Day 12: Full Throttle
The short fiction is after the jump - be warned, it's a character piece, mostly "character drama". Nothing too polished, but an exercise to keep the muscles toned.
Lisa watched as the docking ring coupled with a slight vibration and Justin's shuttle fully attached itself to the rotation and drift of the station. The iris hissed as the shutter-like blades released, moments later a flood of people, oblivious to her presence, some obviously disoriented by the landing, came streaming by. The waiting area filled within a few moments as the gout of bodies trickled and ebbed until no one left the short transition airlock.
The automated station announcer, always the last to realize arrivals and departures had occurred in her experience, finally droned on about the way point's most recent guests.
"Shuttle X304 Trans-World Transport Disembark at Gate 34C now in progress. Please exit the vehicle and move into the pressurized waiting area while crew and consumables are reloaded. On behalf of TWT, We welcome you to Le grange 4 and wish you a speedy journey to your ultimate destination. The shuttle will resume boarding operations in 24 Earth standard minutes." The artificial female voice was grated on Lisa's ears, it probably didn't help in her opinion that living on the station she got to hear a similar announcement at least twenty times a day. She was convinced that some smarmy dirtside programmer had tried to market this software as having a more "human" voice, but now it always seemed patronizing and snotty when she heard it.
The artificial gravity, generated for the comfort of the passengers felt odd. Most of the time, L4 didn't have gravity, unless a shuttle was scheduled to dock the natives preferred weightlessness and instead favored a daily treadmill and gyro ride to keep their muscles strong and to stop bone loss. The graviton generators built into the station's decking simulated near-Earth gravity, but Lisa hated the faint smell of charged particles it created in the air. She likened the stench to her one and only experience back dirtside with a bad Navy bean soup she'd tried on a weekend trip to Old San Franciso.
Lost in the people watching, Lisa observed as one of the disoriented passengers - a stout older woman with deep blue-black hair and a flowery orange print spacesuit, the kind only tourists would buy, floated over one of the spots in the waiting area where the gravity plates always generated just a little too much pull. The transition from weightlessness into artificial gravity caught her by surprise as she fell up onto the gravity plate.
"The poor woman," she thought, "she reasonably expected the floor to be aligned with her exit from the shuttle. Too bad Justin had decided to hot dog it on the docking." Fellow passengers, mostly those who looked like experienced spacers and day travellers lept to her aid. Lisa noticed she didn't seem too injured and went back to observing the docking area.
"I'm sure he'll get at least a reprimand for that choice. Knowing the dispatchers, he'll be lucky if he's not grounded back at the launch port for a week. Maybe this is just his way of trying to convince me to join him."
The last passenger settled into the waiting room and as always, Lisa watched as Justin came bolting out of the docking tube. For an instant it seemed he would repeat the big tourist's mistake of misjudging the perimeter of the artificial gravity but at the last conceivable second he tapped a foot against the deck and spun himself into a proper alignment - landing deftly and with no small amount of grace in the waiting area.
Watching passengers laughed and one or two, including a young boy who looked a size too small for his travel suit clapped and cheered as their bold pilot made his daring entrance.
"Ta Dah!', he took a bow before his adoring audience. Lisa merely rolled her eyes and pushed back from the tube until the gravity field began to pull her down, landing softly behind the brash young shuttle pilot.
"Liz!" he shouted as he recovered from his bow.
"Justin." She replied, tone flat and even. She wasn't interested in encouraging his behavior. She even affected a scornful look and worked hard to seem reproachful, but he either ignored it or chose to be unfazed which secretly improved her mood.
He'd been terrestrial for awhile and his rotation back to the station meant they only had a short time before he had to leave so she decided being mad was probably not the best way to use their time together and reached out to embrace him in the strongest hug she could manage.
Unfortunately, and she made a mental note of frustration about this, spacer flight suits were pretty hug resistant outfits though she swore she could feel his broad chest and strong arms through the protective layers and seals.
Lisa stepped back after the short embrace to take an assessment. She hadn't seen Justin in months and apparently he'd decided to abandon his long signature mop top hairstyle for a more close cut military look. his pale blue eyes seemed to draw focus from his dust brown hair and despite the long hours and stress of piloting the shuttle he still looked young and carefree.
"Why the sour face Liz? I didn't promise to bring you a something from the world did I? A puppy or some flowers?"
She chuckled but suppressed her laughter quickly. "You're really cruising to get grounded aren't you."
Justin waved to his passengers and rolled an arm around Lisa's shoulder as the two began to walk deeper into the station, away from the crowd.
"Would it be so bad being stuck with me for a few weeks? I have some ideas on how we could keep up on our Zero-Gee exercise routines.. some aerobics maybe?"
Lisa considered the flirtation a second and a memory of their last fling flitted into her mind before she pushed it way.
"That's not fair." She stopped and turned toward him, this time the sour look was real. Justin looked puzzled.
"I've rehearsed this in my head about a hundred times today. But.. well... We need to talk."
"Talk? Alright I guess. Lead on fair maiden. I'll follow, but just don't lead me into a trap." His smile made this harder. Lisa wanted so much to relent, to relax and just enjoy his visit, but she maintained her composure.
"Flattery won't get you out of this conversation Justin. I need you to scale it back and be serious for a few minute. At least while we have an opportunity to talk like this." He nodded and Lisa continued down the corridor, leading him to the door of an office with a placard on the door that proudly proclaimed her "Lisa Magnusen, Station Director".
The door slid open with a whooshing sound as the pressure of the hall equalized with the small office and living quarters. Once she and Justin entered, she turned and pressed the control panel on the wall and the door shut behind them. Without waiting for him, she moved deeper into the cabin. A small, functional workstation protruded from a far wall. The leaning bar and "seat belt" web built for non-gravity use welcomed her and she motioned for Justin to take a seat nearby before she tapped a small touch panel and turned off the gravity plating in the room.
She felt more relaxed without gravity, most spacers did. While she also knew Justin was comfortable, she couldn't help but feel like she had him at a disadvantage in this conversation. Not only was it going to be a surprise for him, but he spent a lot of time on Earth or the Lunar resupply base so zero gravity made him a little less comfortable.
"So. I take it you've got a plan to talk business?" While his tone was neutral, Lisa felt this was his best attempt at subtle probing. He obviously wasn't defensive yet, and didn't want to provoke her.
"Actually, business can wait. First I want to talk about us."
"Yes. We've both been dancing around this for the last year. I mean what is this? What are we?" Lisa turned her hands up and out in an open gesture, imploring and slightly questioning.
"What? You're not happy with this?" He seemed a little more uneasy, but Lisa had known he would be.
"No. I think the problem is we're both too happy with this. I'm trying to find out if this is all we want. All you want really."
"Isn't this fun? When has what I want ever mattered? You're in charge of a hugely important midpoint station. I'm a bus driver. I'm not a jump pilot or a rising star. I'm not the lifetime commitment type for someone like you." The words stung.
"Someone like me? Wha.."
He interrupted. "No. That was a bad choice.. what I mean is someone with a future, someone who's going someplace. I'm not in your class Liz."
"That's a cop out Justin. We're the same and in my class or not, I want you to be a part of my future if you're interested." Frustration mounted but she pushed on.
"Listen Justin, you know my contract with the Eurospace Conglomerate is almost up. They've offered me my choice of postings. I can take my pick of any of the larger outbound stations here in-system. Hell, I even get stock options and returns if I take a colonial administration post." This wasn't going as smoothly as she planned. Her blood was boiling and he just seemed to be sitting there.
"Justin. I'm not sure I can just lay this all out. This isn't a very comfortable conversation. You're not saying much and that's not helping. Don't you know where I'm going with this?" She couldn't bring herself to plead, but her tone was a damned good impression of someone she was sure sounded that way.
"I'm pretty sure I know where you're heading Liz." A slight smile, kind and warm graced his lips for a moment. His tone became even, soft and comforting. "I'll save you the emotional hari-kari and just say yes." Lisa blinked.
Her voice caught in her throat and she felt like the air had been sucked out of her lungs for an instant.
"Yes? I mean, I hadn't even gotten to my question. That isn't any kind of answ.." her volume began to rise. Why was she feeling anger all of a sudden? Was she panicked?
"What you really wanted to know is if I would go with you. If I'd leave Trans World and hop some jumpship to some remote stinking colony world, settle down and raise your miniature clone army. So I just skipped all the uncomfortable parts. Well, uncomfortable for you anyway, and told you just how I feel." His smile was stronger now with a slight smirk.
Lisa felt her left eye tearing up and blinked. She released the securing strap and pushed herself over toward Justin. he received her with open arms and pulled her close into his webbed seat.
"I'm not sure what colony they'll give me. One of the things I mandated in my contract was breeding rights though. Colony Administrators are allowed up to three children without having to petition to Confed. We'd be able to have a family, something we'd never be able to do here on Earth."
"The lovely Feds. Is there any liberty left intact? Spacers can't breed without permission. We can't marry while under contract and we can't even quit. Hell, even the Space Marines get the right to marry and reproduce once they get done with their enlistment. The only people treated less like human beings than we are live in prisons or do hard time mining out in the Kuiper belt."
Justin laughed and Lisa could hear the dripping cynicism. "Very grand Liz. They pay you to tow the line, but you're smart enough to see through that. Grounders breed like rabbits. We do the work of bringing them resources while they reproduce and burn through it all." He let out a low, slow sigh and pulled her around to face him. With a soft kiss on her forehead he let the conversation die.
"This isn't the time for a political debate. I've already said yes. If it means my leaving TWT then so be it. I'll get the paperwork drawn up. I have a contract for two more long hauls and I'm a free agent. Known anyone who needs a jump pilot to some godforsaken jungle colony?"
Lisa smiled. "You know. I just might."