Writing in Public: Story 4 (Novella), Chapter 1
Deep inside the S.C. Kangjun’s belly, Hope Delgado glared at the weapons training room and thought about sticking voodoo pins into a certain skipper. Never mind that she needed this training. Never mind that there was a ghost on the world that they were heading to. Never mind that the ghost was misbehaving.
No, this thing the military called a confidence course was a ‘see-how-much-pain-we can-cause-Hope’ course.
The room was normally empty for weapons practice with computer generated targets. But for Hope, it had been converted into the confidence course because it was the only room on the entire ship that could adjust gravity to match the planet’s. The course was arranged in a U shape, with a giant tube she had to crawl through (bruises on her knees), the high wall which required her to jump (fall, more bruises) over two consecutive walls that were taller than she was, and the elevated balance run (more falling, more bruises). It was so early in the morning that first bells had just gone off to warn the crew of the next shift. The computer started its cycle, shifting the lighting gradually to daylight operations.
Hope pulled her gray-streaked hair back in a pony tail, wincing at the big bruise she’d gotten yesterday on her upper arm. She was GALCOM’s only ghost subject matter expert, recruited originally to deal with an alien ghost overpopulation that threatened a planet. Since then, GALCOM had found more ghostly missions for her, but she was still a civilian. She’d had no military training, other than learning how to fire weapons.
Ghosts weren’t dangerous, but the aliens hiding the ghosts were.
“Hope?” Sergeant Daniel Brooks turned away from the only computer wall panel in the room, giving her a sympathetic look. He was her escort on ghostie missions. He was a big guy with an impressive rack of muscles, dark skin, and hair permed so he could squeak a little longer past the military regulations. His primary job was training the crew on weapons in this room. He was dressed in an old t-shirt, sweat pants, and tennis shoes.
“You ready?” he said.
“All things considered, you aren’t doing too bad.”
“Tell that to my bruises.” She’d worn shorts and a tank top, both revealing enough to show off all her bruises. She wanted everyone to know that heavy gravity training was dangerous for Hope-type people.
“But you’ve spent the last few months working out, especially on your arms. You’d be in a lot worse shape if you hadn’t done that.”
Hope grinned, chuffed. She was proud of the muscles that she was starting to get on her arms, and her legs were looking good. And Brooks was right. She’d started working out after she’d been chased up a hill by aliens and had been sore for ages after.
“Okay, go ahead,” she said, resigned to her fate.
A few minutes later, the computer’s neutral female voice said, “Gravity adjustment in progress. Gravity adjustment in progress.”
At first it was like walking uphill, just a bit more work to do everything, even breathe. Then, as the gravity continued to increase, it as if a lead blanket had been draped over her body. Her lower back and both knees and ankles began to ache.
Thankfully, Brooks did not time her on the course. He did that with the military he trained here, pushing them to get through it faster. She wasn’t the only one going through this training. There were two other sessions with additional crew who would be accompanied them.
She eyed the first obstacle, the elevated balance run. Brooks had set it to about a foot off the deck, and there were mats under it. She wasn’t sure what good the mats did, since there was still hard deck underneath. She lifted her right foot up, something that should be normal and without thought and it felt like her foot was encased in lead. Brooks gave her his shoulder, and she used it boost her other foot up. Bully for her. She’d gotten up on the stupid thing.
Balancing…well, that was another story. With the added weight of heavy gravity, her body felt out of alignment. She would think she knew where she was and then her body wasn’t where it was supposed to be. A collection of fresh bruises later, and she was only a third of the way through the course. Sweat ran slick down her skin and she was sure she was all stinky.
The light flashed blue over the door. Someone was trying to get in. They wouldn’t be able to enter until the gravity was adjusted back to the rest of the ship.
Brooks frowned at Hope. “Are you expecting anyone?”
“At this time? Really?” Hope bent over, letting her hair fall forward and cooling her sweaty neck.
“Computer, who wants to come in?”
“Chief Marotta,” the computer said. Marotta was chief of the spaceship and the most senior enlisted on Kangjun.
“We’d better take that, Hope,” Brooks said, though his face showed his puzzlement over the chief’s arrival. It was early and highly unusual for much business beyond physical exercise.
“I’m game for a break,” she said.
She sprawled spread eagled on the deck and closed her eyes. Yes, she could nap right here. The deck was deliciously cool, soaking into her sore muscles.
“You need to stretch,” Brooks said reproachfully.
“I will. Promise.”
The computer chimed, alerting her that gravity was changing again. It receded from her body gradually at first, almost not noticeable, and then it was like the weights of rocks were being lifted off her body one at a time.
“Gravity readjustment complete,” the computer said.
The door whooshed open, and Chief Marotta strode in, impatience driving her into short, purposeful steps. She was already dressed in the combat tech uniform everyone wore on duty, which changed camouflage color based on what the environment looked like. Marotta was tall and thin in a bony sort of way, as if God had forgotten to given her curves. Her hair was cropped short, and might be curly if it was longer, because there were little tufts that stuck out.
Marotta recoiled when she saw Hope. “Sergeant Brooks, you’ve done and gone killed Hope.”
Hope waved languidly. “Not a ghost yet. Maybe later.”
Marotta cut across the room to Hope and stood over, hands on hips. “Colonel Graul wants to see you. Immediately.”
Hope peered up at her, working at ignoring how Marotta was trying to intimidate her. “Isn’t it kind of early?”
“Not for the skipper.”
Hope sighed. She wasn’t even going to have time to change. Graul must have overheard her thinking about sticking pins into skipper-shaped voodoo dolls.