Holly awoke with a sharp grunt; her head ached and her legs had gone dead. She groggily opened her eyes, acutely aware of how smudged her makeup would be, and sat up straighter in the standard British Airways uncomfortable chair, untangling her long black hair with her fingers.
"Oh, coffee," she groaned. As if in response to this plea, a bubbly blonde air hostess wheeled the drinks trolley up to Holly's row of seats.
"Would you like any refreshments, miss?"
"Um, two cups of coffee, please." Holly barely managed to form the sentence. As the air hostess handed her the cups of steaming coffee, Holly noticed the badge clipped to the woman's pristine blue uniform. It said 'Hi! My name is Barbie!' Oh, how ironic, thought Holly. The cynicism was normally the one of the first things to kick in when she woke up. And then, How unfair, her makeup's still perfect. I can't imagine how much of a bedraggled, sleep- deprived Living Dead Girl I must look to her.
"Thanks," she mumbled to Barbie, and tried to stretch her legs out under the chair in front. She was just about to pick up 'Iron Fist' and try to get her eyes to focus on the words when she noticed that something was missing.
That something was about 6' 2", incredibly egotistical and dressed in black. "Urgh, Beggs, where the hell are you?" she groaned. She looked at the seat aisle-ward from hers, however the only evidence her cocky friend had been there was the two empty muffin wrappers, and the latest issue of 'Gambit' by Marvel Comics. Sithspit, he's loose on a Lambda-class shuttle, she thought inwardly. I'd better go and look for him before he does some damage.
She craned her neck to see if he was being detained by security somewhere in her field of vision, thus negating the need to actually get out of her seat. What she saw was an air hostess exiting one of the toilet cubicles to the rear of the shuttle compartment, closely followed by Beggs. He whispered something to the air hostess with a wink, and loped back to his seat.
When he sat down he was greeted with a hiked eyebrow from Holly.
"I needed her to show me how the sink worked," he said defensively, but with a cheeky glint in his eye. He snagged Holly's second cup of coffee and she just rolled her eyes.
"Hmm, so you're not part of the Parsec High Club?"
He grinned wickedly and asked for another muffin. Holly rummaged around in the large bag that was taking up most of her legroom, and produced a double chocolate muffin for Beggs, and a bag of white chocolate buttons for herself. Beggs opened up his comic and continued reading about the exploits of the Cajun X-man, and contented himself with STOMACH and ASS-KICKING SPANDEX-CLAD SUPERHEROES, until he noticed Holly's line-of-sight was significantly higher than the pages of the X-wing book she held in front of her.
"Ogling Janson again?" he asked.
She frowned. "He's talking to some woman next to him. Why did I get stuck sitting next to you when he's on this transport?"
"You booked the tickets, my dear. It's your fault," he spoke with a mouthful of muffin.
"You could have swapped seats with him."
"And miss the opportunity to bug you during a long flight? Never! Anyway, you got the window seat, so stop complaining."
Holly gazed out of said window in awe at the endless streams of starlight streaking past as the shuttle moved through hyperspace. This is it, I'm really travelling in space to a distant galaxy.
As a student studying astronomy, she knew about the astrophysics of stars, the dynamics of orbits, the postulates of general relativity that governed space-time, the cosmological principles that described the state of the universe fractions of a second after the Big Bang, and the parameters of its evolution, but there was always that frustration that she could never actually travel through space. She could never see a nebula of glowing hydrogen other than by images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, could never orbit Betelgeuse, picking out Sol from the new constellations, knowing that back on Earth someone looking up at Orion was staring right back at her, could never hang in zero gravity staring down at her own galaxy as it silently turned 360 degrees every two hundred million years.
But that view of the Earth trailing away to a speck as the shuttle's sublight engines poured out gigawatts of energy, shooting up out of the ecliptic plane, was so breathtaking, so peacefully beautiful, and so.... real.
"Holly? Lieutenant Faglighter to Commander Hellequin-Antilles? You still with us?"
She turned away from the window and smiled at Beggs. "Just having astro-thoughts."
Beggs leaned over to look at the dazzling black and white striated view and said, "Yeah, it's kinda pretty," and went back to reading 'Gambit'.
Holly looked over to where Janson was seated, and elbowed Beggs in the prominent ribs.
"Would you look at that!" she hissed. "She's flirting with him, the slut!"
"That woman next to Janson. She's flirting with him. How dare she! We were getting on very well, if you know what I mean."
"Don't worry," said Beggs, "I'm sure Janson's just humouring her. He so obviously had a thing for you."
"You're lying through your metal-covered teeth, but I feel better now," said Holly with a grin.
The intercom crackled into life and the captain's voice boomed throughout the shuttle. "Ladies and gentlemen, and all those who don't fit into those categories, we will be reverting to realspace in two minutes time. Please secure your seats in the upright position and fasten your seatbelts. Thank you."
"I think we deserve an evening in the pub," said Holly as she
tightened her seatbelt, and Beggs wholeheartedly agreed.
To be continued...
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