Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Orbitals, Part VI

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 VI, the second part of the third chapter. 

Zephyr looked into Spencer’s eyes, puzzled. “Whatever. That’s fine. I just have a hunch that the ox problem isn’t actually about what’s in the tanks. I think it’s about what’s getting out of the tanks and into the pipes. My theory is: not much.”

“What does that mean?” asked Spencer.

“You want the good news or the bad news first?” asked Zephyr.

“Good, of course,” said Spencer.

“OK. Good news is, we might have more oxygen than we think. Bad news is, it's probably trapped in the tanks. I’m not sure how we’re still breathing; we probably should be dead by now.”

"Guys!" shouted Jean-Paul. "What do we do about the police chasing us?"

Spencer's eyes lit up and he laughed. "This ship is way too fast for them. We'll die of asphyxiation before we even start worrying about them catching us." His smile disappeared.


Spencer, Zephyr, and Jean-Paul stood in the vestibule. Or rather, Spencer and Zephyr stood in the vestibule, and Jean-Paul tried desperately to appear to be standing, by holding on to a handrail and trying to wedge his shoe into a corner, having failed to locate the footholds. It was mostly working, but there were some darkly comical moments when he floated into a jaunty angle during the tense conversation.

“Look, I know you’re a first responder,” said Spencer. “But you just can’t spacewalk in a suit that’s too large for you. You’ll die.”

“I won’t die. These new Z models are fantastic. I’ll bump up the pressure and I’ll crimp the arms down.”

“It’s the torso. It’s—”

“‘Weirdly long’? That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“It’s funny, that’s literally what everyone says about the Z-7. ‘The torso is weirdly long.’ It’s like you all read the same review on Space Times.”

“Please, ma’am,” said Spencer. “I only read Green Cheese." This was the satirical magazine published by former space kids in college.

“Ha, of course you do,” Zephyr smiled for the first time since before Hermes. “OK, we’re living on borrowed air, so let’s go over the plan.”

“I run EVA control from the pilot seat,” said Jean-Paul.

“And I’ll be in the suit, hopefully fixing the oxygen problem.”

“And I’ll stay in the car with the window rolled down,” sighed Spencer.

“Spencer, you have a serious job,” said Zephyr. “It’s actually incredibly important.”

“Fine. I’ll monitor the mix and flow from the co-pilot seat.”

“Spacewalks are not usually quick endeavors. This is likely to take at least two or three hours, perhaps more. I’m hoping to get at least one of the tanks fully nominal within thirty minutes, but that’s just a hope.”

“Pardon me, Zephyr, but I have a question,” said Jean-Paul. “What happens if we run out of oxygen while you’re still out there?”

“Well, that should be a lot less likely, since your total consumption rate will go down by about a third, but it is a possibility. Again, we have no idea how much air we actually have. My theory is that one of the tanks is disconnected and shut off somehow. I recommend you both take the other Z unit, and I guess Spencer should wear that. And then Jean-Paul, well, I’ll leave as much air in the pre-breather as I can for you.”

“What’s a pre-breather?” asked Jean-Paul.

“It’s this thing.” And she held up a simple contraption consisting of a facemask directly connected to an aluminum tank. “I’m going to have to use it now, so that I don’t get the bends out there. It’s essentially pure oxygen.” She strapped on the facemask.

“This Z is way too big for me,” said Spencer, pulling green and white material out of the fore closet. It must have been stowed for some oversized flight tech at Sierra.

Zephyr grunted over the light hissing of her pre-breather tank. She pointed at the large Z suit, then at Jean-Paul.

“Oh, maybe it’s my lucky day,” said Jean-Paul.

"Wow, I really don't want the pre-breather. Won't I...swell up like a balloon if we run out of air? Couldn't I die from decompression?"

"I don't think so," said Zephyr. "The nitro tank is still pumping, as far as I can tell, so we should have pressure. Of course, we can't really trust our instrumentation right now, so I must tell you that yes, it is a possibility. Decompression takes longer to kill you than you think, though, so I guess...chin up?"

"You realize that if either of us die, you're probably going to jail for a long time."

"I'm probably going to jail anyway, but I'm going to do everything I can to keep everyone alive till I get there," she looked at Spencer with unconcealed pity.