The menace surrounded Ingers like a palpable aura. Even at his most contrite and gentle, Inges radiated violence. Barely caged violence. At the same time, Kim used Ingers as much as possible, banking on that intimidation to make his ‘democracy’ work. Thompson still hadn’t said anything about the docking ring and the Xian-Xi spacecraft. He was certain, somehow, that mentioning a way home would tip the fragile balance they had, and visions of Vyhovsky floating dead also kept him cautious and secretive. For whatever reason, he just could not get himself to reveal that.
Thompson floated back towards his room, and looked in on the communications station. Salila was there, along with a very attentive Ingers. Each movement she made, he almost mirrored exactly. It was a disturbing feeling Thompson had watching the unconscious dance. She kept shifting away, he kept closing the distance ever so subtly. A shift of motion as he floated, a slight twitch of a leg to change his facing. She was being subtly cornered at the station. “Hey Ingers?”, Thompson said, surprising himself. Ingers snapped out of whatever trance he’d been in, and gazed at Thompson with an almost thankful look. “He should be either taking a quick shower, or in bed”, Ingers answered quietly. Thompson nodded. “Okay. Think you’ll be ready to check the panel attitude systems tonight? We’ve missed that check a few times now.” Ingers eyes further cleared as he put his mind to the problem. Thompson thought he was losing himself again as he didn’t answer for nearly a minute. Salila, shifted back to the far side of him, and started checking the system as she’d been shown while Ingers floated in the center of the room, anchored by one hand. “Yes, I can do that”, He finally said.
“Good, I’ll help you button up for EVA. Think around nineteen hundred hours?” Ingers nodded, and it seemed the old Ingers peeked out from his eyes. “Yes, that will work.” “Good”, Thompson said again. “I’ll see you at the airlock then.” He started to turn, then turned back. “Salila, Ms Shukla? Could you look in on Roels and re-bind those ribs of his? I’d do it but after six hours EVA I don’t want to take a chance on screwing it up.” Slalila looked up with thanks in her eyes as she launched past both Ingers and Thompson, through the hatch, and was gone up the tube towards Roels cube. Ingers looked as if he was going to follow, when Thompson spoke up. “Want me to help you with the channel search? It’s been a while since I’ve pulled duty here, the refresher course would do me good.” Ingers nodded, and then begain talking Thompson through the system.
Four hours later, Tbhompson had just gone to bed when there was a sharp vibration that set the station groaning from stress. Thompson was out of his netting, and scrambled to the camera station, flipping through the cameras one at a time to try and find the source of the sound. The fifth cameera showed the cause. The last three panels on the section they’d just shut down were torn away, the wreckage that impacted the panels, and the panels themselves were nowhere to be seen. Ingers bounced into him from behind. “What’s happened?”, he asked anxiously. “Panels got hit. Maybe a metorite, maybe space junk”, Thompson replied. He felt his shoulders tense as the camera displayed the damage.
“We have good news and bad news”, he said. “The good news is that panel was the one we just shut down, so it’s empty of ammonia. We didn’t lose anything.” He paused taking a breath. “The bad news, look at how the panel’s damage is. I think the station itself may have gotten tagged. We need to EVA and check it out. There isn’t a camera that can check that edge.” He looked back to Ingers, who for the moment, seemed totally focused. “I’ll go. I can run the camera and snap some images. We can make plans. I want to check the antenna also. All the data inside says it’s normal, I want to check it outside and be certain.” Thompson shrugged, then said to Ingers, “You have my proxy for ‘vote’. Let’s get you buttoned up.” Kim, Roels, and Salila showed as the two started for the hatchway.
“What happened?”, Kim asked them. Thompson listened to Ingers sketch out the situation. He sounds so normal fright now. What’s going on in his head? Thompson listened as Kim polled a quick vote from the others, and got a unanimous decision. Nothing like catastrophe to make us all pull together. Geez, what a world. His attention came up as something in Ingers speech started alarm bells. “Maybe I should take friend Benoit with me to look check for damage.” Benoit looked surprised by the request, and looked over to Thompson. No buddy, don’t go. Tell’em your ribs aren’t healed. Thompson shook his head minutely, hoping Roels caught his concern. Roels turned to look at Salila, who was hanging back from the knot of men, clearly staying well away from Ingers.
“I think I have to decline”, Roels told Kim and Ingers. “It still hurts to twist and breathe. I don’t feel ready for an EVA.” He looked to Kim, who nodded slightly, then to Ingers, whose brows had furrowed down. He looked suddenly like a preadator whose prey had wisely moved out of range. Oh crap, what was he going to do? Ingers, what the hell are you thinking? “I will go with you, friend Ingers”, Kim said. “We all must, ‘step up’, as our friends say. Only in full cooperation can we survive.” Thompson’s teeth clenched at the blatantly political tone. Vyhovsky said the same thing, you ass. He focused, relaxing his features, and damping his anger before he looked up at the others. “That sounds like a plan to me”, he agreed.