Author : Clint Wilson

It always felt lonely when the ship sailed off to tow more rocks. After all, being the only companions for eighteen light-years Jim didn’t want to see them wander too far. But somebody had to stay here in the processor and make sure things ran smoothly. The constant mechanical hum carried through the station as he looked out the window to the splendor of the brilliant gas giant below. Besides this and the field of rocks in-waiting the only other thing visible against the starry background was the tele-gate, their doorway to home, six kilometers distant, motionless in its matched orbit.

The com sounded. What could they want? They just left. He activated the monitor array and there appeared the face of Commander Hunter. There was not a hint of emotion in his demeanor.

“What’s up Hunt?”

For a couple of long seconds his superior said nothing, showed nothing, just stared at Jim through the monitors. Then he uttered the words that Jim almost certainly knew would come one day. “It’s over Jim. I know everything.”

At first he tried to act aloof, knowing he had nowhere to run, nowhere to turn. “What do you mean sir? What’s over? I don’t get it.” Jim hadn’t called Hunter Sir in nearly two years. He had already given up on the lie, and the lowering of his eyes toward his feet pretty much confirmed it.

Hunter exploded in sudden rage, sending spittle toward the camera in his com station aboard Lifeboat. “You KNOW what the FUCK I MEAN!” Then he slid his chair to one side showing an utterly horrible scene. There were the other three crew members; Hanson, Desebrais, and the commander’s wife, Colonel Jillian Hunter. They were all very distressed looking, bound and gagged. Jill looked as though she had been roughed up.

“My god, what are you doing to them?”

“Don’t worry Jimmy, they’ll be fine. I just don’t need them interfering with your punishment.”

He did not like where this was going but what could he do? Whatever Hunter had planned for him, he knew it would be sinister. It was obvious that the affair was now out in the open. Had they missed a security camera? Not in any of their spots he was pretty sure. Certainly not a pregnancy, they had discussed this, they were both fixed. Maybe Hunt had simply gotten an intuition and had somehow coerced a confession out of Jill. She was too good and pure to lie. Jim cursed himself for ever putting her in this position.

“So spill it Hunt. I can hardly wait to hear how you’re going to kill me.”

“Oh I’m not that stupid. I know murder is the only thing left that can get you the death sentence. I plan on living a long and happy life in a federal institution while you wait the… he stopped, mock calculating, tapping fingers back and forth on his palms to build suspense …let’s see, including acceleration and deceleration you should see a replacement tele-gate in about thirty years.

“Hunt! Please man, I know this is bad, but think of our friendship. Please don’t do this to me!”

Commander Hunter looked almost regretful for a split second and then straightened back up. “You’ve got enough food and water you prick. See you when we’re old men.”

Jim turned to the window in time to see Lifeboat flash out of existence through the tele-gate and then watched as the tow line followed until the three-hundred-million ton asteroid, far too large for the porthole, smashed his doorway to home into nothingness.

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