Spaceward the Women
By: Steve Carr

Pieces of the meteor that had been pulverized into small stones and pebbles by the raygun installed in the turret on the top front of the ship bounced off of the viewing window making pinging noises that echoed inside the control room.

"Good shot," Captain Dickerson said to Corporal Dale. "Your aim is getting better."

"Thank you, sir," she replied, beaming. She looked at the screen on the computer where she sat. Waving lines swept across a checkerboard–like graph. "That was the last of the meteor field, for now, sir."

"We'll be encountering plenty more of those between here and Mars," he said and then rose out of his chair. "Keep your eyes on that screen," he said to her as he started for the door.

"Yes, sir."

He admired Corporal Dale. Of the one hundred women on board the ship she was the only one with a military background, having been a Marine before volunteering for this flight.

"Take over the helm, Lieutenant Rush," he said to the young man with bushy red hair seated at the communications station. The doors whooshed open. He walked out of the command room hearing the lieutenant's "aye aye sir" just as the doors closed behind him, forming an impenetrable wall that showed no signs of a door being there.

He quickly made his way down the long, narrow corridor, grateful that the soles of his shoes made no sounds on the floor made of a synthetic metal. He liked to think of himself as a cat, slinking about on the ship, ever watchful, only seen when he wanted to be. He told no one, including the ship's doctor, Sheila Grant, who he was on his way to see, why he prowled the ship more frequently in the past forty–eight hours than might otherwise might have been deemed necessary.

Dr. Grant headed the ship's female medical team made up of three physicians in varying specialties, six nurses, three lab technicians and a cadre of biologists and scientists. The captain was attracted to her from the first time he met her while the women were undergoing space flight indoctrination back on Earth.

As he neared the infirmary door, it slid open. The aroma of rubbing alcohol wafted out. Dr. Grant was standing at the exam table where a pretty blonde no older than nineteen with a bandage around her forearm sat. They both turned their heads as he walked in and looked at him, surprised.

"What happened?" the captain asked, looking first at the girl, and then at the doctor.

"It's just a strained muscle," Dr. Grant replied.

"Turning the valves on the air system controls took more effort than I thought," the girl said, giggling. She jumped down from the table. "Thanks, doc." She ran out of the infirmary.

"I warned command before we left that some of the women may be too young and immature," he said as he waved his hand in front of an electric eye next to the door. It shut with a whisper–like sigh.

"She and the others will be fine," the doctor said. "Starting life anew on Mars won't be easy but neither was settling the frontier of anywhere on Earth." She wrapped the unused portion of a roll of bandage around its tube and eyed him, questioningly. "Is there something you need?"

He glanced around the infirmary as if searching for something. It was the only room on the entire ship not painted gray. Its whiteness was refreshing, but also slightly blinding, like staring at sunlit snow. He finally fixed his gaze on the open medicine cabinet. "You have all of the emergency medical supplies on hand that you need?"

"Yes," she replied. "Why?"

"I can't say, yet," he said. "But I received a very classified message from command and if the implications are true, it imperils all of our lives and the mission of this ship."

"I can't be trusted with the details of the message?"

"In time," he answered. "Meanwhile, stay alert."

"I always am," she replied, giving him a flirtatious wink.

#

The captain sat at his desk in his cabin with his eyes fixed on the viewing monitor in front of him. The images were grainy and a little blurry, relayed back to Earth from Mars a year before when the last ship landed on the red planet. Dozens of Quonset huts along with another dozen small buildings built from the mostly dismantled ships that had brought the men and equipment to Mars in the previously, were sprawled out on the red martian soil, linked by tubes large enough for men and small vehicles to travel through. Everything was encased in clear plastic, like food being kept fresh, but this was to keep air in, and the extreme weather and radiation out. The settlement had been named Earth City. Anything that landed on Mars, stayed there. Bringing anything or anyone back to Earth was a future the scientists on Earth and Mars were working toward. In the meantime, everything that had been transported to the planet helped ensure the long term sustainability of Earth City. The only thing missing to make certain that the settlement would become self sufficient and grow was women.

The images on the monitor quickly changed to views of the planet's polar ice caps and the numerous canals that cut through the planet's surface. Only a very small part of the planet had been explored, with very little known about the Western Hemisphere. He turned off the monitor when there was a tap on his door. He got up and waved his hand in front of the electric eye next to his door, opening it.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Captain," Lieutenant Rush said as he nervously ran his fingers through his red hair, "but Lieutenant Trasp and two of the women are missing."

The captain stared at him for a moment as if he hadn't heard correctly and then asked, "What do you mean, missing?"

"Well, they're not really missing, sir. All three of them had complained to others about wanting to change their minds about leaving Earth forever. They took one of the emergency evacuation capsules, presumably to return to Earth."

"We're too far away from Earth for them to get back," the captain said.

"You and I know that, Captain," the lieutenant said. "But they don't."

The captain stepped out into the corridor and looked both ways. "I was afraid this kind of thing might happen. There will be no way to keep their leaving or their doomed outcome quiet. They've sacrificed their lives and for what? That leaves us with four men on board and ninety–eight women. Go inform Dr. Grant and update the rosters."

"Yes, sir."

#

In the communications control room, Captain Dickerson removed Lieutenant Trasp's handmade cardboard nameplate from the wall above the communications console, waded it up and threw it into the garbage chute. The captain sat down and entered his pass code into the link to command communications and scanned the messages sent for his eyes only. The one he had to see again to determine if he had somehow missed something in the message sent a chill up his spine: [Communication has been intercepted that is from an alien source located in the vector your ship is entering. We are unable to entirely decipher their communication, but it is hostile in tone. Take necessary precautions.]

It confirmed what many of Earth's scientists had been saying for years, that aliens existed. It also didn't seem to be coincidental that the alien communication came at the same time the ship carrying the women to Mars entered the area of space it was now in; Mars was less than a month away. He thought of this message like he thought about most messages from command, like they were sending early Native American smoke signals that required him to understand a great deal based on very little. He had sent back one message in reply: [Should we try to return to Earth?]

There was no reply to his question.

He turned off the computer, sat back, and stared at the blank space where Lieutenant Trasp's nameplate had been.

#

The impact of the large meteor slamming the tail section of the ship set off alarms that blared through the rest of the ship. Everyone raced to their stations as they had been taught in the drills, quickly put on their space suits, keeping their helmets close at hand.

Captain Dickerson ran out of the infirmary and down the corridor with Dr. Grant following behind him. The doors to the control room opened a few feet before he reached them.

"Give me a report," he yelled to Corporal Dale who sat at the weapons station with one hand on the buttons that operated the raygun that had been on the back end of the ship. She look dumbfounded. "The meteor came out of nowhere, Captain," she said. "This entire area of space was clear, not even a rock fragment, and then the meteor appeared."

"Its torn away some of the rear storage compartments," Lieutenant Rush said, rising from the captain's seat where he had sat in temporary command of the ship. "Corporal Uberton and eight women were back there doing inventory." He walked up to the viewing window and stared out as if awaiting something else to suddenly appear.

The captain sat in his seat. "Have the safety doors closed in the rear compartments?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant replied.

Dr. Grant stood in the open doorway of the control room, trying to control her emotions. She knew who had been scheduled to do the inventory, aware that it was strenuous work and only the most fit would be assigned to do it. Two of the women who had just died were close friends of hers. "Have the medical teams been deployed?" she asked the lieutenant.

The lieutenant turned away from the window. "Yes, doctor, they reported in to me immediately just as the drills instructed them to do." He faced the captain. "Sir, you're going to think I'm crazy, but I'm certain I saw what looked like a giant claw appear and then disappear just before the meteor struck."

"What do you mean, a giant claw?" the captain asked.

"I don't know how else to describe it exactly, sir. A bird's talon. Several digits, all bent, cut off at the wrist. It was there for just a very brief moment."

"It didn't show up in our radars, sir," Corporal Dale added.

"What's it look like out there now?" the captain asked.

"All clear, sir."

The captain swiveled his chair around. "This may be the aliens I was just telling you about making contact with us," he said to the doctor.

"Everyone needs to know what's possibly in store for them if we continue on," she replied.

He searched her face, seeing the concern in her eyes, but not seeing any fear. Did she know he was in love with her, he wondered. "I agree," he said.

#

Eighty of the remaining ninety women and Lieutenant Rush stood in the largest of the ship's holds. The other ten women and Corporal Dale remained at vital stations, on alert. Captain Dickerson stood on top of several stacked pallets and looked out over the ship's passengers and one crew member. Their eyes were on him, quietly waiting.

The captain searched for the best way to say what he intended to say next. He cleared his throat. "Ladies, now that you know our situation, I think it best we return home. We have enough fuel to get us close enough so that they can send rescue ships to return us all to Earth."

There was a great deal of murmuring, and then Charlotte Yearn, a teacher, who stood in the back raised her hand. "Not me," she voiced loudly.

Mary Trells, a botanist, raised her hand also. "Not me," she shouted.

Hands went up all from all over, the ones raising them calling out, "Not me."

Within minutes all the women had their hands raised and were chanting. "Not me."

The captain looked at the front row of women. Dr. Grant had her hand raised and was smiling at him. "We're not going back," she announced emphatically.

"It may get very rough," he shouted over the cacophony of voices.

"If it's aliens, they have no idea what we women of Earth are capable of," the young blonde who had injured her forearm shouted.

They all clapped and stomped their feet.

#

"There were enough handheld rayguns on board for twenty women, myself, you and Lieutenant Rush," Corporal Dale said to the captain. She handed him a gun and tossed one to the lieutenant. "The women I've given them to have had some experience with other kinds of firearms." She smoothed a wrinkle in her spacesuit. "I'd be proud to go into combat with any of those women."

The captain gazed up at the viewing window. Mars could be seen in the distance, a red dot seeming to be the size of a tennis ball. "Getting everyone to that planet is imperative."

At that moment the ship's alarms began to blare. In the window a massive claw–like ship appeared and hovered in space, blocking the view of Mars.

Lieutenant Rush looked at his computer screen. A cluster of blue dots were shown on a diagram of the ship, near the sleeping quarters. "They've boarded us, sir," he yelled out.

"Take command of the control room and send a message to the Mars base commander to let him know what is happening," the captain told him as he jumped from his chair, and followed by the corporal, ran from the room and down the corridor. The sound of shouting, screaming and the resounding blasts from rayguns echoed through the ship.

The infirmary door whooshed open. Dr. Grant stepped out, holding a raygun.

The captain stopped as the corporal ran on. "I can't have you getting hurt," the captain said to the doctor as he affectionately grasped her shoulders.

She gazed into his eyes, "You can't protect me from this," she said.

"I can try," he replied and then took her in his arms and kissed her. He slowly released her from his embrace. "I just saw their ship. What I don't understand is why they haven't destroyed this ship. They've already demonstrated the ability to do so."

She glanced down the corridor, let out a terrified gasp, and grasped onto his arm.

The captain turned to see four six–foot tall figures that resembled giant, gelatinous thimbles with four eyes, four spindly arms, claw–like hands, and two long antennae that waved about.

The captain raised his raygun and aimed it at them.

#

The cavern was cool and dark, lit only by the glow of one of the aliens who stood on a boulder and looked down at the captain and Dr. Grant who still grasped the captain's arm. They were standing just as they had been when they were taken from the ship.

The captain tried to shoot his raygun but it suddenly began to glow, turned bright red, and then melted in his hand. He dropped it. "Who are you?" he asked the creature.

"I am speaking to the leader of that ship, am I not?" Its words entered the captain's and the doctor's minds, but no sound came from the alien.

"Yes, I am Captain Dickerson and this is Dr. Grant," the captain answered.

"I am Twylot Xert, the leader of what remains of our dying race," the creature said. "You are deep inside the planet you call Mars."

"What do you want from me?" the captain asked.

"We have been monitoring your radio transmissions for some time and know that you bring mates for the males of your species," the alien said. "We have left alone your males that have arrived here because they pose no threat to us but we cannot allow your species to populate this planet. It was our hope that you would return your females to your planet without us resorting to killing. We are a peaceful race."

"And if we don't turn back, what then?" the captain asked.

It was Dr. Grant who spoke next. "We mean you no harm. If your race is dying, perhaps we can help."

#

The captain and doctor were returned to the ship in the same way that they left it. She held in her arms a Martian's egg that was the size of a football.

"I'll get this to the lab right away," she said. She kissed him on the cheek and ran off.

The captain hurried to the control room. Lieutenant Rush jumped up from the captain's chair. "I thought we had lost you, Captain."

"Give me a report," the captain said.

"The alien ship and the invaders vanished at about the same time we realized you and the doctor were missing. We lost nine women in the fight." He hesitated before adding, "And Corporal Dale."

The captain hung his head and said a brief prayer.

"I need to send a message to the Mars base commander and let him know we've located the martians and tell him he needs to start building hatcheries."

The lieutenant looked at him with a puzzled expression. "Hatcheries?"

"Dr. Grant found a way for us to live in peaceful coexistence with the Martians. As babysitters. They became so immersed in developing technology that over time they lost the ability to care for their young."

"What about our own young?" the lieutenant asked.

"We're going to need more women."

The End

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