Monday, June 29, 2015

The Orbitals, Part XX

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

"Alright, you head toward the Comm Junction."

"Uh, Spencer, can you tell me which direction I'm supposed to go?" asked Jean-Paul. "I seem to be a little disoriented."

"Sure thing, sure thing. You're going to head down and starboard, which means that if you can see the fin structures at your feet and you're facing the ship, you're going under your left knee. You clip in right now, then again when you see a clip labeled ess tee ar tee dash one. Again, that's sierra tango romeo tango dash one."

"What if I see the fins at my head?"

"Means you're upside-down, but that's okay. There's no down in space, right? If you're facing the ship, you're going over your right shoulder. You should see a handle less than arm's length away, and the first clip should be under your right armpit."

"OK, I'm clipped in. I'm trying to grab the next handle and, oh God I can't. I'm so scared. I can't. I should come in."

"Hold on, Jean-Paul," said Zephyr's voice. "You've got this. Just remember now you're fully clipped. You can't float out into space this time. If you need to, just let go and see. You can still grab your big handhold."

"I'm not letting go," he said. His strain was apparent both in his vitals and in the breathing sounds over the comm. He shouted. "I've got it! I've got the handle!"

"Status update for Spencer: I'm past sierra tango romeo tango dash three, preparing for final clip in a minute or so."

"You're fast!" said Spencer, realizing how dumb it sounded as soon as it was out. Zephyr's vitals were a sea of green numbers.

"OK, Jean-Paul, I see you're moving. Soon here you're going to see three handholds right in a row. I need you to grab the center. Your clip-in will be right there. That's ess tee ar tee dash one."

Jean-Paul's breathing was still labored. "I...I think I can see it ahead. I'm working on it."

"You're okay, you're okay," Spencer adopted Zephyr's tone and rhythm. "Just keep going, and you'll get there."

"I see the code. That's ess tee ar tee one, right?"

"Yep, that's right."

"Spencer, I'm at Junction Tank 2. Clipping in, opening up," said Zephyr. "You're doing great there, team."

Spencer looked at his control panel. Something happened to him inside; the wave of nausea returned with violence. He lurched forward and only just prevented himself from vomiting on the port display. The tremendous gibbous moon in front of him seemed to laugh, its face taking up what felt like the whole window. He lurched again and did not vomit.

He pressed the handset. "Zephyr, what was our ox condition when you left?"

"We had niner percent. You should still be fine. Alarm will go off again at five."

"Uh, okay. Okay." Spencer reached for the black bag in time to fill it furiously. He was cognizant of the sealing problem from last time, and prevented any of his mostly clear sick from floating into the cabin. He closed the bag gingerly with the twisting metal-and-plastic tabs, leaving it just a touch loose in case he needed it again. His nostrils burned and he felt like he was drowning. He felt as though he would immediately pass out. Gritting his teeth and clenching all of the muscles he could power in his legs, he sat upright for long enough to change the center control over to the airmix panel. Zephyr was right. The ox was now eight percent—oh, he saw it flip over to seven—but it didn't continue to plummet further. The pressure was nominal. Spencer lurched again, holding his mouth with his hands. Aftershocks.

"I am at Junction Comm," said Jean-Paul. "I'm clipping...oh, I'm...there we go. I'm clipped. I'm opening the panel."

No word from Zephyr, but this was similar to the first EVA, which felt very long as well. She was troubleshooting, or at least that's what Spencer told himself. He was a mass of sensations—thirsty and afraid to drink, hungry but queasy, and he was starting to relax, even though he was abjectly terrified. He opened a fudge brownie and sniffed it tentatively. He stomach said no. He nibbled on the corner, and his stomach said no again. Ox at six percent.

"Got it," came Zephyr's voice. Nothing changed on the monitor. Then the reading for Tank 2 dropped, from 75 percent down to 31 percent.

"Uh, Zephyr?" said Spencer. "I'm reading a Tank 2 drop from 75 to 31. What's happening out there?"

"That's what you should see, Spencer. Means it's fixed. I'm coming back in."


"That reading is right now. We've got enough ox to get to the museum."

"Okay, okay."

Jean-Paul's voice came in. "Uh, okay everyone, I can't really figure out what's wrong with comm. There's no obvious wire crossing or broken stuff. What do I do?"

"That's okay, Jean-Paul," said Zephyr. "I've been prepared for this, looked it up while I was pre-breathing. You can take a picture through your helmet cam and send it to Spencer."

"How do I do that?"

"The green button on your right shoulder. If you're facing the thing head on, you should get it. Open up the blue compartment inside the panel and take a picture of it."

"Uh, oh, hold on. Okay. I've got it."

"Now Spencer, you should see a notification from the main screen."

Spencer went to the main screen and saw an image of a picture of a cartoonish crescent moon. He tapped it and a weird fish-eye shot of the comm panel filled the center panel. "I'm looking at it, and Jean-Paul is right. I can't see what's wrong at all."

“Hold on, everyone. Hold on. I’ve cut my suit. Repeat, I’ve cut my suit.”