Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Orbitals, Parts XXI - ∞

So the rest of the novel is at WattPad, here. The copying and pasting was getting to me and now you can read whole dang chapters at a time. What a world we live in.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XX

This is Part XVI, the final part of the sixth chapter. Start at the beginning.

"Alright, you head toward the Comm Junction."

"Uh, Spencer, can you tell me which direction I'm supposed to go?" asked Jean-Paul. "I seem to be a little disoriented."

"Sure thing, sure thing. You're going to head down and starboard, which means that if you can see the fin structures at your feet and you're facing the ship, you're going under your left knee. You clip in right now, then again when you see a clip labeled ess tee ar tee dash one. Again, that's sierra tango romeo tango dash one."

"What if I see the fins at my head?"

"Means you're upside-down, but that's okay. There's no down in space, right? If you're facing the ship, you're going over your right shoulder. You should see a handle less than arm's length away, and the first clip should be under your right armpit."

"OK, I'm clipped in. I'm trying to grab the next handle and, oh God I can't. I'm so scared. I can't. I should come in."

"Hold on, Jean-Paul," said Zephyr's voice. "You've got this. Just remember now you're fully clipped. You can't float out into space this time. If you need to, just let go and see. You can still grab your big handhold."

"I'm not letting go," he said. His strain was apparent both in his vitals and in the breathing sounds over the comm. He shouted. "I've got it! I've got the handle!"

"Status update for Spencer: I'm past sierra tango romeo tango dash three, preparing for final clip in a minute or so."

"You're fast!" said Spencer, realizing how dumb it sounded as soon as it was out. Zephyr's vitals were a sea of green numbers.

"OK, Jean-Paul, I see you're moving. Soon here you're going to see three handholds right in a row. I need you to grab the center. Your clip-in will be right there. That's ess tee ar tee dash one."

Jean-Paul's breathing was still labored. "I...I think I can see it ahead. I'm working on it."

"You're okay, you're okay," Spencer adopted Zephyr's tone and rhythm. "Just keep going, and you'll get there."

"I see the code. That's ess tee ar tee one, right?"

"Yep, that's right."

"Spencer, I'm at Junction Tank 2. Clipping in, opening up," said Zephyr. "You're doing great there, team."

Spencer looked at his control panel. Something happened to him inside; the wave of nausea returned with violence. He lurched forward and only just prevented himself from vomiting on the port display. The tremendous gibbous moon in front of him seemed to laugh, its face taking up what felt like the whole window. He lurched again and did not vomit.

He pressed the handset. "Zephyr, what was our ox condition when you left?"

"We had niner percent. You should still be fine. Alarm will go off again at five."

"Uh, okay. Okay." Spencer reached for the black bag in time to fill it furiously. He was cognizant of the sealing problem from last time, and prevented any of his mostly clear sick from floating into the cabin. He closed the bag gingerly with the twisting metal-and-plastic tabs, leaving it just a touch loose in case he needed it again. His nostrils burned and he felt like he was drowning. He felt as though he would immediately pass out. Gritting his teeth and clenching all of the muscles he could power in his legs, he sat upright for long enough to change the center control over to the airmix panel. Zephyr was right. The ox was now eight percent—oh, he saw it flip over to seven—but it didn't continue to plummet further. The pressure was nominal. Spencer lurched again, holding his mouth with his hands. Aftershocks.

"I am at Junction Comm," said Jean-Paul. "I'm clipping...oh, I'm...there we go. I'm clipped. I'm opening the panel."

No word from Zephyr, but this was similar to the first EVA, which felt very long as well. She was troubleshooting, or at least that's what Spencer told himself. He was a mass of sensations—thirsty and afraid to drink, hungry but queasy, and he was starting to relax, even though he was abjectly terrified. He opened a fudge brownie and sniffed it tentatively. He stomach said no. He nibbled on the corner, and his stomach said no again. Ox at six percent.

"Got it," came Zephyr's voice. Nothing changed on the monitor. Then the reading for Tank 2 dropped, from 75 percent down to 31 percent.

"Uh, Zephyr?" said Spencer. "I'm reading a Tank 2 drop from 75 to 31. What's happening out there?"

"That's what you should see, Spencer. Means it's fixed. I'm coming back in."

"What?"

"That reading is right now. We've got enough ox to get to the museum."

"Okay, okay."

Jean-Paul's voice came in. "Uh, okay everyone, I can't really figure out what's wrong with comm. There's no obvious wire crossing or broken stuff. What do I do?"

"That's okay, Jean-Paul," said Zephyr. "I've been prepared for this, looked it up while I was pre-breathing. You can take a picture through your helmet cam and send it to Spencer."

"How do I do that?"

"The green button on your right shoulder. If you're facing the thing head on, you should get it. Open up the blue compartment inside the panel and take a picture of it."

"Uh, oh, hold on. Okay. I've got it."

"Now Spencer, you should see a notification from the main screen."

Spencer went to the main screen and saw an image of a picture of a cartoonish crescent moon. He tapped it and a weird fish-eye shot of the comm panel filled the center panel. "I'm looking at it, and Jean-Paul is right. I can't see what's wrong at all."

“Hold on, everyone. Hold on. I’ve cut my suit. Repeat, I’ve cut my suit.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XIX

This is Part XVI, the third part of the sixth chapter. Start at the beginning.

The bed was always cold. It was the nature of its construction. Spencer was dreaming that he was buried in the lunar soil, cut off from the light of the Earth and Sun and stars by a thick layer of dust. He could sense that he was near a station, and his mind told him it was Peary, at the north pole. He could hear the hum of a buggy zoom past him, then he could hear the sound of it backing up, beeping madly. His brain told him he wouldn't be able to hear that beep through his suit and the almost non-existent lunar atmosphere, but his mind heard it all the same. It was slowly retreating toward him, toward him, until sound was on top of him. He felt the soil pack tighter and tighter around his helmet until he heard a crack. Then another. The beeping was violent. Insane. Murderous. His head felt like it was going to explode. Implode.

His eyes opened. There were orange lights in his room that he hadn't noticed before. They were flashing. The beeping hadn't stopped—it had become the ship's alarm. The clock said 05:38, and it felt like everything was on fire. He jumped out of bed. His door opened before he reached it. It was Zephyr, fully suited for the walk and floating.

"Come on, something's wrong. We're going to need you in the cockpit."

Spencer mumbled. Zephyr grabbed his hand, but could not pull him, as she was no longer magged to the ground. He walked to the hallway, and Zephyr followed like a helium balloon.

"Looks like Tank 2," she said.

"I knew it," he said.

"Yeah, we can have 'I told you so' time later. We're going to need to fix this right now."

"Why does Jean-Paul have the pre-breather?"

"Because he's going to have to come out," she said. And with that, she reached for her helmet. She popped it on and twisted it with a click. "You go to the front, and we'll coordinate while I get to Tank 2. Jean-Paul is going to fix the comm." This last bit was very muffled, but he got the gist.

Spencer tried to shake the sleep from his head. He felt instantly like he was going to retch. He had no time to think, much less gather his thoughts, so he ran to the captain’s chair and fired up the comm box. His head was ringing with a sleepy headache, his eyes were thick and puffy and his sinuses and throat were stinging with the sensation of waking up again in the dry air. He grabbed a silvery water pouch, not caring who had written their name on the side of it, and squeezed as he sucked the straw. The water did not sit well with him. He stood up, thinking now would be the time to go to the lav, before Zephyr did the airlock, so as not to abandon his post. He turned to the hallway and the airlock door was shut. He knew there was an override to the pilot’s airlock control that could be done from the vestibule, but he was right there and could have initiated the procedure the right way if asked. Spencer swallowed hard. As he headed toward the lav, Jean-Paul removed the breather and said, “She said to give you this and to ask you to go back up front.” It was a black sick bag.

In the captain’s chair again, Spencer read the left display panel. It was a de-press confirmation for the airlock. Zephyr came over the comm box. “OK, ready for you to do final confirm on airlock.” Spencer pressed Confirm.

“Confirmed.”

The airlock door opened and Zephyr was in space once more. “OK, here’s the deal. Jean-Paul, do you have your helmet on?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said through the box. Spencer craned his neck and there was Jean-Paul with his helmet on, floating to him. He handed Spencer the breather, then pushed off again to aftward.

“OK. I am headed toward Tank 2. Jean-Paul will head toward the Comm Link Juncture. We need to complete both tasks within thirty minutes and return to the ship.”

Spencer felt the bile rise again. “Last time to completion was over two hours, Zephyr. Jean-Paul’s never done an EVA before. Is this going to work?”

“It has to work, Spencer. We have one hour and seventeen minutes before we have to begin our approach burns. We don’t have a lot of time. Can you confirm my mechanical assist?”

“Confirmed. Head to port and down to find alpha sierra romeo dash two. Then the same fore maneuver as last time to sierra tango romeo tango dash three. Then Tank Junction Two.”

“Copy. Jean-Paul, get ready to tether in the airlock.” Jean-Paul floated to the vestibule.

“Zephyr, can you give me a hint as to where the tether point is?”

Spencer immediately stood up to walk back. He paused, then grabbed the handset. “Zephyr, I’m leaving post to make sure Jean-Paul gets a correct tether.”

“Copy. And that’s a good idea.”

Spencer fitted the tether hook from Jean-Paul’s suit into the right eye in the rear of the vestibule, then hurried back to the front. “Jean-Paul, are you ready for blowout?” he asked. His stomach felt like it was about to blow out, too.

Spencer reached for the black plastic bag, hesitated, belched, and returned it. This was going to be a long walk. He tried to reuse his "get through it" mantra he was repeating during the first flight, but it was absolutely ineffective. He desperately tried to focus on the displays. He reached over to the co-pilot's display, and fumbled around the user interface for two minutes, wandering down dead ends, pausing to remind himself what he was looking for, pressing buttons he didn't mean to.

"Spencer, can you confirm?" said Jean-Paul's voice in the comm box.

"Confirm what?"

"Confirm my readiness for the spacewalk. I said I was good to go. Remember you have to press Confirm twice?"

"Right, right," said Spencer. He raced through the panel topography on his own display, until he found the airlock controls. "Yeah, there you are. I thought I had already pressed it," he lied. "We're going for blowout in three...two...one," and he pressed Confirm the second time.

"Merde! Oh God oh God oh God!" came the comm. Spencer could not determine what Jean-Paul was screaming about, as he wasn't ready with the locator screen, which he had intended for the middle display panel. "I'm floating out! I missed the hold!" he shouted.

"Jean-Paul, you're okay. You're okay," said Zephyr's calm voice in the comm box. You just press the assist button. That's the big red button near your tether point. It should pull you back in."

"I can't...I can't..." he panted.

"Yes, you can," said Zephyr. "Spencer, see what you can do to help."

Spencer worked back through the center panel controls to the EVA menu. He had not been planning on using this until the end of the walk. He showed two mechanical assists active in the tethering system. He pushed Tether 2 Retract. Zephyr's voice came through.

"That's me, that's me Spencer. Stop!"

Spencer pressed the button again. He pushed Tether 1 Retract, and said, "Jean-Paul, I'm pulling you back in."

Zephyr's voice: "You grab on to the handhold as soon as you can see it."

"I'm coming in backward!" he shouted.

"That's okay. When you feel the ship, push off with your...left. That should send you to the handhold."

"Okay, okay...got it. I got it." Jean-Paul's heavy sigh and deep breathing were very audible on the comm box. He held on for a minute and a half.

"Alright, Jean-Paul. Alright. There we go. Spencer, how are vitals?"

"He's...doing alright. They're okay."

"Jean-Paul, are you ready to get back out there? Do you think you can do it?"

"I...I am trying to do it. I think...I think...I'm alright. I'm alright." Somehow, he swallowed audibly over the comm. "I can go now."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XVIII

This is Part XVI, the second part of the sixth chapter. Start at the beginning.

Spencer wanted to go to the captain's chair right now. He wanted to check the ox levels and show Zephyr that she was completely off base, that Tank 1 was depleting fast and that there was no reason to believe that Tank 2 was open at all. At least, he was mostly sure that's what he would show her. That's what his gut told him. He sat at the computer instead, focusing now on the files from the media drive. He suspected the files were encrypted, but he had been forced to sit through enough one-sided phone conversations on Shackleton to have heard one of the IT guys talking about a quantum decryption service, and decided to try it.

The "shorifier" website, with an inscrutable URL, promised fast decryption of nearly any type of encrypted file. More importantly, they promised to decrypt the first thousand characters for free. He pulled a "notes.txt" out of the "Long Shadow" folder and dropped it on the website's interface. The cursor showed that the browser was working. It would be about a minute before he heard anything back from Earth, even if the process was instantaneous. It turned out the process was not instantaneous, and Spencer soon stood up and began to look around the room for a small object to play around with, or something else to keep him occupied for a couple of minutes. There was a rattling knock on the accordion door.

"Who is it?" shouted Spencer.

"It's Jean-Paul."

"Come on in."

The computer screen changed colors, indicating that the decryption was done, but Spencer was not sitting in the chair. Jean-Paul floated across the room, and held himself down on top of the food box as if he were sitting. He looked like a gargoyle on a roof in the weird light of the quarters.

"How's it going?"

"Alright. How are you?"

"I'm fine. So, I'm not going to tiptoe around this at all. You've got to stop fighting with Zephyr."

"Why don't you try telling her that?"

"We are in serious danger. I know you think it'll be easy to get where we're going, but you don't have the same experience as Zephyr. You have to let her lead. Even if she's wrong on something, we're better off having a single direction than being split in two all the time. I'm begging you. On behalf of Sabine and my two girls, I'm begging you. Get along. Do what she says. In a day or two, it'll all blow over and you never have to see her again."

Spencer sighed as hard as he could. "Fine," he hissed. "I just don't know why we have to follow so blindly. If she makes a mistake out there, we could all die."

"We'd all already be dead if she hadn't already acted."

"That doesn't mean we won't die tomorrow."

"Look. Spencer. You do what you need to so you can get peace. You look at all the dials you need. But when Zephyr says to do something, you've got to promise me you'll do it. Immediately. If you can give me that, I'll be happy."

"Fine, Jean-Paul. But I'm doing it for you. I'm not doing it for her."

"Understood. Thank you so much, Spencer. We'll get through this."

"I hope so."

"I didn't answer your question though."

"You what?"

"You asked a question earlier. 'Why don't you tell her that?' Well, I did."

"Huh?"

"Just now. I told Zephyr the exact same thing I told you. I told her she needs to get along with you, and she needs to listen to your concerns, and I reminded her that you saved her life at least once already."

"Well, thanks, buddy, but I think you'd have had more success talking to a bulkhead."

"We'll see, Spencer. I think she'll surprise you yet."

When Jean-Paul floated out, Spencer sat back at the desk. He was fairly sure Jean-Paul hadn't seen anything on the monitor, and he woke the computer out of its screensaver mode to find the decrypted text. The service had worked. Spencer read the text. He swore deeply.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XVII

This is Part XVI, the first part of the sixth chapter. Start at the beginning.

Zephyr stood in what they tended to call the “hallway”. It was the juncture in front of the vestibule airlock door, where if you were facing the cockpit, on your left side would be the lav and the supply closet, and on your right would be quarters. There were two random foothold loops situated near the back by the airlock door. Because the ship was magged, the nylon fabric loops were rarely used and had been smashed down to the ground. There were loops in the other convenient locations as well: in the lav and in front of the supply closet. Jean-Paul, who was used to the footholds on Hermes, had found the set aboard the Twelve Parsecs particularly useless. He was holding on to a handrail near the threshold of the cockpit entryway. Spencer was standing, held down by the magnets' tug on his suit, near the handrail on the other side.

“OK, so here’s the deal,” said Zephyr, hands on hips again. “If we’re going to land at an unmanned facility, we’re going to need to do another EVA. The last diagnostic I ran showed that, while we’re still alright on air, our nav computer can’t access the comm system, which means that doing an autopilot landing isn’t going to work. This is probably related to the fact that our radio crapped out near Hermes, and one EVA should solve both problems.”

“Are we really good on air?” asked Spencer. “You said earlier we’d probably have to EVA for Tank 2.”

“Well, we are cutting it a little close, but the trajectory to the museum is a little shorter, and we know we won’t lose compression this time. We may have to end the trip wearing suits and the breather, but we should be fine.”

Spencer’s stomach turned, but Jean-Paul spoke before he could register his discontent. “Can you tell me what benefit we reap from landing at an unmanned facility? I thought we were looking for help.”

“Sure,” said Zephyr. “For one, there are no Orbitals there. That’s pretty important. It’s also a stable platform where we can do repairs to Tank 2 without the dangers of a third EVA. It’s also got an ox reserve we can borrow. And it’s a good place to hang out while we get more intel and figure out where we can go that will be safe.”

“Yes, but why are we not landing on other places on the Moon?”

“Peary’s fine, it’s a European station, and there wouldn’t necessarily be Orbitals there. But that’s exactly the problem, that ‘necessarily’ there. Who knows what the ESA is thinking? Do they care about what happened on the Platform? Are they going to rat us out to the Orbitals? Too many questions. Everything else on the surface has OLO tendrils running through it at the very least."

“I know you’re nervous, but we’ll find a safe way out. This really is the best option for now.”

“So, when do we do the EVA?” asked Spencer, again looking down at the floor.

“We’re scheduled to reach the last leg of the approach tomorrow at seventeen hundred UTC. We should get a good night of sleep tonight, then do the walk tomorrow morning. I’d like to keep the same stations as last time, but we’ll put Spencer in charge of operations if that’s OK.”

“I think I’d much prefer that,” said Jean-Paul.

“OK,” said Spencer. He began to walk away from the group.

“Where are you going?” said Zephyr with a bemused smile.

“Oh, nowhere. I thought we were done,” he said, focusing intensely on that magic spot right in front on his feet.

“Jean-Paul, do you want to go check on the trajectory, make sure we’re still on course?” asked Zephyr.

“Sure thing,” he said, and nodded as he floated away.

“Spencer, what’s eating you?”

“No, nothing, I’m sorry. It’s nothing.”

“It’s clearly not nothing. Are you alright?”

Spencer sighed. “I’m nervous about doing another EVA.”

Zephyr closed her eyes as if trying to ward away some unseen pain. “I was worried that might be it. Look, I know the last time was traumatic, but we’re not even touching the tanks this time. There’s no decompression going on here.”

“That’s the other thing. Didn’t you say we might have to EVA for Tank 2? Aren’t we going to kill off Tank 1 sometime in the night tonight? How can you say there will be no decompression when you don’t know?”

“Look, look, you’re right. I don’t know. I think, from my experience with dozens of different life support systems, that Tank 2 is open, and the readout's just stuck. That’s very dangerous, of course, but not nearly as dangerous as a premature tank shutoff, which is what happened with Tank 1. We’re doing the EVA tomorrow at oh-six hundred, so if that goes south, I’ll already be out there ready to fix it. We will have your breather ready, and I will recharge it, and we will have Jean-Paul wearing the other Z suit. Everything is going to be fine.”

"That's just the thing. I don't want the breather. I don't want the responsibility. I don't know if I can actually handle another EVA, and you want to make me the lead. I just don't think you're listening to me. You’re not even checking our ox levels right now."

"What do you want, Spencer? First you wanted to run the whole show. You wanted to turn us in to the Orbitals. Then you wanted to run the EVA. Then you changed our course without consulting us, and now you want to run away? I just don't get you."

"Sounds about right," he muttered, and slumped into the quarters and slid the accordion door behind him with a crash.

"The walk's at oh-six hundred tomorrow morning. You don't have to be there for prep, but I expect you in the pilot seat at six on the dot," came the voice from the hall.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XVI

This is Part XVI, the final part of the fifth chapter. Start at the beginning.

“Hey, I’m going to use the terminal in quarters, is that cool?” she asked when she emerged.

“Go for it,” shouted Spencer. “But it’s just a little laptop.” He rolled his eyes a little. He played the ace of diamonds on Jean-Paul’s three and completed another circuit.

“Good thing we’re playing for fudge brownies and not real money,” said Jean-Paul.

“Ah, Circuit’s always hard the first time you play it,” said Spencer. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

They started another round, and Jean-Paul overbid. Spencer knew he must have at least two already completed circuits or there would have been no reason to throw down three brownies and a Beef Stroganoff. He played along, though, to make it more fun for everyone. Zephyr returned to the cockpit, her sleep-worn face also showing a deeply ridged brow and a frown.

“Good morning, Zephyr,” said Jean-Paul with a smile. “I seriously hope you aren’t here to break up our game. I’m about to win all kinds of brownies.”

“Someone died,” she said. She was wearing the magsuit again, and standing with her hands on her hips.

“Who?”

“One of the Crisis Group on the Platform died while they were re-pressurizing. He was blown into the crack next to our gate, ripped his suit on the jagged metal, and then lacerated himself. He bled out into space.”

“Oh God, that’s awful,” said Jean-Paul.

“Mitchell Li was his name. Kid from Oregon that was doing charlie-golf as a stepping stone to one of the lunar stations.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” said Spencer. “I don’t even know what to say.”

“I am so done with whoever did this. And whoever sent us all the spacecops between here and Luna. We are getting free and then we are fixing this shit. I am gonna kill someone if I have to.” Zephyr pointed at the co-pilot seat. “Can I?”

“Sure,” said Spencer, and stood up, shaking just a little.

“How much longer to Shackleton,” she mumbled to herself. “Ohhhh...kaaaaay, Spencer, you and I are going to need to have a talk in the hallway, please.”

Spencer took off to the quarters. Zephyr followed very close behind, and shut the accordion door.

“I am gonna slap you, kid. If I hadn’t got a full night of sleep, you would be good and slapped right now. What in the name of all hell are you doing? Do you think this is a joke?”

“Look, hold on.”

“I will not hold on. A man is dead, we almost died, and we’ve got guys with guns and unclear motivations following us. You had better have a damned good reason for this.”

“My dad—”

“You’ve talked to your dad! Oh, thanks for the trip to jail, buddy! Well, that’s fine ‘cause you’re probably going to juvie or something too. We’ll see how a space kid fits in there.”

Spencer looked Zephyr in the eye, jaw set. “Look, my dad pointed out that if we go to Shackleton, there will probably be cops there waiting for us. It’s not like they don’t know who’s on this ship, and where my parents live. It was a nice idea, but we can’t do it. And my dad promised not to tell anyone where we’re going.”

“Where are we going? Nav says our destination is somewhere in the Sea of Tranquility. What’s there?”

“Oh, nothing, just some old NASA stuff.”

“Wait, what? No—”

“‘One giant leap for mankind’?”

“You didn’t.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XV

This is Part XV, the third part of the fifth chapter. Start at the beginning.
 
"Fine. I was frustrated that I haven't been told where we're going," Spencer lied. "And I was trying to figure out where that was."

"You and Miss Adamson have some serious issues to work out. You have no trust in each other. Do you fear she has a hidden motive?"

"No, I just..."

"Do you have a hidden motive yourself?" Jean-Paul asked, eyebrow raised.

"No! I just thought I was doing a fine job on my own, that's all. It has nothing to do with Zephyr's ability to be a leader or save our lives or whatever. I mean, we both know now that she can do one heck of a spacewalk, and that she knows how to fix an air tank sensor. I just—I thought I was doing alright on my own. I could have landed us at Hermes." He felt like he was falling down a hole as he built his story, even though some of the things he said were true. He started to think that the best thing to do now would be to shut up.

"Well, I have no quarrel with either of you, and I choose to assume that Zephyr didn't tell you where we were going simply as an accidental omission. We are going to your parents at Shackleton. I believe we are scheduled to reach the lunar south in roughly a day and a half. And there is no way that Space Security can reach us before we arrive, as we are in the fastest manned ship in the solar system."

"I think it's funny that you call them 'Space Security'."

"Is that not what they are called? 'Space Security Joint Task Force'?"

"Yeah, but everyone just calls them Orbitals. For 'Orbital and Lunar Operations'," explained Spencer.

"But then by that token, would not your father also be an 'Orbital'? He does operate the Apollo Museum under the auspices of OLO, does he not?"

"Yeah, but it's not the same. It's like how in the States we call the FBI 'The Feds'."

"I see. You associate them with the power of the organization that controls them."

"Well, I didn't until last evening. I just thought of them like security guards in the bank, only in space." Spencer stared out the window at the moon. It was the size of his fist, now, and he could even make out the quarry of small asteroids that now orbited it, pulled there by space tugs as the rocks made close passes to the Moon. That's where Zephyr's customers, the miners, worked and sometimes lived. He'd never seen their tiny twinkling as beautiful before, but something struck him.

"Are they dangerous, do you think?"

"The quarry asteroids? No, scientists keep their orbits stable constantly."

"No, no, the 'Orbitales'."

"Well, I don't know for sure. I'm inclined to trust them," he lied again. "But Zephyr sure doesn't seem to like them very much. Maybe we should humor her for now. After all, she's really good at saving our lives."

"I have a terrible question to ask you, Mr. Sanchez," said Jean-Paul, obviously restraining some hidden emotion. "Where..."

"Mmm-hmm?"

"Where is the food?" he smiled.

"Oh right, of course, I've totally forgotten. I had quite a bit at the party last night, so I hadn't thought much of it. Gosh, you both must be starving. Gosh, I'm starving. Also, I hadn't thought much about timing last night, but Zephyr's spacewalk ended at something like eleven-thirty. How miserable."

"Let's not talk about misery on an empty stomach. I presume you have gooey cookies and purees of things that should never be pureed?"

"That's the stuff. It's in my room—uh, the quarters, which you are welcome to use any time you want. I'll bring out a selection. Hold on."

Zephyr stirred as Spencer opened the door to quarters. He had forgotten the media drive in the computer again, so he sat down, closed some of the files that were left open, and put it back in his pocket. He opened the blue box in the corner, opened some cardboard packets, and pulled out a selection of bars and juices, along with a water pouch for everyone and a pack of cards that had been magged, and as such, felt strange as the only thing that had any weight in his hand.

“You’ve been holding out on me, Mr. Sanchez,” said Jean-Paul. “This one says it’s Chicken à la King!” And he waved a silver pouch in the air as if it were a winning lottery ticket. “Oh, where’s the heating element?”

“The galley cabinet is inside the quarters. Nella calls this a ‘flying bachelor pad’. I’ve been told the oven’s no good, but you’re welcome to try it.”

“Well, I think it can wait. I’ve also got ‘Healthy Cranberry Granola Bar’ and—what did I say?—’Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookie’ to keep me company. I would like to avoid waking up the young lady. After all she did for me, it’s the least I can do for her.”

Spencer’s fears slowly dissolved in a sea of ‘Rich Fudge Brownie’ instances, chatter about Jean-Paul’s family (wife Sabine and two daughters, Jeanette and Anais, both older than Spencer, living in Toronto) and card games (gin rummy and a game called Circuit that was popular on Shackleton). Things were going to turn out alright. About one PM UDT, the stirring in Zephyr’s sleep sack got a bit more intense and by one-thirty, she emerged and floated straight into the lav.

“That explains it,” thought Spencer aloud.