Her New World


by Leviticus




Section 1:  LAUNCHING:




   He traced his finger along her spine, drawing a line in the slight sheen of sweat that coated her body.  He felt her shiver next to him, her body rubbing against his in a rather delightful manner.  It made him smile.

   "Hey," he said softly, looking into her round and pretty face, "Staci, it's about time we got up.  Shift starts in an hour."

   Major Staci Mann, United States Air Force, opened one blue eye and stared at her bed companion.  "I've just come off a thirty-six hour shift, and I know I've only had a couple of hours sleep," she said slowly.

   Major Barry Lynn, United States Marine Corp, grinned.  "Well," he said, letting his hands roam over his companion, "you could have gotten a lot more sleep if you hadn't have invited me over!"

   Staci smiled and chuckled, "Hun, if I hadn't had invited you, I wouldn't have been able to sleep at all!  Nothing relaxes me more than some good, hard sex!"

   Barry frowned, "What am I, a tranquilizer?"

   Staci chuckled again, letting her hand do a little roaming of its own, "No Barry, but you're what the doctor ordered alright.  These last days getting the Mayflower ready for launch have been really tough."

   "Oh yeah...Hmmmmmm, don't stop, baby."

   "You like that, huh?" she asked, grinning.

   Barry nodded and tried to hold her in both arms, but she pushed away from him and drifted naked across her small cabin, laughing quietly.

   Barry drifted backwards a foot and hit the wall softly, watching his new lover as she touched against the opposite wall a few feet away.  She looked lovely to him in the soft light, her figure fuller due to the absence of gravity aboard the station, her breasts not needing any support to appear tight and presentable.  He was still trying to get over how different a woman looked nude in zero g; gravity did horrible things to the human form.  He smiled.

   "What are you thinking?"  Staci asked him, seeing the smile.

   "Oh, I was just thinking how beautiful you look, and how I still don't think I've quite mastered the art of making love in zero g."

   "Uh huh?  And I suppose you want another lesson?" she questioned with a knowing expression.

   Barry grinned and kicked off against the wall, closing quickly on his lover.  But Staci was faster having spent a lot more time on the station than he had.  She was a master of maneuvering in a null gravity environment and she slipped easily out of his way.  This was a game to them, and while there were few places to go, Staci could usually keep out of his grip for a few minutes, before letting him pin her down in her sleep sack.  She didn't resist as he pulled the covers over them and quickly velcroed them down, the sleep sack pressing them together and making sure their energetic coupling didn't push them apart.  His hands found her breasts and he began playing with her nipples while planting kisses on her face and neck.

   Staci, for her part, wrapped her legs around his and reached down to guide him into her, breathing heavily as she usually did when aroused.  This Marine had come along at just the right time for her, and she knew that their relationship was nothing more than baseless sex.  She didn't feel guilty about it at all; she didn't have time for anything else.

   She moaned as he entered her, piercing her sex with his own.

   Then her com started buzzing.

   "Shit!" exclaimed Barry, pausing in mid-stroke.

   Staci moaned again, this time in frustration, and gripped Barry tightly to her, in her.  "Hang on," she said, pulling open the sleep sack.

   The com buzzed again and Staci pulled the both of them over to it, not willing to let him go just yet.  Barry smiled, amused, and he tucked his head down and began slowly pumping her again.

   Staci hit the com answer button.  "Hi, what's up?" she said breathlessly.

   "Staci, this is Gordo.  I just got a call from the Director.  You're wanted in his office ASAP!"

   "Can't...it wait?" Staci replied, feeling Barry moving within her.

   "No way, Staci.  We're holding a shuttle for you.  Dock four.  Get moving!"

   "Shit.  Okay, thanks Gordo!"  She closed the connection and opened her legs, shoving hard to push Barry from her.

   "Hey!" he said, "it can't be that important!"

   "When they hold a shuttle, it is that important," she said, trying to catch her breath and calm the fires inside herself.  She reached for a flight suit and started to pull it on.

   Barry went back to the bunk and floated against it, watching her.  "Well, I guess when the boss calls you have to go running.  But I hope we get to pick this up again soon."

   Staci zipped up the front of her suit and looked at him.  "Me too, lover."  She moved closer and kissed him, before grabbing a pair of boots and leaving her quarters.

   "Damn," Barry said, shaking his head.




   It all started with a car accident.

   Actually, it really started five years earlier, when news of a discovery by an unmanned space probe finally reached Earth after years of traveling through space; an Earth-like planet orbiting the star L53-1824, a star only about eight light years way.  But Major Staci Mann, was about to find out that a car accident could change her life.  Not that she was involved in the accident, she wasn't.  But there were times later on when she wished she had been.

   It was L-minus 3 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, or roughly three days before the launch of the highly publicized colony ship Mayflower.  The Mayflower filled the public eye for basically two reasons.  It was the first and only one of its kind, and it was completely paid for with private funds.  No government agency except for I.S.A., the International Space Agency, had been involved in its construction.  And I.S.A. had been heavily paid for its much needed inclusion in the project.  So much so that not since it used to be called NASA, a hundred years before, and was involved in Apollo did it have so much money at its disposal.

   Staci Mann's position in all of this was due to her being one of the brighter flight engineers in I.S.A.  Her job had been to help train the crew that would be piloting this amazing ship to L53-1824, or 'Elvira' as some in the press called it.  Staci had been with the project since its creation, and a part of her was in the ship's design.

   Now, three days before the ship was to be launched from its orbital assembly point, she was on her way to the I.S.A. Director's office, a call which was out of the norm for her.

   She arrived, curious and concerned, still dressed in her flight suit after her shuttle trip down from the International Space Station.  She was therefore expecting the strange looks she got when she entered the office of her Boss of bosses.  She was surprised, though, to see so many people in the room.  There was Anthony Cripelli, Director of I.S.A. of course, and beside him stood his deputy, Shannon Isly.  The flight director for the Mayflower launch, Saul Fannon was there, and Staci recognized a few other faces of importance in the group.  She also recognized the non-I.S.A. people in the room, including the English trillionaire, Alan Kent, the man who many said had the final say in the project, the man paying for most of it.

   She stopped and blinked.

   "Major Mann," said Cripelli, "please come in and sit down.  I expect you know everyone here."

   Staci nodded, "Yes Sir.  Am I interrupting something?  I was told that you needed to see me right away, and I just came down from the station."

   "We, Major Mann, are all here to see you," replied her boss.

   Staci looked around again at the firepower in the room.  By her count, a full third of the planet's resources were controlled by the men in this room, for Kent wasn't the only rich man involved in the project.  "I'm not sure I exactly fit in here," she said with a smile, "not on a Major's pay!"

   There were a few strained smiles and Staci hadn't expected her attempt at levity to fall so flat.  But then she could see that no one in the room looked that happy anyway.  "What is it that you need, Sir?" she asked, finding a seat.

   Cripelli looked over at Kent, who stood up and began slowly pacing.  Kent didn't look old enough to be as rich as he was said to be.  In his early thirties, much Staci's own age, he seemed full of life and vigor, and hardly seemed like the type of man who would be messing around with computers.  But Alan Kent had single handedly revolutionized communications by inventing and developing what he called ‘Ultra Band’, a communications format that made prior broad band internet connections look like tin cans and string.  The discovery and patent had taken his earnings off the chart.  He was so rich that he could do what few celebrities could, and buy his own privacy.  Few knew much of the man himself.  He was married, and the identity of his wife was well-known.  But apparently she was very publicity shy and rarely accompanied her famous husband on any engagements.  Alan Kent was more a corporate image than a real person to the average layman.  That was, until he announced his intention to build a ship capable of taking himself and three hundred other people to this new planet around Elvira to start life anew.

   Shock waves from that announcement were still being felt four years later, now that the launch was almost upon them.  But at that moment, Kent paced back and forth, his handsome face deep with worry.  The look didn't suit him as he usually exuded a confidence like no other.

   He stopped and turned to face Staci.  "Major," he said, "about two hours ago, Maxine Staffer and Leslie Pap were both killed in a car accident at the Cape."

   Staci stopped breathing for a moment.  "Both of them?" she asked in a whisper.

   Kent nodded; his attention fully on her.

   Staci glanced at the rest of the people in the room, and she understood their worry.  Staffer and Pap were both members of the Mayflower crew.  Staffer was primary, while Pap was her back up.  If for some reason Staffer couldn't make the trip, Pap was trained to step right in and do it for her.  That they had both been killed at the same time was tragic in many ways.  It was a crippling blow to the project because no one else was trained to do their job.  No one that is but...

   Staci knew what they wanted; her quick mind had grasped the implications immediately.  "Why me?" she asked, getting to the point.

   Kent sighed, as did a few others.  "I see that you have realized what this means, Major," he said.  "With Staffer and Pap gone, we need a replacement or the trip is scrubbed.  And you know why we can’t stop now!"

   Staci nodded.  "We're at the tail end of the launch window.  If we wait much longer we'll have to wait thirty years to try again!"

   "You got it in one," Kent said, nodding.

   "So, why me?" Staci asked again.

   "It's true that there are others just as qualified," he said, "but all of them are married.  You, Major, are single, have no close family, and few ties to any place on Earth.  You practically live on the station, don't you?"

   "Deter Komb is also single," Staci countered, speaking of one of her fellow astronauts.

   "True, but he lacks vital training in some areas.  It would take too long to bring him up to speed and we don't have the time.  The thing is, Major, you know that this is a one way trip.  There is no coming back unless someone here builds another ship to come visit us.  We could take one of your married colleagues, but we would be unable to take his family.  Every spot on the passenger list is accounted for; there is no room for extra people.  So, if you say no, I will be forced to either use Deter, whose skills I don't trust for this mission, or break up someone's family for my own selfish needs.  I can't go without a flight engineer and co-pilot, and you, Major, are our only real hope!"

   Staci listened to this and felt her heart beating.  There had been times during the construction of the Mayflower, during the training she gave, that she did think it unfair that Kent wasn't taking any I.S.A. people along.  She had often thought of herself going on this trip, a dream for sure.  But now, faced with the reality of those fantasies, she saw what it would actually mean to make the trip. 

   Flying to Elvira would be a major commitment.  As Kent said it was a one-way journey; almost a fifteen-year flight at the Mayflower's top speed.  Staci would be spending all but four weeks of the flight in hibernation.  If they arrived alive, which was no guarantee, then the planet they were aiming for would have to be able to support life before they could even give a thought of setting down.  The Mayflower itself was designed to break apart in orbit, with most of it making a landing on the planet, its components forming the nucleus of the new community.  Like this, it would never be able to leave orbit and return to Earth.

   What Kent was asking of her was a lifetime commitment to a place and people she knew little about!  Yet it was certainly true that without her, the project had a very small chance of succeeding, if it went on at all!

   "I need to think about this," she said eventually, also thinking of the man she had just left behind, his smell still on her.

   There was a general sigh around the room, a release of tension.  Kent however, didn't look like he had relaxed.  He walked silently over to where Staci sat and crouched down in front of her, putting one hand on her knee.  He looked her in the face, and Staci once again remarked to herself how handsome he was.

   "Major...Staci...I know this is a big decision, the biggest one you may ever have to make in your life.  But I have to tell you something.  We have no time to wait for you to make a lengthy decision.  We launch in three days and there is still so much to do.  We need your answer right now, but let me tell you this.  We need you.  I need you."

   Staci found herself looking into Kent's eyes, and she saw a glimmer of the power the man was rumored to have.  Said to be amazingly charismatic, he had charmed Presidents and Kings.  And while little was known of his private life, he was said to be popular with women too.

   Staci found it hard to resist his plea, but she was made of stern stuff.  "Half an hour, let me have half an hour," she said.

   Kent kept his dark blue eyes on her for a moment before standing.  He looked her over, noting her short blonde military haircut, her bright blue eyes and round face.  She was a lovely woman, a fact that was not lost on the richest man on the planet.  He had read her file, even getting a look at her medical records, and knew things about this woman that even she probably didn't know.  He had found many interesting things in her records, items that had influenced his choice of her as a replacement for the two dead crew members.  He wanted her to make the trip, but he knew to back off when it was appropriate.  So he nodded.  "Thirty minutes, but not a minute more, Major.  We have work to do."

   Staci stood.  "You'll have your answer."  She turned to her boss, "Permission to be excused, Sir?  I could use a shower and a private place to think."

   "Of course, Major," replied the head of I.S.A.

   The people in the room all watched the Major leave and then started talking about what her decision might be.  But Kent watched the door for a minute, sure that she would say yes.  He smiled and keyed his phone.  "I want a shuttle ready to go up to the station in half an hour," he ordered, before turning to speak with his partners.





   Staci Mann sat knees up in her shower in a women's locker room.  After three days in the same flight suit working to ready the Mayflower for launch, not to mention several rather energetic hours with Barry the handsome Marine, she was glad for the chance to clean up and meditate.  She found the falling water, the mist, the steam, the heat, to be soothing at times and a shower like this was the only thing she really missed when living on the station.  It cleared her head when she needed to think, and if ever there was a time she needed a clear head it was now.  She had to make a decision that would affect her future no matter what she chose to do.  If she said yes, then it would be an uncertain future on a far away planet where man had never been before.  It was a choice that could even lead to her death, for there were so many unknowns about the trip. 

   Would the new drive system push them to the speeds as it was designed?  Would it blow up first, or break down beyond their ability to fix it?  Would she survive fifteen years in hibernation?  Would the planet be as advertised or would the scanty information from the thirty year old space probe be wrong?  Could they land successfully?  Could they find the resources to live beyond their supplies?  Could they build a community that would last until the next ship from Earth decided to make the trip?  What contribution could she make to this community?  What would her life turn out to be?  Would she find someone to share the rest of her life with among the people on the ship?

   So many variables!

   Staying, however, had its own problems.

   Would Kent and his people make the trip anyway and would her refusal cause their failure?  If they didn't go, how would she feel having killed a project that so many had worked so hard to bring off?  What would people say once it became known that she was responsible for the closing of the project for thirty years?  What would happen to her career, her personal life?  Surely no one on Earth would fail to hear about her.  Could she live with the accusing looks?

   Staci put her head back and stretched out, letting the shower soak her naked body.  She felt caught, damned if she did and damned if she didn't.  But she knew in her heart that there was really only one choice she could make.  She was duty bound to see the project through to the end.  Until now, that had been the moment the Mayflower undocked from the station and fired its engines for the first time.  Now her duty extended way past that point.  What else could she do?

   With a sigh, she consulted her watch and then went in search of a towel and a clean uniform.





   Apart from Alan Kent and Staci Mann, there was only one other passenger aboard the Houston shuttle to the International Space Station, Doctor Don Kelly.  Kelly was a part of Kent's crew, a surgeon with a wealth of associated degrees in medicine and biology.  He was the oldest of the group heading to the stars, being the ripe old age of forty.  He had been married, but had lost his wife and daughter in a boating accident not long after news of the new world was revealed to the public.  In public, Doctor Kelly never seemed that enthusiastic about space travel in general, never mind making the longest flight in the history of the human race, and some people wondered why he had been chosen to go on the trip when there were other even better qualified doctors around willing to go.  No one had ever found any prior connection between him and Alan Kent before his announcement that he was going, so there was a little mystery around the man.

   This was just one of the very few things known about the Mayflower's passengers.  Apart from a few notables, like Kent himself, and the flight crew which Staci had first helped to train, and was now a part of, the passenger list for the flight was as secret as those with a lot of money could make it.  

   No one knew the reason for the secrecy and it was an honest concern of many being left behind.  Some thought that there was some criminal reason behind it, although representatives from Interpol assured the world that no one making the trip was wanted anywhere for anything!  Yet the secrecy remained.  Staci knew, working aboard the station that most of the passengers were already aboard the ship.  For the past five days they had been coming up by shuttle, straight to the docking port on the Mayflower itself.  Without setting foot on the station these people were immediately placed in their individual hibernation stations and put to sleep.  The majority of them would not be awakened until after planet fall.  The secrecy however, extended until only until launch, after that, it didn't matter.  The press was eagerly awaiting the list of who was going.  They did know that Doctor Kelly was going but had never been able to nab him for an interview.  He was just too busy.

   As the shuttle left the atmosphere he was going over Staci's medical records, asking her questions about her history and nodding at her replies.  Ahead of them in the next row of seats, Alan Kent talked on his personal phone, coordinating the replacement of Maxine Staffer by Staci Mann.  He was busy too.

   In fact, they all nearly missed the last chance any of them would get to see the outside of the Mayflower for the next fifteen years, but the shuttle pilot called their attention to it as they began their final approach.  All three passengers moved to a window.

   "I'll say this," said Kent with a smile, "you people certainly built me a lovely ship!"

   "Worth the one hundred and eighty billion dollar investment?" Staci asked him.

   He looked at her for a moment.  "We'll have to see, won’t we."

   Staci didn't answer.  Instead she looked at what was to be her only link to Earth for a long time.  The Mayflower was huge.  Almost as long as the eighty year old station it was attached to, it featured the latest design features that mankind had to offer.  Roughly cigar shaped, it was oddly streamlined.  Not for cutting through an atmosphere, but for balance during its acceleration and deceleration phases.  Its nose was the crew module, which included the flight deck, environmental systems, computers, etc.  This was where the three crew members would live for the flight when they weren't in hibernation like the passengers.  Tucked in behind this section were the pods.  Shaped like Quonset huts and about the size of large barns, the pods contained all the supplies the new community would need, not to mention the people themselves.  Spread out through twenty one pods were three hundred people, all in hibernation units.  The pods were attached to the Mayflower's spine and would separate from the ship once the decision had been made to land, leaving behind the skeleton of the Mayflower to orbit forever.  The pods would then land and become the first buildings on the planet.

   Behind the pods was a space garage with a shuttle, planetary probes and communication satellites in it, and behind that was the massive star drive that would accelerate the ship towards its intended target.

   It was four years in the building, constantly pushed towards a deadline that if missed would mean waiting thirty years to try again.  Kent spared no expense in getting the job done.  Unlike the station it was docked against, the Mayflower wasn't built by the lowest bidder.  The best minds on the planet had contributed to its design.  The deepest pockets had made it real.

   Staci found herself eager to fly in it.  Up until this point she had been worried about making the trip, but seeing the Mayflower floating in space had brought on her excitement.  She was now a part of a great human endeavor, a member of the first group of people to seriously leave their earthly bonds behind and take to the stars.  Sure there were people living on the moon now, and the second mission to go explore Mars was scheduled to leave next year.  But this was the big one.  She would be going where no human had ever gone...beyond her solar system.  Staci felt flushed with excitement.

   Beside her, Kent glanced her way and smiled.  He thought her new complexion suited her.

   The shuttle didn't go near the space station, instead it docked directly with the Mayflower.  They were met by Bob McKinley and Dick Janis, the other two flight crew members.  Staci assumed that they had both just learned about the death of their crew mate for both men didn't look happy.  They had also probably just learned about Staci replacing her, for they both stared at her as she exited the shuttle.

   "Gentlemen," said Alan Kent, shaking their hands, "I'm sorry, I truly am.  Maxine meant a lot to all of us, I know she'll be missed."

   McKinly nodded and it was obvious that he did feel the loss of Maxine Staffer, while Janis simply looked inconvenienced.  It made Staci suddenly aware that she hadn't really spared a thought for the dead women.  She had known both Staffer and Pap, having worked closely with them for the last year.  Yet, despite all that time together, Staci could hardly have called them friends.  Neither woman really opened up, and Staci knew almost nothing about their personal lives.  Staci thought she just didn't have the empathic link with the two women to seriously morn their loss. 

   Doctor Kelly exited last with several bags in tow.  "Staci, I want to see you today for a work up.  I need to calibrate your hibernation unit tonight," he told her, before glancing nervously at the men.

   "Sure, Doc.  But I have work on the launch sequence to finish up."

   Kent turned from his men, "No, you don't.  Bob will give you your schedule, and you'll find time for the Doctor.  You have to come up to speed with the latest updates to the Mayflower's systems."

   Staci nodded, knowing that there was going to be a lot of work left to do, no more time for Barry.  "Sure thing, Mr. Kent."

   "But first, go over to the station and retrieve whatever personal items you want to bring along and say your goodbyes.  I'm restricting everyone to the ship until launch."

   "What?" Staci asked, surprised, although the other men didn't look as shocked.

   "I don't want any more accidents," Kent replied.  "Get moving!"

   "Yes, Sir!" replied Major Staci Mann, and she resisted giving him a salute before crossing over to the station.  She thought he was being a bit of an ass about her safety, but then he was the boss...her boss, now.  Still, she was glad for the chance to go, for she had a Marine to go let down, and she was glad that she hadn't gotten emotionally involved with the guy; well, at least not too much.

   Kent and the two men watched her go, the Doctor having gone aft to check on other things.  They waited until she vanished before speaking again.

   "You sure we can depend on her?" Bob McKinly asked.

   Kent folded his arms.  "Well, you guys have worked with her.  Can she do the job?"

   "Sure, she's qualified,” Janis said with a scowl “more than either of those other two broads you saddled us with.  She’s cuter, too.  But that's not the problem."

   "I know," replied Kent.

   "So...what's the plan, Kent?"  Dick Janis asked, clenching a fist.

   Kent looked at the wall for a moment.  "Same as training for now, she's the expert and you listen to her.  But once we go through the escape burn and are on our way, then you're free to act."

   Dick grinned while Bob just nodded.

   "Be warned, gentlemen," continued Kent, "We will still need her expertise until we land, and no doubt she has skills we can use on the surface; so woe to either one of you who jeopardizes the safety of our mission because you played too hard!"

   Dick chuckled.  "Don't worry, Kent.  By the time we get to Elvira, she'll be properly trained to do whatever we ask!"

   Kent stared at Dick until the younger man's grin faded.  Kent could do that to people.  "No damage, no fucking with her brain.  She's to be intact when I wake up.  Understood?"

   Dick nodded, no longer smiling.

   "Dick," said Bob McKinly, "go on back and finish up those pre-ignition coolant readings you were taking."

   "Sure thing, Bob," answered Janis, and he ducked through a hatch and headed aft, leaving the two men alone.

   "Is something on your mind, Bob?" Kent asked.

   "The girl," Bob said quietly.

   "I told you, she'll do fine."

   "It's not that.  It's just...you shouldn't have done it, shouldn't have recruited her to come along.  We could have brought up Elias.  He's been training as my back up, he could have switched seats."

   Kent was shaking his head.  "You know that isn't possible.  We need every woman on this flight we can get our hands on if we're to succeed in populating the planet."

   "We have the stores, eggs and sperm!  One woman isn't going to make a whole lot of difference…"

   "One woman...can make a whole lot of difference!" yelled Kent.  He took a breath and lowered his voice.  "Look Bob, those first years are going to be critical.  Hell, if we get past the landing without losing anyone it will be a miracle.  Sure, we have the stores, but only real women can get pregnant and unfortunately for Elias he doesn't have the right bloody equipment!"

   Bob flinched, but held his ground.  "She doesn't know what's going on.  She has no idea what she's getting into, does she?"  He looked Kent in the eye.  "That's why we're doing your dirty work for you, jumping her after the burn, when it's too late to turn back."

   "Don't start acting so high and mighty, Bob.  It's not like you haven't done it before!" Alan Kent said with a confident smile.

   Bob closed his mouth and looked away.

   "Bob," said Kent, moving close and taking the man by the lapel, "we need Staci Mann on the flight deck for this flight, and on the planet we need her body to get our population up.  As for you, well, as you said, Elias is fully trained to take your place.  He let the comment hang in the air for a moment, before pushing himself away.  "You've got a job to do, an important job.  I know you have your doubts and like you, I wish there was another way.  But I have to think of the survival of our new community, I can't focus on the rights of just one person right now.   I know I can trust you to do the same.  Right?"

   Still not looking at him, Bob nodded slowly.

   Kent smiled. "Good man."

   Kent dismissed him and floated in thought for a moment.  "Elvira...what a bloody stupid name for a star!" he finally said before heading of to work of his own.





   Staci Mann, unlike her fellow crew mates, was a Veteran Astronaut.  She didn't get that title because of her Earth orbital flights.  Coming to the International Space Station was routine now that there were several shuttle flights a day.  Tourism provided almost half of the I.S.A's operating budget, and no tourist could ever be considered an Astronaut.  Staci Mann's astronaut status was because of her work beyond Earth.  She had been on the design and flight crew for the first manned mission to Mars.  She flew the Mars Orbiter "H.G. Wells" on its maiden flight around the Moon and back, and had been on back-up for the actual crew that took the ship to Mars itself.  She had also completed two tours of duty at the Luna base in Tycho, and was unique among her peers for one rather amusing historical first.

   It happened during her first tour at the Luna base.  A habitation dome had just been built next to the base, right on the surface of the Moon itself.  Without the standard floor, this dome was to provide direct access to the Luna surface for the geologists in a shirt sleeve environment.  They had about an acre to work in, and the project still yielded amazing results even now.  But back when it first started, Staci had been on the base working as an engineer, and one day she got called to the dome to fix something for the geologists.

   It was actually an easy task for the skilled young woman, basically a heater repair, necessary because of the cold ground upon which they worked.  Once she was done she decided to look around at the work the scientists were doing, and one thing struck her.  Everywhere in the Luna dust were footprints made by the people working in the dome, but they all had one thing in common, they were of shod feet.  Strictly out of curiosity, she asked out loud if anyone had ever taken the time to walk barefoot in the Luna dirt.

   Her question surprised most of the men and women in the dome and there were a few chuckles at first.  But upon reflection, no one in the dome had ever heard of anyone actually doing it.  There was a brief discussion about it, but one person said it had probably never been done because until this dome had been built, there had never really been easy access to true Luna soil in any great quantity.

   So, feeling very daring, Staci gave in to an impulse and sat down to take her shoes and socks off.  Everyone else in the room watched in amazement as the young blonde astronaut slowly rose to a stand, her bare feet marking the soil in a way no human had ever done before.   She took a few steps, then a few more, and looked back to see her footprints, her real footprints, marking a trail away from her shoes.

   Someone started videotaping the event and Staci did a complete circuit of the entire dome to the applause and cheers of the scientists.  Embarrassed, Staci put her shoes back on and after a little while the excitement died down and everyone went back to work, but that wasn't the end of the matter.

   The video was uplinked to Earth a short time later with the rest of the Luna base daily record backup, and someone in I.S.A. publicity looking for interesting footage to place on the internet news broadcast, asked themselves the same question Staci had put to the group in the Dome.  Some research was done, and it appeared to be true that no one had ever walked barefoot on the actual Luna surface ever before!  This fact, with the video, made the human interest portions of newscasts all over the world, and people responded to it.  Not since Neil Armstrong's first step did someone walking on the moon capture the world's attention, and soon Staci was in demand for interviews as they began calling her the first person to “Truly walk on the surface of the Moon!”

   The publicity-shy young woman refused them all, except for one she did for I.S.A. itself in which she confessed that the walk had been a cold one, the ground still half frozen from the Luna night.

   That was her fifteen minutes of fame and it had since been forgotten.  But once her name was revealed to the public as the replacement crew member for Maxine Staffer, the world wanted to know her again.

   Fortunately, it was far too late to give interviews, except for a brief fifteen minute session with an I.S.A. publicist, ironically the same one that had interviewed her before.

   The rest of her time was spent in training and preparing for the flight.  As the flight engineer, her responsibility was the ship and its systems.  She and Dick Janis would share the burden of making sure everything worked for the duration of the fifteen-year flight.  Bob McKinly was the flight commander.  He was in charge of the flight itself and doubled as the main pilot.  Staci backed him up as the second pilot.

   The three of them trained together and tried to learn to work together, but with only three days, Staci found it hard to connect with either man.

   Bob McKinly she liked, he certainly knew his stuff and was a sponge for information.  He was always ready to listen and learn something knew, and he deferred to Staci's experience in many matters until he felt he had mastered them himself.  But he was also unique among the Mayflower group, being the only member to have logged significant flight time in space.  A former troubleshooter for Kent's Satellite division, he had made countless trips to the station and other orbital platforms in the course of his work.  If a non-I.S.A. man had to be placed in command of a project such as this one, then Bob McKinly would certainly make the list.  Staci also found the man somewhat attractive, and she knew he was single.  During those odd moments when she had time to think for herself, she wondered if spending the rest of her life on a far away planet with Bob around was really that bad.  Thoughts like that made her smile.

   Dick Janis, on the other hand, was in her opinion, a pig!  True, he listened to her when it came to work-related comments and instruction, but it was clear to Staci that the man resented her being placed in a position of power over him.  Staci, due to her Veteran status, had been given second seat by Alan Kent, and it appeared to rub the male engineer raw.  He was brisk with her, almost to the point of rudeness, and his opinion of women in general was a low one.

   He also had a habit of looking at Staci as if she was nothing more than boobs and butt.  Quite often, when working with the man, Staci would catch him looking down the front of her flight suit, or gazing up at her crotch.  He would do this openly too, never looking away when she caught him.  Instead he would eventually meet her eyes and smile, like a guy with four dollars in his pocket coming across a two dollar whore.

   At one point she mentioned Janis' attitude to McKinly, but McKinly just shrugged it off.  "He does his job, doesn't he?"

   Staci had to admit that the man knew his job.  When it came to the monster drive system that was to take them to Elvira, Dick Janis was the man.  He should have been, because he was its chief designer.  Some said that a seat aboard the flight was the only payment he took for developing the drive system, and the only reason he bothered to do it at all!  In that one area it was he who instructed Staci, and he always made her feel dumber than she was by the way he oversimplified his training as if he figured she could never understand what he was trying to teach her.  She felt insulted in many ways after spending a few hours with Dick Janis.  Yet she had to admit that without him the trip couldn’t have been made.  What he had designed was an engineering marvel.  Not only did he design a drive to push a ship faster than anyone had ever gone before, but also a system to protect the crew from being crushed to death by the massive acceleration.  Other engineers and scientists on Earth were salivating over the chance of getting hold of the plans once the Mayflower left, and cursed the fact that Janis was keeping them so secret before the launch.  Janis had his reasons, he didn’t want anyone else to build a ship before the thirty year window closed.

   But time marched on and there was no rest for wicked or saint alike.  The launch window, a time period determined by the position of a binary star system they were going to slingshot around midway in their journey, was closing fast and the pressure mounted.  At Launch minus two days, the last of the passengers were aboard and most of them had been stowed away in their hibernation units.  Alan Kent, Doctor Kelly and a few of his staff, and the pod pilots who would fly the landings, were the last to be put down.  And by Launch minus twenty-four hours, even they were fast asleep in their pods behind the crew section, although Kent had gone reluctantly.

   Bob McKinly fielded the last few good luck messages from various world leaders, but then refused to hear more once the great ship separated from the station and drifted under her own power.  The Mayflower was afloat for the first time and was about to prove its worth or die under the full eye of Earth’s media.





   "Distance from the station?" Bob asked.

   "About forty kilometers; we're outside the no ignition zone now," replied Staci.

   The two of them were alone on the flight deck, in space suits, strapped into their acceleration couches.  There were only a few minutes left in the countdown and things were tense.  Two holds had already placed them an hour behind schedule, they couldn't afford another one, not at this stage.  The main drive was now in pre-ignition status, and to stop it now meant rebuilding a part of it, a job of months, not minutes.  In a sense they had already passed the point of no return.  They could still abort, but the cost would be a thirty year wait while two distant suns realigned themselves so they could try again.

   "How's it look back there, Dick?"  Bob asked, knowing that the engineer sitting in the drive section could hear him.  Dick Janis was going to ride out the burn right next to the great engine he had designed.  It was a dangerous decision on his part, but his choice.  Someone had to be there if something went wrong, remote safety systems couldn't take care of everything he often grumbled.

   "Look at your damn instruments!" Dick said over the intercom. "You can see it as well as I can!"

   Bob's expression grew a little darker.  "Watch your language, bud, the world is listening."

   "Screw the world!  No one is happier to get off that asshole planet more than me!"

   Bob had already cut off Janis's reply from the main feed going out to the I.S.A. public communications site.  He switched to internal com only and said, "Listen asshole, you keep it together down there.  Okay?  Or do you want me to come back there and bitch-slap you around some?"

   Staci looked over at the pilot, shocked at what she had just heard, but Bob winked at her.

   "Sorry," said Janis after a moment. "I guess I'm a bit wound up."

   Bob smiled, "We’re going back to external com."

   Staci watched Bob for a moment longer, and then went back to her own checklist.  She had seen the two men act like this before, and wondered about macho posturing among men.  It made no sense to her how men could act like deadly enemies at times and then ten minutes later be having a beer together.  Yet with these two she had a feeling that they weren’t sharing a weird sort of manly affection for each other.  The insults were too well felt, the barbs sharp and hurtful.  Neither man liked the other, or so it seemed.  But Staci also noticed that it was always Bob who settled things, not Janis.  Bob was the one in charge, and it went beyond mere rank.  She hoped she'd get a chance to ask him about it.

   There were a few moments of silence during which Staci concentrated on her work and the voices of the controllers aboard the station, but at about a minute before the burn she turned to look at Bob, and found him staring at her.  She heard the click of him turning off the external com.

   "If you, for any reason, have doubts about this trip," he said, looking directly at her, "just say the word and I'll hit the abort.  But I have to tell you, once we're in the burn, there's no going back.  You'll have to deal with whatever we find, whatever…we as a group…choose to do.  This is your last chance to stop it, here and now."

   "Don't be a damn idiot!" Janis said, on the same circuit.  "I don't have a problem with it!  We're going!"

   Bob didn't acknowledge the man though, and Staci got the impression that what he’d said was for her ears, not for Dick Janis.  But she wasn't a quitter either, you couldn't be and do her job.  His message, whatever it was, got lost in her sense of duty.

   "All systems are go," she responded.  "Computers are in final countdown."

   Bob looked at her for a second longer before switching the com to external again.  "Launch Control, we're go for ignition.  Thanks for all the help guys!"

   "F.A.B. Mayflower," said Anthony Cripelli himself, in Launch Control for this historic moment.  "You're taking Mankind's first steps toward the stars, may we be worthy of them!  Godspeed!"

   Bob acknowledged and all that remained now was the wait for the final countdown.  Four years of planning and hard labor and it would all be decided in a matter of seconds.  Either the big engine would work, or it wouldn’t.

   It worked.

   Staci really couldn't hear anything, although there was a subtle vibration in the ship that worried her.  She typed a few commands into one of her computers controlling the experimental equipment that kept the crew from being crushed to a pulp by the acceleration and the vibration ceased, leaving just the impression of motion pushing her back into her seat.  That was all she planned on feeling for the next six hours, the time it would take to build up to a respectable fraction of the speed of light.  Fifteen years was the projected fight time to Elvira, but only if they got up to speed and made their rendezvous with the binary system on time and on target.

   "Inertial dampers online and functioning normally," she said.

   Bob acknowledged but kept his eyes on his own panels.  The computer was flying the ship now, but he had to be alert.  Besides, he had other things on his mind.

   Staci took a few moments to call up the video feed from the station, and gasped when she saw it.   A fiery plume a thousand miles long illuminated the night sky.  It was bright enough to be seen even in full daylight, and not one person on that side of the Earth at that moment, didn't go out and look up.  It was history in the making, history shared by all.






   Six hours later, Staci was relieved when on cue, the drive system shut down.  It meant she could finally get out of her seat and float around the ship in her beloved zero gravity.

   "I have to take a few moments, Bob," she said, undoing her seat buckles, "this suit has to come off!"

   McKinly nodded, but he was already punching commands into the great ship's navigational computer.  The main engine still had a lot of heat to shed, so he needed to rotate the ship so that its cooling vanes were in shade.

   Staci floated above her seat and struggled out of her space suit, her feminine form catching Bob's eye for a minute, before he concentrated once again on the shut-down procedures that were to take up their next few hours of work.  Now that the main drive had done its job, it had to be emptied of all its used fuel and cooling fluids so it could be refilled from stores the ship carried, preparing it for its next burn, the one that would slow them down once they reached Elvira.  This work had to be done immediately, or the engine would be rendered useless by the corrosive chemicals that circulated through it.

   But the crew of the Mayflower was up to the task, and eventually the dangerous job was behind them.

   "Time to celebrate," Bob said with a smile, after they all finished a final post burn interview over the radio with Mission Control on the station, a call made increasingly harder by the ever-widening time lag.  They were going so fast that radio signals were now taking minutes to go back and forth.  Soon it would be hours, then days, then all the way up to years.  Casual conversation over the radio was already a thing of the past, and with each second, the Mayflower was becoming more and more isolated.

   The three crew members had dinner in their tiny Mess.  An excellent meal loaded aboard by the station crew was consumed with gusto by the two men and one woman, and conversation stuck mostly with what was going to happen over the next day or so before they too went into hibernation.

   Even Dick Janis seemed a bit more hospitable toward Staci, and she found herself finally enjoying the company of both men.  It was obvious to her though that she was still the outsider, for the men would exchange looks from time to time that Staci could not fathom.  But once the meal was done, they all relaxed with drinks in hand, and thought about the great adventure ahead.

   "I'm excited," Staci confessed.

   Bob looked at her.  "You know, it might not be what you expected," he said.

   "I don't care, I still feel excited," Staci replied with a smile.

   Bob however, didn't seem to be smiling, although Dick Janis had a big grin on his face.  Bob said, "What if...what if, what you experience out there, turns out to be nothing like anything you have ever done before?"

   Staci looked at him quizzically.  "Isn't that the point; to experience new things, an entirely new place?"

   Bob didn't answer her, instead he looked at Janis.  "Have you given any thought, Staci, to what you would be doing once we land; what part you would play in our community?"

   "Well," she said, "I suppose my role would play to my strength: Engineering.  There is an awful lot of equipment going down to the planet, and someone has to keep it working."  She smiled, "Maybe I would take over whatever Maxine was going to do.  Do you know what that was?"

   "Maxine...Maxine had a special part in what was to be.  I'm not sure how well you would fit in, taking her place.  To be honest, I was rather surprised that Alan Kent went outside our group to replace Maxine."

   "Are you saying that Kent shouldn't have hired me?" Staci asked, feeling a little defensive.

   "What Kent did...well, we're past that now, no going back."  He looked up at her, fixing her with his eyes.  "But I'm going to say this once, and once only.  Kent should not have brought you along, you won’t understand what is going to happen to you as you aren't a part of this group.  I'm sorry."

   Staci had lost her good mood, and she just stared at Bob McKinly for a few moments, trying to sort out what he had said.  Then she turned to look at Janis.

   Dick Janis was ready for her.  He quickly pointed a tiny vial at her face and sprayed her on her nose and mouth.  He grinned as she pushed back, but it was already too late for the girl as her half-panicked motions quickly stilled and she fell asleep.  "Night night, cunt!" he said, giving her another dose just to make sure.

   "Easy on that stuff," Bob said, his expression worried.

   "She'll be fine.  What was all that shit about being sorry?" Janis asked, grabbing the unconscious girl and looking her over.

   Bob ignored the question.  "Let's get her into her hibernation unit so we can get on with our work."

   "Bullshit!  I want to play with her first!"

   "We don't have time to play with her.  There's still a lot to do, especially since it’s just the two of us.  We have to get the ship ready to go along without us for a few years.

   "Yeah, yeah, but I'm not hibernating her just yet.  We were supposed to get Maxine to play with until the cunt had her accident.  Kent promised me that when I agreed to this trip.  Who knows, this may be the last time either of us gets to have any fun!"  He turned to face his partner.  "Wasn't Maxine supposed to be your woman when we arrived anyway?  Major Cunt here said she wanted to do what Maxine was supposed to do.  Don't you even want to audition her for the part?"  Janis smiled one of those smiles that made you want to punch it, and Bob almost did.  But he looked at the sleeping blonde floating in Janis's hands, and reluctantly nodded.  He knew that Staci would have to learn her new position in the community sometime, and Dick was right about one thing.  Maybe she would replace Maxine!

   "Okay, string her up someplace, but then we have to get back to work.  I want this ship ready to fly to Elvira before we do anything else, or she goes into hibernation and you'll have to wait fifteen years before you get a chance to scratch your itch!"

   Janis continued to smile, "You're on, Bob, I'll string her up real good."

   McKinly pushed himself away from the table.  "I'll meet you on the flight deck in ten minutes, no longer."

   Janis waited until Bob was out of sight, and then turned to face the unconscious Staci.  He ran a hand along her body, squeezing her breasts over her jump suit and smiled.  "Yeah, time to string you up, baby!"




End of Section.