World’s Eye View – 9

Two days later, Thompson and Roels were working on the port rear panel. Vyhovsky hadn’t boosted the orbit as yet, so they were still in the debris orbit from the missles. He and Roels were replacing an ammonia valve that had stuck open, according to the computer checks, so they were out on the panel to do a full visual. It had simply failed, rather than being disabled by debris. Roels had shut down the ammonia and used it’s own partial pressure to drive the liquid past a second valve, which was shut manually. Thompson had taken thirty minutes to remove the valve, and now he was attaching the new valve. One last slow turn of the tourqeless wrench, and the pipe was locked to the valve. “That’s done. Roels, let’s see if the seal holds. Open your end”, he said, his voice echoing in his ear in static-y bursts. “Opening”, came the reply as Roels used his magnetic boots to anchor himself, and push the long wrench to open the valve. “Done”, Roels said after a few moments. “Nothing here, no visible plumes”, Thompson observed. “How about your end, Roels?” “Nothing here but myself, the station and the Earth peeking over my shoulder”, Roels said with a forced chuckle.

We’re good here”, Thompson said. “Ready for start.” He and Roels wroked slowly back to the airlock, and felt the faint vibration of the pumps. “What do you think about Ingers?”, Roels asked Thompson. “I’m glad he’s awake. Hopefully soon he’ll be able to lend a hand instead of hanging around Kim. Kim’s a good man, but the three of us are not getting a lot of sleep and trying to handle everything without rest is taxing.” Roels looked at his helmet, then set it in the net to keep it from drifting away. “I don’t know, David. He’s changed. There’s nothing of the humor I remember. It’s like, how you Americans put it, ‘The lights are on but no one’s home?’ “ He shrugged, and started unbuttoning the suit. “He watches her like there’s no other person here whenever he sees her. It’s like a drwoning man looking at a life preserver just our of reach.” Thompson helped lift the harness up once Roels had turned around. Evn in space, mass was still difficult to control if it was awkardly balanced. He slipped the harness into a couple pegs then bungeed the harness to the wall. Twelve kilograms of mass was painful to run into, regardlss of it’s shape.

So he’s seen it too. After the last few days, everyone’s probably seen the changes. Maybe Kim can figure it out. We need Ingers all the way back, so we can really get to escaping this hamster cage. He sighed then turned so Roels could help shift his harness off. Once finished it was off to the galley for a tube of protein, some water, and then to his cube and net harness for a nap. Got to remember to talk to Kim. Ask him about Ingers. He’s probably seen it himself. God, if you’re listening, thanks for Koll coming back. Think you could give us a way home? As the fatigue of the spacewalk crept up on him, his last thought of the evening was of fishing up in Canada at McKamuie Lake, with his dad. Thompson woke to angry voices. Loud, angry voices.

**

He sturggled muzzily in his hammock, then pulled on his coverall to the waist, tying the arms around his stomach. He pushed off the wall, lauching himself in a perfect dive through the open hatchway. He rolled and planted his feet like a swimmer turning a lap, then angled his push past the corner and grabbed a handhold to re-aim himself down the corridor. Moments later he was closing in on the noise, which came from Kim’s cube. He pulled himself to a stop by the hatch.

Kim was hanging onto an overhead handhold as he shouted at Vyhovsky. Vyhovsky hand anchored his toes under another holdfast and was staring icily at Kim, his arms crossed, and waited for the Korean to wind down. Roels and Ms Shukla were nowhere to be seen, and he saw Ingers floating behind Kim. The big Swede seemed to watch the argument with an intensity that made Thompson shiver. He looks like a guy deciding if pounding someone to paste is worth his time. Ingers looked up at Thompson, and the fire in his eyes seemed to burn brighter.

Deciding that maybe they had gotten in too deep, Thompson cleared his throat loudly, then spoke, “What? Did we run out of coffee already?” The absurdity of the statement stalled the argument completely. Both men turned to Thompson. Kim looked outraged at the interruption, Vyhovsky looked angry, but a wry smile formed on his lips. “If it’s not about coffee, what elese could be so important that I could hear you yelling all the way to my cube? It isn’t the Ice Cream is it?”, he said working at humor to defuse things. Kim lost his look of outrage, and slowly forced a smile on his features. “No, friend David, it was about my patient. I am arguing that he needs more time to recover before going on duty, and ‘Comrade’ Vyhovsky feels he should start re-acclimating to the work schedule now.”

Thompson saw Vyhovsky’s normally quiet demeanor undergo a frightening change as Kim spat the word ‘Comrade’. He seemed to harden like rock as his gaze met Kim’s. “’Friend’ Kim”, Vyhovsky said slowly with menace, “I am not saying he jumps off a cliff into water without checking. I am saying he needs to do work, get his mind back into doing work.” “He needs rest, and exercise to help the psyche repair. Mental effort such as you propose will set his recovery back”, Kim countered. “Who of us has the psychology and psychiatric background to deal with this trauma? You, ‘Comarade’?”, Kim said sarcastically. “Your background is engineering, not the mind.”

A World’s Eye View – part 8

Food was a close second at eighteen to twenty-one months, and recyclables such as water, came at a month over two years. Thompson looked at the list. “I’d rather have your estimates.” Vyhovsky gave a tired chuckle. “After seeing your estimates, I feel like a Ukrainian again. This is properly pessimistic.” “It’s conservative. We could probably stretch things out further if we try the changes you suggest.” Thompson looked gloomily at the spreadsheet. “Any idea if we’ll be able to leave the station?” Vyhovsky shrugged. “I think with some work, we can manually unlock the collar. I think our Chinese friends put a virus in the system to lock it closed, just for spite. Or perhaps the Chinese. But in either case, manual unlocking will work.”

Thompson stared at Vyhovsky. “We can go home? We can get out of the hamster house?” Vyhovsky gave a tired shrug. “Yes, it would take time. The manual labor will take days, as we have to disassemble the clamps, which means cutting torches and a lot of nuts and bolts to locate and remove, without losing the Xong-Xi capsule when it comes loose.” Vyhovsky stared at the spreadsheet, but Thompson could see that his thoughts were elsewhere. “If we do this, the capsule will float free, and it will require a untethered spacewalk to enter it.”

Why didn’t you say anything, Vy? We’re all thinking we’re trapped. Thompson heard his voice getting louder as his neck muscles tightened. He glared angrily at Vyhovsky. “What’s the deal? What’s YOUR deal with this?” Thompson uncurled his legs, and grabbed a hand hold to his left, turning and facing the tired mission leader. Vyhovsky looked over to him. He started to speak, then checked himself. He peered at the hatchways, then back at Thompson. “Would you tell anyone of a way home before you knew there was a home to go to?”, he said quietly. The statement brought Thompson up short. IF there’s a home to go to?

He looked back over at Vyhovsky. I want to punch his face in, and I have to agree. What happens if you give hope when there ain’t any? He hated the fact he was agreeing with the mission leader. We have to keep it under wraps, until we can be certain we have a real place to go home to. That means listening and trying to spot possible landing locations. A troubling thought occurred to him as he floated next to the computer. How do we keep people from going crazy? If we’re convinced were stuck, how do we keep from breaking down?

He looked over at Vyhovsky once more. The man was playing with a bomb. One that would kill everyone here if not played with exacting care. The balance between hope and despair was razor thin, and any nudge either way could create the very chaos that he had been keeping in control to now. Being able to go home was on everyone’s mind. But, would it pull us together, or tear us to pieces trying to get home? Is it right to keep this quiet? He looked over to Vyhovsky. “If this was a novel, this would be where one of us would ask the other, “What’s the catch?” Thomspon shrugged his shoulders, and rotated to face Vyhovsky fully. “So, what’s the catch?” Vyhovsky, sighed, running a hand down his face. “How many can the Xong-Xi hold? For each flight up and back from home?” “Three right?”, Thompson guessed. We can get three up and three back, and we have two capsules.

Vyhovsky nodded. “Now, of all of us, who are the best qualified to launch, and control the re-entry of a Xong-Xi?” He looked at Thompson, who was going through the list mentally. “You, and Roels are the ones with the most experience. The best launch pilot though, is Ingers?” Vyhovsky nodded. “Roels can get you down, but his simulations always needed coaching, as did yours and Kim. Ingers, needed none, and I was born in a Xong-Xi with a bottle of Vodka in one hand and the other on the controls.” Thompson smiled tightly. “So you’re saying you don’t trust the rest of us to fly down the second capsule.” Vhovsky waved a hand a t Thompson. “It is not that. In this time, coaching will not be there, and you are motivated. You wouldn’t need the coaching.” Vyhovsky sighed, then continued. “It would be how to place others in the capsules. Our tourist has nothing in the way o practical knowledge in piloting a Xong-Xi, and Ingers is essentially a dead man. Do we leave the dead man behind?”

Thomson felt a chill along his spine. Leave Ingers? Is that what it takes to get home? Can I do that? Leave him here? Can any of us? “Okay so two riders and two crew. Salila in one capsule, Ingers in the other.” Vyhovsky shrugged. “It is a solution, but the second question is where do we land? I can see that question becoming very important to some.” His eyes seemed to bore into Thompson, who swallowed drily as the realization returned that if they left, a landing site had to be chosen. America’s out. I’d be coming down in Europe, where I’d be a total outsider. I could try for America, but that means taking a capsule, hijacking it and leaving people behind, or screwing them over like I’d be in Europe. What’s the solution here? Get two people to defect? That’s a laugh. Gods what do I do? Ingers. What do we do about him? Do we leave him to go home?

Thompson started to get an inkling of all the stress Vyhovsky must be feeling. The mission leader had seen the troubles coming, and like his dossier showed, tried to do the best without rocking the boat, or causing panic. He worked preferentially alone. In this case, alone was the only way to work to keep things from blowing up with crazy schemes to get home, which would jeopardize the true chance of getting home. He pinched his nose, then looked over to Vyhovsky, seeing again the weary features of the mission leader. Keeping this all under wraps. I wonder if I could have done the same in his place. It makes me hate him, even though he’s right.

Thompson drew a hand down his face, composing himself and trying to see things from a different angle. Everything pointed to chaos, shouting and anger. Everyone had the idea of getting to their home, not just down to earth. For Thompson, it was how he kept his sanithy in all of the despair. I can get home, I can see Maggie again. The truth was no one really would get home. They would all just die a few days after landing if they dropped in a hot zone. If not, the wild storms and temperature shifts coming with nuclear winter would probably kill them rather than the radiation. God knows if they used chemical and biological too.

He looked back over to Vyhovsky again, feeling as tired as the Ukranian looked. “What’s the plan, boss?” Vyhovsky smiled and sat down to detail out the next six weeks of routines and required details. As they started to talk, there was a commotion out in the corrido. As they turned at the sound, Thompson caught a glimpse of movement at the hatch. Vyhovsky saw it too. Roels zipped into the room. He looked excited, breathless. “Ingers, he’s awake. Kim was with him when he woke up”, Roels said excitedly. “We’ve got Ingers back.” Vyhovsky fiddled with the computer and bleatedly joined the other two as they launched themselves at the hatchway, and caught handholds to redirect their momentum. “Thank God”, Vyhovsky murmured, behind Roels and Thompson. “We can go to regular shifts again.” The three floated the corridors to Inger’s cube. Inside, the barrel-chested Swede had unzipped the bag he’d been in for two weeks. His body looked pale and emaciated. The slabs of muscle were still there, stretched taut in places due to inactivity. He shook his leonine head and stared blankly at the three men and one woman at the hatchway. Then he turned to Kim, who was floating in the back of the cube, behind Ingers.

Kim’s eyes seemed alight to Thompson. He has to feel great. I don’t know what he did, but he had to have gotten to Ingers somehow. Thank God, we need him to help out. Being down two workers was no picnic. This will give us time to plan around getting the Xong-Xi out of that locked docking ring. We’ve got a good chance of making it after all. “What…happened?”, Ingers said in heavily accented English. His movements Thompson noted, were stiff and jerky, almost random tics. I wonder how bad he is. Being asleep so long has to have done something to his muscles. I wonder how much he remembers of that day. “You have been asleep for two weeks. We were beginning to lose hope you would wake up”, Roels said bluntly. Vyhovsky gave the Belgian a glower, which Roels noted, then shrugged. “I don’t think keeping things right now is going to be hurtful.” “I do”, said Kim. He floated next to Ingers, placing a comforting hand on the big Swede’s shoulder.

Mental trauma like we have gone through, must be approached with care, especially in this case, where other symptoms occur”, Kim said to the assembled group. “He has had a very dificult shock to deal with. It is upon us to help him recover, and recover quickly. As you have all said, his expertise is needed.” Thompson watched Ingers as he seemd to relax as Kim spoke. Ingers looked over at Kim, a strange, glassy gaze in his eyes. Thompson repressed a shiver. I wonder what that’s all about. Maybe it’s because Kim read to him all that time? He looked at Kim as Ingers gave the North Korean a gaze that seemed to border on adoration. Kim, seemed oblivious to the gaze, but Thompson thought he felt it, as he held himself straighter by the handhold as he talked.

Ingers scanned the faces as Kim droned on about the fragile stage Swede was in, and what should be done to assist a full recovery. Thompson noted that Inger continued to look at the group until his eyes met Salila Shukla who’d just arrived at the hatchway. Ingers gaze, changed. The look of a man who has just had a religious epiphany. Thompson shivered at the intensity of the gaze. A quick glance at the others made him think he was the only one to spot the change. He watched Ingers, who seemed oblivious to anything but Ms Shukla. His eyes followed every small movement, every shift. It was so focused that he could see the woman instinctively trying to hide behind Roels. Roels noticed the movement, and Thmpson watched him glance back and give her a reassuring smile.

We got him back, but, what, did we get back? God, I hope this is just part of recovering. His stare’s absolutely creepy. I never remember Ingers being that way. Is this some kind of psychological thing? Maybe Kim can tell me. Gotta ask him when we get the chance. Kim had finished talking, and Thompson struggled to remember what he’d said. Something about being soft voiced and gentle with Ingers until he fully…something. Recovered maybe? Shrugging his shoulders he pulled on the handhold to join the others in welcoming Ingers back.

A World’s Eye View – 7

He found Vyhovsky in the room, drifting in the middle, having fallen asleep and lost his foothold. Normally, this would be something that would amuse Thompson and the others, but right now, it seemed to punctuate how much stress everyone had endured to date, and how much more they might have to in order to survive in this hostile environment. The metal and plastic of the station against the unforgiving vacuum of space and debris of the disaster below. Thompson carefully slid by the sleeping Vyhovsky, settling into an ergo chair, and going over the open command list. He’s calculating the burn needed for a slow rise up another 3 kilometers, trying to get above all this debris before we hit a big cloud of larger pieces. He looked over at another file opened to one side of the screen. What’s this? Hmm, how much maneuvering fuel we have for the station?

He sat down, ducking under Vyhovksy’s slowly rotating legs as he reviewed Vyhovsky’s spreadsheet. Enough to lift us up a total of forty kilometers, then we start to decay into the atmosphere. He’s got an estimate of four years here. So a lot of time, just not enough to stay up here indefinitely, though I guess four years qualifies. He tapped and opened a second sheet, which displayed figures for food, recyclables, electrical reserve, and ammonia reserves. After looking through the sheets, it was clear that the two things that were the true limits were the ammonia, and food. Each was finite, though vegetables could be grown with some effort, as was proven in previous missions to the station. The real kicker, as he’d thought early on, was going to be ammonia for heat dissipation. He’d guessed about six months. Vyhovsky had actually quadrupled that to two years, basing his estimate on reducing the electrical reserve even further, and allowing a ten degree extra rise and fall in onboard temperatures to reduce ammonia use. It all worked out on paper. The trouble with all this is none of it could predict anything about likely micrometeorite strikes or the new large orbital pieces from the exploding EMP warheads.

Thompson bit his lip, depressed by the estimate. It’s one thing to guess, but not have a solid date. Gods I’d rather have it a maybe, than a definite. We’re going to die up here, unless we can get home. Hell, we’ll probably die there. But we’d be home, not in this freakin’ hamster house. God, if you’re out there, we could really use some good news right now. Something, anything. I don’t want to die up here. He pinched his nose, then reached up in surprise as Vyhovsky’s legs rotated into his peripheral vision. His outstrectched hand thumped against Vyhovsky, who awoke with a startled grunt.

Thompson watched him come awake, and groggily take a moment to orient himself. He reached up to a hand hold, helped by a slow push from Thompson. Thompson watched his gaze alight on him, then the open spreadsheet on the computer on the wall behind him. “Reading over someone’s shoulder isn’t proper etiquette.” Thompson found himself smiling as he replied. “And sleeping on the job gets the boss upset”, he replied, which earned a tired smile from Vyhovsky. He grimaced dramatically, then stated, “I’ll keep quiet about the reading, if you keep quiet about the sleeping.” “What sleeping?”, Thompson replied innocently. “…”, Vyhovsky started to reply, then realized the joke, and chuckled softly. “How tired am I that I could not see that coming?”

Seriously? I’d say quite a bit if you end up hovering in the middle of the room”, Thompson answered. “What have you been doing to get to this point?” He looked up at Vyhovsky, then back over to the open spreadsheet. “The Ammonia lasting twenty-two months? Isn’t that optimistic?” Wyhovsky shrugged. “If, we catch all the breaks, then it’s close to realistic. If not, then we’re pretty much dead anyway and there’s no reason for the exercise.” Thompson looked back at Vyhovsky, who gave another tired smile. “I’m Ukrainian, we’re bigger pessimists than the Russians.”

Vyhovsky pushed away from the handhold and floated down to grab the back of the chair Thompson sat at. He peered at the spreadsheet. “What is the rate of consumption for the Ammonia?” Thompson minimized the spread sheet then searched the database for recharge cycles. “We’re using this much here, and this spike is when everything happened back home. We lost a heft chunk from the reservoir.” He shifted in the chair to let Vyhovsky see the chart more easily. Vyhovsky eased himself forward, grasping the edge of the computer mounting to arrest his motion. “So we have what, forty percent of the reservoir left”, he asked Thompson. “More like thirty. Cutting back on the heating and cooling will stretch it, but we may end up having more stuff breaking down because of thermal expansion and contraction in here.”

Thompson popped the spreadsheet open once more. “The trouble is, skrimping one place will hurt in others. Reduce the heating and cooling, that will help, but the equipment isn’t exactly made for temperature cycles. It’s sturdy, and we’ve got triple redundancy and spare equipment, but no telling how long it will last with the thermal changes.” Vyhovsky nodded, intent on the spreadsheet. “So your best estimate of our time here?” Thompson stared at the spreadsheet, then cycled through the other tabs for food, recyclables, and perishables. He changed the formulas used, and then jumped back to the main page to display the estimates. It looked nowhere near as encouraging as Vyhovsky’s. Ammonia was still the major bottleneck, at eleven to fifteen months before reserves ran out, if Vyhovsky’s measures were instituted.

A World’s Eye View – 5

He awoke, foggy and disoriented as loud, angry voices jerked him from sleep. Thompson flopped in the hammock net as he tried to orient himself. Scrambling out of the hammock, he missed the handhold and drifted for a few moments as the angry argument continued.

“What do you think I mean! We need order, direction! Our routine! That is what will keep us alive!”

What’s got Vyhovsky all worked up? I’ve never heard him like this. Thompson dressed quickly as the reply came haltingly.

“Yes, order! Imposed by self-serving needs to be in control! Why don’t ask every one, see if, we need this kind of order! This kind of…repressive control!”

 Kim? What’s he arguing about? Control? What now?

Thompson glided quickly towards the galley, where the noise originated. Stopping himself with a hand bar, he hovered at the entry, taking in the scene. Kim floated next to Salila, his face red, body rigid. Vyhovsky held himself with a hand bar next to the other entry. His own face was red from shouting as he tried to wait out Kim’s ongoing tirade. Shakti, Ms Shukla, cringed between the two, and Thomspon had a mental image of the two trying to establish dominance to claim her for their own. He shook his head to clear it and focus on the argument. Both men spotted Thompson at the same time. Vyhovsky looked weary. Kim was enraged.

David”, Vyhovsky said hoarsely, his voice strained from the shouting, “Go signal Roels to come inside. We are having a group meeting. There are things to discuss.”

Thompson looked over at Kim, who nodded curtly, and turned to glare at Vyhovsky.

“The air needs clearing”, Kim agreed. “We do need, discussing.”

Thompson turned, and looked back at the two men. Then his eye moved to Salila. Her dark eyes met his and seemed to swallow him whole. Her gaze pleaded with him not to leave her between the two men. Thompson swallowed drily and forced himself to turn away from her arresting gaze, and floated quickly off to get Roels.

The meeting was held in the galley, one of the few places all six could gather comfortably. The mood was tense, due to the open animosity between Kim and Vyhovsky. This is all we need, some stupid argument to really screw everyone up. Thompson shifted his toes under the handbar, and grumpily waited for the arguing to begin. Vyhovsky looked at the group. Thompson followed his eyes and looked at each person. Roels just looked confused. He’d been out servicing the panels when everything started. Ms Shukla looked anxious. Her presence drew everyone’s eyes. She has to be uncomfortable with all of us staring. Thompson closed his eyes, then opened them as he turned towards Kim, who stared back at him.

Kim’s gaze was a strange sensation of imerpious demand, and an almost desperate pleading. He was hunched over slightly, as if trying to hold onto something inside him. Finally his gaze swept to Vyhovsky. The mission leader had his chin up, and back straight as he sat at a ergo chair, magnetically locked to the floor. Vyhovsky had deep shadows under his eyes as his gaze centered on Kim. Thompson was reminded of a tired lion trying to hold off a younger attacker. His stomach curdled at the vision. We can’t fall apart now. We have to pull together.

“We are splitting at the seams”, Vyhovsky started. “We have had our home, our world taken away. We are trapped in this metal bubble, above our home, and we try to survive.”

Thompson watched Vyhovsky gaze around the table at the group again. He started speaking in a lower, more urgent voice. “We must pull together, and work as a unit. Together. Everyone works. Everyone survives. That is … “, Vyhovsky was interrupted by Kim.

“This is idiocy! Can’t you see it?! Our Russian ‘comrade’ “, Kim spat the last word venomously, “would have you work to run in place like a pet mouse, and keep himself as sole arbiter of our fate! I say we need to all be together, but as equals, not in an ‘elitist’ pyramid with him at the apex! We need to change our way of operation. We need…”, Kim’s rant was cut off by Vyhovsky.

“You will have your say, when I have had mine.” Vyhovsky’s voice was like granite, and his presence seemed to loom in the room, quieting everyone. “What I have said is true. We must all work, to survive. Six people can maintain this station better than five, and five better than four. The more we all work, the less we will have to work. The less time to do work needing done, makes opportunity for work to go home.”

Now, I am finished”, Vyhovsky growled. He then hooked his toes under a ergo chair and pulled himself into a sitting position. Kim drifted away from the edge of the table and halted his momentum with a handhold. He mimicked Vyhovsky by looking at each person in turn.

“This”, he said, and extended his arms. “This is our home now. Until the resources run out, this is our home. We need to maintain our home, yes. But, we also need to use our skills as resources, in order to get the most efficiency from each of us. We must hoard our resources. Use only what we need, save the rest ruthlessly. We do not know how long will be here. What we do know, is that we are under siege, and the more we save our resources, the longer we have to find a way home. We need to vote how to allocate, to create a”, Kim paused a moment, then continued, “A Democratic system where we are all equal in determining how to approach our difficulties.”

What the hell is he driving at? Thompson tried to figure out what Kim was trying to say. It’s the same things Vy did said earlier. Work hard, work smart. Though the democratic system does make sense. With only six of us, it would make sure we’re all heard equally. The last thing we need is any one of us going crazy on the others for some unintended slight. We’ve got eight months to figure out how to get the Xong-Xi crafts out of the locks without damaging them, and drop them where we need to go. Thompson was still mulling over the problems when Kim slapped his hand down on the table with a crack, pulling him out of his reverie. He looked over to Kim, who was staring back at him.

“Well, don’t you agree? A voting system would make certain all our resources would be allocated according to need, not on a singular whim.”

I can see it, but why are we having this argument now? Is he trying to hamstring Vyhovsky? Why is Vyhovsky letting him screw with him this way? He snuck another look at Vyhovsky. The man looked worn out. He hasn’t slept in days. Maybe it’s all wearing on him. He turned his attention back to Kim.

“Uhh, couldn’t we, wait, a little bit? I’m half hazed with sleep. There’s no way I can give you a straight answer without some rest.”

Kim frowned, then looked over to Roels and Salila. “You can see, we’re worn out. David even admits the strain is wearying. We need a system to help us allocate. Allocate time, food, resources. To regulate and distribute what we need. To give us the best chance of escape, of survival.” Kim looked down at the wiry Belgian. “Benoit, you hev been out there, working and seen for yourself, how tenuous we are. You’ve heard the Colonel talk. You are hearing me. You can make a decision. It is a choice.”

Roels looked away from both Vyhovsky and from Kim. “You are putting me at a place where I … “, he sighed. “Yes I can see the need. I thought we had all agreed to things already.”

Kim looked at him. “There is no direct setup. We have opereated on a loose assumption all this time. All I am saying is a vote invests us in the idea. The idea focuses us in a manner that will help more now by codifying our intent, rather than a ‘day to day drudgery’. It helps us. Helps us to be better. Helps us to live. You can see that Benoit, Salila. We all need something that is solid, real. Not a bit of vapor.” He folded his arms, toes hooked under the edge of the table to keep him from floating at random as he spoke animatedly, arms moving with his speech. It’d look comical if this wasn’t such a desperate situation for all of us. He’s making sense, but it just doesn’t feel right. Kim, what the hell is going on?

A World’s Eye View – 4

CHAPTER 2

The shine of the earth made a dramatic backdrop for the lone figure above the number two solar panel. The bright blue contrasting with the deeper gold of the panels as the white figure glided slowly into position over the damaged solar panel. “This one needs a replacement. I’ve got a through-and-through hole as big as my fist”, Thompson said. He tapped the jet button, killing his drift so he was stopped above the panel, his long safety line leading back to the base of the panel.

“If we divert the ammonia flow at the base, we’ll lose some of our reserve power, maybe eight, may ten percent of power reserve. What do you think, boss? Isolate, or repair?”

Vyhovsky ran a hand along his hair, weighing options.

“We have 100 percent capacity, with out the panel. How mush reserve?”

“We’ve got a power reserve of about 40 percent. Losing this individual panel would cut us back to a thirty five percent reserve. Plus we have battery battery backup”, Thompson replied.

“How much reserve material?” Thompson thought for a moment, mentally estimating. “About enough for four full panel repairs. That would be about four years normally. With all the new debris zipping around, it could just as well be four days.”

Understood. Until we know, lock it down and list what’s needed for repair. We will live with the loss of reserve. We may need the pieces later”, Vyhosvsky rumbled into the microphone.

“Okay, Colonel. I’m on my way back”, Thompson replied, the fans in the suit distoring his voice slightly as they worked to keep him cool in the direct sun. Thompson got to the air lock, then Roels opened the door after pressure had equalized.

“We have an interesting day?”, he said with a smile.

“Not too bad, the panel’s kaput, so it’s been cut from ammonia flow. I’ll be going back out again after some rest. We need to turn that panel so it’s edge-on to the sun. You know, thinking about it we could scavenge the pieces and use it as spare parts for the others.”

Roels smiled. “Our Colonel is way ahead of you. He wants you to do that very thing, though he’s of a mind to cut the panel off and scavenge the pieces, rather than just turning it edge-on to the sun.”

Thompson sighed, then gave Roels a smile. “He’s right, cutting would be easier, but maneuvering that piece to the storage? That’s going to be a two-person job. Ingers would be ideal.”

Roels looked down, then back to Thompson with sad eyes. “He’s awake, but Kim and the Colonel feel his mind’s gone. He floats in his room, and doesn’t respond to anything.”

“Ah, crap. That means me and the colonel are going to be out there.” Thompson grimaced. Vyhovsky was a good mission leader, but he lacked a sense of space a good EVA specialist had. “Last time out he ripped the suit on a corner of the panel. This’ll be tricky enough without someone being unluckily clumsy.”

Roels chuckled ruefully. “Yes, he is unlucky, isn’t he?” Thompson nodded, and still smiling, launched himself towards the hatchway, slowing his movement by grabbing a hand bar, and letting his feet rotate to hook under the other bar. He moved his hands to the exterior side bars, and pulled himself into a slow glide down the squarish tube. “Have a boring time with the EVA”, Roels shouted as Thompson left the small room.

The job took longer than expected, as neither men had used the cutter in some time, and it took a few tries to learn how to put effort into the cutter without tiring themselves out quickly. Taking ten minute turns at using the cutter, Thomspn and Vyhovsky managed to cut the damaged panel out and seal the cut with a self-threading cap to hold the ammonia. Special tape went on the threads to help make the seal hermetic. The tricky part was maneuvering the panel to a holdfast so they could dismantle the pieces for storage. A near miss with Vyhovsky misjudging the distance had Thomspon straining to hold Vyhovsky and the panel from bumping into a truss. Once locked in the holdfast, it became a much more routine job with each man deftly unlocking the specialty bolts holding the panel and it’s sub-portions together.

Vyhovsky was sweating as he removed his helmet once they both were back inside the ISS. “I think we need more practice with EVA.”

Thompson smiled at his statement. “Maybe, Just don’t overcompensate and you’ll be fine”, he told the team leader.

“Yes, good advice”, returned the smile, then he frowned. “We have to be finding solutions. Going down right now is not possible. Docking clamps won’t release Xong-Xi capsules. We are working, but no idea why system is not operational.”

Maybe some debris hit?”, Thompson speculated. “ Give me a day’s rest and I can go out, or get Roels to do a check.” He paused. “How do you rate our chances?”

Vyhovsky stared at Thompson. “We are alive, we will be alive. Down is not the problem. Alive here is the problem. As much as we can recycle, we still lose resources. If Kim’s report is accurate. Six of us will run out of food in ten months, we will run out of ammonia in eight months, if we do not have any more major catastrophes.”

Thompson nodded, the worry lines in his face becoming more pronounced. “Ingers, we need him back.”

Vyhovsky nodded. “We also need to talk with the tourist. She”, he emphasized the word, “will be a source of tension. It must be nullified before it becomes a bomb.”

That’s not going to be easy”, Thompson replied slowly. “She’s gorgeous, and we’re all too aware of it.”

Vyhovsky sighed, then replied, “True. She is like very frightened being trapped here.”

Thompson nodded. “I’m going to rest, and get some food. We can talk later.”

Vyhovsky, slipped the helmet into a cargo net by the airlock to secure it, then used the foot magnets to stabilize the suit as he shifted to unseal himelf. He nodded as Thompson floated down the square corridor.

Thompson floated down to Ingers cubicle, then tapped on the edge of the hatchway. He waited for a few moments, and, when there was no answer, floated into the entry, and looked around the small cube. Ingers was in his net hammock, his eyes glazed and unfocused. An IV was placed in his right arm as water was pumped by a triad of rotating wheels to keep the flow toards Ingers body. Without gravity, a peristaltic pump was the most viable option to avoid pumping air into the IV bag and possibly contaminating the contents. He looked over at the ergo desk. Designed to be a seat with the legs angled under in a quasi-kneel, it was made to keep the astronaut stable in front of a computer. The desk had four small, transparent doors above the flat surface. In each, small trinkets and pictures floated. Thompson remembered Ingers dropped five pounds in the last week so he could have that weight for a few things from home on the Xong-Xi. It was a common practice for the astronauts to weigh a little ‘heavy’, then drop some weight to take a few mementos up with them to the station.

Dammit Koll, we need you right now”, Thompson said, then rotated ninety degrees, and pushed away from the cube, floating down to his own small refuge. Once there, he hooked his feet into the holdfast bar, and stripped down for sleep. I hate this. Koll’s out of it. We’re all kind of drifting right now. With all that new debris, how long before we get riddled again by it? I wonder if Vyhovsky will want to move the station higher, try to get above the debris orbit. He closed his eyes and fell into a troubled sleep.

A World’s Eye View – 3

Hey, are we hafing a party in the corridor? If so why wasn’t I invited?” The three looked away from the viewport and towards the speaker. Benoit Roels smiled roguishly at the three of them and floated next to Ms. Shukla. He leaned past the woman and gazed out at the spinning globe below them. “What are we watching? Alien invasion? Planet killer metorite? Flying man in blue and red tights?”, he asked.

No, the lights. Our guest caught sight of some lights that we can’t quite figure out. They show up, then disappear”, Thompson explained. “Interesting”, Roels said

There was a slight movement at the corner of his eye. He turned to see Ingers gliding towards them.

What are you all looking at? The stars are on the other side of the station”, he siad the just a hint of accent. Ingers maneuvered closer to the window, floating expertly behind the three crowding the porthole.

Earth? What is so interesting about our blue marble?”, he asked them as he peered down at the earth from behind the three. “When was the last flash of light?”, Ingers asked the group.

About three minutes ago, along the eastern US, around the Carolinas I think from Ms Shulka’s description”, Thompson said as he continued to peer intently down at ‘home’. The clouds diffused the city lights making them seem almost like small lights on a light table.

The alarms blared as there was a bright flash above the clouds. Shali turned to look at the disappearing mean as they scrambled to their stations to determine the cause of the alert.

Holy mother!”, came Roels voice through the corridors. “The electronics just recorded a major electromagnetic event. We need to do systems check immediately!” The crew began to run diagnostics on all systems. Thmpson checked the pumps, panels, and controls. To his relief they all came back green.

Life support and cooling green!”, he shouted. “Main CPU and backup green!” Ingers voice echoed through the corridors.

Attitude and altitude green!”, Vyhovsky yelled.

Docking is red!”, Kim said.

Telemetry is yellow, no signal!”, came Roels.

They continued through the various checks until the list was exhausted. Vyhovsky downloaded the display to his tablet, then started tapping notes.

Thompson, you Kim will check the telemetry antenna and equipment. The EMP may have burned something out. Ingers, you and I will go check the docking ring and circuits. Roels, take Ms Shulka and have her inventory supplies, and you do a thorough check of the backup systems”, Vyhovsky lowered the tablet then raised a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. He took a deep breath, then lowered his hand, and turned to face the others who were starting to their assignments. “One more thing”, He said. The others stopped and turned to face him once more. “We don’t know what happened down there to start a nuclear exchange. It could have been a mad man with a bomb, a terrorist or some political turmoil. Up here it does not affect us. We must be united if we want to survive. Do not let suspicions or prejudice color your perceptions. We are scientists, not soldiers, not spies. We hold together, we can overcome any troubles.” Once he finished, the crew turned and went to their assignments.

Thompson took a deep breath and slowly worked his way down the outer main panel. The camera lens did a slow sweep across a 4 panel display, and showed no leaks, nor any trouble with maneuvering motors. He slowly panned the camera down to the next 4-panel section, and repeated the process. Kim was feeding in a test diagnostic to the main antenna and computer, re-checking the system for any irregularities. Thompson looked over to his friend as his own camera cycled down the main array to set for another pass. Kim had his feet hooked through one of the many padded blue raised hand and foot bars. He had his heels jammed down against the white deck as he held himself in place. Kim’s face was pale, and Thompson could see drops of perspiration bead his friend’s forehead. He turned back to his monitor, and lifted his left foot to flex it, then hook it back under his own bar, then did the same with the right.

He felt his heart beat steadily in his chest as he watched the monitor scann across the next four panels right to left, then lower to the next set, and scan left to right. He looked away from the screen to rest his eyes a moment, then noticed the camera jostle out of the corner of his eye. He brought his attention back to the screen, searching for the cause. It was then he notice his hands trembling. The trembling continued, and her felt his legs start to shiver. It was then his heart accelerated.

The sensation was like being squeezed by an ever-increasing pressure about him. Breathing became labored. His toes lost their grip, and he drifted from his station, his body beginning to curl into a fetal position as the shock of what he’d witnessed sank into his consciousness. My home, it’s gone. Raleigh’s gone. Jill’s gone. Mom and Dad are gone. Oh, God, what happened!? He heard the others, as if their voices came from far away, down a long tube, faint, and hollow sounding. The edges of his vision started to blacken. He started breathing rapidly, panic beginning to set in. The darkness tightened over his eyes reducing his vision to a mere pinprick as he heard the others shouting. He felt hands push at him, then the darkness claimed his senses.

A World’s Eye View – 2

Thompson gathered his gear and walked over to the changing station, and started the laborious process of suiting up. Kim helped hold the power pack and temperature control up as he shrugged his shoulders to settle the weight. Some awkward work with his hands on the inside, and Kim on the outside, sealed the suit. He trundled into the air lock as Kim slid the ammonia and the toolkit in with him. The outer starboard radiator had been losing pressure, indicative of a micrometeorite hit. He stepped out onto the truss, hooking his safety line up to a handy eyelet, and simply gazed up at the stars.

I feel like a kid again out here. You never see them so bright back home. Too much light to see them. He gazed up at Orion, and remembered the comics and science fiction books that had fired his imagination as a boy. Never fails, every step is like reminiscing. He shook his head and slowly worked his way to the radiator. He reached the long ‘downward’ hanging radiator after ten minutes of careful maneuvering, then began the visual inspection. Normally, things could be pinpointed with a lot more accuracy using the computers to check the pressure fluctuations, but this leak was small and slow enough that the only clue was the pressure drop on the panel.

He shifted his tether to an eyelet at the ‘top’ of the radiator, then slowly worked down the shaded side. Once the tether reached it’s limit, he clipped the second in place then moved to unlock the first, in a slow two-forward-one-back motion that kept one tether locked to an eyelet. Thompson looked over each section and found a leak one third of the way down the radiator. It was a small micrometeorite hit that splattered the aluminum like melted wax, splashing a hole the size of his thumb in the radiator. Thompson checked the panel, turned off the local valves, then pulled the damaged panel, and replaced it with one of the spares. The entire operation took three hours to complete. He turned the local valves back to on, (no need to worry about losing vacuum in space), and once the seals checked out, he returned to the station and activated the pumps on the radiator. The seals held. The system was fully operational. He vented a gallon of ammonia from the ten gallon reserve into the radiator to replace the loss, then made the slow trip back to the airlock.

How many zpare zections we have left in that pallat?”, asked Ingers.

I counted six, so we’re pretty flush with spares, plus the eight coming up with the next re-supply in two days. So fourteen, which should last for the next year, if the one-a-month average holds steady.” Ihlen replied with a smile.

Goot news then. I vill put in the reportz.”

That works for me, then I don’t have to,” Thompson added. Like the others up here, they all knew meticulous records had to be kept, but hated redundancy, so if one person was turning in a report, they would announce it so others didn’t have to repeat the same information to ground control.

Thompson went to the galley to get a snack. The work had gotten his appetite going. As he floated down the connection section to the galley, he saw Ms Shukla at the window, looking out. Her lips wore a wide grin and small ‘ooohs’ escaped her lips as she enjoyed some view. What the heck, it’d be fun to talk her up. He did a slow glide to end up next to her by the viewport.

“On your left”, he said softly, so as not to surprise her. “What are you seeing, miss?”, he said, and winced internally. God what a lame line, I’ll be surprised if she says anything.

She turned her dark brown eyes to his own, and he found himself transfixed in the gaze. He felt like a deer in a set of headlights, then the eyes turned away back to the viewport.

“The lights. There are so many blinking lights. Do the cities all do that from up here?”, she asked him, her soft Indian accent making her words sound like a cat’s purr. Thompson sat for a moment, taken by her beauty, before he realized she’s asked the question.

“Oh, yeah, umm, let’s see here.” He joined her by the viewport, and looked down. The familiar coast of the United States was fading off to the left of the viewport. Europe was coming into view. The nighttime sky had the major cities lit up like bright spots on the dark surface. As Thompson watched the scene, a flash to his left seemed to brighten, then dim a portion of southern Florida. “Huh, I wonder what that was”, He mumbled, curious.

“I have seen it three times now”, Shali told him. “Mostly it was along the..American east coast, at the middle and lower middle along the edge.”

Middle and lower middle?”, Thompson asked her.

“Yes”, she replied. “I think your eastern American coast, Washington?” Thompson thought about that.

“I guess we’ll find out on our next pass over the coast. As they watched, there was a bright flare near London, which rapidly faded away, leaving a blacked out are where there used to be lights. “A power outage?”, Thompson mused aloud.

“It got brighter before it went dark. Does that happened with a power outage?”, Ms Shukla asked him.

“Not to my way of thinking. A power loss should just make things go black, not light up and then wink out.” There was a slight movement at the corner of his eye. He turned to see Col. Vyhovsky gliding towards them.

Eugeni Vyhovsky was the Team’s commander. He had made colonel in the Ukrainian military for fighting a stubborn defense against the Russian invasion of his country twelve years ago. The Russians had been turned back by the Ukrainians and by global political sanctions, but Russia’s dream of a new Soviet Union was still very much alive, which is why the Cooperative station had been accelerated in construction. The International Space Station had been decommissioned by the Russians who found that equipment mysteriously failed when they had tried to upgrade the station into a military complex. The station had fallen out of orbit over the pacific and fell apart on re-entry. The incident deepened the new cold war between the Russians and the US, which is why the US was happy to work with China and Japan in a joint construction venture for the new station.

Good day Ms Shukla, how are you finding your time on the station?”, Vyhovsky asked her. The woman turned and smiled warmly.

“It is very exciting”, she said, then looked back out the viewport. “Such a view will be something I shall never forget. It will be sad to leave so soon. I will miss this amazing place.”

It’ll be good to get back to a normal routine without a tourist, but I’m sure gonna miss the view, Thompson thought. He looked over at Vyhovsky, who seemed to be having similar thoughts. Ms Shukla seemed oblivious to Vyhovsky’s gaze. She’s probably gotten that a lot with her career. She probably has to keep things oblivious so that she’s not flooded with suitors over there. It makes her kind of high-maintenance though she doesn’t seem that way up here.

A World’s Eye View – 1

This is a post of the beginning of ‘A World’s Eye View’, a story that I’ve been working at off and on.  It’s somewhat in the vein of the ‘Last Man on Earth’ idea.

Entry 1:

I can’t believe what just happened. I can’t believe anyone didn’t try to warn us. The first thing any of us up here had a clue about was when the bombs started landing. There’d be this small flash, and then another. They were always around major cities all over the world, and dust would make everything hazy. We could see the dust, spreading out like a funeral shroud from the impact. Our little telescope showed the mushrooms of atomic blasts growing up and out. No warning, nothing on the news, nothing on the internet. What the hell happened?

Roels started screaming when Antwerp was hit. His family was there. Nothing’s there now, and the dust has spread so that the world looks like it’s surrounded by dark streaks that spiral around the planet like ribbons on a maypole. I can’t think about my fiance’ until we know what’s going on, or I’ll lose it too. Worse, we’re trapped up here. Telemetry from home isn’t getting to us. Without it, the capsules here are just inert, with no way to power systems up for launch. The redundancy built in to stop accidental launches keeps us trapped. We don’t have the ability to hack our own systems. None of us is a computer expert. No one answers on the ground. If only the shuttle hadn’t been retired, we could have flown it down somewhere. These Chinese capsules are ground controlled. No flight operators. It’s got emergency controls, but who reads Chinese? None of us. Some of the controls are in English too, just not all of them, and no one here is checked out on them.

Talk about big brother. Six of us stuck in a station a little bigger than a eight bedroom house. We have privacy, but no place to go. We can’t leave, and we can’t stay. The air supply is pretty much recyclable. It’s not the problem. It’s heat, and food. The systems could cook us if the cooling systems fail, and without a re-supply, we’re dead when the food runs out. We’re pretty much dead anyways. Right now I’m just numb. Talking this out on the recorder, in case there’s a rescue or expedition here, in the future. God what a delusion. There’s no way we’re ever seeing earth again. It’s got to be a radioactive husk! Whoever’s still alive down there sure can’t help us. None of us had any idea the world was so tense. My god, we just got up here a week ago. We were supposed to run tests for a Mars longevity mission! That’s just ironic! We’re supposed to stay up here without re-supply for the duration of two mars mission flights, plus two weeks for ground exploration. What were people thinking?! -long pause of ten minutes with the sound of quiet sobbing-

Six hours ago…

David Thompson looked over the charts on his tablet. “Hey Kim? How much ammonia did we get with the last supply? And did you see that babe come up with Vyhovsky yesterday? She was absolutely smoking hot.” Xian-Xing Kim nodded with a smile.

“Very pretty. She is .. big star in Bollywood films.” Thompson nodded, then ran his hand through his shock of black hair.

“If I wasn’t going to be married when I drop, she would be someone to talk to.” He shook his head. I am so glad she’s only up here for a week. Any longer and we’d all be rioting. I wonder how many suitors she’s got back in India. They must be lined up for blocks. He looked over at Kim again. Short and stocky, with yellow-tan skin and a shock of jet black hair, Kim was the first astronaut from North Korea to the new Cooperative Space Station. Thompson found him to be a competent scientist and very willing to lend a hand whenever needed.

Vyhovsky, a Ukrainian, had just come on board to take over day-to-day running of the station. Since Russia had invaded his country years ago, it had been summarily banned from participating in the Space station, and had it’s equipment on the station confiscated. China had stepped in to do the ‘heavy lifting’. The U.S. And others had found it’s space program very inexpensive compared to the Russians.

Probably because of the mafia running things for that wanna-be Stalin. I remember the NASA bigwig chewing his moustache because he had to add a ‘ ten-percent convenience tax’ to the cost. I mean really, one ruble in ten to the mob? Mexico isn’t that corrupt.

Koll Ingers turned the corner and used handholds to float himself to the galley. Thompson saw him talking with his cell-phone. Probably home to his wife. They’ve been having troubles because of something. Wonder if this is a talk, or something more? Ingers chose that moment to slap the phone into it’s holster. The angry scowl on his features told Thompson that now was not the time to be asking any questions, as the big Swede looked ready to burst. I hope they can get it patched up, but him here and her back in Stockholm is not going to make anything easy. Ingers pulled a pair of energy bars from the galley, then heated them in the microwave. They were supposed to soften and texturize like meat, but Thompson thought it was like chewing warm cardboard. It didn’t taste right and sure didn’t have a meat texture.

He turned towards bay three and glided to the air lock. It was time to measure the ammonia levels. Ammonia here was the primary coolant in space. With the station hanging in orbit, and no artmosphere to cut the solar energy, the crew would cook alive without some form of cooling. Water as too volatile. Ammonia happened to be the answer. While there were cameras to check for leaks, Thompson still made the personal spacewalks. The computers were state-of-the-art for fifteen years ago, meaning they were adequate for maintaining the station and running experiments, but not much else. Cameras were set up to cover the panels, but detail was lacking, so a spacewalk was made to check the panels. He had three reservoirs to check, starboard panels, port panels, and station. Even after countless EVA, he still needed help to get into his suit. The entry panels in the back had to be closed properly or he’d leak air and while he had a reserve, a leak could lower his air pressure to where he’d pass out, and possibly asphixiate if rescue wasn’t fast neough.

I’m going to enjoy the quiet this time. It’s always awkward meeting the new crew, and that Shukla woman is just too hot to handle. She’ll be one heck of a distraction for the next five days.

 

How to stop worrying and love the bomb…err, story

As a writer, I am a bit neurotic, and prone to worrying if I’m doing the job of writing  right.  I want to be perfect, (which will never happen) and write a story that doesn’t need one edit (which also will never happen).  The thing is, these worries, and fears of my own inadequacy can clobber my writing on their own, wrapping me up in so much anxiety I begin to hate writing.  Honestly, its happened a few times.  But the big thing that’s kept me going is that the story has been started, and now it wants to be completed. 

My desire to see what happens next has been strong enough to overcome the ‘omigod I can’t do this, I’m horrible!’ neurotic anxiety, and finish the story. It isn’t easy, but I believe that I want to see the story more than I want to be neurotic crazy and hide in my closet where the computer can’t see me. I want to see the story. That’s how I get past my fear of writing.  The story is more important to me than my anxiety is.

Fear and anxiety aren’t fun. Everyone goes through those feelings. It’s scary and unpleasant, but what we need to realize is that it doesn’t have to stop us, we just have to acknowledge it’s existence and decide something else is more important that beating ourselves up about ‘what if they don’t like me’.

Let the story lead you.  I think you may surprise yourself.  

Background and Worlds – some of the ‘science’ of Writing

I may be an off-the-cuff writer, but I don’t apply that to the world that the story is based in.  I love the idea of making worlds.  The world is the ulitmate setting for the story, and to me is crucial for developing stories and the directions they work towards.  Every story has to have a reason for it.  Just writing a story is, at least to me, incomplete if I don’t have a reason and direction that the story is moving towards.

The Glass Bottles series is working towards a definitive ending, and beginning.  A world, like our own Real World, is like that. You’re in its story, and you have your own, and yours will end some day, but the world’s will go on.  To me that sense of direction and background is what makes good stories flow.  You’re in the world seeing it from the main character’s perspective, and that world is a story the character is part of.

So for me, I need a world so that the story can be built into it, draw from it, and in turn influence the world back.

Tomorrow I’ll show off some ideas for worlds that have stories that are being worked on for publishing next year.  Until then, as Stan Lee would say,  EXCELSIOR!