My ship finally eased to a complete stop next to one of the countless stationary white-blinking buoys that lined the Interplanetary Autobahn between Earth and Mars, only open in estimation to the two planets near-biennial passing. I had just completed a year-long mission on the asteroid belt and was looking forward to getting back to Earth. Behind me sat a police cruiser, red and blue lights flashing brightly.
I didn’t look at the officer until he was beside my window. He was dressed in a fully contained suit and helmet coated in a fluorescent material that appeared white under light but, when in darkness, glowed neon blue: A regulation spacesuit. What separated it from most civilian suits was the red lining around the shoulder solar pads and the authoritative badge on his chest.
The officer tapped on the side window with the back of his gloved hand. I took a deep breath of easy-to-breath air and hit several switches and latches to allow me to open the window. As the seal of the window gave way, a brief rush of air ran through the ship from the pressure equalization that occurred.
The buoys that lined the stellar road created a mock-atmosphere path for safer travel between planets. Breathing was like standing on top of a mountain, though a healthier alternative to the vacuum that existed just a dozen yards away.
It was as the breeze of air hit me that I remembered I was wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. After the first hundred thousand miles out of Mars I had decided my suit would be uncomfortable to wear for the long ride and had taken it off. Common for travelers to do. That didn’t stop it from being embarrassing.
“How’s it going?” I greeted — within the buoys field of mock-atmosphere there was also enough air to speak without radio communications or ear implants.
The officer undid the latches sealing his helmets visor and slid it up. Beneath the helmet was a thick beard that hid most of his facial features as it protruded through the opening, as if trying to escape. I hoped he was just a beard enthusiast and not an officer who had been out here so long he had recently grown it.
“License and identification,” the officer said bluntly. He gave the fact I was nearly naked little notice. He must have dealt with it often.
“Sure thing,” I said as I reached into the driver side compartment and removed my fold. I retrieved my identification cards, handing them to him with a makeshift smile, “Here you go.”
He took them and looked over my information.
“You’re Maximilian Kento?” he asked. “With Stellar Dynamic Solutions?”
I nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Do you know why I stopped you?” he added.
I shook my head, “No, sir.”
“You were speeding. What’s your hurry?”
“They want me back on the Moon with my satellite reports ASAP,” I lied. The reports had been transmitted before I left and would have been received Earth-days ago. However, he was less likely to cut me some slack if he knew I was going on vacation.
“You work on the satellites?” he asked.
“Fairly,” I explained, “We’re upgrading the array on Stickney in order to speed up communications with the Ceres Station.”
“Stickney. That’s on Deimos, right?” he asked suspiciously with a squint of suspicion in his eye.
“Phobos,” I corrected. I had a feeling he already knew that and was merely testing my story. The Ceres Station construction had been all over the news recently as the project attempted to garner funding. His cruiser’s radio was probably set on a discussion about it right now.
The officer nodded, relaxing his stare.
“Think they’ll get it functional?”
“If we don’t we can kiss dreams of Ganymede goodbye,” I said with a shrug.
As I had spoken, the officer removed a small electronic scanner from his pocket. He was about to scan my license to dock points off it for speeding and, more importantly, fine me. I couldn’t afford another traffic ticket and getting stuck on Earth with a suspended license could literally cost millions of lives.
“We need it fully operational before we finish construction on the other side of the belt for civilian occupation,” I said in attempt to distract him.
“If you ask me,” he waved my cards like a pointer in my direction, “If we don’t finish those domes off Jupiter before the Sun expands again, we’re gonna see a major population problem.”
“Glad you’re on our side.”
He looked hard at me, then down to the scanner. I crossed my fingers, hoping I had won him over. After what felt like several intense years of waiting, he held out my identification and license to me.
“Tell you what, I’m gonna let you off with a warning this time, Maximilian. But in the future, obey the speed limits. Understand?”
“Crystal clear, Officer.”
I eagerly took back my cards before he changed his mind, not bothering to put them back into my fold and instead tossing them on the passenger seat. If he had scanned my card he would have found I only had two points left — far less than what he would have docked me.
“Make sure you seal your window up before you get moving,” he slid the electronic scanner back into his pocket and prepared to reattach his visor, “and obey the speed limits in the future.”
With that he shoved off back to his cruiser, reattaching his visor as he floated. I resealed my window and took several deep breaths as the internal pressure returned to normal, then waited until I saw the officer’s lights turn off as he pulled away before I continued on my way back to Earth.
Roderick Holl writes in New Mexico, USA.
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