I am posting this beginning of my new story to discuss aspects of story development, which I hope will take place in the comments section. I posted earlier versions of it almost two years ago, and this is updated with the inclusion of a second chapter. This is a rough draft and is subject to heavy editing, so feel free to make suggestions.
In the comments section, I hope we can talk about how I employed the Hero’s Journey elements that I discussed in earlier posts such as the following:
The tentative title is “Nebula Nine: Search for the Astral Dragon.”
I woke to another morning in outer space. After yesterday’s grueling prep work to leave the wormhole, I wanted to go back to sleep. But I couldn’t. Not today. Since I was probably the only twelve-year-old girl ever put in charge of maintenance duties in a space cruiser, I had to make a good impression and get to work. The captain and crew of Galaxy 5 were counting on me.
After unfastening the strap that kept me on my cot, I aimed my body at a set of blinking lights on the far wall, pushed off from the floor, and floated across the spaceship’s darkened maintenance hold. Momentum carried me to the voice-command port where I grabbed a bracket riveted to the wall. I spoke into the port, careful to say my name clearly. “Megan Willis.”
The ship’s computer replied from speakers embedded in the ceiling, its voice mechanical though obviously intended to be that of a man. “You are thirty minutes ahead of schedule, Megan.”
I glanced at the digital earth clock on the wall — 5:29 a.m. “Thirty-one minutes, Emerson.”
“Precisely. Did you have trouble sleeping?”
“No more than usual. We’re shooting out of the wormhole today, so the captain’ll be up early. If I don’t get his coffee to him, he’ll be yawning up a storm.” I mimicked Captain Tomlin’s deep voice. “No yawning on the bridge. An officer must keep decorum as a model for others.”
“Acknowledged. Level-two access granted.”
Shielded bulbs in the ceiling flashed on, giving light to the ten-by-ten-foot maintenance room that I called home, at least for the past three months. A flimsy cot with a tied-down pillow in one corner served as my bed, and a shower and vacuum toilet in another corner gave me a place to do my personal business. Access panels that led to nearly every part of the ship filled the rest of the wall space except for a small coffee cabinet that I hovered over.
As I looked at my dreary hovel, warmth rose to my cheeks. It was bigger than what I had on The Avenger, my family’s spaceship, but sleeping scrunched together with people I loved was better than sleeping alone in a ship where almost no one liked me. But at least the captain and I got along … sort of … if I stayed on his good side.
I flipped on the coffee maker, which was fastened to the cabinet’s countertop by bolts in its base. In five minutes hot coffee would begin filling the open pot — not a good idea in a weightless world. “Emerson, let’s get the gravity going. Increase it by ten percent every two minutes.”
“Acknowledged. Do you want video logging turned on?”
I looked at my clothes — jeans, sneakers, and my nightshirt that displayed a silhouette of my family’s ship with The Avenger in bold letters. If the captain saw that on the log, he would have me scrubbing the mess floor with a toothbrush.
“Just a second.” I stripped the shirt off, exposing a white singlet undershirt and a locket dangling from a leather cord around my neck. I cradled the locket and opened the clasp for the thousandth time. As always, Mama and Poppa gazed at me from a browning, wrinkled photo no bigger than my thumb, a photo taken four years ago. They were happy then. So was I. But now?
Tears crept to my eyes. A lump swelled in my throat. I snapped the locket closed and pried its secret back cover open, revealing the precious key. The notched piece of steel glowed green. Poppa was still alive. But for how long?
I whispered, “Someday … somehow … I will get you out. And we’ll find Mama together.”
After closing the locket, I turned my shirt inside-out and put it back on. “Ready for action, Emerson. You can start the video log.”
A blue light blinked on a tiny video camera attached to the ceiling. One second later, the gravity engine hummed. As usual, pings, clicks, and clanks came from the ship’s innards while gravity mode kicked in.
As I slowly sank toward the floor, a loud clunk came from somewhere on the stern side. I spun my head that way. “Emerson, got any data on that noise?”
“Nothing obvious. Hull integrity is ninety-seven percent. All systems are at nominal levels.”
“Space junk, maybe? Would a small dent trigger something on your sensors?”
“First question’s answer: Space junk in this wormhole is theoretically possible, but the likelihood is near zero, which is why shields are down. The ship saves power that way. Second question’s answer: A small dent would not raise an alarm, but the hull’s integrity would drop in proportion to the decreased strength. No such drop has occurred. In addition, sensors indicate no air compression loss within the hull. Therefore, I conclude that there are no breaches.”
I stared at the wall and imagined what lay beyond it. The clunk was loud — a metal-on-metal clank. It could have been a girder that supported the stern hull. The sensors probably wouldn’t detect the hull’s weakness until gravity rose higher. By then, it might be too late to repair.
“I’d better check it out. Shut off the gravity in thirty seconds. No overrides. Emergency repair.”
“Acknowledged. For video logging purposes, you will need to take the camera with you.”
“Will do.” Still nearly weightless, I leaped up, detached the camera from the ceiling, and clipped it to my shirt on the way down. After grabbing a flashlight from a wall bracket and a rivet gun from a drawer under my cot, I disengaged the airlock on a panel on the wall’s stern side. Since the captain had pressurized the hull with oxygenated air, there was no need to wait for the compartment to fill. Of course, safety protocol demanded that I wear a pressurized suit anyway, but putting it on would take too much time, and the air tank on the back was cumbersome. I needed only a couple of minutes to check out the noise. I would be safe.
I opened the panel, turned the flashlight on, and walked into a corridor, closing the panel behind me. As the passage narrowed and its ceiling lowered, I scrunched down more and more until I had to crawl on hands and knees. Since most of the men were too big to fit into the narrow passages that snaked through the ship’s innards, the captain chose me to take care of nearly every fix-it job, a dangerous duty usually reserved for robotic drones.
Some of the men laughed, saying it served me right for taking up so much sleeping space. But I loved it. I got to know the ship better than anyone, including the captain. Sometimes being the smallest crew member had its advantages.
The gravity engine quieted. The moment I became weightless again, I used my feet to push my way along. When I reached an intersection, I aimed my light down the channel to the left. The beam halted at an obstruction about twenty feet away.
With another push, I floated to the spot. A metal girder had crashed through the access channel’s ceiling and now lay on the channel floor. Since the gravity had been so low when it broke loose, the girder must have been hanging by a thread.
Bending my knees, I slid my shoulder under the girder. As I straightened, it rose through the ceiling hole. Under normal gravity, I wouldn’t have been able to budge the thing, but now I felt like I could move a planet out of orbit.
I ran the flashlight’s beam along the girder. One end was still connected to the central support while the other had shaken loose from the hull. I shoved the girder upward. The loose end floated toward the spot where it was supposed to be while an elbow joint at the central support swung to allow the motion.
I squinted at the joint. Strange. It should’ve been locked in place by a cotter bolt.
With the flashlight and rivet gun still in hand, I leaped up, hooked an arm around the rising girder, and set my feet on the hull to stop. After moving the girder into place, I shot eight rivets through the flange and into the airtight catch sockets mounted on the opposite side of the wall.
A tremor shook the hull. Vibrations ran under my shoes, as if the ship were shivering.
Clutching the girder tightly, I whispered, “Steady, girl,” as much to myself as to the ship. Tremors happened every day in the wormhole, but standing with only a sheet of metal between me and instant death made me shiver along with her.
When the tremors settled, I pushed off from the hull, floated to a three-foot-wide metal platform around the ship’s central support, and set the flashlight beam on the elbow. The cotter bolt was missing from the locking joint.
“Emerson,” I said to the camera on my shirt, “we got any cotter bolts left? The kind that goes into the hull support elbow? Looks like the ground crew fell asleep or something and missed it during takeoff inspection. Must’ve broken off during landing.”
“Inventory count stands at three,” Emerson said, his voice coming from the camera. “You should have one in your parts drawer.”
“Good. I’ll fix it after the morning crew meeting. It’ll be safe until then.”
I pinched my shirt and pointed the camera at my face. “You can stop the video logging. Turn the gravity back on in one minute.”
I pushed off the central platform, floated back to the access channel, and climbed through the hole. Since the girder couldn’t have smacked the channel real hard, the broken ceiling must have been weak. I could check on that later.
After going back the way I came, I entered my room, closed the access door, and floated into a sea of black globs scattered through the air. One splashed on the front of my shirt and stung my skin.
I grimaced. The coffee machine was still running, and I forgot to cover the pot. The ship’s tremor must have sent the coffee flying.
Emerson spoke up. “Gravity engine starting in ten seconds.”
“No!” I set the flashlight and rivet gun on the floor. “I gotta get this stuff out of the air before it falls and makes a huge mess.”
“Are you extending your emergency-repair order?”
“Um …” I imagined myself floating around the room holding a pot and trying to catch the globs. It would be like chasing rats in the bilge at night. I heaved a sigh. “No. Turn the gravity on. The usual increments.”
When the engine hum returned, I closed my eyes. Coffee splashed on my head and shoulders, one glob after another, hot and wet. By the time my feet touched down, the stuff had oozed down my arms, coated my skin, and plastered wet hair to my cheeks.
I opened my eyes. Coffee puddles lay scattered across the floor, and dark splotches covered my shirt. I was a mess.
When I reached for the hem to strip the shirt off, the camera came into view. I plucked it, leaped to the ceiling, and reattached it to its bracket. As I descended, the little blue light continued flashing.
“Emerson, turn video logging off for thirty seconds.”
The camera’s power light darkened.
With gravity still low, I half-leaped and half-floated to my cot. Once there, I pulled out a box that held my clothes and rummaged through it. If I could only find something clean to put on, but today was laundry day, so —”
“Megan,” Emerson said, “the captain is now on the bridge.”
“All right, all right. I’ll change later.” With a huff, I shoved the box back in place and ran to the cabinet, dodging the puddles. Some coffee was still in the pot. I poured it into the captain’s favorite cup and dashed to the ladder.
Climbing while holding the rail with one hand, I shot up to bridge level. At the front of the ship, a single light shone from a reading lamp next to the flight deck’s command chair.
The captain sat staring straight ahead, the side of his face in view. With a tight jaw and low brow, he was obviously deep in thought, most likely brooding about his missing son and dead wife. These alone times probably gave him the gray streaks in his hair and mustache, too much gray for a 35-year-old man. My own father was the same age, and his hair was as black as coal. At least it was the last time I saw him.
Behind the captain, Emerson’s main I/O interface and monitor hung on the twenty-foot-side wall. The screen displayed a checkerboard-like series of camera views that showed every part of the ship, including my little hovel, though I was allowed to turn that camera off when I needed privacy.
I walked to the side of the captain’s chair and looked at the massive viewing window. A tunnel-like blur of light mixed with darkness as our ship continued zipping through the wormhole. Even after five days in this space wrinkle, the sight still sent a chill along my spine. And soon, an even more spectacular sight would appear, a colorful explosion of radiance as we zoomed from the hole and splashed into the void of space..
As I turned back to the captain, I cleared my throat and reached for a deep voice, hoping I could be more than a little kid in his eyes. “Captain Tomlin, I have your coffee.”
He reached without looking at me. “Thank you, Megan.”
I gave him the cup. “I’m sorry for being late, sir.”
“No, no. I’m early.” Holding the cup with both hands, he took a sip. “Today’s the day.”
“Yessir. I’m sure you’ll find Oliver this time.”
His brow lifted. “Why so?”
“That signal from Delta ninety-eight you told everyone about. His voice print matched. He has to be there.”
“He was there, to be sure. We received voice matches twice before, but the Jaradians moved him only days before I arrived. They seem to enjoy the cat-and-mouse chase.” He turned toward me. “But you wouldn’t know the history since this is your first time —” His eyes widened. “What happened to you?”
I straightened and linked my hands behind my back. “A gravity accident, sir. I left the coffee machine running in zero gravity. I guess I forgot.”
“You forgot?” He peeled hair from my cheek and held the strands where I could see them, a darker shade of brown than usual. “You should have cleaned up before coming to the bridge.” His voice was stern but in control. “Even the scullery boy knows better than to break decorum.”
I kept my head high, my eyes locked on his. “Yessir. It won’t happen again, sir.”
“See that it doesn’t.” He released my hair. “I took a big risk bringing you with us, and I didn’t do it to be charitable.” He thumped a finger on an armrest, making me flinch. “You’re here to serve this ship. So if you don’t show me some reason to think that I made the right decision —”
“Pardon the interruption, Captain,” Emerson said through the speakers in his I/O wall. “Protocol instructs me to report an anomaly.”
The captain spun his chair that way. “Proceed.”
“I will explain using a log from this morning’s activities.” The camera views vanished from his monitor, replace by a full-screen video that showed my hands supporting the fallen girder. As my repair job continued, Emerson talked about the details, including his calculation that the hull would never have survived a landing without the repair. He also said that the girder’s drop failed to register on the sensors and that an “astute shipmate deduced the problem,” though he never mentioned my name.
Then my face appeared, and my voice came through the speakers. “You can stop the video logging. Turn the gravity back on in one minute.”
The monitor flicked off. Emerson’s voice returned. “I sent a flight-preparation report to you along with a record of who has had access to the ship’s support structure.”
“Thank you, Emerson.” Captain Tomlin swiveled toward me. A sad sort of smile spread across his rugged face. With a finger, he pushed my hair back on each side as he whispered, “You look so much like your mother.”
My throat pinched, forcing me to swallow. “My mother? You knew her?”
“Well … I …” His face reddening, he turned away and stared at the front window. “I met her briefly at court when I testified for your release.”
I ached to ask once again where the court banished her, but the answer would be the same as always. Only the judiciary council knew her location, probably a distant planet where she would work off her crimes. We would be reunited in five years, that is, if she survived the labors.
He turned back to me, his expression softer. “I’m sorry, Megan. I was too harsh.” He tilted his head. “Why didn’t you speak up for yourself?”
I squared my shoulders, hoping once again to show him that I was more mature than I looked. “I was guilty, sir. Being in a hurry is no excuse for looking like a sop rag. And like you once said, forgetting to do something is as bad as refusing to do it. It’s all the same when the ship crashes.”
The captain chuckled. “I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Yessir. It was when the first mate forgot to secure the —”
“Never mind.” He tousled my hair. “The crew meeting’s in ten minutes. That’ll give you time to get cleaned up.”
“Yessir.” As I scurried toward the ladder, I pumped a fist toward the ceiling and whispered, “Thank you, Emerson.”
After cleaning up the coffee mess, I changed into my ship’s uniform, a navy blue polo shirt and brown pants. The colors hid the dirty spots well enough. With the cotter-bolt-replacement job still on my to-do list, washing my clothes would have to keep waiting.
I hustled up the ladder and into the command room. As before, the captain sat in his chair, but now the other seven crew members stood in at-ease position in a semicircle in front of him, the front observation window behind them. Each member wore clean, long-sleeved blue shirts with the Galaxy 5 eagle logo on the breast pocket, making me look like a street urchin my comparison.
For some reason, they had all arrived early, including Dirk, the scullery boy. No taller than me, he stood at the far end, his usually ragged hair slicked down with something shiny, maybe cooking grease. As he looked at me with wide eyes, his chin quivered. Something was wrong.
Gavin, our lanky first mate, glanced at me and whispered, “She’s here,” then cleared his throat as if to try to cover the alert, blinking his dark eyes.
When everyone turned toward me, I halted a few steps away and fidgeted as I searched each face for a reason for this odd arrangement. Yet, their expressions were unreadable. Even Cole, our wrinkled, gray-haired navigator, cast a brick-wall stare.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
The captain gave me a sober gaze. “I called the rest of the crew early so they could view the log of your activities from this morning.”
I suppressed an emerging smile. Maybe my efforts were finally being noticed. Yet, the men’s expressions seemed less than friendly. “Okay,” I said, stretching the word. “Is everything all right?”
Gavin stabbed a finger toward me. “You fixed a malfunction without reporting it to make yourself look good.”
I sucked in a breath. “What? No! I heard a noise and —”
Gavin huffed. “You heard a noise and decided on your own to make a dangerous repair. Without a supervisor’s approval. Without considering the danger to the crew if you made a mistake.”
“A mistake? Danger? What do you mean?”
The captain kept his voice calm, though deep lines cut into his brow. “Sensor records show that when you entered the channel, you didn’t lock the air gate behind you.”
“The air gate? But I closed the panel. The gate locks automatically if the hull —”
The captain’s tone sharpened. “Protocol! A breach in the hull could damage the automatic lock. We always secure the gate manually no matter what.”
“Not only that,” Gavin added, “if we had a breach, the vacuum could suck you out in the blink of an eye. If the automatic system failed, you wouldn’t have a chance to go back to secure the air gate.””
“And you didn’t strap in,” the captain said. “You weren’t wearing a safety harness or even your pressure suit.”
I swallowed hard. As I looked at each accusing face, every smidgen of pride leaked out. I felt like a deflated balloon. “I was …” My voice pitched high, but I couldn’t help it. “I was just trying to fix it quickly so I could give the captain his coffee as soon as he got to —”
Gavin snorted. “Did you hear that? She’s more interested in the captain’s coffee than in her shipmates’ lives.”
“Look at the results,” Cole said, his tone gentle. “She singlehandedly saved this ship. I don’t believe for a minute that she did it to make herself look good. She’s just not accustomed to following a rigid set of rules.”
“Because she’s the spawn of a pirate,” Gavin said. “No rules. No morals. Just out for herself. She’d slit our throats if she knew it would get her back to her parents.”
Cole shook his head. “Nonsense. She’s just a lonely, frightened girl who was trying to help.”
“Help?” Gavin pointed at Cole. “Why are you defending her? You were against her joining us.”
“Because a rescue mission is no place for a twelve-year-old girl, especially when the rest of the crew are all male.”
Gavin spread his hand toward the others. “Are you saying that one of these men might —”
“No. But we’re already using her disgracefully, making her do dangerous jobs no one else would do.”
“Because she’s expendable,” Gavin said with a sneer. “If she gets sucked through a hull breach or drops into an engine, it’s no loss. We’ll just get a drone. They behave better, anyway.”
I winced. Although I already knew how most of them felt about me, hearing it still hurt.
“That’s enough,” the captain said. “The decision for her to join us was mine alone, and I will deal with her appropriately.” He turned toward me, his brow less furrowed. “Go to your quarters and stay there until I call for you.”
“Yessir.” As I walked away with my head low, I glanced at the viewing window. I would miss the exit splash. No matter. I had seen them before in The Avenger, but a ship this size probably made a much bigger burst of colors, at least that’s the way Dirk described it.
As I climbed slowly down the ladder, the captain’s voice followed. “Man your stations. Nine minutes to wormhole exit.”
I gasped. Nine minutes? But I still had to insert the cotter bolt in the support elbow. The shockwave from the reentry splash might cause a huge tremor and shake the support beam loose.
I leaped to the floor, ran to the parts drawer, and whipped it open. After finding the bolt, I hustled to access panel and halted. My pressure suit and helmet still hung from fasteners on the wall, ready to be put on. Now that the captain and crew were all at their stations watching the security monitors, they might spot me if I happened to pass in front of a camera.
Moving quickly, I grabbed the suit and helmet, put them on, and clipped my flashlight to the suit’s harness, a series of straps that wrapped around my shoulders, chest, and waist. The harness also kept the air tank fastened to the back. Since I needed to work fast and nimbly, I didn’t bother to pressurize the suit with the air in the tank. No one watching on a monitor would be able to tell the difference.
Just as I knelt to crawl into the channel, the cotter bolt in hand, Dirk dropped down the ladder. “Where are you going?” he asked, his eyes filled with mirth. “Sneaking to the kitchen?”
“No. Fixing something. This channel leads to the hull access areas, not the kitchen.”
He extended his hand. A miniature viewing screen lay on his palm. “I brought you a monitor so you can see the reentry.”
“Thank you, Dirk. That’s so nice.”
When I reached for it, he drew his hand back. “I’ll hold it. We can watch together.”
“Don’t you want to see it through the big window?”
“Sure. But I want you to see it, too.”
“So leave the monitor with me, and you go to the bridge.”
“Well … I would. It’s just that …” His cheeks reddened. “I don’t know how to say it.”
Still kneeling, I set a fist on my hip. “You’re afraid I’ll keep it. Steal it. Because I’m a pirate. Right?”
He glanced away, fidgeting. “Something like that, I guess. It’s the only one I have.”
“Then keep it.” I dropped to all fours, crawled into the channel, and closed the hatch behind me, this time engaging the airlock. As I scurried along, new tears flooded my eyes. Now even Dirk had been poisoned by all the pirate talk. He had been my only friend, at least as much as a nine-year-old boy can be a friend. Three times I had sneaked through a channel into the kitchen to join him for sweetened vitamin water. It was no crime. We were encouraged to drink our fill. But when we sat in darkness and sipped the sugary stuff, the surrounding blackness felt secretive, dangerous. We shivered together. In a good way.
Sighing, I shook off the thoughts. I had work to do. Probably less than five minutes to go.
When I reached the hole in the channel ceiling, I pulled line from the harness’s spool, fastened the clip to the channel’s frame, and climbed out, flashlight in one hand, the cotter bolt in the other. As I walked along a metal beam toward the central support column, more line reeled from the spool until I stepped onto the column’s surrounding platform. The elbow joint protruded at eye level, putting it within easy reach.
I slid the bolt into the elbow’s gap and locked it in place. When I swung around to return, Dirk appeared in the flashlight’s glow. Wearing his pressure suit and helmet and holding my harness line to keep his balance, he shuffled toward me.
I touched the communications link button on my helmet and opened a channel to his helmet. “Dirk! What are you doing here?”
“I want you to see the reentry.” He stepped onto the platform with me and showed me the little monitor again. “We can watch it together.”
I wagged a finger. “You shouldn’t be here. Unharnessed. No experience. When we shoot from the wormhole, the ship will shake. You might fall onto an engine.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll just —”
The ship’s framework shuddered. Dirk teetered. He pulled on my line, nearly jerking me off the platform. I grabbed the protruding cotter bolt and held on. When he regained his balance, I grabbed his arm and made him sit on the platform.
As the ship continued shaking, I sat next to him and let out a sigh. “We’d better stay here till we exit.”
“Not a problem.” He set the palm-sized monitor in my hand. “Sorry about not trusting you. It was stupid.”
“Don’t worry about it.” I gazed at the screen. The control room’s huge viewing window took up most of the space, though crew members moved across it from time to time, their heads and shoulders in view.
“I mounted the camera in Emerson’s wall behind the captain’s chair,” Dirk said, his impish face visible through his helmet’s face shield. “We can see anything that goes on, and no one knows it’s there, not even Emerson.”
I grinned. “So you’re a spy, you little sneak.”
“Am not!” When he got a look at my smile, he smiled in return. “Well, maybe. But when you’re as little as we are, you have to do what you can. Right?”
“Trust me. I get it.”
The shaking worsened. I locked elbows with Dirk. In the viewing window, the wormhole’s exit came into view, blackness at the end of the tunnel with multicolored sparks dancing at the outer edges. Maybe one minute till we reached them.
I flipped on my helmet’s communications switch. “Emerson, the cotter bolt is in place. Everything is secure. Please inform the captain.”
“Acknowledged,” Emerson replied through my helmet. “Considering that the captain failed to mention the bolt again, I assume that it slipped his mind. The stress induced by his quest to find his son seems to have crippled his attention to detail.”
“Yeah. Probably. But that’s why I’m here. I got it covered.”
“I will suggest a commendation for you in my message to the captain.”
I gave myself a firm nod. Maybe the captain and the crew would finally recognize that I’m not doing this for my own glory and that I’m worth more than a mindless drone. Hearing the captain say so would be a boost to my confidence. “Emerson, can you send audio from the bridge to my helmet speaker? If I can’t be there, at least I can listen to what’s going on.”
A light buzzing sound emanated next to my ear along with a few whispers. As Dirk and I watched the screen, the end of the wormhole drew closer and closer. The sparks seemed bigger, wilder, faster, converging on the center of the exit as if spreading a web of electrified glitter across the hole’s circular end.
“Thirty seconds to exit,” the captain barked. “Emerson, shields up. Everyone on the alert.”
“Shields going up,” Emerson replied.
All around Dirk and me, the panels on the ship’s hull began to glow orange.
“Why the shields?” one of the younger crewmen asked. “No one knows we’re coming.”
The captain chuckled as he often did when explaining something to a novice. “A ship shooting out of a wormhole is like a minnow tumbling down a waterfall into a deep pool. You never know when a big fish might be lurking there to gobble you up.”
Something sparked. I looked toward the sound. The panel where I refastened the support arm wasn’t glowing, and the surrounding panels sizzled at its edges. Had I somehow damaged the panel with the rivets?
“Shields are at ninety-eight percent,” Emerson said. “One panel is not reporting nominal status.”
“We’ll be all right,” the captain replied. “Shields are just a precaution. I’ll have Megan check it out.”
A moment later, we burst through the sparkling web. Colors flew in all directions, like super-charged fireworks arcing at hypersonic speed. My mouth dropped open on its own. I couldn’t even blink at the dazzling display.
The second the sparks diminished, a new burst of light appeared. A photon torpedo zipped toward us.
“Evasive action!” the captain shouted. Our ship dove out of the way. With the gravity engines still engaged, the sudden drop threw Dirk and me off the platform and sent us flying toward the hull’s wall, my arm still locked with his. The safety line tightened, snapping us back. Then an explosion ripped a hole in the hull. Air rushed out. The vacuum grabbed us and sent us hurtling toward the breach.
Again the line tightened, stopping us. The outward suction pulled on our bodies. Dirk began slipping away. I stuffed the viewer into a chest pouch and flipped on my suit’s pressurizing switch. As air hissed in, I grabbed Dirk’s wrist with both hands and hung on while he flipped on his own pressure switch with his free hand.
As his body stretched toward the hole, his eyes wide with fear, I looked through the ragged gap in the hull. Stars dotted the five-foot-wide slice of outer space. The fractured panel was the same one that failed to fire up its shield, the same one I had braced with the fallen support.
Shouts burst from my helmet’s speaker. The captain yelled, “Engage air locks!”
A garbled voice followed. “A maintenance hatch is open!”
“That fool of a girl!” the captain bellowed. “She’ll be the death of us all!”
I gulped. I closed that hatch and engaged the airlock. I was sure of it. Dirk must have left them open.
The ship lurched again. Dirk slipped away into the vacuum and plunged through the hole, instantly disappearing from view. I screamed, “Dirk! Can you hear me?”
No answer came through the com link. As the rush of air eased, I slowly settled back to the beam connecting the access corridor to the support platform. The gravity engines were dying. In seconds I would be weightless.
I strained to listen to the helmet speaker. No sounds emanated. All of the oxygen in the ship must have been sucked out. The captain and crew had probably all perished. They must not have had time to put on their suits.
I pulled out the viewer and looked at the screen. The bridge lights had dimmed to emergency level, flashing slowly. Nothing moved.
My body trembling, I whispered, “Emerson? Status report?”
Emerson stayed silent.
While I waited for an answer, I reeled out more line and pushed off the beam toward the fracture in the hull. I floated to the hole and caught the edge, careful to keep the jagged metal from cutting my gloves. One slice, and I would be dead.
I extended my head through the breach and searched the inky surroundings. A tiny white form flailed in the distance, maybe a thousand feet away. It had to be Dirk.
I called into my com link, “Dirk, I see you. Can you hear me?”
Again, no one answered. The com units in these maintenance suits weren’t designed for long distances. Only the landing-party suits had longer-distance links.
I looked at the viewer again. Someone in a pressurized suit walked past the camera, but I couldn’t tell who he was. He stopped at Emerson’s control panel behind the captain’s chair and pressed a button, his face now visible through his helmet’s face shield.
“Emerson, status report.”
I sucked in a breath. Gavin. Was he the only survivor, the only one who managed to put on a safety suit? And his voice came through my speaker clearly. That meant Emerson’s communication channel to my helmet was open. He had to be able to hear me. Then why didn’t he answer?
“Emerson,” Gavin repeated, “this is first mate, Gavin Porter. Give me security clearance.”
“Voice not recognized,” Emerson replied. “Security clearance denied.”
“What?” Gavin pounded the captain’s chair arm. “I’m the first mate! As the only survivor, I am now the captain of this ship. How can you not recognize my voice?”
“Your voice has no match in the security database.”
“Well, then, I’ll have to do a life-form scan on my own.” Gavin stomped out of view.
I swallowed hard. A life-form scan? Gavin was going to use a portable heat sensor to search for survivors, and without Emerson’s help, he would have to go to every compartment on the ship, including the maintenance channels. Since he was so skinny, he was probably the only crew member besides Dirk and me who could manage it. If I stayed inside the hull, he would eventually find me.
But did I want him to find me? Obviously Emerson didn’t trust him. Maybe I shouldn’t either.
I reeled out more line and pushed myself completely outside the ship. Now at the line’s length limit, I stood on the exterior and, holding to the line to anchor myself, walked around as far it would allow.
Over a curve in the craft, the top of another ship came into view. I ducked low, rose slowly, and peeked at it. The observation deck sat atop a single lower deck, the engine chamber below that. As I continued to rise, the entire ship seemed to rise with me. Could it be? Yes! It was! It was The Avenger! My parents’ ship and docked with ours!
Just as I opened my mouth to shout, a sense of dread held my tongue in check. First, Gavin was the only person who would hear me. Second, he hated me from the moment I walked onto the ship three months ago. Third, The Avenger was supposed to be locked up in a space port a thousand light years away. Why would it be at this spot at this moment? It just didn’t make sense.
A light flicked inside the ship. I looked through the hull breach. Gavin swept a flashlight around along with a life-form scanner. When he saw the line leading from the access channel to where I perched, he looked toward me.
I ducked to the side. Had he seen me? He hadn’t aimed the flashlight at me, so maybe not.
Two seconds later, the flashlight’s beam emanated through the breach. Gavin was checking out the hole. After another few seconds, the light flicked off. I peeked into the hole again. The flashlight’s aura allowed a view of Gavin cutting my line with a knife. When he sliced through, he tossed it into the air and let it float, then he lowered himself to all fours and crawled through the maintenance channel toward my living quarters.
With the line loose, I slowly floated off the ship’s surface. I jerked the line, forcing it to wedge in a crack at the side of the breach. Now that I was anchored again, I pulled myself back to the ship’s wall.
Gavin’s voice came through my helmet speaker. “I searched the entire ship. No life forms aboard.”
A quiet, female voice responded, maybe from a speaker in Gavin’s helmet that reached his microphone. “So they’re all dead? Even Megan?”
The woman’s voice sounded familiar. Mama?
Again I opened my mouth to shout, but Gavin interrupted. “I found her anchor line. It led through the hull breach. She got sucked into space. You can console yourself that she died quickly.”
A weak sobbing sound leaked through my speaker. After a few seconds, Mama said, “Was her body still attached to the line?”
Gavin cleared his throat. “Uh … no. The force of the vacuum must have torn her loose.”
“Then we have to scan the area around the ship and find her body.”
“To get the locket?” Gavin asked.
“Of course I need the locket, but I don’t want my daughter’s body floating in space.”
“Wait. I’m back on the bridge, and I’m picking something up on the external sensors. A body floating freely.”
I peered at the viewer. Gavin was sitting in the captain’s chair, looking through the front window. He manipulated a dial on the control panel to his right. “I’m zooming in on it.” The window warped and magnified Dirk’s flailing body. “A human. Wearing a space suit.”
“Get on board!” Mama said, “We’re going after her!”
“What about destroying the ship?”
“No time! Get in here or I’m leaving you!”
“I’m coming.” Gavin hustled away, disappearing from the viewer screen.
“Mama!” I shouted. “No! Wait!”
I tried to climb into the hole, but the line was still wedged in the crack, stopping me. I pulled and pulled to no avail. Finally, holding to the edge of the hole with one hand, I detached the line from my belt and propelled myself back into the ship.
I floated toward the maintenance channel but much too slowly. Since I was in midair, I had nothing around me to push against.
When I finally reached the channel, I pushed myself through it and into my quarters. Still weightless, I bounded up the ladder and flew into the bridge area, all the while calling, “Wait! It’s me, Megan!” But no one answered.
Just as I reached the door leading to the docking station, a loud click sounded from within. I flung the door open. The Avenger reversed out of the dock at high speed. Seconds later, it appeared in the front window as it flew toward Dirk.
I walked slowly toward the window. Tears welled. My mother was here, looking for me. I was so close to being with her again, but Gavin lied to her. He didn’t check to see if I was still at the end of my line. What was he up to? Was he a traitor who told my mother where the Galaxy 5 would be? Did he disable the shield on that panel and weaken it for an expected attack?
And why did my mother attack us? I could have been killed. And she killed everyone on board except Gavin, Dirk, and me. Nothing made sense.
“Megan Willis,” Emerson said.
I touched my helmet. “Yes?”
“You are the only surviving member of the crew remaining on the ship.”
“Right. I know.” As I answered, The Avenger flashed lights in every direction, apparently searching for me. Now that Mama had picked up Dirk, she thought my body was still out there somewhere. But I couldn’t eject myself from the ship. It was way too dangerous. I probably had only a few minutes of air left in my tank.
Not only that, I was alone, and I would soon die alone, deprived of oxygen.
“Megan Willis,” Emerson said again.
Now crying, I clenched my fists and shouted, “What?”
“The Avenger will not tarry long. I await your orders, Captain.”
Categories: Story Development