If his journey from Earth Prime to Emerson-5 had dampened Harry Salem’s expectations of space travel, the journey from Emerson-5 to Magnum-4 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Harry was ready to scream, a good primal-therapy, vocal cord destroying, frustration releasing howl. Only there was no place for him to go where he wouldn’t be heard. On his journey from Earth Prime to Emerson-5 there had, at least, been something to do. The ship had a modicum of passenger amenities: holoshows, a lounge, an observation deck. The trip to Magnum-4 had nothing.
For eight days he had endured the abject boredom of being locked in a small area with people he couldn’t stand and with whom he had nothing in common. That’s not to say that the people did not try to make his acquaintance. They did. One by one, they sought him out to introduce themselves and shake his hand using that revoltingly firm handshake that everyone a million miles beyond Earth Prime seemed to favor. But Harry knew that no one cared about him. They merely wanted to shake the hand of the man who had Lydia Thompson’s ear. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned her, Harry thought. But he also knew that it was too late. He couldn’t take back what had already been said.
Only one person had not sought him out… the girl with the black hair. She had completely avoided him. Harry would have loved to have walked over and started a conversation, but he had had no reason to approach her. He had asked Jane Somerset about her, figuring that two young women on a restricted planet like Magnum-4 would naturally have been thrown into contact with each other. But Jane had been non-committal about it. “We don’t move in the same circles,” she had said… which had made Harry wonder what circles Jane Somerset moved in?
Harry would have like to have spent more time with Jane Somerset. She was beautiful and had the body of an athlete if the second skin of her pressure suit was any indication. Harry was used to women with softer looking bodies. On Earth Prime, he had favored ones with rounder forms, wide hips and large, flesh filled breasts. There was something to be said about luxuriating in the softness of a female body. However, out here in the boon docks, he had to admit to himself that the athletic form was not totally unappealing. What WAS unappealing was the growth that seemed perpetually attached to Miss Somerset’s hip in the person of John Fitz-Porter.
Fitz-Porter irritated Harry. He was confident and good looking and he knew it. Harry recognized the type. In school, he would have been the star athlete over whom all the girls would have swooned before they were old enough to realize that a man’s power resided in his wallet and not his biceps. On Earth Prime, Harry’s position with the Directorate gave him the edge. Out here, his association with Lydia Thompson should have done the same thing. But John Fitz-Porter didn’t seem to care. Nor did Jane Somerset, and Harry wondered, why?
Left to their own devices, the passengers tried to make the best of it. Some of the men played cards; others tried to entertain the four women who were on board. For the most part, their success with the women was limited. Fitz-Porter had laid his claim on Jane Somerset and was big enough and intimidating enough to keep all the others away. The girl with the black hair pretty much kept to herself and stayed in her room. That left the remaining two women, who looked (to Harry) like they were destined to work in one of the mine offices, to be the object of the men’s attention. Harry could tell that no one seemed to mind what the women looked like, which made him wonder what life on a mining planet was really like. He thought about it for eight days.
On the eighth day, the ORION’S STAR went into geosynchronous orbit over Nova-3. The captain announced that it was 8 p.m. local time and asked everyone to reset their personal chronometers accordingly. Harry’s time piece read “noon” and he wondered why they were losing eight hours. He cornered one of the mess crew in the dining area.
“I thought it was common practice to time your arrivals so as not to upset your biological clocks,” Harry said.
“Normally it is,” the crewman answered. Harry placed the crewman in his fifties. His face was lined and pasty white from too much time in space and not enough time under a sun-substitute. He was hard looking, definitely in need of a youth treatment, but Harry assumed that the man simply couldn’t afford one.
“So why the change?” Harry asked.
“Captain’s orders,” the crewman said. “He doesn’t like this route. Every time we take it, he busts his ass to get here as quick as possible.”
“So what do we do now?” Harry asked.
“You should try to get some sleep to re-adjust your internal clock. We’re not going anywhere for a while. It’s 8 p.m. local time. The port’s closed.”
“The port’s closed?” Harry was incredulous. “No one closes a port,” he said.
“They do out here,” the crewman answered. “The quarantine boys and cargo manifest people won’t shuttle up here until 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. It will be close to noon before you and the others are cleared to disembark. So you might as well take it easy until then.”
“What about dinner?”
“Galley’s closed. Captain’s orders. Fasting will re-set your biological clock faster.”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
“Nope,” the man said and he walked away.
Harry swore and walked back to his cabin. The last thing he wanted was to spend any more time with either Mark Chapman or Parker Huntington. He was almost to his room when he hear some strange, soft sucking sounds coming from a side corridor. He turned down the shaft to investigate. Peaking around a bulkhead he saw Jane Somerset and John Fitz-Porter passionately kissing. The sucking sounds were coming from their lips as the two of them tried to inhale each other. Fitz-Porter’s hands were moving all over Jane’s body. With one hand he squeezed her left butt cheek and pulled her into him. With the other, he reached inside the fold of her tunic to manhandle her breast. Jane moaned and thrust herself against him pushing him into the bulkhead and almost knocking him over. Her hands were equally as inquisitive as they roamed over Fitz-Porter’s backside and down into his crotch.
Harry was no stranger to public displays of affection or to public displays of sheer lust. It was not uncommon to see both depending on where he went on Earth Prime. However, their actions seemed totally inappropriate on board a ship with such a limited public space. Harry wanted to say something as mundane as, “Get a room,” but on board the freighter, all the rooms were taken and if he had been where he was supposed to be, this corridor was about as private as it was going to get. Harry turned away and silently retreated towards the main corridor and his own room. Well, at least, those two won’t be bored out of their gourds, tonight, he thought.