THE DEMISE OF THE STAR VENTURE
Star time 2104.232.2131. This is the final log entry of Jon Leary, Captain of Euro-America’s Nuclear Space Tug, Star Venture. In thirty minutes I must either turn the ship or risk destruction by entering the Asteroid Zone. My first officer, and engineer, Henri Gabbert, is dead, and I am wounded, most likely fatally. My other crew member, Doctor Lesley Brown, is… well, let me start from the beginning.
We left Moonport Three, nineteen months ago. This is my second three year voyage to Beta One, the asteroid mining station on asteroid 721. My outbound cargo included; three containers of fresh water and two containers of supplies, plus twenty miners in deep sleep stasis. I was returning with five containers of processed ore mined from the asteroid and nineteen miners, in full sleep mode. Each container, as you know, is worth in the neighborhood of five billion Euramerica dollars. My share was to be five million.
I was against the hiring of Doctor Brown. Women on deep space excursions can be a big distraction, if you know what I mean. Of course the doctor gave us the mandatory testosterone inhibitors to lessen our sex drives, but that usually wears off in six months and I refused the second one. I don’t know what kind of inhibitor the good doctor gave herself, but she needed a better one. Of course the inevitable happened when the testosterone kicked back in. Doctor Brown and I became lovers and stayed that way until we reached Beta One.
We passed the Space Tug, Star Explorer at about nine months out on her return to Moonport. The captain said some of the miners were rebellious and he left them behind. He wished me luck as they would most likely try returning with me. He did have fifteen miners in stasis, but his doctor wasn’t able to get the ten left behind to consent, and that was the only way he could have taken them; not having enough oxygen, water or food products to sustain them awake for the eighteen months trip back toward Earth. The station refused to let them proceed beyond the stasis chamber. They held his doctor hostage so he left him too, hoping he could return with me.
A week before we were to arrive at the asteroid station, Henri powered down the reactors to save on the fuel rods and we coasted in from there. As it turned out we had only consumed thirty percent so we had a surplus for the trip home, though it looks like we won’t make it now.
Everything went according to schedule when we arrived at Beta One. I parked my cargo in the mooring yards and picked up my new load immediately. As per timeline, Beta One sent their shuttle out to retrieve our passenger pod and attached the home-bound one. Before I allowed them to attach the Pod to the gravity ring, I had Doctor Brown check the telemetry to see if all were indeed in deep sleep mode, remembering the Explorer Captain’s warning. She confirmed that nineteen men were in stasis, but a Doctor Wellman was awake and wanted to board to relate some important information. I believed this to be the Explorer’s Doctor that they left behind, so I granted the go ahead to dock.
As per directive, when taking on personnel not in stasis, I put the ship on auto guidance and locked down the controls which are command code protected. Until I considered everything to be okay, I would not bring them back on line. It was good that I did this as it turned out, but in a few hours I knew I would need to make a course correction to avoid the asteroid field. I didn’t think this posed any kind of problem.
When I checked the data of the passenger pod, I found all nineteen men in deep sleep. Doctor Wellman was not there, but was with Doctor Brown in the transfer tube. He was armed when they ascended to the bridge. He immediately demanded control of the ship, but I refused. It was at this time Leslie embraced Wellman. This confused me until she blatantly declared him to be her husband. I’ve patched the bridge voice recorders into the log so you can hear what was said.
“Are you surprised, Jon? Harry is my husband. I guess you might say we are pirating your vessel. We’ve been planning this for five years now. Harry was one of our passengers, but I brought him out of stasis just before the pod was taken away. After we sell this load to the Asian Consortium we will be rich enough to go where we please. They told us that after retrieving the ore, they will give you back your ship, but for now we need you to set a course for the Mar’s Asian Depot. Harry will give you the codes to set into the Astro-Elite Computer.”
“Leslie; does Wellman know you have been sleeping with me for the last year?”
“I didn’t, Captain, but it doesn’t surprise me, nor does it make any difference. I told her to do anything to make this work.”
“Henri! Stay back. Oh no! Good God, Wellman, why did you fire on him? He’s my engineer, I need him you idiot.”
As you heard, Wellman shot and killed my friend Henri when he tried to jump him. I needed his expertise to bring the engines back on line. I can only guide us right now with thrusters, and I can’t do that until I unlock the controls.
Wellman pointed his weapon at me, demanding I do so. He said he had nuclear training and could get the engines running, but he needed me to set up the guidance system. I am already heartsick about Leslie, but of course I had to play along if I didn’t want to end up like poor Henri, but it looks as if I will now anyway.
The nineteen men in stasis are innocent, hell-raising miners, but they are doomed with the rest of us unless I unlock the controls, which I refused to do until Wellman gave up his weapon. We were at an impasse, but they didn’t know about our heading into the asteroid field. I will release all the data pods, before we hit.
You might be wondering how I was wounded. Listen, I’ll feed in more of the bridge voice recording.
“Leslie! Why the lies? I thought we had a good thing going. I was about to propose; did you know that.”
“Shut up, you fool. You were only a convenience. Girls have needs too. I almost brought Harry out of stasis a couple of times, you weren’t very satisfying you know.”
That’s when I started slapping her and Wellman began hitting me. We wrestled with each other as I was trying to get his weapon away from him. In the scuffle it went off and I felt the searing pain in my gut. I managed to shove both through the bridge door and lock it. They are screaming at me, but they won’t be able to get in, the door is blast proof.
I’m bleeding badly, but I’m using my remaining strength to release the passenger pod. Maybe the miners can be saved by the station when their emergency beacon goes off. I’ve also cut away the cargo containers; they will drift until someone can salvage them. I’m unlocking the controls and reversing all thrusters, but I doubt if there is enough time to stop our momentum. Leslie and Wellman are screaming, they can finally see what is about to happen. I don’t think I need worry about how it ends for me. I do know when that first rock hits our reactor there will be an all-consuming fireball, but out here in space there will be no sound, not even of their screams, and they are screaming louder now. Pray for us... Leary, out.