Children Of Earth (Tales from the 23rd Century Book 1)

By: Paul J. Fleming

A hiss of static burst over the communications channel which hurt Maddox’s eardrums and a quick glance at Maia’s face through the helmet demonstrated it was not just his ears that were suffering.

‘Ezri?’ he shouted over the deafening hiss.

Sudden panic grabbed his conscious mind, something had gone wrong and now both Maia and himself were floating upwards into the blackness of space with no way of preventing their momentum. The asteroid had too weak a gravity field to prevent their drifting out into space as they had already crossed that threshold.

Then something big and metal suddenly appeared all about them and he felt a sudden painful jolt in the back of his calf muscles which started to spin him and Maia about until his back connected with something solid and the two of them began to tumble very rapidly and uncontrollably across a metal floor before impacting against the criss-cross mesh of the cargo netting and crumpling into a rather unglamourous heap of arms and legs on the deck-plating.

There was a crack in his helmet through which the limited atmosphere it was protecting him with was escaping, not to mention the agony shooting through his lower legs and back, but a deep seated instinct for survival pushed him onward to disentangle himself from Maia as quickly as he could and glance about to gain his bearings. Against so many odds his madcap scheme had worked.

A deep judder in the deck-plating under his feet as he tentatively stood drove him to ignore the pain he was in and stumble across to the cargo berth control station, stabbing at the controls and raising the loading ramp. He was starting to feel light headed as his suit had lost its pressure through the fracture across the transparent dome of his helmet, but as he keyed the control panel to re-pressurise the bay he reached up and fumbled slightly with his free hand as his legs began to buckle. Sliding slowly down aside the control panel, his fingers finally activating the release and the helmet unsealing from the collar of his smart suit and as he raised it over his head and cast it aside, he felt the air rushing into the compartment. Gasping deeply he refilled his lungs and silently promised himself that it was the last time he knowingly volunteered to walk into a potential trap.

Whilst sliding his gloves off, he opened his eyes to the sight of Maia crouched over him, her own helmet discarded and her red hair flowing freely about her face, he began to regret the panic of the previous event preventing him from properly enjoying her wrapped about his torso.

‘You’re alive,’ she almost gasped in relief. Then an angry look clouded across her face. ‘Never, ever, ever make me do that again!’

As if to punctuate her statement she yanked each glove off with force and thrust them into her jacket pocket, standing up straight and shook her head slightly in disbelief at the events which had just transpired.

‘You’re welcome,’ he grumbled back sarcastically as another judder through the deck plating re-focussed his attention. ‘Come on. I think we’re not quite out of this yet,’ he said as he pulled hard on the edge of the control panel to haul himself to his feet. For now the pain would have to wait.

They seemed to still have some pressing problems.

3 On The Run

As both Maia and Maddox ascended the ladders and traversed the corridor which ran the length of the small aging tramp freighter, their progress was interrupted periodically by jolts being felt through the infrastructure of the ship, causing momentary loss of footing and resulted in both Maia and Maddox being flung from side to side dramatically as the ship obviously made rather severe course corrections.

Maddox could hear the groaning from the bulkheads as they underwent abnormally high levels of stress during these manoeuvres and doubled his efforts to get up to the flight deck, whilst silently willing his ship to hold together and weather the storm. She was one of the older interplanetary freighters and as such, was quite robustly built to endure the rigours of both space encounters with debris and anomalies, as well as aggressors.

It was quite obvious that someone was pounding his vessel in an effort to dissuade them from further evasion and in complete contradiction to their wishes it just made Maddox more resolved to fight even harder. He knew the Erstwhile was not a fighting ship, but it did not stop him wanting to turn and put a few good hits squarely on the nose of whoever was damaging his precious ship.

This desire put added pace to his step and he almost bounded through the hatch onto the flight deck closely followed by Maia. With only a fleeting acknowledgement to Ezri who was too intent on her current evasive endeavours to return the greeting, he darted over to his waiting seat, almost falling into it as it pivoted on the support and presenting him with all of the flight controls laid out before him. A quick review of the panels by means of a hasty glance and the flashing alert lights present thereon gave him the overview of just how bad the situation was before any words passed between himself and his co-pilot.

‘Okay Ezri. Good job back there, now what’s our situation?’ he asked even though he could see from the scope to his left that there was a naval patrol cruiser dogging their every move.

As Ezri began to respond an energy bolt struck the hull amidships and sent the Erstwhile into a lurching spin momentarily before she quickly righted their course and then sent the ship off at a tangent, causing more groaning from the structure of their vessel and also from both Maia and Maddox who felt their stomachs lurching unpleasantly with the sudden movements.