Freyja Gunthersdottir overheard Captain Bruce’s matter-of-fact tone as he peered out the starboard portal window of the spacecraft, at the spot where they’d landed on Mars. “Nothing much to see. Just some bushes with weird-looking yellow flowers, so . . . no Little Green Men to report to Headquarters, gosh darn it.”
Because the flight crew never bothered to inform her when anything important was going on, she happened to be dusting the control room during the landing. Freyja was forced to stuff her cleaning cloth in the top of her blue jean overalls, quickly reach up and grab an emergency seatbelt dangling from the row of launch seats on the aluminum-coated ceiling.
Clinging to it with both hands, she’d watched as Captain Bruce hung on his steering wheel for dear life, which was welded to the mechanical stump in the floor in the center of the room. The other two guys, the Communications Officer Phil, and his best friend the Flight Navigator, Brent, had tried to stay in their wildly rocking, plastic swivel chairs. The blonde radar operator, Ensign Pamela, bumped her big breasts against her console, but didn’t forget to blink her false eyelashes at the Captain until Manifest Destiny settled on the surface.
Her lips painted with bright-red lipstick, Ensign Pamela piped up now, “I hope you’ll pick a bouquet of flowers for me, Sir.”
He glanced back at her as the other two men stumbled out of their console chairs headed in his direction. “Sure, doll.” Wink-wink.
The lieutenants, both young muscle-heads, looked out over Bruce’s shoulders. “Wow, Mars!” they exclaimed together as if they were ancient Chatty Kathy dolls, and Freyja sometimes wondered who pulled their strings.
Arms down at her sides again as she squeezed between equipment next to the row of spacesuit lockers on the aft wall, she sidled over to the round window on the port side. At rest, the spacecraft Manifest Destiny was vertical and cone-shaped (engines presently at the bottom), requiring everyone to climb to higher floors on metal ladders. The control room was the lowest, largest compartment; the higher up a person moved, the narrower the available space became. There was the storage floor directly above, and then the galley floor where Freyja cooked meals or did the ship’s laundry. Crew berths were located above the galley, and Captain Bruce had his own cramped floor at the ship’s pinnacle, with a private bathroom.
Freyja had a tiny berth and two crummy wall-drawers on the “ladies’” level, sharing a bathroom with the Ensign, who routinely ignored her. Not exactly a shining example of an emancipated female, the blonde bombshell seemed to think the mirrored, make-up alcove was the most vital thing in her miniscule room on the far side of the floor.
It was a miracle, Freyja thought, that these dumb bunnies had managed a successful landing on the ship’s four, adjustable undercarriage legs, and at the exact coordinates, which she contributed to the crude, noisy bank of computers built into the forward operating consoles where the crew sat.
Mars was smaller than Earth, and as expected, the horizon was much closer. The tepid landscape was washed in tones of red and brown, but with strange, deep-black shadows. There weren’t any bushes on this side. He’s such an ignoramus, he doesn’t realize what an exciting scientific discovery it is to find flowering bushes on Mars! But that’s what happened when a super-power crumbled into religious mania and dictatorship; even their spaceships were retro throwbacks. Yet this crew of dolts were still considered winners, and today, they’d won the space race to Mars.
The wind outside was apparently blowing. There was a dusty haze off to the northeast, by Freyja’s rough calculation. Oh, there can’t be a storm! she thought in alarm.
Ensign Pamela stood with the Captain as he lit a cigar and puffed on it, filling the control room with a different haze. He leered at her; a typical tall, white American man with slicked-back black hair and a craggy, shaved face. Pamela apparently thought he was attractive, pausing in her high heels to adjust the garter of her silk hose (revealing a bit of her left thigh by inching up her beige uniform skirt). Ninny, Freyja thought.
Approaching in Freyja’s general direction, Captain Bruce said in surprise, “What are you doing here? Go about your business!”
“Yes, Captain,” Freyja said with false meekness. Replacing her at the portside window, he peered out again, whistling cheerfully, and she whispered, “Radar scan.”
“Hey, honey!” Captain Bruce barked. “Fire up the radar. We may have a storm coming.”
“Yes, Sir!” replied the Ensign with the big boobs.
Reaching the opposite side of the control room in the aft corner, and the ladder to the floor above, Freyja pulled the cleaning cloth from her overalls. She stepped on the lower rung and waited, pretending she was about to climb it and become invisible to these yahoos again.
Seated at her console, Ensign Pamela switched on her radar screen—she was only required to punch a couple of buttons, and then show the old-fashioned sweep of the radar beam on a circular screen to someone else. Rag deployed, Freyja swiped at the red spacesuit locker beside the ladder as she pretended to do her job, hoping the Captain wouldn’t shoo her away.
As the radar warmed-up, Freyja contemplated the fact that neither she nor the Ensign were considered equals to the men and their alleged, God-given superiority, by the benefit of their male attributes and social system of white male patriarchy; at least not where these pinheads were from. On board Manifest Destiny, she and the Ensign were diminished to second-class status: a sex symbol and a cleaning woman, and this was an aspect of the journey Freyja encountered daily, and with constant impatience. Oh, it suited her mission to be perceived as a lesser human being, especially with her odd accent. Her forged references impeccable, her white skin had been much more acceptable for this flight than any otherly-colored female. The lily-white crew discovers Mars, she thought in amusement. And I, the only foreigner on board, am comfortably insignificant.
Softly, the radar beeped, and Freyja studied the screen. It picked up a storm, all right, but it seemed to be retreating, for which she was grateful. Clutching the rag, she climbed up the rungs, her head and then her torso disappearing up to the floor above—where she quietly paused in order to observe the control room from this level.
“There’s a blob on the screen, Captain,” the Ensign chirped. She pointed a groomed nail with blood-red nail polish in his direction. “Over there.”
“So I was correct,” he said.
“You certainly were, Sir.”
Freyja could still see his boots at the port window, but facing the crew consoles now as he tipped cigar ashes on the floor. “We should celebrate, men.”
Freyja was startled when Captain Bruce added, “Where’s that—person? The cook?”
“The Iceland girl,” Ensign Pamela said, voice dripping with contempt. “Up the ladder.”
Boots thumping across the metal floor, Bruce said, “Lieutenant Brent, go tell her steak and baked potatoes for everyone tonight.”
“And champagne,” Pamela said. “Perhaps a good tossed salad?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m strictly a meat and potatoes man, myself. Fried eggs and potatoes with bacon and sausage for breakfast; my barbecue pork sandwiches for lunch with French fries dripping in grease. Sheesh, Ensign. Salad?”
“Onion rings, then,” the woman said in concession, actually sounding disappointed for a moment.
“Fine. Brent? Get going. Phil, let’s send a message to Earth about our glorious achievement.”
Freyja barely had time to disappear up the ladder to the third level, not wanting to encounter the leering Lieutenant Brent, a young, blonde buck. Besides, the menu this evening didn’t deviate much from the usual list; these men never encountered a vegetable they liked enough to clean their colons with, in her opinion, and it was she who was forced to deal with whatever messes they made, stinking up the communal heads they used.
Poking her head out of the smoky kitchen, Freyja caught Captain Bruce in the corridor with Ensign Pamela an hour before the celebratory dinner.
Pamela declared, “Not until I have a big, shiny diamond on my finger, Mister Man.”
“Don’t be such a prude! We both know you’re not.”
Prepared and served to them as ordered, and after devouring the gargantuan meal—there was precious little dried food or standard MREs in storage since this crew of “he-men” demanded regular chow on the voyage, causing the multiple refrigerators to tax the power supply—the men became drunk as skunks. Ensign Pamela shrieked with nervous laughter as she fended off the Captain’s advances, and then Lieutenant Brent barged into the galley to pester Freyja.
His boring argument that she was a lucky lady because a proper man such as himself wanted to bed a woman like her fell on deaf ears. He was so inebriated he threw up in her sink of dishwater before she managed to shove him out and lock the compartment.
Now it was the next morning, and Freyja saw her own reflection in the round window on the starboard side of the control room; her intelligent blue eyes, her black hair in two practical braids. In spite of hangovers, the crew had suited-up in their space gear to explore outside Manifest Destiny; Captain Bruce in his red suit, Brent in his blue, the radioman Phil in green, and for Ensign Pamela, a gaudy pink spacesuit, each fetched from the color-corresponding lockers behind Freyja.
As cook and cleaning woman, Freyja was given a used, dirty-white spacesuit not even specifically fitted for her. A special spacesuit for a lowly servant simply hadn’t been thought of at GSPHQ (God’s Space Patrol Headquarters) on Earth. GSPHQ had conceded to the necessity of everyone on board utilizing launch couches during blast-off (now on the ceiling of the control room).
Freyja had commandeered the vessel and locked them out, but they didn’t realize it yet.
With the earpiece in, she heard incoming chatter, craning her neck so she could see the pale red sky—and the next spaceship module heading in for a Mars landing.
The Conglomeration shuttle was a scout, and military in nature. With its sturdy wings, it was sleeker than the clumsy American rocketship. It had a thoroughly contemporary design with the most advanced equipment and onboard computers, and was meant to land horizontally with its four gigantic wheels rolling on the Red Planet’s surface. Through Mars’ thinner air, Freyja felt the vibrations of its engines as it set down, racing past the party of four astronauts outside.
“Confirm solid landing, Shuttle,” Freyja said.
“Roger that,” one of the pilots replied, with a strong accent—European or Near-Asian, but not like Freyja’s, who was descended from Old Norse peoples, the Viking explorers and raiders.
Slowing, the Conglomeration shuttle swung about ponderously, and came rolling back toward the Destiny crew. The shuttle performed a final braking and parked, steaming from the heat generated by its rear engines. Then the side bay doors swung up and open, discharging a company-strength of space-suited troopers down the auto-ramp.
Freyja watched the pink spacesuit of Ensign Pamela hopping back toward Destiny in Mars’ low gravity. Her pink arms waggled up and down in a panic, but her face was still invisible inside her helmet. Freyja knew she’d applied pink lipstick this morning, to match her ridiculous suit.
Captain Bruce’s right arm in the red spacesuit pointed at the disembarking troops and then he, too, bounced toward his ship—actually Freyja’s ship now. Behind him, Brent and Phil fired their laser guns at the newcomers, but whatever noise the weapons made Freyja couldn’t hear.
Light from other laser guns flashed, and the two young officers were “beamed,” their bodies crumpled to the surface of Mars. Troopers swarmed past them on Captain Bruce’s heels.
Pounding on the outside airlock of the door on the starboard side, and Freyja changed positions to stand in front of the small window. Captain Bruce unsuccessfully attempted to reenter his vessel, his suit speaker crackling with static into the control room, “Open up! Hey, you there! Cleaning lady!”
“Surrender, Captain, or they’ll kill you,” Freyja told him. Inside her pink spacesuit, the Ensign hiccupped and sobbed. “You’re being erased, you see. All your communications have been blocked, so Earth doesn’t know you landed. The Conglomeration reached Mars first. Manifest Destiny was lost in space, and history is being rewritten.”
Other voices now, “Arms up! Surrender or die!”
“Eek!” said Ensign Pamela.
Manifest Destiny was rigged to blow, and Freyja humped down the ladder from the second level into the control room with only a single bag slung on the back of her crisp white, Conglomeration spacesuit. Others had collected the stored data files on the ship’s primitive computers.
Commander Florian waited for her, his best engineers scrambling out the airlock; as it recycled repeatedly, it produced a hissing sound like boos.
“Ready to disembark, Hero Gunthersdottir?” Florian asked. He obviously admired her, but with his helmet on, his salute was a bit awkward as his hand tapped on his face shield. She snapped-to, politely returning the salute, and then lifted her helmet over her head, affixing it to her suit collar. Florian double-checked it, and finding it properly secure, squeezed her shoulder, but Freyja didn’t mind.
Outside on the sand of Mars, a red spacesuit and a pink one, stood together encircled by Conglomeration soldiers. It was interesting—and a bit difficult—to walk on Mars’ surface, but Freyja managed it in the lower gravity. Approaching the captives, she noted that a team of biologists were using a sophisticated, lightweight backhoe to delicately extract the Mars bushes with the blooming yellow flowers. It was good that the alien flora was being saved from the explosion that would rip Manifest Destiny to shreds.
Halting in front of her former shipmates (not that they’d thought so), Freyja said, “I’m glad you surrendered, Captain Bruce. You did the right thing. No one will harm you, but I’m afraid you’ll be in our custody from now on, you and the ensign.”
The shock of his defeat writ in his downtrodden expression behind his face shield,
Bruce said, “What—what’s your name again?”
“I’m the Iceland girl,” she replied.
“I didn’t deserve this.”
“Yes, you did, you and your backwards country, in so very many ways.” Heimskur heimskingis! Freyja thought. Stupid fools! And she honestly hoped it was the final time she ever saw, or thought about, the idiot crew of the Manifest Destiny.
I have a s&s novelette upcoming in Weirdbook #49, and a df drabble in Eerie River Publishing's Dark Magic Drabble Collection anthology. I've previously published in Asimov's, the old Aboriginal SF Magazine, in the 2019 horror anthology, Guilty Pleasures and Other Dark Delights by thingsinthewell.com, the 2020 reprint trade paperback, The Blood Tomes, by Tell Tale Press, and in many others.
I'm a professional SFWA member, and the 2020 VP of OSFW (Oklahoma Science Fiction Writers).