Heat Seeker, Jake Mudd Adventures Book Three (ch. 1-2)
NOTE: This is from a draft, not from the final edited & proofread manuscript.
Jake held his grip with all his might and leaned back, pulling with every ounce of strength he had. Sweat dripped from his brow, landing on the gash on his wrist. But still, he kept up the struggle. Finally, after nearly a minute, the bolt loosened and the wrench came back toward him.
He wasn’t prepared for it to give way so quickly. He toppled back, striking his head on the wall behind him. He’d been meaning to deal with the breakdown in the air filtration system of the secondary cargo hold for a while.
“Are you OK, Jake?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said, pushing himself back up and taking hold of the second bolt with the heavy two-foot wrench. “You know, for an advanced ship, some of this system’s design has a lot of room for improvement.”
“You talk like I made it,” Sarah said.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Jake said. “I didn’t mean anything by it, other than it looks like the designers could have done a better job on some of these basic elements.”
“There’s always upgrades,” Sarah said.
Jake tipped his head up at the camera on the ceiling through which he knew Sarah was watching him. “We barely pull in enough to keep things going the way they are. Unless we can land another decent job, I think upgrades are going to stay at the bottom of the list for the time being.”
“Suit yourself,” Sarah said. “You’re the one banging your head down there.”
“Appreciate the sympathy,” Jake said. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get this finished. Why don’t you check on our guests?”
“You mean your new crew, Tiffin and Dewey?”
“Don’t get carried away,” Jake said. “I still haven’t decided how permanent this arrangement is going to be.”
“Well, Tiffin seems to think the matter is settled.”
“What does she know?” Jake said. “She’s just a kid.”
“Maybe, but she managed to save your tail on Eon.”
“I had things under control.”
“Is that what you call it?” Sarah said. “That’s not the way I heard it.”
Jake was giving another pull on the wrench, working to loosen the second bolt. The ring of the wrench slipped off and struck his knee which was bent up in front of him. “Son of a—”
“I’ll check on the others now,” Sarah said.
Jake nodded without looking up at the camera, and set to work again on opening the casing of the air filtration system.
The lounge of the ship was designed for a cozy feel. The ceilings were low with light wood slats. The room had five seating areas, all opened up to one another, but made clearly distinct by the arrangement of furniture—soft couches and chairs with rounded edges and corners. Each cluster held together as if its own island by a large decorative rug beneath. The rest of the floor was green tile marbled with thin twisting random bands of white among the several shades of green. There was no harsh overhead light, but rather soft glow illuminating each seating area by a single light suspended from a thin steel cable attached to the ceiling. The side of the room farthest from the entrance was a sweeping semicircle of reinforced crystal glass, providing a view of the changing space-scape of stars and nebulae, and occasionally planets.
Tiffin and Dewey sat nearest the curved wall of windows. Dewey had traded in his Eon officer uniform for some clothes Jake had pulled for him from one of the cargo bays. Unclaimed freight, he’d told him. The clothes he now wore were a dull dark blue shirt and a pair of beige work pants. The shirt made his blue skin look a hue lighter by comparison. Tiffin had turned down Jake’s offer for new clothes, saying she was comfortable the way she was with her long green shorts and their useful cargo pockets, and the vest she wore over her shirt.
Seated on the couch across from Dewey, Tiffin had her clunky brown boots propped up on the ottoman between them. Dewey sat in a chair, maintaining a more disciplined posture—something Tiffin guessed was the result of his years of work in the city administration on Eon.
“What do you think about it?” Tiffin asked.
“About what?” Dewey said.
Tiffin raised her hands and looked around the room. She nodded at the wall of windows providing the view into the vastness of space. “This! Isn’t it just awesome?”
“It’s something.” Dewey looked around less enthusiastically. “Different.”
“Well, I just think it’s the coolest thing ever.” Her face was beaming with excitement. “Where do you think we’re going?” Her eyes widened at the thought of the possibilities.
“That’s a good question,” Dewey said. “Mr. Mudd’s not exactly the most forthcoming about his plans. Though, he did promise to find some place suitable. I suppose I should be thankful. If seeing the future didn’t come in uncontrollable and unexpected spurts for me, I would’ve known sooner Eon wasn’t the place for me.”
“So, it’s true. You see the future?”
“All of my people do. Though not clearly enough to do ourselves or anyone else much good.”
“Maybe the future isn’t always there yet for you to see,” Tiffin said. “I mean, until people decide what to do, how could anyone know the future? Did you know you were going to leave Eon, for example?”
“I’d been wanting to leave Eon for a long time. Trouble was I never knew exactly where it was I’d go or what I’d do if I got the chance to leave. I think that’s the reason I never tried before.”
“Well, I’m glad you did,” Tiffin said. “I think we all are going to make a great team.”
“I’m not cut out for wandering around in space,” Dewey said. “I’m looking for safe passage to somewhere, well, somewhere safe. But not like Eon. Adventure’s never been my thing.”
“You could’ve fooled me,” Tiffin said.
“What do you mean?”
“The way you raced in to find us. Well, to find Jake.” Tiffin averted her eyes upon realizing the implication of what she’d said.
“Yes, oh that. That was brave.”
Dewey seemed to shrink into his seat. “I think you’re confusing desperation for bravery.”
“No,” Tiffin said. “I don’t think so. Pretty brave.” She slapped her hand on Dewey’s knee.
He appeared significantly more uncomfortable.
“I hope I’m not interrupting,” Sarah said through the speaker on the ceiling in the center of the room.
“Not at all,” Tiffin said. “How are you, Sarah?”
“I’m fine. Thank you,” Sarah said. “I wanted to see how you two are getting settled in. I know Jake is not the best when it comes to making people feel right at home. He’s not used to having anyone around.”
“Except you, you mean,” Tiffin said. “You’re great company.”
“Thank you, Tiffin,” Sarah said. I appreciate that. We get along, Jake and I. And you, Dewey? We are glad to have you aboard, as well.”
“Thank you,” he said and paused. “Sarah.” He said her name awkwardly.
It was clear to Tiffin Dewey wasn’t as used to the idea of talking to an AI as she was. Tiffin chimed in to pull the conversation back. “What is he up to, anyway?”
“Jake?” Sarah said. “Oh, he’s fumbling around with some maintenance. We’ve had a few areas of the ship in need of repair for a while. I’ve been asking him to look into them for weeks, but honestly I think he’s chosen to do that now to avoid—well, to avoid too much conversation.”
“It must be hard on you both sometimes,” Tiffin said, “flying from one place to the next, not having any place to call home. Oh, I’m sorry. That was stupid of me. This ship—you, I mean. This is home for you and Jake. Isn’t it?”
“For as long as I can remember,” Sarah said.
“How long has that been?” Dewey asked.
“Jake and I have been together as far back as my memories go,” Sarah said.
Tiffin noticed Sarah’s voice changed as she spoke her recollection. Tiffin glared at Dewey.
“What?” he said.
“Oh. I just talked to Jake,” Sarah said. “He wants you two to meet him in the dining hall. Do you remember the way?”
“I… I think so,” Dewey said.
“Oh, I do,” Tiffin said. “Tell him we’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“I will,” Sarah said. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to leave you two now. I have a few other things to attend to.”
“Sure. No problem,” Tiffin said.
Tiffin and Dewey sat in silence for a few moments.
“What?” Tiffin asked, finally.
Dewey glanced up at the speaker. “I don’t know if I can get used to having her around always.”
“Why?” Tiffin asked. “Sarah’s great.”
“She seems fine. I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just that… Well, working on Eon—it was…”
Tiffin interrupted. “Don’t worry. She’s not like that. Now, come on. I’ll show you the way to the dining hall.”
She stood up, as did Dewey.
“And how do you know this, already?” Dewey asked.
“Easy. While you were in the med bay, I’ve been wondering around the ship. This place is so cool! Come on.” She headed for the door.
Dewey followed her.
Jake girded himself mentally as he came down the hall to meet Dewey and Tiffin. Flashes of briefings he’d given or received back in his mercenary days played in his head—hard words spat out without sugar coating, always with the understanding the talk was potentially a preemptive eulogy as well as a mission tasking.
He felt his adrenaline build as the hall faintly echoed from the footfalls of his boots, bringing him closer to his… crew.
“Ugh,” he said to himself.
He walked into the dining hall, looking a mess. His right wrist had a piece of black electrical tape wrapped around it. It covered nearly all of the long cut he suffered wrestling with the bolts and metal casing of the secondary cargo hold’s air filtration system he’d been working on. His hair was a mess and pasted down on the left side with a smear of black grease, which he was oblivious to.
“Good,” he said. “You two are here.”
Tiffin and Dewey were seated opposite one another near the closest end of the long metal table, which was made to seat twenty-two—the ship’s maximum crew accommodations. The ship could hold hundreds more people, but most of the space was taken up with cargo and the massive system used to fold space for long-haul travel.
“What did you want to see us about?” Tiffin asked. Her head rose only three quarters of the height above the table that Dewey’s did. With her elbows and forearms on the table, her shoulders were elevated above their normal position.
Jake noticed the striking contrast between Dewey’s and Tiffin’s expressions. Tiffin was excited. He hadn’t seen her look any other way since she came aboard. Dewey looked nervous, bordering on nauseated. Jake thought he’d be generous and call Dewey’s expression unsettled. He didn’t blame Dewey. In fact, he respected him for taking the leap into the unknown. He decided Tiffin’s leap was as much naiveté as it was bravery. That’s not fair. She did get me out of the arena on Eon.
“Jake?” Tiffin said.
Jake realized his mind had wondered. He hadn’t slept well since Tiffin and Dewey came aboard a few days earlier.
“Sorry,” he said. “There’s a few things we need to discuss.” He walked to the end of the table and sat, placing his hands on the brushed metal surface in front of him.
Dewey leaned into the side of the table. He looked eager. Jake knew Dewey wanted news of their destination. He’d asked Jake for an update on more than one occasion.
“You two may have noticed I’ve been busy the last couple days,” Jake said.
“That’s OK,” Tiffin said. “This place is huge. I’m sure you’ve had a lot to do.”
“Sarah mostly runs herself,” Jake said, “but I’ve been doing a few repairs.”
Tiffin nodded toward the black tape wrapped around Jake’s wrist. “I can see that.” She grinned.
Jake glanced at the makeshift bandage over the cut. He felt the sting from the gash again as his attention was brought to it. He shrugged slightly. “Yeah, well. I seem to be better at breaking things than fixing them.”
Tiffin sat up straight. “I can help.”
Jake stared at her for a few seconds and then began nodding. “Yes, that’s what I wanted to talk to you two about.”
Dewey shifted in his seat and fidgeted his fingers. “It’s not that I don’t want to help, but I have no experience working on a ship… or doing any kind of repair work.”
Jake lifted the palm and fingers of his left hand off the table, gesturing toward Dewey. “Don’t worry, Dewey. I didn’t have you figured for the mechanical type.” He looked at Tiffin. “You, on the other hand.”
Tiffin smiled… big.
“I don’t know where we’re headed yet,” Jake said. “It may be a few days before we get wherever it is we end up. I don’t want you two sitting around with nothing to do.”
Dewey’s face relaxed. “Very considerate of you, Mr. Mudd.”
Jake looked less relaxed than Dewey, by far. “It’s been my experience that men without a job or orders to keep them occupied eventually cause a heap of trouble.”
Jake stared at Dewey, waiting to read his reaction. Sure, Dewey helped him out when they were leaving Eon, and he was a decent enough guy before Jake went into the arena battle, but what did he really know about Dewey, Jake thought.
“So, it’s only men that cause trouble?” Tiffin said, raising her eyebrows and restraining all but the smallest corner of one side of her grin.
Jake looked at her. He noticed the tension present in his shoulders. He exhaled and willed some of it away, as much as he could, but not all of it. He shook his head.
What did I get myself into?
He reminded himself he wasn’t running a mercenary crew.
“I’m sure you can be just as much trouble as anyone.” He smiled.
“I’m only kidding,” Tiffin said. “I won’t be any trouble at all. But,” she glanced at Jake’s bandaged arm, “I think you could use some help fixing things around here.”
Jake glanced at his wrist and saw the reddish brown tinge which had crept out from under the black electrical tape. He chuckled. “Yes. Probably a good idea. Like I said, that’s why I came to talk to you two. I’m assigning you jobs, at least for now. Tiffin—”
“Yes?” She looked ready to burst with enthusiasm.
Jake braced himself. “You are the ship’s new mechanic.”
“Yes!” Tiffin stood up and shot her arm in the air, knocking her chair back with her rear as she did, causing the chair to teeter for a couple of seconds before it settled. “Oh. Sorry.” She retrieved her chair and sat down.
Jake exhaled, in an attempt to drain the tension he thought he’d let go of a few moments ago, but evidently hadn’t.
He turned to Dewey. “As for you—”
“If you think I can be of use there,” Dewey said.
“What?” Jake said. “I didn’t finish.”
Dewey glanced down at the table, then his eyes darted around for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. I lost track of the moment. You were walking me into the ship’s bridge. I got mixed up. Sometimes, when I see the glimpses in my mind, I forget where I am.”
“Yes,” Jake said. “I was going to suggest you join me on the bridge. I can see your glimpses of the near future are going to take some getting used to.”
“I apologize,” Dewey said.
“No need.” Jake stood up. “That’s one of the reasons I think you could be useful on the bridge. Especially if things get…”
“Get what?” Dewey asked.
Jake glanced at the two of them. “Messy.”
He gestured for Dewey and Tiffin to stand. “Come on. I know I’ve had you confined to your quarters, the lounge, and here so far. Sorry about that. I’ll give you a quick tour of the rest of the ship.” He stepped to the door before glancing back to them. “Well, most of the ship. There’s a few areas that are off limits. Not that they’re interesting. More for your safety and for cargo security. You understand.”
“Tiffin,” Dewey said, “I thought you said you’d been all over this ship.”
Tiffin elbowed Dewey in his ribs. He belted out a cross between a yelp and a grunt.
Jake stopped in his tracks, but didn’t turn around. He drew a deep breath and exhaled it. Then he continued out of the room. Dewey and Tiffin followed.
The three of them walked down the ship’s central corridor and Jake explained the basic layout of the ship—cargo decks on the lower level, bridge in the front, medical bay in the middle, engines in the back and in the center of the ship at the farthest edges from the central corridor.
They passed the unoccupied crew quarters. The ship had sixteen rooms to hold captain and crew. Ten were private rooms. Tiffin and Dewey had been assigned one each. Jake had the largest, the captain’s quarters. He pointed to the door of his room as they passed it.
“That one’s mine,” he said. “Off limits.” He turned his head to look Tiffin in the eyes, then Dewey. “Got it?”
“Yes,” Dewey said. “Of course.”
“You got it, Captain,” Tiffin said. She was grinning, again.
Jake shook his head. “Jake. Just call me Jake.”
“Sarah can point you to some of the projects on the ship that need to be done,” Jake said to Tiffin. “Just stay out of the second cargo bay, the engine room, and the ship’s core-containment facility.”
“Of course,” Tiffin said.
“Oh,” Jake said. “One more thing. Don’t bother me if I’m in my room. If I’m going to have you two running around this ship, I need at least one place for peace and quiet.”
“You’ll hardly know I’m here,” Tiffin said. “I’ll be as quiet as a…” She paused and chuckled.
“As a mouse,” Jake said. “You know what I told you about that thing.”
“Squeakers stays in my room,” Tiffin said.
“Right.” Jake nodded. “Now, come on. I’ll show you where I keep the tools. And Dewey.”
“Yes,” Dewey said.
“After that I’ll show you around the bridge a little more.”
“If you don’t think I’ll be in the way,” Dewey said.
“Let’s hope not,” Jake said. “But your… ability may come in handy.”
“How’s that?” Dewey said.
“Most people think space is big and empty.” Jake gestured with his hands in sweeping motions.
“Well, isn’t it?” Tiffin asked.
“Sure,” Jake said. “I suppose it is. But you’d be surprised how often you run into somebody or something in this big open space.”
“You mean aliens?” Tiffin asked.
Jake stopped walking and turned his head back to look at Tiffin. “What does that even mean? Alien to who?”
“Yeah. I suppose you’re right,” Tiffin said.
Jake turned back to continue walking down the hall, with Dewey and Tiffin just behind him over either shoulder. “There’s aliens. And then there’s aliens. You, me, Dewey, we’re in the first category. If we’re lucky, we won’t run into any of the second type… this week.”
He glanced back at the two of them again and saw Tiffin and Dewey looking to each other. She was wide-eyed but seemed more intrigued than concerned. Dewey, on the other hand, looked to be running all sorts of unpleasant scenarios through his head. Jake grinned. He knew one of the best ways to instill order in a crew was to give them something to worry about and make sure they didn’t quite know what to expect. A crew in that situation, he’d learned from years of experience, would listen to their captain, hoping he might give them some idea of what to expect or how to survive, if it came to that. It was a false sense of security. Jake knew that. He’d seen rookies latch on to commanding officers or squad leaders back in the day only to get picked off by the enemy. Sometimes the enemy had a weapon pointed at you, he thought. Other times the enemy was a poorly sealed airlock or a badly contained radioactive core. Space and most of the planets he’d seen over the years were anything but a children’s playground.
Jake stopped in front of a door after they’d ran the course of a few halls including a downward slope.
“This is it,” he said. He placed his hand on a panel beside the door. A red laser in the panel moved down, scanning his hand. The door opened with a soft whoosh. Overhead lights in the room turned on as Jake stepped through the threshold.
“Get in here,” he said. “I’ll show you the tools you can use.”
Tiffin stepped inside the room and Dewey followed.
The room was twenty feet deep and half as wide. Metal racks ran the length of the long sides providing shelves for the heavy duty plastic storage boxes as well as various tools laying loose on the shelves between the boxes.
Jake walked halfway down the room and stopped. He turned and pointed to the shelves on either side of him and back toward the door they’d entered. “All of this,” he said. “You can use all of this. You see that red case?” He gestured to a box sitting waist high on the shelf beside him. “From there to the back wall.” He wagged his finger at Tiffin. “Don’t touch any of that. Got it?”
Tiffin hung her hands on her hips. “Got it.” Her eyes darted around at the tools and boxes on the shelves she’d been given access to. Her wide grin pushed her cheeks up into rosy balls.
“Dewey,” Jake said.
“You probably won’t need to get into any of these, but same rule applies to you.”
“Of course,” Dewey said.
“You recognize any of these?” Jake asked Tiffin and pointed at a few items. “Arc welder, wire testers.” He picked up a small yellow box which had a screen on one half the top of it. It was handheld size. He gave it to Tiffin. “Hang on to this one.”
She took it.
“Sarah’s pretty good at running her own diagnostics on most areas of the ship,” Jake said. “But if she’s busy, or if you just want to check things out for yourself. You can plug this into any of the standard terminals throughout the ship. You’ll get a readout of whichever system you plug it into. It’s right about eighty percent of the time.”
“Cool,” Tiffin said while looking down at the device. She pushed a few of the buttons on it, cycling through the menus.
“It’s got a crystal battery,” Jake said. “Shouldn’t need a charge for the next couple years.”
“Wow. Really?” Tiffin turned the device over, examining it.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “I don’t really understand the things, but it’s the same sort of tech that most of the ship draws its power from. Don’t feel you have to fix everything right away. But I expect you to work on at least one thing each day. Remember, Sarah can give you a list.”
Tiffin nodded, still playing with the buttons on the device Jake had given her. “Oh, I will. This is awesome.”
“Now, let’s head to the bridge,” Jake said. “Dewey, I want to show you how a few things there work.”
“Sure thing,” Dewey said.
“Can I come too?” Tiffin looked up from the device.
“Yeah, I suppose,” Jake said, then walked out of the room.
Tiffin and Dewey followed. The door closed.
Jake glanced at the panel, then at Tiffin. “I’ll have Sarah set you both up to access that room and the other ones you’ll need.”
“This is so exciting to be part of a team,” Tiffin said. “You won’t regret it.”
Jake noticed he’d tensed up. He exhaled. “It’s a crew. A crew. And… ah, nevermind. Come on. The bridge is this way. But you guys already know that.
A few minutes later they walked through the whooshing doorway and onto the bridge.
“Hello, Jake,” Sarah said through the speakers overhead. “Welcome back to the bridge, Tiffin, Dewey.”
“How are you doing darlin’?” Jake said.
“I can’t complain,” Sarah said.
“Hi, Sarah,” Tiffin said, looking up at the speakers as she walked farther into the room.
Dewey glanced upward and waved his hand, then stopped and shrugged.
“Don’t worry, Dewey,” Sarah said. “I can see on the bridge. I have cameras around the room.”
Dewey glanced around the large circular space. Small domes were positioned where the walls met the ceiling. There were five of them.
Jake walked toward the chairs which were in front of the large viewing window. “You two don’t have to use the jump seats. When you’re in here, either one of these will work.” He placed his hand on one of two chairs facing a series of buttons, toggles, and small display screens—all at arm’s length. He turned back to Tiffin and Dewey. “As long as you don’t touch anything until I say it’s OK.”
“Right,” Dewey said.
Tiffin walked over to the controls. She stood to the right of one of the two chairs where Jake stood. She reached out with her right hand to the controls. “What do these do?”
“Don’t!” Jake said, moving his hand toward hers. “Don’t touch anything yet. You don’t know what these controls do. Sarah, turn these controls off for now.”
“Done,” Sarah said.
“I wasn’t going to touch anything,” Tiffin said.
Jake pointed at the different controls. “Communications. Navigation. Weapons systems.” He rattled off five other stations, as he pointed around the room.
“How did you manage all of this without a crew?” Dewey asked.
“Oh, I can take care of all the ship’s systems,” Sarah said. “Jake mostly naps.”
Jake glanced at the nearest camera. “Very funny.” He looked back to Tiffin and Dewey. “She does run the ship most of the time.”
Dewey staggered toward one of the chairs, catching it only a moment before losing his balance completely. He looked sick. He stared at the floor and his head swayed a little.
Tiffin rushed over to his side. “Are you OK?”
Dewey didn’t answer. Instead, he mumbled and continued to hang his head and look at the floor.
“Dewey,” Jake said. “What is it?”
“Jake,” Sarah said.
“Not now.” Jake waved his hand at one of Sarah’s cameras.
Tiffin placed her hand on Dewey’s shoulder. “Dewey, are you alright?”
He didn’t respond.
“Maybe you should sit down,” she said.
“Jake,” Sarah said. “There’s a—”
“Not now, Sarah,” Jake said.
Dewey stopped mumbling and swaying his head. He looked up at Tiffin and then to Jake. “Does this ship have shields?”
“What?” Tiffin said.
“Yes,” Jake said. “Why?”
Sarah interrupted again. “Jake.”
He turned to face one of the cameras. “What Sarah? What is it?”
Dewey raised his arm and pointed out the large viewing window over the control panels in front of the three of them.
Jake looked through the thick crystal glass-like pane, designed to withstand the pressure difference between the safe environment inside the ship and the cold vacuum of space on the other side. “Oh, shit. Sarah—”
“Magnetic shields are up,” Sarah said. “Now you see what I was trying to tell you?”
“How could I not see it?” Jake rushed over to the controls, shoving Dewey aside to get to one section of the panels. “Turn these back on!”
“How did that—” Tiffin was motionless, staring at the massive asteroid floating toward them.
“Should I fire?” Sarah asked.
Jake rapidly pressed several buttons and switches on the control panel, glancing back and forth between small readout screens and the approaching asteroid.
“Why is it glowing?” Tiffin asked.
“No,” Jake said. “Don’t fire. The blast would set it off. The explosion could be too much for the repulsion shields and the hull.”
“It’s coming too fast,” Sarah said. “It’s too close. I can’t get out of the way.”
Jake shot a glance to Tiffin and Dewey and then to the chairs. “Hang on to something!” He grabbed the top edge of one of the chairs with his right hand and braced himself with his other hand on the edge of the control dash. “Now!”
Tiffin and Dewey scrambled to get into the chairs. She clenched the edges of her seat and looked up at Jake.
The look on her face told Jake she wanted him to say something comforting, fast. But there wasn’t time.
Dewey leaned to sit in his chair but was jolted to the floor as the asteroid impacted the repulsion shields, jarring the entire ship.
Two thirds of the view out the massive window above the controls was obstructed by the rust colored asteroid. The latent charge from within the huge space rock interacted with the ship’s magnetic field. Flashes of light erupted from the surface of the asteroid and arcs of electric current raced across the glowing barrier which was the ship’s shield.
The ship rumbled and creaked. The flashes of light continued. The asteroid remained a hundred feet from the hull of the ship, but was pushing against the repulsion field.
“What’s happening?” Tiffin tightened her grip on the sides of her chair.
“These are the asteroids used to fold space,” Jake said. “They’re riddled with a highly volatile element which generates temporary breaches in space. That’s why we didn’t see it coming. It must’ve jumped into the space near the ship.”
“That’s crazy,” Tiffin said.
“Amazing.” Dewey, still on the floor, had his gaze fixed on the asteroid.
Jake reached down and gave him a hand, helping him up.
Several seconds later the rumbling and flashes ceased.
“It’s stopped,” Tiffin said.
“No,” Jake said, letting go of the back of the chair and standing up straight. “It’s moving us with it now.”
Dewey took a step closer to the asteroid. “So we’re stuck to the side of the asteroid?”
“Not for long,” Jake said. “Sarah.”
“Can you measure the force of the asteroid against the field?”
“Yes. The variations in output from the field generators along the ship’s hull will give me an indication of the force and its distribution.”
“Nice,” Tiffin said, relaxing her grip on the side of her chair and nodding her head. “You’re clever.”
“Thanks, Tiffin,” Sarah said. “Do you want the measurements, Jake?”
“Not the numbers,” he said. “Which half of the ship is getting more of the force?”
“The side with the asteroid,” Sarah said.
“Really?” Jake glared at the camera above him. “I mean the fore or the aft.”
“Oh, yes. Slightly more of the asteroid is pressing against the shields at the rear half of the ship.”
“That’s good,” Jake said.
“What are you thinking?” Dewey who was looking at the side of the asteroid still filling most of the view out the window turned slowly to Jake.
“We’re going to ease away.”
“Ease away?” Tiffin rose from her chair to face Jake. “Won’t the asteroid and shield flare up again?”
Jake reached over to the control panel and pressed a few buttons, bringing some readings up on the screen. “Sarah, the shield has kept the body of the asteroid the same distance from the hull across the side of the ship?”
“Jake,” Tiffin said. “If we move the ship from the asteroid’s path… the interaction with the shield. Isn’t that dangerous?”
“There won’t be any interaction with the shield,” Jake said.
“Why?” Tiffin looked confused.
Jake faced her. “Because we’re going to drop the shield.”
“Are you serious?” Tiffin gestured with both hands open, then she stuck her right arm out and pointed to the asteroid. “That thing’s huge. We’ll be crushed!”
“She’s right,” Dewey said.
Jake addressed Dewey. “You telling me you saw a glimpse into the future on this?”
“No,” Dewey said. “But the asteroid is pushing us along in front of its path. The shields are keeping it at an even distance from the ship. If we drop the shields, the asteroid will fill the gap and smash into us.”
Jake chuckled. “So you two think we should stay on the asteroid ride and see where it takes us?”
“Well, no,” Tiffin said.
“Take it easy,” Jake said. “I’m only kidding. We’re not going to do that and we’re not going to get smashed into bits. At least, I’m pretty sure we aren’t.”
“Oh,” Tiffin said. “That’s so reassuring.”
“I don’t see this ending well, Jake,” Dewey said.
Jake looked at him. “Seeing the future?”
Dewey took a second before answering. “No.”
“OK. Then we do it my way,” Jake said. “Sarah, get ready to boost the propulsion and drop the shield on my signal.”
“Jake,” Dewey said, grabbing Jake’s arm, “do you think we’ll get out of the way in time?”
Jake looked at Dewey. “Mostly.”
Dewey looked shocked. “Mostly? What do you mean, mostly?”
Jake turned away from him and looked over the small displays on the control panels once again.
“Jake,” Tiffin said.
He didn’t look up from the controls. He was busy moving sliding levers and pushing a few buttons and toggles. He placed his forefinger on the side of one of the small screens for a moment. Then he nodded and moved his hand to another screen. He glanced back and forth between the two displays. “Yeah? What is it?”
“I don’t want to die,” Tiffin said.
Jake raised his eyes from the displays and gazed through the large crystal glass window at the massive charged asteroid. He turned to Tiffin. “Neither do I. Trust me.”
“I should’ve stayed on Eon,” Dewey said as he walked away from the viewing window and hung his head.
Tiffin glanced at him. “We’ll make it, Dewey.”
“Sarah,” Jake said.
“When I say go, drop the back shields first. When the asteroid moves in to that void, crank up the drives and drop the front shields. Make sure you get the order right or we’re screwed.”
“I think I can handle that,” Sarah said.
Jake flipped up a few toggles on the control dash and held his hand at the ready below the last one in the row.
“What’s that for?” Tiffin asked.
Jake didn’t respond to Tiffin. “OK, Sarah. Now!”
There was a flicker and a visible pulse of energy outside the rear of the ship which was partly visible through the large viewing window. The asteroid took on a bright glow and crackled at the same time. Then the massive rock rolled inward, filling the space where the rear shield had been.
“Jake!” Tiffin screamed, watching the asteroid quickly approach the hull of the ship.
He said nothing, but flipped the last toggle. He leaned toward the large crystal glass and peered toward the rear of the ship. “Good.”
“What?” Tiffin said, stepping closer to Jake to see what he was seeing. She had to catch herself with both hands against the edge of the controls as the sudden thrust of the ship jolted her off balance.
“I hope this works.” Dewey held onto the back of one of the chairs to brace himself.
Jake, still craning his neck to see toward the rear half of the ship, clenched his fist. “Yes! Got it.”
Sarah dropped the front shields as Jake had directed her to do. They were pulling away from the asteroid even as it tumbled closer to the ship’s hull.
Jake realized the ship wouldn’t clear the path of the asteroid completely. “Oh, shit.”
A massive boom sounded as the giant charged space rock struck the hull at the ship’s rear. Flashes of light filled the window and lit up the bridge of the ship. The impact knocked Jake, Tiffin, and Dewey to the floor.
He glanced up to the viewing window and saw the asteroid swing into view. The force from the blow had pushed the ship thirty degrees around, but the rear of the ship was now clear of the rock’s path. Jake, still on his back, watched the asteroid crackle with arcs of energy. The entire rock began to glow and flicker erratically.
“Oh, that’s not good,” Jake said.
Tiffin rolled over to see what Jake was talking about. “Why’s it doing that?”
“The impact must’ve set it off,” Jake said.
Dewey sat up and looked to the window. “What happened to ‘ease away’?”
“I just put the shields back up,” Sarah said. “But I don’t think they’ll stop the blast.”
Tiffin turned to Jake. “The blast? What did you do, Jake?”
“Take it easy,” he said. “There’s a fifty-fifty chance it hops to somewhere else. Disappears, I mean.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Dewey asked.
“Then it explodes and we all die,” Jake said, sitting up and shrugging.
“What!” Tiffin scooted a few feet away from the window.
Jake cocked his head to the side as he looked through the window at the surging asteroid. “Maybe it’s more like sixty-forty.” He watched the giant glowing rock for a few more seconds. “Dewey, any chance you’re seeing the future on this one?”
“No,” Dewey said. “But I’m pretty sure you’re going to get us all killed soon enough, if this one doesn’t do it.”
The glow of the asteroid brightened.
Jake shielded his eyes with his hand.
“I guess this is it,” Dewey said, staring at the floor.
The light dimmed.
“Yes! That’s great!” Tiffin stood up.
“How can you say that?” Dewey asked.
Jake looked out the window and smiled.
The asteroid was gone.
He looked at Tiffin. “See. I told you to trust me.”
Sarah’s voice came through the overhead speaker. “Ugh.”
Tiffin stared at Jake. She shook her head as she took a few steps back from him.
Jake reached out his arm toward her. “Tiffin!”
Reaching the edge of the control panels behind her, she leaned back against them. “What?” She sounded annoyed. She placed her hands, palms down beside her waist, against the controls.
Jake glanced at her left hand, which was over a toggle switch. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out. He hurried closer to the large crystal window and looked out. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, no, what?” Dewey said. “I can’t take this.”
“The piece of the asteroid,” Jake said. “I grabbed a chunk of it before it disappeared.”
No one said anything.
Jake nodded toward the toggle switch Tiffin had inadvertently flipped. “With that robotic arm on the side of the ship.”
“We could’ve died,” Tiffin said.
Jake turned around and looked at Tiffin and Dewey. “I told you, that stuff’s useful.”
“She’s right, Jake,” Sarah said.
Jake grinned. “Can’t blame me for being optimistic and trying to come out ahead.”
Jake was met with silent stares.
“Well,” Sarah said. “I think this is going to work out really well.”
Read the rest of the story. Get Heat Seeker soon on Amazon.