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Return to Sender

by Gabe Unick 2 months ago in science fiction

A space story

Venus Solar Occlusion Mirror #7

Venus Terraforming Station Cluster

January 17, 2534

An insistent beeping noise rose over the steady thrum of machinery coming through the decks of the habitation module. Shohei glanced up from the screen in front of her, raising an eyebrow at the blinking light across the control room. Mentally putting aside the morning report of the four hundred kilometer long station she managed, she looked past it to her new distraction. She braced one foot against the console to her right and shoved off lazily, skating across the floor in her wheeled chair. Reaching out, she tapped to accept the transmission as she gripped the railing at the base of her new console, swinging into place with practiced ease as she spoke.

“Station seven, receiving.” Almost immediately, a smooth baritone voice replied.

“Station seven, this is shuttle Bravo. On approach, beginning declaration burn, and requesting permission to dock.” A slight grin crept into the corner of Shohei’s mouth.

“Ah, good morning, Yego”

“Morning? Huh, YOUR morning”

“Awwww, long day already? You want me to get the milk and cookies ready for you?” A warm, deep laugh echoed back over the transmitter, filling the corners of the control room.

“I’m halfway tempted to accept that offer. Except I know the sub fucked up your last supply delivery and you haven’t seen milk OR cookies in a month.” Shohei rolled her eyes at Yego’s retort, putting her slender fingers to her temples and rubbing them in circles.

“Mhmm, don’t remind me. We’re almost out of coffee too, even though I started rationing it two weeks ago. Silva over on station four got almost all of our perishables.” Yego laughed again.

“Yeah, I heard about that too. Apparently they ate like royalty for about ten days to burn through the perishables, and they’ve had little more than calorie paste since then.” Shohei chuckled through her reply, imagining her fellow captain’s reaction to her predicament.

“Silva being Silva, I can’t imagine she was thrilled about that.”

“Oh, for about ten days. After that? Absolutely not.” Shohei checked her wristwatch, shaking her head and continuing to chuckle quietly.

“Alright friend, business time. I assume you have all the basics. Anything else for us today?”

“Yes ma’am, I made sure all the essentials are here for you. As for exciting? About five square kilometers of the finest micro-foil to repair section 232-alpha on your mirror array. Oh, and a personal package for you.” Shohei narrowed her eyes, curiosity dancing across her face.

“A personal package? For me?”

“Yep! Feels heavy, it might be something good.”

“Huh, interesting. I’m not aware of anything coming my way.” She tapped a short series of commands into the screen to her left. “I’ll have Abed and Bjornsen meet you at bay three, they can offload our shipment, and you can bring the package straight up to me.”

“I can’t stay long, I have to hit five, three, and sixteen after you.”

“Oh Yego, indulge me with a five minute visit from an old friend. I’ll get you a cup of coffee.” Yego tsk-tsked in response over the comms.

“Shohei, do you really think I can be bribed like that?”

“Yes.”

“Damn, you’re right. I’ll see you within the hour.” It was Shohei’s turn to laugh as she sent her final orders to her crew through the console.

“Within the hour, understood. Shohei out.”

True to his promise, Yego floated through the entry corridor and towards the control room a short while later. His broad, strong palms wrapped around the upper railing as the bulkhead door opened ahead of him. He swung from the bar in a smooth motion, landing softly in the artificial half-gravity of the habitation module. Shohei greeted him warmly, her lithe arms wrapping his blocky, granite physique in a close embrace. Pulling away, she clapped the shorter man on the arms, grinning slightly.

“I swear Yego, your shoulders are bigger every time I see you. What’s your secret?” Yego chortled and shrugged, answering without missing a beat.

“Prayer, meditation, and a high-G lifestyle.” Shohei chuckled, turning away and walking back towards the console. She picked up a full cup of coffee and handed it to him as he set her package on the table in the center of the room. She picked up her own cup and wrapped her hands around it, rocking back on her heels slightly and eyeing the sealed plastic box over the rim while she took a slow sip.

“So, what have you brought me?” Yego shrugged, blowing on the steaming contents of his plastic mug.

“No idea. Could be a load of nice lingerie for my favorite girl.” Shohei snorted and stuck her tongue out at him. He grinned and leaned back against the table, continuing to look over the parcel. “Well, don’t keep me waiting! I wanna know too!”

She shook her head and stepped over next to him, pinning down the box with the hand still holding her cup, using the other to pull the tab sticking out of the end. The carton made a soft rumbling noise as she tore the release ring and separated the lid. Setting the seal aside, she popped the lid off and immediately froze, her eyes wide. Yego furrowed his brow at her reaction, leaned over and looked into the box himself. His jaw dropped at the sight of the small, unmarked brown parcel inside.

“Is... is that paper?” Both coffee mugs clunked loudly against the brushed metal table as they set their drinks down simultaneously, completely forgotten in lieu of what was in front of them. “Shohei, is that paper?” Yego repeated, watching Shohei reach into the plastic carton, her narrow fingers barely brushing the tan-colored wrapping. With gentle reverence, she lifted the box out of it’s artificial shell and set it gingerly on the table. She stood for a few moments, staring at it before responding.

“Yes... yes it is.” She stared intently at the small square box in front of her. It was wrapped in brown paper, with white string tied in a cross around it, ending in a simple bow on top. Yego’s mouth still hung agape, gawking at the object on the table between them. Neither spoke for a minute, before he broke the silence.

“I’ve never seen paper before.” He spoke with quiet awe. Shohei hadn’t moved in the slightest since she set the package down. “Are you going to open it?” Shohei blinked rapidly, seemingly regaining her senses. She looked up, locking her eyes with Yego’s. He stood up straight and put his hands up, slowly backing away a few meters to give her space. He pointed back down at the package. “Go ahead and open it, it must be important. I’ll leave if you want me to.” Shohei’s gaze traveled back down to the package at her fingertips, regarding it with equal wonder and suspicion.

“No, you can stay.” Her voice was hardly above a whisper. Her hands trembled slightly as she raised them to the bow, gently pinching the end of the string between two fingers and tugging softly. The knot in the string slowly slid loose, falling to the table as she laid it away from the package. She slid a finger delicately under the edge of the paper where it overlapped itself along the centerline of the square. She cautiously unfolded and flattened out the rest of the paper wrapping, revealing a black metal box with a transparent lid. Yego’s dumbstruck awe began to transform into confused curiosity. Shohei looked down directly into the box, but Yego couldn’t see inside.

“What is it?” He asked, his voice cracking softly. Shohei’s eyes narrowed as she leaned in slightly, peering into the box. “Shohei?” He began to take a step forward when her eyes went wide and her head snapped up towards him.

“Run.” Was all she said. Yego halted mid-step, locking eyes with Shohei’s panicked stare. Frantically, she turned away from him, lunging towards the command console and bringing her fist down on a glass-covered button. The glass shattered, and the lighting in the room went crimson. The evacuation alarm blared throughout every room and corridor for hundreds of kilometers in all directions and she spun wildly back towards him, pointing to the door through which he had entered minutes ago.

“YEGO, RUN”

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Gabe Unick

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