19 October 2326
“There it goes again,” Major-Professor Felix Everton complained. He sat quietly in his office, located on the innermost section of the upper habitat ring of the ISDF’s Remote Officer Training Academy. He had noticed the strange vibration many times before and had tried to track its origin, without much success. He felt it every other time when the ridiculously long mast, home to the high-gain antenna and the laser-approach-system, wandered past his office’s window.
He was not an engineer, but according to his limited understanding of these matters, if the ring’s rotation were to cause the vibration it should happen on every rotation, which it did not. In very quiet moments, he felt as if he could actually hear a noise associated with the vibration. At one point, it had almost driven him mad.
“I’ve been locked away on this station way too long,” he said out loud, for no one to hear. Everton taught galactopolitics, one of the duller subjects the cadets had to study at ROTA in order to complete their officer’s training. He had been stationed here for the last forty years, and had not left the station during the last ten. His last trip home had been to attend his wife’s funeral.
After her passing, he had focused all his remaining energy on his teaching career. As his sixtieth birthday was only two years away, he was by far the oldest person aboard; yet he was barely half as old as the station itself.
At the time of its inauguration in 2198, ISS-04 had already been obsolete. It featured four major habitat rings that were constantly spinning to simulate gravity; this engineering feat had been negated by the development of the Evremov reactor, which had led to the discovery of proper artificial gravity a few years before the station had been finished. Construction and assembly of ISS-04 had only continued because of the substantial investments that had already been poured into it, as well as the glacial pace at which Earth’s Central Government made decisions.
The station’s four rings were attached to a central cylinder measuring fifty metres in diameter and just under one kilometre in length. At the halfway point, there was a massive bulge, housing the four impressive Tokamak-style fusion power plants as well as the storage tanks for the molecular hydrogen and its derivatives that served as fuel for the nuclear reaction powering the station.
Solar panels used to be attached to the many masts that extended from the central cylinder. They had been removed when the station had been relocated out of the solar system and deep into the interplanetary void in 2280. At that time, the International Space Defence Force had decided to re-commission it as a training facility.
This was when the station had received its new nickname Zeta Station. Although the origin of said nickname had been lost over the last few decades, and even Major-Professor Everton could not remember it, the name had stuck. It had then become the station’s official designation. Since that time, the station had fulfilled the role it continued to play and was visited by every single man and woman who aspired to become an officer of the ISDF’s fleet.
Everton shook the thought of this annoying vibration from his mind and tried to focus on his work. He picked up his multifunction display from the desk in front of him and proceeded to read the next paper he had to grade. Before he began, he silently wondered why they were still referred to as ‘papers’.
He had not seen an actual piece of paper aboard this station, ever. The same was applicable to the term ‘paperwork’; those anachronistic phrases had stuck around and everyone was using them, despite the fact that paper was simply not used in space, for various reasons.
Just as he was about to start reading the next essay about the rising tensions between Earth and her colonies, he was disturbed by a soft knock on his office’s door.
“Come in!” he called out, harsher than he had intended.
A young woman, wearing the standard grey and gold jumpsuit of the fleet, stepped into the room, stood to attention, saluted, and spoke, “Cadet Amanda Defour, reporting in personal matter, Sir!”
He took in her appearance for a short moment. She wore her curly black hair in a tight bun; her skin reminded him of the colour of brown sugar, and was amiably contrasting with the grey of her jumpsuit. She had a rather wide nose and high cheek bones, which made her varied genetic background shine through.
Cadet Defour also managed to be slim yet curvy at the same time, rounding of her physical appearance in a pleasing fashion. The silver triple-star badge on her collar identified her as an aspiring officer of fleet-command. Her brown eyes fixed him anxiously, awaiting his reaction.
“At ease, Cadet,” he responded quietly. “What can I do for you?”
Defour relaxed her stance and spoke, “I came to hand in my essay Sir. I was confined to the infirmary and had not been able to finish it in time,” she paused briefly and produced a data cube from her right pocket. “I was hoping you would be willing to grade it still, Sir.”
Everton held out his hand while asking, “the infirmary? I hope it was nothing serious, Cadet?”
“No Sir,” Defour replied, as she handed Everton the data cube. “They kept me on observation to determine whether or not I was contagious, but it turned out to be a case of stomach spin,” she explained, using the more polite term for nausea and heavy vomiting induced by the habitat’s rotation.
“It happens to the best of us,” he said politely. “I did notice your absence during my last class. Your usual contributions would have been a benefit for all, I’m sure,” he added with sincerity.
Cadet Defour was one of the few students he taught who actually took an interest in his subject. For the most part, the future flight-crew staff or even ship commanders cared little about the historical and political background of the ever-present conflict with the separatists. With that in mind, he was definitely inclined to grade her paper, even though she was handing it in late. Her attitude about it did the rest to convince him.
“Don’t worry, Cadet. I’ll just add it to the pile,” he said. He then rested the data cube on his desk next to his MFD, waiting for the device to scan the cube and upload her essay. Once this was taken care of, he handed the cube back to its owner and looked at her.
“I’ll be seeing you in class on Monday then?” he asked.
“Absolutely, Sir,” she replied. “I am looking forward to it,”she added for good measure.
“Good,” Everton said. “If that’s all, you are dismissed.”
“Thank you, Sir,” she said one final time, saluted, turned about, and left the room.
After leaving the Major-Professor’s office behind, Cadet Defour made her way back to the cabin she shared with three more Cadets of her year. She followed the corridor, listening to the echo of her steps, thinking that the whole place was in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. After a short walk, she stopped by one of the four vertical access shafts that would allow her to reach the level below her where the students’ quarters were located.
She climbed down the narrow ladder with ease, graciously entering what was nothing more than a hole in the ground. Once she was halfway through, she slid down the remaining half of the ladder by holding on to the handrails. Only very few Cadets were in the corridors; most of them were still in the mess hall or already back in their quarters.
Since she had eaten already, Defour followed the corridor against the ring’s rotation until she reached the discoloured door that made the now familiar creaking noise as it slid aside to let her into cabin 2B2-035, which she called home.
“Attention, boys. Skymarshall Defour is on deck!”
The pale blonde woman with the excessively short hair who had shouted the greeting jumped up and pulled off a model salute. In the beginning, Defour had been upset, but now she could not help but laugh. Cadet Maja Lundström, a very outgoing aspiring pilot from the Scandinavian Alliance, had rapidly become her close friend, despite the constant teasing.
As soon as she had learnt that Defour was aiming for a career in fleet-command, she had started to refer to the calm woman from the United Caribbean Commonwealth as ‘Skymarshall’. After this, the nickname ‘Sky’ had stuck, and Cadet Defour did not mind it.
The two other Cadets who shared the cabin were Emenike Osondu, another future pilot from the West-African Commonwealth, and Carlos García, from the United States of North America, whose dream was to command a battlecruiser some day. Both men had barely taken notice of the exchange between the two women as they were currently engrossed in a game of 3D-chess. The game was said to help the players visualise complex spatial arrangements on multiple levels, a valuable skill for anyone wanting to command a ship in battle amongst the stars.
Defour observed them for a few minutes before she had determined that Osondu would be the clear winner of this round. She kept it to herself, however, not wanting to influence the players in any way. Instead, she sat down next to Lundström who immediately asked her friend, “so, how did it go? Did the old guy agree to grade you anyway?”
“Yes he did,” Defour told her. “I was surprised how smooth it went.”
“Well I’m not. You’re clearly his favourite student. I knew he would say yes,” said Lundström, while elbowing Defour in the side.
“He would have said yes to you as well if you’d take his class a bit more seriously,” Defour answered, responding in kindness.
“Pfft!” Lundström snorted. “I don’t see why this political nonsense should concern me. I’ll be flying space-fighters and duelling some Tarhinan pilots, not negotiating their surrender.”
“You never know when a bit of background knowledge might come in handy,” Defour tried to lecture her friend.
“Yeah, for you maybe,” the Scandinavian laughed. “As Skymarshall you’ll have to know about all that stuff.”
“You’re a lost cause, Sparks. Why haven’t I given up on you ages ago?”
“Come on, Sky. You know you love me way too much for that to happen,” Lundström replied. Before Defour could do anything about it, she kissed her on the cheek.
Cadet Defour wiped her cheek with her hand in feigned disgust and pushed her friend away. Both of them broke out in laughter, earning reprimanding looks from the two men who were still trying to focus on their game. Defour got up and looked at Lundström, saying, “come on, let’s leave these two alone. Care for a run around the ring.”
“Any time, Sky. If you can keep up that is.”
The two women exchanged their jumpsuits for some more comfortable exercising gear and left the men behind as they began running along the forever-spinning habitat ring of Zeta Station.