Proteus – 4

Strand stood rigidly. “I understand, sir. I’ll try not to disappoint you.”

Varram had finally managed to pull the tight undersuit onto his frame and closed the seal-seam, but the collar was giving him trouble. He threw his hands up in frustration. “God! This infernal uniform will be the death of me!”

Strand turned slightly, looking sideways at the Science Chief. “Sir? If I may?”

“Would you?” Varram splayed his fingers at his neck region in a tense gesture. “This head-sleeve is impossible!”

The ensign walked over to Varram and untucked the baggy frill of material that billowed from the neck of his suit. “It’s designed to roll up into a cushion-type collar when not in use. Just leave the plastic release ring hanging out the back like this, so it’s easy to find in case of an emergency depressurization.” Strand took his wrist and guided his hand to the back of the suit, so he could feel the ring and learn its proper setup.

Varram looked at his reflection in the mirror, this time, fully dressed in the uniform of a Pantheon Space Corps Science Chief. His uniform was similar to the ensign’s, a tight-fitting black and green undersuit, but with extra gold bands around his wrists, denoting his rank. She stood respectfully behind him, and Varram saw her face, youthful and awkward. He was her commanding officer, and Varram felt his responsibility for her settle on his shoulders as the smartfoam lining of his undersuit molded to the forms of his body. He breathed a sigh and turned around. “Thank you, ensign… I’m sorry what did you say your name was?”

“It’s Strand, Chief.”

Varram held out his hand, and she shook it. “I’m sorry we got off to a rocky start there, Strand. I think I need my morning cup of tea. You seem like a good egg. I’m sure you’ll work out fine.”

The ensign nodded curtly. “I’ll try not to disappoint you, Chief. Now if you’ll follow me, Captain Hargest says we need to get to the bridge.” She handed him the data slate she had been holding.

“The bridge? But I haven’t met with my team yet, we haven’t even unpacked our experiment packets..” Varram raised his eyebrows as he thumbed the activation icon and the slate faded up “What’s this now? We’re not even in the Vela system yet?”

“That’s right, Chief. Most of the science team is still in prep for thaw-out. We’re on approach to the termination shock.”

Varram felt his senses sharpen as adrenaline spiked into his system. He knew that something unexpected must have happened. All the procedures, training, bureaucracy, all the necessary and logistical steps that had brought him to this place were falling away. The unknown was lurking close by, and this was why he had come. To stand naked in the void of space, bathed in the light of an alien sun, to push to the edge of the human sphere, this was why he had left his family. He had never felt more alive than those moments in his lab, or in the field, when his research took him into new territory. This was his reason for being. “Let’s go, Strand. You’d better tell me on the way to the bridge.”

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© Dylan Edwards, 2012.