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  1. Be warned, I'm about to get REAL nerdy. I started playing Elite Dangerous, which is fun. I tend to think of stories for my characters. For this space-outing, my character Hank Sterling is a simple-minded space-janitor on a little space port in a tiny tucked-away solar system. That is, until he falls into a ship that takes him to some wacky adventures. Captain's Log, Day 1. Just a one time gig, that's all. A big hangar full of expensive equipment that he wasn't allowed to touch stood between Hank Sterling, Space Custodian, and his mop. They had something like an oil spill, or what he thought was oil. He brought his expensive degreaser formula just in case. It was there in his cart, which was his toolbag for the creation of clean. But there should be some sort of sheet for nasty chemicals, like a sheet that explains the dangers of them. One that he could read, that is. Lights blinked across the expanse, but he kept his head down and mopped. A few more hours of this shift, then Hank had his day off. First in months! The school kept him busy. He liked the school better than this air-force hangar. Sure, the kids sometimes made fun of him or called him names, but they were kids. That's what kids did. Hank didn't have an explanation as to why the teachers and parents called him names too, though. But it was important! Cleaning, that is. 'Cause even on this twisting, floating hunk of metal high above... High above what, exactly? They were in some star system and the name had a bunch of numbers in it. All Hank knew is that it didn't matter where in God's great expanse people went, they left a mess. And somebody had to pick up that mess. 'Cause, you know, it sure as hell wasn't gonna be the people that made the mess. Oh no, that'd make too much sense. Beside him was a catwalk that led out to a modestly-sized ship. Hank didn't know anything about it, but that was fine. He didn't need to know anything about it. It could be powered by little rats spinning wheels for all he cared. The job was to clean up the hangar. Catwalks didn't count, Hank figured. Hard to clean up grating. As he turned, though, the hatch opened and Hank heard the sounds of drunken giggling, heavy footsteps, and cursing. A man with half a space-suit unzipped, leaving his chest and shoulders bare, stumbled down the catwalk. Under each arm were scantily clad women with messy hair and fake smiles. They both had bottles in their hands. Hank's eyes rolled, but then the space-man turned and emptied a stomach full of cheap booze and regret onto the hatch of the ship. Afterwards, he laughed, and instructed the women to take him to his bunk. Or theirs, it didn't matter much to the space-man. Filthy space-captain people. Hank didn't understand them. They spend more time bragging about space battles or space flying or space shuttling or space whatever than anybody else. Well, there wasn't much out here other than space. Planets were pretty barren. Not like Old Earth. Before it was torched by nukes sent to destroy the infectious bacteria that was mutated because of the retro-viral biowarfare that resulted from the dissolution of the cyber-protection grid via the EMP blasts from the first nukes dropped on accident from the nations trying to send them into the sun. At least he thinks he's remembering that right. Old Earth History Class was years ago. Hank was almost done mopping the floor when he saw the space-man's greenish stomach contents on the hatch of his ship. Something inside Hank stirred. It wasn't part of the contract, but nobody else was going to clean it. Hank reached down into his cart and proudly removed the bag of absorbent flakes. He strode with mission guiding his feet toward the mess. Hank dispensed the flaky material, each particle imbued with purpose and reason. While allowing the mess to soak, curiosity got the better of Hank and he peered into the space ship. And by the son of Mister Clean himself, that ship was disgusting! Women's undergarments, used rubbers, boxes of expensive food-meal, bottle-corks, they all formed a coalition of filth that twisted Hank's face into a sickly grimace. It wasn't his job. He was making it his job. Hank gloved-up and grabbed an official refuse disposal device, waving it a few times so the bag would fill out, and he got to work. Hank was the proud farmer, and trash the prize crop. And Brother, it was harvest day. By the time he's made the ship spic-and-span, the vomit was ready to be swept away. Hank took one last look toward the cockpit and stopped. The space-ape had left his helmet there. That was silly, those things were expensive. Hank had never been in a ship like this before. It was small, fitted with one of the new super-hyper-driver things that made space slippery. That's how he understood it, at least. And it had guns and a small cargo bay. Still gloved, Hank took the helmet and inspected it. He could see himself. A crooked nose, weak chin, receding hairline, and sleepless, bloodshot eyes stared back at him. Hank was Clean shaved, though, because he cared for what was his. Hank took a clean tissue and began wiping the helmet. But the smudge was on the inside of the glass. Delicately, Hank reached in and wiped the smudge from existence. But, smudges tend to be tricky little fiends. He'd have to inspect closer. He slowly raised the helmet up and slipped it onto his head. It was a snug fit, but not uncomfortable. Not at all, in fact. But it was dim, and Hank couldn't see anything. There were switches in the cockpit, maybe one of them was for a light... His fingers flipped a few switches, but nothing happened. He kept going. Surely, one of these buttons should- There was a loud noise behind Hank. He turned, helmet slowing him, and saw that the hatch was closed. “But my cart!” A woman's voice started talking to him. “Airlock activated. Main engine warming. Sixty percent output. Hardlines stowed. New contact made. Please check log.” “What? Who's that? Who's there-” Lights came on inside of his helmet, which caused Hank to scream and trip over the big captain's chair. He landed, face down and legs dangling in the air. His boots kicked at a few more switches and knocked down a small tree-shaped air freshener. Hank tried to catch himself, but an outstretched arm sent one lever forward. “Throttle activated, please allow engine to start-up completely before throttle activation.” “I'm sorry! I don't know what that means-” Hank sat up in the chair, trying to find the switch that opened the hatch. All around him holographic screens folded down and lit the cabin like his Aunt's house during the holidays. “-Can I go please? Can you please open the door?” He tried to touch some of the screens, but one started playing a video. A mustacheo'd man started talking to Hank. “-That information is vital to the success of colony XD-72. The vaccines produced there could save BILLIONS. Soldier, you get there ASAP. I won't lie to you, Griggs, that space between here and there is littered with pirates-” “Hello? Can you please tell me which button escapes? I want to go home-” “-We're sending you and your light scout because they're fast, innocuous, but limited range means you're plotted path will take to you numerous space-ports-” “Where did the lady go? Can you bring her back? She may know-” “-Godspeed, Captain. We'll see you on the other side.” Mister Mustache and Badges saluted Hank, then disappeared. Finally, maybe now he could find the get-outside-and-go-home-button... “Is it this one? Hey, lady, are you there?” There was a hologram that said 'dock'. They were at the dock. Maybe that one would let him go. He pressed it. “Undocking procedure begun. Engines at 100% capacity. Suggest lowering thrust before take-off. Authorization granted, special permission, priority A-class. Hangar doors opening.” Hank didn't understand any of that. But the doors were opening, he heard that part. Maybe it was the back hatch. He turned in the seat and watched the door for a few minutes, but nothing happened. The helmet, which he was still wearing for some inane reason, was blinking on the inside. He took it off and looked at it for a while. He didn't like how the inside-lights of the helmet made his head hurt. When he looked up, however, he couldn't see anything. It was all so black. Dark and black and full of nothing. “Maybe I can only see it with the helmet on-” He put the helmet back on, but still black. Then, a great arm of the huge orbital station came into view, rotating around. Hank was looking at space. Or, maybe Space was looking at Hank. “Oh my God... I can see my living tower from here!” Until it disappeared again as the station turned, that is. This wasn't good. Hank saw a button flash on the hologram that said 'Disengage.' “Heck yes, let's disengage from this. I don't wanna be here.” He hit the button. The lady came back. “Launching in five, four, three, two, one-” Hank was sucked into his seat, G-force sucking his teeth into his gums and threatening to suck his eyes out the back of his head. He couldn't move his arms to reach for any more switches. “Throttle auto-regulation activated, launch speed in excess of space-port parameters-” The lady said, right before the spaceship slammed into an antenna on the orbiting space station, rattling Hank greatly. The ship began to slow just in time for Hank to turn around and watch as the space port, one he'd called home for his entire life, became a small spec of lights and brown against the cold, dark void of Space. Hank was in space. He was in space. “Oh god...” This is not what Hank wanted to do for his day off.
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