SpaceRats by Paul J Fleming

He eased backwards slightly so that he rested against the crate stacked immediately to his rear and brought his knees up so that his feet gained purchase upon the front-most edge of the crate he’d chosen as a vantage point.

The berths around the small space station were a bustle of activity, with ground crews handling cargo or making preparations for the docked ships to leave, yet he had chosen berth three for the simple reason that these seemingly forgotten crates posed one of the best places to rest up and watch the efforts of those he’d have to take responsibility for one day.

Most of the other berths were spartan affairs with ever changing landscapes within, yet these crates remained in situ. Tethered firmly to the floor by the heavy cargo netting and more of a permanent fixture than some transient stack that would one day be gone.

His ears strained to discern the words spoken by the crew of the ship as they exchanged stories with the stations labourers, the sounds of heavy loaders clanking and grinding about in pursuit of their work drowning out most of the tales being relayed and he wished the crates were a little closer, or that the loaders would cease to function for a while so he could hear those glimpses of worlds beyond his own artificial one.

He sucked in a long, deep breath and let his eyes fall half-closed as he fought to strain a few pertinent words through the background hubbub, but to no avail.
It was much like that comedy act he’d witnessed from a travelling performer who’d visited the station on his way out toward the belt, in which the man pretended his microphone was faulty and kept cutting out throughout his performance.
It was just a disjointed, garbled mess, although when the performer had crafted his routine he’d ensured that his exposition on the wonders of the universe had been so interrupted by the fake malfunctions that the resultant wording made up insinuations of impropriety between popular figures and resulted in haughty laughter from all present.

No. He didn’t feel amused in the slightest at the present performance being played out, just frustrated, and he let out that deep breath in a dejected sigh as his eyes opened again fully to watch the interplay unfold within the docking area. At least, if nothing else, he could fashion his own adventures from the scenes unfolding before him. He could imagine the words that were being exchanged and the stories those crewmembers had to tell.

All those things beyond the metallic bubble that shielded him from the harsh environment of space that he wouldn’t bear witness to. The station provided an island of security, food, and oxygen amid the cold, stark expanse all around them.
It shielded and nurtured its inhabitants to allow them to live, work and breathe but he’d come to view his present environment as more of a prison than a home to be cherished and adored.
If only he had the courage to go forward and join that crew as they were about to depart.
To step aboard their vessel before the craft was set free from the stations confines and feel the vibrations under his feet as the reactor roared into life, the sensation of movement as the thrusters fired and they were propelled at fantastic speeds across the silky blackness of space toward another place.
Any place. It didn’t matter where.
Just somewhere other than where he had lived for all of his years.

“Daydreaming about leaving again?”
The voice which tore through his reverie caused his heart to seemingly leap within his chest as his head turned sharply in time to witness the wry grin that spread over his friend’s face. There was no point in trying to disguise how surprised he was as it was clear that Roger had already noted the alarm he’d caused.
It was one of his more annoying traits. Sneaking up on a person to give them a start. It seemed to amuse the young, blonde-haired pilot and the more the victim tried to hide the result, the more he’d work at upping his game to achieve the desired reaction.
Jason had learned to simply roll with it and let Roger have his little victory.

“You know your father’s never going to accede to your request for time away from here to explore the colonies in search of that adventure you crave so much, don’t you?”

Jason pressed his lips together firmly and turned his head back so that his gaze fell upon the berthed ship once more, her unflattering bulky hull somehow drawing a sense of longing up within his breast the more he stared at her.

“I’ve petitioned him to allow me to grow my understanding so I may better fulfill my role when the day comes I’m tasked with standing in for him at the head of this little enterprise. I spent over two days toying with the wording in order to make my request as irrefutable as possible. Now all I can do is wait until he has the time to contemplate and decide.”

Roger moved around him to a place upon the crates to Jason’s immediate left, taking a seat upon the makeshift vantage spot and chuckling softly as he did so.

“What’s so funny?” Jason queried as his gaze followed his friend’s progress.

“You are, or rather your sense of timing. You do know the old man has us flying sorties around the station day in and day out, sparring with practice drones out there as if he’s making preparations for some kind of assault? Seriously, a few of the guys think he’s starting to lose it a bit. You know, do a little soft in the head in his old age? No one would hit us out here.”

“He must have his reasons,” Jason replied in quick defence of his own father, but then pondered for a moment before speaking once more in a much more downcast tone, “but if he’s expecting something to happen then the last thing he’s going to do is allow me to leave.”

He shook his head sadly and turned from Roger to stare balefully at his own knees.

“That means I’m stuck here. Again.”

“Why don’t you just go up to operations and ask him, face to face?”

Jason closed his eyes. He knew Roger meant well but he’d just crushed the little hope that he’d allowed to blossom in his own chest, which now felt hollow and empty as a surge of angst washed over him at the suggestion of facing down his father before all those on the ops level.

No, his efforts would come to no avail and there would be some good reason why he should defer his intentions to set foot away from the station until some arbitrary future, much like other times his father had denied him the chance to be away from this place.

Roger was still speaking from his left, but he’d almost tuned him out in favour of trying to focus upon that ship in the berth once more as he opened his eyes and gazed longingly upon her hull, the sounds of the berth all about him mingling with Roger’s voice as he let his mind try to gather together the scrambled elements of his dream to once more make his existence a little more bearable.

One day there’d be adventure beyond these metallic walls that imprisoned him.
One day…

 

SpaceRats is a story currently under development with a further 6 chapters complete at present to follow on from this, in which Jason … no. That would be telling.

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