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Chapter 1 Scene 3
It was the first time Tabitha had been inside the spaceport. She had spent many hours watching ships through the fence, but now she was inside, actually going on board a ship. She spotted the Kestrel right away, with its green and gold livery and low, horizontal triangular shape. Captain Darrow smiled as he saw her reaction.
‘I remember my first time in a spaceport,’ he said. ‘I was only a child at the time. I’m amazed you’re eighteen and never been in a port before.’
They were waved through check-in when the Captain showed his pass, walked to the ship and in through the open airlock. He took her to a cabin on the lower deck and introduced her to a man in his thirties with fair hair and freckles, wearing a dark blue armband.
‘Lieutenant Andrew Chambers, this is Trainee Tabitha Enns. Help her settle in, and once we're underway, Commander Holland will be along to take charge.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Both saluted as the Captain left.
Chambers looked her up and down, particularly down, as he was a head taller than her.
‘Well, I can see you’re an Alphan. How much do you weigh? Sorry, don’t answer that. Let’s get you settled. The bottom bunk is yours, and this is your locker. The head is through here. When you get changed, either go in there, or if I’m not here, lock the cabin door. But don’t forget to unlock it afterwards, I don’t want to sleep in the corridor,’ he laughed.
The cabin was small, just bunks, lockers, a desk with a computer console and one chair, and very little floor space.
It’ll be hard not to get in each other’s way if we’re both in here at the same time, she thought.
Chambers seemed friendly and helpful, and was doing his best to put her at ease. Her container slotted into the locker, but needed repacking for the vertical position. While she was repacking, Kestrel prepared for takeoff. A red light blinked on the wall, and the intercom barked, ‘Takeoff in thirty seconds!’
Chambers sat down and indicated to her to sit on the bed. The engines whined, there was a slight jar, the artificial gravity kicked in, and Tabitha slipped from the bed.
‘Steady on there!’ Chambers tried to help her up. ‘Have you done acclimatisation?’
Shamefaced, Tabitha shook her head and scrambled to her feet. Her heart was pounding. Things were going wrong so soon. Maybe she wasn't up to this.
‘The gravity on board is 1G - Earth-normal,’ Chambers said. ‘Ensign Reuel has the opposite problem. He’s Altairian, and has to wear a back brace as he’s used to much lighter gravity. He couldn’t cope at all on Alpha, had to stay in bed. You’ll get used to it, you won’t need to work so hard to move things on board. Just take things slowly and be careful not to slam or break things.'
This last was said as the locker catch came off in Tabitha’s hand. Everything felt light and she was so much stronger than usual.
As if I don’t have enough to get used to, she thought.
As she finished putting her things away, the door chimed and Chambers opened it to reveal a tall, good-looking man with dark hair, wearing a green armband. Chambers snapped to attention and saluted. Tabitha attempted the same, but lost her balance again. Her heart sank. They both helped her up.
‘Stand easy,’ the officer said.
‘Commander Holland, Trainee Enns,’ Chambers introduced them.
‘Welcome to the Kestrel,’ said Holland. ‘I’m the First Officer. I’ll be responsible for your duties and training. Report to me at 0900 tomorrow and we’ll see what you know and how we can best use your skills. Do you have any questions now?’
‘Er, will I get a uniform sir?’ she asked.
‘No,’ He frowned. ‘We don’t want you being mistaken for someone qualified, do we? No, your school uniform will do fine. The blue tunic and trousers are similar to ours, but lose the neckerchief - health and safety - it might get caught on something. You need to tie your hair back too. Right, Lieutenant Chambers, will you give her the tour? Message me if any issues come up.’
With that, he was gone. Barely time to salute before the door closed. Tabitha let out a long breath and clasped her hands nervously.
‘Don’t worry about Commander Holland,’ Chambers said. ‘He’ll go easy on you. It’s the Captain who’s a real stickler for protocol. Don’t try to bend any rules or Captain Darrow will throw the book at you. Commander Holland just got promoted to Captain. He’s waiting for his new ship, the Falcon, to be refitted. Then he’ll be off to the Boki border with the rest of them, I expect. I don’t know what Kestrel will do when he goes. There are no spare staff anywhere.’
‘What’s happening on the border?’ she asked, tying back her shaggy brown hair, which seemed even wilder than normal.
‘Don’t you know?' he reared in surprise. 'I suppose Alpha doesn’t bother itself with interplanetary politics. The Boki developed warp drive, and were invited to join PACT. Only they’re a suspicious lot, and thought the observers who spotted their craft were spying. They’ve threatened war. So while diplomatic talks are going on, PACT have all available non-military ships patrolling the border, guarding against any incidents that might scupper things, like any rogue ships that decide to start the war on their own. It’s a very prickly situation, but it’s left the rest of the PACT fleets seriously undermanned. Anyway, let me show you around. Got your balance all right? Just take your time.’
The tour didn’t take long, the ship was quite compact. Their deck had two shuttle bays, a small cargo bay half-full of supplies, and three cabins, including theirs, with a central corridor running fore and aft. She had to hold on to the hand rail inset into the corridor wall, as the lighter gravity affected her balance. Her ears felt funny, sloppy, as if she were sailing rather than flying. It had all happened so fast, she felt a bit queasy, and she was sure she wouldn’t remember everything.
‘The rail is for getting around if the artificial gravity goes,’ Chambers explained. ‘There are handholds scattered about as well.’
Then Chambers took her up to the main deck. There were stairs at either end of the corridor. The bridge was at the point of the Kestrel’s triangle, which she had a peep at through the door.
‘You probably won’t be allowed in there,’ he whispered. ‘Only those on duty are. During patrols it’s usually just one man looking after helm, navigation and comms. But we have three consoles round the walls for when we’re fully manned, to cover scanners and weapons too. That’s Lieutenant-Commander Hoy, the Second Officer, on duty.’
They worked their way back through the central corridor and Chambers pointed out the officers’ cabins, sick bay, hydroponics and the mess hall.
‘It’s a joke to call it a mess hall. There are only seats for eight people. It’s more of a cupboard really. Now, this is the business end.’
He opened a door to reveal a huge room full of machinery, cables and blinking lights. Chambers saluted a burly older man with a ruddy complexion. He was wearing a green armband.
‘Commander Blackwell, this is Trainee Enns, I'm giving her the tour.' Blackwell looked her up and down, snorted and turned back to his console. Chambers turned to Tabitha, 'This is the engine room. It takes up the full width of the stern and both decks. The Kestrel can make three times the speed the big gunships and pleasure cruisers can, that’s why they call us fast-response. That’s it. Let’s get something to eat.’
As soon as she entered the mess hall and smelled the food, Tabitha thought she was going to be sick. She ran into the head, but nothing happened. Chambers helped her back to their cabin.
‘You’ve been through a lot today,’ he said. ‘Lay on the bed and rest. You haven’t got to do anything until tomorrow, so just relax.’
‘I can’t be ill,’ she said. ‘What good am I if I’m ill? I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I was all right until we took off.’
Chambers jumped to his feet. ‘Space sickness! That’s what it is! You’ve never been out before, have you? Lots of people get it.’ He dragged her to her feet and headed out the door.
‘You need to see Quack, he’ll put you right.’
‘Who?’ As Tabitha struggled along, she tried not to lean on him.
‘Doctor Robinson, our Medical Officer, or MO. He wears his hair long, like doctors in the history books. Back then people who set themselves up as doctors without any training were called quacks, so someone nicknamed him Quack, and it stuck.’
‘Does he mind?’
‘Of course he minds! We never say it to his face. Here we are.’
As the door opened he handed her over to a man wearing a white uniform with a blue armband.
‘Trainee Enns, Doctor. Space sickness, first time out.'
[Next week: Tabitha in sick bay]
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