“Are you going to be able to handle all that?”
Amoret’s hand dangled just below her chin, the prongs of her fork tilted down, as she went over the second day’s tasks and watched Jett’s face for the telltale signs of uncertainty which often belied her words of assurances that she was completely capable. But Jett, despite her affirmative nods, was engrossed with pushing the questionable contents of her breakfast around in the container, as if she might uncover a morsel that didn’t taste like puffed air or warm paper somewhere underneath the yellow and brown crumbles that feigned savoriness. Amoret flicked her fork in contemplation and rubbed her fingers together, concerned that Jett was not taking her seriously.
For her part, Jett was all too aware of her tendency to make mistakes, and she was, in fact, trying to avoid thinking about it. She was feeling proud of Amoret’s goal-oriented studious nature, and she wanted to make Amoret proud of her as well, even if it was just by doing routine patrol logs and maintenance checks. Most of the day’s task were easy, and she wasn’t remotely concerned about them. Retrieving the capsule as the ship orbited past the initial drop location was the important bit.
Besides, Amoret would be right there if Jett ran into trouble.
Jett could feel the weight of Amoret’s silence, and she looked up with a grimace of a smile. “Don’t worry! It’s all on the duty log anyway. Plus, we’ve been on these patrols a million times. It’s going to be cake.”
The phrase made Amoret stare harder at Jett. As much as Jett loved cake, she had zero cooking talent. Attempting to impress Amoret for her birthday that first year by baking a cake instead of purchasing one from any number of the space station’s restaurants, pastry shops, grocers, or even wrangling one free from the CAADE canteen, Jett had enraged the Commons Kitchen chef, given the station commander a whole new personal grudge against her, and sent half the crew of CAADE personnel into a frenzy of laughter that didn’t die down for weeks because, in the midst of trying to surprise Amoret and forgetting the time, she had set the oven she was using on fire.
Even Captain Bowie, much to Amoret’s humiliation, had personally rushed down from his quarters to the kitchen so he could inspect the disaster of blackened kitchen equipment and walls smoldering with the smears of fire extinguishing chemicals and the remnants of a charred birthday cake. However, the captain was clearly touched by Jett’s intentions and empathetic to her unintentional mishap. Bowie had patted Jett on the back with a reminder in his soft, French-accented voice that ovens were replaceable and not nearly as important as people.
Captain Bowie’s sympathetic gestures were inspirational to everyone involved in response to the fiasco (though the compassion did not trickle down to the lower personnel). Amoret and Jett were relieved to not be in trouble. The kitchen chef calmed down and took pity on Jett, too, mimicking the captain with another soothing pat on Jett’s back. Commander Desta made a point of rolling her eyes as she turned on her heels and left, knowing she wasn’t getting rid of Jett yet.
Then, Captain Bowie had personally called the pastry chef at Elixus, one of the space station’s finest civilian restaurants, to order a special cake just for Amoret and Jett. In the end, it had been a lovely birthday dinner finished off with a luxurious cake that the restaurant refused to let them pay for. But Amoret had wished they’d just gone to Elixus in the first place, and Jett was never allowed to cook in the Commons Kitchen unsupervised again.
As her stare pierced through her partner, Amoret knew Jett recalled that day’s events as well by the way that the color drained from her face as her eyes melted into the distance as if to separate her mind from her memory. Jett recovered quickly, though, and shifted her eyes back to Amoret with another weak attempt at a smile.
“Well, you know what I mean.” Jett looked down at her bland breakfast and pushed the crumbles around.
“Promise me you will ask for help and not pretend you’ve got it under control,” Amoret said slowly, keeping her eyes trained on Jett’s face. “I’m right here. I’m technically on duty, so work comes first. I can stop studying if I have to.”
Jett scoffed and left her mouth hanging open. “You act like I’m a child.”
“You act like I don’t know you.”
Jett snapped her lips closed and glanced away again, unable to argue the fact that Amoret frequently had to sort out Jett’s screw-ups.
“I promise I will ask you for help,” Jett conceded with a flat voice.
Amoret resigned herself to the tepid response with a long inhalation and pursing of her lips. The only predictability about Jett’s misadventures was that they were inevitable.
As the Astral Patrol Squadron completed its rotation of Rusty, Jett’s heart rate began to pick up and her knee began bouncing up and down. The only task worse than the capsule launch was the capsule retrieval. It wasn’t just the time frame she had to watch for, but also those specific coordinates again. Choosing the coordinates always ran the risk of her brain getting things jumbled up.
All the retrieval steps were clearly laid out on the secondary computer screen in the electronic Capsule Retrieval Standard Operating Procedure document that she had pulled up, and she’d watched Amoret complete the recovery dozens of times. Well, she’d sort of watched Amoret. She may have zoned out a little bit because the instructions she was reading weren’t really jogging her memory or making a lot of sense.
Jett could see the familiar zone of the planet coming into view through the windshield, and she could tell by the numbers on the main screen that the ship was approaching the retrieval point. The closer the ship navigated toward the critical position, the faster Jett’s knee bounced. She peeked over her shoulder at Amoret who was once again perched next to the ship’s back wall, hunched over at the small table, and reading intently.
Tapping her lips with her fingertips, Jett debated back and forth in her mind the desire to impress Amoret and the need to request Amoret’s help. She looked out the windshield at Rusty’s swirling ecru clouds as if they would magically manifest a solution for her. Being unable to make sense of the instructions made her feel like a huge dunce, and she hated that feeling. She’d never had these problems at university. Why was everything so much harder outside of academics?
Jett chewed her lower lip in concentration as she punched in the commands that the instructions outlined: first highlighting the coordinates and following the prompts that came up with each confirmation. Each entry was flowing along, matching the instructions step for step, and she exhaled slowly with relief each time she successfully confirmed the commands. The next to last step was to locate the capsule, and she entered the prompt for it followed by the confirmation.
CANNOT LOCATE CAPSULE.
She stared at the words flashing in red capital letters on the screen. They did not make sense. She had never seen those words when Amoret did the retrievals.
Trying to keep her impending panic at bay, she clicked RETRY, and began the entire sequence over again, paying closer attention to the instructions to make sure she entered them exactly as outlined in the SOP. She reviewed them a second time before entering the location prompt, and everything seemed to match in her eyes. Again, she tapped in the location prompt and confirmed.
CANNOT LOCATE CAPSULE.
Her mouth fell open and she silently mouthed “What the fu…” as her hands gripped the sides of her face in sheer terror. She had absolutely no idea what the problem was or how to fix it. The timeline for retrieval was steadily running short as well; the ship could not be too far out of range or they would miss the retrieval window. Both her knees were bouncing rapidly in tandem with her racing thoughts.
“How’s everything going?”
Jett froze at the sound of Amoret’s question. She tried to relax her face, blinking her eyes, and she swiveled in her chair with a quick smile for Amoret. “Super great!”
Amoret paused and leaned back slowly in her chair. Super great was not a phrase that Jett used when things were going super or great. Experience had taught her that Jett tended to use it when things were going exactly the opposite. In fact, she normally used the phrase when things were just about to implode or, potentially, explode.
Having abruptly turned her back on Amoret, Jett resumed her focus on the big red words reminding her that she was failing miserably at this critical task. Then her stomach lurched when she heard Amoret’s boots tapping across the ship’s floor toward her. That was precisely the reaction she’d been trying to avoid. Now she was going to get an earful first for screwing up, but especially for not keeping her promise. There would be no circumventing Amoret’s anger.
Staring at the computer screen to assess the situation that she had no doubt Jett was trying to hide from her, Amoret set her jaw as she read the flashing words to maintain her temper. “Jett,” she began slowly, unable to keep the sharp edge out of her tone as she turned to look at her partner, “Did you initiate the tracking on the capsule before you launched it yesterday?”
Jett stared back open-mouthed at Amoret with dread as she realized that it wasn’t her inability to follow the SOP’s instructions that was causing the retrieval error. Her quivering fingertips began to tingle from the blood draining out of them. She had no idea what happened when the tracker wasn’t initiated. “Um, I…think I may have forgotten to do that.”