The excitement of the first day soon paled into the daily routine of life on board the Vale Navigation’s ship, Mishima. Resnik still bubbled away enthusiastically, volunteering for any opportunity which allowed her to suit up and work broadside, much to Monks’ chagrin as it was she who had first suggested that the eager young trainee pop her space cherry on her initial day out. Jude watched Roth very closely, learning a lot from him about the ship’s propulsion systems. She was working one shift on aligning the pressure on the de Laval nozzle in the craft’s rear engine when her chief’s dulcet tones came on over the comm.
“Sadako, are you busy?” Mitchell asked of her.
“Just finishing up adjusting the isentropic gas flow here and then I’ll be done, Chief.” Jude answered.
“Cool. When you’re done, can you hop up to the main deck? Communications are reporting some gremlins at their end. See if you can untwist their knickers and get them of my back.”
“On it.” Jude worked away at completing her task. Once done, she returned to her bunk to change – word had it that the bridge crew did not look too kindly on grease monkeys cluttering up their tidy work space at the best of times. As she approached she heard scuffling and whispering. When she walked in, she found Resnik and Roth sitting on Resnik’s bunk, chatting.
“Don’t get up on my account.” She nudged Roth out of the way of her locker and pulled out a clean tee shirt. As she headed off to the wash room to freshen up, she added, “As you were,” and cackled to herself. Poor Miro, so far way and forgotten back orbiting Saturn. The poor kid didn’t stand a chance when pitted against the wiles of the smooth Scotsman.
Jude, feeling more presentable now in an unsullied uniform, grabbed her toolkit and headed up to – the bridge. There was a clear division of labour on board the Mishima – speculative fiction and television space operas would have you believe that life on a space-going vessel had all of the crew members working merrily alongside each other and socialising together in the ship’s grog shop. However the reality was that the captain and her subordinates kept to their end of the ship and Chief Mitchell and her technical crew to the other, rarely mixing unless work (or in the case of the Captain Ferns and her head of engineering, pleasure) demanded it. Jude took a cargo lift to the main deck and alighted in a corridor.
“Bridge?” she asked of a passing crew member, who answered, “That away,” indicating, of course, Jude realised with some embarrassment the door marked helpfully “Bridge.” It struck Jude as risible that, although again unlike in popular fiction, the bridge could not be accessed directly from the ship’s internal elevators, any passing ne’er do well could easily find it due to the massive fak-off sign. Jude opened the door and looked around.
“At last,” a woman walked up to her. “You must be Sadako. Chief Mitchell said you were on your way. About twenty minutes ago.” Jude bristled at the barbed comment but bit her tongue.
The name badge on the woman’s uniform read “Corvette Lieutenant Nicholls”.
“Are you the one with the problem at comms?” Jude asked, unnecessarily as payback for the greeting remarks.
The officer tensed. “Of course I am.”
“So tell me about it.”
Nicholls led Jude over to her workstation. To Jude’s eye, it all appeared to be functioning to company standards. To the further annoyance of her crew-mate, she tapped the glass of a dial.
“No, it’s this.” The comms officer handed Jude her headset. The tech listened in. There was some crackling as expected and a low-level hum but to Jude’s ears, nothing that seemed out of the ordinary and she said so to Nicholls. The lieutenant snatched the earphones rudely from Jude’s hand, pressed a few buttons and handed the set back.
“Listen properly,” she suggested.
At first, Jude could discern no difference, but then, there was a very quiet but just audible sound. A tone. A pause. Then another tone.
“See?” Nicholls sneered. No, Jude thought but I can hear.
“I’ve run all the diagnostics. Scanned across the frequencies. To our knowledge there is nothing out here in this part of the system that could be making that noise.”
“Well,” said Jude, mindful of her words, “something obviously is. It’s probably an old piece of pace junk, reflecting back our output waves. I run some further tests.” Jude opened her tool box.
“Erm…” the lieutenant queried,” …can you do it remotely? Only…”
Only you and your buddies don’t want the help cluttering up your nice shiny bridge with our greasy presence, do you? Jude contemplated. To tell the truth, like her fellow technicians, she didn’t relish being under the watchful eye of Captain Fern and her cheer squad much either.
“I can route it to a workstation below decks. Let me work on it and I should have an answer for you ASAP.”
“Thank you.” The lieutenant walked away. Jude was dismissed, obviously.
Jude returned to the familiar confines of engineering. She headed over to a quiet corner where she could hopefully work undisturbed. With a little tweaking and recalibration, she managed to patch into Nicholls comms and then isolate the tone. It was steady and repetitive. All she had to do was try to match the signal and then hopefully she could send out a pulse, which would kickback the radio wave reflection from the beacon or whatever it was. Then she could get back to real work.
The signal crackled. The tone changed.
Jude boosted the feedback. There it was again.
“Hello, hello. Can anyone hear me?”
Jude scrabbled in her box of tricks. She pulled out, uncoiled and then attached a headset, not one as fancy as the lieutenant’s model but still serviceable.
“Hello, this is the VN Mishima.” Hell, she had no idea what the protocol here was.
“Hello Mishima. This is P-2490.”
“P-2490. Oh, fak. Sorry.” She scoured her brain for some sort of clue as what to say. Then she remembered.
“Request your position.” Good grief, was that from a film? Still, she got a reply.
“Position nil. I repeat, position nil. I’m in an escape pod. My shuttle malfunctioned and I had to jettison.”
“P-2490, whereabouts? Maybe I can log onto your position?”
“I was flying around Callisto. But my instruments are screwed. Could be anywhere. And it’s not P – it’s G, for George. What’s your name?”
Jude tried to recall any missions around Jupiter. She knew that the South American Space Agency had sent up some research flights, scouting for silicates.
“I’m Jude. George, I’m going to patch you up to our bridge…”
“Jude, don’t. There’s no time. I’ve not got minimal life support here. Jude, can you still hear me?”
“Yes George, I can hear you.”
“Good. Can you take a message for me? To my wife, Clare Niven. She’s a physicist with Neruda Exploration, based in Managua.”
Jude jotted the details down on her pad. “Yes, Clare Niven. Managua.”
“Tell her that I love her Jude. Can you do that?”
“Yes George, I think so. Look, give me a few minutes. I’ll get our navigation to get a fix on you.”
“No Jude. No time. Where are you from Jude?”
“What? All over, I guess.”
“Where were you born?”
“Talk to me Jude.”
“On the ESS Bulgaria, halfway between Mars and home.”
“A space baby, cool. Where’s home, Jude?”
“Tokyo mostly. Well, it’s where I go back to.”
“Tokyo. Lovely place. Never been, always wanted to though. I’m from Newchurch in Kent. Do you know it?”
“No. Listen, George…”
He interrupted again. “Sorry, Jude. I’m a lost cause. Tell me, are you married?”
“No, I was.”
“No, not as such. Its early days but I’m hopeful.”
George coughed. “It’s funny…” Then the signal dropped. Jude frantically tried to pick it up again. She ran to the lift.
Jude ran out, barging into a passing ensign. She muttered an apology then continued onto the deck.
Nicholls looked up at her, vexed at her presence.
“I found it. The distortion. It’s an SOS.”
“You could have just hailed me from below.” The lieutenant was not pleased at this panting, flustered mechanic disturbing her flow.
“But it’s a man. A shuttle pilot. He’s in an escape pod, near Callisto.”
“What’s this?” The two women started at the Captain’s question.
“The distortion on the comms, sir. Erm…” Nicholls racked her brains for the name of this troublesome tech standing over her station. “…Sadako says it’s a distress signal.”
“Can we lock onto it?”
“Trying now sir. Yes, got him.”
“Good. Pilot, plot a diversionary course to Nicholl’s co-ordinates.”
By the time the Mishima reached the pod, it was well past time to save George. Jude was in the bay when the little raft was brought aboard. Something in her head, and maybe her heart, told her to look away as they removed his body and took it to the medical centre.
Later that day, Jude was back on deck with Nicholls at her elbow.
“It’s a faint signal, but patching you through now.”
“Hello,” Jude spoke into the headset.”
“Neruda Exploration. Doctor Clare Niven speaking.”
“Doctor Niven. My name is Jude Sadako. I have a message from your husband, George.”