Monday, June 8, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XI

This is Part XI, the second part of the fourth chapter. Start at the beginning.

"I'ma hit the lav," Spencer mumbled to Jean-Paul. He ran back to the center of the shuttle and made a right, opening what amounted to a clinical-looking closet. At one point he had known the procedure for regurgitation into the lavatory equipment--he had found that a particularly amusing part of that chapter of the manual, at the time. Now, however, it was neither amusing nor clear how this was going to proceed. He entered and closed the door behind him.

Right, the bag, he thought. There was a long, hefty, black bag hanging from a hook. He reached it and clenched it in his hands around his mouth. He shuddered and retched into the dark void. Immediately, a small amount of the sick sprayed out of the imperfect seal with his mouth and floated away from his face until it collided with the gray siding of the lav wall. Most of it stuck, but a drop rebounded to the opposite wall, gliding gently in front of Spencer's eyes. He felt weakness in every muscle and joint, and moved slowly to push the plastic adapter at the bottom of the bag into the tube labeled "SOLIDS" and flush. The bag emptied through the bottom, shivering.

Spencer returned to the cockpit knowing he would have an interesting time later cleaning the lav. He sat down in the copilot seat, the sight and feel of which had become completely repulsive to him. He fought the urge to return to the lav. The scratching sound of Zephyr meddling in the affairs of Junction Tank 1 was back briefly. There was a long wait—it seemed much longer than the time it took Zephyr to get to the panel in the first place. She checked in at less frequent intervals. At long last, there was the communication Spencer had been waiting for.

“Jean-Paul, I’m at the back door. Can you start the airlock sequence?”

And soon enough, Zephyr and her jury-rigged green and white Z-7 spacesuit were back in the vestibule. The outer door closed. The pressure equalized, and the inner door opened. She twisted off her helmet, breathing heavily and floating.

“We did it, guys!”

“Well, mostly you did it and we watched,” said Spencer.

“Hey, no, you were both invaluable. Anyway, what’s our air situation? Has it held up on my way back in?”

“I just looked. That fifteen percent on Tank 1 has jumped to ninety-nine.  We have ninety-nine and ninety-one. Should be plenty to get anywhere we want.”

“OK. Now I’m a little worried that Tank 2 is acting up as well, but at least we’re not going to get another oxygen warning for a while.”

“What was wrong with the Tank?”

“It was really interesting, but I’ve got to go to the little girls’ room first.”

“Hold on,” said Spencer. He walked to the lavatory ahead of Zephyr.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’ll just be a second.”

He pulled two pre-moistened wipes from the top box of the paper area of the lav, and wiped down the walls where the vomit was already beginning to harden in the dry artificial air. “Got it. Go right ahead.”

Jean-Paul and Spencer were silent as Zephyr used the facilities. Jean-Paul looked around the vestibule over and over. He yawned and cleared his throat. He scratched his head. He rubbed his eyes. He sighed. Zephyr emerged from the lav.

“Were you sick in here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Spencer. He looked away and put his finger in his ear.


“Right after we re-compressed. I think the decompression made me sick to my stomach.”

“Spencer, you cannot get up from your station when someone’s EVA. That is terribly dangerous. What if Jean-Paul had been incapacitated and I needed to be let back in?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It was my first time,” Spencer said.

“You’re going to need to be more careful if we’re going to get through this.”

“Fine,” said Spencer, and he walked to quarters. He pushed the door shut, its accordion shape expanding to a slightly translucent, nearly flat panel.

“Don’t you want to know what was wrong with the tank?” came Zephyr’s voice from the hallway.

“Not right now,” he responded.

The quarters were spartan by Earth standards, but they were weird and luxurious if you were used to normal orbital shuttles. In your average shuttle, even in the ones that Sierra sold that looked just like this one (save for the racing stripe), there was no magnetic gravity system. Passengers were stacked in from the end of the cockpit to the back of the vestibule, strapped in much smaller chairs. On a normal run, the vestibule was never used as an airlock. The quarters room was a supply closet. Sleeping was done by velcroing sleep sacks on every available square foot of ceiling and wall space, including in the supply room, like a dozen cocoons on a tiny leaf. And, of course, they wouldn’t have had this problem with the tanks—they had oxygen generation systems. The lav got very unpleasant, though.

On the Twelve Parsecs, however, there was room to spare. There was a strange little mattress in the quarters room, and a spare jumpseat was fused to some supports in front of a bench to make a desk, on which sat, fused and shielded against the magnetic field, a laptop computer. It could hardly be called a laptop anymore, as it was permanently stuck to the top of the desk. Everything in the room was silver and black. The ceiling lights did not brighten it much, but did cast strange purple shadows in unlikely places. In the corner of the room stood a large box made of supports and blue plastic-coated canvas. It appeared to be fused to a bulkhead or the floor, and it contained all the food and water bags.

Spencer sat down at the desk. A velcro sound surprised him, and he soon saw a black object the size of a pack of gum floating in the right periphery of his field of vision. It was the device the man in black had dropped, and which Spencer had completely forgotten about--a removable USB drive. It must have gotten unstuck when he sat down. He booted the laptop and figured out which port this device fit into. As the computer pulled up a folder containing the drive's contents, there was a weak, splashing knock at the flimsy door.

“Can I come in?” asked a voice that registered as Zephyr’s, but was so much softer than her usual tone that it was difficult to recognize.