is Officer Kim. The P.A. system is working fine, and please stop being ridiculous. Over.”
Seven hums but doesn’t respond to Yoosung. “Alright, so the Shooting Star just about ready for takeoff — it should only be a couple more minutes while we wait for the engines to finish their warm-up cycle. Officer Kim, if you would please check again that all passengers are safely strapped in?”
MC listens as she watches the console, waiting for the notification that the engines are online and ready to function. She has to fight to keep her hands from shaking, and she can’t decide whether it’s from excitement or fear.
“All passengers and crew are properly secured, over,” Yoosung says after a short pause.
A dialogue box covers part of the console display: Warm-Up Cycle Complete. MC looks over at Seven, who nods back at her.
She taps some buttons on the hologram to her right to adjust the frequency on her headset and clears her throat. “Air Control, this is Captain MC of the Shooting Star, requesting permission for takeoff, over.”
A voice comes back half a second later. “This is Providence Air Traffic Control Tower. Permission for takeoff granted, over.”
MC fingers are moving of their own accord, turning off the autopilot and moving her chair over to the manual flight controls. A few of the holograms disappear, giving her an unimpeded view of a mass of buttons and switches, as well as a few levers and the flight controls.
It looks just like the finals at flight school. MC moves her hands, relying mostly on muscle memory, and fires up the engines.
Immediately, the whole ship starts vibrating, thrumming with the cycles of the engine. Euphoria swells in MC’s chest as she pushes forward on the controls. The ship responds to her command, moving forward smoothly. She directs them onto the runway, staring forward at the watery grey sky through the glass. At the edge of the horizon, over the cliff where the runway drops off into the ocean below, MC thinks she can just begin to see the sunrise.
“Air Control, this is Captain MC, taking off. Over.”
“Providence Air Traffic Control Tower. Good luck and good speed. Over.”
She switches her frequency back to the officer’s line and looks over at Seven. “This is it,” she breathes into the mic.
Seven grins. “This is the best part.”
MC takes a deep breath and guns the engines, sending the ship hurtling down the runway. All the scenery through the window blurs as the Shooting Star rockets off the tarmac and over the open ocean. In a matter of seconds, a loud boom tells MC that they’ve broken the sound barrier. She pulls back on the controls and points the nose up at the sky, muscles straining against the G-forces piling against her as they scream through the various levels of the atmosphere.
The sound of her heart pounding in her ears is the loudest thing she has ever heard. Her eyes begin to water from the strain as the seconds go past. She’s memorized the figures a dozen times: it takes an average of one hundred fifty seconds for any given spacecraft to leave the earth’s atmosphere. Three and a half minutes.
The Shooting Star makes it out in ninety-five.
They’re moving fast enough that it only takes a few dozen seconds for them to transition from six G’s to zero-gravity. The change makes MC dizzy, but Seven is immediately on the ball, tapping at his screens to activate the artificial gravity.
It takes a few moments for the artificial gravity to kick in, but when it does, the pain in MC’s head immediately begins to fade. None of it registers with her, though; she’s too busy staring out the window.
Space is blacker than anything she’s ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice. The vast emptiness stretches out before her, looming, all-consuming in its immensity and darkness. Scattered all through it are stars, more than MC’s ever seen before. In front of her, she can clearly see a massive arm of the Milky Way, faintly blue and purple and wrapping its way around in what she knows to be a spiral, even if she can’t see it. It’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
She doesn’t notice she’s crying until she feels a tissue running across her cheeks. MC shakes herself and looks over to see Seven’s chair right next to her, gently wiping her tears. He hands her the tissue with a crooked smile, and she takes it, holding it to her eyes as she tries to get herself under control.
“Sorry. It’s just—this is twenty-three years of work and dreams, and it’s so beautiful. I’m a little emotional.”
“Hey, don’t be sorry,” Seven says, and his eyes are soft. “I bawled like a baby the first time I went up too. It’s really something.”
MC sniffs and nods. “Okay. Okay.” She sniffs again and looks at the controls, which Seven must have put on autopilot sometime while she was staring at the stars. The ship is still moving, just not as fast as it was. “Right. Okay, so, navigation. The nearest slipstream entry point is about thirty kilometers starboard, right?”
Seven nods and moves back to his station, fingers flying over the screens. “Yes. Good to see you know what you’re doing. We’ll enter the slipstream through that point and continue along the gravitational lines towards Talis-39. There are only three or four exits on this route, so hopefully we won’t need one of us on the flight deck at all times.”
“Yeah, that could get harrowing as far as sleep schedules go. Let’s get this show on the road.”
MC finds that she can’t stop smiling as the two of them turn the ship towards the entry point. The sun has never seemed so bright before.
Alright, so that's 7.5k words... in like two months... hot damn I am so proud of myself. Also why does it seem so much shorter now that I've posted it??? I spent so long on it... >.< What do y'all think???
Edit: Why is it displaying the prologue's end notes one chapter one??? Does anyone know what's up with this??? Whatever, I guess, y'all are here for the story, not my notes, hope you enjoyed!
Space will never get old. It may have only been a day, but MC feels as if she could stare into the darkness forever. A snatch of an old podcast her dad liked to listen to was circling around her head: mostly void, partially stars. The words have an odd haunting quality to it, a sort of indifferent nihilism she can’t place her finger on. They leave a warm comfort in her chest.
She doesn’t need to be on the flight deck. The ship is safely in the slipstream now, autopilot thrumming easily on the gravitational lines between celestial bodies. This particular stream is well-traveled, and each fork is well documented. They aren’t due for a split until 21:37 on day three.
But still. She doesn’t think it is a crime to watch their progression, to see the small dots of light whizz past at unimaginable speeds, to consider her own insignificance a little while longer.
MC hears the doors open behind her, and she twists in her chair to see Seven poking his head in.
“You’re not wearing your headset?”
Her eyes flick to the abandoned headset, and she feels a stab of panic in her gut. “Is there an issue?”
Seven nods. “Yoosung’s been trying to get ahold of you. There’s a verbal altercation going down it the Med Bay. He’d like your assistance.”
Her magboots are on the floor and moving before Seven can get the word ‘altercation’ out of his mouth. She throws an apology over her shoulder, mentally berating herself for taking the headset off. She is a captain, for fuck’s sake. She needs to be better than that.
The elevator is swift, but it still feels like it takes forever. As soon as the doors open, she can hear raised voices, and she darts down the hall – no easy feat with her boots. She rounds the corner to chaos.
Yoosung is by his displays, eyes a little wide and face a little panicked. The relief that sweeps over his features when he spots MC makes her feel even more guilty about taking off her headset – one of her subordinates was in trouble and she wasn’t there.
Jaehee and V are in infirmary beds, looking more than a little pale and maybe a touch green – Spacepox, she’s sure of it. They’re hooked up to some IV’s, separated by several feet of space, and their attention is on the two men arguing.
Zen is standing in the middle of the Med Bay, red in the face as he yells at Jumin, who stands at the foot of V’s bed.
“This is your fault! If you didn’t work Jaehee to the bone, she would be fine! You’re a slave driver, that’s what you are!”
“C&R is a perfectly legitimate business, and we follow all labor laws put in place by the legislation. Assistant Kang signed a contract, and she fulfills her duties as described therein.”
Zen looks like he’s going to explode, and MC does what one of her instructors would have called ‘the stupid thing’ – she gets right in between both of them, her hands up to prevent them from moving any closer. She struggles to keep her voice calm and level.
“Sirs,” she says, “Both of you leave the infirmary immediately.”
His piercing red gaze turns to her. “This ass-“
“If you finish that sentence, we’re going to have a problem.” Her eyes are cold, and her voice is flinty as she stares the actor down. He may be bigger than her, but she’s a trained space pilot, and that’s not something he should take lightly.
Jumin, to his credit, nods and moves to leave. It takes Zen a few moments to move, but he leaves without another word, heading out into the hall. They both move awkwardly with the heavy boots on their feet, waddling like ducks in wet cement. It would be funny if the situation weren’t so serious.
Yoosung steps out from behind the displays, looking like a deflated balloon now that all the tension is gone from his shoulders. “Thank you, Captain.”
MC’s mouth goes sour at the title. If only there weren’t passengers on board, she would ask him to refer to her by name instead of rank. “Of course. I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I had my headset off, and it’s a mistake I won’t be making again.”
Yoosung waves her off like the breach of protocol is nothing. “This really never happens with a normal set of passengers, but these two are always at each other’s throats. By which I mean Jumin is condescending and Zen can’t stand him. Still, when you finish with them, can you send them back to me so I can check for Spacepox? It might be the paranoia that’s getting to them.”
MC nods, then inclines her head to Jaehee and V. “If you’ll excuse me.”
She doesn’t wait for a response as she strides out into the hall. Both of the men are standing a few steps outside the door. The pair of them are silent, but while Jumin looks calm and collected, Zen’s jaw is working back and forth like he’s mulling over some choice words.
MC levels them both with a long, hard stare before speaking. “And what seems to be the problem?” Her voice is light, as if she is commenting on the weather.
Jumin speaks first, his voice even. “I escorted my assistant and V to the infirmary after they complained of symptoms. Zen arrived shortly after Officer Kim got the two patients situated, and, after conversing with my assistant for a few short minutes, began to berate me.”
“He works her like a dog!” Zen exclaims, the highs of his cheeks practically glowing with anger. “There’s no way she’d be sick if she had reasonable work hours and was able to properly care for herself, but this bastard,” he gives Jumin a glare, “won’t see reason or basic human decency.”
“Her work schedule is within the parameters set by labor laws and the contract she signed,” Jumin said smoothly. “She is more than fairly compensated for her time.”
“And how,” MC interrupts, irritated and doing her best to hide it, “are you privy to Ms. Kang’s work conditions, Mr. Zen?”
“Just Zen is fine.” He shoots her a silver screen smile. “Jaehee’s a really big fan of mine – probably my biggest – and we’ve gotten acquainted via meet-and-greets and a mutual friend.”
MC wants desperately to point out that Jaehee is more than capable of telling Jumin whether or not she’s unhappy with her hours, but in her current situation, MC isn’t sure she’s one to talk. Instead, she says, “And this prompted you to start an altercation with a fellow passenger?”
“I-“ There’s a pause, and MC can see the righteous indignance begin to drain from his face as he realizes he’s in the wrong. He looks a little chastised as he says, “Yes. Sorry, Captain.”
MC raises an eyebrow and crosses her arms. “Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to your fellow passengers.”
The smallest of smirks graces Jumin’s mouth, and Zen’s shoulders visibly tense. But the actor grits out an apology that the other man graciously accepts.
She takes a step back and waves at the Med Bay. “Officer Kim would like to see you both to conduct examinations for Spacepox.”
Jumin nods and heads back through the door.
“I’m fine, really,” Zen says, giving her another smile.
If it’s supposed to sway her, it doesn’t work. “Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t insist, but when the Senior Medical Officer gives a recommendation, I’m inclined to follow it. If you please, sir.”
Zen’s gives her an odd look before clanking back into the Med Bay. Alone in the hall, she lets out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and runs her hands over her face. Between the shady business going down at the company, the talk of pirates before takeoff, and now a verbal altercation that could have easily escalated into something physical, MC is beginning to have a bad feeling about this flight.
She heads back up to first deck and scans her eye for a peek into the navigation room. Seven is sitting in front of the screens, idly playing…
“Is that minesweeper?”
Seven jumps, and a guilty look flashes across his face. The window closes as his hand moves across the keyboard and he lets out a nervous laugh. “Uh, yeah. Guilty pleasure. Things are usually pretty slow around here, and you can only play chess against the computer so many times before you start to lose your mind.”
MC considers this, then nods. “You seem perfectly capable. I don’t mind it, as long as you keep getting your work done.” She pauses and cocks her head to the side. “Although, if you ever get bored at minesweeper, I’m a dab hand when it comes to chess.”
A slow grin spreads across his face and he leans forward in his chair. “Oh, are you now?”
She smiles back. “I am.”
“I beat the computer fairly regularly.”
“I’d like to think I’m far less predictable than an algorithm.”
He sits back and gives her an appraising look, one finger curling over his chin. “I suppose I can risk jeopardizing my high score on the database,” he responds, giving the underside of the desk a couple solid pats as if it were a faithful hound. “Anytime you’d like to match wits with me, just let me know, and I’ll clear a space in my schedule.”
Her grin widens, and she can tell when Seven notices her dimples. His eyes go wide for a second before crinkling up further. “Give me two minutes,” she says.
Seven looks at his bare wrist, as if he were wearing a watch. “One one thousand. Two one thousand.”
“Very funny.” MC steps out of the doorway and hustles to the flight deck. The door opens to her scan with a small whoosh and MC picks up her headset from the console.
She adjusts a couple dials before putting it on her head and tapping the button for the officer’s frequency. “Yoosung? Over.”
There’s a pause and a small burst of static that might have been Yoosung’s breath before he says, “Captain? Over.”
“Yes. I just wanted to ask if you would come up to first deck after all your examinations are done and give me a briefing on the states of the passengers? Over.”
She can practically see Yoosung nodding. “Of course, Captain. Over.”
After a moment, she takes the headset off, marveling at the somewhat ancient tech. It’s been updated, but she can’t figure out for the life of her why all ships haven’t transferred over to in-ear headsets. The only reason she can guess is for aesthetics – or possibly budgetary reasons. Now that she thought about it, it is almost definitely budgetary reasons. She puts the headset down with a shrug, knowing that Seven will have one in the navigation room, and heads back.
Seven has a seat pulled up for her when she arrives, and he’s shrunk and duplicated the holographic keyboard. He waves at the chair, wide grin on his face. “An opponent approaches!”
“Mmm, don’t like that word,” she says, crossing the floor. “I’d like to think of us as friendly competitors.” She sits down in the chair, pulling her legs up and crossing them as she scoots to the desk. “Is this a mouse setup or do we manually plug in our moves?”
Seven rolls closer to her, pointing at the middle bottom display. “This is where the big board will be. You’ll be directing your moves on that board,” he points to the screen on the bottom left, “and I’ll be directing mine from the bottom right. That way neither of us will be able to see each other planning our moves.” He gives her a cheeky grin. “More fun that way.”
MC nods, fingers hovering over the holographic touchpad as she directs her cursor to the board. “So I can click and move, right?”
“Either that, or I can take a quick second to write up some code for a command box.”
She looks at him, a little surprised. “You can do that?”
He shrugs, rolling his chair back to his command screen. “Sure. It’s not really complicated. It’ll take me a few minutes, but I can do it if you’d like.”
If she isn’t mistaken, Seven looks excited at the prospect of doing it for her. She shakes her head, turning to look at the large board in the middle display before back to her own board. None of the virtual pieces are on the board, and despite the slightly more complicated setup, it’s still just a two-dimensional board that she’s looking down on, nothing fancy. The chess piece icons are flat when Seven clicks a button to start the game.
“White or black?”
“Black,” MC says.
He looks at her with a single eyebrow raised. “Bold of you to give me the first move. You’re already ten times more interesting than the computer.”
She snorts. “Is that a compliment?”
“As if I would insult someone who offers to relieve me from my boredom!” He laughs a little before focusing on his board.
MC looks at hers while Seven deliberates his first move. One white pawn moves from D2 to D4, and MC can’t help but grin at the screen. She’s got him already and the game has just started.
It’s forty minutes before MC taps her final move and swings her legs around to face Seven. “Checkmate.”
He continues to stare at the screen with pursed lips before leaning back with a low whistle. “The Tarrasch. I haven’t seen that one in a long time.”
MC shoots him a grin. “I’m a fan. It’s sound and dynamic. It’s fallen out of vogue recently, but a lot of Grand Masters used it in the past. Besides,” she points at the board on the middle screen, “you started out with Queen’s Gambit. How else was I supposed to compete with that?”
Seven looks at her thoughtfully. “It’s my favorite play.”
MC leans back in her chair. “Protecting the queen at all costs? Doesn’t seem like a good use of your piece. She’s the most powerful player on the board – not utilizing her skills seems like a waste to me.”
He doesn’t respond for a second. His fingers drum on the desk as he considers her words. “I think some things are worth protecting.”
There’s a knock on the door to the navigation room, and MC stands from her chair to answer it. “Worth protecting, sure. But what kind of a life is one where a piece is deprived of their purpose?”
She taps the keypad and the door whooshes open to reveal Yoosung standing just behind the threshold. She gives him a smile, noting the tense set of his shoulders. “Yoosung. Did you finish with the passengers?”
He gives her a bright smile back, shoulders dropping. “Yes, I did! You said you wanted an update?”
MC glances over her shoulder at Seven, who has his back to her, facing the chessboard. “Sure thing. Let’s head to the flight deck, ok?”
From the way Yoosung peers back and forth when they step through the doors to the flight deck, it would appear that he’s never been in it. When MC remembers his less-than-flattering comments about the previous captain and first mate, it occurs to her that maybe he hasn’t.
She hoists herself up into her chair and rotates it to face the empty one. “It’s not the most convenient chair, but you can have a seat if you like.”
Yoosung eyes the hanging contraption before shifting his feet on the floor. “I’ll stand, thank you.” He clears his throat and launches into his assessment. “Jaehee definitely has Spacepox. It isn’t too severe, and I predict it should clear up in the next day or two. She doesn’t have any paranoia, so that’s good, and I have her on some medication that suppresses the worst of the symptoms, but she still took a hard hit. She won’t be leaving the Med Bay until I’m sure the last of it’s gone.
“Jumin and Zen are both fine. No trace of Spacepox there, just a bad case of clashing personalities.”
MC lets out a small laugh, and Yoosung laughs with her.
“Seriously, though,” he continues, looking at the console of dials and switches and holograms behind her. “Those two are always at each other’s throats. Jumin has the emotional capacity of a robot, and he likes to poke Zen. And of course, there’s Zen’s temper.” Yoosung frowns slightly and looks back to MC. “He’s got good intentions, but he’s also got a temper, so…” he seesaws his hand back and forth. “You get the picture.”
There’s a silence, and MC prods him to continue. “And the last passenger? V, the photographer?”
Yoosung frowns and crosses his arms over his chest. “I ran a few tests, and he seems fine, but he insists that he has symptoms. Mild ones, apparently – nausea, dizziness. Things I can’t really test for.”
MC is bemused, and she makes sure her face shows it. “If he says he’s having symptoms, why wouldn’t you believe him?”
“I never said I didn’t believe him,” Yoosung corrected hastily, uncrossing his arms.
MC snorts. “C’mon, Yoosung. I’m not stupid. Your tone clearly says you think he’s lying.” And your body language, she wants to add, but she refrains. “What seems to be the issue?”
Yoosung hesitates, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he thinks about what he wants to say. “I… V was engaged to my cousin, Rika.”
When he doesn’t continue, MC raises an eyebrow. “Was?”
Yoosung stares at his boots like they’re the most interesting thing in the world. “She committed suicide about two years ago.”
The only sound for several minutes is the distant thrumming of the engine and the soft whir of the console. “I—I’m so sorry,” MC stutters out, a little embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
Yoosung shrugs. “It’s been a while,” he says, but it’s easy to tell that time hasn’t eased the pain.
MC’s not really sure what to say after that. She’s his superior officer – should she act aloof? Or would it be better to be sympathetic? She opts for the latter.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Yoosung’s head whips up, and he stares at her with wide purple eyes. For a minute, she’s concerned that she’s said something wrong – or quite possibly grown a second head – but then he speaks. “I just admired my cousin a lot.” He smiles, but it’s clear he’s not looking at MC; he’s lost in his thoughts. “She was so good at making people happy, and she was so kind. She’s the reason I decided to become a doctor in the first place.”
“She sounds like she was a wonderful person,” MC says gently. “It’s always hard to lose someone close to you.”
Yoosung’s eyes refocus, and his lips quirk up on one side in a sort of sad half-smile. “Yeah.” He sighs. “You didn’t know her, but Rika was a very strong person – she would never have committed suicide.”
MC’s brain flatlines in shock and surprise, and she struggles to string a coherent sentence together in response. “I—I don’t agree. Suicide isn’t about strength or weakness. That’s the wrong way to look at it entirely.”
The medical officer shrugs his shoulders. “Regardless, it’s not like her at all.”
“And… you think V had something to do with your cousin’s… passing?” The bad feeling from earlier is back again. Honestly, what the fuck was happening on this ship? She’s beginning to suspect she should have been more insistent about knowing the contents of the emails Mr. Yin mentioned.
Is it possible everything was just a series of coincidences? Sure. Of course it is. But MC isn’t a big believer in coincidences. And this whole series of events had her teeth on edge.
Yoosung shrugs again. “I don’t think he’s told me everything he knows. Just sort of a gut feeling, you know?” His close-lipped smile is so blatantly forced it’s unsettling. “I don’t think he’s a danger to the other passengers. But just so you know, I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him.”
MC struggles to compose her face into something close to neutral. “Your concern has been noted.” It’s time for her to end this very strange pity party. “Anything else in regard to the state of the passengers?”
He takes a moment to think about it before shaking his head. “No, Captain. That’s all.”
MC gives a sharp nod. “You can return to your patients, then. Thank you for the update.”
When he’s left, MC turns her chair back around to face the stars and contemplate the mess she’s gotten herself into.
Queen's Gambit is a chess strategy, and a relatively famous one. It is, to my knowledge, mostly used as an opening strategy, and involves protecting the Queen. The Tarrasch is one possible defense for a player to use when the opponent opens with Queen's Gambit.
Also, how about that? Two chapter updates in two weeks? I'm on fire! Cross your fingers and knock on wood that I can keep this streak up.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
*pops up from the void* I had literally one scene to write to finish this chapter and I wasted two months dithering about it and then sat down and wrote it in less than half an hour.
Just in case you were wondering about what it's like to live in my brain.
Enjoy this slow paced chapter, because after this things are gonna start to pick up.
Sleep schedules are a nightmare.
Well, maybe it’s only that way for pilots and ship crew, but MC’s is a nightmare at the very least. Being earthside threw her off, too – as soon as she was out and graduated, the first thing she did was sleep for ten hours straight. There was once a time when she couldn’t remember when she had last slept a full eight hours. She was a stronger person then.
Skeleton crews aren’t unheard of, and the academy trains its pilots for every possible outcome of a flight. Skeleton crews are one of those, and MC has been following the recommended sleeping schedule to the letter – eight hours up, four hours down, wash, rinse, repeat. Most of the time she hasn’t even been sleeping, just laying down and reading or staring at the ceiling, hoping that she’ll at least get a power nap, if nothing else. Most of the time, it’s no dice, but it’s only been two days of flight. Certainly, she’ll adjust sometime today. She hopes.
MC continues to stare at the ceiling, hoping that she’ll fall asleep. The other thing that makes sleeping in space difficult was the lack of sunlight. Trying to set a schedule is much harder when there’s no day or night to track the passage of time by. The unending sameness makes it easy to become focused and forget how long it’s been since you started. At least, that’s how it works in MC’s experience.
She swings her legs over the side of the bed and sits upright, holding her head in her hands. She’s exhausted, but there’s no way she’s falling asleep. With a deep sigh, MC grabs the flight manual for the Shooting Star and makes her way down to the mess hall. She’s hungry, and if she’s awake, she might as well be getting more familiar with the inner workings of the ship.
There’s no one around on second deck, which makes her suspect that it’s probably nighttime on earth, but she’s not carrying a watch. Even if she was, time doesn’t work the same way in space. General relativity and all that.
She makes herself a bowl of cereal that’s supposed to be fruit-flavored but just ends up tasting like sugar and maybe strawberries if they were on low battery. Then, with her prize in hand, she makes her way to one of the tables and hops up on it, sitting cross-legged with her flight manual on one knee and a spoon in the opposite hand.
The flight manual is filled with jargon and diagrams of various portions of the ship. MC is particularly interested in the maintenance passageways inside of the wall, accessible from various concealed entrances on each of the decks. She so focused on mapping them out in her head that she doesn’t even notice when her cereal goes soggy. She certainly doesn’t notice when someone walks in.
She does notice when they tap her on the shoulder.
MC lets out a shriek and jumps. She loses her balance and her book falls to the floor with a thud. She nearly falls off the table as well, but then there’s a pair of arms wrapped around her torso and she’s hanging in the air with her legs still on the table.
She looks up to see Seven’s surprised face. “Are you okay there?” he asks.
MC glances around the mess hall, relieved to find that there’s no one around to witness what just happened. “Uh, yeah. Yes. I think so.”
She gets her feet underneath her and stands. Seven’s hands linger for a moment before pulling away. They stand there in an awkward silence, looking around desperately for something, anything, to say.
MC glares at a cereal bowl to relieve the tension. “How dare you not tell me when someone was in the room.” She gives Seven an exasperated look, gesturing at the offending object. “It was on guard!”
Seven grins, giving the bowl a mock glare. “You had one job! How could you even screw up this badly, letting me walk in like it’s for free!”
She crouches and grabs her flight manual. “Sorry for screaming. I’m a little jumpy.”
Seven raises an eyebrow, an incredulous look on his face. “A little jumpy?”
That makes her laugh. “Okay, maybe a lot jumpy.” She hops back on top of the table, setting the manual to one side. She crosses her legs and rests her chin atop her laced fingers. “Did you need something from me?”
Seven looks at her for a moment with an unreadable expression before shaking his head. “I had a reason for coming down here, but now I can’t remember. I’m gonna grab a PhD Pepper, do you want anything?”
A wave of post-adrenaline exhaustion sweeps over MC, and she has to hide a yawn. “Coffee would be great, if you don’t mind.”
He’s already halfway over to the drink station. “Cream? Sugar?”
“Yes please, and lots of it.”
Another quirked eyebrow. “How much is lots?”
MC shrugs. “People generally ask me if I want some coffee with my sugar.”
“White as snow, got it.”
A lull falls over the mess hall. MC rubs her eyes and watches Seven prepare her coffee. His movements are practiced and easy, like he’s done this a thousand times before. He brings it over to her, and she accepts with a smile. He sits on the bench next to her, cracking open his soda can. They drink in silence for a few minutes. MC savors the sweet warmth and wraps her cold fingers around the cup. She hadn’t realized how chilly she was, or how cold the metal tabletop was under her. A shiver runs through her, and she rubs her arms as she takes another drink.
“It gets cold in here,” Seven remarks.
“I’m always cold.” MC takes another sip of her coffee and hunches forward a little bit so she can feel the steam coming off it. “Even when I was a kid, I was just constantly freezing. You couldn’t catch me dead without a jacket.”
He takes another sip of his soda and rests his elbows on the table. “Yeah? Where’d you live?”
“My parents live in the Independent Republic of Japan. Little town called Iwatobi, in the Shikoku Precinct. They moved there when I was maybe two? Mom told my dad when she was pregnant with me that she didn’t want me growing up in the middle of Tokyo, and they moved when her stint as the American ambassador was up. I’d spend my summers in Hawaii with my uncle, though.” She gazes thoughtfully at Seven as she takes another sip of her coffee. “I liked Hawaii. I wasn’t ever cold there.”
“It is a tropical island,” Seven concedes. “Do you swim?”
MC snorts. “Everyone in Hawaii can swim. It’s a basic life skill, and when you’re surrounded by ocean, not drowning is important. Mostly, though, I surfed. My uncle taught me how. I was pretty good, too. I won a couple local competitions.” She shakes her head. “That was a long time ago, though.”
Seven takes another drink of his soda and rests his head on his arms. “I’ve always wanted to see a dolphin,” he admits. “They live near Hawaii, right?”
MC nods, sitting up straight. “Oh yeah, tons! Porpoises too, there was a school on Oahu – that’s where my uncle lives – they would come around every May and stay through June. They were super playful. They would swim with snorkelers.” She turns to him. “What about you?”
He shrugs, fiddling with his can. “I grew up in Seoul. Learned coding as a kid, and the rest is history.” He gives her a grin. “Not near as interesting as you.”
She wrinkles her nose at him. “I’m sure that’s not true. And besides, how can you know that? I only told you about summer vacations.”
“I hacked Transstellar Travels to take a peek at your files,” he said with a wink.
MC shakes her head, finishing off her coffee. “Did you find anything interesting?”
He looks her up and down. “Depends on what you find interesting.”
She hops off the table and aims her cup at the disposal. Her toes push off the ground, and the cup disappears into the shoot. Seven applauds, and she bows.
“So, tell me about Seoul,” MC says, sliding onto the bench across from him. “They didn’t really let us out and about when I was in the academy.”
Seven lets out a breath, leans back in his chair, and shrugs. “Not much to say. It’s a big city. Lots of buildings, lots of people. Never enough jobs, enough space. The Chinese Empire could be doing a better job running it, but they’re too concerned about revolutionaries and border-crossings.” He glances up at MC. “I’m sure you’re aware of all the checkpoints, since you came over from Japan.”
MC looks down at her clasped hands, the light mood from before gone. “It’s wasn’t near this bad when I came over. I mean, it was bad, but this is so much worse.
The door to the breakroom slides open, and the familiar buzzing of one of the automated vacuums fills the silence that had settled over the two of them. MC sighs and runs a hand over her scalp, feeling the cartography of her braid.
“I don’t think it’s going to get better anytime soon,” Seven says grimly.
Her voice is lowered to a whisper, even though there isn’t anyone around to listen. “You think there’s going to be a war?”
He purses his lips. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the airspace has been closed when we return.”
“That bad.” Seven looks down and his face splits into a grin. “All hail The Emperor!”
MC leans over the side of the table to see the vacuum whirring past their table. On the front, above the sweepers, rests a tiny crown that appears to have been glued to the top.
She sits back up. “Your version of the American Lieutenant Stabby?”
Seven nods, leaning down to give it a pat. “The Emperor is the most superior of all the vacuum units.”
The door opens again and Yoosung walks in, stretching his arms up to the ceiling as he makes his way to the coffee.
MC gives him a small wave before turning back to the vacuum. “Did you test its efficiency against the other vacuums?”
“Yes,” Yoosung says, approaching as he stirs creamer into his coffee. “We had to stop at a merchant station for repairs, and we didn’t leave for two weeks. We were running out of things to do.”
Seven stands as Yoosung heads over to the table. “I better check up on the systems and take a look at our navigation route, see if we got any warnings.”
“I’ll be up shortly to prepare for the slipstream divergence,” MC says, dragging her book back in front of her and opening to her page.
Yoosung takes Seven’s place and watches as the passengers start to come in. He speaks under his breath as he observes Zen and Jaehee. “Jaehee made a full recovery. I released her from the MedBay at 10:36.”
“That’s good,” MC murmurs, matching the officer in volume and tone. She flips to the next diagram, skimming the information. “And the other passenger?”
Yoosung worries at his bottom lip. “V doesn’t appear to be getting any progressively worse, but he isn’t getting any better either.”
Neither of them speaks. MC is busy lining up all the different reasons. It could just be that the photographer’s immune system isn’t that strong, or that his body isn’t acclimating as fast as everyone else’s.
Regardless of the reason, MC is worried about the side effects – namely the intense paranoia. In such small confines, it can get dangerous very fast for the crew and other passengers if one of them becomes paranoid. And with the… argument between Zen and Jumin, it’s not unlikely that the situation on board could become dangerous in the extreme.
MC closes the book with a sigh. “Keep an eye on him. Report to me immediately if you notice anything strange or abnormal.”
Yoosung nods, giving her a small salute. “Aye-aye, Captain.”
She stands, tucking the book under one arm. “Thank you.” As she moves to pass him, she places a hand on his shoulder, trying to exude a confidence and sense of calm she does not feel. “I understand how difficult this must be for you, and I appreciate your efforts.”
His shoulder’s stiffened, then relaxed. “I’m just doing my job.”
“And that’s all I can ask of you.” MC removes her hand and begins to make her way out of the mess hall. “Please inform all the passengers that we will be coming up on a split in the slipstream, and that they may experience some turbulence.”
MC heads out of the mess hall, one hand coming up to tap the top of the doorframe as she does. The hallways are empty – it makes sense. She knows her sleep schedule isn’t the only one that’s suffering, and even if they aren’t sleeping, it’s not like the Shooting Star is a cruise ship. There’s not really much to do in the way of activities, or chess, if you happen to know a very intelligent redhead who just so happens to be as bored as you are.
It takes her very little time to make her way onto the flight deck. Seven isn’t there, but she hears his voice crackle with static as she turns on her headset and takes her seat.
“One second, I can’t hear you.” MC adjusts the frequency. “Try again.”
“First Mate Choi is online.”
“I’ve only known you for three days and that already sounds weird. Let’s just stick with Seven, yeah?” She begins working through the checks in her head, turning the ship off autopilot and taking manual control back.
“Sure thing, Captain.”
“If it doesn’t bother you, can you call me MC?”
There’s a silence on the line. “I thought you’d spent twenty-two years working for this? And you don’t want to be called by your title?”
MC’s brain begins to spin, thinking of an explanation that won’t reveal that she’s being blackmailed – she hasn’t known Seven long, but she doesn’t think he’d take kindly to that information. “It’s just a little silly, is all,” she says, trying to calm her racing heart. “I mean, if there was a full crew, that would be one thing, but it’s literally just the two of us on first deck for the next week and a half. All that ‘Captain’ business is going to get really cumbersome.”
“Touché,” Seven replies. “I’m pulling up the navigation maps right now.”
MC suppresses a sigh of relief and wraps her fingers around the controls, enjoying the subtle thrumming underneath her fingers. This is something she knows. She’s trained for years for this journey – well, maybe not this specific journey, but a journey. She knows how to jump ships in slipstream like the back of her hand, like the sound of her mother’s voice. It’ll be a cakewalk. Just take the ship down the right channel, no matter how much the metal fights back.
Seven comes back on the line. “Alright, we’re up and running! So it looks like we’ve got our speed in the right range, and we’ll be coming up on the slipstream divergence in about five or ten minutes. You’re gonna wanna turn into the stream at three o’clock.”
She takes a deep breath, and turns off the autopilot. Her fingers flex around the controls. She can do this. She can do this.
The stars are still streaming past. And in the middle of the ship’s path, she can see the stars are beginning to curve to the left and right, no longer straight lines of light. The slipstream divergence.
An odd sense of calm steals over her when she realizes it looks just like the school simulations. It’s identical.
“I can do this,” she says, and this time, she knows it’s true.
She doesn’t realize she’s spoken aloud until Seven responds. “Yes you can.”
MC grins sheepishly. “Oh. I said that out loud, did I?”
“You did,” Seven confirms.
She sets her shoulders, takes a deep breath, and eases her death grip on the controls. The bends are becoming more extreme as they fly down the slipstream, and MC leans ever so slightly in her chair as she moves the controls.
Without a second’s delay, the ship moves with her, like it’s an extension of her body. The right channel begins to move to the center of the front windows.
For a moment, time seems to slow down. She can feel her heartbeat drumming a steady rhythm, hear Seven’s breathing in her ear, taste the air as she breathes in and out. In front of her, the stars come to a standstill, to freeze in time. Everything hangs in a perfect balance, searing itself into MC’s memory.
And then everything speeds up, and the ship is flying down the right-hand tunnel of the divergence, and MC is following it with easy motions, letting the curve of the stars serve as her roadmap, and she moves on muscle memory alone, and it’s even better than the simulations because this is real and she’s here and she’s flying a ship.
The stars straighten out, and MC rights the ship with them. When they exit the divergence, Seven’s voice comes over the headset.
“That was very smooth! Nice job, MC!”
Her heart speeds up at the sound of her name, and she lets out a breathy laugh. “Thanks.” Then she remembers where she is and who she is, and she shakes herself. “Are we a go to turn on the autopilot?”
There’s a beat of silence.
“Hold on, the system’s recalibrating.”
Another beat of silence.
“And it looks like we’re back on track! You’re a go for the autopilot.”
MC busies herself with the console, activating the autopilot once more. She gives herself a moment to come back to herself before she hops off the seat.
Her knees buckle under her, and a pair of strong arms catch her before she hits the ground.
She looks up into Seven’s surprised face. “Thanks.”
He looks concerned, and MC can see a soft blush creeping onto his cheeks. “Are you alright? Should I take you to MedBay?”
MC struggles to her feet, still hanging onto Seven’s arm. “Yeah, I’m fine, I promise. Just got excited, that’s all.”
“Do you need to go to MedBay?” Seven asks again.
She shakes her head. “No, if you could just help me to my room, that would be fine.”
Seven doesn’t move for a second, clearly unsure of what to do, before taking one of MC’s arms and slinging it across his shoulder. His other arm comes to wrap around her waist, at the bottom of her ribcage, taking most of her weight. “You look exhausted,” he comments as they walk out of the flight deck and down the hall.
She lets her eyes close for a second. “I am.”
His lips purse, and he nods. “It’ll get better.”
They stop outside her door.
“Think you can stand?” he asks.
“I think so,” MC says, testing her weight. She can stand, even if she does feel a little unsteady.
He gives her a small smile. “Think you can sleep?”
MC remembers the coffee. “I can try.”
Neither of them moves, and MC gets this irrational urge to hug him. He didn’t poke fun at her, or seem anything other than genuinely concerned for her health. How many people would do the same if their superior officer, green as a spring leaf, lost the ability to stand after a slipstream divergence?
She crushes the thought as soon as it drifts into her head. Those are exactly the kind of emotions she can’t afford to have with a subordinate. MC turns to the door for her iris scan. It slides open, and she steps in.
“Thank you, Seven.”
He looks a little dazed, and he shakes himself. “Sure thing. Get some rest, tall child.”
MC’s eyes widen in recognition. “You can’t keep burning the candle at both ends!”
And then, at the same time as Seven, she says, “You like John Mulaney?”
Seven laughs. “Vine obsessions and can kick my ass in chess and a lover of John Mulaney? We must be soulmates.”
MC laughs with him, a slight pang coming from deep inside her chest. “Maybe in another life. See you later.”
The door slides shut behind her, and MC makes her way to the bed, an unfamiliar ache settling into her bones and a warmth spreading through her chest.