The Spacecraft Gateway. One Day Away from New Earth One.
Jack Lee was woken up in his cabin by an insistent banging on the door.
-"Yeah, yeah!" he shouted. "I'm awake!"
He glanced fleetingly at the little coffee table: a half-empty bottle of whiskey, a full ashtray and a pile of books. He wondered whether it could all be removed instantly, if it was the Colonel who had now decided to call in on him.
-"Dostoyevsky, Jack! Get your butt out of bed! There's a briefing in ten minutes!" was the message from the other side of the door.
Thank goodness. It was Boris - 'The Russian' as he was known - a computer expert and Jack's closest, and only acquaintance on board.
-"Wait a moment, Boris. I just need to get up and put some clothes on, for heaven's sake!" Actually, a pure formality. He had slept with clothes on. Well, there had been a bit of extra partying the day before. Just like most other 'days before' in fact...
The Russian opened the door and entered. He just about filled the entire doorframe, tall and broad, a bit like a huge tree trunk.
-"Dostoyevsky! You're already dressed. Ha ha ha. You're bloody quick!"
-"Boris, is it absolutely necessary to say 'Dostoyevsky' in every other sentence?"
-"Da! It's the only Russian swear word I know, Jack. It's important not to forget one's roots!"
-"Give me a break! If you're Russian, I'm Jesus."
-"I'll have you know my great-great-grandmother was from Vladivostok, Jack."
-"Crap. My uncle's sister's husband's grandfather was from Korea! Does that make me Korean?"
-"How on earth would I know that? Say something in Korean!"
-"It's a dead language. Like Afrikaans, Greek, Danish - and Russian, if you hadn't noticed."
The good-natured banter continued while Jack slipped on a clean shirt - well, at least one he had not slept in.
Jack took the glass from the table and poured half of the remaining whiskey into it.
-"Fancy a slug, Boris?"
-"Won't say no!"
Jack emptied the bottle in the other glass.
They clinked glasses and downed their drinks in one.
-"So what are we up to today? And when?"
-"Jack, you never bloody well know what's going on. We are orbiting New Earth One tomorrow. We need new language packs installed. And so we're not caught with our trousers down, we're having a briefing today. In fact, now! So move."
-"Briefing my ass! We've had briefings every week since the tour started. They say the same thing every time! I know it off by heart!"
-"This time is the last, Jack. Cheer up!"
Colonel Ian Glasston stood at the door of the meeting room and nodded kindly to the various people as they arrived. Jack and Boris entered and sat at the very back of the room. The place was already half full with the various scientists, researchers and other civilians.
Everyone, including Jack and Boris, had the rank of Captain. This was a technicality to prevent the hassle of differentiating between civilians and soldiers. Whatever people thought about the value of the mission as a research expedition, there was no escaping the fact that it was under strict military control. But at the same time the leaders had to acknowledge that it would not work having some sergeant or another bossing around a professor of biology.
Over the next few minutes the rest trickled in. Harris the biologist, Bridgestone the geologist and other technical officers. Finally everyone was assembled, and the Colonel walked behind the desk that served as a podium.
-"Good morning. It looks like we're all here, so we might as well start." The Colonel turned to the blackboard behind him.
-"We have a pretty short programme. First, our physicist Jürgen Schultz will say something about the spacecraft's mode of operation. Yes, yes. I