Monday, May 25, 2015

The Orbitals, Part V

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 V, the first part of the third chapter.

Chapter 3: Twelve Parsecs

“Why did you do that?” shouted Spencer, his eyes meeting Zephyr’s, narrow and tense.

“Didn’t you see that? There are only twelve ships in the entire Orbital fleet. At least eight of them were there, maybe more.”


“Doesn’t that worry you?”

“Space cops don’t worry me,” said Spencer. The nearest Orbital police ship, almost laughable in its parody of earthbound police—a white shuttle with a wide black stripe and a blue mounted landing light on top—made a burn as they passed, likely breaking away from the group to pursue. “Running out of air worries me.”

“We’ll just go somewhere else,” she said flatly. “It cannot possibly be good for us to have that many cops here.”

“Do you have something to hide?” shouted Spencer. He put out of his mind the voice that was telling him to guard his own secret above all else.

“Look, I know you think you know your way around here, but I’ve been in space for four years now. I’m on eight-month shifts. I’ve seen things that no one on Earth has even heard about, and I have never seen more than two Joint Task Force ships at one place at one time. This is wrong, trust me.”

“Oh, now they’re the ‘Joint Task Force’, huh? ‘Space cops’ sounds too buddy-buddy? Look, I don’t care what you’re on the lam for. I’m just telling you, there’s nothing between here and Luna, and we have about enough air on board to play a round of Go Fish and say goodbye.”

“The hell we do.”

“When we left, we had thirteen in one tank and ninety-one in the other.”

“Percentage points or kilos?”


“Between the three of us, that’s...a whole day of air.”

“Why would they tell me it was ninety minutes?”

“I bet it was part of this thing with the Orbitals. They needed to make sure you didn’t make off with the ship.”

“Or maybe they saw a leak or some other depletion that I didn’t. Or—”

“Guys,” said Jean-Paul.

“Or maybe they read a failure somewhere that the computer didn’t,” continued Spencer. “Either way, this is almost worse. Now we don’t really know how much air we actually have. Could be thirty minutes, could be a day. Either way, not enough to go to the moon,” Spencer smiled a nasty smile, “Uh-oh, gotta go back and face the space cops.”

“Look, Spencer. I have had nothing but pleasant exchanges with the Space Security Joint Task Force—and yes, that is their proper name—but I can guarantee you, from my own experience and the experience of others, that when you see a show of force like that, something bad is happening. I want to go home. I want you to go home. I want Jean-Paul to—get back to his research. I don’t think going to Hermes is going to be in anyone’s best interest right now. The air problem is real, but it’s also my area of expertise. I know you don’t know me. I know you don’t trust me. I understand, really I do. But we’ve got to keep going. I promise to keep us all alive. That’s what I do.”

“Ugh. Fine. What do we do?”

“Well, depends on the answer to this question: Were the tanks full when you got on board?”

“Yeah? I think so? I mean, why wouldn’t they be, right? Nella was supposed to do a training run on Saturday, so you would think that breathable would already be taken care of.”

“OK, so there’s a reasonable assumption that we have more air than we think.”

“What? That’s not necessarily true. We had a blowout, remember. You know, the one you caused?”

“Yes, I do remember. I also remember that the dock was slow-leaking, not completely open, and that your secondary airlock worked just fine. A little too fine, in fact, because Jean-Paul and I had to knock on your door to be let in. There’s no way that blowout wasted more than ten or fifteen percentage points on one tank.”

"Guys," said Jean-Paul again, more insistently.

“Maybe they were filling when I got on board. I didn’t really check the ox. I wasn’t there yet—I mean, I wasn’t...worried about ox, because I was...just walking around.” Spencer struggled to keep his gaze steady and his secrets inside.