Well, it took more trouble than it was worth (almost) to steal the time to do this warm-up. I’m rusty as fuck and not getting any sort of regular writing time in. Still, here’s this silly thing. The prompt can be found here. Final word count: 1,732.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for joining in the fun(?), if you did. Thanks for watching the stream, if you did that. Thank’s for also being patient with me.
The air had a metal taste shared by the previous station, but lacked the musty tones that went along with long-term habitation. “New car smell” had carried on as a term for the feeling, long after automobiles fell out of use. There was no telling how long this transport had been in service; it could have been days or years. It was old enough for a shakedown and clearance to operate, not old enough to be lived in. Ollie’s paw pads tingled on the cool floor of the central corridor. The environmental controls kept things warm enough to move around, but the damned electronics required such a narrow damned range. She wrinkled her muzzle and scolded herself. Anxiety, that’s all it was.
Her mother would have said the same thing. “You repeat yourself when you’re nervous Olivia…especially that foul tongue of yours.” Her footfalls fell silent in the stark passageway. She reached out to the bulkhead and leaned on her shaking paw. One more lecture would have been good to hear. Anything. Ollie blinked and looked up at the light panels on the curved ceiling. Her ears folded hard toward the back of her head and the drops that had threatened to roll down her cheeks soaked into the fur at the corner of her eyes instead. One more talk through the visual feed from home, one more glimpse of a tidy home and her greying cheeks, was too much to ask. That tidy home and those greying cheeks were only so much ash circling around a moon, circling around a gas giant, circling around a sun with a dark stain lingering years after the flare that took Station Nareth-5, all of its support facilities, and every other settlement in orbit. An accident, an unforeseeable one at that, rendered her a twenty-six-year-old orphan. Now, she was on her way to another station just like it.
Claws slid out of their sheaths to squeak against the metal wall. It wasn’t fear that stopped her: the destination was a deep-space research outpost, far from any star. What froze was anger, still hot in her chest. She was furious at the station management for their lack of foresight, at the stellar observatory for missing the signs, but mostly at herself. Away for a holiday on Faros, half an orbit away from the flare, she’d been laying on the black sands without a care. Would it have made a difference if she’d been at the observatory? Could one set of eyes on the gravimetrics or on the magnetic fields have made a difference. Sari thought not, but maybe that just made it easier for her. The relationship hadn’t lasted longer than the arguments. The arguments hadn’t lasted longer than Sari herself. Grief finds everyone in the end, even if guilt doesn’t.
The paw against the wall curled into a fist, driving the filed ends of her claws hard against her palm pad. The corridor rang with her blows. It didn’t do any service to Sari’s memory or to Mum and Dad’s to dwell on something that was behind her and outside of her power to change. Bruising her knuckles wouldn’t bring them back any quicker than crying and a soft mew from beside her seemed to say as much. Neb cocked his head at her when she looked down. Bright yellow-green eyes searched her face and he meowed again, the tone questioning.
“It’s fine, bud,” she muttered, standing straight and running the back of her stinging right paw over both of her eyes. “Sorry, let’s get you and me settled.”
Ollie found her quarters and waved the sleeve of her jacket over the panel on the wall. The door slid into the wall with a swish and the room brightened. The decor wasn’t any better than the passage, but a panel on the opposite wall offered something better: isolated climate control! She padded into the room and set the Neb and his carrier onto the bunk. The door had hardly swished closed before she dialed the controls up. Temperature rose quickly, as did humidity. She threw her jacket off and opened the carrier to give Neb some freedom. His soft, blue-grey coat rippled as he stretched his forelegs out over the hard mattress. Sniffing at the air, he dropped to the floor to investigate their temporary home.
Sari had needled her about having a cat. “It’s just weird, Ol. You couldn’t have gone with a bird or a lizard, like a normal person?”
No, she thought as the sinuous beast sniffed at the bottom of the door, it was nice having something whose body language made intuitive sense. She liked his gunmetal coat, too. If anything, she was a little jealous; the patchy black, brown, and grey of her coat felt drab by comparison. Neb paused to rub his cheek against the corner by the personal waste unit and Ollie allowed a partial grin. They’d be all right. His easy adaptation to new surroundings rubbed off on her.
Or so she expected. They had been in the room for twenty minutes or so, long enough for the transport to come down from flight quarters after the departure of her shuttle. That was about as long as it ever took for the little guy to finish his inspection and curl up on the bunk to rest up from the shuttle ride. She frowned and cocked her head at him.
Neb’s ears were swiveling rapidly, as if something moved through the deck plates beneath the cabin. His eyes scanned the floor with a hint of fear she wasn’t used to seeing on her calm companion. The skin of his back twitched the way it would when she tickled the fur above his hips. She wondered if he was catching some vibration that she wasn’t, then the sensation struck.
It was like her fur stood on end without the accompanying feeling of her dermal muscles contracting. The weight of her clothes and her coat eased off, then the sense of pressure beneath her lessened until it was clear that she wasn’t sitting on the bunk any longer. The artificial gravity generators were losing power, nothing they hadn’t encountered before. Her attention returned to Neb just in time to see his front paws clambering to catch the deck as his body drifted upward. A wave of nausea hit them both, though Ollie managed to hold it. Neb’s heaving torqued his body around, until he was head down when the sick came. The mess hit the floor, but the poor animal had been thrust gently away by the force. He flailed about, sure that he was falling but unable to right himself. Every direction was down and up at the same time. Ollie empathized; the only thing that kept her from struggling in the same way was knowledge of what was happening.
A chime sounded over the cabin intercom, followed by a woman’s voice advising that the gravity field generators had experienced a brief malfunction when the transport accelerated. Ollie rolled her eyes and kicked the bunk just hard enough to push herself in Neb’s direction. Whatever shakedown cruise this bucket had been on, they hadn’t accelerated beyond one tenth of light speed while the grav field was engaged. She’d heard stories from a pilot on her previous station: quality assurance officers ran specific checklists in specific orders to maintain “standards of excellence”, but the way that the checklists were sectioned out meant that certain systems didn’t get tested together. Experienced crew knew this and made the necessary adjustments when they took a new vessel on. Clearly this crew was as inexperienced as the ship itself. It wouldn’t be dangerous, really; all the big mistakes got corrected before operators left training. It would just be—she caught Neb and reflected them back toward the bunk—a bit turbulent.
Ollie reached a paw out and caught the wall above the bunk. Easing them down, she cradled the cat to her chest and hooked her heels underneath the frame of the mattress. Her tail, lashing behind her in agitated concentration, struck the sheets and threatened to send her sailing back across the room. She swallowed hard and forced her tail still. Mattress and butt met and she allowed herself to breathe again without worrying about tumbling back into the air.
Stroking her companion, she pressed her muzzle to the top of his head and whispered, “Sorry about that, bud. You okay?”
“Hrrrreh,” he responded. He struggled to get out of her arms.
“You think that’s a good idea? Grav’s still down.”
He grunted and pushed off, breaking her grip.
“Nebuchadnezzer, you asshole.”
His paws moved as if he were swimming, more controlled now that he had some momentum. His aim wasn’t bad either; she saw that he’d “leapt” for the pet carrier, where it floated against the far wall. He struck it off center and hung on with his claws. Carrier and cat bounced off of the wall and twirled across the cabin to the warbling groan of the latter. He scrambled into the opening of the carrier and crouched inside. The sensor on the unit recognized that it was occupied once more and initiated its onboard grav field. The bottom of the carrier snapped against the wall of the cabin, with him sitting comfortably inside.
Lucky bastard, she thought, frowning at the sideways cat and carrier. She reached out and took the handle, heels still hooked under the bunk. Pulling it down and setting it on the mattress, she patted the top.
“Well, that’s you taken care of,” she huffed. “Dunno what I’m gonna d—”
The grav field reengaged with a lurch and her organs sagged back down inside her. The weight of her body pushed up hard against her butt and the mattress springs complained.
She sighed. “Thank fuck they sorted that out.”
The lights flickered and went out. Ned let out a soft meow, questioning more than upset. Steps clattered down the corridor outside, interrupted by a loud clang and a curse. A few barked words from an impatient voice and the steps clattered off into the distance. The last things heard from the passageway was a communicator calling for repair status and more barking.
“This is gonna be a long fucking trip, bud,” she grumbled, falling back onto the bunk.