Flash

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


An accident in space. Can he be saved?

Submitted: February 02, 2018

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Submitted: February 02, 2018

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Lee McNulty was exhausted. Exhaustion leads to mistakes. Mistakes can lead to death; especially in the most dangerous environment man has ever trespassed on. McNulty and his crew of welders had been employed for the construction of Earth's first starship. It was being put together piece by piece in a low orbit around the Earth. They were pushing to meet the completion deadline. The last month, they had been working shifts of eight hours on and four hours off. McNulty was coming to the end of his shift. Things were looking good. If they could keep up the pace for another two weeks, they would actually finish ahead of schedule and manage to collect a huge bonus. He would be able to take Mary and the kids on a long holiday. Something he had been promising for many years.

 

"Just one more job love. After this one, we'll be sitting pretty and we can afford to go anywhere you like."

 

She would always give him a disbelieving look, but hold her peace.

 

The final weld of the day was giving him trouble. To reach it, he had to disconnect his safety line and "worm" his way partially into the hull of the ship. McNulty knew that if his supervisor caught him doing this, he would be docked a week's pay. This was a cardinal sin. One must be secured at all times; but McNulty was tired. He just wanted to finish this and head back to his sleeping quarters. The section he was working on required him to place a steel plate over several hydraulic and oxygen lines on a completed, internal portion of the ship. It only takes one mistake. The flame of the torch sliced through one of the lines, causing a massive explosion of flame and force which catapulted him at speed out and away towards the Earth.

###

 

"What was that?" The cry came from Steve Barnes, the shift supervisor.

The explosion could be felt reverberating throughout the whole of the ship, preceding the klaxons by micro seconds. People scurried around him as they attended to the various instruments, dials and readouts.

"It seems to be a breach near the Medical Center, but from the exterior of the ship," one voice offered. “No report of any injury within the ship, but construction was underway outside." The voice was silent for a moment, as he continued checking.

” We have indications of an object moving away from the ship. I think it's a suit." The voice trailed off into nothing as the realization of what he had just said, sunk in.

Barnes, a thirty something, rangy six-footer with piercing blue eyes and premature graying hair, swung his chair to face that of the Communications Officer.

"Can you get through to who ever's out there?" His voice was steady. "Put me through to his frequency." He took a moment to compose himself.

 

"This is Steve Barnes, please acknowledge." A silence, as all ears within the room strained to pick up the slightest sound.

"This is Steve Barnes; acknowledge." Desperation was starting to creep into his voice. For a third time his voice reached out....

A long drawn out groan, issued forth from the speakers.

The men in the control room collectively released their breath.

 

####

McNulty could hear an insistent buzz coming from his ear communicator as consciousness returned. The sounds that were bouncing around inside his skull were finally making sense to his addled brain. There was someone trying to talk to him.

 

"What the hell happened?" His voice cracked.

 

"We are hoping you can tell us," a controlled and measured voice answered. "Who am I talking to?"

 

"Lee McNulty. I was doing a final weld on section 23. There was an explosion and lots of flame; I woke to find myself drifting."

McNulty's voice rose, as if in denial of what his eyes were telling him. "The ship is so far away."

 

"This is Steve Barnes, shift supervisor. What's your status?"

 

He checked over the various readouts of his suit. Integrity was fine; it had not been breached. He had enough oxygen for three hours and 35 minutes. He was tumbling slowly and alternating scenes of the growing earth and a disappearing ship began to haunt his thoughts. He relayed the information back.

 

In a shaking voice, "When will you be out to get me?"

###

The control room was hushed. People looked from one to another. No one was prepared to say anything. Finally, Steve turned to the tech officer.

 

"How far away from the ship is he now?"

 

"He’s over 750 meters and increasing. He’s almost out of range of the ER suits."

 

"What about the shuttle? Can they do a turnaround in time to get back here?"

 

The reply was hesitant. "They landed at base just over two hours ago. The quickest they can refuel and be allocated a launch window, would be in approximately ten hours’ time."

 

"How long does he have till he reaches the atmosphere?"

 

"McNulty will strike the upper atmosphere in just over two hours and twenty minutes."

“The ERS is his only chance then. Get Cap on the line. Now!”

 

###

 

Steve Rogers affectionately known as ‘Cap’ was rudely awakened by the sounds of the emergency klaxons. He had been in the ERS (Emergency Response Suit) for almost eight hours and his shift was almost over. This duty was considered a ‘plum’ assignment aboard the station. One of the easiest and yet the most boring. In the twelve months that he had been in space, the suit had been deployed only twice. Both times were to retrieve tools that had floated away from the construction workers. When he had started that morning, he had put on the suit and went through the hour-long check to make certain all systems were functioning properly. The ERS suit was equipped with additional fuel and manoeuvring jets; various rescue tools and an extra tank of oxygen. All were in the green. All he had to do now was to, ‘be ready’; this usually took the form of a five or six hour nap before stand down.

 

The sound reverberating through his suit brought his senses into instant readiness. The voice of Steve Barnes came over the Com channel; calm and confident. He relaxed.

“Probably another spanner spinning away,” he thought.

He activated a small jet and launched his suit into the void. On reaching a point equidistant between the ship under construction and the station, he fired another thruster. His forward momentum ceased and brought him to a dead stop in regards to the massive structures around him. He waited.

“Cap, are you up and running?”

“That’s a Roger, Control. I’ve left the nest and am awaiting information.” 

 “Cap, go to Gamma Channel.”

A nervous shudder went through him. This channel was accessible only to Control and the ERS suits. The general population would not be able to hear them.

“Cap, we have a problem. There’s been an explosion, Earth side of the star ship. One of the welders was caught in an explosion and he’s moving away from the ship at a rate of knots.”

Barnes continued with his assessment as more information was fed to him by the Control crew.

“Cap. His name is McNulty. Lee McNulty. He’s still alive.”

A picture appeared in his mind of a small jovial Irishman who constantly flashed pictures of his family to all who cared to see them and too many who didn’t. Not a close friend, but well-liked by all the crew.

Even before the final words came through to him, he opened his thrusters and was maneuvering as fast as he could to the far side of the star ship and in the direction of Earth.

###

 

"Guys, are you still there? Hello! Answer me!" Anger could be heard in his voice. "What are you doing back there? When are you coming to get me?" He could feel the rage growing inside of him. Couldn't anyone give him a straight answer?

 

"Barnes, are you still there?"

 

"I'm still here, Lee. I'm afraid it's not looking good."

 

"I didn't think it was, the way you’re tiptoeing around. I suspect I know what you're going to say, but I still need to hear it from you."

 

McNulty could hear Barnes take a deep breath as he steeled himself.

 

"Lee, we have an ERS suit after you, but you are well outside his range. If he can’t pull off a miracle…I'm sorry. We have nothing else that can get to you.”

 

The silence stretched. One minute….then two.

 

"Lee! Are you still there?"

 

"How long do I have?" This was delivered in a flat, matter of fact tone.

 

In an equally flat tone, he received his reply. "Just over two and a quarter hours."

 

###

 

For forty-five minutes Cap had nothing to do except to view the growing size of the planet ahead. According to the calculations sent to his suit computer, this was the trajectory needed for interception. Finally, he spotted the strobing light of the emergency beacon flashing every couple of seconds.  He could just make out the slowly rotating shape of a suit backlit by the deep blue of the world before him. McNulty had noticed him and was waving whenever his suit was facing him. ‘Cap’ stared intently ahead of him. His eyes continued to travel between the distant figure and the stream of calculations and telemetry running through his ’heads up screen’. They did not provide a satisfactory answer.

“Come in Control. Barnes are you listening?”

“Yes Cap, reading you fine. You’re cutting it close, but we calculate you should be making contact in the next ten minutes.” There was a pleased tone to his voice.

“Then I think we have a problem. I no longer seem to be gaining. If anything, I’m starting to fall behind. Can you have them go over the calculations once more? I am almost at Bingo point. Much further and I won’t be able to stop my forward momentum and still have enough fuel for return.”

A long drawn out silence issued from the headset. A deep intake could be heard and Steve Barnes voice slightly unsteady is heard once more.

“Cap. You need to abort. The gravity of Earth is increasing his speed, well before we considered it would be a factor. You must turn back. Much further and we will lose not only McNulty, but yourself as well. This is an order. Turn back now.”

 

 

Half an hour passed without any more word from McNulty. Those in the control room slowly departed until only Steve Barnes was left.

"Lee. Are you still there? If you need to talk, I'm here for you."

Silence.

 

"Is there anyone I can contact for you, or pass a message onto?"

 

Barnes pushed the headphones tightly against his ears, listening intently for any reply.

 

Silence.

###

Lee McNulty could hear Barnes on the other end as he attempted to communicate. He was in no mood to reply. He was lost in his own thoughts…of Mary and the children…of what had been and of what may have been. As he slowly turned, the earth once more came into view. It was awe inspiring; a water world, surrounded by mists against the backdrop of space. It now filled half his visor. He stared hard, picking out the shapes of the various countries as the world below him revolved. Once again his gentle rotation brought him round to the direction from whence he came. He could no longer see the ship. It had become just one of the sparkling lights of the myriad of stars spread before him. Again he rejoiced in the view of earth. It was getting closer. Gravity was now taking a stronger hand in his progress and his suit was starting to register an increase in temperature. Occasional sparks were now flying off him, as wisps of the outer atmosphere were interacting with his speeding body.

###

"Barnes. Are you still there?"

 

"Yes, I'm still here."

 

"I want you to tell my wife Mary, that I love her. Nothing more...just that...and Barnes...thank you for staying." With that, he switched off his communicator.

"Well Lord, I'm all yours now."

###

Steve Barnes slowly took off the earphones. Reached forward and turned off the relay. There was nothing more to say.

###

If someone had been looking up into the night sky, in the right place; they may have seen, just for a moment…. a flash.

 

 

 

 


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