Paradox Station

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Paradox Station

Genre: Space Sci-Fi Novel – alternate title: The Genesis Factor – 87,280 words

image001Chapter 1: Another ERV Contract

Far from Earth, a crippled shuttle craft streaks towards its destiny.
“We’ve got to do something.” Sergeant Stile’s fist pounds a bulkhead, “We can’t quit now.”
“Forget it, it’s hopeless.” Tom’s tired voice says from behind him.
“You said that about the last problem, and it was resolved.”
“Yeah, well, we had options then.”
The sergeant turns around. He grabs Tom by the rim of his open helmet. “There are always options. One just has to find them for God’s sake!”
“Not this time.” God’s sake, huh? Tom thinks, When did he join the ranks of the dwindling-few believers?
The sergeant shoves Tom away. He looks at Kathy. “Well?”
Her pretty but now vacant blue eyes stare at nothing. -I’m just a weapons grunt, not an engineer
“Look at me.”
Her eyes meet his, “I have nothing.”
Kneeling next to their still unconscious captain, Sarkar looks up at the sergeant, “Sorry, no ideas here either.”
“You’re right Serge, we can’t give up now. There’s still time, but can’t think of a damn thing.”
“Time, what time?” Rivera taps on a hull patch, “If these hold maybe? Not that it matters much. This ship has had.”

From the distant look in Martin’s eyes, the sergeant does not trouble to ask suggestions of him. Martin’s thoughts escape their hapless ship. He no longer sees the patched-up hull sheeting above him or the numerous flashing fault indicators everywhere. Nor does he hear the sharp dings of derbies bouncing off his helmet and around the cabin. His mind is elsewhere; at the Armstrong Space Station on Earth’s moon. With much clarity, he pictures the boarding areas and begins to recollect the hubbub of the busy facility.

Earth’s Moon, months ago:
A young woman, perhaps in her late twenties walks up to one of the terminal’s large viewing windows and stands near Martin. She glances at Earth and then turns her eyes towards the Orion an interstellar supply/transport docked close by.

Martin sees Alice from the corner of his eye. –And who might you be
With its’ rotating red light dancing across Orion’s shiny white hull and into the terminal, a service vehicle pulls up next to the Orion. Alice’s already vibrant red hair screams for attention with each pass of the red light. Martin steals a glance and then another. Though not a stunningly gorgeous woman, there’s something special about her, something that compels him to look again.

“Must you stare so rudely Sir?”
“Oh- I’m sorry. It was the light.”
“The light?”
“Yes, that red one out there.” He points. “It makes your hair look so- Look, there it is again.” He smiles, “You just look so, so incredible when it’s on you. Red is indeed your color”
“With such a line, I suppose you expect me to excuse your rudeness.”
“Well no. Hey, it really wasn’t a line. I’m not that witty.”
“Right,” she tilts her head to one side, “and when the light is not on me, what then?  I’m not much to look at then?”
“No of course not. Wait, that’s not what I meant. You’re pretty no matter what the light. You’re apparently quite witty too. Let me change the subject before I hang myself.”

She stares.
“We’ll be taking the Orion to Paradox Station. Are you going there too or just here to see someone off?”
“I’ll be boarding too, and who is we? Do you have an imaginary traveling companion?”
“Not really, just my friend John. He’s around here somewhere. By the way, I’m Martin and you are?”
“I’m Alice.”
“Alice huh, that’s a nice name, though for some reason you look like an Irene to me. So, where do you call home, Alice?”
“I look like an Irene?” she shakes her head.
“I guess that was a bit dumb to say.”
“New York. I’m from New York as of late. Bounced around a bunch, Virginia, Ireland.”
“With that hair of yours, you must have some Irish blood.”
“Mostly.” A smile escapes. “And where do you call home?”
“Other than space, I guess I would have to say Maryland. I’ve been around some too.”

They hear a rather loud family reunion behind them. Alice turns and looks. She sees bags drop from a man’s hands as he reaches down to greet his children rushing toward him. With a child in each arm, he stands and hugs them as his wife waits her turn.

Martin watches, “I’d like to have that someday?”
“That would be nice to come home to.” Alice sighs and turns away. She places her hands on the railing in front of them and looks the activities outside.

Martin sees a ring on her finger. -Damn!
He watches the vehicle with the red light leave “Has your husband boarded already?”
“No,” she says without looking at him. “He’s not even here.”
“I guess he’s there already.”
“You didn’t hear me say that, did you?”
“Well no.”
“And I won’t be joining him there either. Please keep your assumptions to yourself, Martin.”
“Sorry, I don’t know why I pried like that? I guess I’ll see you later. Have a nice trip.” Martin turns and walks away. –Married and moody. Damn but she’s cute

Alice glances at the ring on her finger and sighs. -I guess I owe him an apology

She turns and follows him toward some lounge chairs. Martin sees her reflection on a window following him. –Looks like she may not be done with me yet. He sits in a chair and pretends not to notice when Alice sits in another. A moment passes, Martin stands and without making eye contact, he turns to walk away.
“If you’re moving because of me, please sit. I guess we were both a little, presumptuous or rude back there.”
He looks at her. “You don’t owe me an apology lady. I had no right to pry.”
“All right then, I won’t apologize.” She gestures for him to sit. “Shall we start over? We’re going to the same place. We’ll be there for a long time and it will be quite difficult to avoid each other. We should at least try to be civil or whatever.”
“I suppose, and maybe you do owe me an apology.” Martin sits. “My question wasn’t that off-the-wall.” He stares at her ring. “You know I’m right, else you would not have followed.”

She folds her arms defiantly and puts her feet up on another chair, “I did not follow you. This was simply the closest lounge area and I was tired.”
He rolls his eyes and smiles. “Oh, I see.”
She smiles back at him.
“Can I ask you something?”
“If you must.”
“Are you always this, let me see, confrontational with strangers?”
“Hardly ever.”
“Is that your way of saying it’s me?”
“Truth is, I’m never like this. I’m really quite shy.”
“You’re shy!”
“Sometimes very.”
“All right, I believe you.” He leans back and kind of studies her. “You’ve got a doctorate in something, don’t you?”
“Why do I look like a geek? Chill out, just kidding you. Actually, I’m hoping to get my doctorate on this assignment.”
“You will.” Martin crosses his legs. “What will you be doing aboard the Ram? And you don’t look like a geek. Gee, I haven’t heard that word in ages.”

For almost two hours they discussed their assignments and other topics as well. Martin is telling her of his last assignment when Orion’s boarding director walks up to them. “If I may interrupt for a moment Sir? The man then looks at Alice, “You haven’t changed your mind about working this trip have you miss?”
“No, I haven’t. Why, is there a problem?”
“Not with you miss. Someone else backed out, and we’re now one support-person short. I just wanted to make sure we weren’t two people short that’s all. Sorry to interrupt your conversation.” The man walks away.

“You’re going to be part of the crew all the way to Paradox Station? That’s an awfully boring job.”
“But the pay is great, but that’s not my reason. I had a bad experience with SAS suspended animation sleep and I’ll never do it again.”
“Really?” He leans towards her. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it didn’t put me under enough. Anyway, I had the longest Goddamn nightmare of my life. It was just awful. Call me stupid if you like, but no more SAS for me.”
“That explains a lot.”
She frowns.
“I was just kidding. You’re lucky you didn’t go insane.”
“A friend said I seem a little psychotic after which,” Alice smiles. “But, she won’t be saying that again, ever.”
“Yeah right.”

A moment or two later, Martin starts to knead his chin, “I suppose I could work the trip with you. Yeah, that could work out quite well. I could get a lot done or maybe even finish my book.” He leans toward her. “Thing is, though, can we get along for such a long time, psychotic you and pesky me? We may have to think about this very carefully.”
-What’s to think about? He is interesting and damn handsome “I have to agree you are pesky, but then, you can put up with me?”
“Easily.” Martin’s smile now fades. “Kidding aside, we could have one problem.”
“What kind of problem?”
“Gee, I don’t know how to put it?” He grimaces. “Maybe I should just be blunt about it.”
“Please do.”
He leans toward her, “Knowing you for what,” he looks at the time, “two-hours, this is going to sound really dumb. Oh, never mind.”
“Spit it out already?”
“I’d like to get to know you a lot better; probably better than you’d want. You are a married woman.” He leans back. “There you have it. Now that you think me a lunatic or whatever, feel free to change your mind. By the way, I’ve never said anything like that to another gal that I’ve only know for hours.”
Alice sighs and just sits there silently looking rather dumbfounded.
“I’m sorry, I thought it better said than not. I guess we’ll see each other again when we get there.”
“Lighten up, I only sighed, I didn’t say no, besides, I’ve already met the crew. They’re English is near unintelligible and I don’t speak a word of Russian. “I guess I’ll just have to take my chances with you.” She laughs. “You have to work, I need the company. And if you do get too, I don’t know, whatever? Well, I’ll just get the crew to stuff you into a SAS unit.”
“Yeah, that’ll work.” He extends his hand. “It’s a deal.”
As they shake hands. “Tell me, what have you had anything published?
“Just sci-fi and adventure stuff, nothing noble or profound.”
“Oh, I love a good sci-fi story. I even started writing a short sci‑fi once. It had a great plot too.”
Martin stands, “Let’s go tell them that they have a replacement before someone else steps forward. I have a feeling this is going to be a great trip and you will write that story. I guess I should warn you, writers can be obnoxious at times, present company included. But, you can feel free to shut me up if, no, when I get on your nerves.”
“You can count on that. By the way, my mom, well, her name was Irene. Guess you weren’t all that far off.”
“Neat, but kind of weird perhaps?”

Wearing smiles, they head toward the boarding director’s desk. Fortunately, for Martin, no one else wants or is qualified for the job. It’s his for the taking. While Martin waits for the man to process his request, he glances towards Alice standing in front of the window again. Captivated as he is by her, he is again compelled to stare. This time, however, his thoughts are also of her vibrant personality and not simply her pretty face and glorious red hair. -If she were my wife, she wouldn’t be going anywhere for three Earth-years without me

With Earth’s moon now a distant dot on the viewer, they continue towards Paradox Station. In Orion’s small lounge area, Martin and Alice relax in a pair of large comfortable chairs. Whereas Martin is working on his novel, Alice is working on her short story. Wearing a microphone-equipped headset he watches, his words became text on the small screen in front of him. Annoyed with one of his character’s procrastination, Martin suddenly realizes, -Damn, I’m doing the same thing

He leans towards Alice, pulls his headset off and taps her shoulder. We have to talk.”
“We do?”
“I know I kind of promised not to pry, but I-”
“But, you want to know about my husband Walter?”
“Yes I do. I’m sorry, but it’s driving me nuts. Like where is he and why isn’t he with you?”
Alice sits up a bit and takes a breath. “He’s headed for an assignment aboard another ERV.”
“Another ERV?”

Her face becomes quite sad. “Walter came up with this plan to ‘set us up’. You know, financially. At the time, it made sense, what with no expenses on Earth. We would get rid of the apartment and get assignments together somewhere. Then in just three years we’d have a lot.”
“But, separate ships?”
“I’m getting to that. He tried to get us assignments on the same ERV and just couldn’t arrange it.”

Martin looks at her for a long moment. “Does money matter that much to you two?”
“Not to me, but to Walter, I guess it does.”
“Pardon the langue and you can tell me to fuck off if you want for asking, but, are you sure that was his only reason. I can’t imagine leaving you; I mean a spouse for three years just for money.”
“To be honest, I guess I’m not really sure if that was his only reason.”
“Then why did you agree?”
“I didn’t at first, but he was so adamant. If it was just a scheme to get away from me, I suppose I wanted to get away from him. I’ll just have to wait and see.”
“That sucks, you’re neither here nor there with your marriage, though you seem to be holding up quite well. How long were you two married?”
“Two years last July. I guess I am holding up well and you’ve been a help, keeping my mind off of him and such.”
“And you can count on me being right here for you,” he places his hand on hers.
She forces a smile, “Like you can be somewhere else?”
“Well, even if I could, I wouldn’t be or whatever.”

A few days later, Martin asks, “When are you going to contact him?”
“I don’t know?”

Ten or twelve hours later:
“Hey, are you going to contact him or not?”

A little while later Martin notices Alice twirling strands of her hair as she stares at the stars.
“You contacted the Sagittarius and spoke to him already didn’t you?”
She does not reply.
“Look at me. Maybe I can help.”

Afraid that she will perhaps lose her composure completely, and not wanting him to see her tears, she sighs. “I, I contacted the Sagittarius. He wasn’t aboard.” She has to take a breath. “According to them, he wasn’t supposed to be either.”
“That bastard.”
“Indeed. I can’t believe he lied to me like that. Damn, I was a good wife.” With tears streaming she looks at him, “He could have at least talked to me. Fuck, I can’t believe I let him make such a jerk out of me. Well, fuck him too.”
“Are you going to be all right?” He puts a hand on her back, “I’m not very good at these sort of things. Do you want a hug or something?”
“I’ll be all right.”
“I don’t know if this is the right time to say this?” Martin gently turns her face towards him; “I could be reading you all wrong, still. I think we have something, you and I and it’s something really good. If so, maybe you should try to contact him at home? Just to be sure he’s not sick or something and then maybe put him behind you.”
“You’re growing on me a bit too and I know how you feel. You can’t hide anything. You’re also devoid of tact. It would have been nice for you to keep it to yourself for a while. Nobody likes a gloater. Damn, that was a stupid thing for me to say. I’m sorry. Gloat all you want.” She grimaces, “That didn’t sound right either. What I meant was-”
“Relax,” he wipes her tears. “I know what you meant and maybe I should have waited a while.”
“I didn’t tell you everything yet,” her eyes swell with more tears. “I did contact him and the only thing ailing him was his need to be with another woman. The pretty little bitch even answered the call.”
“Yeah, and you can give me that little hug now if you still want. God, I’m glad you’re here.”

The little hug becomes a long embrace. Her head against his chest, she can’t recall ever hearing Walter’s heart pounding in such a manner or Walter’s hand ever feeling so reassuring.
“Everything is going to work out, I promise.” Martin runs his fingers through her hair. “I feel so bad for you and what he did, yet….”
She glances at his face.
“His lost is my…. Damn, I let that slip. I’m sorry.”
“Must you always speak as though you’re writing?”
Martin looks perplexed.
“Like you’re alone writing a story with no one watching.”
“I suppose I tend to that, sorry.”
Many weeks later: Alice and Martin yearn for the journey to end, as they seek to be alone. Anxiously they await arrival at Paradox Station and their assignments aboard the Ram. With the Ram but hours away, Martin and Alice check the SAS capsules. Martin nudges John gently. “You can wake up now.” His eyes open slowly. As with the others, it takes John a while to fully shed his SAS hangover of sorts and climb out of the tight capsule. When he does, he finds the Orion docked with the Ram. He doesn’t see Martin or Alice anywhere. With near everyone now off the Orion, the Ramadan’s docking compartment is quite crowded.
Most stay to watch the Orion depart. Whereas not to do so, as the myth says, could bring bad luck to the ship or even be cause for ‘One’ to become stranded in space forever. With that in mind, Martin turns to Alice, “Do you want to get out of this crowd or watch her leave?”
“We’ll watch her leave. Not that I’m superstitious or anything.”
“Oh, of course not, besides, it’s tradition, not superstition.”
“I suppose.”
They look about at the faces of the dozen or so people around them. Some of which they had served with before on other assignments.  Alice asks, “Where’s your friend John?”
“I don’t know.” A few people near them move aside. Martin says, “Here he is.”
“Hi, Alice. So, did he bore you to death all the way here?”
“Not at all.”

Martin leans towards John’s ear and whispers, “Back off, she’s happily married.”
“Too bad.” He looks at the crowd and says, “Why don’t you go annoy those women over there? I’m sure you’re dying to meet them.”
“See you later Alice, nice meeting you again.”
“Same here,” Alice smiles as John walks away. “Friendly sort isn’t he, kind of cute too.”
“I guess.”

John works his way through the crowd and then using it as an excuse, he bumps into one of the three young women. “Excuse me. Damn but it’s crowded in here.”
“It’s not that crowded.” She turns to see whom the rude fellow is and finds an apologetic and a quite handsome man looking at her. “I suppose it is a bit crowded in here.”
“I could have been more careful.” He reaches his hand out, “I’m John Rallings and you are?”
“I’m Marsha and this is Patty and that’s-”
“I’m Tracy.” The sound of the door to the docking corridor for the Orion closing and sealing makes her turn and look.

Everyone’s attention turns to the immanent departure of the ship. They stare at the Orion and the Ramadan’s long and massive telescopic docking arm. With elegant precision, the docking arm begins to swing its charge away from the Ram’s huge hull. A hushed reverent-like mood creeps through the compartment. Aside from the sounds of muffled voices in another compartment and the low whine of a hydraulic pump positioning the docking arm, it’s very quiet.
“I still fond this unnerving,” Alice whispers to Martin.
“Knowing that we’ll be three-years detached from Earth when that ship leaves, it’s no wonder. There is a plus side to that fact, at least for me anyway,” Martin says.
“And that is?”
“You’re sort of trapped here with me. Even if I piss you off, I can always find your pretty face and apologize. I guess you’re just going to have to take a real liking to me or-”
“Or kill you. Accidents do happen in space,” Alice frowns.
“Right, like you could kill someone and-” Martin pauses to point towards the Orion, “Look, she’ll be gone soon.”

Like a ballerina held high, the end of the docking arm begins to rotate the Orion slowly. After turning perhaps 45 degrees, the arm comes to a stop. The Orion is now positioned towards its’ intended course. With the release of the arm’s couplings, comes an all too familiar metallic snap. Carried by the Ram’s structure, the sound echoes throughout the ship, causing many in the room to cringe somewhat. Without warning, the sudden and loud whine of another hydraulic pump fills their ears.

“Any minute,” Alice whispers as she watches the docking gear smoothly telescopes away from the Orion and back into the Ram’s hull.

Floating near motionless in the blackness of space, the Orion sits angled to their view, her stern and engines pointed slightly towards them. Blue and yellow strobe lights near the docking bay reflect intermittently off the Orion’s angular white hull. She seems more a giant chameleon-like than a ship. Though it seems longer, the Orion lingers for some twenty-seconds. Suddenly, her five engines fire a short burst and ship vanishes quickly.
“We’re on our own now.” Alice squeezes Martin’s hand. She smiles, “And I’m glad.”

The crew and staff of the Ram are in many ways, indeed on their own. Communications with Earth is still possible, yet with the latency infinitely long time delay it’s akin to sending messages in the 18th century. Aside from the remote possibility of a ship passing near Paradox Station, immediate help is something they hope they will not need. As they exit the compartment, Martin remembers his last contract and how a last-minute assignment change, put him and John on the Mars‑II instead of Endeavor. As most know, the Endeavor and all aboard vanished. I hope I’m on the right ship again.


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