World’s Eye View – 26

I think we’re in trouble. The station wouldn’t ring like some bell from just a panel hit, would it? We might have lost something. Once the decision had been made, he called Roels and Salila over to man the cameras, and cycle through them to look for other possilbe damage. “I’ll help them button up”, He told the two. He took a look at Salila, then jerked his eyes away as his body had started to respond. God I gotta keep it under control. I couldn’t live with myself. He hurried away from the two and down to the airlock to help Ingers, and Kim.

The EVA inspection was thorough, and the information was bad. The main body had been clipped by something, and while there wasn’t a leak yet, the irregular dent would weaken the welds under the constant and extreme temeperature changes as the station passed from sunlight to darkness four times a day. Kim sat everyone down to discuss the options. “As it is currently, we are in no immediate danger. But as Ingers has pointed out, the uneven expansion and contraction will eventually pop the welds open, unless it is fixed immediately.”

Thompson was in his own thoughts as Kim talked. Should I or shouldn’t I tell Ingers and Kim? After all this time how do they no t know about the capsule? Vyhovsky never talked to them, o anyone about trying to get the Xian-Xi freed from the docking rings. Why is that? What made it so important to him that we didn’t know? I can’t figure that out. So, why haven’t I said anything? Because I’m paranoid that’s why. It’s a secret, and for whatever stupid reason, I’ve kept it a secret. He was pulled out of his self-examination by Kim’s next words. “Ingers looked over the Xian-Xi capsules during his EVA, as have I. It appears that comrade Vyhovsky, was trying to sabotage the capsules.” Roels and Salila stared at Kim like he’d grown a second head, Thompson felt himself go pale, and cold. “Sabotage?! What the fuck, Kim?!”, a voice yelled. Thompson looked around and then realized it was his own. What the hell? Sabotage? Where’s Kim going with this?

Yes, fiend David, I’m sorry, but ‘friend Eugeni’”, Kim almost spat the name, “has partially dismantled the docking rings. In the apparent hope of marooning us permanently. The rings have small boxes inside the exposed areas that appear to be some kind of small, disabling charge, according to Ingers’ inspection.” “Are you certain of that, Kim? Ingers, are you certain?”, Roels sputtered. “Explosive charges? Why? This is a science station, not an orbital missile battery.” Kim nodded. “In truth that is all the station is supposed to be. But who knows what Russia’s ideas for the station were with ‘worst-case’ scenarios? This place would be ideal as a missile defense item. The base’s orbit is four times around the earth in a twenty four hour period. The orbit is more pole to pole, than geosynchronous, or equatorial. One might wonder why, if one was of a paranoic disposition.”

Thompson stared at Kim, slack-jawed. You’re kidding, right? How is a station that barely has enough room for us, and in a particular orbit suddenly become part of a Russian military conspiracy? This is nuts. “H-how do you figure this? Have you gon all X-files on us Kim? That’s just, crazy”, Thompson finished. He looked at the others, and could see Roels and Salila leaning against each other, and talking in quite whispers. Ingers scowled at Roels, which Salila caught and shrank back against Benoit. Roels didn’t seem to see the look, but he hunched down as Salila clutched at his arm. He’s still terrified of Ingers. So am I. I don’t get how he can be so Ingers one minute an d so psycho the next.

He put the thoughts aside and listened as the others talked. Roels argued that there was no way Vyhovsky could have brought charges like that up with him without them being discovered. There seemed to be too many and to precisely placed for one man to get them all into the ring without his efforts being discovered. Salila said nothing and stayed close to Roels, and away from Ingers, who had begun to stare blankly at her, once more. Kim looked over at Ingers, who ducked his head and turned away. “So, what if it was put in place by the Chinese when they made this part of the station? I wouldn’t put it past them, or any country, to build in a few ‘safeguards’ in case some kind of conflict arises. Look at Russia with the Missile platforms they tried to disguise as nuclear communications. You don’t need a big bosster if the warhead’s in orbit, just a push at the right time.”

Kim glared at Thompson for a moment, then said with a sigh, “Yes, it could easily be that the devices were in place as part of the Chinese designed section.” He strightened up and projected his voice. “What it all means is we work together, and see if there’s a way to defuse the devices safely.” Thompson took a deep breath. Maybe it’s way past time to let the cat out of the bag, and fix this. “I think that was what Vyhovsky was trying to do. He’d uncovered the devices. Maybe that was why he’d kept the radio signal a secret.” Everyone turned to Thompson, listening. “How does one link to the other, friend David? Do you have a theory?”, Kim demanded. “Yeah I do”, Thompson replied. “Think about it. What if we did know about people surviving down there. The first thing we’d be doing is thinking about going home. We were in a debris orbit. IF we didn’t move the station, we’d have been perforated most likely. Look outside. It happened. We have no idea how high up we are except a computer’s best guess, since there’s no telemetry. We’re gonna burn up when the station finally drops to the edge of the atmosphere. I think he was trying to free the capsules by taking the rings apart. The bombs were a complication he hadn’t figured out.”

World’s Eye View – 23

The screaming started and he was out the hatch, and caroming off the wall towards it. A few quick turns and he arrived at Roels cube. The screaming had faded to wracking sobs as he grabbed the handhold at the hatchway, prepared to launch himself at Ingers. He pulled up short as he saw Roels, clutching a shivering, naked, woman against him. As Salila clutched at his shoulders, Roels looked up, and saw him. “Roels? Is she…”, he swallowed drily as his eyes followed Salila’s supple curves. He shook his head. Get it out of your head, asshole. She’s been raped! “Is she all right?”, he finished lamely. “Better than I”, Roels said. I think I have broken ribs. It hurts to take a breath.”

How are we gonna keep maintenance up? I don’t trust Kim, and Ingers is great at it, but he’s not Ingers, he’s something seriously messed up.” Thompson watched Roels haunted look harden with anger as he discussed maintenance. “After this, travesty, should we even care about maintenance? I think maybe we should just let things fall apart. This is hell, and there is no way out.” Thompson looked at Roels. Everyone’s talking about how there’s no way off the station, but Vyhovsky figured out the docking ring. I gotta take a chance. It ought to pull us together. Oh slag that, David you idiot. The wound’s too deep. Still, it might be the only way off the hamster cage. I gotta ask though, why did Vyhovsky keep it from us? It doesn’t make sense. That would have brought us all together on a common goal. We’d be out of here and home.

Roels, there is a way off”, he said quietly. Roels blinked, and stared at him. “A way off. Why do you tell me now?”, Roels asked, suspicion thick in his voice. “Vyhovsky figured it out. He told me about it just before he died”, Thompson said quietly. “The docking ring has the Xian-Xi locked in place, and a software virus locked the ring closed. Vyhovsky was taking the ring apart a little at a time. Once the ring’s disassembled, the craft will float free, and it can be powered up to go home.”

Roels looked at Salila, and closed his eyes, holding her close against him. She struggled a moment, then sobbed harder as she clutched at Roels shoulders. Roels arms went protectively around her as he gazed up at Thompson. “You’re not just saying this to trick us? Disassembling the docking ring will work? What about traps?” Thompson grimaced. “I’m guessing there aren’t any. Even the most paranoid engineer has to draw the line between function, and blowing you sky-high.” Roels gave a bitter chuckle, and wrapped his arms tighter around Salila. Salila sobbing slowed as she was held, and her head came up. “I would rather they were trapped. I could die then, and escape my shame.” The bitterness and hatred poured out in the words, making Thompson shiver. “Get healthy Roels, I have to go, vote. Kim’s wanting to set priorities.”

Set priorities? Help me get there, and we’ll all vote. I’ve had enough of this travesty. We need to work on the Xian-Xi and the docking collars. I have had enough of this place.” Thompson nodded. “We all have.”

**

Thompson floated in the galley at the far side, as Kim, and Ingers conducted the meeting. Kim frowned at Roels making it to the meeting. Thompson thought he could see Kim trying to figure out the best way to control the meeting. Ingers, staring vacant-eyed at Salila, moved to sit beside her. Roels sat close, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders. Ingers reached a hand in her direction, then lowered it back to his side.

Now, let me bring this first full complement meeting to order. We have a number of things to discuss, and prioritize. First, there is the regular maintenance, then temperature control, and finally, consumables.” Thompson mentally muted out Kim’s voice as he studied Ingers. The big Swede seemed lost in himself. Thompson couldn’t decide if this was due to being close to Salila, or guilt from previous actions. Is the real Ingers still in there? He said it was like things were flipping on and off, and he didn’t have control. Did Kim screw with his mind somehow while he took care of him? If he did , what and how did he do it? Can it be fixed? Who’s gonna fix it? Kim never would. I don’t know how, and Roels, I don’t know about Roels. Whatever this situation is, our job is to get home now that we’re on the same page.

Thompson raised his hand. Kim stopped his talk to stare directly at him. “What is it David?”, he said, sounding like a schoolteacher lecturing a troublesome student. “There’s another priority. Getting home. We need to get home and off this station. Put that in the list.” When Kim hesitated, Thompson raised his voice. “Put it on, and let’s vote on our priorities.” Ingers eyes flicked to Thompson as he spoke, and flexed his hands, clenching and unclenching them. Oh shit. Did I push my luck too much? He watched Ingers float over to the left of Kim, giving him a clear line of travel to Thompson. “I do agree that we should arrange our priorities, friend David”, Kim said quietly, his own eyes on Ingers movements. Thompson noted that Kim seemed to pale, as if he too, feared Ingers unpredictable reactions. What if Kim didn’t do anything? What if the whole thing is Ingers? Thompson tried to turn the thought over, but the vote was called for. Kim set two priority lists. Maintenance came up on ‘what needed to be done immediately’, and going home went to the top of the ‘overall priority’ list.

Roels watched Thompson with increasing agitation as Kim droned on, arguing ranks in the priorities. Finally, when Kim finished, he nodded with his head for Thompson to follow him. Ingers was staring hard at Salila, who sandwiched herself between the two men. They reached Roels’ cube, where all three spread out in the room, staring at the one entry hatch.

World’s Eye View – 22

Do what about temperature control?”,Thompson asked. “It needs to be changed”, Kim answered him gravely. “Currently, it is too warm, we do not have the luxury of having it kept heated. We must save energy to extend our time here. We need time to find out how to leave.” “We don’t have that luxury either”, Thompson countered. “Any colder and we start needing more calories to stay warm. More cloaries needed means the food runs out faster. And of the two, energy or food, we have a LOT less food than energy.” Kim’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t like being outmanueverd in a logic match. Thompson knew it was goin to come to another ‘vote’, and the temperature was going to be lowered, but he hoped that something o the argument would get to Kim. We need to think of both sides of the equation, Kim. Come on, please, follow the logic, figure it out.

Kim motioned to Thompson, and Ingers quietly floated away down the corridor after securing Thompson’s boots on the magnetic pad. “Friend David, You hold me responsible for what happened to Vyhovskey. I know this. It’s obvious if one pays attention to your reactions and manner of speech.” He grabbed a handhold, re-directing his travel slightly to avoid bumping Thompson. “When They started fighting, I was shocked. I never thought Ingers capable of such violence. And Vyhovsky breaking his neck on the edge of the table. A tragic accident. I wanted all of us to have a say in what happened to us. We deserve that right up here. We did then, and we do now. Moreso after the tragedy. We have to get things pulled together, friend David. If we stand apart, we will fall apart. We must be all focused of purpose, we must be all striving towards….”, Kim stopped.

David watched Kim as the man pulled his emotions back into check. “Everyone must work together”, he said, his voice returning to it’s more solemn tones. “What about Salila? Does she get a say? She of all of us is the one really out of place. What about her?”, Thompson challenged. “She has a say, and is serving in the best capacity her stature allows”, Kim replied evenly. “It doesn’t matter the type of job, so long as you serve the greater good.” Thompson just stared at Kim. How can you say that? He fought the urge to punch Kim in the face, fearful that if Ingers was nearby, the punch would set him off again. “You’re out of your tree, Kim. I heard from Roels what happened!” He threw his hands out, gesturing angrily, and started spinning slowly from the motion.

How could you do that to her!”, He yelled. “How could you?!” Kim seemed to measure the difference between him, and Thompson, then delivered a sudden slap to Thompson’s face. Thompson spun with the force of the blow, and hit the wall corner down and away from Kim. “Because it is the only way!”, he yelled back. “It is the only effective way we have to reduce stress!” Thompson snorted at the absurdity, and saw Ingers, float into view behind Kim. Ingers seemed wholly focused on him, so Thompson didn’t move, other than to hook a hand thorugh a holdfast. “Have you even read how sex is a natural relaxant?! The intimacy literally calms the fires in a man’s soul! It’s why rapists attack women. Power and control. They control their emotions through the act! Whatever other depravity there is, it is still a method of emotional control!” Kim’s words made Thompson sick to his stomach with revulsion. What the hell are you, Kim?! Who justifies rape as a method of relaxation?!

Our passions were tearing us apart! There needed to be some displacement of them before a tragedy happened. And look around you! Where’s Vyhovsky?! He’s dead! DEAD! Killed because all of us are unbalanced from all this stress of survival! Lost with no way to go home! Where is the release! Where is the control?! It’s her! She is the control, and the release. She can keep us all sane! That is her function here.” Ingers floated forward towards Thompson, and held out a hand. “Let me go with you to your cube, friend David”, Ingers offered quietly. “We’re all stressed and damaged inside. Frined Kim has shown me that. I don’t want to hurt a friend.”

I don’t want to be hurt either, Ingers”, Thompson replied. Ingers eyes had a haunted look, as if he knew all of his crimes, and knew there was no salvation no matter how he tried to find it. It tore at Thompson’s chest to see him like that. Vyhovsky called you the best of us. God dammit Koll, what flipped you over the edge so bad there’s no coming back? Vyhovsky lost his family too, and he kept it together. Why not you?

Thompson shook his head and ignored Ingers hand. “I’m fine Koll, you better get on maintenance. Right now there’s just three of us to do it.” “We still need to vote, friend David”, Kim reminded him. Thompson ground his teeth, and keeping his face away from Kim, he nodded , and said, “Okay.” He pulled himself into motion and floated down the corridors to his cube, where he closed the sliding screen. He hooked his legs into a ergo chair, and stared at the small computer screen on his desk. He popped open his mail, and watched the last video his fiance’ had sent him. When the video finished, he started it again, and again, as he tried to lose the sense of horror that whispered in the back of his mind.

World’s Eye View – 20

Drawers on the desk were pulled loose and floated in the room, slowly pinwheeling. Broken pieces of plastic were alsmot still in the air, having beld off any momentum before he appeared. Cupborad doors were open, one was broken off, and floated near the back of the room. Thompson’s eyes moved to he net-hammock. Roels was tied into it. He looked so bruised that Thompson thought at first he might have been killed. His heart started to hammer like it wanted to burst free, but when Roels turned and moaned painfully, the relief all but had him faint. He moved slowly to the hammock, and looked Roels over.

One eye was swollen shut, and his face was bruised on his left cheek, and a second deep colored bruise peeked out luridly from the neck of Roels’ jumpsuit. Working slowly down his body Thompson noticed the little finger swollen and bent at an unnatrual angle. It had been dislocated. I wonder if Ingers did this to him? I can’t see Kim pushing himself to this kind of violence, and I know Salila could never do this kind of damage. That leaves Ingers. Then again, I never thought Kim or Ingers would do what they did. Keep on you toes, Davey. This doesn’t look at all like it’s over.

Roels”, Thompson whispered urgently. “Roels, what happened?” Benoit Roels turned his head slowly, the one good eye opening a crack, then widening as he recognized Thompson. He started to speak, and Thompson put a hand to his lips and held a finger to his own, telling Roels to be quiet. Once Roels nodded, he took the hand away, then checked the hatchway for shadows before leaning in to whisper. “What happened? Did Ingers go crazy?” Roels blinked as a tears formed in both eyes, and sat right in the corners, growing into larger drops until Roels shook his head to dislodge them. “Kim”, he whispered back. “It was the Korean bastard. He said that Ingers was stressed, that he needed some kind of release.” His features hardened. “He looked right at us, and said that the best way to remove tension was … intimacy.”

Thompson fought down a surge of bile. He felt sick. “Intimacy?”, he said. “With Salila?” Roels nodded miserably. “I tried to fight but Ingers went crazy. It was like hearing those words flipped a switch in him, he jumped me faster than I could react.” Roels stopped talking for a long moment, his face twisted in pain and anguish. Tears formed again on his eyes. Little salty blobs of water that floated away when he jerked his head to the side. “I dodged towards Kim. I wanted a piece of him before Ingers got to me.” Thompson wondered himself if he’d have made the same move. I should have stayed, God above I should have stayed. Roels opened his good eye and stared at Thompson. “David, what do we do now? Eugeni is gone. I think Kim had Ingers put the body in the storage unit. God knows how they’ll get him to fit, and God knows I don’t want to know.” His good eye pleaded, stabbing Thompson with more guilt. “What do we do, David?”

Thompson slowly reached to undo the knots holding Roels in the netting. “First let’s get you out of this restraint.” “Don’t!”, gasped Roels quietly. “My shoulder’s mess up and I have cracked ribs. Kim tied me in here to ease the strain on the bones. He told me Ingers will come by in ten hours to get me food and water while the muscles recovered from the trauma.” He winced as he tried to laugh, the motion seeming brittle, and empty to Thompson. “We have to give in now. We can’t fight them. Kim’s got everything under his finger. He ‘s got the keys for every locker and storage unit. He controls the food and water. We don’t have control of anything.”

Thompson ticked off the points in his head. Food. Water. Air. Temperature. “We’ve got control of a few things yet”, Thompson told Roels. “Both you and I are better than Kim and Ingers EVA. This place needs maintenance. Continual maintenance. We can trade that for a little ‘wiggle room’ here and there. This may be hell right now, but it’s going to stabilize, and we can do something about stuff when it does.” The words sounded hollow in his own ears, but Roels seemed to gather a little strength from them. “Yes, we can. I don’t know what you’re thinking of, David, but count me in. I have to make up for how I failed to protect Salila. I have to rescue her.” “We”, Thompson said. “We, have to save her. Hell, we have to save ourselves.”

What’s the first move?”, Roels asked him. Thompson started to speak, but quieted. He glanced back as a slight thump was heard in the corridor. A shadow moved across the wall as Ingers stopped himself in the hatchway. He looked at both Thompson, and at Roels. Thompson tensed, and braced himself, handhold overhead and both feet tucked against the wall. Ingers, floated slowly into the room, staying well away from Thompson, and moving to the back of the room. He then slowly pushed towards Roels. “It’s time for the Ibuprofen and muscle relaxants”, he said quietly. His eyes never looked up to Thompson. “I am sorry, Benoit. I don’t know what’s happening to me. I can’t control anything.”

Thompson watched Ingers as he offered Roels the capsules. Roels took them, then Ingers held up a bulb of water to his lips, letting him drink. “Friend Kim says you will be rested enough to move about tonight. I will come in to untie you so we can check your injuries.” God, he’s a shell. What happened to you, Ingers? Ingers eyes moved to meet Thompson’s, and what he saw in Ingers eyes made him shudder. The man was empty, completely. The eyes said the lights were on, the vacant, glassy look said no one’s home. He wondered how he was able to function. Then the eyes changed, becomking almost feral in suspicion. Ingers lips started to draw back from his teeth in a snarl, as Thompson pushed back from Roels bed, and grabbed a handhold near the hatchway.

Ingers blinked his eyes, and the vacant, lost stare was back. He tenderly checked Roels arms and legs, then moved timidly by Thompson and floated back down the hallway. “That was insanely creepy”, Thompson said. Roels didn’t reply, but lay there, head turned away from Thompson. “We’re in hell, David. We’re in hell and Kim is the devil.” God he’s broken too. Did they make him watch? Dear God please tell me they didn’t make him watch whatever they did to Salila. He started thinking furiously. I have to set time by to get the docking shroud unlocked. Vyhovsky said it was a software hack by the Chinese so no one could leave, or enter the station if war came. He wasn’t a hacker, so he proposed a mechanical method to break the hack. Trouble is it takes time. With Vy gone, it will all depend on how much we can hold to a routine. No maintenance means this thing is going to drop into a debris orbit, or, if it lasts that long, into the atmosphere. Whichever happens, we’re dead unless there’s a way off this thing.

He looked over at Roels. We have to get off as a team. Push comes to shove we’ve got two Xong-Xi craft to use. I just have to figure out how. “We’ll figure something out, Benoit. This is broken, the whole thing is broken.” The back of Roels head nodded, and his body tensed. “We’re all broken”, was his comment. Thompson pushed away from the net, and drifted to the hatchway. The first thing was to check the readouts on the panels. They needed daily maintenance to avoid losing power, and ammonia coolant. He let his mind drift as he settled into the routine of checking pressures and scanning with the television eye for obvious micrometeorite damage. It’s only been hours since Vyhovsky was murdered, and I’m checking panels for leaks so WE don’t die. What a joke. I guess this is what you call ‘Irony’, God. You sure fucked us good. The one person more than any other that kept us together is dead, and we’re still up here with a brain-dead cripple and a crazy man in charge.

He ran the scan over the first two panels without spotting any breaks or pressure loss according to the gauges. Panel three had a small leak, according to the gauge. Thompson remembered having to shut a portion of that panel down a few weeks ago due to the fragement damage from the EMP warhead. Got a leak to seal. Gonna be a bitch without help. I sure a hell don’t trust Ingers or Kim reight now. Salila is totally untrained so no go there, though it might have been a good way to get her away from those two. What have they been doing to her? He pulled his attention back to panel three. Nothing out of the ordinary excepting the leak, so he rotated the cameras to four.

Panel four showed everything in working order, and no pressure drop. Satisfied that the only repair was three, he floated out of the room and down the hall towards the airlock. It took him a half-hour to kit up properly. Having no one to check the seals left him feeling vulnerable as he vented air pressure. The suit held and the pressure gauge said there were no breaks in the seals. Breathing a sigh of relief, Thompson clipped the safety line to himself before stepping out, and reached to clip the other end to a ring welded just outside the airlock. Once clipped on, he made a gentle push ‘outward’ towards Panel three and the leak. It took him another half hour to find the lead. It was small and deep against a rotation point. It meant he had to lock the panel in place to work on it, and with no one to hand off tools or adjust the panel’s orientation, it was going to be a long job.

He’d gotten in position to start removing the seal, when the standard channel beeped. “This is Thompson”, he said. “Friend David, what are you doing on the panel? Nothing has been authorized for repair”, Kim’s voice cut across the channel with disapproving tone. Thompson took two very slowl breaths, focusing on slowing his response to Kim’s arrogant query. “Xian-Xing”, he said, using Kim’s first name deliberately. “What happened can’t stop us from doing maintenance on the station. No maintenance, no station. It’s a simple equation.” He managed to keep the angry growl out of his voice somehow. “I must ask you to stop what you are doing so we all can sit down and decide the priority of our routines.”

Thompson bit back another scathing reply and focused on the job at hand. “Can’t, it’s partway apart already. I have to follow through or we won’t have enough temperature control. You want to start overheating the computers?” Thompson crossed mental fingers. He’d just begun on the seal and one bolt loosened technically could be ‘partway’, but reality was if Kim called his bluff, he’d be hard put to argue. The silence on the other end was reassuring. Kim had to be asking Ingers, or possibly Roels about the job. He’d never filled out any system work to track it yet, so no one would have an idea what he was working on. It gave him time to think about how he had to sell the repair so he’d have time to work for a while on the number 1 docking collar.

The World’s Eye View – 18

“Friend Ingers, Think of the lady. How does this look to the lady?”, Kim said quietly. Thompson saw Ingers go from stressed to focused in a moment. There was no indecision as he pushed towards Vyhovsky. What the hell?! Was that some kind of pyscho trigger? Thompson shouted, “Koll!” just as the Vyhovsky raised a boot to kick Ingers. Ingers, unable to change direction in zero-g, took the full brunt of the kick. Vyhovsky, since he wasn’t anchored either, moved back towards the wall, then rotated ‘up’ as his handhold kept him from going straight back from the momentum transfer. Ingers growled in rage. Now that he had been struck, all semblence of rational humanity disappeared in a feral snarl. He bunched his legs as he landed against the table, then pushed hard, arrowing at Vyhovsky. The Ukranian saw him coming and bent at the waist like a jackknfe, trying to get his feet aimed towards the oncoming Ingers, but was hit high in the chest as his legs slid under Ingers body.

Ingers grabbed Vyhovsky’s arm, and used it as an anchor to start trip-hammer blows to Eugeni’s neck and face, trying to stun him. Vyhovsky let go of the hand hold and brought his elbow down, smashing at Ingers collar bone. The shot glanced off the back of Ingers shoulder as he hunched close and brought his legs up, scissoring around Vyhovsky’s waist. The two men rolled slowly through the air, as tight punches were blocked. Ingers managed to set himself and squeeze hard with his legs, getting a gasping groan from Vyhovsky as he drew a ragged breath against the pressure. He jabbed at Ingers eyes, and missed as Ingers swept up a hand, guiding them past then ramming his forehead into Vyhovsky’s nose. Vyhoscky ducked sideways and took a glancing blow on the cheek.

Thompson was paralyzed. He couldn’t get himself to move. It was like an awful nightmare made real, and the thought kept him frozen next to the wall as the two men fought. The viciousness was beyond any hot-tempered brawl. Both men were doing their best to kill the other. That much was easily clear. There was a moan of terror from Salila, who clutched at Roels, trying to hide herself against him. Roels himself was white-faced, and Thompson thought he probably looked the same as the Belgian.

We’re all dead, we’re all dead. The whole thing is dead. The fighting will kill us all. Vyhovsky kept us going, and now Ingers is blown that chain all to hell and gone. What’s gonna happen to us? Thompson ducked as a loose piece of equipment rotated past him. Roels caught the laptop and let it float next to him. His hand reached down to clasp Salila’s as they stared like deer at the fight. Thompson started to gather himself, then stopped as he saw Kim move back towards the exit, and grabbed a handhold to stop himself in the hatch. Thompson wasn’t certain if that was to keep Roels and Saalila from leaving, or giving Kim the option to leave if he felt threatened by the rolling combat.

The two men bounced into the ceiling. Vyhovsky planted his feet and launched himself off the ceiling at the table. Ingers felt the push and rolled sideways, the momentum turning Vyhovsky towards the table. The men impacted solidly. Thompson saw Vyhovsky’s neck hit the edge of the table. The magnetic holdfasts held, and he saw the neck roll back as momentum continued. There was a sickening crack like rotten wood. Vyhovsky’s body jerked spasmodically once, then went limp in Ingers grip. Ingers hit the body twice hard. He seemed to realize the Ukrainian wasn’t fighting back any more. His arms grabbed Vyhovsky’s shoulders as reason came back into his eyes.

Ingers stared at the corpse, like a child who’d broken his best toy. He shook the body gently, and said, “Eugeni?” He shook it again, a little harder. The head flopped back and forth unnaturally as he did. A bit of bloody froth whispered from the lungs across Vyhovsky’s bluish lips. “Eugeni!”, Ingers shouted, then he began crying, and shaking his head. “No no no no no nonononono…Eugeni!” Ingers let go of the body, which cartwheeled slowly away in the zero-g, to ricochet from a wall, back towards the center of the room. Ingers was beside himself, arms hugging his waist as he cried and vomited. Salila and Roels both looked in shock. Neither moved. They were like statues, frozen in place as the world moved around them. Kim was the first to move, launching himself towards Vyhovsky, and intercepting the body near the table. The vomit slowly splattered against the wall, near half of it rebounding in random bits, in random directions.

He gently slowed the momentum, then placed a bare hand over the carotid artery, feeling for a pulse. With the features turning blue from oxygen deprivation, Thompson felt certain his friend was dead. Kim confirmed it a moment later. “There is no pulse, he’s gone.” Kim turned to Roels and Salila. “We mus pull together, and focus. This cannot be allowed to destroy our chances for going home. We need an outlet for our emotions, so that this can never happen again. A, ‘democratic’ way to air difficulties. Ingers.” Kim turned towards the Swede. Ingers looked up through red-rimmed eyes. He looked like a lost child. “Ingers”, Kim said again quietly. “We don’t blame you for this. And you musn’t blame yourself. It was a tragedy waiting to happen, and you were it’s victim.”

“BULLSHIT!”, yelled someone, and Thompson found to his surprise it was him. Kim looked over, eyes narrowed as he held Ingers shoulders. “You set that up. You set up Ingers and Vyhovsky’s fight. Maybe Roels and Salila couldn’t see it but I did!” Kim stared calmly at Thompson. “This is not the time for accusations. We’ve lost someone, and we need to purge ourselves of this if we want to survive. We cannot let it hang over our heads and poison our community.” Thompson felt himself give a strangled laugh. “Poisoned? This whole thing was poisoned when you started talking about ‘democratic systems!  We had a working command, we were doing okay, and suddenly you need a ‘democratic system’ for everyone to use?”, Thompson spat venomously. “Give me a fucking break,”

World’s Eye View – 16

Well, now that the cat’s out of the bag, or storage locker as the case may be, what’s next?”, Thompson queried. Kim looked at him like he’d grown a second head. “You see all this, then ask what’s next? Do you not ever process what you see, friend David?” Thompson ducked his head like a man caught with his hand in the cashier’s till. “Oh hell, I don’t know. We’re all on edge, this is getting to us. If there was a way to blow off steam, but there isn’t. We’re caught between the devil and deep black space.” Kim looked at Thompson. That’s right, talk with me, ignore the other two. Keep them out of the conversation. “I think you an Vyhovsky ought to work together doing my job on the panels and in hydroponics. That would really keep you two busy.”

Me? Work with that Ukranian dictator? Friend David, I think you’ve gone crazy if you think that is a good idea.” Thompson smiled. “Is that a professional observation?” “I….no, it is not”, Kim said slowly. He peered at Thompson who looked back at him with a guiless smile. He’s starting to suspect something. I think I overdid the smartass parts. “Look Kim, we all know we have to get along, and right now you and Vyhovsky aren’t. Whatever was simmering between you two has really gone overboard, and we need to fix it. Salila got a signal, people are still alive down there. If we want to get home, we have to work together to make it happen. We can’t just go and do it. We need a plan, and we need teamwork.”

Kim smiled, making Thompson feel like he just put a word very, very wrong. “Of course we do. Any attempt at returning home is going to take much effort on everyone’s part to make it happen. We have the equpiment, just not the data for a proper launch window. And, with our current … political … situation, we are not in any way ready or willing to work completely together.” Kim reached up to an overhead handhold, uncurling himself from the ergo seat. He pulled ‘up’ and maneuvered to avoid bumping the table. “It is why we need the democratic process. It would guarantee proper airing of all our greivances. How can you n ot see that it is the perfect way to deal with others in this emotionally charged system we are living in?” He puffed up a little like Thompson saw Turkeys do on his grandfather’s farm. “Rules to help us deal with the stresses of the day-to-day difficulties.”

Thompson watched Kim Glance past him, and he turned his head to see both Roels and Ms Shukla disappear out the back hatchway. “Excuse me, there are some things I must do, friend David”, Kim said politely. Thompson held up his hand and said, “Wait a second Kim. We need to talk.” Kim looked down at Thompson with narrowed eyes. “What must we discuss now, David?”, Kim all but sneered. “Another random talk of things?” “No, Myung. Just, talk”, Thompson replied quietly.

I just want to sit here and talk, like we all did before all this happened. Like about Botany, or ‘what space means to you’ or just anything except politics, religon, or personal stuff, ’cause we know those are all conversation killers.” Thompson tried to smile, and his lips felt like they were lead. The effort was almost beyond him.

Kim, to his surprise, actually drifted down to the ergo chair and hooked his feet through the pads to face Thompson. “We should, friend David. This place is making us all crazy. What did Eugeni call it, a ‘hamster cage’? I think it more resembles a tube trail cage, but I am not one to quibble about so apt a description.” Thompson chuckled, and was surprised by how that small joke had lifted him from the bone-weariness he felt. “I know, I could just see everyone in one of those Manga comics drawn up as Gerbils screaming ‘we are NOT HAMSTERS!’ and trying to escape.” Myung’s eyes crinkled in humor at the thought, and Thompson felt the tension ease. “That, friend Thompson, is an image to cherish.” Thompson started to feel uncomfortably ‘normal’ that the rest of their plight seemed far away and more a dream than reality. A sudden shout from the hatchway drew them both back to the ugly present.

Thompson was first though the hatch, ricocheting off the corridor wall as he grabbed a handhold to steer and add speed to his glide. He heard Kim thump the wall behind him, muttering in Korean. The argument gathered rapidly in volume as the two men came up on Roels and Ingers facing off in Salila’s cube. Roels was pressed against the wall as Ingers held him in place with one hand as his boot braced on an overhead handhold. Roels was trying to slap the restraining hand away, but Ingers had chosen a place away from all handholds so Roels couldn’t shift his mass enough to break free. Ingers other hand was trying t control one of Roels’s which had a plastic carton in it.

WHAT THE HELL?!”, Thompson screamed, and was caromed into by Kim, who’d missed the handhold in his haste to catch up. “HEY!”, Thompson yelled as both men tumbled weightlessly to impact Ingers and Roels. Roels and Ingers were caught off-guard and the four spun awkwardly in the air across the cube into the far wall with a heavy thump. Ingers cushioned Thompson’s impact, as Kim and Roels somehow managed to land feet first into the wall. Thompson grabbed a handhold and pulled himself away from the stunned Ingers. “Ingers, aare you all right?”, he asked, momentatrily forgetting what had been occurring just moments before. Ingers nodded slightly as he started to drift away from the wall. He looked over at Kim and Roels. The Belgian seemed ready to start all over again with Ingers. Salila drifted next to him, laying a hand on his shoulder as Ingers slowly shook off his disorientation.

World’s Eye View – 15

The six crowded back into the control room. “I was doing what Mr. Ingers said to do, and I got a signal!”, Slaila shouted excitedly. “I left it on the channel and turned on the main channel and called you!” Her excitement made her glow in Thompson’s eyes. Oh my god she’s beautiful! Roels, you lucky, lucky bastard! “It was just a buzzing sound, someone’s voice, but it is a signal.” Vyhovsky and Ingers moved to the scanner. Ingers sat down and began to check the system, punching filters to scrub out white noise, and lowering the threshold to compensate for the weak signal. “Koll, what do you think it might be?”, Vyhovsky queried him. “Most likely some HAM operator. We should have been getting military traffic, but nothing’s come through. I can check the antennas. Why didn’t any of you look at them?” Vyhovsky grimaced. “It slipped through the cracks. You think with how important it is…”, He grumbled. Kim’s voice sliced through their chat. “It’s because he didn’t want us to go back home!” Kim floated back from the knot around the scanner.

Don’t you all see it? If we can’t listen, we can’t find out the … status of the world. We don’t know that it’s safe. We don’t know if it’s poisoned beyond saving. He keeps it all to himself like a bloated spider in a web!” Kim was shouting at the end, and Thompson, was alarmed at how changed his friend looked. Kim had lost weight, and looked gaunt. His burly frame had melted back to a hungry lankiness that reminded Thompson of a starving coyote. Ingers glanced at Vyhovsky, then at Kim, then at Vyhovsky again. “What friend Kim is saying, is this true?”, Ingers asked him. Vyhovsky looked at Ingers, and Thompson felt a chill that had nothing to do with the air. “No, it is not true. Why would I hide something so obvious?”

Why did no one look at the antennas?”, Ingers asked him again. “Because it was missed. We had many things to take care of, and that was one that fell out of sight. An oversight, that is simply all it was.” Vyhovsky looked fierce. His position as leader was being questioned directly, and even though Thompson did the same thing, forgetting about the antennas, he still felt doubt creep into his mind. “Hey, how about we talk later, Salilia did Ingers..”, Thomson started to ask, and Kim cut him off. “We will talk about it now! This is important, we need to know why he hid it from us!”

I didn’t hide anything!”, Vyhovsky roared. Everyone seemed to float back involuntarily from him. Kim’s really pushing his buttons. Maybe he forgot. Hell, we all forgot, even Kim. “I forget. We all forget the antennas. Why didn’t you remember, Myung? Huh? You forget too!” Vyhovsky’s accent thickened as his anger did the same. Thompson watched the red creep up his neck and sufuse his cheeks and forehead almost crimson in the artificial lighting. Kim floated back, and then pushed to one side, just behind Ingers. “You made certain we wouldn’t ask, by continuously making drills, and work when we didn’t need to. You used Friend Ingers illness to further your ends. Using him to control all of us up here!”

HEY!”, Thompson yelled as loudly as he could, startling the two men. He saw Roels and Salila flinch from the sounds and reach for each other’s hand. “You forgot, Eugene, and you, Kim, you forgot too.” “DON’T!” He said loudly as Kim opened his mouth. “Just drop it.” He watched Vyhovsky listen, his face still red, his hands clenching so tightly to the handhold that they had turned white. Did I just screw myself here? Are they both going to jump me for butting in? He watched with a great sense of relief as Vyhovsky’s hands slowly loosened on the handhold, and color returned to them. Kim glared at Vyhovsky, and at Thompson in undisguised hatred. Then the mask of hate disappeared behind a bland exterior as Kim in haled then exhaled slowly. “You are right, friend David. We are trying to survive. This could have been resolved more easily if we had followed the voting procedure”, Kim explained. His demeanor chnged completely, being closer to the old Kim. Thompson felt a glimmer of hope that things might resolve quielty.

Again with the voting?!”, Vyhovsky spat. “Is everything a vote?” He gestured to the people in the room. “Are they a vote?” He gestured at the scanner. “Is it a vote?”, he snarled at Kim. “We are not in a position to vote. Voting wastes time needed for repair, and maintenance.” He took a ragged breath. Thompson could hear his voice starting to rasp from all the angry shouting. “We no what we need to do, no voting needed to know the station needs maintenance. We need to hold on until we can find out what we need to do.” He looked up at the ceiling, then to the floor, and finally to Kim once more. “This hamster cage make us all crazy.” Kim gave Vyhovsky a strangled look, and Ingers looked back at him as if he’d heard something. Kim shook his head, and seemed to calm. “You are right, friend Eugeni, all this does change one, if they allow it to.”

Vyhovsky blinked in surprise at Kim’s statement, obviously expecting something more venomous. Thompson watched the two slowly wind down from the near-conflict. He looked carefully at Roels and Salila, watching their reactions. They are the ones who are going to be pushed the hardest in all this. By trying to stay out of the middle, they’re putting themselves square in it. Me and Eugeni on one, Ingers and Kim on the other. They’re the deciding factor regardless of how much they want to be left out. He looked back over to Vyhovsky, who was gliding to the exit. He looked hunched up, as if tired of the whole situation. Kim’s been riding hikm with little things ever since they started arguing about Ingers. How much has that taken out of each of them?

Thompson shrugged, then floated over towards Roels and Salila Shukla, who were at that moment getting food packs out of the storage. Thompson noticed neither ever tried to look around, but concentrated solely on procuring and readying the food. He bumped the table as he used it to brake his drift through the room, which startled both Roels and Salila. Thompson noted Ingers long, calculating glance towards the three of them before he left the galley. Kim waited as Ingers left then launched himself at the trio across the room. Thompson moved to the side to let Kim brake by bumping the table, as he did. He made certain that Kim landed to his right while keeping the others to his left, effectively blocking Kim from speaking directly to them.

We are needing to find a way to deal with our situation. I know small spats occur on all missions, but none really have had to deal with the same conditions as this. There must be an open way to air difficulties”, He stated as Thompson floated across the table to get himself and Kim a food pack. He pulled one out, checked the title, then gave it a slow push towards Kim, who caught it and nodded as he read the pack label. “This is a good one. Thank you, David”, Kim said with a tired smile. “It is your favorite. I swear, if you’d been the one doing the ordering that would be all we’d have in the storage locker”, Thompson teased him. Kim’s face twisted angrily for a moment, then he slapped his hand down on the table and pulled himself to one of the ergo chairs, hooking his feet into it. “You, are right”, he said with a forced smile.

World’s eye view – the origin story

A few years back, I was at our friends place having barbecue, and Lloyd’s friend Dale talked about ‘Gravity’ and how that would be an awesome setting for a horror story.  I’m pretty sure he meant something like space zombies swarming the station, but I liked the idea of delving more into something like ‘Lord of the Flies’.  There seemed to be a lot more interesting potential in psychological horror than a ‘jump in your face’ kind.

The idea was intriguing and it took a few days to come up with the concept.  The general idea is that while the astronauts were in space, a crisis occurred on earth that started a nuclear exchange.  All communication to earth was lost, and now the crew must figure out how to survive, and find a way home before their resources on the station run out.

It was hard finding information on the space station other than the wikipedia stuff.  There are live feeds from the station, so that was easy to observe and get a good feel for the station itself in terms of rooms, corridors, equipment, living spaces, etc.  The trouble was finding out what else was there.  Talking to one of Lloyd’s friends who actually worked at NASA was fun, but ultimately non-informational.  That in itself was information because a neutral response, at least for writers, is a kind of backhanded confirmation of the question.  So I had to go from factual to conceptual and somehow try to make my ideas ‘logical’ enough to feel real.

After that, the idea actually sat for a year before I picked it up again.  By then it had percolated in the subconscious long enough to have a good feel to it.  And here we are, 14 posts in.  I’ll be adding new posts every Tuesday, and doing a more generic blog entry on Thursdays.  Thanks for reading and if you have questions or comments, please leave them.  Commentary is a writer’s best friend  🙂