Making Out in the Main Belt


Halfway through the A-to-Z challenge! M is for mothership, a large ship that carries smaller ships. Flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters are not necessarily involved, though they certainly make things more fun.

Through the porthole, the stars spun in slow, lazy circles. Jako tried to ignore them, and the queasy sensation of microgravity. Instead he focused his attention on his wristpad display, frantically manipulating figures in a spreadsheet.

“How can you do homework at a time like this?” This tied the record for longest sentence Liarna had spoken to him in their high school career. Jako chuckled; all it took for a girl to talk to him was to be trapped in a cramped sardine can in the middle of the Main Belt. He wondered what it would take for him to get a date for senior prom.

“It’s not funny, Jako! Someone’s going to come looking for us, right?” Their escape capsule was speeding away from the mothership, in orbit of minor planet 535 Montague, at a velocity of thousands of meters per second. It would take days for a search and rescue team to find them.

“Someone will come looking for us. It’ll just take longer for them to find us than to catch your delinquent boyfriend.”

“What’s so bad about Dynnon?”

Jako stopped swiping at his wrist display and looked her squarely in her gray eyes. “He and his jock friends stuffed me into an escape capsule and launched it?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I tried to stop them.”

“I know. Thanks.” Jako returned to his calculations.

“It’s so hot in here. Worst field trip ever.” She unbuttoned her top button, then noticed his focus on his wristpad. “Seriously?! How can you be doing homework?”

“Titan was the worst field trip ever.” Which teacher had thought that taking a class of giggling high school freshmen to a moon with a methane atmosphere was a good idea? “And this is not homework,” Jako explained. “I’m calculating how long the air will last us in here.”

Liarna’s face paled. “Are we going to die?”

“Someday. But life expectancy for a girl your age is a hundred and forty-eight. Life support in this escape pod should easily last two weeks. We’ll be picked up long before then.”

Liarna tugged at her collar. “Then why is it so hot?”

With his fist, Jako bumped a large green pushbutton on a nearby control panel. The iris-style hatch above them opened, and air rushed outward. Liarna gasped, but quickly regained her composure and peered up through the hatch.

“Inflatable habitat,” explained Jako. “It provides a little more breathing room.”

Liarna tentatively stood up, gripping the handholds to position herself in zero-g. With a gentle push, she floated through the hatch, into the inflated space. The walls were transparent plastic, but only the two dozen brightest stars were easily visible through its slightly reflective surface. “Wow,” she said. “Great view. You should come up here.”

With a shrug, Jako turned off his wrist display and floated off to join her. She pointed out a bright blue star. “Isn’t that Earth?”

Jako blinked. “Yes. How’d you know?”

“I do have interests other than my delinquent boyfriend,” she said, rolling her eyes at him. “You’re too quick to stereotype people. I’m not a ditzy blonde, and Dynnon isn’t a meathead jock. Did you know he’s into romance poetry?” She tapped her own wristpad, then showed Jako a file from her private folder.

Jako stared at the display in disbelief. “Until this moment, I never would’ve believed Dynnon could write a sonnet.”

“Would you believe he’s not even my boyfriend? He’s dating his teammate Mato.” She paused uncomfortably, as though she had spilled a secret. “Don’t tell anyone. His parents are really old-fashioned. They would never understand him dating an android.”

He nodded, holding a finger to his lips. “Your secret is safe with me.”

The two of them floated in the center of the ellipsoidal inflated habitat, adrift in a sea of stars. “We’re pretty far from Montague by now. It might be days before they find us.”

“Two or three days, maybe,” Jako shrugged. “The mothership can detect us easily; it just takes a long time to catch us at this velocity.”

Liarna rested her head on his shoulder. Jako’s heart skipped a beat as she leaned into his ear and whispered, “Would you like to help me with my physics homework?”

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