World’s Eye View – 27

It’s been a long time and finally I get a chance to come up for air and post the next piece of World’s Eye View.

 

Man that’s thin. How do you keep people thinking about survival and not about home? Answer:Keep them too busy to have time. Eugeni did keep us hopping like fleas on a hotplate. He was putting in twice the hours we were. Yeah I think he was trying to figure out the bombs when he died. So how do we figure them out? “I want to put a change of operations to a vote”, Thompson said. He stared at Kim. According to the rules, I something was offered up, everyone got to have a say. Kim had kept things in his favor by not giving anyone time. It grated, but neither Roels, or Thompson wanted to face Ingers if he got set off. That came under the ‘Really Bad Idea’ column in captial letters. “Very well, friend, David. What is your proposal?” Kim finally asked. “I vote we put someone on the Xian-Xi docking rings full time. That would give a person time and resources with the computers to figure it out”, Thompson replied.

I will take up the task”, Kim said gravely. “I was thinking Roels should be the one to do it”, Thompson countered. “We can vote on it right now. We’re all here”, he finished smugly. Kim glared at him. Not something you can win this time. If you don’t vote, then this all falls apart. Then we’re all finished. The vote went Roels, Shukla, and himself voting for the idea, Kim and Ingers against it. Kim took the defeat with ill grace, and left after the three raised their hands. “You think he’s going to try something to get back at that maneuver?”, Roels asked him as they drifted down the tube towards Salila’s cube. “I don’t know. It’s best to think a little paranoid, so, yeah, I’m half-expecting something. Probably Ingers”, Thompson said. God I hope he just lets it go. The voting’s working, so far. I don’t like it, but we’re starting to settle into a workable setup. So maybe it does have something going for it.

The next few days were tense, with Kim answering questions with a surly reply, and the voting becoming more and more complaint sessions. Fortunately, the complaints stayed in the sessions, and no one tried to push things outside the sessions. Roels set himself to digging into the system software, slowly working through the code, trying to locate what controlled the docking rings and the charges. Thompson, Ingers, and Kim worked on clearing the debris from around the smashed panels section, then detached the damaged section, cannibalizing the pieces for use as spare parts for the surviving sections. Through it all, Thompson could feel the two men watching his every move. He’d been watched by them for a while now, but this was different. He could almost feel Ingers gaze, like a predator sizing up a potential victim. He spent a few long evenings in the machine shop making a reinforcing patch for the damaged hull. He started twice, and had to stop as his mind wasn’t in making the proper cuts.

What’s different this time about them watching me? They did it before. What’s diferent this time? Thompson snapped his fingers. Kim. Kim’s the difference. Ingers was just shadowing people, nothing really threatening, he was hanging back. Now, it feels directed, like Kim might be asking Ingers to watch. If he did, does this mean he’s pissed at the fast one I pulled? He looked at the badly formed patch. Maybe I should make some protection. He straightened an edge of the patch, and took the long piece, grinding the edge down to a semi-sharp edge with a thin point. He got out the high-speed duct tape, wrapping the unsharpened end to make a grip. Once finished, he got a small magnet, placing it in his pocket.

When he reached his cube, he looked around, and decide on hiding the knife under the shelf, using the magnet to anchor the knife. God forgive me, this is really bad if I’m paranoid enough to make a weapon. What does that say about me? Am I paranoid, or unbalanced. I don’t think so. Roels, I wonder how Roels and Salila are doing? His schedule said that both Roels and Salila would be on duty, with Ingers. Roels would be sifting through the system code, while Salila would be scanning for radio signals. Ingers would be doing the daily visuals on the panels, and checking the reserve for leaks. That doesn’t mean he will. If I’m unstable, he’s downright spooky. I’m gonna keep it close, just in case. I can hide it under the jumpsuit by folding the top down.

He shifted the knife to a spot with easy hand reach next to his hammock-net, then settled into an uncomfortable sleep, waking at intervals through the night. The next day was more fitting for the patch. The job would have been much easier with the 3-D printer, but the powders to make spares had long run out, so the fallback was knocking the patch out by hand, which was much more labor-intensive. Compunding this was none of them had any practical experience as cutters or welders. Thompson volunteered for the job, figuring that both Ingers and Kim would relax if he was in one place for a day or two.

The welding and cutting finally finished after twenty hours of work. The patch fit over the dented area with some rough overlap. It took Kim, Ingers, and Thompson to hold the plate in the right position to begin welding. “Friend David, how long do you believe this welding will take? The air recycler in my suit is beeping”, Ingers said. “Once we get the first few welds in place to stabilize it, I can handle it myself. I’m thinking about a half hour for that. Weird. My recycler’s fine. Dial shows another four hours before it might need replacing. “Friend David, my recycler is running low, I’ll need to go in soon.” Both of them, with the same problem? “I hear you, can you hold on for a half-hour? With you and Ingers helping we can weld hold spots down.” “I understand, friend David”, Kim replied. Thompson got the first weld in place, then drifted up and to his right, snagging the plate Ingers and Kim were centering. He worked on the spot weld as the station orbited out of the sun and into the dark.

World’s Eye View – 24

They could see Ingers shadow float to the edge of the hatch, and hover. Thompson and Roels looked to each other, then Roels nodded, and floated to the hatchway. He poked his head out the hatch and turned to look at Ingers. “Koll, how are you? Is there something I can help you with?”, Thompson heard Roels say.

I”, Ingers started. “I would like to apologize to Salila.”

“Ingers. Koll”, Roels replied. He started to say something else, then shut his mouth. He looked back at Salila, who shook her head.

“Say it from the doorway”, came her shaky reply. Roels nodded and backed up, wincing as his broken ribs shifted. Ingers bulk filled the hatchway. His eyes were haunted.

“I am s…sorry for my actions”, he said slowly, then he turned and floated back down the tube, towards the galley. Thompson looked over to Salila, who was pale. Her hands shook. She hugged herself to make the shaking stop. Roels moved to her and she clung to him like a drowning sailor clings to a life preserver. Roels looked to Thompson. He nodded and moved to the hatch, and gazed down the tubes left and right, checking to see if Ingers had decided to hover just around the corner. The corner mirrors showed clear corridors both ways. Thompson turned back to Roels. “He’s gone for now. I need to go to. I’m going to draft Kim to help me out, for maintenance until those ribs heal. Then you and I will start work on the docking ring.”

Roels looked at Salila, nestled in his arms, then to Thompson.

“Why didn’t you tell Kim about the docking rings?”

“I don’t know”, Thompson answered. “I think I was worried what Ingers would do if I mentioned it.”

Roels shivered. “I don’t see why, it might snap him out of what’s going on. Kim’s brainwashed him. I think you’d want him to hear it. Jar his mind. Maybe knock Kim’s control loose.”

“I don’t know if Kim’s really to blame”, Thompson said thoughtfully. “Did you look at him when Ingers started to line up on me? It was like he was scared of what might happen too.” Thompson stopped =, then started talking again. “It reminds me of a story my dad told me about some neighbors. The family had a Doberman. Beautiful dog, dad said, but spooky. It wouldn’t bark, it just stared at things. Always watching. One night a kid tried to break in and steal the TV while they were gone. The dog killed the kid. The neighbors came home, and found the kid all over the living room. They called the cops, then took the dog and got it euthanized. When my dad asked why, the guy told him that the dog looked at him like he was next on the list. So he took the dog and got it put down.”

Roels said nothing, and just stared vacantly. “That’s a messed-up story, David. If you wanted to scare me, you just did.” Roels hugged Salila tighter, and winced as her arms snuck around his waist, shifting his broken ribs. He paled and gasped, then hugged Salila tighter as she moved, keeping her tight against him. “Give me two days to rest, and I’ll start pulling shifts again. Just wrap my ribs tight before you try to stuff me in that suit. Getting in that thing is going to hurt, I’m certain.” Thompson nodded, then floated back to the hatch again. He looked once more at the corner mirrors for the intersections, and floated out into the tube, then propelled himslef down the corridor handhold by handhold. Why didn’t I tell Kim? That is a really good question. If Ingers went nuts, then there would be two of us to try and take him. God, if you’re watching, and you have some time, do you think you could bless us with a little luck? We’re gonna need some soon, I think.

Kim held the fitting in place as Thompson finished tightening down the blocking plate. With the Ammonia becoming less available, Kim, and Ingers had decided to cut back the ammonia flow to one hundred five percent of needed use. The idea was to limit the active panels and block the flow of the ammonia so that a reserve for emergencies could be maintained. The plates were easily jury rigged in the shop, pieces of metal being cut and drilled in a few hours. Seals made from a silicone completed the project, and now, they’d finished up the last of the three plugs. Through it all, both Thompson and Kim had worked in silence, talking only when needing to issue directions or ask questions.

Move the cap right, there”, Thompson said, then wtached as Kim gave the cap a half turn with the extension wrench.

“I felt the lands squeeze. It’s in place”, Kim gasped.

“Good”, was Thompson’s only reply. The two men carefully stowed all their tools in carrying nets, and clips on their suits. The walk back to the airlock was silent as each man scanned the panels for any damage they might have missed going out. Ingers was waiting at the airlock. Thompson thought he might not have moved at all since they left for the job. Ingers pulled Kim in first and helped him divest of the suit. Thompson slowly pulled his helmet off, then stowed it back in the storage netting. Once Ingers had Kim unsuited to the waist, he turned his attention to Thompson’s carrying belt, moving tools to a magnetic strip. Once empty the belt and harness came off, then the suit was slowly unzipped, and hung, ready for use. The internal cooling suit was stripped off, then moved to a sonic water shower, to clean out the salts and oils from the inside of the suit.

After cleaning, it was hung and the airlock closed, and the air pumped out of the airlock to boil off any excess liquid from the wash. Kim tapped Ingers on the shoulder.

“Go rest and help Ms Salila cycle through the channels again. See if she has found any other signals.” Ingers nodded, then propelled himself down the corridor. Kim sighed. “There is so much magnetic interference. I think many of the staellites NASA used for communication have been disabled. Salila gets occasional ‘blips’ of radio, but nothing solid. I am wondering if the antenna is worse off than we thought.” Thompson nodded, but didn’t answer. He didn’t trust himself to. He realized that whether or not Kim had intended to control Ingers, Ingers was more a bomb, than a gun. Kim was increasingly polite and even-voiced around Ingers. The feeling was of something building up, just like before Ingers and Vyhovsky fought.

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.

A World’s Eye View – 21

Continue the repair, friend David. And please, the next time a repair is needed, please make the request ahead of time, so this does not happen again. It would be much appreciated.” “I hear you”, Thompson replied. And the doesn’t mean I won’t do it again at the next possible moment, you murderous ass. He set the wrench on the second bolt and started the drive loosening it.

Four hours later, he was bathed in sweat as the suit beeped, informing him about low oxygen filter efficiency. He tightened the final bolt, then blipped his comm. “Yes friend David?”, Kim replied. “I’m coming in for a two hour break, then I have to come back out here to finish up clamping the filter in place.” “Can you not finish now?” Thompson ground his teeth and bit back a harsh reply, and said mildly, “My oxygen filter is low, it needs replacing if I want to get out here and work on the clamping ring. Everything’s in the net, all I have to do is take a break, get some food, and I can finish up in another hour.”

The silence was a long time before any reply came. “Very well, friend David. Please come back inside.” Like you have the power to keep me out. Thompson blinked. Oh christ, he DOES have that power. All he has to do if he wants to keep me out here is to bolt the airlock closed. Get it together, David. Vyhovsky may have been a mistake, but if it can happen once, why not twice? He swallowed drily and walked slowly in his magnetic shoes to the airlock. Keep it together, no shouting, keep it together.

Both Kim and Ingers were at the airlock when he stepped out, and helped him out of the suit. “How is the seal, friend David?”, Ingers queried him. “I need another hour to finish the job, and then it’s more maintenance. You know the drill”, he joked with Ingers. “If it ain’t broke, it’s gonna”, he said with a lopsided smile. Ingers returned the grin with one of his own. Thompson felt a wave of relief as Ingers smiled. He may be messed up in the head, but the old Ingers is still in there. Now he needed to figure out how to work on the docking ring. Do I tell Kim about the ring? What will that get me? What will it do to the others? The smile left his face as he started to think through a possible scenario of Ingers and Kim taking Salila and leaving him and Roels marooned.

God, What do you think? Should I tell them? Could it pull us together? “I could help you, David”, Ingers told him. “I’m EVA trained. I rememebr how.” Thompson looked at Ingers, then to Kim, who frowned at David. Ingers noticed his eyes, then ducked his head as he turned to look at Kim. “It would make thw work go faster and I would be out there with him if something happened”, Ingers all but pleaded with Kim. Kim stared at the two of them for a very long time. Thompson could see him trying to weigh advantage and disadvantage . Come on, let me go alone. Keep guard dog Ingers close by. He’s your weapon. You made him that way.

Finally Kim said, “No, Ingers, there are many things needing attention on the inside of the station. Both you and I need to do work here while David works on the seal.” “Why not put it to a vote?”, Thompson said sarcastically. Kim smiled. “An excellent idea. With the station out of immediate danger, we can devote our time to more worthy projects.” Thompson felt his stomach start to turn over. “Projects? When did we have ‘more worthy’ projects?” Kim lifted the harness off, and stowed it in the net. “Projects such as nutrition allocation. With our limited resources, we need to pare the excess from our meals, and stretch the food out longer.” Thompson shrugged the suit down to his waist, and looked at Kim, disbelieving. “We were already doing that. We’d pared ourselves down to what we needed, nutrient-wise, to a near minimum. There wasn’t any more to cut out.”

Kim shook his head and looked at Thompson with a condescending smile. “We hadn’t adjusted for activity levels and requirements”, he lectured. “Say again?”, Thompson said, working one foot out of the boot, very aware of the nearness of Ingers as they talked. He turned slightly to watch both men as much as possible. His other foot came free and he pushed himself backwards to float past Ingers and into the corridor. “Activity levels and requirements. Its where the nutrients are matched to activity levels. Some one like a tourist, wouldn’t need the same nutrient levels an acitve astronaut would on this station. So the food would be cut back in that manner.” Thomspon looked at him. “Who thought that up? And did you actually VOTE on it?” Kim nodded. “We tried to call you in, David, so you would participate on the process. You had the seal to repair, and with the four of us making a quorum, we had a vote, which was unanimous. Even if you were there, the measure still would have passed.” Kim shrugged, his smile making Thompson clench his fist. He closed his eyes, willing his hand to unclench slowly. I’d get in one shot and Ingers would tie me in a knot. Now’s not the time.

So when is the next vote? And what are the things we’re voting on?” Kim looked to Ingers, who looked back at Kim. Ingers lowered his eyes after a moment and moved the suit into its small box just outside the airlock. The look he gave Thomson was both apologetic and measuring. Kim’s gaze was solemn, and troubled. “It will happen after dinner tonight”, Kim informed Thompson. “Great, I can see a few things that need to be addressed right away. We need to get routine..” He was interrupted by Kim. “Yes, yes, that is important, but for now we have other, more pressing problems to confront. Something must be done about our temperature control.”

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 – 19

Kim looked over to Ingers, and Thompson’s stomach dropped into his toes. Great job Dave. Open your mouth and become the next one on Kim’s ‘list.’ He shut up and looked away, feeling every bit of Kim’s stare as it moved back to him. God help us all, please. We’re in deep now. We have to do something. I can’t. I’m scared. Is Kim going to use Ingers to kill me too? No way I can beat him. Ingers would tear me apart in just a few seconds. He didn’t look up, trying, like Roels and Salila had been for weeks, to be unnoticed, to be unmolested by something frightening nearby. He felt, rather than saw, Kim glide next to him. “I understand your grief, friend Thompson. This is nothing I had ever wanted to happen. Pull it together and let us help Ingers, and Roels. We have much work to do now that we are short a scientist once more.”

Thompson nodded, willing to do anything to make Kim go away and leave him alone. Kim patted his shoulder in a fatherly manner and moved to Roels and Salila. Thompson glanced over at Ingers, and ducked as a large floating bit of vomit spun lazily in the weightless atmosphere past his cheek. The room stank of fear and feces. Vyhovsky’s body voided itself as a last natural function, lending a further reek to the air. Thompson watched Kim talk quietly to Roels and Salila, who both nodded, then looked away, eyes downcast. Kim floated back towards Ingers, batting small pieces of flying filth from his path. He grabbed a handhold, then lay his other hand on Ingers shuddering shoulders. Ingers froze in place as Kim began to talk urgently, and quietly in his ear. The room suddenly seemed too small, and Thompson launched himself from the room, arrowing through the hatch and rebounding off the wall with practiced ease.

He came to rest minutes later in the ‘Chinese section. He had curled up in a high corner of the room, trying to be as small and hidden as possible. His heart was racing as the scene played over and over in his mind. He kept hearing the rotten crack of Vyhovsky’s neck, and seeing the last spasm of his friend’s life. He tried to focus on his surroundings, but the loss, the terrible loss kept flaring through his mind, and he would find himself in the corner once more, huddling in fear. He thought he heard muffled screams, and huddled tighter in the corner as the vision of Vyhovsky’s head flopping like a rag doll’s in zero-g haunted his memory.

It took time to fight past the grotesque vision, and make himself move away from the corner. The advantage of weightlessness meant that any perturbation to a static object pushed it into motion. So, as Thompson uncoiled, he found himself drifting towards the center of the room. A surge of panic threatened to push him back to the corner, but he gritted his teeth, and let himself drift slowly through the room, grabbing a handhold near Vyhovsky’s net-board bed. The Chinese felt that a solid surface helped produce sounder, and more refreshing sleep. Thus the boards were part of the first mission, and had been retained in spite of inconclusive evidence.

Thompson slowly glided back towards his cube, wary of meeting anyone in the hall. With only five of them now, he mentally calculated the odds of getting home a lot more remote than when Vyhovsky had been alive. He told me about the collars, and how they seemed jammed by software. We were supposed to try and pull the collars apart, but never really put some time to it as we were shorthanded. Now we’re permanently shorthanded. I’m not certain what Kim has in store, but he’s the big dog now, as they say back home. So when he barks, everyone listens. I wonder how Ingers is, the fucker. He killed him. He killed Vy. He looked so lost when he did it, like something else was holding the reins when it happened. Was this what Kim was trying to warn people about. Some kind o psycho? Or… Thompson grabbed the handhold, and floated by his hammock-bed. The thought that Kim might have convinced Ingers to attack Vyhovsky felt absurd at first, but he was certain he saw some kind of communication between Ingers and Kim just before everything happened.

One thing’s certain, nothing is ever going to be the same again. Vyhovsky was the glue, he kept us going and kept the routine that took care of this place. The question now is can we hold it together. Or are we starting to spiral in? It this the death spiral? God help me, part of me wants it to be. God, please help. We really, really, could use some kind of miracle, any kind of miracle really. I’d really like to know right now if you’re listening.

Thompson floated away from the bed, towards the hatchway, where he stopped, and cocked his ear to listen for any movement. He didn’t hear any, and that bothered him more than hearing movement. The station always to this point, had been one of motion. People going off shift for sleep, or on shift to do preventative maintenance, or handle small problems as they cropped up. This absolute silence bothered him a lot. Roels, Salila, I need to find out what’s happened to them. He girded himself mentally, then slowly pushed into the corridor, quietly rebounding off the opposite wall with his feet and slowly using the handholds to move towards Roels’s cube.

He moved slowly and as quietly as he could manage. He kept an eye on his shadow, and on the mirrors in the corner of the right angle turns in the corridor. He wanted to avoid Kim and Ingers totally if possible. Another turn and a slow, controlled glide brought him to the corridor that housed Roels’s cube. Debris floated loosely in the corridor like a small cloud, around the entrance. Small articles like paper clips and sheets of paper, broken plastic, and a few blobs of liquid had to be brushed from his path as he moved to the entrance. Looking into Roels’ cube was more of the same.

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 – 17

What happened”, Kim asked in a flat, angry voice. Thompson noticed Kim was looking at Ingers with a bit of worry. He turned back to Roels, scowling ferociously. “What did you do to him?” Roels straightened up, and his hand found Salila’s. “He grabbed her, and wouldn’t let go when she asked him to. Then he started to try and drag her out of the room.” Roels glared at Ingers, who was now passively watching Kim. Kime sighed and pinched his nose as he turned to face Ingers. “You should not do such things, friend Ingers. It means you’re not in control of yourself.” Kim’s voice was like a schoolteacher chewing out a truant student. Ingers ducked his head guiltily as Kim continued. “This is intolerable. Apologize to them both, friend Ingers. Immediately.”

Ingers shivered and turned to benoit and Salila. “I am sorry for my actions. I am still not fully well. I do apologize.” The words came from his voice sounding like a large child, completely at odds with his previous self. Thompson watched the change. Ingers turned into a scared kid all because Kim said he was unhappy? That’s kind of creepy. “Hey, so what do we do now?”, Thompson said to no one in particular. Roels, Kim, and Salila turned their gazes to Thompson. Oh crud, now what? “What we do now, is hold a meeting, and air this problem”, Kim stated firmly. “We must talk amongst ourselves, and decide what can be done as a course of action.” “You do that, I will say Ingers will be working exclusively with me, where I can keep an eye on him.” Everyone turned to see Vyhovsky holding himself braced in the hatchway as he listened to the discussion.

Kim glared at Vyhovsky as the fragile goodwill well and truly shattered. Thompson could only watch, and wait, as a sense of impending change started to build. Vyhovsky looked at him, nodding slightly. Thompson knew he was looking for support in this latest political maneuver. Roels and Salila floated away from the table and tried to disappear along one wall. Ingers moved to block the exit, and the two huddled miserably back against the wall, reluctant witnesses to whatever might happen. Kim shook his head slowly. “Friend Eugeni, surely you must know that this mission is no longer valid. The world is gone, our families gone, and we have nothing but our desire to return home so that we may mourn in the ashes, and yet you decide that we must survive here, until all supplies run out, just so that the precious mission is completed?”

Vyhovsky snorted, barely holding in a bitter laugh. “You think this is all just for mission? You are fool. The only thing I try to make certain is that we can go home. To go home we need survive to go home. To survie, we need station in good order. That means we all must work.” He stared at Ingers, who returned the stare with a blank one of his own. Thompson’s view of Ingers didn’t allow him to see the man’s face, but he could tell that the big Swede’s body was taut, ready to move. God, don’t let it happen. Please, don’t let it happen. We can’t get in a fight over this. We need each other. Please, help us. Please help. Help me, God, please.

Vyhovsky remained in the doorway, watching Ingers like a man watches a coiled rattlesnake. “This is wrong, Kim. You know it’s wrong. Let it go and we’ll work things out”, Thompson said quietly. Both Kim and Vyhovsky turned their heads his direction, but neither took their attention off of one another. Thompson could feel his words bounce off of both of them like rain off a roof. Neither weas willing to listen. Neither was willing to give up their argument. “Friend, David”, Kim said neutrally, “This is something that must be changed. Our situation is beyond all human experience. So in that, we must ALL have a say. Even those who don’t want to.” Kim’s eyes flicked for a moment over Salila and Benoit, then returned to stare back at Vyhovsky.

Vyhovsky smiled, and Thompson could see that it never reached his eyes. He was reminded of old films where the villain would smile just before killing somone. The sense of building violence was thickening the air, oppressive and ominous. “We do not need your citizen committee, we do not need any committee. We will continue as we are, and we will survive until we have a way to escape this place.” “Ingers, you will meet with me in fifteen minutes. You and I will do systems check on hydroponics, and on computers systems. Then we will…” “No”, Ingers said. Vyhovsky blinked, then straightened holding himself rigid like the soldier he was. “Mr. Ingers. You misunderstand. That was not a request. That is an order as mission leader.”

Ingers looked over at Vyhovsky, biting his lip in indecision. Clearly he was unwilling to force the issue further. Thompson missed the signal between the Swede and Kim, but was certain there had been one to make Ingers stand against Vyhovsky’s directions. He watched Kim, who was in turn watching Ingers. Kim nodded, then said, “Friend Ingers said ‘no’. Is that something you do not understand?”, Kim asked with menace. “Or, friend Eugeni”. Kim growled, “Are you threatening violence to get your way?”

Vyhovsky gazed at Kim in disgust. “I am mission leader, our situation has not changed. We are still on this station. I will do what is necessary to make us all survive. There is no further discussion.” He looked back over to Ingers, his eyes hardening. “Koll, you will come with me”, he said in a voice that brooked no disobedience, “now.”

Ingers gaze swept back and forth from Kim to Vyhovsky, then back, and back again rapidly. Thompson could see his resolve starting to fray badly.

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.