Friday, May 22, 2015

The Orbitals, Part IV

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 IV, the conclusion of the second chapter.

Zephyr's face fell a little, and her eyes became soft. "Alright, alright. I'm sorry. I understand. But please, let's just let me and Jean-Paul switch, and I'll stick to the port panel just to monitor our oxygen." Zephyr's words sounded agitated. She had a New York accent when she was upset, it seemed.

"Oxygen's actually on the center panel, Zeph," said Spencer, trying to look at the spot just in front of his feet, which was currently blocked by the flight controls.

"Sure thing."

The switch was a clumsy ballet: the walking Zephyr and the floating Jean-Paul trying desperately to swirl around one another. Eventually, Jean-Paul's head hit the back ceiling of the cockpit. He pushed off the ceiling with his right hand, and grabbed the base of the jumpseat with his left. He held himself by both ends of the seat belt, one end tensing and loosening, then the other. Eventually, he managed to extend the belt to fit him, then pull himself back down on the seat, strap in, then tighten up and grab the shoulder harness. Zephyr then managed to sneak by, plopping down in the co-pilot seat.

"Now, where were we?" she said.

"Comm panel reads no access to RF space-access bands. So, I guess that means no radio. I'm pretty sure the manual says you can reboot the communications array somehow."

"Would that be somewhere in this menu here?" asked Zephyr, and made to touch the center panel.

"No, I don't think so," said Spencer, then tapped furiously on the starboard panel. He muttered to himself. "Communications Array...Bands...Space-access...No, not set new frequency. What is it?...Equipment...Antennas? No..."

"I'm pretty sure it is," said Zephyr. "At least if it's anything like a Sierra tug. Ah, yep. There it is."

"Sure. Thanks," mumbled Spencer. "Let's reboot."

They waited the mandatory thirty seconds.

"It's coming online," said Spencer. "Oh, there's the X on the radio icon. Wait, it's gone. OK."

Zephyr pressed Transmit and spoke, "Juliet delta Central, this is sierra november...uh..."


"Bravo one two papa, do you read?"

Silence. Spencer spoke. "Juliet delta this is the Twelve Parsecs, do you read?

"Nothing. Oh, the X is back on the radio icon."

"Do you have a backup?"

"I don't remember reading that in the manual. Where would it be?"

"I don't know. On a tug, there's really only one place to put it. In the cockpit, 'cause there's only a cockpit."

"I'll go make myself useful and look," said Jean-Paul.

"It would be a big red or yellow box that says 'Backup Comm' or 'Backup Radio'."

Jean-Paul floated away.

"Look, Spencer, I'm sorry," Zephyr said. "This is a stressful situation for everyone, and you're a really smart kid. But you're a kid, and you can't expect us both to just trust you implicitly. We've got to work together if we're going to—"

"Found it!" came Jean-Paul's joyous shout from the back.

"Good work!" shouted Zephyr.

"I know all the space traffic control sites' frequencies are hard-coded in the computer, I just saw them. Ah! There it is, Hermes is: one six one point nine oh five. You got that, Jean-Paul?"

"One six one point nine oh five. There it is, friends. Talk away."

"Be my guest," said Spencer, so dedicated to looking at that point in front of his feet again that he was peering down through the controls.

"Sure," said Zephyr. "Hermes—wait. Why did you give me Hermes? I thought we were calling JDSP to tell them about the man in black?"

"I'd love to, but we're almost at Hermes now, so we better tell them we're coming."

"Hotel mike Space Traffic Control, this is sierra november bravo one two papa, requesting permission to dock."

"One two papa, this Hermes Space Control, what is your approach route?" came the voice of the woman from Hermes Space Control.

"Hotel mike, our approach route is being broadcast by autopilot. Can you confirm?"

"Negative, one two papa. I can see your ping on radar, but nothing from your computer. We're gonna have to take you in manually."

"Hotel mike, that might be a problem. We are three passengers, no pilot. No one aboard is authorized to fly. I repeat, we cannot pilot the ship into dock."

"One two papa, we've been apprised of your coming, and we'll walk you through as best we can. We've got Space Security here to guide you into dock."

Zephyr turned to Spencer. "Can we see Hermes yet?"

"Sure, we can. Don't you see that bright light? It's like...oh...eleven o'clock?"

"Oh. That's all?"

"It's a small station," added Jean-Paul.

"We've got a telescope," said Spencer. "You wanna see it up close?"


"It'll show up on your panel. Watch."

The port panel blinked out, then went completely black. Then, it fired up the purple-black LCD color. A fast zoom then focused on Hermes. It was ancient-looking to Zephyr: a couple of tubes, sealed together at the ends, with solar panels on sticks all around. It looked like old pictures of the International Space Station. There was a swarm of ships around it—many more than could possibly dock at Hermes at one time. Seven. Eight. All of them had a distinctive black-and-white pattern painted on them.

"That's almost the entire Space Security fleet," said Zephyr. "What are they doing here?"

"Like she said, guiding us into dock," said Spencer.

"Like hell," she said. "What have we gotten into?"

"No, this is good. This is the end of the run. Soon we'll be fine, and you'll go back to Glenn and I'll go back to Shackleton, and you'll go back to—what are you doing?"

Zephyr tapped on a number of controls, all across the board. Jean-Paul gripped the handrail, and spread out like an unfurling flag. The stars veered to the left.

"One two papa, come in. One two papa, this is hotel mike Control. You are off course. I repeat, you are not on course to dock. Please respond."