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Random Fiction #1 – 112718

Ted touched the hot metal grate, feeling no pain. He thought about recoiling, pretending that it was too hot to touch but had nothing to prove at this point.

It wasn't that hot, at least compared to the air temp inside the sweltering shuttle. He knew they were close to the surface when even he started sweating. Calm, cool, and collected as he was, he couldn't hide the ring of sweat pooling around his armpits, staining the tight black t-shirt a majestic purple.

Rivers of sweat streamed down the back of Jessie Mangus, though she scarcely noticed. She was too busy piloting the shuttle, attempting to complete one last run for the day before she headed home for an ice bath.

Ted stared as she eased back on the throttle with her right hand and maneuvered the steering wheel with her left, deftly dodging an errant asteroid that soon vaporized in the dense atmosphere just as the shuttle plunged into a cloud bank.

Jessie checked her gauges and altimeter, trusting she'd avoid any other objects while the clouds blocked her vision. She grabbed a damp cotton rag from the console and took a quick swipe across her brow before her salty sweat stung her eyes.

“Everything okay, Captain?” Ted asked.

Jessie hated his nickname for her, but let it slide. She'd see him again the next day, like the last two years.

“We’ll be wheels down in ten minutes,” she replied. “Soon enough for ya?”

Ted chuckled. He knew he pushed a button with her and got the surly response he expected.

“Sounds about right,” he said. “Gives me just enough time to get through the security detail and grab me some dinner.”

“Don't you wanna get cleaned up first?” she asked. “Maybe we could meet later if you give me some time to freshen up?”

Ted smiled. He knew where this was heading. He paused and leaned forward with his elbows on his thick knees. The ring of purple sweat grew more visible as he crouched his head down and spat on the floor between his feet. A dirty red glob of saliva mixed with the clay he'd tracked in from the planet. He dipped the tip of his silver steel-toed boot in it and ground them together in a gooey paste.

“Not tonight, I got an early day ahead of me tomorrow. The ward boss wants me back there before dawn.”

“So basically no sleep for you then, huh?” Jessie asked.

“There's an extra ten grand in it for me, so I ain't gonna complain,” Ted said. “That'll be enough to get me my own boat, so I don't have to take this heap every day.”

Jessie pretended not to hear that last bit and went back to flying. Another button pushed. The cloud deck cleared and the bright lights of Dimension beckoned below.

“Well, we’re almost there,” she said. “You'll be off this heap in five.”

Ted spit again. He hadn't meant to upset her; he just hated being a passenger.

“Maybe you could give me some lessons, ya know?” he teased. “When I get my new boat. I hear the new ones got lots of new switches and knobs. I'm used to the old manual controls, not these fancy gadgets you all got here.”

Jessie wasn't paying attention. Something in the track lights below looked different. She leaned forward for a better view, even if it was just a few inches. The approach lanterns, normally solid white, were flashing red.

She checked the flight computer, and everything seemed fine.

“Ted, hold that thought,” Jessie said. “Something’s wrong here so hold off on your champagne wishes.”

Copyright © 2018 Chad V. Holtkamp.

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Bryan Goff

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