Chapter 1: Greet the Stars
Too much noise, thought Eddie Vogel as he worked to reconnect broken data relays in the tunnel leading from the command module to the habitat module. There were at least three alarms buzzing and blaring, warning of fire, pressure loss and atmospheric poisons. Someone was screaming in the command module. And there were disturbing moans that could only be the very structure of the craft being altered. The noise seemed to be funneled directly into his ears. It made it hard to think.
The spinning didn’t make it any easier. Eddie had attached himself to the wall with the straps on the sides of his suit, but that was only a Velcro connection. After the Event, the whole craft had begun spinning along the long axis, which pushed him into the bank of exposed conduits and computers. It was also spinning, more slowly, in a way that was pulling him toward the command module. When he dropped an extraction tool, it stuck to the side of the access tunnel and slid slowly away from him. His inner ears were also spinning, which was making him nauseous.
Bracing himself, Eddie tried to concentrate. In front of him banks of computer modules attached to each other and to other parts of the craft by narrow optic cables protected by carbon fiber fabric. The cables were extremely strong, and were designed to pop out of their connections before tearing the attached module open. This was the way they were designed, but no one on the team ever thought they’d be put to such a test. The stress caused by the Event had caused dozens of cables from far back in the craft to pull out of their inputs. That was a surprise, and spoke to the intensity of whatever had happened. From the blare of the alarms, Eddie thought a breach was likely.
The cables were color coded with a striped band to indicate their destination, which had a similarly striped sticker around the connector. The job should have been easy, but some of the connectors, on both modules and cables, had been damaged. Not supposed to happen, Eddie knew, but happened anyway. Replacing the connectors was a straight-forward job, and it had been Eddie’s idea to secure replacement parts in these compartments. Moving as fast as he could, it was still taking him a couple of minutes, twice as long as it should have, to replace each damaged connector and reattach the cable. He should be securing each small piece as he cut it away, but he knew that would be too much time. Bits and pieces of connectors and cable were pulled into the walls by the spin. At least they’d be out of his way for now.
Someone pushed past him toward the command module, wearing an environmental suit. Alexei, Eddie thought, one of the three command pilots. The other two were already in the command module. One of them was still screaming. The other would be trying to stabilize the spin of the ship, and Eddie knew he needed to complete these broken connections to help that cause. With each repaired connection, a new set of modules came alive and rebooted. Eddie knew he was making progress, but thought he was going to slow to matter at this point.
Alexei slid back into the corridor, anchored by a safety line secured in the command module. “Faster,” he said. “The fire is out. Habitat is sealed off. The breech must be behind it.” Eddie was shocked to realize Alexei’s brown suit was splattered with blood.
“Are you okay?”, Eddie asked fighting back the urge to vomit.
“I’m fine,” he said. “We have to shut down the spin.” He stuck a bloody hand in the compartment and knocked about a few loose cables. “Finish this quickly.”
“Easy,” Eddie said turning back to his work. Alexei laughed. A moment later Eddie felt a tap on his shoulder. An oxygen mask and bottle fell slowly into the wall.
“You may need that,” Alexei said as he slid toward the command module twenty feet away.
Eddie secured the bottle into his work harness and slipped on the mask.
“Oxygen mask operational,” Nelly said in his mind. Nelly was his Advocate, a small chip implanted just behind his right ear.
“Put it on stand-by with a low-pressure trigger,” Eddie thought and Nelly complied. She was able to communicate with almost any modern gear or system. Eddie had once seen a schematic of the wireless communication connections in a Magellan Class Exploration Craft, and was dazzled by that intensely bright geometric pattern. And Nelly was always listening in, sorting through hundreds of incoming messages at all times. Nelly was the best Advocate on the market, and to Eddie, it was the best money he’d ever spent. Even if it was his last for the moment.
“Done, she told him. “I will continue to monitor the environmental systems. The air pressure does seem to be holding.”
“How is the situation behind us?” Eddie took a quick count. Five more connections to repair. Ten minutes he figured.
“I have no connections behind the hab mod. The hab mod is in lock-down. Atmosphere looks good inside.”
“Any cameras online? And patch me in to the command channel. Muted.” Nelly did her magic. She pulsed signals through his auditory nerves, and immediately Eddie heard Timmons and Alexei arguing. The third pilot, Kowslowski, had stopped screaming. Eddie wondered if he the Pole was dead.
“No. Unconscious, pulse weak, breathing shallow,” Nelly whispered in his mind.
Alexei and his conscious comrade, Gene Timmons, were arguing, Alexei in Russian and Timmons in Midwest-accented English. Eddie, who spoke both languages, realized they were trying to decide the best way to counter-act the spinning with the minimally responsive thrusters. They were apparently approaching some crucial limit, and were concerned about structural stress caused by the spin. That got him worried. He glanced at the command module and could see the two pilots gesturing to each other.
And that’s when he saw, in one moment, the tear at the junction of the command module’s airlock. And in the next moment, it was gone, sheared away by the extreme stress. Eddie was staring into the void.
Copyright 2013 by Michael W. Bay. All rights reserved.