Men Don't Always Rise to Meet the Demands of Tumultuous Times
|Jenneth frowned. “I just don’t understand why you insisted on moving all the way out here, Tare. Tremulous 3 is an absolute shithole. What is there for me to do here?”
Teryl’s gaze didn’t rise from his tablet, his eyes scanning over the data on the screen uncomprehendingly. Though his stomach fluttered and contracted as Jenneth vented her frustrations, there was no outward sign of the raging emotions that coursed through him.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Jenneth threw up her hands in exasperation. “Do you even care what I’m going through? Or is this damn station all that you’re interested in?”
Still, Teryl didn’t look at his wife. Instead, he rose, turning his back on her. “I have a meeting with Governor Bronson in five minutes. I need to go. We’ll discuss this when I get back.”
Jenneth bit her quivering lip, turning swiftly away from the man across the room to gaze out the window. “Just go then.”
Teryl leaned against the picture window of the conference room, his gaze distant for long moments before the scene actually registered. When it finally did, however, his brows furrowed in concern as he watched the violet sands of his unwelcoming new home swirl violently upward in the distance.
A tall, gray-haired man approached him from behind, clapping him enthusiastically on the back. Teryl, lost in thought, startled. His head whipped around to give his boss a wide-eyed glance.
“Look, son,” said Bronson, an untroubled grin parting his lips as he watched the same scene that so disturbed Teryl. “I’m a founding member of this colony. I’ve seen these habitation domes weather every one of this planet’s atmospheric disturbances for 12 earth years. Nothing has ever come close to breaching it. Transparent titanium windows, toughium shell—there’s nothing to worry about. This place has starship-level plating.”
Teryl turned, looking the colony’s leader directly in the eye. “With all due respect, sir, we’ve never seen solar activity of this magnitude before. I read the reports a few minutes ago. We can’t expect that it will behave—”
Bronson’s amusement at his security chief’s reaction to the building winds outside built as Teryl spoke, the older man’s bitter laugh finally cutting off Teryl’s fear-laden words.
“It’s sand, Teryl!” Bronson said as his laughter began to subside, wiping away the tears that had begun to form at the corners of his eyes. “Do you really think that sand, no matter the color, no matter the wind speed, can actually damage this station? This place is built to withstand meteorite collisions at intersystem speeds!”
Teryl clapped his mouth shut, considering the man’s words. It was true. These habitats were built in the same way as space vessels designed for travel between star systems. It did seem silly to worry about unstable weather patterns on the planet’s surface. It was just that from the way his wife, the colony’s chief science officer, had been speaking, the impact of the instability of the local star’s surface on the weather patterns had seemed almost catastrophic. She did have a tendency to overreact sometimes, however. Maybe Bronson was right. Maybe there really was nothing to worry about. Maybe he was overly worked up by his fight with Jenneth. Still…
“Do you think we should move non-essential personnel to the underground bunkers, Governor?” he asked hesitantly. “Just in case?”
“The underground bunkers?” Bronson scoffed. “Those things haven’t even been properly set up yet. The emergency food stores are only a quarter full after that last shipment from Sol was diverted to Alpha Centauri.”
Teryl went pale. “Are you certain, sir? When I accepted this post three weeks ago, I had understood that they were fully ready to go.”
“Well, they are ready. They’re just not fully stocked. No need to cause public outcry over something we’ll never even need.”
“But don’t you think—?”
“Damn it, Teryl! I brought you here because you actually had combat experience. I thought you would be tough. That you wouldn’t be one of these weak-ass pansies that gets freaked out by every little thing.” Bronson’s cheeks grew a deeper shade of crimson by the minute. “But I guess I was wrong. You’re just as bad as the rest of them!”
Teryl swallowed hard, his jaw clenching tightly. This wasn’t the first time he’d been dressed down by a superior. It probably wouldn’t be the last, he reminded himself. He knew how to handle it when he’d overstepped his bounds. “I’m sorry, sir. Forget I said anything.”
His response seemed to staunch the rising tide of anger in Bronson’s eyes, though he was clearly still upset. “I will.”
With that, Bronson turned to leave. “Teryl?”
“Don’t do anything stupid.” Governor Bronson disappeared through the portal without another word.
Teryl slowed as he approached the door to his apartment, taking a deep breath to gather himself before opening the door. As he stepped inside, he looked around in confusion. The room was in complete disarray.
“Jen?” he queried, his eyes finally meeting those of his wife as she looked up at him defiantly, hands pressing clothes into an open suitcase. “What is all this? What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” His wife spat the words as if they were distasteful. “I’m leaving.”
“Jen,” Teryl said, trying and failing to keep his tone even. “We’ve only been here for a few days. Give it a chance!”
“Why?” Her voice was bitter. “So you can examine reports on dust storms and ignore me?”
“Don’t be melodramatic,” Teryl snapped in annoyance. Couldn’t she see that this was the last thing he needed right now? Didn’t he have enough on his plate?
“Well,” said Jenneth, her voice quavering with emotion as she began to fling clothes into her suitcase once again. “No need to worry about my melodrama in a few hours. I’ll be off this station, and you can do whatever the hell you want!”
“What are you saying exactly?” Teryl’s voice grew cold, becoming almost completely devoid of emotion as it dropped in pitch.
Jenneth paused her activity, looking Teryl squarely in the eye once again. “I’m saying I’m leaving.”
Teryl knew he should leave it at that, but he simply couldn’t. “That’s all?”
“Do you want there to be more?”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
Jenneth slammed the top of her suitcase down, zipping it up with harsh, jerky pulls. Sliding it from the table to the ground, she released it. Glaring at Teryl, she stormed past him, her suitcase gliding behind her at arm’s length as it followed her position, matching her speed precisely.
“Jen!” Teryl cried as the suitcase cleared the entryway. She didn’t answer, the door automatically sliding shut as they departed down the hall.
Teryl picked up his data tablet and threw it across the room in frustration. It slammed against the exterior window before clattering to the floor. His wild eyes widened, however, as he saw what lay just beyond.
The storm was incredible in its fury now, nearly to the station. Teryl had never seen such weather. It looked as if the entire surface of the planet had gone airborne, whipping about at hypersonic speeds. This maelstrom made even the most extreme hurricanes back on Earth look like a gentle evening breeze by comparison.
Teryl’s face grew pale. Jenneth was about to fly directly into that!
“Station, which docking port is my ship in?” he asked the computer, his eyes still focused on the window.
“Your personal vessel is located in docking port 7.”
Teryl was moving the moment the computer spoke the number. Sprinting down the hall, he rounded the corner, looking up at the display that showed the time to the next train. 9 minutes. Shit! He could probably run there faster than that!
Teryl took off down the hall at a full sprint. As his arms and legs pumped with all the speed he could muster, his ear chip notified him of an incoming call. “Answer,” he commanded, breathlessly.
“Teryl, I may have been overly… relaxed in my assessment of the storm situation.” It was Governor Bronson. “Maybe it would be wise to evacuate the station to the bunkers.”
The man must have seen what he had—the overwhelming violence of the approaching storm. But he couldn’t worry about that right now. He needed to worry about Jenneth. She had been right. He had put his career over her happiness in his decision to come out here. Right now, her safety was all that mattered. To hell with Bronson.
“Sorry, sir. I’m a little busy right now.”
“Busy?” the voice on the other end of the line was incredulous. “Too busy to see to the security of our station? You’re the head of security, man.”
Teryl had had about enough of this guy. It was clear that he would be leaving if he were to save his marriage. So what did he have to lose by telling the man off?
“You told me to do nothing. You told me not to do anything stupid. Remember that?” Teryl said between pants, still tearing down the hall as fast as he possibly could.
“Situations change,” the governor replied lamely.
“Yeah,” said Teryl, huffing too loudly to manage more than a single syllable at a time now. “They… do…”
“So you’ll handle it?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Got… to stop… my wife…” Teryl ended the call with a slap to the chip behind his ear, his heart soaring now that he saw he was near the docking area.
Flying through the portal into the hangar, Teryl doubled over, his eyes bright as they scanned the huge warehouse-like room for his ship.
The flare of engines attracted his attention, the Security Chief leaping forward on protesting legs toward the sound. Shock rippled through his lurching body as he heard another, far scarier noise.
The inner door to the hangar airlock was opening! How could that be happening? Shouldn’t everything be on lockdown with the approaching storm? His mind whirled. It wasn’t! Of course, it wasn’t! As Security Chief, he had to be the one to issue that order.
As his mouth opened to issue the command, however, the closed outer door to the airlock gave a terrifying groan, bowing inward under the insane force of the storm as it finally reached the station. A chill rose Teryl’s spine, terror momentarily rendering him speechless as he gaped at a patina of cracks that began to widen in the center of the airlock door.
Finally, he managed to clear his throat, shouting over the growl of the spaceship engine from between trembling lips. “Station, seal the inner—!” Before he could finish, the outer door gave way.
A stream of swirling sand shot into the hangar like the tentacle of a mythical kraken, punching his wife’s ship from the air into the back wall. It struck with such force that the ship tore clean through the hanger wall. Wind whipped through the entire area, lifting Teryl off his feet, even as he watched more tentacles of air punch through the walls into the station.
Teryl ricocheted off the ceiling, bouncing along its surface until he was wedged into a corner, partially protected from the whistling rage of the winds. Panel by panel, the station’s construction gave way to the fiercest storm any human had ever witnessed. He began to gasp for breath as he watched bodies fly through the new openings, whisked into the unbreathable atmosphere of this Godforsaken planet.
As sand battered his already stinging flesh, Teryl felt warm tears trickle down his raw cheeks. He had brought Jenneth here purely to serve his own selfish ego. For a promotion. For his career. He had gone to work for a man he had already known was prideful and vain. He deserved this. He only wished he had done better for Jenneth. She had deserved more.