Login   Sign Up 


Beetroot 5

by KitBowman 

Posted: 12 September 2004
Word Count: 3496
Summary: The first few pages of a scifi story of friendship and a competiton a little closer to home than we know.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

‘Beetroot 5.’ Magda said impassively, reading the thin script on the slip of paper without emotion. She looked up at Bell, who looked back coldly. ‘You’re doing this on purpose aren’t you?’
‘Doing what, Magda?’ Bell asked, and Kas, who was standing next to Magda, went pale at the wave of hostility that was flowing between them. Magda didn’t even flinch though, only glared at the young man furiously.
‘You know damn well what!’ She hissed, and Kas quivered again. ‘Beetroot 5? What kind of ridiculous name is that?’
‘It’s a word and a letter Magda. They were chosen at random. You can’t blame me because yours is vaguely… humorous.’ Bell said back blandly, his face even and composed, his eyes staring at a point just behind her. This infuriated her even more than his condescending tone. ‘If you’ve got a problem, you could take up with Hall.’
‘You really think I’ll believe this is a coincidence?’ She snarled. ‘You and your fancy crew get Flame 1, Hog and his crew get Star 2, Jones gets Gamma 3, Abbey gets Orion 4 and you think I’ll believe that me and my crew getting Beetroot 5 is a funny example of fate? I thought you were smarter than that, Bell.’
The tall, athletic young man rolled his eyes, and Kas, watching, unnoticed, wished they’d quit it and just get on with it. He wanted to get away. Get back to Earth. They’d wasted enough time arguing in starship bays with Bell and his crew ‘of the best’ before, and it was becoming routine. So what if Magda and Bell had some amazing past that they never ever revealed to anybody? Personally, Kas just wanted to get the race started and on it’s way.
‘You’re boring me and your crew, Magda. Let’s get on, shall we?’ Bell said, and Kas sighed in relief. Magda nodded stiffly. Bell strode away into the crowd clustered in the small bay and emerged on the other side with a microphone. He stepped up onto one of the platforms and Kas noticed Magda turn stubbornly away, as if only half-paying attention would somehow make her right and Bell wrong. Anyway, Kas knew she was listening to every word.
‘Crew members! Captains! Star fleet personnel!’ Bell said into the microphone, and a hush went over the crowd. ‘You are gathered here for one purpose. The NovaTerra competition!’ He raised his hands and the crowd cheered, quieting when he lowered them again. ‘I know most of you already know the rules but for the misinformed and the newly appointed, I’ll do a quick rundown.’ A few groans were heard but calm fell again. Bell cleared his throat and scanned them all solemnly.
‘The point of the NovaTerra competition is to achieve the appointed vessel from the planet Earth within a time limit. The time limit this year will be two months. This allows two weeks either way and then an extra month to locate the vessel.
‘Rule one: The vessel may not be destroyed. In the event of accidental destruction, the competition will be halted until a new vessel has been appointed.
‘Rule two: All normally friendly codes are out the window. You are playing against other crews and their captains. No co-operation allowed except in extreme circumstances.
‘Rule three: You must not be spotted! Earth is a neutral environment and you are all aware that it is also a protected planet – no outside contact has been allowed since their year of 1947, which some of you may remember as being the year we lost Clude and Perry, may they rest in peace. The official point of the NovaTerra competition is a practice in stealth, and will serve as a final examination for those studying Earth Aspects and Culture for your degrees.
‘I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that any disruption, cheating or general hash-handedness will be looked on very sternly.’ Bell paused and looked out at the sea of expectant faces.
‘And lastly?’ Everyone leaned forwards.
‘Have a bloody good time. And may the best crew win!’ The starship bay erupted in cheers and Kas realised then that Magda had disappeared.

‘Mags? Magda? Hey… oh, there you are.’ Kas stood in the doorway, watching his captain packing viciously. She was flinging clothes into a travelling bag fiercely, and cursing under her breath. Kas caught the word Bell as she stalked past, not seeing him, and he sighed.
‘Mags? Come on, he’s always like that. You should be used to it by now.’ He ventured. Magda didn’t glance up but she answered, which at least meant she was still with him mentally.
‘Always? Oh sure. Used to it? Yep. But oh my god, Beetroot 5? I’ll never forget that… he did it on purpose… bastard captain… I’ll show him…’
‘Yes, I bet you will.’ Kas said wearily. ‘But we need to get the others together, and I can’t do that without you.’
‘Why not?’ Magda paused in her demented flight around the bedroom and looked at him for the first time. ‘You’re my second in command, and my head engineer. You’ve got all the authority I have.’
‘You know how Zen is. He won’t do a damn thing I tell him.’ Kas said, not meaning it badly. ‘And the twins won’t either, not unless I deliberately don’t ask them, and then they knuckle in, wanted or not. It’d be better for you to get them.’
‘For god’s sake Kas.’ Magda muttered, but she straightened up and put an armful of sweaters down on the bed. ‘Okay, I’ll come. Are you ready to go?’
‘Yep.’ He said, following her out. ‘Good to go Captain.’
‘Don’t. I’m not captain till we get on board.’ Magda said with a sigh. ‘Oh, I have to get the vessel this year. I want to get it and bring it back to Star Command and shove it down Bell’s throat…’
‘Mags…’ Kas said worriedly, but she laughed.
‘Stop worrying, I’m not going to do anything stupid. But this year… pull out all the stops, Kas. I want you working at 200%; I want all of us at 200%. I’ve got to show that scummy bastard that he can’t get around me by giving my crew a stupid name.’
‘It’s not so bad.’ Kas offered. ‘We could shorten it to Root 5. That doesn’t sound so bad. Sounds… mathsy.’
‘Yeah.’ Magda murmured, but Kas knew she was off in her head, watching herself holding aloft the NovaTerra Cup, watching the five of them being showered with the prize money, watching herself and Bell… doing what? Whenever they agreed to settle their disputes ‘outside’ Kas never saw them actually do anything. Mostly they disappeared for a couple of hours and then reappeared again, one of them smiling victoriously, the other scowling maliciously. As Kas followed Magda down the corridor of the Star Command living quarters, he hoped they didn’t hurt each other too much.
He needed his captain alive enough to run a starship after all.

‘Magda! It’s time already?’ Zen opened the door with his bag already on his back. He nodded to Kas, who nodded back. Zen was their weapons engineer, obsessively good at what he did and occasionally more aggressive about his work that Kas liked. Zen was older than Kas, all the crew were, and he was taller, stronger and built with muscles to rival Bell’s impressive frame. For all this, he was quick on his feet and faster with his hands. He could get in shots that Magda couldn’t have made in twice the time.
‘Ready?’ Magda nodded approvingly. She liked punctuality. ‘We’ll stop off and get the twins, and then onto the bay. The competition starts in an hour and I want you all to get settled before we get sent off. It’s been a while since the last flight…’
‘Only a month.’ Zen put in as they started down the corridor. Magda waved his comment aside.
‘A month too long. Plus, a few last minute checks wouldn’t be unwise.’ She glowered at the thin air in front of her. ‘I wouldn’t put it past Bell to try his hand at a little sabotage either…’
‘It’ll be good to go out again.’ Kas said wistfully, only partly saying it to divert Magda from her favourite subject of hate. He really did miss the familiarity of their ship, the Peru, and the sight of its silent mobile bulk in the storage bay often made him sad. It was a ship for flying, not for looking at. Unlike Bell’s impressive ship, he added mentally. The Europa was a flying master class in how to decorate your ship, so long as you wanted it to intimidate every other ship in the galaxy and outshine the stars. Rumour had it that Bell polished the ornamental silver casing of the hull himself, trusting the job to nobody else. Kas thought it sounded like the sort of rumour Bell would start himself.
‘Yeah.’ Magda said, and now she sounded wistful. ‘Good to get some stars behind us, right?’ Kas nodded. It would be good indeed.
They reached the twin’s quarters. Zen and Kas looked at Magda expectantly but they needn’t have bothered; she was already reaching for the call button as Kas fell in beside her.
‘Hey you two, it’s Magda. Time to get your skinny butts into action.’ She said into the speaker, and then released the button. For a long moment nothing came back, and then the door opened and Ten was standing there with a smile that looked awfully like a grimace.
‘Mags. No. I can’t We can’t. It’s too early. Go away.’ Ten said shortly, and Magda only just caught the door as he started to pull it closed again. Ten glowered at her, but his eyes were smiling, and Kas grinned, knowing this was just play. Ten, short for Tentracatae, was the slightly elder twin, though you couldn’t tell. He and his brother, Six short for Sixtrecee, were identical in every way, or at least every way that Kas wanted to know about.
Magda smiled threateningly.
‘The competition starts in less than an hour. I want us on deck in ten minutes. Are you two even packed yet?’
Ten sighed theatrically and let them in. Six was sprawled on the sofa opposite their massive telescreen and was flicking through the channels between spooning a heap of chocolate coloured cereal into his mouth. Kas followed Magda and Zen inside and hovered nervously next to the sofa, wishing he had the same familiarity with the twins that Zen had that allowed him to take the seat next to Six and grab a handful of cereal from him without Six even saying anything. Of course, Kas reasoned, Zen was easily twice the size of the twins and only Magda had him completely under her thumb. Kas thought he’d probably let Zen steal cereal from him too if it came to it.
Magda was following Ten around the room as he dragged out their suitcases from under, over and between bits of furniture.
‘So you’re done then?’ She was asking loudly. Ten was ignoring her deliberately, and Kas had to grin. Magda might have Zen under her thumb but Ten and Six were nobody’s business.
‘Hey Kas, come here then.’ Six was patting the space between him and Zen. Kas squeezed in gratefully and took the proffered handful of cereal. He was glad it wasn’t milky; luckily neither of the twins ate cereal with milk.
‘Ready to get it on?’ Six muttered. Kas grinned and nodded. Six nodded back, happy, and turned back to the screen. It was playing They Came From My Sink, a cult gross out classic that the twins loved and Six had stopped flicking around in order to enjoy it. Magda and Ten moved around behind them.
‘Right! Come on Six, Zen, Kas. Time to get going.’ Magda said from behind them. Kas got up quickly and Zen followed, brushing crumbs off his shirt. Six flicked the screen off and got up to turn it off at the plug. Two months was a lot in wasted nucleon energy. Ten handed him a travel case and as one the crew turned to look at Magda. She seemed to have been expecting this and she smiled.
‘So. Our fifth competition. Five competitions, four of which we didn’t win.’ They all looked down slightly, Kas included. Last time one of the nucleon transmitters had blown and he’d panicked. Not for long but for long enough to put them out of the race because of the damage. He was determined that wouldn’t happen this year. Magda went on.
‘I love flying with you four. Four races though, four members of my crew and four opportunities lost.’ She started to pace in front of them. ‘I don’t miss opportunities. Now, I know you’ve been taught that every fault is the captain’s fault. That’s not true. You don’t do your job properly, we lose, end of story. I can do your jobs if I need to, and I’m not exaggerating. But I’m just one person.’ She caught Kas under the chin and made him look at her. ‘And I’m not the best engineer to ever grace the Peru or even the whole flight deck.’ Kas smiled back weakly and she moved onto Zen. ‘Nor am I the quickest, most accurate shot I’ve ever seen.’ Zen looked down and shuffled his feet.
‘Aw jeez Mags…’ He said hoarsely, and Kas looked at him in surprise. Then he looked away. He was feeling pretty choked up too. He wanted to win this year, and not just for himself. He wanted Mags to win. He wanted Zen, and Ten and Six to win. He wanted them to win, as one, and Magda was pushing the right buttons to make them feel like they could. He looked up at her, eyes sparkling slightly with more than hope, and was suddenly fiercely glad that she was their captain.
‘And I’m definitely no match for the two finest flyers this side of the century.’ Magda was saying now, each of her hands in one of the twin’s and their brimming eyes enough to tell Kas that they felt the same as he did.
‘You’re still good Magda.’ Ten said, wiping his palm across his cheeks and trying to look like he wasn’t. ‘You’re the best, really. I mean, none of us could be up at the front telling the rest of us what to do. We wouldn’t know…’
‘Aye, thanks Ten.’ Magda said gently. ‘I know what you mean. But what I’m trying to say is; my ship would fall apart if I didn’t have you four. Let’s do this as a team. Let’s win this as a team.’ She looked around at the four of them, all trying to do the manly thing and failing miserably. She smiled.
‘I expect you all on deck in five minutes. Let’s get it on.’
Then she walked out, brushing past Kas on her way out and whispering quietly for his ears only; ‘I meant it Kas. You’re the best one. Don’t forget it.’ And then she was gone and they stood in silence for a long moment. Finally Zen broke the atmosphere, wiping his eyes carefully and looking at Kas, completely perplexed.
‘How the hell does she do that?’

Magda was standing in front of the viewport on the bridge when Kas arrived. He hesitated in the doorway for a long moment and was about to creep away when she spoke, her back still turned.
‘Come on Kas, just come and talk to me.’ She turned and smiled at him. ‘Five years and you still can’t just come and talk to me?’
‘I didn’t want to disturb you.’ He said quietly. She saw his face and her smile disappeared.
‘What’s wrong Kas?’ She asked him gently. He stared hard at the floor, wishing he hadn’t come to see her. Better to just leave it… but his mouth had other plans and he was speaking before he knew it.
‘I’m afraid. Afraid I’ll mess up like last time. That I’ll panic and it’ll go wrong and it’ll be five years Mags. Five years and Bell will have gotten one over you again and it’ll be my fault. I don’t… don’t want…’ He stuttered to a stop, waiting for Magda to speak, to tell him he was being stupid, that he was the best one, even though he knew different… but instead she caught his chin with her hand like before and made him meet her eyes.
‘Oh Kas.’ She said softly. ‘I know you feel bad, but that was last time. This is now. You know what went wrong. This is your chance to make up for it.’ She looked him up and down and grinned at him until he grinned back. ‘Have you been down to engineering yet?’
‘Just been.’ He said, his face lighting up. ‘She’s perfect, shiny like new and everything looks fine. I’m going to run a few extra diagnostics….’
‘Well, get on it then. We’ve got twenty minutes.’ The doors opened then and the twins appeared, looking the deck over for any changes Magda might have wrought. She raised a hand in greeting and they both waved back, already sliding into their familiar seats and fingering the polished surfaces of the flight boards, glancing at each other and grinning. Magda turned back to Kas, who was watching the twins. He looked up at her, feeling better already. She was right after all. He could make up for last time by helping her win this time.
‘Go on, run those scans. No need to run it by me if it’s all fine, but if you spot anything let me know.’ She said, patting his shoulder.
‘Sure. I think it’ll be fine, but…’
‘It’s always good to do another check, I know.’ Magda laughed. ‘But if you don’t hurry up you won’t have time, so go!’ Kas laughed and ducked when she went to punch him playfully. As he was walking off Zen entered and nodded at him. He nodded back, grinning for ear to ear. He felt better; much better; he should have guessed Magda would be able to cheer him up anyway. She always could.

‘Entrants, please commence start up.’
Hall’s voice echoed through the ships com system. Down in engineering Kas heard and began firing up the nucleon generators. They had been back-burning for the last ten minutes anyway, his version of a warm-up, and now they roared to life under his light fingers and watchful eyes. Around him, muffled by the confines of the engineering deck and the outside plating but still loud enough for him to hear were the familiar noises of the other ships powering up. The Europa could be heard above all others – Bell had his nucleon generators updated every week apparently. Kas snorted to himself. Fresh generators could be a worse blessing than old. Old ones were used to a ships system and were more likely to work in time with the rest of the parts, provided they weren’t too old, but newer generators always had the added risk that they might be rejected by the system at anytime if the engineer in charge wasn’t careful. They might mean more power and more speed, but they were infinitely more dangerous to use than an old generator that maybe couldn’t be stretched so far but wouldn’t suddenly turn to poison under Kas’ hands.
‘You good to go Kas?’ Magda’s voice over the com. Kas pushed the small button on his collar and spoke into the microphone there, tiny but visible.
‘All okay here. Generators at 98% capacity, shields at 100% and all essentials stable at 100%. We’re good to go Captain.’
‘Let’s get those generators up to 100% as well Kas. I want the best start we can get.’ Magda switched off and Kas set to work, fingers tapping gently over the control panels, bringing the generators up slowly until all his readouts flashed at 100%, bright green and comforting. He flicked his switch again.
‘Generators ready at 100% Magda.’
‘Good. Come up and take your post when you feel ready engineer.’ A pause. ‘So far so good Kas. Let’s keep it up.’ Then she was gone again. Kas checked over the readouts. No wavering, all perfect… the generators were rumbling lowly, the sound a comforting regularity. He put a hand briefly against the panel behind which they stood, feeling the gentle, barely there heat and the increased vibrations near the source, and he felt like crying suddenly, he was so happy to be back here, on board. Then he took his hand away and swallowed quickly. No time for breaking down. He had to be up on deck now, ready for flight. He got up and left, taking one quick look back. He smiled. It was all right.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Gabbie at 18:18 on 16 September 2004  Report this post

This is good. It is something I've not seen for a while - classic Space Sci Fi - and very well written.

I don't 'proof read' as I'm more concerned about the general impression I get from a piece. In other words, is it a good story? Does it avoid the pretentious overuse of adjectives and off the wallstyle that so much SCi Fi has these days?

I enjoyed this and would like to read more.

keep writing.


To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .