Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Orbitals, Part III

This is a story set in a relatively near future in outer space. National governments have built stations on the moon and private companies have started shepherding asteroids into the lunar neighborhood for mining purposes.

This is Part III, the second part of the second chapter.
“It’s OK, we’ll talk about something else,” said Jean-Paul. He tried to crane his neck around Spencer’s back to see the trip-progress indicator, a yellow readout behind his left shoulder. Instead, he pitched in the air awkwardly, bouncing his head off of Spencer’s headrest. “Oof,” he exclaimed.

Spencer actually laughed, and Zephyr looked horrified. “Jean-Paul, are you alright?” she asked.

“Yeah, classic novice blunder,” he said.

“You’re really new to space, aren’t you?” she asked.

“I’m not an astronaut, as you so astutely pointed out before.”

“If you’re not an astronaut, how come you know Hermes? I mean, EarthStation 1 I get, it’s for tourists. But I’ve never heard of a tourist going to mid-earth orbit at all. There’s nothing there,” said Spencer.

“Just a normal kid, huh?” said Jean-Paul. “Well, for your information, Mr. Normal Kid, I’ve got an academic variance on Hermes. I’m not a tourist, I’m a college professor.”

“Professor of what? I can’t imagine what you could do on Hermes that you couldn’t do remotely from Earth.”

“Anthropology, University of Toronto.”


“The study of people and their cultures. You ever seen those old, old adventure movies with Indiana Jones?”


“This is getting harder and harder,” he said to Zephyr. “The younger generation has no reference point,” then back to Spencer, “Well, you know what an archaeologist is, right?”

“Guy who digs up ancient temples and tromps through pyramids and crap?”

“Yeah, something like that. Well, I do that, but for old satellites.”

Spencer let out a long “ah” of recognition. “That would explain why you spend so much time at Hermes. But how do you get from there all the way to the junk orbit? That's where old satellites are, right?”

“Ha ha, Mr. Normal Kid. Good question. The Science Director at Hermes takes me out there herself, in a small shuttle. But we can only go when everyone’s orbit is lined up just right. So the rest of the time I live on ES1 and study some of the pieces that the Europeans have picked up from their cleanup project.”

“My mom always says, ‘God bless those Europeans’ on our way through the earth orbits. I guess that’s because they cleaned up the space junk?”

“Yeah. My research is all about the different countries’ attitudes toward satellite waste at the turn of the century. I’m looking at the design and the construction of all these satellites to see what I can see.”

“Sounds like you got a free ticket to space,” said Spencer, then hastily shut his mouth.

Jean-Paul had rotated back to a relatively normal position. He turned to Spencer and made an exaggerated wink. Spencer smiled again.

“And you, Miss, uh—”

“Just call me Zephyr. Or Zeph if you need it even shorter,” she said. A piece of red hair had come untucked and was now feathering and separating above her, giving her a ridiculous auburn halo. “I’m in lunar orbit. I’m an emergency responder on Glenn Station.”

“Cool, an EXAT!” Spencer said with awe. “Have you seen any—”

“Pilot, there is an urgent warning on the communications panel,” interrupted the ship’s voice.

"Oh crap," said Spencer.

"What's that? asked Jean-Paul. Zephyr, still strapped into the jumpseat, leaned forward.

"Your radio's out," she said.

"I caught that," said Spencer. "It was dropping out earlier, but it started working again when we came undocked. I thought it had something to do with the Platform’s intranet."

"Maybe you should switch places with me," Jean-Paul said to Zephyr.

"Maybe I should switch places with him," she said, pointing at Spencer.

"Excuse me, Miss—Zephyr, but I do know how to pilot the ship. At least, I know enough to fly-by-wire into Hermes. I know I'm just a kid, but I can do this."

"I understand, Spencer. But I'm a first responder, and I have experience with emergency situations in space. I'd really like to get access to that pilot seat. I think we'd all be safer."

"I...I don't mean to sound rude, but what exactly is your training specialty?"

"I'm the lead fire suppression tech, with certifications as an EMT and life-support tech."

"Well," Spencer closed his eyes and tightened his grip, as though he was worried the ship was going to hit something. "I don't think anything's on fire yet, life support is working fine for now, and no one needs a doctor right now. None of us is authorized to fly this thing, but I've studied the manual and I know how to work the controls. Please let me stay here. Please."