“I am writing this under less than comfortable conditions. Reporting fellow members of the crew is less than desirable even for a cook.” Payne stopped typing the entry. “I can’t prove anything…yet.” She deleted the entry and shut down the holographic display. Payne was in trouble and time was running out. Two days ago this seemed like a simple job, to cook.The small pilot ship to which Payne had been assigned was scheduled to rendezvous with a mining freighter in three days. Point of contact was the station at Jupiter. Protocol dictated the Skipper of the freighter would give up the pilot house and navigation to a pilot from the space dock. All this would have been routine other than the fact that the pilot was dead and the crew was missing. Payne was alone.“Hay… that’s mine.” Payne grabbed the cloth handle of a duffel bag that Leo had picked up. “Can’t be… I don’t make mistakes.” He wouldn’t let go of the bag. Tink, tink, tink… Payne thumped the bag. “Unless you collect pots I suggest you drop my bag”. Leo cocked his eyes toward the thumping and dropped the bag. A last second catch by Payne kept the bag from hitting the floor. “Thanks.” Leo snorted and pushed his buddy Pegs through the doorway of the shuttle.The dinged up shuttle was unfamiliar transportation for the former cruise ship master chief. Three years in prison had turned Payne Nix into a cook, a very good cook, from Chief to Chef. The last thing she wanted was for one of the crew to find out her lofty past.Leo and Pegs sat across from the cook. Air masks were necessary during the 40 minute ride to the base on the moon. Payne tried to nap. An annoying buzzer just loud enough to make her eyes open had to go. The control panel on the wall she recognized as an O2 sensor flashing. Her semi sleep state and the annoyance of the sound made her past training and knowledge take over.“What… are… you… doing?” Leo had pulled the small oxygen mask from his face. Standing at the panel with the wires to the now disconnected sensor hanging from her hand Payne just looked at him. She dropped it on the ground and sat back down. “When something gets on my nerves I shut it up.” She slept.A galley was on the third level below the sleeping quarters. It was surprisingly spotless. Not a utensil out of place. This was going to be easy. Just cook and stay out of trouble.The bunk in the kitchen was comfortable. Noise coming from the deck above woke her from a restful dream. The floor pounded from a body slam. It was loud and short. She sat on the side of the sleeping area just long enough to realize that the noise was gone. Part of being a cook on this type of assignment is doing things that will pay off later. Ice packs could make some points if Leo or Pegs showed up with a black eye or worse. An hour passed. They never came.It had been 2 hrs from when the morning meal chimes had signaled. The cook was starting to get annoyed with the cold shoulder she was getting from the crew. There are ration stations on the second floor. “Surely they didn’t just eat that ….” She headed for the stairs just outside the galley.Payne crossed in front of the crew quarters and saw no one in the room. Operations deck and the Captain were on the first level. Propulsion was the only remaining part of the ship on level two. “I’ll just check on the Captain.” “Clank” A sound coming from the propulsion compartment got her attention. “Leo?” She walked through the doorway. “You guys missed the best…” The room was empty. No more sounds.Operations control room also had no occupants. Last on the list of places to check was the Captain’s quarters. She found the door closed and a food tray outside the door. “That’s odd. He didn’t get anything from the galley.” She knocked, “Captain?” No response. There was standard keypad for the door. Her experience proved helpful. The factory access settings for maintenance on the lock had never been changed. The code she entered opened the door.Everything went silent. Her world turned to slow motion as the door was sucked off the hinges by the rapid decompression of the Captains quarters. A huge hole in the wall had rapidly decompressed the room emptying it in a second. Suddenly the ear pounding sounds came back. Payne’s hair swirled around her head as the rapidly exiting air pulled her towards the blackness. She reached for the emergency door seal and hit the button with her fist.With frost covering her cloths and skin she slumped to the floor. Frozen air still filled the hall. Her cold labored breath produced a column of smoke. It was difficult to breath for a few moments. Payne was confused and shaken. This would look like an accident if the crew wasn’t missing. They must have had something to do with this, but why? I have to get help.I am writing this under less than comfortable conditions. Reporting fellow members of the crew is less than desirable even for a cook. Payne stopped typing the entry. “I can’t prove anything…yet.”
The holographic console was for emergency use only. If this wasn’t an emergency she didn’t know what was. But she had to find out what was going on.
Two more searches of the entire ship found nothing. Payne was exhausted and sitting in the galley again staring at the table where she had started the day. She hadn’t noticed the absence of anything on the tables. Even the food dispersers she had prepared earlier that morning were clean. She left the room.Out of options Payne found herself back at the emergency terminal. She reactivated the message started earlier. With as much detail as she could contribute Payne finished the report and hit the “Send Emergency Message”. The screen went blank.A face appeared and began to rant at the screen. “Leo if you’re sending an emergency message,….forget it! Your message never made it…. I got ya! I got ya…. you sorry excuse for a human!…” The person on the screen was dressed like the cook. Payne recognized him from the picture on the galley door that had the words “Roach Meat Master” written over it. He filled in the details. ”If you’re still watching this message that means you haven’t gotten your package from the captain. If you and that worthless sidekick Pegs want to live to see another meal…Go…see…the…Captain.” He pointed at the screen with each word. Then the message ended. “The captain is gone and so is the package unless they got it before the explosion.” Access logs of the terminal would show Payne who had access to the message. Waving through the console’s diagnostic settings brought up the logs. The message had been viewed twice, once by Payne and once by….the Captain.“Maybe there is something in here that will help.” She was standing in the doorway of the crew quarters. Leo was cleaner and more organized than Pegs. The cribbage game board that was “Pegs” namesake was the only thing that was not out of place. “Clank…clank…ping.” The sound came from the galley. “Finally”, avoiding the stairs Payne slid down the rails rather than taking the steps. She stayed quiet as she looked through the doorway. Slowly entering the room She focused on everything only then did she realize that the morning’s food was gone. “Plunk…”, the sound came from the food locker. “Come out of there…now.” Payne stepped into the room and grabbed a plasma chopper from the prep area. A muffled voice from the food locker responded. “Your not suppose to be here you need to leave now.” Payne stepped close to the thick sealed door. “You don’t have any place to go…I just want to know what’s going on.” She could hear him shuffling around in the small room. Still unknown the occupant wanted to deal. “I’ll tell you what’s’ going wrong and then you’ll leave me alone right.” Payne didn’t argue. “Sure what ever you say.”The person in the food locker was the previous cook. He began to explain that all he wanted to do was to make Leo suffer. No one else was included in the plan. The propulsion system and communications had been sabotaged by the cook to send the crew into a panic. It worked. Leo was to go to the emergency communication terminal and get the message that was left for him. Next he would get instructions to take the package to an escape pod or the ship with the captain and Pegs would be blown up. The package would then explode taking Leo and only the pod with him. Nothing went right.The argument and fight that Payne heard in the crew compartment was the Captain and Leo going at it. After communications and propulsion had failed the Captain had accused Leo of incompetence and they fought. The captain went to the emergency terminal and got the message. He sent Leo to prep the escape pod for the crew to get off the ship. Payne was to be wakened and told to board the pod. Not one to take any chances and without hesitation Leo launched the pod alone. The captain and Pegs were in the middle of disarming the bomb in the package when Payne unknowingly opened the door to the Captains quarters. “The…whole thing is wrong. I’ve killed two, almost three people.” “Why don’t you come out and we’ll talk about it.” Payne wanted one thing and only one thing. What did he do to the ship and could it be fixed. She would eventually find it but the cook could make it easier.The cook’s regretful tone sounded far away. “You don’t need to worry about getting back safe. I have replaced the drive power cells and communication is active again.” Payne felt a sense of relief. “So, you’re coming out now?” Movement could be heard from the back wall. “Not me…not me…I’m done…” “Boom!” Payne was throne across the room and into the wall. The force of the explosion blew another hole in the small ships hull. The cook and debris floated and spun away from the ship in silence.Managing the ships systems Payne sat in the Captains seat. She had a broken arm and multiple bruises. Three years in one of the toughest prison systems without a scratch and in two days was almost killed in the kitchen. “What’s next.” She thought, “Chef, Cook …Captain. Captain…I like that.”