KASPER

The following short story by Renga Prasad is the second-place winning entry of the ‘Celestia — Tales From Beyond’ short story writing competition held by Nakshatra as a part of World Asteroid Day. Read on!

(Image courtesy: NASA)

The SS Deckard lumbered carefully through the asteroid belt, loosely pointed towards the origin of the location signal. The ship’s navigation AI had plotted a visible course through the space rubble with an ETA of three hours, and now the ship made its progress patiently, bit by bit. The engines thrummed on and off, propelling the colossal vessel ever so slightly away from each asteroid on the path. Kayden found something irritating about the way the ship adjusted course, combined with the sensation of vertigo he got from the gravitational fields of the passing asteroids. Yet, as captain, he needed to be there.

The blackness outside the cockpit shield was dotted with specs of whites and greys. Some three thousand miles ahead blinked numerous tiny red lights. The asteroid mining colony KASPER looked unnaturally miniscule from this far out, yet in truth, it was nearly a good fifty times larger than the SS Deckard on its own.

As the largest of the sixteen mining colonies in the asteroid belt, the KASPER contributed the most to the Earth Space Quadrant’s economy, with most of the resources mined being processed and packaged for business — and that’s where Kayden’s contracting company came in. The nerve it took to maneuver through the asteroid belt wasn’t something that came naturally to everyone. And everything Kayden lacked, his crew made up for.

He absently fingered his black curly hair, his thoughts dwelling on memories of the long gone. The cushioned chair he sat on had sank considerably considering his elongated shift, and now he couldn’t bear remain seated despite the turbulence. So, he unbuckled the belt and stood up, ignoring the first-mate’s protest.

“I need some air,” he said inaudibly, and strode out of the cockpit. The magnetic boots kept him on his feet, as he aimlessly walked through the darkened corridors. He realized he had been holding his breath for a while, and he exhaled. The darkness somehow felt welcoming. No land dweller would understand the feeling of solace space offered. Everyone just feared the cold unapologetic openness of it. But those who’d lived in it had only a deep — yet vague — appreciation for it.

Kayden glided through the silent hallways, allowing himself to relax his stiff posture. Though he didn’t think much of it, he knew where he wanted to go. His feet would take him there, he knew.

Soon he had reached the ship observatory, and the tight corridors bled into the huge telescope chamber. Multiple monitors lined the circumference of the room, all lit up and displaying some sort of statistic. This was also where the navigations AI physically resided, in the form of a 800 core processing unit. Overall, the massive room was run by only one crew member.

“Sinah?” He called out, looking at the door to the telescope. “You here?”

“I’m here,” Sinah’s voice echoed through the chamber, making it hard to pinpoint the origin. “What happened? Got bored of captaining?” Slowly, her silhouette emerged from the tiny closet at the end where the AI cores were.

“More or less,” Kayden grumbled, and strolled forward to meet her. She stepped into the light, straightening her floating laboratory attire. Dark rings circled her eyes and were only pronounced by her thick glasses. “You look terrible.”

“Yeah? Well, so do you.” She said and pouted. “But that doesn’t have to do with tiredness.”

“I’m tired of captaining.” He said and sighed an exasperated sigh. “Came here for a change of pace. Tell me what you got about KASPER. Then you’re going to bed. Don’t work overtime this week. We’re gonna need you alive, not as a zombie.”

Sinah nodded tiredly and turned back towards her room, this time with Kayden following her. “I have the data all ready on my computer. And I’ll sleep right after, I promise.” She stepped into the closet and squeezed through technical equipment to her desk monitor. A few clicks later, all the necessary tabs were open, along with an outdated blueprint of the entire of KASPER’s architecture.

“KASPER is a SPYDER type colony,” Sinah pointed at the screen. “Means it’s one of those movable colonies that’s one whole piece. It can detach from the asteroid it’s mining on, and dock on another one. And you see those legs?” She pointed at projections on the lower transverse section. “Resembles
arachnoid legs. Hence SPYDER. Get it?”

Kayden shook his head and frowned. “Thanks for the architecture lesson. I don’t really care about any of that though. What are they mining there?”

“They’re currently mining on a M-Type. So probably iron and silicon. They haven’t moved for a good two months. So, I’m estimating a few tonnes of goods.”

“We ain’t taking any of it I’m afraid. It’s a shame it’s not a C-type.”

“Why?”

“It’s constituents. More volatile.”

Sinah grunted and went back to the computer. She roved over a few more tabs then looked back at Kayden when he hadn’t moved an inch.

“You look exhausted.” She pointed out and frowned. “This is about Cordel isn’t it?”

“What makes you think that?”

“You’re making that face. The whole ‘sort of angry, sort of confused’ face.”

Kayden remained quiet, and slowly turned to leave. Sinah did know the way around him better than anyone else on the ship. Made her almost as dangerous as the people he’d made enemies of. She didn’t really have her way with the words however.

Just as he left the room, quicker than ever, he felt Sinah grab his arm and pull him back.

“Sinah,” he said startled and stumbling. “What eve-?”

“I hate when you make that face.” She said, muffled with her face on his back.

“What face?” He pried himself from her grip and turned to look at her. “Yes, this is about Cordel. I want this to end quickly. If I had patience, I’d wait for them to move to a C-type and explode them to oblivion. Too bad I don’t, and more people are going to die ’cause of it.”

Sinah looked at him through her tired eyes and smiled a sweet smile. “Relax Kay. We’re all in this together. He’ll pay for everything in due time. You’re the captain. We’re gonna listen to you. You want to still go for KASPER even if it’s on a M-Type, go for it. It would just be a bit harder.”

Kayden nodded and pursed his lips. “I’m sorry. I’m confused. Scared and excited. Those feelings don’t mesh do they?”

Sinah grinned and said, “No they don’t. I believe in you. Don’t doubt yourself now.”

He gently pulled her into an embrace, burying his face in her shoulder and resting.

Halavel slipped into his space battle suit, buckling up the kevlar armor pieces. He flexed his fingers, satisfied with the rubbery feedback he got. He wrapped his hands around his assault rifle and hefted the barrel. He aimed it at Kelser and made firing noises.

“Cut it out,” Kelser ordered while he buckled up his own battle suit. “Learn not to make useless movements. Every bit of energy you spend could be useful for something else.”

Hal grinned and lowered the gun. “Show some energy lazy pig. How are you not excited?”

“He’s insomniac.” Bernard chimed in from behind them, already fully suited. He had his helmet cupped in his elbow; how he managed to fit his beard in it and breathe normally no one knew. “What were you doing all night? I checked his browser histo-.” He ducked just in time to dodge a flying boot. A general chuckle spread across the room.

Guys! Quit it,” Commander Oakley commanded from the room’s entrance. “We’re leaving within the hour. Chop! Chop!

The room fell silent once more, the tension thick in the air despite the light-hearted conversation. Whatthey were going to do today would most definitely get them killed. But as some wise old man had probably said, why die sad when you could die happy? So, blast the sad shit. They all would die smiling
today.

The self-proclaimed soldiers suited up and marched out of the changing rooms. The walk to the cockpit had been a short one, with the only the lack of gravity slowing them down. Hal clenched and unclenched his fist, over and over. The adrenaline always kicked in just before they were to leave. The wait would kill them all before the bullets and debris did.

Kayden strode — Sinah right on his heels — into the cockpit to see his infiltration team all suited up for the operation. The other crew-members had all woken up to take their places. He gave a good look at each one of their faces, smiling at a good few.

“Men,” Kayden boomed, clearing his throat in the process. “Tonight, will be the last time we fight the Space Council.” He paused and looked at each one of his soldiers’ faces. Not one had been spared of a scar. “Tonight, we’ll take revenge for all that we lost to Cordel. Tonight, we will tear down KASPER, if it’s the last thing we do.” He spat out the last sentence in vehemence. “Let this be their warning. We are the lost children of Andromeda. Tonight, we take our revenge.”

Cordel tersely followed the dot on the radar as it got closer. He looked up at glass pane, watching the Goliath Class ship gradually approach his mining colony. He wiped the few beads of sweat that had formed despite the conditioned air.

The SS Deckard. It read along its elongated side. The bastard Kayden was back.

“Sir?” A voice called from behind him. “We ran a background check on the ship. The serial code and the name correspond to a class red stolen ship. They’re pirates.”

Cordel swallowed hard, his nails digging into the flat of his palms. “Battle stations,” he whispered. “Bloody hell. Battle stations,” he repeated louder, gritting his teeth.

He stared at the dot getting closer and closer, and noticed a tiny battleship detach from the main frame. As his heart raced he found himself smiling despite the fear.

“Kayden is back,” he whispered to himself. “Come here, you delusional bastard. I’ll blow you out of an airlock.”

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Nakshatra NITT

Nakshatra NITT

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