Copyright © 2017
by Nathan M. Hurst
His spin was languid and mostly about his vertical axis, head to foot. The stars entered his view from the left and slowly made their way across his vision making an exit to his right, then the station returned. The day had not started this way, but in that moment he could not see it getting any better. Finding yourself thrown clear of the station this far into space was not an ideal situation, some would argue that it was not something you did at all. The chances of him being picked up were reasonably high, Control would have his coordinates and trajectory. The chances of him being alive when they did was inversely proportional. And what if the boat got to him in time, what then?
The morning had started much as every other day on Station 06. As part of AstrIID, the Asteroid Integrated Interior Defence network, they were tasked with continuously monitoring the millions of orbiting asteroids, meteors and space debris of a defined size as to be a potentially critical issue for Earth if somehow directed their way. They were equally scanning deep space to identify yet unknown massive intruders into the neighbourhood. Sipping his coffee and looking out into the vast he had been ready for another day of tedium, the view was as beautiful as ever.
The hatch behind him opened and Dennet floated in, “What’s news?” he asked. Every shift, the first two words Dennet ever said. What’s news? Today he didn’t bother even answering, he simply pointed at the view through the observation window of the command deck. Looking out into the star field Dennet took a moment to gauge what he meant, then shrugged and kicked off towards the drinks dispenser. “That exciting, huh?”
“You know, Control have cut the budget again,” he finally said as he scrolled through the morning report.
“Those assholes. What have they hit this time? The air budget?” Dennet said in disgust as he manoeuvred into his couch and locked the restraints with one hand.
“Man, not the coffee again!” It was not what he had meant, Groceries basically covered all sustainables, food mainly, but coffee was the only thing any of them seemed to worry about. Control may as well have just called Groceries ‘Coffee’ and been done with it. “You know I’m going to be drinking my own piss before the end of the year.”
“Technically, you already are.”
“Thought I recognised the tang,” Dennet replied taking a long draw on the coffee bulb and faking a satisfied sigh once he was done.
He shook his head and tried to hide a smirk.
“In other news, we have a drop out in the Alpha circuit again. That’s the third time this month.” He punched up the schematic to the screen and started to run through the diagnostic. “Yep. It’s the primary gain amplifier again. It’s got to be something overloading the main power bar in that section.”
“It’s going to need an EVA,” Dennet stated. “The main spar monotram ride to the receiver unit on dish one is a nice trek.”
He couldn’t believe it, “Is it my turn again? I’m sure it’s not my turn.” Life was dangerous enough on the fringe of the asteroid belt without jumping in a suit and dancing around outside.
“Well it’s either that or you let Control know there’s a big bit of sky out there we’re not able to see at the moment.”
Shit. He hated those conversations with Control. It would launch them into lengthy speeches about efficiencies and optimisation of personal time management. They would harp on about how low levels of repeated maintenance were preventative and better than fixing bigger problems later down the line.
“Okay, okay. You have the conversation, I’ll go for a walk.” Slouching into his seat he took up his drinks sachet. “Coffee first.”
Making his way to the airlock had been peaceful enough, only his thoughts interrupting the silence of the corridor. The Alpha circuit outage had started to play on his mind. Twice was a coincidence, three times was suspicious. He pushed the thought to one side. Neither of them were incompetent, and every fix was scrutinised by various parties. There was even post operation analysis by Control to determine whether errors had been made. Both prior fixes had been signed off. All had been working well. He was beginning to think the issue was more a symptom of some other problem. Tracking that down might be tricky. He decided he’d drop the hint to the engineering team at Control and get some bigger brains working on the issue.
He suited up.
“Fuller,” Dennet chirped in his ear via the EVA suit comms. “You on site yet?”
“Almost. 30 seconds.” he replied.
The exterior of the station was vast, a kilometre across with the overall shape of a bicycle wheel in space. Of course it was mostly latticed framework with smaller antenna, dishes and visual spectrum telescopes dotted around at regular intervals, each adding to an array which gave a composite image of the whole. The axel, or hub of the wheel was the central living space for the crew, of which there were ten. It was also the primary housing for four nuclear missiles and several dozen smaller missiles with regular high explosive, grappling, or retro-rocket payloads. They were low on retro-rockets, their last encounter had taken more than calculated as a couple of missiles missed their mark and exploded short of their objective. The supply craft was four days away, it wouldn’t be long before the next resupply.
His monotram came to a stop next to a panel with Alpha Section stencilled in large black lettering. He clipped his safety line to the nearest guide rail and then unhooked from the tram. With practiced ease he pushed himself off from the seat and gripped the guide rail. Hand over hand he made his way to the access panel, a keypad to the side blinked with an orange indicator light. He punched in the code, and the access panel slid open without sound.
“Okay, Dennet. The panel is open ready to start the exchange procedure.”
“Not today. We have a new instruction from Control. They want a thorough on-site inspection before we swap the unit out.”
“But we’ve already done that,” he complained. “Twice.”
“And each unit we’ve recovered has turned out to be as perfect as it went in.”
“So, I hope they have a better idea of what the issue is than we have.”
There was a short delay on the comm while Dennet appeared to be speaking on another channel, “Nope. That’s why they want the inspection.” Dennet clearly picked up on his frustration. “I hope you didn’t have a date or anything. This could take a while.”
“What, with my social calendar? You’re lucky I’m here at all.”
“Well, Casanova, lets get started. Circuit A-A-487.”
He could do nothing but put his thoughts of an imaginary night in Vegas on hold. He pushed the thoughts away and started searching for the required circuit.
“A-A-487,” he repeated as he found it. Sliding the panel from its rack he connected his tester module, it scrolled through several test sequences. “Check,” he echoed as the result was flashed to him via the module screen. He slid the circuit back into place. Man, this was going to take hours.
“Circuit A-A-522,” Dennet stated.
“A-A-522,” he parroted, repeating the same process again, this time with a circuit in a slightly different location. Visually inspected and manually tested it checked out. “Check,” he reported.
Something, a flash of light, small, like a pinprick, hovered in his vision. It was different to the normal background lights he would see. Cosmic background radiation sporadically flicked through space farers vision as it danced its way through the universe. This was something more, a motile of light moving in a more controlled fashion. Towards him.
“Dennet,” he said, a quizzical concern present in his voice. “Are you seeing this?”
Another, and another soft ball of light slowly started to make a path from the circuit access panel towards him. He swatted at the space in front of him, the lights disappeared. He felt somewhat foolish. He was seeing things, or his imagination was in overdrive.
“Oh, nothing. What’s the next circuit?”
“A-D-001,” he responded, and reached for the appropriate circuit.
As he pulled the circuit board from its rack the board seemed to glow with a bio-luminescent blue, a low light covering the entire board. He reached forward to try and touch the board to make sense of what he was seeing, but it seemed to illicit a reaction. The light became bright and dispersed into a bright cloud around his EVA gauntlet.
“Now, I can see that!” came the voice over the comm. Dennet was alarmed. “What’s going on Fuller?”
He backed away from access panel shaking his hand like a swarm of bees had just escaped their hive. Nothing he did seemed to avert the swarm, but equally his suit seemed to be keeping the motiles out.
“Dennet,” he said, his voice now slightly laboured. “What the hell is this?”
There was another sound in the background on the comm, a proximity warning. A second later it was in his suit comm too. “I don’t know, but we’ve got bigger problems.”
“How can a problem be bigger than this?” he exclaimed, still shaking his hand and starting to thrash around as the light began to move to envelope his lower arm.
“We’ve got a Torino 9 headed inbound,” Dennet’s voice was suddenly calm, cool in the face of a horrific threat. A Torino 9 classified asteroid was one certain to strike Earth and capable of causing unprecedented regional devastation. It wasn’t quite a planet killer, but it would alter the fabric of civilization and humanity would be struggling to survive from the moment of impact.
The lights slowly swarming his body seemed to hold little concern for his efforts to remove them, he tired rubbing them away with his other hand but it only transferred the issue to his other gauntlet. His only thought was to get back to the command deck.
“I’m coming back in,” he stated over the comm as he buckled himself back into the monotram and started his way back to the hub.
“Like hell you are,” stated Dennet. “You need to go through decontamination. I don’t know what you’ve come into contact with, but it’s not coming into general population.”
Bay doors began to open along the hub, revealing racks of missiles. Dennet had implemented the targeting and intercept protocols.
He could hardly think as the motiles of light finally began to climb his chest and envelope his helmet. His mind became gridlocked with the thousands of thoughts which seemed to all demand attention at the same time.
As he stared into the black in the direction of the asteroid field, a large object traced by. It was huge and it was close. For him to be able to discern surface detail meant it was close and enormous, it gave him further concern, to be this close to a massive asteroid coming from the direction of the asteroid belt meant trailing debris. The station was in severe danger.
“Dennet, the debris field!”
“I know,” came the swift reply. “Launching now.”
It was the actions of a doomed commander. He knew this was the last throw of the dice. There was nothing he could do other than release his entire battery of nukes at it and hope something made a difference. Realistically, he knew it would not.
The missiles streaked from their launch tubes on spikes of fire, arching on a trajectory towards the path of the asteroid.
Moments later the first trailing debris struck the station, he felt the vibration through the seat of the monotram. A motile of light flickered in his vision. He thought the motile was outside his suit until his breath diverted it from its path, huffing it around the inside of his helmet like a dandelion seed on the breeze.
“Dennet, you need to evacuate. Get out of there!”
“No time.” Came the response. “Interceptor impact in ten seconds.”
As he heard Dennet counting off the seconds until the missiles deployed their grappling systems or detonated in an attempt to divert the asteroid, he saw the luminescent motiles cover the last of his visor. He was now not blind specifically, but certainly he couldn’t see through to observe space beyond. All he could hear was Dennet’s updates to intercept.
He felt the monotram come to a stop. He began to try and feel his way back to the airlock. Doing everything by touch in the white-out vision he now experienced was incredibly difficult, especially with the poor manipulation he had in his gauntlets. He couldn’t feel a thing. He tried to latch his tether to the guide rail. He missed.
As he attempted to try and tether himself again the structure of the station seemed to shift wildly and he was struck by something hard and big. It jarred him from his location and suddenly he was yanked by the safety tether attached to the monotram, winding him and almost folding him in half. The violence of the incident made him yell out involuntarily, less a scream more a yelp of surprise. The fact he was unable to see gave him even more of a sense of anxiety. He was spinning and tumbling, he knew that much. The tether tugged him again but this time less violently, the tumble orientation changed again.
“Dennet, what’s happened? I think there was an explosion. My tether has failed. I’m drifting free of the station. Can you confirm?”
The white glow of motiles in his view began to shine with more intensity and within moments he had to close his eyes against the glare.
“Dennet, I can’t see!” He called out alarmed. “What’s happening to me?”
Dennet did not respond. He should have responded. How could he not have his location by now? There could simply be too much going on, but he could at least tell him where he was.
“Fuller,” there was further pause and brief static.
A searing white pain covered his body in the briefest second rendering him insensible. He convulsed and thrashed in his suit, the lightening coursing through his body flared and arced across his mind. For a moment he thought he saw planets and long distant orbital systems, stars, with a noise of voices which was like a wall of sound. Then in an instant he was silent. The motile light show had gone, he could see the stars again.
He span in space, slowly and with a slight tumble to his rotation, a jolt from his safety tether reminded him he was still anchored to something. He grabbed the tether and reeled himself back to the monotram. There was little left of the monotram and it certainly wasn’t attached to the station anymore. The station itself was devastated, huge holes punched in the central hub habitat and several bodies floating in amongst the station debris. He saw the command deck and observation window, it had taken a hit.
“Dennet, do you copy?” He called across the comms. There was nothing to hear other than the thumping of his own pulse in his ears.
No! Suddenly consumed with the need to help anyone he could, he unlinked the safety tether and grabbed the seat of the floating junk that was once the monotram. Holding onto the frame of the tram he squat against it, legs coiled like springs for what he planned to be a measured traverse across to the command deck. Waiting for the rotation of the tram to line up he tried to gauge the power he would need to apply.
Pushing off he knew instantly he’d got it wrong. It wasn’t that he’d given too much power, the force he had used was about right, the tram gently floating off in the opposite direction as he made his way towards the habitat hub. The problem was that he’d missed. He had pushed off too soon, his trajectory would now take him passed the command deck and into the endless vast expanse of space.
In a sickening moment the realisation caught him. His heart almost stopped in his chest as an ice cold feeling flooded his body. He had just killed himself. In a moment of unthinking overconfidence he had thrown life away. All the best altruistic intentions had been there, only the execution had been poor and because of that he would now be destined to languish horribly in the cold of space until his air ran out.
At least he would be joining the others. The team on the station had clearly perished. He could raise none of them on the comms. And for letting through an asteroid which would cause untold billions of deaths on Earth, it was probably no more than he deserved.
The command deck got closer, he could see through to the interior and saw Dennet still strapped to his chair. His expression was calm and his eyes distant. The laminated alumina-polymerloid observation panels had been torn out in a couple of places and the atmosphere inside was gone. He touched the bent and buckled frame still focussed on Dennet’s lifeless form and pushed through the window space into the room.
Some systems were still on, many sections of the control deck were dead, lights no longer flashing, displays just black screens. He looked at Dennet and touched his shoulder, bowing his head in sadness and despair. It had all happened so fast.
Something made his brain stop. His thoughts backed up.
His eyes snapped open and he looked at Dennet’s form again, then around the command deck. He was on the command deck. How the hell had that happened? He’d missed his jump. He should be floating off into space right now dying a horrible agonising death. Instead he was stood on the command deck.
He was stood on the command deck? There was no gravity on the command deck. His mind began to race. His scientific brain in trying to apply it’s logic to the situation was failing horribly. Physics appeared to be broken.
A flashing alert on the command console caught his eye, his training kicked in and without thinking his hand tapped over the keyboard. Dannet’s display changed and the progress of a smaller rock appeared, more debris from the wake of the primary asteroid. The track of its path directly intersected the habitat hub. There was no way he was going to escape in time. And escape to where?
Something inside him urged him on, it was like the usual voice inside his head, his normal internal monologue, but this time it didn’t sound quite like him. This time it was more like a chorus of voices, but they were urging him to do the impossible. He found himself compelled to respond.
Making his way over to the buckled window frame, he climbed back out of the command deck to stand on the station structure. Scanning the heavens he identified the location of the incoming meteorite and without thinking leapt at it. He travelled several kilometres in a matter of seconds and the combined impact was immense. He didn’t relent, pushing hard against the momentum of the rock, straining every sinew to slow and stop the rock. Gasping for breath at the end of its travel he opened his eyes. The meteorite, some 200 metres in diameter, was stationary about 50 meters from Station-06.
The chorus in his mind sang. It was a song of triumph and jubilation. A joy overwhelmed him which he could not explain, it felt like the best adrenaline kick, the greatest rush he had ever experienced. It was all too much to process, his mind didn’t know which way to turn. And then it did.
How he could suddenly do what he just had conflicted him, he was a scientist and none of what was happening made any sense to him. But the practical effects were undeniable, he had witnessed that first hand. His own hand. His mind focussed on the asteroid heading towards Earth, he could stop it. If he couldn’t stop it he would divert it.
There had been enough death today, he had lost some good friends. He was not going to lose his home or his people too.
At the speed of thought he began to pursue the Earthbound asteroid. Today would not be the end of days.