Friday, June 5, 2015

The Orbitals, Part X

This is Part X, the first part of the fourth chapter. Start at the beginning.

Chapter 4: Airlock

Spencer tightened up completely. He gripped the armrest with his left hand and looked straight forward out the cockpit window, past the moon to some unknown star right in front of him. He thought for a moment that this felt like being on a rollercoaster. Just face forward and you’ll get through it. He held the handset in his right hand, and squeezed the transmit button tightly.

“We...just got...a low pressure...warning. It...says...we’re decompressing.” The alarm continued to blare.

“I read you. I know it’s scary, but hang tight. I’m almost there. Almost there.”

Spencer now definitely felt like he was expanding. He felt twice his normal size. Three times. Just all one big bruise, one giant allergic reaction. His throat felt thick, and there was a knot where his stomach should have been. The haloes on the stars and on the panel lights were bigger, tiny rays bursting in and out from their bright centers with every motion. He tried to still them by remaining motionless, and as he stopped moving, slowing his breathing to fluid motions, the pulsing of his heartbeat began a rhythmic jarring of the circles of light in front of him.

He was reminded of all the times he'd had to stay very still. The dentist's chair, or the anesthesiologist when he'd had a tonsillectomy. The time he ran headlong into a bulbous cactus, and his mother had to pull the spines out. The dozen rocket launches. This was worse. This was darker, harder, like the cactus spines were sticking out of him instead of in. He desperately wanted to click the transmit button, to beg Zephyr to hurry up with whatever she was doing. To shout at space. He looked at the display, and pressure was holding, just above the top of the red band.

Spencer's head was swimming. He was ready to give up. He imagined himself at his grandparents' house on a Sunday morning. There was horchata and Grandma Megan's pancakes. He could smell them. He could almost taste them. He was lying in the guest room bed that was his home away from home. He could hear Grandma Megan saying "Come down! Come down! Spencer! Nella! Come down!"

"Come in. Spencer. Jean-Paul. Come in. This is Zephyr."

Spencer leered at the handset, still tightly gripped in his right hand. The black ring of the mask seemed to have grown. He felt like he was looking out of one of those tiny Service Module windows from Dad's museum. He didn't feel like he was in control of his arm or his voice, but he took the handset to his face and pressed the button.

"This Spencer."

"Hi! So glad to hear you! Would you please reboot the environmental computer?"


"Could you please reboot the environmental computer?"

"I...don't know how," he said weakly.

"Here's what you do. You press the house picture," Zephyr said, calmly as if addressing a small child.

"I pressed it!" said Spencer in an airy sort of voice that sounded alien by the time it reached his ears.

"Then you press the ENV button."


"That's right."

"I pressed it!"

"Then you press Control."

"I pressed it!"

"Then Reboot."

"I pressed it!"


The alarm sound ended. There was a different-sounding alarm noise, like a chime rather than the klaxon from before. "Environmental control computer is being reset. Please stand by."

Spencer felt very strongly that he would have to vomit soon. The mask started to sweat on the inside, and that profusely. His head was itchy and prickly. The saccades of the star-haloes subsided as his heart slowed its feckless march. He wanted nothing better than to sleep.

"Environmental control computer has been reset."

Jean-Paul stirred in his seat. Spencer lurched forward, put his left hand over the mouth area of his mask, and tensed up.

"Depressurization event has ended. Low oxygen event has ended," said the voice synthesizer woman.

Jean-Paul popped the helmet off. "Merci Dieu!" he said.

The backup radio crackled again. "Spencer, can you give me ox and pressure? Oh, and CO2 if you've got it handy."

Spencer tapped the controls without vigor. He pulled his mask back and said, "We got...standard pressure, two zero point three ox, and one zero three five papa papa mike on the CO2."

"I'll take it," she said. "Coming back in."