I occasionally get the fiction writing bug and put together a short story. Usually they suck because I’m not a creative writer and I’m usually just blowing off some creative steam since I write highly technical documents at my day job. Anyway, I have a start of a short story I’d like to share for the hell of it. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll write and post more of it on here.
A subtle jolt signaled the end of the ride for Lt. Van Balych. The doors to the elevator slid open with a light rumble, and his first step onto the gravitative section of the NASS Umbique was a bit shaky. He hadn’t been in space in quite a while, and he had forgotten that it takes a day or so to get one’s space legs under them. The hallway he stepped into seemed neverending, an artifact of the wholly uninspired design of the Nakayama-class orbital patrol frigate. “Brutalism meets Flash Gordon,” quipped another Ensign during then Ensign Balych’s first space assignment, also on a Nakayama-class orbital patrol frigate.
These frigates were disproportionately sized for their role in the North American Space Force, almost 80% the size of a Xie-class cruiser. However, the asteroid belt wasn’t nearly as contentious a place as had been expected, and the cruisers spent most of their time doing the job of orbital patrol frigates anyway. In a political “compromise,” the newest generation of orbital patrol frigate, the Nakayama-class, was designed to be the best of both worlds, a frigate with the resources of a cruiser. The result was a 700 meter long ship that looks like a boxy rolling pin. An ungainly angular command section contains a bridge, a forward engineering compartment, and a forward weapons array along with an associated magazine. The middle 500 meters consists of a spindly core around which the gravitative section rotates. The gravitative section is a 5-deck modular cylinder kept at 0.85g. Each module is a 500 meter by 50 meter rectangular strip that can be fully isolated from the other modules in case of emergency. The modules interconnect with adjacent modules through bulkheads every 100 meters. The rear section is a bulbous EM drive section. There is an aft engineering section and an aft weapons array, but they are usually remotely controlled unless heavy damage is taken at the front of the ship or maintenance is required.
Van looked at the instructions projected on his glasses and began walking down the monotonous beige corridor, passing door after door of crew quarters. One of the nice things about having a ridiculously oversized ship was the fact that everybody got their own room. “26-B-12,” he mumbled under his breath, passing an Ensign in a purple trimmed uniform, indicative of a weapons controller. Yes, NASF ripped the whole colored uniform thing from Star Trek. It was supposed to be a morale boost, but it is more of a fleetwide embarrassment than anything. Van looked up from his half-aware cadence down the hall to see 26-B-17 on a door to the left. He shifted his gaze to the other side of the hall and acquired 26-B-12 a few meters further down. As he reached his arm out to push the entry button on the wall, the door recognized his wrist implant and opened with a mechanical whirr. “It’s an accordion door, of course, because that’s the least complicated type of door to design and maintain. These doors never fail!” Van sarcastically thought, remembering back to the multiple occasions during his stint on the Svenson when the door to his quarters jammed.
Van stepped into his new quarters and was hit with a familiar smell. Despite the Umbique being almost two years old, nobody had been in this room since the pre-launch inspection. The new quarters smell was unmistakable. He dropped his duffel on the downright luxurious queen sized bed and scanned the room. The configuration was familiar, bathroom to the left, closet to the right, bed in front, desk next to the bed. Around the edges of the floor were angled windows that reminded Van of prisms. They were an attempt to give a view of the starscape that wasn’t just a porthole drilled in the floor. Officers were assigned quarters on deck 5, and non-comms were assigned windowless quarters on deck 4, a not-so-subtle insult given that the quarters on deck 5 could hold the entire 220 person crew thrice over.
Van stepped into the bathroom, which automatically illuminated upon his presence. He looked into the mirror and swept off the remnant disheveledness that lingered from the four hour ride to orbit and then to the Umbique. He had been greeted by a Lieutenant Commander at the airlock and couldn’t remember her name. She was cute, if a bit swallowed up by her high-collared uniform. Balych toggled through the menus on his glasses with a sensation that resembled muscle memory and called up the ship’s crew roster. In a matter of a few seconds, he had filtered the list and found a picture of a soft-faced Lieutenant Commander trying her hardest to look tough. “Lt. Cmdr. Aria Snelling,” the dossier headlined. As quickly as he had looked up the information, he shut down the search and focused back on his reflection, running his hand across his cheek. He frowned at the rough feel of the five o’clock shadow and returned to his duffel to retrieve his laser razor. A quick two minutes later, he was baby faced and bald, which was how men were expected to groom themselves these days. He had a mild shudder as he thought about growing a beard and hair, which were considered old fashioned and a little bit tacky. Van gave his quarters one last glance before walking out and heading for the bridge.
Lt. Balych had been assigned to the Umbique as Chief Compliance Officer, a natural extension from his prior role as a Senior Compliance Liaison at Space Consulate Canaveral. His task on this cruise was to ensure the regulatory compliance of all transports flying the common transit routes between the asteroid belt and the Inner Ports. Human space travel was still in its infancy, and very little exploration had been done outside of the asteroid belt. However, a few colonies had been established on the Moon and on Mars for various industrial purposes, including ore refining, spaceship manufacturing, and automated manufacturing for Earth consumption. These Inner Ports, including the many ports on Earth, were abuzz with commerce. The transit routes that connected the Inner Ports with the asteroid belt were traveled by a unique group of people, the Boomers.
The elevator slowed to a stop with a small jolt and Van felt the last of the gravity go away. He held onto the railing until the doors slid open. With a small push, he stepped into a small corridor and eased back down onto the floor. The command section did not rotate, and technically had no gravity, but a magnetic field interacted with metallic microfibers woven into his uniform to provide the illusion of a minimum of gravity, something like 0.2g. It was enough to be able to walk around, but took some getting used to. Regulations stated that a crewmember could only spend 6 hours per day maximum in magna-grav sections of the ship to prevent the onset of microgravity ailments like bone density loss. Van walked past a couple of doors that led to command crew conference rooms and stepped up to the door at the end of the hall marked “Bridge”. He almost smacked his face into the door as a buzzing noise accompanied a red flashing light to signal his denial of access. A moment later, he heard an alarm sound from the tactical station on the other side of the stubbornly closed doors. Van quickly located the access list for the bridge on his glasses and scanned the list for his name. He found it instantly and confirmed that the access code on file matched to his wrist implant. He stepped forward again and the door slid open. The tactical officer pivoted in her chair and quizzically looked at Lt. Balych as he rolled his eyes. The bridge was vaguely reminiscent of the old NASA mission control center in Houston. He had never seen it in person, but there was a faithful mockup at Space Consulate Canaveral that he had seen many times. Three rows of computer stations were stacked in front of one another, all facing a bank of three screens at the front of the bridge. Van stood on a riser near the rear of the bridge and was looking downward at the command center. Three chairs sat in the middle of the large riser, a surprisingly large space for only three chairs and an emergency console on the back wall. The flurry of activity overwhelmed Van’s senses for a moment before his mind was able to adjust.
The bridge crew consisted of a Captain, two Commanders, four Lieutenant Commanders, and six Lieutenants. The Captain and Commanders inhabited the three throne-like chairs in the back of the room. Lt. Balych approached the throne and cleared his throat. It was time to put on a show. In his best Swahili, he addressed Captain Mbeke. “I have been transferred under your command as of today, March 18, 2162. I am glad to be of service to you.” He intentionally and expertly avoided any offensive gendering, sideways glances, and assertiveness. It was especially difficult to keep his eyes from wandering when addressing Captain Mbeke. Xhe was a mountain of a woman, err, gender-nonspecific human. The image kept popping into Van’s head of mashed potatoes, because Mbeke’s morbidly obese body had the color and texture of mashed potatoes with gravy. Lt. Balych had addressed morbidly obese Captains before. 40% of Captains required a mattress instead of a command chair because they were too big for the command chair (which was already designed for a person of 450 pounds). However, Captain Mbeke had wedged xherself into the command chair, clearly in denial about xher 600-plus pound girth. Van had researched Captain Mbeke prior to boarding the Umbique, and knew much more about xher than likely anybody else on the ship. Captain Mbeke was born Stephanie Dawson, and was the daughter of Second Consul Blandon Dawson, one of the most powerful politicians on Earth. After spending 6 months living in South Africa, Stephanie Dawson became trans-racial and transgendered, and eventually changed xher name to Salani Mbeke, coopting a traditional Congan surname. Most senior officers were appointed directly to their positions due to political connection, and Captain Mbeke was no different. She was 32 when she was appointed to the Captaincy of the Umbique, without even stepping foot at officers’ school. Similarly, the Commanders and Lieutenant Commanders had all likely been appointed to the vessel as political favors. Running an orbital patrol frigate was seen as a cushy job for the elites, given the low danger, the high amount of control, and the sumptuous allure of harassing the junior officers and non-comms. Normal people like Lt. Balych capped out at Lieutenant, with a select few making it to Lieutenant Commander.
Captain Mbeke, leaned up into an erect sitting position, a fire building in her eyes. A guttoral exhale signaled that the fury was about to be unleashed, a song and dance Lt. Balych had experienced many times before. He tried to act and look as unimposing as possible, hoping to let the gale pass with minimal damage. In perfectly unaccented English, Mbeke screamed, “YOU DARE BUTCHER MY LANGUAGE?? YOU HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN ON MY SHIP AN HOUR AND YOU INSULT ME??” Her arms shook with rage, the dangling fat counter-rotating and flapping like a flesh-colored flag in a hurricane. The sound of skin-on-skin slapping was vaguely sexual, but only disgustingly so. Van purged the thought from his mind before the thought of a walrus mating with a bowl of jello made him visibly cringe and offend the gelatinous woman even more. Mbeke shifted over to look at one of the Commanders and said in a broken voice, “The safety of this bridge has . . . been. . . violated!” Her lower lip began to pout and water glistened deep in her fat-swollen eyes, her words punctuated by a rhythmic heaving whistle unique to such a morbidly obese person trying to suppress her sobs, “I’ve. never. been. so. humiliated. in. my. liiiiiiiiiiii-hi-hi-hiiiiiiifffffffffffe!!” She broke down into a blubbering mess, her pasty mashed potato skin turning bright red with the effort. The Commander to her left motioned to one of the Lieutenants who escorted Lt. Balych off the bridge and into one of the command conference rooms. Van was happy that the ceremonial victimization of the Captain was finished. Tradition or no, he could never shake the thought that it was a bit ridiculous. There were better ways to put new junior officers in their place.
Lt. Eva Baxter dropped the portable reading device on the conference table with just enough gusto to signal to Van that she didn’t want to be there dealing with onboarding a new bridge officer at the moment. Even though Baxter was likely a normal person who went to officer training school and didn’t come from a life of privilege, the systemic disdain held by the appointed senior officers tended to infect the rest of a ship like a virus. “Here is all the information about your job responsibilities, the layout of your bridge console, access parameters, your shift assignments, and protocols for communicating with senior officers. Read it all and memorize it,” she gruffly monotoned, punching buttons on the reading device. With a final button click, the entirety of the manual was uploaded to Van’s glasses, as indicated by a progress bar projected on the bottom of his left lens. She then proceeded to look him head to toe, a gesture he knew all too well. “We run the consort system here, have you been a consort on any of your previous assignments?” her disinterested demeanor staying unchanged, despite the shift to a sexual conversation. “Yes, I was consort to a Commander on my previous space assignment,” Van responded, momentarily flashing back to a memory of a sexual encounter with Cmdr. Bordreaux on the Svenson. “Good,” the emotionless Lieutenant dismissively muttered, “you’re not the Captain’s type, and the Commanders both already have enough consorts, so you may end up with a Lieutenant Commander.” An unofficial policy adopted on some of the most female dominated ships in the fleet assigned the male junior officers to female senior officers for sexual liaises. Neither the men nor the women needed the sex, as sexbots and sex toys were more than adequate to satisfy any sexual desire they had. However, the consort program gave the female senior officers another avenue to show their disdain for the junior officers, and especially for the wholly emasculated male officers. Consort sexual encounters were notoriously humiliating to the men. Some of the women even took perverse joy in pegging their men while making every effort to let the men know that they were less than trash. Lt. Balych had been lucky the first time. Cmdr. Bordreaux was a bit more traditional, and wasn’t particularly comfortable with the dominant role she was supposed to take in the consort relationship. Mostly, she just wanted companionship. Van was nervous that he’d get a true believer in the consort system this time around. His ass clenched at the thought.