A Gas Station on the Final Frontier

“The Space Force? If you wanted to earn a government salary for doing nothing you could just become a politician” Alexis could hear the mockery her friends gave her when she announced to them that she was requesting a move from the Hellenic Air Force to the Hellenic Space Force. At the time it was effectively career suicide. In the Air Force she was on the fasttrack for the F-22 program. From there she would almost certainly have been a Squadron leader by 2095 and would have commanded a wing by 2097. By now she could even have become a general officer in charge of a major base. Many considered her the best pilot the Air Force had seen since World War 2. The Space Force was for its part a branch in name only back in 2093. It controlled satellites and it worked together with the HSA on some projects but for an Officer it was a retirement home.

As she looked out the window overlooking the launch pad she wished her friends could see it now. The HSS Persephone was the second major military vessel to be launched by the Hellenic Space Force. A Persephone Class, it was the more exploratory and comfortable ship compared to the Uranus Class which was built purely for war. Alexis would however not be commanding this piece of beauty, the timing just lined up for her to reach her true goal if she hitched a ride. Stargate 1. What Space Port Heraklion was intended to be on Earth, Stargate 1 was to be in orbit. The home of all future space operations. By virtue of the difficulty of getting heavier objects in orbit and the prohibitive cost, moving construction to space after all made most longterm economic sense. Stargate 1 would start small, with a maximum crew of about 500 but in the end it would truly be a home. Even though some still mockingly called it a gas station.

Wearing the new space duty uniform, Alexis was surprised by how comfortable it was. She shouldn’t be, after all it used the newest in hybrid polymers and a material called living skin. The suit was made for all kinds of problems that might appear in space. Pressure differences, emergency treatment for injuries, even camouflage and a self-defence system. That was ignoring the small supercomputer integrated in the lining to control it all and link to any other system. These days, the Space Force got the best stuff.

“Captain Drakos, you have been cleared to board the Persephone” A young male voice pulled Alexis from her thoughts. She looked at the young man, he seemed to be barely out of the Academy. This was probably his first assignment. “Thank you, Ensign. Please take me to the docking gate” She said as she walked towards the man. He simply nodded and led the way. As they walked through the corridors they encountered many service members who all saluted her just slightly longer than the usual superior officer. Alexis had become a bit of a legend, as a pilot she had set multiple records and in one vital mission she had rescued a team of HSA scientists caught in an orbital lab. As far as the Space Force was concerned she was a hero. The docking bridge connected just outside of the bridge of the Persephone, this would make sure her walk on the ship there would face less delays. As she stepped onto the Bridge she looked over the large command centre. Things had definitely been scaled up on the newer ships.

“Visiting Captain on the bridge!” A voice announced loudly as each of the Officers on the bridge moved to attention.

“Thank you everyone, but don’t let me keep you from your work. I’m just here to catch a ride on this beautiful ship.” Alexis said with a smile.

“Don’t you go charming my crew away from me” A familiar voice replied from the command chair. As the chair turned around and she saw her best friend in it, the smile grew even bigger.

“Sofia… I mean Commander Iordanou. What are you doing here? I thought Captain Lekas was in charge of the Persephone” Alexis said as she approached the blonde.

“Last minute switch of commands. Turns out he got a nasty batch of shellfish in the hotel bar so they’re putting him on the Theodora that launches next week” Sofia replied.

“Ah, well it’s good to see you Commander.” Alexis said as she sat down in one of the pull out VIP chairs reserved for guests on the bridge with nothing useful to do.

“I hope you went easy on breakfast” Sofia said, only partially joking. “Strap in everyone. Helm initiate launch sequence. Communications, contact Heraklion Joint Space Traffic Control and request authorization to launch”

Alexis was quick strap herself in with the provided seatbelts as the rest of the crew followed and the normal white lighting turned a flashing red to signify to the entire ship launch operations had commenced.

“Heraklion Space Traffic Control has authorized us to launch” The 30-something Communications Lieutenant said. Only to be followed by the slightly younger man of the same rank behind Helm. “All departments report ready for launch. All engines are green. We are safe to proceed”

Alexis knew Sofia ever since she joined the Space Force, the woman was keeping up a front but even she was nervous. “Launch” She ordered simply.

Alexis felt a rush over her, no matter how many times they did it, it would never get less exciting. Or less dangerous for that matter. For a moment there was nearly complete silence, with only the computer voice breaking the pure serenity. “Launch Protocol in 10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. Launch!”

From here most was automated. The Helm Officer primarily served as oversight but the stresses of the atmosphere, the size of the ship and the immense pressure from gravity were too much for any human mind to process safely. Until they entered LEO, the computer was behind the wheel.

“Launch Protocol Complete, stable orbit established.” The words from the computer only moments later made cheers erupt throughout the Bridge, and probably the rest of the 100-man ship as well. “Congratulations everyone, well done.” Sofia praised her crew. “Helm set a course for Stargate 1. Let’s get our princess to her castle” She followed mockingly.

“I take it that makes you my fairy godmother, Commander?” Alexis replied mockingly and with emphasis on rank.

Stargate 1 was still in quite a bit of a higher orbit and using the Tesla Drive at this stage would be overkill and dangerous so on more conventional Ion propulsion the Persephone would get there in the next ten minutes.

“Commander, Stargate 1 is within visual range. Do you want me to put her on screen?” The Operations Officer asked.

Sofia nodded, when the station (still partially under construction) appeared in front of her Alexis couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

“They sure didn’t cheap out on this one” Sofia observed in perhaps the biggest understatement of the century.

“They definitely did not” Alexis said, too stunned to offer a witty retort.

“Communications, send a lasercom to Stargate 1 informing them that we have their Base Commander aboard and are requesting permission to dock to prepare for Project Selene”