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Stowaway: Flight of the Kestrel Short Story 1

 

 

Stowaway

Flight of the Kestrel Short Story 1

 

A M Thomas

 

Kestrel artwork by Brett Buckle

 

Published by Alina Publishing

 

Copyright © Ann Marie Thomas 2017

Ann Marie Thomas has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

to be identified as the author of this work

 

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Stowaway

Lieutenant Joe Darrow was in the space station main concourse when his name was called and he saw his friend Ensign Dale Murdo waving. He waited while Dale made his way through the press of people. His face was scarlet.

‘Oh Joe,’ he gasped. ‘My lifesaver!’

‘What’s up?’

‘You’re still on the Javan aren’t you? Next stop Earth?’

Joe nodded. Dale grabbed him.

‘You’ve got to take me with you!’

‘You know we don’t take passengers, the captain would never allow it.’

Dale looked as though he was going to cry.

‘You’ve got help me, or I’m finished. I missed my ship and if I don’t get back in time they’ll boot me out of the fleet.’

Joe’s heart sank. He dragged Dale round a corner away from the crowds. He turned him to face him.

‘You’re always in trouble. What happened this time?’

Dale lowered his voice and glanced around.

‘I met these guys last night and, well, I had a bit too much to drink. I seem to have spent all my money too. I can’t remember much.’

‘Oh Dale, they robbed you, can’t you see?’

‘But they were so friendly …’ His face fell. ‘Joe, you’re my only hope.’

Joe looked at his friend and battled with his conscience. He had plans for his career, and if he got caught he would be in big trouble. He’d already been promoted, whereas Dale was still an Ensign.

But Dale had been through the Planetary Alliance for Cooperation and Trade (PACT) Training Academy with him and he felt responsible for him. They used to get into all sorts of scrapes together, but it was always Joe got them out of trouble. Dale repaid Joe by helping him with his studies. It never ceased to amaze Joe how someone so clever could be so stupid.

‘You’re asking an awful lot, you know.’ Joe frowned. ‘Why do you think you’re still an Ensign? You’re not taking it seriously.’

Dale shrugged. ‘I just want to follow my Dad, you know that’s what he always wanted.’

‘But what do you want, Dale? If your heart’s not in it, you should get out.’

‘Getting out is one thing, being thrown out is something else all together. I couldn’t face my Dad with that. You’ve got to help me, please.’

Joe’s irritation warred with his sympathy. ‘Oh, come on then. We’re leaving in an hour, so they’ll have finished loading. You can hide in one of the cargo bays. Where’s your stuff?’

‘Thank you, thank you! This is gonna be our biggest adventure!’

‘Well just think about what I said. You need to be really committed to whatever you’re going to do.’

Getting Dale into the cargo bay proved to be the least of Joe’s troubles. The trip to Earth took three days and Dale needed to eat and relieve himself. Joe found himself stealing food and smuggling Dale a bucket.

‘This is turning out to be more complicated than I expected.’ Joe grumbled on the second night. ‘You didn’t give me any time to think it through.’

‘Time to think of an excuse, you mean. I told you I’m desperate. Anyway, it’s too late now.’

‘Well you just remember you owe me, big time. And if you get caught, tell them you stowed away on your own.’

The following day, Joe was on duty at the helm when an alert went off. It didn’t concern him, so he took no notice until he overheard someone say, ‘Cargo bay three.’

‘What’s happened?’ he asked.

‘Toxic spill. Don’t worry, it’s under control.’

He felt sick. Cargo bay three was Dale’s hiding place. Should he say something? No, if there was any danger, Dale would show himself and claim to have stowed away himself. It was pointless getting both of them into trouble. Joe couldn’t concentrate as he listened for any conversation that would tell him the problem was resolved. He expected at any moment he would hear a stowaway had been found.

Wait a minute, he thought, how toxic is the spill? What if Dale is hurt? Surely he would have cried out? I’m going to be in such trouble if I tell them … What should I do?

Before he could decide, he was given the command, ‘Helm, all stop.’

He cut the engines and fired the retro jets to counteract their forward momentum. His mind was still racing. Then he felt a jolt. His blood froze. That could only be one thing: they had jettisoned the cargo from bay three! He jumped up from his seat in horror. He tried to speak but his throat was dry.

‘What have you done? Dale … my friend …’

He staggered and would have fallen if the First Officer hadn’t sprung out of the command chair and caught him.

‘What is it Darrow? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘Cargo bay three.’ He gasped.

‘The cargo was contaminated, so they dumped it. What’s the matter?’

The officer turned and gave an order to summon the Medical Officer. Joe couldn’t breathe, couldn’t tell them about Dale. The crewman on the scanners spoke up.

‘Sir, I’m registering human tissue amongst the jettisoned cargo.’

Joe was promptly sick.

  • * *

The MO tried to insist Joe rested, but the Captain wanted to know what was going on, and Joe knew he wouldn’t rest until he told him. He was allowed to sit and not stand to attention, and the MO was present. Joe told his story in as few words as possible.

‘My friend Dale Murdo was hiding in cargo bay three. He needed to get back to Earth to meet his ship, or he would lose his post, and maybe his career.’

‘Instead of which, he lost his life,’ said the Captain.

He started as if he had been struck and raised a horrified face before returning his gaze to the floor. He couldn’t look up, so he didn’t see the MO shake his head and give the Captain a warning look.

‘Well Lieutenant, this is a very serious matter, and not for me to decide. You are suspended from duty and confined to quarters until we reach Earth. Then there will be a disciplinary hearing. They’re collecting the body now, and then we’ll get under way. Dismissed.’

Joe followed the shape of a mark on the floor, as if staring at it would stop him thinking about anything else. The MO took his arm and lifted him to his feet. He helped him to his quarters, put him to bed and gave him a sedative.

When he woke he felt numb for a long time, as if the only way his brain could cope with the horror was not to think at all. But slowly the thoughts came: memories of their time together in training, Dale pleading for his help, the last thing Joe had said to him, ‘You owe me big time.’

Then the tears came. He wept for Dale, for Dale’s family, and for himself. How could a good turn go so wrong?

But was it a good turn? There were rules for a reason, he thought. No one should be on board a ship without the captain knowing. The captain was responsible for the welfare of everyone, but he couldn’t be responsible for someone he didn’t know about. I should have told him.

No, I should have refused Dale. I was always getting him out of trouble. It was time he took responsibility. But he would have been thrown out. But he would have been alive …

Another thought came, with an anger boiling up from the pit of his stomach into his chest. How dare Dale put me in such a position! After all the things I’ve done for him, he still didn’t learn.

Yes, he helped me with my studies, but I passed the exams on my own. Especially when I realised I had to get serious if I wanted a career. When was he going to grow up? His anger died. Never now.

The thoughts repeated over the hours it took to reach Earth. They brought him food, but he couldn’t eat. When the ship landed, he was escorted to detention where he waited for his fate to be decided.

A lawyer came to see him to discuss his defence, but Joe had no heart for it. He felt he was guilty, and the lawyer gave up.

‘I’ll come back when you’ve had time to think it over,’ he said as he left.

His father came. Joe couldn’t face him, didn’t want to see the disapproval, the recriminations. His father always made him feel he was a disappointment, now he had proved it. After saying ‘hello son’ his father just stood there. The silence went on for so long, Joe looked up to see if he’d gone.

‘I don’t know what to say,’ his father said at last. ‘How could you be so stupid? It’s time you grew up and stopped treating everything as a game.’

Joe looked away. He had got serious halfway through his training, but his father hadn’t noticed. His judgement was already made. In fact, he thought the whole idea of Joe going into the fleet was stupid. He referred to the Fast Response fleet as “jumped up policemen in space.” His father clenched his fists and swallowed hard.

‘Your mother couldn’t come, she was too upset. They’re charging you with involuntary manslaughter, you know. What does your lawyer say?’

‘He said I can claim there was no negligence.’ Joe said softly. ‘What happened was so rare there was no way I could have known it might happen. But I’m still guilty. If I hadn’t smuggled Dale on board, he wouldn’t be dead now. I’ll take my punishment; I owe it to Dale’s parents.’

‘And what about your parents?’ his father shouted. ‘And what about Sophie? What will this do to her? Do you expect her to wait for you? How will you support her after you’re married? You’ll have trouble getting a job after they throw you out of the fleet.’

‘I haven’t thought that far ahead,’ Joe whispered.

‘No, you never do.’

‘Please Dad, I just want to get this over with. Tell everyone I’m sorry.’

The guard came to escort his father away, and Joe began to think about Sophie. She was his childhood sweetheart, but maybe he’d grown away from her too. They were supposed to be getting married next year. She’d been trying to persuade him to take a base post or a short haul position, as she didn’t want to spend a long time without him.

She knows how I feel about the fleet, he thought. It’s not new, I’ve always wanted to work in space. If she loves me, she should understand. How come I didn’t realise it before? If she doesn’t want to be alone, how will she react to me going to prison?

But the thought was pushed away as Dale’s parents came to mind. They wouldn’t see their son again, ever. It was too much for him, so he curled up on his cot and tried not to think at all.

  • * *

Despite Joe’s insistence he was guilty, his lawyer did a good job. An expert testified it was an extremely rare occurrence to have to dump cargo, and explained the financial penalties involved. His captain gave him a glowing report. Dale’s captain gave evidence about Dale’s poor record and confirmed he would have been dismissed from the fleet if he’d missed his ship.

The court found Joe not guilty of involuntary manslaughter but guilty of aiding a stowaway. He would be demoted and posted to a ship on a deep space mission. Joe was a free man.

He was so surprised when he stumbled out into the sunshine he had to stop and think for a minute about where he was going. He had three days before reporting for duty. He knew he should go home and face everyone, but his heart quailed at the thought. As he stood indecisively on the pavement, his father came out of the building.

‘Congratulations, son! I’ve sent word to your mother, she’s waiting for you at home.’

‘Oh, I don’t know …’

‘Nonsense! You’ve got important decisions to make, and you’ll want to talk to Sophie too.’

‘Decisions? I don’t have any decisions to make.’

‘Of course you do. Your career is over — you need to decide what to do.’ He took Joe’s arm and steered him towards the car park. ‘I’m sure I can get you into the diplomatic service with me. Sophie will be so happy. She never did like you working for PACT.’

Clarity came to Joe’s mind on a wave of anger. He stopped in his tracks and faced his father.

‘No, Dad. I’ve always wanted to work in space, not be stuck in a diplomatic posting, and Sophie knows that. I can’t give up now.’

‘Your irresponsible actions have ruined your chances with the fleet. How can you be happy as a jumped up policeman stuck out in deep space?’

Joe bit back his anger. ‘I know I was irresponsible in the past, but I grew up a long time ago. Both you and Sophie need to realise that. I’ll come home for two days, and I’ll speak to Sophie, but my mind is made up. The fleet was important to Dale too, that’s why he took the risk. I owe it to him to make a go of it.’

####

 

 

Thank you for reading this story. I hope you enjoyed it. This story is background information about the captain of the spaceship the Kestrel. See how Joseph Darrow’s resolve to stick to the rules is tested in Intruders, Flight of the Kestrel book 1. Available from all Amazon regions in ebook and print.

Amazon global link: http://mybook.to/KestrelIntruders

 

Reviews are an author’s lifeblood. If you enjoyed this book, please go online to Amazon and leave a review.

FREE DOWNLOAD

What is science fiction and where did it start?[
**]Who are the pioneers and great writers of the genre?[
**]If you enjoy science fiction, you’ll love this book.

A Brief History of Science FictionIs the Epic of Gilgamesh the first ever science fiction story or did it start in the 17th century?

Did you start reading science fiction during the Golden Age or New Wave?

If you missed them, what are the most significant books to read?

 

Get a free copy of A Brief History of Science Fiction when you sign up to the author’s mailing list. Monthly news and updates. Don’t forget to tick the science fiction box, the history box too if you’re interested.

 

Get started here

 

 

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Author blog: www.annmariethomas.me.uk Find out about the many sides of my writing: fascinating history, exciting science fiction, poetry and writing tips

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Stowaway: Flight of the Kestrel Short Story 1

  • Author: Ann Marie Thomas
  • Published: 2017-05-10 20:21:00
  • Words: 2753
Stowaway: Flight of the Kestrel Short Story 1 Stowaway: Flight of the Kestrel Short Story 1