Friday, May 29, 2015

The Orbitals, Part VII

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 VII, the third part of the third chapter.  
Spencer walked slowly to the co-pilot seat. His face hurt in two places: the temple, where the man in black had kicked him, and the jaw on both sides. He had been clenching it for hours now, and in the chair, his face relaxed painfully. He wanted to cry. He wanted to be in his bed in Albuquerque, or strapped in safe on Shackleton with his parents. He wanted to be back at the Yuri's Night Party with Nella. He wanted to be with Grandpa Pancho and Grandma Megan's, eating her terrible, terrible enchiladas. He wanted, desperately, and more than anything else, not to have to sit in the co-pilot seat of this infernal shuttle and watch the pressure gauges and the ox gauges, and hold on in terror to a small aluminum cylinder that might contain his last breath. He looked at the little mechanical gauge on the pre-breather. About two-thirds full. Zephyr pre-breathed for about half an hour. So, maybe an hour of oxygen?

Free from the magnetic gravity, Zephyr and Jean-Paul bounced and bobbled in the air, ludicrously, like a pair of used astronaut action figures. Jean-Paul carried his helmet by the lip in a closed hand and Zephyr's suit was bound up by metallic bands to fit her better. They cleared loose equipment from the suits' velcro pads on the walls, and stowed it in the closet beyond the vestibule door. Jean-Paul arrived at the pilot seat and used a long strip of velcro to strap the helmet to the starboard wall of the cockpit. Jean-Paul and Zephyr tested the radio and the backup comm, which had been strapped between the pilot and the co-pilot seats. Zephyr spoke on the radio again.

"Jean-Paul, I'm ready for depressurization. On the center panel, choose Specialist, EVA, then Begin Airlock Open. It'll ask you to confirm twice. Read it carefully."

Jean-Paul pressed some buttons, and then said something that was probably profane, in French, then started again. He turned to Spencer:

"They put the confirm button on one side the first time, then on the other side the second time."

"That's so you don't accidentally blow someone out into space."

"Good idea."

Spencer's jaw was unhappy again. He made a deal with himself. He would hold on to sanity for the duration of this spacewalk, and then he would let himself do whatever he wanted. He could cry, he could scream, he could throw things at the cockpit window. He could go find Nella's diary and blast it into the void. He could sift through the rations and eat all the brownies. He just had to make it through this one thing.

Zephyr's voice was attenuated now, as it was only coming through the radio, and no longer also through the air of the shuttle. She looked alright through her helmet glass and the airlock window. She floated out the back of the ship.

"Jean-Paul, I'm tethered. Can you confirm the mechanical assist on my tether?"

Spencer pointed at a spot on the screen.

"Zephyr, I can see that you are tethered. Go ahead with your spacewalk, I guess? Good luck out there, and don't get hurt."

"Promise. Spencer, can you get me a current press reading and our percentages?"

"Percentages are five one and one three. Yeah, that doesn't seem right at all. Pressure is holding steady zero one point zero. That's low, but not scary low."

"Thanks, Spencer. I'm headed up and over, Jean-Paul."

Spencer grabbed the radio handset. "No, don't!"

"What was that?"

"Don't go up and over. You have to go around the side. Unless you're double-tethered, you're going to get blown off by the thruster."

"There's a thruster on top?"

"It’s just a little nav thruster on top, but it's powerful enough to blow you off. It's probably not on now, but I can't tell you for sure, because honestly I don't know our flight plan anymore. Unless you want to wait for me to check."

"Thank you, Spencer, you may have just saved my life. Jean-Paul, can you show me the route to Tank 2 going around the side?"

"Sure thing. You should be going to your left, you'll find a secondary tether clip at a point labeled ASR1, then you keep going forward and you'll see a different clip below you at a point labeled STRT-2. You can get to the front of the tank on a panel labeled, well...looks like it's labeled 'Junction Tank 1'. That's easy."

"Easy. Sure it is," said Zephyr.

It was about ten minutes of regular check-ins, but little progress. Zephyr would say something like, “Still here, got the handle. Slow and steady.” Jean-Paul would say something like, “Looking good from here.”

“So, she trained you on all this when? While she was pre-breathing?” asked Spencer.

“Well, yeah, I guess. She said she’s done this sort of thing a few times and that all I had to do was make sure she remembered her directions and that her vital signs stayed in the green bars, and these other things stayed in the green bars too.”