Lack of sleep. Too many stations burning.
The red glow behind the mail slot became the eye of a monster, ready to devour the ship – but already busy killing people. Not facing it was never an option. Not without losing all the meaning.
I jumped rescue vessels two or three times, then figured it was pointless. The bravado talk was the same on all, ill-suited armor against the disasters. The coffee was always the same, still tasting awful. So, I just stayed on. Sidestepped the regs. Sidestepped the crew while they prepared for the next station, making them keep the Probable Rescue
on board while grabbing some sleep.
The red glow the stuff of the nightmares now. Like the eyes of the woman, as her kid ran back for her plush toy, the airlock of the overheating ship already closing. The screams, as an explosion caught one of the rescue chutes. The overtones of panic in the dispatcher’s voice, while the PA-system calmly announced that rescue would be according to Imperial rank.
Flight performance was flawless again. No more mistakes. In the zone. Until there was down-time. Structural integrity checks on the Probable Rescue
. The kid in charge called them mandatory. I thought it was a ruse but didn’t argue.
Time to wash of the stench. Get a new flight suite. Stale water raining down. The light in the shower… it was red.
Red glow. Line of sight traced it back to the old heater, but the mind did not follow, just saw the monster, eating all.
“What the heck are you doing?”. A harsh voice. Know her, it’s the flight deck officer. “I… I… I just wanted…” That kid's voice. Uncertain. A sigh from the officer. “Jess. Get your uniform in order.” Then, louder, addressing me: “Commander? You ok in there?” Cannot answer her. The eye is too close. But she continues, talking to the kid again. “So. What stopped you? Lost your nerve? He said no?” Silence. Then “No… it’s…” The kids voice gets small before she finds words: “These lines? On his skin?”
Silence. I pull myself out of my thoughts. Away from the red. The reminder was all I needed. “Witch Space burns.” Turn to face them, closing the water as I do. “Sometimes, when they pulled you out of the jump, back then, when they appeared first…” I look the kid in the eye. She still struggles to get fully dressed again. “Your ship just broke apart.”
The flight deck officer smiles without mirth. “There is always a reason for old timers like us still doing this, Jess. I guess you just found his. And you own him a coffee.”
Our eyes meet. “But maybe that has to wait. The Probable Rescue
is ready for take-off, Commander. Landing Pad 07.”
I nod. “As always.”