A Hole in the Universe

by J. H. Wear

Nellie Writson was proud of her Martian heritage, able to follow her family tree to the first settlers of Mars at the beginning of the terraforming. She was head of the government geology department, enjoying doing field work as they searched for fossil remains of Martian life. When her team discovered alien stone columns, it set off a wave of excitement. But a bigger surprise was yet to come.

Jaret McLeod, as a captain of a spaceship, was used to danger and thinking under pressure. He was aware of Unidentified Space Objects (USOs) that appeared to break the speed of light and of a recent discovery Meili, a new planet orbiting beyond Pluto. When he visited Red City on Mars during a stopover, he was introduced to Nellie. He didn’t know at the time that Meili, USOs, Nellie and his stop over on Mars would be part of the greatest achievement of human beings.


Jaret McLeod slowly achieved awareness from a deep slumber. He took in a deep breath, smelling the sharp tang of the antiseptic air. His eyes fluttered open. Blackness. He tried to blink. The dark remained as he attempted to lift his hands to his face. His wrists were halted in their movement by straps. He gave a short grunt of panic.

A warm hand rested on the back of his own.

“It’s okay. You just woke up. You’re in the infirmary.”

He turned his head to the familiar voice of the ship’s engine mechanic. “Tia, what happened? I can’t see.”

“Your eyes are bandaged. The doctor said you’ll be able to see again after they’re removed.” She paused, letting him absorb the information. “There was an accident on the Gladiator. What do you remember?”

His brain began the process of recalling the horrifying event. The Gladiator was a mining ship, one of the many bare-bones ships used to mine the asteroids. It held a crew of seven in cramped quarters to pull pieces of blasted rock off an asteroid by high tension cables. From there, the rock was taken to the processing space station. The method involved pivoting the rock using cables and releasing it on course to the space station, where the rock would be broken into ore. The Gladiator was pulling a larger than average sized rock when a cable snapped, knocking their ship off course. Proximity alarms suddenly rang out, indicating a collision was imminent.

“Helmets!” a frantic voice shouted. Spacesuits were always worn inside the mining ships, but helmets were left off, kept within an arm’s length in case of an emergency. The quick magnetic seal meant the helmet could be fully secured in seconds.

McLeod reached for his helmet. There was a thump on the side of the ship’s hull. He frantically put on his helmet, just as white light and heat reached him. There was a searing pain on his face. He cried out as he was slammed into the wall behind him. Then nothing.

“I remember an explosion.”

“Good, that means your memory is okay. You’ve been out for two days. You had a mild concussion, a cracked rib and some scarring on your face. Your helmet shield was shattered from an impact of shrapnel. Fortunately, Jeff managed to slap a patch on the ship’s hull and kept air integrity.”

McLeod took in the information. If his face shield had shattered, he would have died from the sudden vacuum if the spaceship’s hull wasn’t secured. “That was close.”

“Very close.”

“My face is itchy.”

“That’s why your hands are tied down. You have a burned face from the explosion, and you would be scratching at it.”

“Oh.” He licked his lips. “How about you? And the others. Anyone else hurt?”

“Eric died. Everyone else is okay.”

“Jesus.” He remembered where Eric was sitting in front of his console, right where the rock slammed into the ship that caused the explosion. “Poor guy. He was here only a few months.”

“They’ll be an inquiry, of course. Can I get you anything?”

“Scratch my face.” He tried to grin, but the pain turned it into a grimace.

“You need to get some rest. I’ll check on you later.”

He heard her footsteps fade away and he fell asleep.

* * *

“Jaret, can you hear me?”

McLeod responded to the male voice dimly aware the question had been repeated several times previously. “Yeah, I can hear you.”

“I’m Dr. Asher Burkhart. Do you understand you are in the infirmary because of an accident on board the spaceship Gladiator?”


“Good. You’re lucky not to have suffered worse injuries. You had a concussion, so we kept you sedated while applying neuron repair drugs. However, you should now begin to feel more awake as the drugs wear off. You have a cracked rib, and that is healing nicely.”

“My eyes and my face?”

“No worries about your eyes. We had to do a minor procedure on each eye, but you should have normal vision. The bandages are a precaution to help healing. I’m going to remove the bandages, but you’ll need to wear dark glasses for another seventy-two hours. Your face suffered some burning, and you’ll end up with a scar on your left side that will require cosmetic surgery to remove. Unfortunately, we don’t do that type of work here. On a more positive note, there won’t be any permanent damage to the rest of the skin.”

“I can live with the scar. Thanks doc.”

He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“You’re one tough miner to have survived as well as you did.”

* * *

A nurse helped McLeod out of the hospital bed and dress. He felt it was strange he needed help with his first few steps out of his room. He placed a hand on the shoulder of a medium height blonde until his legs found their strength and balance.

“Take your time. You haven’t been out of bed for a week. The muscle memory will return soon enough.”

McLeod, tall and used to physical work, felt embarrassed at depending on the nurse to stop himself from falling. He felt odd wearing the dark eyeglasses, not used to the reduced vision or how the frames sat on his ears. He took his hand off her shoulder and began to walk on his own, waving goodbye to the nurses at the medical station

He made his way across the laminated floor to the bank of elevators and waited for one of the four elevators to arrive. The medical station was located on the sixth level of the thirty-eight-level space station. The elevator doors opened, revealing a large car capable of holding twenty personnel at a time. The ceiling in the car was high for the occasions when it had to double as a freight elevator. He stepped in the nearly empty car, deciding to go to his room to wash up. Compared to the clean environment of the medical station, the elevator smelled of humanity.

The living quarters were located on the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth floors. As the car travelled on its journey, more people stepped inside at stops on various levels. McLeod grimaced as he was jostled slightly in the elevator. His rib protested any movement and soon the car was full of workers leaving for the sleeping quarters from the decks below.

McLeod exited, walking down a narrow hallway with several other workers. He used his thumb to open the sliding door and stepped inside the efficient two room apartment. The bed folded up into the wall to provide space for a desk, two chairs and a combination of a sink, fridge, micro-oven and table. The other room contained a toilet and a shower.

He had hoped the shower would have a more positive effect. The shower head sent pulses of mist that, according to design engineers, was as effective as a regular shower. Users of the shower didn’t believe their theory. After a few frustrating minutes of getting damp, McLeod dressed. He heated a plastic tube of high protein dinner, adding pepper to the paste. He slowly ate, trying to detect the flavour of beef, and washed it down with sugar and mineral enhanced water. McLeod looked around his room. I’m not going to relax in here with these walls so damn close. I think I’ll head to the cafeteria. At least it’ll have lots of room.

He went back to the elevator and hoped it wouldn’t be too crowded. It was.

Fifteen decks later, the elevator doors opened to the noisy floor of a hundred voices. Most of the workers spoke English, or a variant of it. There was also a mixture of other languages and dialects competing to be heard. Still, English was the official language of space, and anyone wanting to work in space was required to have at least a conversational level in it.

The smell of bodies, machine oil and ions didn’t bother him, having been used to it during his time spent on the space station. Still he longed for fresh, mountain air, or even the dry air of Mars. He sighed, bored that he didn’t have anything to do, and no place of interest to go. He picked up a coffee and a pastry from a conveyor food belt and sat alone at a table, feeling frustrated. He knew the other crew members from the Gladiator were likely on other ships working. Tia Dermott, the engine mechanic on the Gladiator was working in the maintenance shop, helping to service the various mining ships that came in. He thought the petite woman was one of the best mechanics among the mining ships, although her skills were not yet fully appreciated by conservative mining corporations.

“Hey, Jaret. Are you in disguise or something?”

McLeod looked up at the lanky man, recognizing the navigator.

“Hey, Chuck. How’s it going?”

“Same old grind.” He sat at the table. “What’s with the eyewear?”

“Doctor’s orders. My eyes suffered some temporary damage from the explosion on the Gladiator.”

“Shit, yeah, I heard about that. Bad stuff. I heard that one of the crew died. When do you get back on a ship?”

“Not soon enough. I’ve got to pass medical first.” He used a finger to point at his eyes. “I also have a rib injury.”

“I hope you get back in the saddle again soon.” Chuck stood. “Now I better get my ass moving before my crew leaves without me.”



"A Hole in the Universe" by J. H. Wear



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