Kyra’s body instantly responded in a smooth twirl, a 180-degree pivot.
“You know, violence in the morning makes me happy — especially when it’s directed at you!”
The mug she’d held shot through the air with a release of gusto that had been pent up for far too long. She knew she shouldn’t have said or done it the instant the mug of hot coffee connected with the lead technical analyst’s chest. But it felt cathartic, like a huge weight was lifted.
She was rewarded with the look of shock and disorientation that flittered across his face. The impact of the mug as the liquid made contact with his body was the weapon she needed to let him know she meant business. The fact that some of it managed to ricochet back onto her hand and arm had little effect on her highly stimulated fight response. He was moving away from her personal space, and that was the ultimate goal.
Thankfully, none of the various consoles’ delicate electrical components were affected. Nope. The only casualty was the last precious cup of her delicious, hot morning coffee. Brewed from her own specialty blend from home, the last of it was now splattered down the front of her boss’ body.
Such a waste of great coffee.
“You fat, ugly bitch! How dare you throw a missile of coffee at me?” He looked around frantically for something to sop up the dark brown liquid that had drenched the front of his too-tight, work-issued, button-down shirt and khaki pants.
They were alone in the space station’s operations room, and he’d taken advantage of that fact once again.
“I was defending myself from you, Brantley,” she said, not caring whether the coffee burned him or not.
As he frantically rubbed at the stain on his shirt with a dust repellant cloth used for the equipment, he had the nerve to say, “You attacked me for no good reason. This is insubordination.” The movements seemed to exert him as he began to huff and puff in exasperation.
She had no instinct or compulsion to help him. Instead, she stepped back from the broken mug on the floor and watched. She would later recount that moment as either her boldest heroic feat or her greatest act of stupidity for not walking away from the jerk. She concentrated on hiding her disgust at the swirls of long, dark belly hair trying to creep out of the now coffee-stained white shirt he wore.
Why was he so…nasty? Would it kill him to put on an undershirt like most civilized men?
Too many times she’d seen this same nightmare-inducing sight. She suspected a glandular problem, because at the end of his shift, his shirt was usually drenched with sweat and clinging to his doughy body. The swirling belly hair, looking like a parasite trying to emerge from his tight shirt, would always freak her out. And she wouldn’t dare think about all the weird designs his back hair created under the sweaty shirt.
Gross! She shuddered at the thought. Worse, he had the nerve to try to rub up against her butt all the time.
Kyra hated the fact that he always managed to have her work the same shifts he did. When she’d asked about moving to another one to get away from him, he replied that she was the junior analyst and would always have to work the same shift as the supervising manager — him. It had been a little over twenty-three months of this tyranny, and she’d snapped.
Yes, she’d had it.
Twenty-eight minutes into her morning shift, and he’d already managed to sidle up and rub himself against her backside. She was bent over a console checking temperatures, climate composition and the gravity regulators when he’d done it. All her muscles instinctively stiffened as she felt the hardness of his little penis wedged between her butt cheeks.
She hated their uniforms. Why couldn’t they wear the more informal shirts that looked like the classic golf shirts of old and the more flattering utility slacks, like other departments? No, she had to wear men’s white button-down shirts that only managed to gap across her ample chest when she didn’t have safety pins to doubly secure the spaces between the buttons.
Those hideous, stiff, men’s khaki pants never managed to accommodate her trifecta of womanly designation — large hips, butt and thighs that were out of proportion with her waist. The effect was a perpetual gap in the back of her pants that belts couldn’t always fix. To remedy as much of the distortion as possible, she wore pants that were a few sizes too big. It was either that or run the risk of the fabric stretching for dear life across her thighs and butt. She always managed to feel like she’d dressed in a white and tan blob of demoralizing designation reserved for the invisible and unattractive of society.
Kyra had no doubt that it was Brantley who chose the atypical set of uniforms the station’s operations staff wore. He was stuck in a bygone fashion era, based on a corporate world that no longer existed. The pleas of the staff to change the uniforms always met with his same tired reply. “We are the backbone of this station, and we will set ourselves apart as such.”
The sad fact was that he was delusional and thought he looked professional. His big stomach and flat butt made his pants sag. He looked like a damned fool. They might have been glorified custodians of the space station, but they didn’t have to dress like janitors!
Kyra was the only female on the crew of seventeen, and the uniforms were cut to fit a man’s body — not her very curvy one. To make herself feel like the woman she was and to have something that fit her body in a more flattering way, she’d decided to wear approved uniform khaki skirts. She’d wear them from time to time to mix it up and to remind herself that she didn’t have to look like a thrown-away hobo. Her only consolation this morning was that she’d worn the unflattering pants instead of one of her skirts, which somehow offered her the feeling of a little more protection.
This time, Brantley had gone too far. He’d actually wiggled himself against her. There was no mistaking it. All the diplomacy she’d managed to exercise for almost two years flew out the room with that act of blatant disrespect.
Before she knew what was happening, she’d swung around and thrown her coffee mug at him. It didn’t matter that she’d just filled it with hot coffee. It served him right for sexually harassing her once again.
Kyra dreamed of becoming the space program’s top technical engineer, and this post was her first step. She’d worked hard, earning a master’s degree in applied technical engineering from MIT, and she took this position instead of going on to get a PhD. At the time, it seemed like the best way to get into the program on the surface, forgoing additional schooling to get field training here. These positions were coveted, and she’d jumped at the chance to join the space station, even happy to start as a junior analyst. But almost two years of dealing with this toad with no promotion in sight was not worth it. She’d had it. This was proving to be the dead-end, thankless job she feared she’d get trapped in. Brantley was never going to promote her. She knew that now. He couldn’t teach her anything; none of them could. She was here, doing her own thing and learning by trial and error. He just wanted her around as dependable labor and an object to feel on and get his rocks off.
“Brantley, I warned you. I told you if you tried to rub your little, shriveled, gherkin-pickle dick against me one more time, I’d make you regret it.”
“You think too much of yourself. I was just trying to get by when you stuck your fat ass out. No one…” He looked around to see if anyone else was around to hear what he was about to say and repeated it more slowly. “No one is going to believe that I would ever attempt to sexually harass you. It’s not like you’re a looker like your doctor friend. Why would I risk my job over your sub-par ass? I still don’t know how you passed the physical or weight requirement to be up here in the first place.”
“Ha! You’re one to talk, Jabba the Nut!”
“Oh, okay, so now you’re really making this too easy. You attacked me unprovoked, and now you’re hurling insults at me? Kyra, I’d say you are creating a hostile work environment, and I can’t have that on my team. You’re fired!”
“What? You can’t fire me. I’m the one forced to work with you. You’re the hostility in this trap!”
He turned, ignoring her as he snatched the station intra-connected communicator up to speak. Kyra couldn’t believe how calm she was. It was as if she didn’t care anymore. Anything was better than having to work day in and day out with this loser.
Brantley’s rushed voice filled the room as he connected with his intended party.
“Security? Yes, this is Brantley Mitzen, Head of Operations, and I need an escort to remove an ex-employee from this secured space.” He glared at her as he emphasized ‘ex’.
“You’re calling security on me? You have lost your mind. Duh. We’re on a space station. Where am I going to go?”
At that, he turned back to her with a smirk for the ages. “I’m going to have you confined to your quarters until transport back to the surface can be arranged.” He covered the receiver with a hand and continued, “You messed up, Kyra. You didn’t play the game very well — you shouldn’t have denied me. You didn’t have the options you must have thought you had. I was the only one showing you any interest, and you managed to blow even that. Or should I say, you didn’t blow it in a way that could help you advance.” He glanced up and down her body in a way that made her skin crawl with the ickiness of it. Still not content to give it a rest, he added, “Now you’ll rot in your rooms until I can get your ass kicked off this station. You messed up, and now you’re fired.”
He was mental. How could he think she’d be willing to put up with that kind of behavior from him? But now was not the time to show weakness. He’d only make her more miserable if he knew he could get on her nerves.
She mustered up all her strength, put on an impenetrable face of resolve and said, “Fine. I don’t want to be in the same vicinity as you any longer than I have to, anyway.”
Soon the doors to the area slid open, and five large security personnel filled the room. The one in charge looked from Kyra to Brantley and asked, “Is this the perpetrator?” She watched him as he seemed to appraise the coffee-drenched and highly agitated Brantley.
Brantley took the opportunity to launch into an Academy Award-worthy tirade. “Yes, she attacked me and threw hot coffee on me, unprovoked.”
She didn’t miss the quick look of triumph that slithered through Brantley’s dull, poop-colored eyes. The bastard.
Hearing that, the head of security instructed the others, “Secure the perpetrator.”
Oh hell, he called me a perpetrator — twice. This can’t be good. She immediately braced for rough handling but was instead surrounded and led back to her quarters — to sit and wait.
“Then what happened?”
“He fired me is what happened. He even had the nerve to call and have security bring me back here. I’m confined to these quarters until a transport back to Earth can be arranged.”
“Yeah, I heard security escorted you back here after you beat up Brantley.”
“I didn’t beat him up, although in hindsight I should have. You know, as a parting gift.”
“You’re too funny. I wish you had called me right after it happened. We could have cornered him. I would have held him down while you beat the crap out of him.”
“See, that’s why you’re my bestie. You get me,” Kyra said nodding her head in approval.
“That I do, but what about the transport back to Earth? The next supply shipment would most likely be that transport, and it isn’t scheduled to arrive until…” Phoebe paused to think when the next medical shipment would arrive, “…the end of next week. Kyra, you’ll be stuck here in your quarters for almost two weeks. Have you tried to contact the commander yet?”
Kyra knew how fast gossip spread on board and figured her friend would come as soon as she heard, which only took about an hour. True to form when she found out, Phoebe had rushed over to check in on Kyra.
“Kyra, please tell me you contacted the commander. There’s no telling what Brantley is saying about you.”
Of all the females on board, Phoebe was considered the catch. Single, beautiful, smart and nice, she embodied what Kyra wished she had — feminine style and grace. And Phoebe was her greatest advocate, always there to help her navigate the politically charged environment. Phoebe had proven time and again that she was a strategist to be reckoned with. Kyra didn’t understand why her friend was so content with her vocation instead of going into politics.
Phoebe or Phee, as Kyra liked to call her, was a diplomat, whereas Kyra was a grouchy tinkerer. She’d rather take something apart to figure it out and improve it, rather than learning to maneuver and position herself in the crazy head-games people on board played. Many used this station to leapfrog to better positions when their time was complete.
Five years was a fairly short time to spend up here, considering the perks one got in return once back on the surface. Kyra hadn’t even made it halfway through her contract before getting booted. But that was life; no use crying over it now.
“No. I’m still trying to get my head around everything. It all happened so fast. I was working, and the next thing I felt was his slimy body rubbing up against my butt. I snapped and gave him the perfect opportunity to get rid of me.”
“Ooh, gross!” Phoebe said, shuddering at the thought of it.
“I know, that’s exactly what I thought!”
“You’re good. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have killed that troll for touching me.”
“Phoebe! You never advocate violence. I think I like this side of you.”
“Well, I’ve never had to deal with a sexual predator. I wouldn’t be able to deal with that. You’ve done so well for two years! I’m impressed. All you did was throw coffee. I probably would have injected him with a paralyzing agent to allow me time to filet his pecker.”
“Wow, and they say I’m the mean one,” Kyra said, laughing at her friend’s vivid description. When she sobered enough to think about her predicament again she said, “Phoebe, thanks for coming to check on me. It means a lot. I didn’t realize until now how much I’m going to miss you.”
“Oh hush up. Something tells me you’re not going anywhere. Everyone knows you’re the backbone of the operations team. Brantley’s a bureaucratic blowhard who can’t run most of the systems that you and the others can. It’s no secret you’ve modified and rebuilt most of the infrastructure. Everything runs more efficiently since you’ve been here. I’m sure once the commander finds out, he’ll do right by you.”
That was Phoebe, smoothing everything out to show the optimistic side of things.
“I hope you’re right about that. I’m not ready to leave.”
Phoebe leaned in to give Kyra an empathetic pat on on the knee. “You won’t. We need you too much.”
Kyra looked up at Phoebe. Their differences couldn’t have been more obvious, but they had some similarities, as well. Like Kyra, Phoebe was a woman of color, although her flawless, toffee-colored skin was delicate compared to Kyra’s deep amber coloring. Kyra watched with a tinge of guilty envy as Phoebe spoke, noting how her long ringlets — perfect brown curls infused with honey blonde — rustled with the slightest of head movements.
In contrast, Kyra’s own head bore unruly, tight coils the color of the blackest midnight. Her massive mane of hair fell just past her shoulder blades and refused to play nice, no matter how much she cajoled it.
“I’ve never spoken directly with the commander. I doubt he knows who I am. I guess I should have been more social, as you asked me to be. I might not be in this mess if I’d listened.”
“Don’t do that.”
“Beat yourself up in hindsight. I know for certain he knows who you are.” Phoebe leveled a ‘don’t doubt me’ look at Kyra and continued. “I know this because he came to the medical bay a little while back and asked how we were doing on power fluctuations. Remember, I told you that we used to have outages before you got here, and we had to print bio replacement specimens for the scientists.” Kyra nodded and waited for Phoebe to continue. “When Dr. Steven told him we’d had no issues in a while, he said, and I quote, ‘Yes, since our new analyst Kyra has come on board, this station hums like a kitten.’ Unquote.”
“He said that?” Kyra asked in disbelief.
“He sure did. I didn’t mention it before because he made it sound as though you had interaction with him.”
“Well I’ll be…”
“Don’t you see? You are the one the commander sees as the value in that department. There’s no way he’s going to let Brantley ship you away. He’d be too scared some other agency would snatch you up. Your reputation is spreading, Honey Bun.”
Kyra smiled, loving Phoebe’s occasional term of endearment. It made her feel like they were family.
“Speaking of honey buns, you got anything sweet to eat? I’m craving chocolate, and you seem to always have the best stash,” Phoebe said.
“I think so, check the pantry.” Kyra pondered the possibility that the commander might know who she was, after all.
Phoebe made humming noises from the kitchenette as she located candy. That was another thing to like about her. Like Kyra, she was also blessed with curves. Phoebe’s were a slightly smaller version of Kyra’s, but both women understood the trials of being shapely. They appreciated food and didn’t live on the micro-fasting diets that a lot of the women on the station followed. They ate food, appreciated it and didn’t quibble about calories. Neither was excessively overweight, but they did have distinctive bodies. As Phoebe liked to put it, “You can tell I’m a woman from far away.”
Kyra’s attention floated back to the conversation as Phoebe re-entered the room carrying a bag of miniature candy bars. She asked, “Hey Phee, if you were me, how would you handle this?”
Kyra valued Phoebe’s advice. They were alike in many ways but in this situation, she knew she needed Phoebe’s finesse. They were glaringly different in how they handled their predicaments. Kyra acted more like a battle cat when confronted with her plight as a woman on a predominantly male space station; Phoebe flowed with things. She made the best of them and knew how to play the game.
Kyra loved men and often fantasized about a strong alpha type coming in and sweeping her off her feet, making it obvious he wanted her and only her. Of late, she’d started to have dreams about a raven-haired, gray-eyed sex god who would get her all hot and bothered by simply being nearby. Just as she’d worked up the nerve to consummate their relationship, she always woke up. Talk about sexually frustrated! In real life, she was shy when it came to being around men she was attracted to.
She’d never had a real romantic relationship or gotten past some heavy kissing. At twenty-eight years old, she was embarrassed to admit she was still a virgin, so she opted to stay to herself when she wasn’t on duty, preferring to tinker and enhance stuff. Sure her libido was off the charts, but she’d learned to pleasure herself and focus on her job. No harm, no foul.
Phoebe, on the other hand, was a social butterfly. She went on dates from time to time and even managed to befriend some of the married couples. Those same married men acted like protective brothers, helping to keep the creeps away from her and the ever-growing fandom of guys who crushed hard on her. When she’d ask Kyra to join her for outings, Kyra always refused. Their friendship was that of an odd couple, but it worked.
Kyra would never admit that she felt socially awkward around Phoebe when they were in public. She felt like she lived in Phoebe’s shadow and, she was embarrassed to admit, even a little jealous of her. Phoebe, with her usual grace, never pressured Kyra and didn’t seem to notice her apprehensions.
Phoebe had become a close friend and more like the big sister Kyra always wished she had. When Kyra had first shown up at the station, trying desperately to hide the fact that she was scared and alone, Phoebe had been the one to show her the ropes. Forming friendships with other females had never been one of Kyra’s strong suits, but Phoebe made it easy to like her with her optimism and caring ways.
Two years ago, she and Phoebe were part of a small number of single females on board. That number had dwindled since then, with many of the woman quickly snatched up with marriage proposals. To hear Phoebe tell it, it felt more like the running of the bulls, the way guys pursued women on board, and she had managed to deftly sidestep all takers, saying she’d know when it was the right one and the right time.
Kyra admired her for that strong sense of confidence. She retreated in the opposite direction when men approached her. The other women who made up the female population came to the station already married or in committed relationships; many were working with their spouses and significant others on board.
Kyra was a junior technical analyst, and Phoebe was a doctor — a senior member of the medical staff and second in command of the medical bay. She was in her fourth year on board and fielding offers that were pouring in for when she finished next year. Only a few years older than Kyra, Phoebe was light years ahead in her social skills and ability to handle the rigors of living on the space station. She was a great friend, humble and the voice of calm when Kyra needed to vent. Kyra could be full of piss and vinegar when someone got her riled up, but Phoebe seemed to float through life, shining her tranquility on everyone. Kyra had occasionally tried to hate her, but Phoebe’s good so outweighed the bad that there was no option but to love her like a sister.
Phoebe sat in a lounge chair while Kyra reclined on a couch, munching down miniature candy bars. “You know each of these is going straight to my ass, and I don’t even care.”
“You’re the doctor. No one will dare say or even think anything about what you do. You have a god-like status. Heck, you can have all the candy bars you want if you can give me a shot that repels Brantley and all the other creeps on board.”
Phoebe gave a quick shudder and said, “Honey Bun, if I had that kind of power, most of the guys would give us both a twenty-foot berth. But you may be onto something. Maybe I can work with research on something that makes us smell like a corpse flower whenever we’re grossed out by a guy.”
They laughed, and Kyra wondered how Phoebe could stand to play second fiddle to the older head doctor, Steven, who appeared to give orders and take all the credit for all his staff’s work. But true to Phoebe’s nature, she was gracious. Everyone knew who did the real work around the medical bay, anyway. Her innovations and breakthrough procedures were cutting-edge. Everyone always asked to be treated by the brilliant one when they came to the medical bay, and it wasn’t Dr. Steven, for sure. Phoebe was in high demand, both professionally and romantically.
Kyra sighed. No use torturing herself over her perfectly loyal friend’s perfect life. She had to think about what to do next. Kyra voiced aloud her thoughts about the job to bounce them off Phoebe.
“Now that I think about, it won’t do any good to talk with the commander. You and I both know there’s no where else I can work here. I wouldn’t pass the physical tests to work security, and no one with half a brain will let me near the flight deck, medical bay or kitchens. I wouldn’t be able to resist taking stuff apart instead of doing the job. It’s either this or become part of housekeeping. I don’t have the stamina to clean all day, either, so scratch that one off the list.”
She stood to pace and think. Why was everything in such a mess? This morning started out with promise, and now this.
“Oh Phee, I should have stuck with the core exercise requirements. I’m at least fifteen pounds heavier than I was two years ago, and I haven’t studied to qualify for anything but an operations technical specialist. Heck, you’re eating part of the reason that my surface mass has increased exponentially.”
“Kyra, if you don’t stop beating yourself up, I’m going to put you in a time-out in that corner over there,” Phoebe said, hurling a miniature candy bar at her.
“You know me…I tinker and figure out technical stuff. I can’t fight, and I most certainly don’t have the patience or training to be a researcher or medical specialist like you.”
A loud crunching and scraping sound filled the air. As Kyra attempted to sit back down, a muted but hard thump shook the room.
“What was that?” Phoebe asked, looking panicked.
“I don’t know, but whatever it is can’t be good.”
* * *
Fucked, that’s what he was. Why had he lost his cool with her? Now he was screwed to oblivion, and he knew it. Kyra was gone. She no longer worked for him. She was out of his life. Who would keep the controls running smoothly now?
Succession plan be damned. He hadn’t taken the time to make sure Kyra recorded everything she did in any given shift — at least she hadn’t done it that he knew of. Maybe the guys on the other shifts knew if she kept a log and where it was located, but he was too busy being moon-eyed over her to ever take the time to ask. He knew better than to get caught up in her allure. Now he was the one with his pants around his ankles, looking shabby and exposed.
The console emitted flashing lights, worrisome messages and angry sounds. Were those temperature spikes? And that looked like a warning that the station was moving by a matter of degrees. His pressure was rising by the second.
Too many systems required attention, and the conflict warnings glared an angry red at him. He knew enough about the controls Kyra had constructed to begin to panic. She hadn’t been gone an hour, and everything was going to hell.
His handling of the situation was going to get him fired or worse. He needed her back, but he couldn’t just call her back to the control room. Security had already revoked her clearance, and there was no way he was going to let her work on his credentials. She might try to sabotage him and mess something up. No, he had to think, had to find another solution. He had to get Dirk to come back in, or someone — hell, anyone! — who could get him out of this mess.
Dirk was not as brilliant as Kyra, but he knew how to clean up a mess quickly. Brantley scrambled to get him to come in and cover the vacancy Kyra left.
Brantley had lied to her about why she always had to work with him. The real reason was that he was obsessed with her. He knew it sounded sick now that he replayed it in his mind. Another reason was so he could learn from her; ensuring that she did great work while he was on duty made it seem like he was on top of things. She made him look good, and he wanted her, badly. His plan had been to work with her and woo her over time. That plan had now sunk like a bag of rocks.
For years he’d skated by, never having to prove he knew anything, just coasting on his rank. Now he had to put up or shut up. Kyra hadn’t yet calibrated the systems for the day when he’d lost his mind and decided to have a quick feel and smell of her. She drove him crazy, and he always acted nuts around her.
He couldn’t explain it, but she was the most alluring woman he’d ever met. He loved that she was unaware of the effect she had on him and every man who came into contact with her. And her body! It was the stuff of many wet dreams — Brantley’s and others’. No one bragged about having had her, and if the rumors were true, the idea of her being a virgin was too much to handle.
When she so blatantly rejected him with that look of disgust this morning, he’d lost all control. His anger drove him to do something he couldn’t take back. He’d fired her and brought security into it. He’d been driven to make her pay, to show her who was in control and who had power over whom.
But now it looked like she would win. There was no way he could run the controls without her. He hated his life right now. Then he thought about it, and he hated her for making him lose control. She was the cause of this mess. It was because of her and her temptress ways that he’d had to do what he did. She knew what she was doing when she leaned over that console every day, displaying that perfectly rounded ass of hers. And all the times she’d flash a bit of her plump, ripe breasts in those lacy bras was too much. He positioned himself in a seat whenever she stood so he could look up and see through the buttons of those shirts, hoping to catch glimpses of her perfect tits.
She knew full well what effect it had on him and the others. She was a seductress, playing innocent and hard to get. That’s why he had to keep her on his shift and away from the others as much as possible. He’d wanted to woo her, but almost two years and she still wasn’t warming up to his advances. She was a cold-hearted bitch, that’s what she was. It was her fault he was in this predicament. Kyra was to blame for all of it. He wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t managed to do something to sabotage him before she left. She could be dangerous if she wanted to be.
On second thought, it was best if he got her off this ship before either of them did something drastic.
Dirk finally picked up the communicator and tried to play tired. Brantley was not in the mood; Dirk would get himself here or else. Wait, he couldn’t fire another of his staff, but he could make his life a living hell. He could make sure Dirk didn’t get much time to spend with that hot new wife of his. Yeah, that would make him get here.
“Dammit, can’t you come in now? I need someone to help me get the station back on line… Oh, Kyra?” he hesitated as the second most competent man of his crew asked where she was. She never called in sick, so he couldn’t use that lie. He had to confess. “She’s no longer working here. I had to fire her.”
He held the phone, wondering if the analyst had fallen back to sleep. He knew it was possible, since the man had just finished up his twelve-hour shift, but Brantley was in a bind.
“Look I need you to come in, if only for a couple of hours until the midday staff arrives…Yeah, yeah, I’ll let you have extra time off. Just get here now!” he muttered and slammed the communicator down before Dirk could wrench any other promises out of him. He didn’t want him to pick up on how desperate he was, or the guy would ask for the fucking moon.
* * *
ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION! All staff report to your stations. ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION! All staff report to your stations.
Kyra looked at Phoebe and saw her own confusion mirrored on her friend’s face.
“Yeah, this is bad. Look, Phoebe, you’d better go back to the medical bay now, something must be happening.”
“I don’t want you to be stuck here without knowing what’s going on,” Phoebe said, looking a little hesitant.
“I’ll be all right. You heard your orders. I’ll try the intra-communicator channels to see if anyone has any information. Now scoot. You can tell me what happened later.”
There was a loud and anxious knock on the door. Before Kyra or Phoebe could respond, a strong male voice shouted through the door, “Kyra Simmons, this is security. May we come in?”
Her heart was in her throat. Security wanted her again? She cast a quick glance at Phoebe and all she got in return was a shrug.
Okay, she had to be calm and find out what this was about. She’d done nothing and was as clueless as the next person about what might have caused that sound. With what strength she had left from her already horrible day, she managed to get out, “Yes. I’m coming.”
When she opened the door, she saw a different set of security personnel. It was only three this time, but she recognized them from the commander’s detail. Oh sugar, this couldn’t be good, not at all.
When they filed into the room one of them spoke directly to her as if he knew her. “Kyra, the commander requests your presence on the command deck in the mission control room. Please follow us.”
They turned without acknowledging Phoebe and filed back out of the room. When Kyra failed to follow, the one who had spoken before turned back and said, “Please Kyra. This is an emergency.” Then he addressed Phoebe. “Dr. Brown, I suspect you are needed in the medical bay. Please excuse us while we attend to this matter concerning Ms. Simmons.” Phoebe looked like she was about to speak when he added, “Don’t be concerned. She is not in any trouble. On the contrary, it’s us who need her help.” With that he turned and said to Kyra, “Please, come quickly.”
Kyra gave Phoebe a quick glance, and they left in different directions, she with the security officers and Phoebe to the medical bay.
“Good to see you Ms. Simmons…or may I call you Kyra?” the commander asked as she came into the vast room.
Mission control looked as she’d imagined it. There were people and technology everywhere. As on the rest of the station, the air was sterile and cool. She should know — she programmed it to be that way. Working with Phoebe, she’d come up with the optimal temperature and air quality mix to stave off the spread of disease and bacterial growth.
The room bustled with quiet activity; each person having a highly specific skill. They paid no attention to the new arrival, continuing to focus on their tasks as she tried to overcome the awe and wonder of the scene. Kyra knew this was why members of the flight crew were deemed the cream of the crop.
An air of complete competence permeated the room.
That was the confidence she coveted when she saw it in others who were boldly themselves, no matter what happened around them.
But that didn’t matter now; she was no longer a part of the space station — she’d been fired. Kyra stilled herself enough to dare to act like these people. She forced down that piece of her that nagged the back of her consciousness, the one that made her feel inadequate. Was the commander going to reprimand her in front of everyone? She didn’t know what she’d done to make everything seem so solemn, but she wasn’t going to allow them to see how rattled she was.
She held her head a little higher and managed to get out in a clear, almost confident voice, “Yes sir, by all means, please call me Kyra.”
With a warm smile, he gestured for her to follow him into another room off to the side.
Once inside the impressively decorated and official-looking office, the commander, his second and two of the security officers remained. After he gestured for Kyra to take a seat at a large conference table, the rest of them followed. His voice was mellow and comforting. She liked that. He was an attractive man who looked to be in his late forties or early fifties. He was in great shape and had a full head of salt and pepper hair; Kyra found that she could easily develop a crush on him.
Stop that. This is the commander you’re considering for your pitiful crush adoration. Her thoughts were quickly interrupted when he spoke to her again.
“Kyra, thank you for coming so quickly. Unfortunately, time is not on our side today, and we need your help.”
She felt her eyes widen with surprise as she listened to what the commander of the largest outpost space station had to say. They needed her help? With what?
The commander continued to speak. “First let me say it has come to my attention that Brantley Mitzen attempted to have you fired and removed from the station this morning. I want to assure you that you are not fired, nor have you been relieved of any of your duties.” He paused and noticed her surprise. “I can tell by your expression you were not aware of this.”
“No sir, I — ”
“Please Kyra at a time like this, I think it’s best to drop the formalities. Please call me Mark. That’s the least I can offer for what I’m about to ask of you.”
“Okay then… Mark, what is the big emergency?”
“It appears while we were allowing you to cool off in your quarters this morning, Brantley was allowing the ship to veer off course and some of the most vital systems to overheat. We’ve drifted into the path of some space debris. The loud noises you heard and disturbances you may have felt were due to our colliding with some rather large pieces of junk and old space hardware. Now we’re in a magnetic pull toward a larger mass of this junk. If we don’t correct our course soon, the situation might very well become grim.”
“Hmm, okay. I’m not sure what he may have done to cause us to veer off our coordinates, but I’ll be happy to go down there and take a look and fix what I can.”
“Oh no, there’s no way we’re going to let you anywhere near him again.” Commander Mark cleared his throat as he began the next part. “It has also come to my attention that you were routinely sexually assaulted by that…man. We are purposely allowing him to think he can hide what he’s done or failed to do until we can get this fixed and have him put into confinement. He’s a disgrace to our corps, and I want to extend my deepest apologies to you. If I’d known what he was doing to you on a regular basis, I would have intervened. Please don’t ever be silent or work in conditions like that again without saying anything. We failed you in that regard, and for that I’m sincerely sorry. Please accept my apology.”
The sincere hurt on his face allowed Kyra to let down her guard and instantly trust him. She decided then and there she’d do whatever the commander needed of her.
“Commander, I mean Mark, there’s no need. But may I ask who told you? How did you find out about that?”
“When Brantley contacted security and said he’d fired you, which is not in his power to do, by the way, he triggered the security protocol. That protocol requires that we access and review video and audio footage of events leading up to the charge.” He scanned her face for signs of misunderstanding as he spoke. “Let me assure you, Kyra, that we do not watch video of anything anyone does on the station without probable cause. Although video and audio is recorded at all times, the footage can only be accessed once the protocol is activated. This information is above Brantley’s security and management level, so he wouldn’t have known it existed. Before this morning, we had no evidence of what he was doing until he brought security into the situation. We watched with horror at what he did to you. Then we reviewed other times he’d worked with you, only to discover this was a norm with him where you were concerned.” He looked at her again, this time to gauge her reaction. When he was satisfied she was handling it well enough, he continued. “We also learned how incompetent he is. We’ve taken control from his console and re-routed the systems operations up here. If you can find it in your heart to forgive us, we’d like you to attempt to fix whatever he has done. It appears you are the only one who fully understands this system. In fact, it looks like some type of proprietary system you created. Plus, it has since locked up and won’t allow anyone to bring it back online.”
When he put it like that, Kyra saw how much she’d overstepped her bounds in reconfiguring the system. She quickly offered what she’d done. Might as well get the tongue lashing over with.
“Yes, I did some work to use different sources to power the system, but I made sure to leave an override, and the operations manual is in the SOO file on the Standards of Operation drive. It would only go offline if there was some sort of threat. Did anyone attempt to corrupt it with a foreign command? It makes no sense it would lock up otherwise. The guys should have known how to bring it back online,” she quickly added when he looked puzzled.
“We didn’t allow them to come to Brantley’s aid, even though he attempted to bully Dirk to come back to work after he’d already worked twelve hours. The only person to touch it has been that moron. As for the documentation and file location, we will make sure that’s noted in the ship’s main operation manual. And to answer the question you didn’t ask, no I’m not angry about your changes. This station never ran better than when you got here. I’m glad to know where the SOO file is now too.” He looked around at the others as if looking for strength and said, “But in the meantime, we are in a perilous situation. We are right in the path of a large piece of an abandoned space station from the early twenty-first century. If we collide with it, it may cause irreparable damage to the station. Those pieces of antiquated metal are heavy enough to cause serious damage or worse.”
“Oh, well, let’s get to it then. How much time do we have before impact?” Kyra asked, hoping she had enough time to unravel what had happened in the last two plus hours under Brantley’s control.
“Less than five hours to impact is our current calculation. And there’s another issue. The debris that already collided with us has lodged itself into one of the ten engines. The engine is now off line, and that collision was just a slight bump. Imagine what will happen if debris hits us with any force? We’re operating at eighty-five to ninety percent engine capacity at best. That may not be enough to move us out of the path before impact. All I can say is that I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”
She nodded, unable to comprehend how this had managed to get so bad so fast. Brantley had struck again. But she’d have to process that later. “It’s all right. Please lead the way so I can get started on the system.”
Kyra was placed at a console that put the one in the operations section to shame. After she logged in and got acclimated, she began. When she had the system back online, she looked up to see many of the same people she’d admired when she came onto the floor staring at her in amazement.
“Commander, would it be possible to get someone to help me with the calculations for the thrust needed to dislodge the mass of the debris? I want to see if we can remove what’s already entwined with the engine. Plus, if you can spare them, I need a few engineers to help with a couple other things.”
Without hesitation, the commander motioned for four people to come to her station. After she gave out the directives and worked for another couple of hours, she motioned for the commander to go back into his private office and briefing room.
Once inside and certain only his trusted staff was there, she announced, “I don’t see a way to avoid most of the debris field. I recommend that you prepare an evacuation immediately. I’ve already used up more than two hours trying to find a way to avoid the field. I don’t know how long it would take to get some other transports, but I suggest you give the order to get most of the crew into the shuttles and back down to the surface as soon as possible.”
The room remained quiet for a few beats too long. Then the commander spoke.
“I see. So what you’re saying is that impact of some sort is inevitable? Even with the system back online?”
“I’m sad to say, yes, that’s correct. We’ve drifted too far into the field, and our engine capacity by your own engineer’s calculation is down to eighty percent at best. We must prepare for the worst. Even if we had someone go out there and physically remove the debris from that engine, we still wouldn’t have the thrust capacity to change course in time. I’m sorry, but that is my best recommendation.”
The commander squared his shoulders and stood. “All right people, you heard her. Get everyone ready to evacuate the station.”
The words had no sooner left his mouth than a loud crash sounded, and the station shook from a collision impact. As in so many of the fictionalized accounts of space collisions she’d watched in old movies growing up, there were blaring alarms and flashing warning lights. If she didn’t know she was in mission control with the best people to handle a crisis, she might have panicked. Instead, she affected a steely resolve and went about assessing the damage and becoming part of the solution to get people to safety.
Her next thought was how Phee was doing. She could only imagine the chaos she must be enduring in the medical bay. As she ran a quick scan of systems, her worst fears seemed to be playing out today. The air pressure and oxygen levels were compromised. They were losing oxygen more rapidly than they’d be able to evacuate.
As she scanned and re-ran the data, she thought about how much she wanted to hate Brantley right now for putting everyone into this predicament, but she knew that was a cop-out. Now wasn’t the time to be a temperamental shrew. It was her place to work and find solutions. Blaming was a waste of time and energy that could be better spent getting things done.
“Commander, I need you to get some help from the surface. Is there a way to send a Mayday to them? I don’t think the station will be able to sustain air quality for the two plus hours we need. If everything remains constant, the air will be gone in an hour and forty-nine minutes. We need to get all non-essential personnel out of here now.”
The commander gave her a look of disbelief and then quickly went into action. “Thank you, Kyra. Looks like you’re the commander today. I’m going down to the engine rooms to coordinate the evacuation. Please keep me apprised of the systems’ situation every ten minutes. I can be reached on the intra-communicator on this frequency.” He pointed at a frequency she hadn’t known was available before then.
With a quick nod to confirm that she understood what was to be done, he was off.
Within the next few minutes, the station-wide announcement system began to broadcast the mandatory evacuation. Hearing the announcement brought chills to Kyra’s body. This was not a drill. She was in the heart of a potentially life-or-death situation. Looking at the disarray of many of the station’s systems, she dug in deeper to unravel as much of the chaos as possible.
A buzzing notification let her know the filtration system was failing. If the filters couldn’t keep up, then the air quality would deteriorate even faster, poisoning everyone with gases mixed in deadly proportions. This was nuts. She could only imagine what the rest of the ship must look like. Up here in mission control it was starting to unravel. People were running back and forth, and the tension in their voices belied their calm appearance. Seeing these strong-willed people start to fray around the edges gave away the rawness of the situation. Any minute now, someone would lose his cool and snap.
Buzz, buzz, buzz…
The sound startled her, but she picked up the intra-communicator next to her station. Dirk’s agitated voice filled her ears.
“Kyra! What the hell is going on? I came in to help Brantley. He’s in a corner crying and losing it, and I can’t access any of the systems. Plus, someone just reported a fire in one of the loading galleys next to an engine that seems to have stopped working.”
“Dirk, slow down. Did you say there’s a fire next to one of the engine rooms?”
“Yes but I can’t get control of the system to run a check.”
“Don’t worry about that. Mission control overrode it. I have control of all the systems up here in the control room now. I’ll take a look to see if I can locate the fire and activate the extinguishers.”
She scanned the area for elevations in temperature, and sure enough, there was a growing fire in the room next to the inoperable engine.
“Looks like I found it. I’ve turned on the overhead extinguishers. I’ll see if we can dispatch someone down there to help with putting the fire out, to make sure it’s done.”
“Hey Kyra, what happened? Why are you up there, and why did you leave? Brantley is a mess. I can’t get him to talk or even move from that corner. It’s like he’s snapped.”
“Dirk, it’s a story too long to talk about at the moment. And I didn’t leave, he tried to fire me. Once we get everyone to safety, we’ll have to catch up, and I’ll be happy to fill you in. Let’s just say Brantley is feeling the heat of not knowing how to do his job. But you should leave and find your wife. Prepare for evacuation and head to your nearest designated area to board a shuttle. It’s not looking good, and this is the real thing, not a drill. You understand? You need to leave now. Let Brantley know to do the same. Find your wife and get out to your shuttle.”
“All right, thanks for the heads-up. Whatever is happening up there, be careful and stay safe. If I don’t get to see you before we make it back to the surface, know that I’ve always admired you and the work you do.”
With that, they severed the intra-communicator connection. It was time to try to save as many lives as possible. Another explosion shook the station. Kyra watched in horror as many of the once calm engineers and flight crew raced to the observation window and stared in horror. She didn’t have time to do the same — she only listened for snatches of what they saw.
They had just collided with the piece of debris they’d feared most. There was a gaping hole in the station’s hull; casualties were reported, and uninjured crew members were attempting to put out raging fires.
This was not good on so many levels. Kyra worked to restore systems and watched with disbelief as the fires devoured precious oxygen. At this rate, they had about thirty minutes of air left. The evacuations had only started, and she needed a status report to see how many shuttles were still viable.
Remembering to report updates to the commander, she picked up the intra-communicator. She tried to ignore her shaking hands as she activated his frequency. He immediately came on the line.
“Commander…Mark. It looks like the fires in the hull are depleting our air supply at an alarming rate.”
“We may have thirty minutes at most before the air is unbreathable. Evacuation efforts need to speed up if at all possible.”
She waited for him to respond with her next directive, but his silence made her falter for a moment. Then her will to survive kicked in and she said, “Mark, move everyone to the shuttles and forget about the fire. No use trying to fight it when we’re all leaving anyway. Stuff as many people as possible in each shuttle. Let your people know it’s okay to start leaving mission control. I’ll stay to monitor systems and leave on the last shuttle.”
Silence. Then she heard him come back on the line, “Kyra you are very brave. I never thought we’d be in this situation. Times like this really let people know what they’re made of. You, my dear, have a warrior’s heart. I want you to leave with the rest of the crew. I’m down in the area by the fire. As soon as we can contain it enough to salvage some of the shuttles and get crew aboard them, I’ll give the all clear for everyone to start boarding. Be ready to leave in no less than twelve minutes from this moment. Do you understand me? That is an order. Don’t try to hang around and be a hero. You have to survive and make it off this station.”
At that moment another piece of debris crashed into the station, causing the lights in mission control to go out.
“Kyra, are you all right? What happened? It sounded like something hit close to mission control.”
“Yes we’re all right. I think another piece of debris hit us. The lights are out but…yes, the auxiliary generator lights just popped on.” Then the thought hit her — auxiliary power. “Hey Mark, do you think you could have most of the fire controlled in ten minutes?”
“I’m not sure…why?”
“Because I have an idea. If you can contain the fire to that one area, we can activate the emergency doors to that engine room to shut it off from the others. We’d use a boost from the auxiliary power to close it off. Then I could couple the regular power with auxiliary to clean the air down there, hopefully enough to give us another half hour. It’s a long shot, but that might give the surface time to send help.”
“Not to sound like a pessimist, but I doubt it. The soonest they can get here is about four hours. The Mayday went out only a little over an hour ago, when you asked me to send it. No, Kyra, we have to save ourselves on this go round.”
“Okay. I’m not giving up on ideas to buy us more time. Sir, how many shuttles are located in that engine area?”
She listened as he took a count, asked someone with him for confirmation and then said, “There are normally three shuttles per engine room for a total of thirty shuttles. Each one can hold forty people. The station is at full capacity with just under 1,200 people. It looks like we might be able to salvage one or two of these in the fire-damaged area. Then we’d need to make room for 40 to 80 people on the other shuttles. Only one shuttle is currently compromised. We may be able to absorb that on the other shuttles.”
She didn’t like the odds of the other two shuttles in that area working. She wanted to close it off completely. Another quick check and her suspicions were confirmed. The area’s air composition was changing to include hydrogen. That was a dangerous recipe for an explosive situation. Could this day get any suckier?
“Mark, it looks like we need to forget about those shuttles. The air is filling with hydrogen, becoming poisonous and dangerous. There could be more explosions in that area at any time. Please get your people out of there now. I’m going to attempt to activate the emergency door shutdown.”
“You can’t without my override. There’s no time. I’ll fill the shuttles that work in this bay first and then move on. I have to use every available seat to get everyone out of here. It’s time for you to come down and leave, as well. I’ll see you when you get here.”
The communication went dead. The area was volatile and could cause the entire station to explode, but she had to obey her commander. She couldn’t pull a mutiny. He didn’t need that added pressure. What good would it do in the long run? They had minutes to move more than thousand people off this station. She made her own executive decision to keep her misgivings to herself and follow orders.
“Sir, tell me what you want to do and we’ll make it happen up here,” was the response she gave instead.
“Start sending people to this engine room. That includes you leaving the area to come down to the shuttles, as well. We’ll fill up as many shuttles as we can and send them out as soon as possible. You can try to override and shut down the doors to cut off any more oxygen to the fires from the control panels down here. It looks like we’ll have them well enough under control for people to come into the area. And Kyra, if I make it out of this, I’m going to do two things.”
She wanted to help him keep his spirits up, so she encouraged him. “Oh yeah, what’s that sir?”
“I’m going to beat the shit out of Brantley if I ever see him again, and I’m going to have a medal of honor awarded to you for your bravery and leadership. You, Kyra, are a natural leader, and it’s been a pleasure to work with you, even if it’s been under extreme duress and for this brief time.”
She was humbled and floored at his words; all she could manage to get out was, “Thank you, sir, and the same goes for you. I’m honored to have this opportunity to work with you.” She looked around at the panic in the room and said, “Time is wasting. I have to get your crew out of here. I’ll contact you in another ten minutes.”
Enjoying the story? Read the entire story HERE
Want to be the first to know when Mychal has new books coming out? Join the newsletter HERE