orbit

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
captain phil thomas arrives on the helios space station. the two men waiting for him seem okay but stuck in the enclosed space things soon begin to unravel.

Submitted: February 02, 2016

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Submitted: February 02, 2016

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Captain Phil Thomas moved through the cramped air lock. With his rocket docked behind him he moved forward. He pushed through the small square door and into the space station. His ears popped as be adjusted to the slight change in air pressure. The gravity settings on the station were matched as similar as possible with Earth. Still, his head felt fuzzy and his limbs didn’t quite feel like they belonged to him. He was disorientated.

He looked around at the white-grey walls of the station. The place reminded him of a hospital. Two men approached him. They wore the same blue European Space Agency overalls as him and welcoming smiles. The older man was somewhere in his late forties with greying hair. He shook Phi’s hand.

‘Welcome to the Helios Space Station. You must be Captain Thomas.’

‘That’s me. Call me Phil. Sorry, I can’t think of your names.’

‘I’m Major David Adams.’

‘Captain Tim Clarke.’ said the other man. ‘Pleased to meet you.’

Clarke was in his mid-thirties and slightly overweight.

‘Don’t worry about the dizziness.’ said Adams. ‘That will pass. You’ll be fine.’

Phil nodded.

‘Come on. Let’s show you round.’

Adams and Clarke led him down the white corridors. The doors whooshed as they opened and closed automatically. Phil was roughly aware of the layout of the station thanks to his training back at the base but he was glad of the guided tour. He was sure that he would soon be able to find his way around the station.

The whole place seemed to hum and vibrate. The constant mechanical thrumming reminded him of being on a ferry or an aeroplane. As he followed his colleagues down a  narrow corridor he stopped. Through the small window he saw the most amazing thing. There in front of him, with a backdrop of glittering stars, was the blue-green sphere of Earth. He had seen images taken from the station but nothing prepared him for the real thing. This wasn’t a photograph. This was the actual view from where he was. The others joined him.

‘Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?’

Phil nodded and stared.

They entered a room that had glaringly bright walls and benches. The laboratory equipment gleamed under the start lighting. Phil did not need telling that they would be spending a significant amount of their time in the lab conducting their experiments. Adams pointed to the equipment.

‘We keep a tidy laboratory on the Helios. I expect you to maintain our standards.’ Adams said.

‘Of course.’

‘And that goes for the rest of the ship.’

‘Don’t mind him.’ whispered Clarke. ‘The Major is a bit highly strung but harmless enough.’

The next room was the computer room. Banks of computer equipment lined the walls. The results of the experiments would be logged here. Also, from this room communication was maintained with the ESA base in London. Phil knew already that the contact with the base back on Earth was pretty regular but vague. As he docked Adams and Clarke will have sent a typed message to control advising that Captain Thomas had arrived successfully. Control will have replied soon after confirming receipt of the message.

He was shown to his sleeping quarters. The small room contained his bunk, a shelf for personal items, and a computer screen and keyboard mounted on the wall. Phil yanked his rucksack off his shoulders. Major Adams gave him a curt nod.

‘We will give you time to get settled in. Shall we meet in the canteen for dinner at eighteen hundred hours?’

‘Yeah, sounds good.’

‘Not that good.’ said Clarke. ‘I’d kill for a take away.’

Left on his own Phil slumped onto the bed. He could feel the vibration of the station through the soles of his feet. It all seemed slightly unreal. He had dreamed of this day all his life and trained for it for years. And here he was on board a space station orbiting the Earth sixteen times a day.

His colleagues on the station seemed okay. Major Adams came over as very serious compared to the witty and sarcastic Captain Clarke. Together the two men reminded him of the characters in a film he’d seen years ago about an odd couple of blokes living together in an apartment. He smiled. He was sure they’d all get along fine.

The canteen was a large square room. There were tables and chairs in the centre and equipment for heating food along one wall. Everything was the same off-white colour as the rest of the ship. Clarke and Adams were seated at one of the tables. They had plastic trays of food in front of them. Phil worked his way down the food counter. He selected a tray of food that looked the least unappetising. He placed the pressure packed, condensed food into a machine that looked like a cross between a microwave oven and a transistor radio. A minute later the ‘cooker’ chirped and the lid popped open. Phil took the warm tray. He placed a plastic cup under a hatch. He selected orange juice. The cup was quickly filled. He took a sip. Well, it was orange, and it was juice, but that was where the similarity ended. And finally he collected the tiny paper cup containing that day’s vitamins and supplements.

He joined the others at their table. He jabbed his plastic fork in something that kind of resembled mashed potato.

‘That,’ pointed Clarke. ‘almost tastes exactly unlike mash.’

‘Good job I’m not here for the food.’ replied Phil.

‘The food is satisfactory. It is hot. It is edible and you also have your supplements. If you have any complaints I suggest you contact Control.’

‘Chill your beans. We’re just larking around.’

‘Yeah, we didn’t mean anything by it, Dave.’ added Phil.

‘You may call me David, or Major.’

Adams got to his feet. He crossed the room, dispensing his tray and cup in the cleaning hatch. He left the room. Phil guessed that if the doors were not automatic the Major would have slammed it shut behind him.

‘You’ll have to get used to him. His bark is worse than his bite.’

Phil nodded in reply.

The days passed by. Phil got into the routine of life on the Helios space station. Days were taken up exercising in the tiny gym, conducting experiments and research, dining on tasteless food. Phil would send regular messages to control back on Earth. He would send data and figures from the laboratory. He would also contact control from the communications room and from his tablet computer. The messages he sent were brief and informative. The replies matched the tone of his messages. Mostly the reply would read confirmed, thanks Captain. He assumed that the others were in similar contact with base.

The days turned into weeks.

One evening Adams came to see him in his bunk. The doors whooshed open. The  Major poked his head around the door.

‘Evening, Captain. You got a minute?’

‘Sure, come in.’

‘I’ve come across an anomaly on my work in the laboratory. The results I’m getting just don’t seem to be making sense.’

‘Really? Want me to take a look?’

‘Would you mind?’

‘No, not at all. I’ll see you in the lab first thing in the morning.’

‘Spiffing. Thanks for that.’

‘No worries.’

Major Adams bid him good night and left his quarters.

The next morning as soon as he’d showered and breakfasted Phil made his way down the corridor towards the laboratory. As he walked he glanced out at the darkness of space outside the window. Stars shone across the expanse of the galaxy. Full of stars, he said to himself. He hurried along to the lab.

The Major was in one corner of the lab. He studied test-tubes of brightly coloured liquid and tapped away on his tablet computer.

‘Morning Major. So, you mentioned some strange results?’

Adams glared at him.

‘Forget it. I’ve had to sort everything out myself as usual.’

Before Phil could ask for an explanation Adams stormed from the room. Phil shook his head and resumed the tests he was conducting himself. Later that day found Captain Clarke having a drink in the canteen. Phil grabbed himself a hot drink that was supposed to be tea. He joined Clarke a his table. Taking a sip of his drink Phil told his colleague about Adams. Clarke nodded and smiled as Phil described the change in the Major overnight.

‘He is a funny un. He will snap out of it soon enough.’

Phil said nothing. The Helios space station suddenly seemed such a small place to be stuck with people who were little more than strangers. Perhaps, he thought, that will be the real test of this mission. He focused on the tasks at hand and kept himself busy. As predicted Adams did revert back to his politeness towards Phil.

One night Phil struggled to sleep. He just couldn’t nod off. He tried his usual trick of listening to jazz music on his earphones but even that wasn’t doing the trick. Eventually, swearing under his breath, he got up, tossing the duvet aside. He shrugged into his dressing gown and went for a walk.

The station thrummed around him as he walked down the grey white corridors. He turned a corner. He stopped walking. Standing with his face pressed against the wall was Clarke. He still wore his daytime blue overalls. He was standing still with the side of his head against the wall as though he was listening.

‘Hey Tim.’ called Phil. ‘You okay, mate?’

Tim Clarke turned to face him. He marched upto him. He gripped hold of Phil by the shoulders. There was urgency in his eyes.

‘Forty two.’ Clarke said.

‘What?’

Clarke walked down the corridor and through double doors. Phil rushed after him. He went through the doors. Clarke was gone. The corridor stretched out in front of him. No sign of his colleague at all. Phil sighed. He felt sick. Was Clarke going to start acting up too? Adams was an oddity but with Clarke on his side they would cope. Now though, it seemed that it was every spaceman for himself.

The next morning Clarke was munching his breakfast in the canteen as usual.

‘Morning, Phil.’

‘Morning. You okay, mate?’

‘I’m fine, thanks. How you doing?’

‘Good. Sleep well?’

‘Never better.’

Phil couldn’t face breakfast. He sipped at a cup of hot tea.

Several days later Phil headed for the gym. As he entered Adams was leaving. He was red faced and sweating in his t-shirt and tracksuit.

‘Good morning, Phil. How are you today?’

‘Erm, yeah, fine thanks, David.’

‘Call me Dave.’ he said as he left the room.

A few days later, as they dined on yet more dreary food in the canteen Clarke gave Phil a nudge.

‘By the way, did you send that message to Control?’

‘What message was that?’ asked Phil.

‘Phil, we spoke about this.’

‘Sorry, Tim. You haven’t asked me about any message.’

Clarke glared at him. Anger burned in his eyes. Phil flinched as his colleague’s grip on his knife tightened. A long moment passed. Then Clarke slammed his cutlery down on the table. He ran from the room.

Phil rubbed his eyes with trembling fingers. Things could not carry on like this. If anything else happened, anything at all, with either of them, he would message control and insist they do something.

Not for the first time he felt very alone and very far from home. He felt like he really needed a break from all this.

The next morning he entered the canteen with a bit more of a spring in his step. He was determined to have a better day. He would be polite with his colleagues but would keep a professional distance.

He screamed as he took in the full horror of the scene in front of him. Lying on the floor, blood seeping from the slash to his throat was Major Adams. Dead eyes stared at the ceiling. The knife lay across the room. Bloody footprints lead to the door. Phil’s head swam. He couldn’t think.

He charged down the corridor to the communication room. He hit the red button on the doorframe. The door was now locked. Clarke would not be abele to get in and kill him too. Or so he hoped.

Phil logged into the computer. He tapped at the keyboard. The subject of his message was EMIR. Emergency Message, Immediate Response. In clumsy, quick sentences he explained that his colleague, Captain Clarke, had killed Major Adams. He hit send. Waited for the reply. Phil paced the room waiting for the reply. He listened for noises outside. He could hear nothing but the rumbling of the station.

A few minutes later came the reply. Phil stared in confusion. He read the message again.

Do not understand. You are alone on the Helios.


© Copyright 2018 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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