Asteroid Patrol: Timid HerobyStorm62©
Sergeant Michelle Elizabeth (or Emmy to her friends) Baldwin looked up from her desk at the knock on her door. She had been in command of the Space Police hub here on the 'Boonies' for nearly three years now.
"Come in Stace." She called.
Acting Senior Pilot Stacey Grainger entered the office.
"What's up Sarge? Traffic Control said you wanted to see me."
"Yes. I'm sorry Stacey; I've got some bad news."
"You're cancelling my Senior Pilot proficiency test again?" Stacey sighed. The sergeant had been trying for weeks to find the time for the exam, but being in charge of the hub meant that other things kept getting in the way.
"No. You're still taking the test tomorrow, but neither Dave nor I can come with you. Dave's appeal hearing against his permanent reprimand has been moved forward to tomorrow too." Dave, or 'Big Dave' as the residents of the 'Boonies' called him, was Emmy's husband.
"Exactly why did he appeal?" Stacey asked. "He always gave the impression it didn't bother him."
"It doesn't. But the Captain and I both think that it's a waste of his experience and abilities."
"And you both feel guilty about it." Stacey smirked.
Emmy reddened slightly.
"And we both feel guilty about it." She admitted.
"Okay, but why can't you oversee the test?" Stacey asked.
"Because there's going to be a full inspection in two days time. I have to make sure everything is ready for that."
Stacey nodded in resigned understanding. Despite the fact that she had everyone doing the right things, Emmy worried a little too much at times.
"So, who is testing me?"
"Sergeant Joe Winters from the Academy Flight School will be taking the test. And I've assigned Paul Todd from the front desk as your flight crew. He's a good officer, but a bit timid like you are, or were." Emmy gave a little smile to herself. Stacey was nowhere near as timid as she used to be. In fact some of the more recent probationers had admitted that she scared them!
"Oh well." Stacey sighed. "At least if I pass now I'll know it was on merit."
"What are you implying Officer Grainger?" The sergeant asked sharply.
"C'mon Sarge. You know everybody outside of the 'Boonies' would think you passed me because we're friends."
"It would have been at the back of my mind I suppose."
"Sit down Stace." Emmy sighed. "Do you really think Dave or I would compromise the integrity of the force, even for one of our best friends?"
"No, not really." Stacey sighed too. "But the possibility was always there. Now all I have to do is get it right." She smiled.
"That's all you had to do anyway." Emmy smiled back. "If anything, it might be easier for you. Dave and I would have been tougher on you precisely because we are friends." She looked at her former bridesmaid. "You don't think much of yourself as an officer of the law do you? Why not?"
"Because like you said, I'm timid. I nearly made things worse during the Lafarge incident when I panicked and called in the special squad."
"No. That was the right thing to do. And your shyness has made you methodical, a good thing. And you're not so timid now I hear. Some of the newbies are actually scared of you." Stacey looked astonished at this. Emmy carried on. "You don't think Dave would have let you take over flying 'Juliet' if he didn't trust you do you? And me? I keep you around for the entertainment your on-off thing with Nobby provides do I?"
"I suppose not." Stacey said sheepishly. "Sorry Sarge. Thanks for the pep-talk. I won't let you down."
"You'd better not. And I want your impressions of young Toddy too. Now buzz off and leave me to my admin nightmare." Emmy suddenly gave Stacey a quizzical look. "How is the thing with Nobby going anyway? I haven't seen you together for quite a while now."
"It's off again. My fault. Again. And probably permanently this time."
"Perhaps you should have tried methodical?"
"Where would the fun be in that?" Stacey laughed as she closed the office door.
Officer Paul Todd nervously shuffled his feet as he waited outside the airlock of the patrol ship 'Juliet'. He had asked Sergeant Baldwin for a more active assignment a couple of weeks before, more to show enthusiasm than for any great desire to get away from the front desk. She had said she would see what was available. He had thought that was it, that he wasn't going anywhere. And then yesterday he had been told to report here to act as co-pilot to the Acting Senior Pilot for her proficiency test! And the test was to be taken in JHU, the most renowned patrol ship in the force! He wondered what he had let himself in for. He kicked at the ground again.
"Officer Todd?" A female voice behind him asked. He nearly leapt out of his skin.
"Yes ma'am." He replied, spinning around and trying to salute at the same time. In doing so he managed to knock his cap off. The officer in front of him giggled as he scrambled to pick it up. He felt his face going red. This was not a good start.
"It's okay." She said comfortingly. "I'm Officer Stacey Grainger." She held out her hand. "I believe you've been assigned to me and 'Juliet' for a while."
"Yes ma'am." He said, shaking the proffered hand.
"Call me Stacey, or Stace." She said, still trying to suppress an amused smile.
"Yes ma'am. Errr...Stacey." Paul felt hopelessly confused and out of his depth. He looked into her hazel eyes and pitying expression and was immediately smitten.
"What's the matter?" Stacey asked, noting his attention. "I haven't got something on my face have I?"
Guiltily Paul broke his stare and shook his head.
"No. Nothing is wrong with your face. I'd just never noticed your eyes before." He said, blushing.
"My eyes? What about my eyes?"
"I'd never realised how pretty they were before." He answered, shrugging helplessly.
"Spend a lot of time looking at girl's eyes do you?" Stacey asked with a mischievous grin.
"Can we change the subject? I'm embarrassed enough already." He pleaded desperately.
"All right." She gave in. "What do you know about Sergeant Winters?"
"He always shows up at an interesting point in the conversation." A third voice joined in. They span around to see Sergeant Winters beaming at them, his hands on his hips. "Shall we get started?" He asked, still smiling. "That's if you've done gossiping."
Stacey, the more experienced of the two, grinned back.
"No problem Sarge."
Paul just turned bright red, but managed to stutter.
"I'm ready Sergeant."
Stacey began by explaining to Paul that 'Juliet' had a second cargo airlock that should be checked before take-off, and then went on to tell him that the ship could be flown from either of the pilot seats, but that she personally preferred the right hand one as that was where she had sat when Big Dave had shown her how to fly 'Juliet'. Sergeant Winters said nothing at all throughout the pre-flight checks, just nodding or smiling and occasionally making a note on his computer pad. Stacey had practically forgotten what he was there for to be truthful. She called up Traffic Control.
"Control, this is Juliet Hotel Uniform requesting clearance to depart."
"Juliet Hotel Uniform, this is control, you are cleared to depart. You have a message from Sergeant Baldwin."
Stacey sighed and turned to Paul.
"I bet she's just wishing me luck." She grinned and then replied. "What is the message control?"
"Message reads: Unusual activity in asteroid field near Station Six. Investigate if possible."
"Oh!" Stacey said in surprise. "Message acknowledged control."
There was a snort of suppressed laughter from Sergeant Winters who had overheard her aside to Paul.
"There is an addendum. It reads: Good luck."
All three of them laughed now.
"Thank you control. Juliet Hotel Uniform departing. Tell the boys I'll bring her back safe. JHU out."
For the next couple of hours it was pretty much like a normal patrol for Stacey. The proficiency test was designed mainly to confirm her day-to-day piloting skills and to assess her instructional ability. Sergeant Winters could find no fault so far.
Officer Todd spoke.
"Stacey, we're nearing Station Six. Sergeant Baldwin asked if...."
"....If we could check on the asteroid activity." She finished with a grin. "I remember, but thanks for the reminder Toddy." She half turned to the sergeant behind her. "I'm about to enter the asteroid field sir, so if you'd buckle up I'd be grateful. And an extra pair of eyes is always useful in the field." She added hopefully.
"Carry on Officer Grainger. And if I see anything I'll shout." He smiled and then added something else onto his computer pad.
"Station Six; this is Juliet Hotel Uniform informing you we are entering the asteroid field in your sector." She reported on the radio. She got a short acknowledgement from the local station. "I'll take her in Toddy." Stacey said, her face set hard in concentration. "You keep an eye on the shields and a lookout for anything coming our way." She took a deep breath. "Hold tight, here we go." With that she picked a spot and deftly flicked 'Juliet' into the asteroid field. She was confidant of avoiding the larger lumps of rock and the smaller ones would be deflected by the shields, but they had to keep alert to the possibility of a counter-moving rogue.
Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary as Stacey wove through the asteroids and none of the three of them could see anything unusual about the way the rocks were moving. After twenty minutes or so of nothing, Stacey spotted one of the larger asteroids. She spoke over her shoulder to Winters.
"Sergeant. Is it all right if I let Toddy make a landing on this big one? The experience will do him good."
"It's your mission Officer Grainger. I'm only a passenger."
Stacey took that as a yes.
"Okay Toddy. I'm handing control to you. Just remember; although it doesn't look like it, that rock is moving, so compensate a little."
"Are you sure about this Stacey? I've never done it before." He asked in a concerned voice.
Stacey just grinned.
"No-one has the first time they do it. Besides, I have confidence in you. See?" With that she took her hands and feet away from the controls, crossing her arms.
"I said you'd be fine didn't I Toddy?" Stacey smirked at a limp Paul. "That was a pretty good landing wasn't it Sarge?" She turned to Winters.
"Not bad." He agreed. "But I'm here to assess you not him."
"Just making use of your experience to bolster his confidence." She shot him another grin. She was really enjoying herself.
"You've got very cheeky these days Officer Grainger. Not at all like the timid girl I recall back at the academy."
"You weren't my pilot tutor?" Stacey asked, puzzled.
"No I wasn't. But I remember you at the passing out parade, looking small and more than a little scared. Half the spectators I spoke to commented on you."
"I really looked scared?"
"You did. But you seem to have got over it. Big Dave's doing I suspect."
"Him and Emmy. They trusted me and gave me confidence."
"They're good at that." The sergeant sighed. "We need a few more tutors like that at the academy, but I suppose they're more use on station."
"And I can't see either of them wanting to leave the 'Boonies'." She grinned.
"No. Neither can I." He grinned back.
Paul was looking at Stacey oddly, trying to picture her like him, all timid and worried, but he couldn't. He looked away as she turned around, blushing again. He thought of an unrelated question.
"Stacey, I get the feeling that us landing here wasn't just so that I could nearly crash in the attempt. What is the real reason?"
"Paul, I told you the landing was fine. And yes I did have an ulterior motive for us being here. From here we can get a good look at the field without having to keep an eye on everything else at the same time. So have a good look at those asteroids and we'll see if we can spot whatever it is Emmy was on about."
"That's good thinking." Paul replied, impressed. Sergeant Winters grunted in agreement and made another note on his pad. Stacey would rather like to see what it was he was putting down, but knew she'd have to wait until the test was over.
"How long are we going to keep looking?" Paul asked Stacey after about half an hour of fruitlessly scanning the scene above them.
"Around another 30 minutes. If we've spotted nothing by then I'll feel justified in filing a negative report." Stacey replied. She looked around at the others. The sergeant was tapping away at his computer pad while Paul was apprehensively looking up, obviously not sure what he was supposed to be looking for. In truth she didn't know either, it had been a vague report, but after three years out here she knew she would be the one to notice any anomaly. Just as she was thinking that something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She looked with renewed interest. There it was again; a glint of light off metal! Stacey pointed and asked if the other two could see it. After a couple of minutes of concentrated staring they both confirmed her observation.
"What is it Stace?" Paul asked.
"I think it's a mining vessel of some sort."
"Ships aren't allowed in the asteroid field." Sergeant Winters said.
"Some are, but they're supposed to inform the local station like we did." As she was saying this Stacey was reaching once again for the radio. "Station Six, this is Juliet Hotel Uniform, are you reading me?"
"Loud and clear JHU. What's up?"
"Have you been informed of any other ship in the belt?"
"Only you JHU. Why?"
"We're observing the belt from 'Big Blue 7' and can see a ship that appears to be moored to a non-mover. I think it's out of your line of sight."
"Can you check it out for us? Our ship has only just got back, she needs refuelling."
"Will do Six. Out."
"Stacey, there's another one." Paul nudged her and pointed. "Just above us and much closer. It's just moved out from behind that meteorite." His voice squeaked urgently.
Stacey looked up and went white.
"Emergency take-off! NOW!!" She commanded, dropping her hands to the controls. Paul copied her immediately. "Somehow they've launched that meteorite at us." She explained as her hands prepped 'Juliet' for engine start.
"How much time?" Winters asked as he strapped in.
"Not a lot." She said, glancing up. "Skip the check list Paul, fire up the main engine. We need to get off this asteroid fast."
"She's too cold." Paul cried as the engine failed to ignite.
"Hit the injectors, the reheat and the ignition simultaneously." The still calm voice of Winters came from behind them. "It's not a recommended procedure, but it will work, I promise."
"DO IT!" Stacey yelled. She and Paul pushed all the required buttons at once and the engine burst into life. As they began to move they could all see the approaching meteorite getting closer. It would hit behind them "Buckle up. Rear shields to maximum." Stacey said, knowing it could be too late. And then the huge piece of space rock smashed into 'Big Blue 7'.
The shockwave caught the barely airborne 'Juliet' and flung her skywards amidst a rain of fragmenting rock as the two asteroids impacted. The occupants were flung around in their seats despite being strapped in. Stacey was barely in control of the bucking space craft, just enough to guide them clear of the flying debris, but 'Juliet' had been hit and hit hard by more than one piece of the exploding rock. Several alarms were going off as she regained control.
"We're losing air from a puncture in the hold, and we have a leak in one of the fuel tanks." Paul reported as he extinguished a tiny electrical fire on his console.
"Seal the hold and pump the tank into one of the others." Stacey ordered as she looked around for an escape route from the mushrooming debris cloud.
"On it." Despite his fright, Paul was reacting well to the situation. He did as he was told, sealing the hold off and beginning to pump fuel from the leaking tank into one of the sound ones.
"Sergeant, we have our hands full. Can you get in touch with Station Six and tell them we need to dock to make emergency repairs?"
"I'm on it too Stacey."
"Sorry to have to ask." She threw a grin over her shoulder. "Bit different to a normal flight for you, eh Sarge?"
"Flights in the 'Boonies' always seem to offer something new." He grinned back.
Stacey finally managed to get 'Juliet' out of the way of the following rock cloud by slipping behind another of the larger asteroids. She breathed a sigh of relief and began to look around. Her eyes were drawn to where Station Six was.
"Sergeant, have you been able to get through to Six?" She asked in a dead voice.
"No. Only hiss and crackle."
"I'm not surprised. They have problems of their own." She pointed. "That second meteorite, the one we spotted first, must have been launched at them."
The other two looked and saw that the station seemed to be damaged quite badly.
"If that second one had hit them, there would be nothing left at all." Sergeant Winters said hopefully.
"Then it must have hit something smaller into them." Stacey said.
"Like a pool shot?" Paul said quietly.
"I suppose." Stacey shrugged, in despair for a moment. Then she straightened her shoulders. "They'll need help."
"Yes, but we're damaged too." Paul said. Winters said nothing.
"We're here!" Stacey said forcefully. "And we're close enough to help. We help."
"Of course Officer Grainger. I didn't mean we shouldn't, just that we are leaking air and fuel and need repair as well."
"I understand Paul. Let's go."
Stacey deftly clamped onto the one airlock that was vacant, the other had a wrecked 'Sierra 4' scout ship hanging from it. Thankfully the airlock was still operational.
"Good. That means they still have power and air." Stacey said. "Paul, I want you to find the crew and get some 'Space-seal', they'll know what you mean. Bring it back here and then go back and help in whatever way you can."
"Yes ma'am." He went, not daring to question her.
"Sergeant, go find the radio communications. One of them should be trying to get through to Emmy. Take over so he can help the others. When you get through, tell them to send Nobby and a repair crew ASAP."
"Yes ma'am." Winters said wryly. "What are you going to do?"
"Well 'Juliet' has the same systems the station has. I'm going to set her up to keep them going until Nobby gets here. And when Paul gets back with the 'Space-seal' I'm going out to patch our leaks so if we can't save the station, we can save the crew. Now go. Time is of the essence."
"I'm on it Stacey." As he reached the airlock he turned back once more. "Big Dave and Emmy will be proud of you." He said and then he was gone, before she could ask him what he meant.
About three hours after they had docked and two after Winters had got through to the hub Nobby arrived with his repair crew. Paul and Stacey had managed to jettison the wrecked scout so he docked on the now vacant second airlock. The moment they had cleared the scout away Stacey had donned her space suit and gone outside to begin fixing the damage done to 'Juliet'. She was just finishing when Nobby arrived. She hurried back to the airlock so that they could dock.
Stacey had only removed her helmet when Nobby came through the airlock, a big grin on his face as ever.
"Watcha darlin'" He smiled. "Bin for a wander?"
"Patching 'Juliet'. She answered.
"We coulda done that." He said a little reproachfully. The rest of his crew had passed them and gone to assess the current situation of the station.
"Didn't know how long you'd be." She said, a little shortly. For some reason Nobby always wound her up these days.
"I'm sure you're right." Nobby looked more subdued than she could remember.