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.