A World’s Eye View – 6

He uncurled from the ergo chair, then faced the small group. “I think we’re all tired. I think we need some rest before we go try and vote on anything. Right now we’ve been run ragged from everything that’s happened and no one has had time to deal with any of it.” He turned to Kim. “That’s what I think, now I’m going to bed. See you in the morning.”

He didn’t wait for Kim or Vyhovsky to say anything more, kicking away from the ergo chair and gliding to the hatchway leading back towards the lab and crew quarters. Sleeping on this is the best thing we could do. Thompson did his best to ignore Kim’s shouts as he left.

Thompson unzipped from the hammock bag in the morning, and dressed, then headed to the galley, only to find the chairs and tables scattered as if thrown in a tantrum. All had magnetized ‘feet’ so they would stick in any direction, which made the whole scene look vaguely like an M.C. Escher painting with chairs on every wall. The table leaned at a 45 degrees, with legs on a wall and on the ceiling. He sighed and started to move the furniture back into some semblance of normalcy when Roels floated in.

“You missed all the fun”, he said quietly. Thompson looked over. Roels looked similar to Vyhovsky, with large circles under his eyes, and a listless demeanor of the sleep-deprived.

“This doesn’t look llike it was much fun”, he replied drily. “This looks more like a spoiled kid with a temper tantrum.” Roels chuckled quietly.

“Maybe it was. Mr. Kim is certainly animated when he gets passionate about something.”

Well, what happened?”, Thomspon asked. Roels shrugged.

“Kim got his vote. Salila voted yes, I voted yes, you abstained by leaving Vyhovsky voted no, and with Ingers still sitting in catatonia, we had no reason not to vote yes. Vyhovsky looked like he was relieved. I think he’s waiting for Kim to screw it up. I’m half waiting. The whole reason I voted yes was to shut him up and let him dig his own hole with all the ‘democratic vote’. We’ll be voting on everything, I suppose. Vote on how many showers, how much activity, who does what job on what day.”

Thompson rolled his eyes. He floated over to the table, then hooked his legs into an ergo chair, and settled facing Roels. “So Eugeni just, let, Kim get the vote?”, Thompson asked him. Roels grimaced, and shrugged.

“That’s my opinion. Salila voted for it because I think she’s looking to fit in.” Roels ducked his head sheepishly, and continued. “She’s been spending a lot of time talking with me when I’m not on schedule.” Thompson smiled.

“Sounds like more than talk, Ben.” He chuckled softly as Roels blushed crimson.

“We’ve been talking. Just talking”, he mumbled.

“You sound pretty defensive about just talk”, Thompson teased.

“I can’t help it if it sounds that way. She’s an amazing person. How many people do you know who would come up here to promote a movie stunt?”, Roels mumbled.

“Well, there was that computer game exec what, about five, six years back? He payed his whole ticket himself to come up here. Lord something or other”, Thompson replied.

Okay so not so good example. She came up here because the company she works for wanted to promote the movie, and she did it”, Roels growled. “Talk about a lousy mess. How much karma, do you wonder, gets you marooned as the only woman with no scientific skills, on the International Orbital, with astronauts whose very existence requires science knowledge and engineering skills?” Thompson thought about it, and nodded.

“Yeah, talk about being out of place. Gotta be rough.” Roels shrugged.

“That’s most of what we’re talking about. She’s tough though. She’s got me teaching her about the equipment and duties. She wants to help out and ‘earn’ her way”, Roels told him. He looked down and Thompson could feel a shift in Benoit.

“How are you with it Roels? Really.” Roels looked over, a haunted expression in his eyes.

I’m concerned, for her welfare. A gorgeous woman aboard confined mini-home with horny men. Myself included”, Roels finished with a self-righteous air.

“Humble much?”, Thompson replied drily.

“When humbleness is required, of course”, Roels said with a smile. The smile vanished like magic. “This however, is nothing but misery. We need hope. Any kind of hope.” Thompson leaned back and let his legs uncurl from the chair.

“Everything here is set up to be efficient, and redundant. Our two main bottlenecks are ammonia reserve, and food”, Thompson said slowly. “And god knows what we’re going to do if Ingers doesn’t snap out of it.”

Roels nodded. “That bothers me quite a bit. On one hand, he is one of us, and we are morally obligated to give him every chance to snap out of the catatonia. On the other, pragmatic hand, we have finite supplies and he is a resource sink that will be harder and harder to justify the longer he remains catatonic.”

Thompson nodded. “There’s no clear answer at all right now. And, how much can we spare the time to tend to him?”

Roels sighed, sliding his hand down his face. “For the present, we can only do what we can, and trust to providence.”

The silence between them made Thompson restless. “I’m going to go do a visual check of the panels from the video station. There’ haven’t been any alarms, saying we’re losing ammonia, but that EMP might have messed with the pressure sensors with the way they’re exposed. Better safe than sorry, up here.”

Roels nodded. “I agree. I think a systems check would be a reasonable precaution.” He looked over at the hatchway. Thompson’s gaze followed and he felt his pulse quicken as Salila Shukla floated into the room. She stopped her momentum by slkowly rotating her feet forward and using them as a shock absorber, her legs bending as they touched the handbar on the floor next to the anchored table. Thompson swallowed dryly as she turned to face Roels.

“Good day Ms Shukla”, Roels said as he partly straightened and bowed at the waist, feet hooked on the chair he’d just vacated. Salila smiled and bowed politely to Roels.

“Thank you. Is there any breakfast?”, she said quietly, eyes cast downwards.

Roels unhooked his toes, and gave himeslf a light push. He floated to the cabinet, and pulled out a sealed tray.

“This says, two peeled hard-boiled eggs, one juice tube, one one thousand calorie energy bar, raspberry flavored.” Salila smiled and took the proffered tray, then set it on the table, the magnetized surface holding the tray firmly in place as she opened the leftmost compartment, and removed the power bar. She took a bite, then chewed. She streuggled to swallow it, and managed.

“It is good, Mr. Roels…Benoit. Thank you”, she said, taking another bite.

Thompson excused himself, feeling very awkward in close proximity to her. He launched himself out the hatchway, and towards the video station, to begin his visual sweep of the panels. As he slowed to take the corner, he could hear someone talking softly. The voice seemed to originate from Ingers room. He slowed his momentum and snagged a handhold at the entry, and looked in. He saw Kim, talking softly to the still catatonic Ingers. Kim was reading from one of the Kindles that the station had for books, and coordinating work. His quiet voice working in a sing-cong cadence as he read to Ingers.

He watched the back of his friend shift as he resettled his foot hold and continued to read out loud. I don’t know if what Kim’s doing is going to work. I’ve heard that voices can seem to pull people out of comas on occasion, but Koll? He’s lost more than the rest of us. He’s got children and a wife back home. It had to be more than he could stand, knowing even if they did survive, he couldn’t help them at all. What piece of crappy luck. The dark musings expanded as he listened to kim’s droning, and it seemed to pull him into the cadance, his heart seemed to want to shift and synchronize with Kim’s voice, beating to the unidentified syllables.

How do we even go on? My fiance’ is gone, Roels ex-wives, Vhovsky’s brother and parents, my god how are we going to live, why should we live? It’s all a joke, a fucking joke! It’s… he shook his head and shuddered as he fought back out of the morbid morass of thought. Quit whining, David. Get your act together. We have to pull through so we can get home. We can’t give up, not now, not ever. His hand clenched reflexively, determination settling into his muscles as he pulled himself silently away from the doorway and towards the video room.

A World’s Eye View – 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World’s Eye View – 4

CHAPTER 2

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

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

Vyhovsky ran a hand along his hair, weighing options.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World’s Eye View – 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attitude and altitude green!”, Vyhovsky yelled.

Docking is red!”, Kim said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World’s Eye View – 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle and lower middle?”, Thompson asked her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A World’s Eye View – 1

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

Entry 1:

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

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

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

Six hours ago…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redleg part 3

The gin was his way of hiding from the world, and Archie very much wanted to hide. He wanted to hide from his memories, from the nightmares, and from the ‘concerned citizens’ that attempted to make his life better by telling the things he should do for himself. He often thought of asking them why in god’s name did they think he could do those things? If he was capable, he wouldn’t be in this absolute craphole now would he?

Instead of screaming, he would duck his head, nod at the right moments, and then move on as soon as the person wound down. No use sticking around to hear everything again. He ran a hand across the stubble on his face, grumbling yet again about having to see his haunted eyes in the mirror. He trudged the ten steps to the bathroom, with it’s toilet and leaky stand-in-the-corner shower. He didn’t look up, not wanting to acknowledge his own reflection.

He reached over to pick up the razor, and stopped. He lowered his hand, and in a fit of courage, raised his head. His reflection stared accusingly back at him. The sunken eyes bruised all the way around from lack of sleep.

The more he stared, the more angry and despairing he became. His rage beat impotently on his brain until the pain of it all closed his eyes and forced his arms around his body, trying to stem the self recrimination. He had lived, his buddies hadn’t. He lost a leg, and they lost their lives. How in all creation was that fair?!

In a fit of blind, screaming despair, he threw his clothes on in a frenzy of activity, pulled his one boot on, and stumbled out the door, leaving it unlocked as he kept his hand jammed in his pocket where the 9mm pistol sat, lethal and crying to be used. He panned on answering those cries, the ones in his head that he couldn’t stand any more. The eyes of his squad, the one he had been responsible for, and failed.

It was time to make the voices go away. He turned east on Granville street, and began walking, head down, hurrying away from the emptiness he’d tried to live with. Granville arced to the northeast, and eventually crossed a rail line. This was what Archie had been looking for since he’d woken up. He had a purpose, he had a plan. He was on the way to execute that plan, follow through, where so many things he’d started never had.

He turned onto the rails; two shiny silver ribbons on top of blackish brown wood. The track went east, then angled slightly north of east, cutting a straight line through the dense green and over the soft earth. It was easy to walk, and he did it, his mind focused on silencing the yammering in his brain, and getting the guilt of living off of him.

It was hours before he slowed and took a look about him. He’d gone close on to evening. The sun was a swollen yellow-orange tick just above the trees when he finally halted walking. He wondered if his place had been stripped yet. Art shrugged, it didn’t matter any more, it was a part of his life, just like the rest he was going to get rid of.

The crickets, frogs, and alligators offered their voices to the fast-coming night. It was nothing like Afghanistan. There jackals might yip or yodel at night, but mostly it was the unceasing wind that ran icy fingers into his clothing, and had him burrowing into his cot when he wasn’t part of a patrol.

The Deep End

Here is the star of a new Glass Bottles related short story.  It stars Dean Youngwood from book III as the main character, and details the heroic rescue that cemented his reputation as a hero.

Welcome to ‘The Deep End’

“Hey Dean, how did the test go?” Carny Weston walked over to Dean Youngwood, giving him a fist bump as a greeting, and falling in next to him as Dean walked to his car. The sidewalk was full of pedestrians in a hurry to get lunch. The noon whistle had blown only a minute before Dean had exited Precinct Four after taking his test. He’d come dressed for the weather, and Dean was thankful for his bit of preparation. The snow was coming down thick and slushy, sticking to anything it landed on. The weather station had promised wet snow and the station had got it right. Dean smiled at Carny a little wistfully, then stuck his hands in his jacket pockets.

“You know, I think I did pretty good. But…,” he paused and Carny’s face fell. His blonde beard was already festooned with fat flakes that were threatening to turn his whiskers into an ice sculpture. Carny’s blue and black checked hunting jacket was doing much better, the snow giving Carny the look of a man with a completely out of control dandruff problem. His shoulder length blonde hair combined with his beard made him look like a modern viking.

Dean by contrast to Carny’s appearance, had short black hair irregularly cut, a testament to ‘don’t do this at home in a mirror’, and dark brown eyes that almost looked black. He’d put on weight since his days in the Canadian Air Force, and had a slight gut. His swarthy skin made him look piratical, but in fact Dean was a full-blooded Cree. He wore a pair of thick blue denim work pants, and a matching blue coat to protect him from the cold. His last name, Youngwood, was his adopted parents name. He chose it for his own despite some protests by fellow Cree.

“Aw man that s…,” Carny started to say, but Dean pulled a piece of yellow paper out of his jean pocket and held it in front of Carny’s nose.

“I think they believed so too, because they gave me this little piece of paper.” Dean smiled as Carny whooped and enveloped him in a bear hug.

“Way to go, man! Way. To. Go!”

He ceased hollering as people around them stopped and stared at the exuberant spectacle. Carny put Dean back on the ground and the two continued their walk back towards Carny’s pickup. When they reached the battered green truck, Dean glanced at Carny as he opend the passenger door, “How about lunch on me? I passed the exam, I think we should celebrate at ‘The Shake Shack’. I haven’t had a artery-clogging hamburger and fries for a couple weeks.”

Carny laughed, and opened the driver’s door.

“Sounds great! how ’bout we sop by Tim Horton’s afterwards to get a coffee and donut as dessert?”

Dean grimaced. “I’d love to, but I think I’ll pass on that. I can only handle so much decadence.”

“Wimp.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“Dammit, it’s no fun if you don’t insult back. Where do you get off being agreeable?”

“The same place you get off by trying to start something.”

Carny laughed again and pressed the start button on the dashboard. The vehicle rumbled as the engine refused to start, then caught with a roar. Dean settled back in his seat as Carny wheeled the vehicle out of the parking lot, and into lunch-hour traffic.

While they slowly worked their way towards their destination, Carny asked Dean, “So where are you going to hang your shingle?”

Dean stared forward out the windshiled, watching the fat flakes of snow descend on the barely moving vehicles.

“I was thinking up around Shannon Park. The place is old and poor, but a lot of decent sorts there. I could probably get by.”

Carny looked over at Dean as though Dean had sprouted a second head.

“You’re nuts, you know that? I understand wanting to help people, but first you gotta get on your own feet. helping people is good, but if you can’t keep a roof over your head, how you conna help someone else?”

Dean shrugged, then looked over at Carny.

“You blew big holes in that idea. Yeah, I’d like to help out that way. Lots of folks could use a little help to solve problems. Hell, maybe solving the problems would fix something.” He sighed and turned back to watch the traffic in front of them. “But you’re right. If I can’t keep a place open, I don’t do anyone any good.” He turned his head towards Carny again. “So what would be your plan?”

Carny shrugged, then replied, “What about joining a detective agency for a bit. Get a name, take care of a few cases. Hunt down a few bail jumpers. Whatever. An agency would get your feet wet for a regular paycheck, and getcha experience without worrying about rent.”

Dean listened quietly. The traffic began moving once more and the two lapsed into silence for the three minute drive over to ‘The Shake Shack’.

After thy sat down with their food, Dean took a bite out of his burger.

“You’re angling for me to work with your cousin, aren’t you?”

Carny smiled and took a hefty swig from the straw in his drink.

“See? That’s why you’re the detective. You can figure things out.”

Dean shook his head. “I know you think your cousin’s a good guy, Carny, but I’m not sure he’d be the best one to work for starting out. I mean, he’s a skip-tracer, not a private investigator.”

“That’s why he’s perfect to work with. He’s been there, done that, and can give you pointers into how to use your newfound legal license the best way possible. It’s a steady paycheck, and you help by getting bad people off the streets.”

“And I have to track down people who’s only crime was that they can’t pay on their car, and I have to take it away, and they lost their job because they can’t get to work to pay bills and help their families.”

Carny’s face drooped. Dean figured he’d tried to be helpful. Carny was always trying to look out for friends. He and Dean had spent a hitch in the Canadian Air Force for four years as mechanics working on the old F-22 Raptors that had survived The Change. They’d gotten along and worked well together. Then became in-laws when Carny had married Dean’s adopted sister Carol. in the three years they’d been married, Carol had two pairs of twins. The first pair were girls, and the second were boys.

Dean shook his head. then took another bite from the burger.

“Say I join your cousin, do you get anything for referring me?”

“No, I just thought he’d be a good place to start.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. I’ll go see him. No promises. I’m still not certain that I want to do this, but you’re right, I have to start somewhere.”

“Cool! I’ll drive you…”

“Ease up Carny, I’ll drive over this afternoon. You need to get back to work, Carol’s probably going crazy with four crazed munchkins running around.”

Carny set his drink down and grabbed at his potato wedges, stuffing two in his mouth. he chewed, then swallowed.

“She probably is, eh? Carol’s a great mom. Though she’s got a temper.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, you would too with four kids in diapers and needing constant supervision. I bet she’s exhausted by the time you get home.”

“Yeah, she is.” He turned to look at Dean. “Speaking of that, wanna come by and spend time with your nieces and nephews? I could take Carol out on the town, maybe a movie, eh?”

Dean chuckled. “Okay, okay. I get it. When do you want me by?”

“How about five-thirty? I’ll be home by then and you can show up. the kids’ll love seeing you.”

“Yeah, I bet. My back’s still sore from the last time they loved seeing me.”

Carny chuckled and finished off the last potato wedge.

“You adore them as much as they adore you. Admit it for once.”

Dean shrugged, smiling. “What, and ruin a streak?”