Everything went dark on theSSJohn W. Campbell Jr.
Erik Juergenson cursed in two languages. This wasn’t the first time the supply ship had lost power. Not even the first time today. He didn’t dare take his hands off the controls of his ship, Skalbagge. His docking computer would have to recalculate the coordinates if it came back online. He hated to fly blind. Well, only half blind.
Flipping a switch, his smaller craft could go to manual control and he could maneuver out of the path of the much bigger ship. At least he hoped so. Right now it was a monstrous, slate black hulk against a background of glittering stars. They had been only four minutes from docking when the power had blinked out.
Europa Station had called in Juergenson two days ago. The Campbellhad been racing towards Jupiter, flying erratically one minute and on a perfect trajectory the next. The crew had responded when hailed but their voices had sounded wooden, made no sense. The ship had failed all the normal protocols and procedures on its approach to the planet. As they had gotten close, they didn’t correct course. They didn’t use Jupiter’s gravity to slow their ship down. One hour ago, they pulled away from the planet at an oblique angle. Evidently, that maneuver had used up all their fuel and they were now floating free with no power.
Juergenson let out a deep sigh, and the canned air of the bridge tasted metallic on his tongue. He’d have to perform the docking maneuver all by himself. He needed to get onboard and figure out what in the name of Odin was going on with these people.
He pushed a lever forward. The Skalbaggeresponded as it always did, moving towards the other ship ever so slightly. His ship did what it was told. He’d seen to that every waking hour since he’d left Earth five years ago. The Skalbaggewas his environment, his safety net, his world. It had grown to seem like a part of his body. Now he pushed a button which would override the Campbell’soffline docking mechanism. He’d have to eyeball this one and do it the old-fashioned way.
“There we go,” he said, staring through the view screen, talking as if to a lover. “Come to me. I want to hold you in my arms.”
“Three minutes,” said the ship’s computer. It had learned to ignore Juergenson’s flights of fancy, what he called his ‘pillow talk.’
“Inge! Where’s your romance?” he said, looking around the bridge as if there were a woman actually standing there. He’d named the voice on the ship’s computer Inge after his first girlfriend back in Boräs.
“Don’t run away from me. I want to feel your touch,” he purred.
He pushed the lever another centimeter forward. He had done this dozens of times before. Every ship that approached the Swedish colony was greeted by the Skalbagge. The robotic supply ships from Earth didn’t need his help. But the Campbell had a crew. It had left Earth six years ago on a journey to the outer colonies at Saturn. Now it was on its way home. Or, at least, it had been trying.
Juergenson slowed his ship to match the other. He needed to get just a few meters closer so he could dock. He had time enough to send one more automated message, hoping they would respond. Even with no power, they should still have been able to. Every ship had built in redundancies. But there was still nothing.
“One minute,” said Inge’s voice.
“Don’t be shy, my little Älskare,” said Juergenson. “I’ll be gentle. I’ve been waiting two days for you.”
“Initiate docking procedures,” said Inge. The Skalbaggewas close enough now. Juergenson made one more, slight change. There was a gentle quake when the two ships finally embraced.
“Ahh, that wasn’t so bad, was it, my little Flickvän?”
Juergenson looked at his computer screen. The docking seal was good. In a few minutes, he would be able to go and find out what had happened over there. Everything in his gut told him it was going to be bad. He double checked his space helmet to make sure it was secure and in place. He turned on the light in his faceplate because it would be dark over there.
Amundsen Station on Europa interrupted the quiet. “Juergenson, give us an update please.”
He recognized the voice. It was Ljungman. The controller usually made him laugh but now he was strictly business. They were all watching his mission with great interest.
“We have a good seal, and I’m waiting for a pressure match.”
“Be safe, my friend,” said Ljungman.
Juergenson never had time to reply. His own ship went black. Even the power in his faceplate switched off. He tried to turn it on again but nothing happened. His ship was dark. His spacesuit was dark. He reached for a flashlight but it wouldn’t turn on. He hit it but it still didn’t work. And there’s no dark like the dark of space when you’re cooped up inside a ship with no power.
Juergenson was a veteran pilot. He stayed calm. He tried to contact Europa, but his com was dead. He heard a strange pop in his ears. It didn’t sound like his ears popping from a change in the pressure of his suit. Then he heard a noise coming from the air lock. A scraping sound. He heard the door to the airlock begin to open. He stared that way as hard as he could, hoping to see something, but it was just too dark. Suddenly, his flashlight switched on. The beam caught the opening door of the air lock. At first, Juergenson was confused by what he saw coming his way. Then he screamed. But that did him no good whatsoever.
Erik Juergenson’s days of pillow talk were over.
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Wayne Faust has been a full-time music and comedy performer for over 40 years, playing in 40 states and overseas in England, Scotland, and Holland. His funny songs have been heard on the radio all over the world and on the Internet. While on the road, he writes science-fiction and has over 40 stories published in various places, including Norway, Australia, and South Africa. He’s published two full length books, “Thirty Years Without A Real Job,” a fast-moving and entertaining memoir of his life in show business, and “12 Parables,” a collection of short stories.
You can find more than you’ll ever need to know about Wayne on his website at www.waynefaust.com.
Charles Eugene Anderson
Charles Eugene ‘Chuck’ Anderson is a poet, painter, baker, runner, hospital volunteer, and writer who lives in Colorado. He spends most of his days with his pup, Champ. Chuck is a husband and father, and he has a weakness for muscle cars. Chuck’s stories can be found at madcow.press