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Random Fiction #1 – 121618

After losing feeling in his fingers and toes, Jack couldn't wait to embrace the tingling feeling that would pulse through them when he got back to the lodge. That would have to wait. He was getting ahead of himself as he barely had enough strength to turn the doorknob with his frozen gloved hand.

The wind whipped the snow all around the alcove as it danced down from the low roof above. It stung Jack's face in the one spot not covered by the heavy, itchy wool balaclava and amber-lensed goggles. He brushed it away with his other gloved hand and tried to pull up the missing wool. But his fingers weren't cooperating.

He leaned into the door with his left shoulder and gave it a shove. It didn't budge. He backed up and leaned in hard again with all his might. This time it gave way, and he tripped over the threshold as a burst of snow crept in with him.

“Morning, Jack!” Steve shouted in welcome.

After a long trek to give way to the perimeter sensor beacons, Steve shouting to him from behind the stove in the far corner of the spartan room was music to his ears. Steam from the kettle whistled as he turned off the gas burner and poured boiling water into two giant mugs for coffee.

The humidity in the room fogged Jack's goggles as he stripped off his gloves and pushed back the heavy fur-rimmed hood. Jack shook his hands to start the blood flowing again and peeled off the goggles and the balaclava, tossing them into his usual pile inside the door.

“The sensor near sector 38 needs a new battery pack,” Jack said. “The solar cells look to be in bad shape, and I doubt they'll last much longer.”

“Well, that's a problem,” Steve said. He scooped up a spoonful of freeze-dried coffee and dumped it into a mug, staring at the swirling pattern he made as he stirred the steaming liquid back and forth. “Those were designed to never need replacing.”

He pushed the mug across the pale wooden countertop as Jack stripped off the rest of his heavy gear down to his red union suit base layer. The tingling feeling started in his fingers, working the blood flow back to the tips. He grabbed the ceramic mug with both hands to help speed up the process.

“Well, we'll have to figure something out,” Jack said. He held the mug to his face as the aromatic steam worked its wonders on his nose. “We can't leave that sector unprotected. The Erosisians will be all over us in a heartbeat if that happens.”

“Duly noted,” Steve said. He stirred up his own mug of coffee and took a sip of the scalding hot nectar.

“How can you stand to drink it when it's that hot,” Jack asked. “I'd never have any taste buds left.”

“I took care of that a long time ago,” Steve replied. “They went the way of the willows when I got punched in the jaw as a kid. I bit my tongue, and it's never been the same since.” He brushed his long floppy bangs back out of his face, the jet-black hair flecked with tinges of silver. It was a futile maneuver since gravity pulled it right back down in front of his eyes as he took another sip.

“Wow, that sucks,” Jack said, not wanting to dive that far into his co-workers distant past. Jack let go of his death grip on the hot mug and scratched his chin, his bushy red beard matted down from the balaclava. He stroked the long whiskers, attempting to straighten out the sweaty mess.

His eyes glazed over as he stared at a tiny coffee stain etched into the soft pine. He knew they were in for trouble without that sensor. The Amradalian ambassador's ship was due in two days to pick them up, but they'd have to warn them off it the sensor failed before then. There was no way they'd land such an important ship with the danger of the failed peace going the way of the dodo.

“There's still a chance, you know,” Steve said. He recognized the worry on Jack's face as he had much of the same concern.

“Well, the way that the last bulletin from the Marshals read, let's not get our hopes up,” Jack replied. “They brought us here to put these sensors in place, but it's not going to happen that way. We've done our job, and maybe they can pick one up from Harmington on the way here.”

Steve looked over the rim of the mug as he took another generous sip of the coffee. He held out hope that things might truly work that way but it wasn't going to be easy.

Copyright © 2018 Chad V. Holtkamp.

All rights reserved.

Niketh Vellanki

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