Iris

By:
Jamie

Prelude

 

The massive cylindrical expanse of the space dock turned lazily in its orbit, held in geosynchronous position above the blue-grey sphere of the planet below. Thirty-six decks and four separate docking rings split the construction into quarters, with around two dozen ships docked at various levels. Its corridors lay in a simulated twilight, owning to the attempts of the station's operators to keep things running on a normal Earth time scale. The dark metal passages saw little to no life in the early morning hours, the majority of the occupants asleep. However, on the upper levels of the dock, sounds of clanking and sparking sounded through the silent halls.

Leaning half inside the wall plating of one of the top level docking rings, Xander cursed and struggled with a stubborn air filtration mechanism that had seen fit to jam itself in place. Although he hadn't received a work order, he knew the filter would be needed operation within forty-eight hours at least. A restless night had left him with little better to do that rake in a little extra work money. Glancing at the watch on his free hand, Xander blew out his cheeks in a sigh. Four o'clock in the morning. The duty shift would be on in a couple of hours.

Shifting, he forced his arm further into the gap in the plating, attempting to dislodge the jammed filter blade with a screwdriver. Wriggling and grumbling to himself, he finally managed to wedge the flat edge of the tool beneath the fan blade and lever it back into shape. Sliding out of the wall, he stooped towards the tool pile on the hallway floor and retrieved a bottle of thin-oil. Reaching back inside, he squirted the lubricant liberally over the fan blade before extracting himself fully from the plating and stepping over to the nearby wall console.

"And that should do it," he muttered, initialising the fan control with the push of a button. A smooth whirring sound greeted his ears. Smiling thinly, he poked his head inside the wall again to see the filter spinning flawlessly inside its housing. Another job well done; another overtime paycheque coming his way.

Straightening up, he was just about to reach for the plate he had removed, when a heavy hand landed on his shoulder.

"Xander," said a deep monotone.

He rounded with a yelp of surprise, tripping over the stray plate and crashing to the deck. With his jaw tight, Xander glared upwards at his crewmate from his position on the floor.       

"God damn it, Brodie," he growled. "You couldn't have just said hello from down the hall?" The tall man merely shrugged, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he extended a hand. "Yeah, you're a real comedian." Xander accepted the hand and pulled himself upright. "Alright, what is it?"

"We just got a priority one call from E-Corp Command," Brodie said flatly. "Came through over subspace."

"That's a high risk call," Xander murmured, scratching the back of his head with a frown. "When'd we get it?"

"Bout half an hour ago, but it took me this long to find you."

"Couldn't sleep." He shrugged. "What's the job?"

"Don't know. Just gave us some coordinates in the initial message. You probably got a mission file sent to you though."

"Probably." Xander blew out a sigh of resignation. "Alright, is the crew all ready to go?"

"Jonas is doing pre-flight checks now. Redge and Isla are on board."

"What about Cass?"

"Probably slept through the bulletin." Brodie smirked.

"That figures. Alright, you go get Cassie up to speed. I'll get the mission file and meet you in…" he glanced at his watch. "Twenty minutes." His lanky companion nodded and set off down the corridor. Xander watched him go, shook his head in annoyance, then gathered up his tools. Bundling his gear together he started walking in the opposite direction towards his cabin on the space station.

Punching the door release of his cabin, he stepped into the cube-shaped space and tossed his toolkit onto the bed nestled into the far corner. With a sigh he slumped down into the chair at his desk and flicked the computer on. The screen flashed once then flared into life, showing a communiqué with an attached mission file. He reached forward to open the file when a flashing icon in the bottom right corner of the screen caught his eye. An incoming call. With his eyebrows creasing into a frown, he pressed a button to accept the message. A moment later the image of a man appeared on his computer screen, one of the E-Corp higher-ups if his tacky business suit was anything to go by.

"Ah, Captain Vickers," he began immediately. "You're crew have got their next job."

"I'm aware," Xander replied, his frown deepening. "What can I do for you?" A personal send off from an executive; this was different.

"This job may have a few…complications, Captain. You're being dispatched to repair a Merchant Corp factory ship on the outer rim."

"I've been to the rim before, so what?"

"No-one's familiar with the system the ship was traversing when the distress call was dispatched. It's the Alsace star group."

"Never heard of it." Xander shrugged. "Is there something special I need to know, sir? My ship's preparing to leave inside the hour."

"Well, firstly the transmission wasn't directed specifically to E-Corp, it was a blanket signal."

"Ah." Xander folded his arms. "Which means we don't technically have authority over this one, do we?"

"Not exactly." The executive shrugged. "Regardless, the nature of the signal suggests it was a panic message. However, for a message dispatched in that manner it was very thorough in detailing a main drive malfunction, and specifically a furnace containment breach. The tone seemed wrong. I'm aware we might ruffle a few feathers letting you loose this quickly without consulting the other Corps, but this is one job we can't pass up to some gun toting adrenaline junky."

"Okay, so they're in trouble. My crew is the best in the Corp, sir; I assure you we can handle it."

"I'm aware." The executive nodded. "Now, I know this may seem a little intrusive, but I've reviewed your file, and I feel you should know, the ship in question is the M-Corp Gehanon."

Xander's jaw snapped tight at the mention of the name. Almost unconsciously his gaze drifted from the screen towards one of the photos on his desk. "Alright."

"I know there was an incident on board before you joined the E-Corp. I don't mean to dredge up bad memories, but we need this job done and you are the best we have. I don't need to tell you the kind of monetary value behind a factory ship."

"No you don't." Xander kept his gaze averted from the screen. "Rest assured, we'll get it done. You and the execs will get your cut."

The executive stared at him over the screen for a long moment, then gave a nod of satisfaction. "Good luck, Captain." The screen died and Xander slumped back in his seat, holding the photograph in both hands. His first ever assignment had taken place on the Merchant-Corp ship, almost a decade past, before he'd even been a fully fledged Engineer. Working as contractors, he and a group of friends from college had hired out their services cheaply to the enterprising giants of the Terran star systems.

Staring at the photograph, he swallowed hard and placed it back on the table facing him. All it had taken was one slip up, one small lapse in concentration to blast five of his buddies into oblivion.

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