FIXED IN STARDUST
A Jackson Garrish Story
By Frederick Lacroix
Space is a strange place, filled with unanticipated dangers of all kind.
Jackson Garrish and Jella Ibori stumble upon an uncharted, mysterious asteroid field. Barely escaping, they come to the realization that leaving isn’t an option just yet.
What strange discovery will they make there?
The Free Spirit banked left, barely avoiding the chunk of rock that was hurtling through the asteroid field at unnatural speed. Jackson heard his co-pilot, and business partner, Jella, sigh in relief. She liked piloting and hated having her life in the hands of someone else, even him. But Garrish had been on shift when they’d encountered the uncharted asteroid field and the young woman had to grit her teeth and keep an eye on the scanner, and the short range laser. Jackson dodged another, slower object.
“How did you not see that?” Jella asked for the third time.
Jackson grumbled something.
“What was that?” she asked.
“I said I was relying on the star map. It’s not my fault there’s migrating asteroid fields now. I was in the middle of it before the scanner went crazy and I had to start dodging rocks.”
Jella said something that Jackson didn’t hear. They were almost clear of the field now, and with any luck, they’d do it in one piece. Only two more asteroids to dodge and they’d be free. Garrish easily passed between two big rocks and was surprised by a third, coming almost as fast as the one he’d just encountered. He banked right and dove down in one fluid motion. There was a loud thump somewhere in the back and the Free Spirit shook, but Jackson increased its speed and they jumped forward and out of danger.
“You’re gonna have some repainting to do, I think,” Jella said. “And you’ve won a trip outside to check on the damage. Congratulations.”
Jackson grumbled again. He pushed the ship a few hundred more kilometers away from the asteroid field, turned it around and cut off the engines. He didn’t want to leave just yet. That kind of thing doesn’t just suddenly appear, or else space travel would be an even bigger nightmare than it is now. But Jella was right, he needed to go inspect the damage first. He got out of his seat and Jella slipped into it.
Garrish made his way to the cargo bay, opened his locker and unhooked the suit hanging inside. The gray and black suit felt thin and light, and Jackson always took a deep breath every time he had to wear it. He knew it was much more resistant than it looked, but he couldn’t help it. He quickly slid into it, secured the small computer-bracelet to his wrist and grabbed his helmet. Finally, he hooked the belt containing his air supply, the air recycling system and a few emergency patching tools around his waist, booted the small computer and put his helmet on.
“Air pressure and recycling system are a hundred percent,” he said.
“Good. Are you in position?”
Jackson walked to the other end of the cargo hold and entered the airlock. The small room had a monitor and a few controls for the doors, but was otherwise empty.
“I am now.” He pressed a command on his computer and his boots stuck to the floor. “Boots are locked.”
“I’ve opened the panel if you want to grab a rope and a hook outside,” Jella said. “Opening airlock in five.”
Jackson took a deep breath, conscious that the vacuum of space wasn’t the same thing as plunging his head under water. The airlock opened and his upper body was dragged forward by the nothingness sucking out the air. No matter how much he prepared, it was always the same scary sensation of losing control. He was grateful for the magnetic boots. Garrish walked to the edge of the door, looked outside and grabbed the carabiner now protruding from a small, square hole in the hull. He yanked it out, dragging a few meters ultra thin and ultra resistant cable. He fastened the carabiner to the hook on the back of his belt and put his first foot outside.
After a few seconds of adjustment, Jackson quickly made his way to the top of the ship. He looked around as he did so, trying to find smaller holes that might have escaped the computer monitoring the hull for breaches, but he didn’t find any. He arrived at his destination a few moments later, where he was greeted by a long scrape and a large dent. He knelt and took his time to examine it thoroughly, but found nothing that would endanger them.
“All clear,” he said. “She’s gonna need a new paint job and a bit of hammering, but that’s it.”
“Great, come back in. The computer is almost done mapping this part of the asteroid belt.”
“On my way.”
Jackson turned back and made his way quickly to the airlock, where he unhooked himself and closed the door. Once pressure was reestablished, he entered the cargo hold and removed his suit before heading back to the cockpit. He sat in the copilot seat and brought up the map generated by the computer.
“You know, we could use some maintenance bots, right?” Jella asked.
Garrish nodded. It was just one more expense to add to the list. Although, small robots that did the surveying and light mending of the exterior hull might be less of a luxury and more of a necessity, in their case.
“I think we’ll just have to bite the bullet and get some, yes,” he answered.
The asteroid field wasn’t large, but large enough to be dangerous. Judging by the display, Jackson had entered it in the worst possible place. But the weird part was, the asteroid belt was moving. Not very fast, but it was moving.
“That’s new,” he said. “Moving asteroid fields.”
“Yes. And we have a problem now,” Jella added.
He sighed. There was always a problem. “What is it?”
“Per our contract, we need to map all of it, which isn’t that bad, but we also need to place beacons on or around dangerous objects. And I would think this qualifies.”
Jackson swore. Jella was right. That meant flying close and dropping beacons, which he didn’t look forward to. On the bright side, he would now have an excuse to look around a bit, which she would most likely have objected to.
“Fine,” he said.
Jella nodded in response and started the engines. The Free Spirit leapt forward.