The Raid On Zeta Station

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Part 2

After he was done grading Cadet Defour’s paper, Major-Professor Everton decided to call it a night. He would review the remaining essays the following day, certain that none of them would even come close to the impressive work the young woman from the UCC had invested into her submission. He stored his MFD in the top drawer of the little container that was bolted to the deck beneath his desk and headed for his cabin.

He did not have a long way to go as his cabin was directly adjacent to his office. Not every member of the faculty had such a conveniently located workspace, but Everton was a senior officer by rank as well as by age, so he had more than earned it.

Once in his cabin, he sat on his bed. It was an actual bed, not a bunk like the Cadets had to content themselves with. Like every day before going to sleep, he spent a few minutes looking at the framed picture on his bedside table and dwelt in the past. The picture showed himself and his wife sitting on the terrace of their favourite restaurant in the outskirts of Toronto.

It had been a particularly warm summer, and he remembered that moment as if it were yesterday. The picture had been taken almost three decades ago, years before the Central Government had fallen and the USNA had formed. Years even before this whole damned war that did not seem to want to end.

He had more recent pictures of his wife, but this one was his favourite. It had been taken during what he considered to be better times. Of course, as a teacher in his field, he knew what had been going on in the colonies back then. How the Central Government’s actions would ultimately lead to this conflict. But those events had never affected them directly back on Earth.

After these thoughts, Everton stood up and got ready for bed. A small corner of the cabin was walled off and contained the hygiene station, which only someone who had never lived on a planet’s surface would call a bathroom. It did, however, save him the trip to the communal showers. He washed off the sweat of the day, put on his sleeping attire, and lay down. Major-Professor Everton closed his eyes and almost immediately started drifting away towards sleep. Until...

“Damn it! This can’t be real!”

His eyes opened wide as the vibration he had almost managed to block out returned to haunt him. He waited patiently as the ring completed another rotation and felt it again. Seemingly annoyed, Everton got up and put on his jumpsuit again.

He had had enough of this and was determined to get to the bottom of it. First on his list was finding someone from the maintenance crew to help him figure out the problem. “Maybe if I know where it’s coming from I will be able to ignore it and sleep better,” he said to himself.

He left his cabin and made his way towards the access shaft to the station’s central cylinder. As the simulated gravity was a result of the centrifugal force created by the ring’s rotation, its occupants walked on the outer surface, while the cylinder around which the ring rotated was technically situated upwards.

The closer Everton climbed towards the central cylinder, the less intense the effects of the simulated gravity became. Once he had reached the section that linked the rotating part to the static structure, he was completely weightless, allowing him to transition safely and without too much effort.

He did not have to search long before he found a member of the station’s technical staff. Senior Chief Sergeant Monika Lorenz was busy inspecting the habitat ring’s main electrical uplink when she was startled by the Major-Professor’s sudden and unexpected appearance.

She gasped and let go of the multiscanner which immediately started floating down the corridor. Everton reacted quickly, got hold of the instrument before it was out of reach, and handed it back to its owner.

“You should be more careful with your things, Sergeant. They have a tendency to get lost in zero gee,” he said with a jovial tone.

“Thank you, Sir,” the technical Sergeant replied before asking, “were you looking for me?”

“Not for you specifically, but I do have an issue I would like to bother the maintenance crew with.”

“Of course, Sir. Just give me a minute to close back up this panel and I’ll be right with you,” Lorenz told him and focused her attention back on the uplink panel.

Meanwhile, Defour and Lundström had completed a few laps running around the habitat ring they were housed in. Both sweating profusely, they decided to head for the showers.

The place was practically empty, except for two other cadets they only knew from passing them in the corridors. Defour and Lundström discarded their exercising gear in a chute at the far end of the changing room that would automatically entrust the used clothes to the stations maintenance unit. Dirty laundry was one of their less glamorous tasks.

After that, the two women moved over to the communal showers, Lundström walking a few steps behind Defour, who could almost feel the Scandinavian’s gaze burn a trail along her curves towards her lower back. She always had a feeling that the blonde had ulterior motives, but she was glad that she never acted on them. Defour sighed, not wanting to think about having to rebuff her friend’s advances, should they ever come.

Cadet Defour focused on herself and literally drowned out everything around her. As the hot water ran over her brown skin, washing away her sweat, and releasing the tension from her muscles, she felt herself relax completely. The only thing she had to worry about was not to get her hair wet, because that would lead to a whole list of complications.

The whole world around her disappeared. Lundström, who was just over an arm-length away from her, might as well have been in a different room. The two other cadets, whom she had labelled Bob and Tim not knowing their names, did not exist at all. It was just Amanda Defour in her own personal bubble of hot water and hygiene gel.

Once she felt like she had reached the peak of relaxation, Defour opened her eyes to find Lundström staring at her. She maintained eye contact, while running her hands over her breasts much slower than necessary.

The young woman from the Caribbean responded with a warm smile, but otherwise ignored the obvious advance. The petite blonde did not give up, however, and kept up her attempts at seducing the curly-haired beauty, until Defour nodded at her and turned away, breaking eye contact.

Back in the changing room, neither of the young women mentioned what had or had not happened, and picked up their conversation from before where they had left it.

“So, how excited are you to finally start your flight training in a couple of months?” Defour asked, while softly elbowing Lundström in the side.

“Bet your ass I am,” the blonde replied. She threw a glance over her shoulder to catch a glimpse of her friend’s behind. “Flying in the holo-sim is alright, but I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those training shuttles.”

“I can imagine. To be honest, some days I long for some more hands-on experience myself.”

“But you knew what you were getting yourself into, Sky. Too late to back out now,” Lundström laughed.

“Yes, I did indeed,” the curly-haired woman sighed.

“That’s what you get for being ambitious,” Lundström replied in a sing-song voice.

They continued idly chatting until they reached the corridor their cabin was on. Once there, the Scandinavian put her hand on Defour’s shoulder and said, “Go ahead, I’ll catch up with you later.”

She then walked off in the opposite direction, leaving the woman from the Caribbean Commonwealth slightly perplexed.

Cadet Defour shrugged, walked towards her cabin, and entered to find a grinning Osondu and a disgruntled García.

“Hi boys,” Defour greeted them, a wide smile adorning her face. “How’s it going?”

“I thought I won,” García explained. “But he got me in the end. Didn’t see it coming at all.”

“Someone has to teach you some humility,” Osondu added. “You can’t go around bragging about your skills if you can’t back up your claims.”

“No, that’s definitely your job, right?” Defour said, fixing the man from the West-African Commonwealth.

“You know it is,” he replied, laughing. “But you shouldn’t feel bad, García. You put up a hell of a fight.”

“Now you’re just rubbing it in.”

“I know you can take it. Just think, once you’re commanding your battlecruiser, you’ll have to put up with hundreds of guys like me.”

“Now you’re scaring him off,” Defour intervened. She smiled at García and said, “don’t worry about him. I know you have what it takes.”

“Thanks, Sky. You’ll make a damn fine Admiral one day,” García responded. The hint of a smile formed at the corners of his mouth.

After a while, the male Cadets put away the 3D-chess set and the three of them started to get ready for bed.

“Where’s Lundström?” Osondu asked. “Wasn’t she with you?”

“She was. She went the other way earlier and said she’d catch up later,” Defour replied.

“Strange. Any idea where she might have gone? She’ll miss curfew if she’s not back soon.”

“No idea,” said the Caribbean woman. “I feel bad. I’m afraid she might have gone because of me.”

“How so?”

“It could be that I have rebuffed her once too many. I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings, but I’m just not into her in that way.”

“Oh, she went for you in the shower, didn’t she?” Cadet Osondu asked, an eyebrow raised.

“Stop your dirty mind right there. Nothing happened,” Cadet Defour pouted slightly. “Just her usual dance, that’s all.”

“I see,” Osondu crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“But she didn’t seem upset. We talked normally, as if nothing had happened,” The curly-haired woman said and threw her arms up in the air. “I’ve got enough on my mind as is, I don’t want to lose a friend on top of it all as well!”

“Relax, Sky. You don’t even know what’s bothering her, if anything is. I’m sure she’s fine, and if it has anything to do with you, she’ll come and talk to you about it.”

“I hope you’re right,” Defour sighed. They all went to lie down in their bunks and fell asleep one by one. Not her, however. She remained awake, laying still, eyes closed, and waited.

The curfew call came and went, and still no sign of Lundström. After half an hour, the cabin door hissed open and Defour could make out the Scandinavian’s silhouette against the corridor lights. Lundström slipped into her bunk without saying a word. Now knowing that her friend was at least physically alright, Defour finally drifted off into an uneasy slumber.

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