Following the excitement and sadness of the P-2490 incident, the crew of the Mishima settled back into the routines of being a supply ship for the Hibakusha Corporation’s latest venture in the Taurus belt. Jude found Roth to be an excellent guide and teacher, when he wasn’t sneaking off to canoodle with Resnik that is. Her bunk-mate and mentor’s burgeoning romance meant that the majority of her down time was spent alone, which fine by her, as it meant she could rattle off comms to her beloved Hennessey back home on planet Earth. The farther they travelled out, the longer it took for her messages to reach him and for his replies to get back to her. Still, this long-distance love affair seemed to be managing to keep its fire.
Jude’s involvement in the tragic case of pilot George Niven had meant that she and Corvette Lieutenant Nicholls (“call me Katie”) had a good working relationship now and the young technician often found herself being called to the bridge and upper decks whenever there was something that required engineering input. Jude raised this with both Roth and Chief Mitchell but her two superiors were happy that relations between above and below decks, in star ship parlance, were thawing.
“And you are doing good work too Sadako,” Mitch had told her. “Even the Captain has noted your diligence.” High praise indeed, Jude thought. Outside of the slight detour they had made, the ship had no scheduled stops on its way to the Crab Nebula. During their all-too-brief time together, Hennessey had extolled the wonders of travelling to and working around a neutron star and Jude was keen to learn and experience it for herself. A top of the line cruiser such as the VN Mishima had been designed and constructed to withstand the rigours of deep-space travel and exploration but there were still checks and adjustments that needed to be made on a daily basis. As the ship grew closer to the nebula’s pulsing heart, the radio static increased and the magnetic pull caused fluctuations which required Jude and Roth to be on call at all hours. As they grew closer to their destination, Jude would often sit between summons on the observation deck, marvelling at the beauty and wonder enfolding and unfolding around her.
They arrived at their destination and docked with the corporation’s elite survey vessel, the Sally Ride, Hennessey’s home and workplace when he wasn’t being retained for training as he was now, back in Gifu. It was a massive ship, more of a station really, in comparison to the Mishima. Although a working industrial vessel, its purpose being the harvesting and processing of helium from the gas-rich nebula, as it was home for long periods to a large crew, it boasted excellent facilities such as the gym where Hennessey had been working on his rather impressive physique, as well as a library, cinema and a hydroponic garden.
Jude, at her lover’s behest, went to look for his boss, one Chief Joss Bell. She and Roth headed to engineering to find her. Things were obviously more relaxed her on The Sal, as her crew affectionately dubbed their ship, as they found Bell and her team laughing and bantering away in their hub.
“Ah, strangers bearing gifts, I see,” Bell beckoned them over. Jude and her crew-mate had indeed arrived with boxes of various shapes and sizes, no doubt containing new tech as well as the obligatory hooch that lubricated the byways of space.
This chief looked them both over. “Now, as handsome a lad as you are and as progressive a fellow as our Henny is, I doubt you are his sweetie,” she said to Roth. ‘Henny’, Jude smiled at her partner’s nickname. “So you must be Ally Roth. Welcome.” Then her eyes fell on Jude and she grinned. “Folks, the Belfast boy was not exaggerating. You, my beauty, must be the famous Jude. Pleased to set eyes on you at last.” The chief extended her hand, which Jude took then found herself being pulled into a warm if unexpected hug.
Once released, the questions began. “How is my boy then?”
“He’s good. He says to say ‘hi’.”
“Grand. Jammy wee toe-rag, getting sent back HQ to do some training while we poor workers are left here.” She laughed loudly as she saw a worried look pan across Jude’s face. “I’m only having you on, petal. We love Henny here and he deserves to have his work recognised. I need to watch my step though – I get the feeling he’s after my job.”
Bell motioned to one of her team. “Kubo, you take Mister Roth here off to see the bending magnets, right?” Roth beamed, keen to see the tech he had requested.
“And you and I,” she said, taking Jude’s arm and leading her off, “are off to see my pride and joy.”
At the core of the Sal was her central circular particle accelerator which powered not only the ship but also its large helium harvesting “scoops” and its processing and storage units. Developed along similar lines to the still operational Large Hadron Collider back on Earth but using technologies to make it much more compact and thus viable for interstellar use, it was, to Jude’s relatively novice eyes, spectacular.
“Hennessey had described this all to me, but it’s beyond my imaginings.”
Bell beamed like a proud mother. “She’s just fantastic. Runs like a dream. Here, come see the scoops in action.” She led Jude to a large window, from where Jude could watch the huge polonium balloons in action. Beyond them, she could see the bright indigo and violet heart of the pulsar.
“Beautiful.” She was truly awe-struck at the spectacle before her.
“Ain’t it just?” Bell remarked. “Now, time for the gritty stuff. Tell me more about you and my starry-eyed friend.”
Its payload transferred successfully, the Mishima and her crew prepared to leave.
“It’s been real nice seeing you,” Bell said to Jude. “Give my regards to that scallywag Henny and tell him to haul his sweet ass back here ASAP.” She gave Jude a final farewell hug. As she held on Bell whispered “I know you are contracted to Vale but if you ever get itch y feet, give me a call, you hear?”
“Yes,” Jude said. I will.
Settled back on board, Jude and Roth reported back to Chief Mitchell, who had stayed on board, ostensibly for maintenance checks, but the whole crew knew it was so she and Ferns could have some well-earned time together. They both raved about the systems on the Sally Ride but were equally glad to be back on their ship. It’s nice to think of the Mishima like that, Jude thought – “my ship. My home.” After all of her trial and tribulations of the past year or so, it was a good feeling to have somewhere she felt she belonged at last.
Once they were heading back, regular messages from home began flooding in.
“Ooh, I’ve got one from Miro,” Resnik told Jude excitedly. “He’s going to back in Lodz for a spell when we return.”
“What about Roth?” Jude asked her.
“A woman can have two boyfriends at the same time. It is nearly the end of the century you know.” Resnik laughed.
“You go, girl.” Jude encouraged her.
“And anyway,” Alta added, “Ally is going home to see his husband.”
Jude went to see her pal Nicholls in comms. Using her skills and some co-operative re-wiring of the systems, they were able to establish a clearer connection with both sound and vision to Earth while still some light years away. Lieutenant Katie patched the signal down to Jude’s screen at her work station.
Hennessey’s familiar features appeared on the monitor.
“Well hello there sexy. Am I glad to see you again.” He smiled warmly across the interstellar miles. Jude’s heart skipped a beat. The moustache and goatee were one and an even more handsome man had emerged.”
“Hello to you too, gorgeous. Or should I say, Henny?” she teased.
“Oh good grief.”
“My thoughts too. I can’t see you as a ‘Henny’ somehow. Hennessey, yes. But ‘Henny’ – you sound like a small chicken.”
“Oh shush. You know I’m not a wee chicken. A large cock maybe…” He winked mischievously.
“Easy there tiger.” Jude laughed, enjoying their easy banter. “Now, will you still be Earth-side when I get back?”
“Yeah, I have a few more weeks here then I’m back to the Sal. But I’ve made it clear, I’m not heading back out until I’ve had some quality time with you.”
“Good. I miss you, lover.”
“I miss you too, my darling. Where do you want to meet up this time?”
“Have you ever heard of a place called Newchurch? It’s near the Kent coast. We could meet in London and head there.”
Hennessey shook his head. “Nope, never heard of it but it sounds fun. Any reason why you want to go there particularly?”
“I have an errand for an old friend.” Jude looked over at the small urn on the shelf, which contained George Niven’s ashes. “I’ll tell you about it when I see you.”