Monday, June 22, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XVII

This is Part XVI, the first part of the sixth chapter. Start at the beginning.

Zephyr stood in what they tended to call the “hallway”. It was the juncture in front of the vestibule airlock door, where if you were facing the cockpit, on your left side would be the lav and the supply closet, and on your right would be quarters. There were two random foothold loops situated near the back by the airlock door. Because the ship was magged, the nylon fabric loops were rarely used and had been smashed down to the ground. There were loops in the other convenient locations as well: in the lav and in front of the supply closet. Jean-Paul, who was used to the footholds on Hermes, had found the set aboard the Twelve Parsecs particularly useless. He was holding on to a handrail near the threshold of the cockpit entryway. Spencer was standing, held down by the magnets' tug on his suit, near the handrail on the other side.

“OK, so here’s the deal,” said Zephyr, hands on hips again. “If we’re going to land at an unmanned facility, we’re going to need to do another EVA. The last diagnostic I ran showed that, while we’re still alright on air, our nav computer can’t access the comm system, which means that doing an autopilot landing isn’t going to work. This is probably related to the fact that our radio crapped out near Hermes, and one EVA should solve both problems.”

“Are we really good on air?” asked Spencer. “You said earlier we’d probably have to EVA for Tank 2.”

“Well, we are cutting it a little close, but the trajectory to the museum is a little shorter, and we know we won’t lose compression this time. We may have to end the trip wearing suits and the breather, but we should be fine.”

Spencer’s stomach turned, but Jean-Paul spoke before he could register his discontent. “Can you tell me what benefit we reap from landing at an unmanned facility? I thought we were looking for help.”

“Sure,” said Zephyr. “For one, there are no Orbitals there. That’s pretty important. It’s also a stable platform where we can do repairs to Tank 2 without the dangers of a third EVA. It’s also got an ox reserve we can borrow. And it’s a good place to hang out while we get more intel and figure out where we can go that will be safe.”

“Yes, but why are we not landing on other places on the Moon?”

“Peary’s fine, it’s a European station, and there wouldn’t necessarily be Orbitals there. But that’s exactly the problem, that ‘necessarily’ there. Who knows what the ESA is thinking? Do they care about what happened on the Platform? Are they going to rat us out to the Orbitals? Too many questions. Everything else on the surface has OLO tendrils running through it at the very least."

“I know you’re nervous, but we’ll find a safe way out. This really is the best option for now.”

“So, when do we do the EVA?” asked Spencer, again looking down at the floor.

“We’re scheduled to reach the last leg of the approach tomorrow at seventeen hundred UTC. We should get a good night of sleep tonight, then do the walk tomorrow morning. I’d like to keep the same stations as last time, but we’ll put Spencer in charge of operations if that’s OK.”

“I think I’d much prefer that,” said Jean-Paul.

“OK,” said Spencer. He began to walk away from the group.

“Where are you going?” said Zephyr with a bemused smile.

“Oh, nowhere. I thought we were done,” he said, focusing intensely on that magic spot right in front on his feet.

“Jean-Paul, do you want to go check on the trajectory, make sure we’re still on course?” asked Zephyr.

“Sure thing,” he said, and nodded as he floated away.

“Spencer, what’s eating you?”

“No, nothing, I’m sorry. It’s nothing.”

“It’s clearly not nothing. Are you alright?”

Spencer sighed. “I’m nervous about doing another EVA.”

Zephyr closed her eyes as if trying to ward away some unseen pain. “I was worried that might be it. Look, I know the last time was traumatic, but we’re not even touching the tanks this time. There’s no decompression going on here.”

“That’s the other thing. Didn’t you say we might have to EVA for Tank 2? Aren’t we going to kill off Tank 1 sometime in the night tonight? How can you say there will be no decompression when you don’t know?”

“Look, look, you’re right. I don’t know. I think, from my experience with dozens of different life support systems, that Tank 2 is open, and the readout's just stuck. That’s very dangerous, of course, but not nearly as dangerous as a premature tank shutoff, which is what happened with Tank 1. We’re doing the EVA tomorrow at oh-six hundred, so if that goes south, I’ll already be out there ready to fix it. We will have your breather ready, and I will recharge it, and we will have Jean-Paul wearing the other Z suit. Everything is going to be fine.”

"That's just the thing. I don't want the breather. I don't want the responsibility. I don't know if I can actually handle another EVA, and you want to make me the lead. I just don't think you're listening to me. You’re not even checking our ox levels right now."

"What do you want, Spencer? First you wanted to run the whole show. You wanted to turn us in to the Orbitals. Then you wanted to run the EVA. Then you changed our course without consulting us, and now you want to run away? I just don't get you."

"Sounds about right," he muttered, and slumped into the quarters and slid the accordion door behind him with a crash.

"The walk's at oh-six hundred tomorrow morning. You don't have to be there for prep, but I expect you in the pilot seat at six on the dot," came the voice from the hall.