Midnight, as it would seem, and I had a night shift. I haven't had a night shift for a week and I cannot say that I looked forward to it. While the rest of the crew was sleeping, I stayed awake to monitor the system. For us, whoever is on the night shift are called "The Gatekeepers;" a reference to the gate of heaven because it is only these people would be the first to know if anything goes wrong.
It has been nine months since the mission started and it was mindboggling to think how far we have gone. Also, being in confined space for too long almost drove me crazy, but I managed to keep my sanity along with my fellow crew members. Imagine twenty-five people live in a space no bigger than a two storey apartment building. It is indeed tight inside, but it is too hostile to be outside.
I looked at my watch again and it read 00:23; 23 minutes past midnight. I sighed and went through the instrumentation once more. The guidance system, navigation, shields, life support, power generation and distribution, and the rest all were checked out. It was a very boring and for me time is moving too slowly, and it was not because of relativistic effects. Then again, I prefer this than having a catastrophic problem in my hands.
The observation deck of the ship is the second most spacious compartment of the ship. Here is where navigational data is collected by determining astronomical points to pinpoint place in a coordinate system. Also, this is where astrophysics is the main scientific discipline practiced in all of the ship.
I wasn't really working while sitting at the terminal because there is nothing for me to catch up, with the exception of one thing. The ship will be "jumping" in the next week or so, and the crew was recommended to send what seemed to be a final message. I knew that most of the crew recorded videos of themselves to send back. I did that too, except I would accompany it with a letter.
Taking advantage of the ostensible free time I had, I was typing on my tablet and trying to perfect my letter. It wasn’t bad, but I was trying to write something that would equally address everyone. At this point, it was my third draft, and I still haven't got it right.
"Working?" Alex said who came from behind me.
"Not really," I quickly replied while turning to see him.
A man with a relatively tall stature, though slightly frail in build, as well as having that touch of ginger, Alex is our astrobiologist, and to some degree, our doctor as well. Back on Earth, he used to be a veterinarian until he gotten into some serious biology research during his practice. Then, he published a paper regarding pets to be humanity's companion in long missions such as this one. As a result, he takes care of the hamster in the research laboratory and the tiny creatures have been our companion since.
"What are you doing up, Ginger?" I said again.
"Nothing, just to see if you're alright," he said, "Because it's awfully quiet in here,"
"I know. The ventilation system is turned down a bit because it's getting hard to cool down air right now," I said, thinking about the life support system, "That's beside the point, though. I'm fine. I'm just a little tired. My shift won't be over for another six hours and I can barely stay awake let alone working!"
True, I was really, really tired and depended on energy bars and caffeine, both of which were not really in abundant supply, to keep me up. It was obvious that if I don't get anything strong, I would fall asleep eventually.
We continued to converse until Alex decided to leave and return to his slumber. In the meantime, I resumed my duties as "The Gatekeeper." With the screens of the working terminal showing everything I need to know about all of the aspects of the vessel and any sort of activity. I've gotten my fingers on the keyboard again and started typing. Not even ten minutes have passed and I was already bored from writing. I ran out of ideas, just freshed out. Maybe I should have started with the invocation of the muses before continuing on.
Around 0050 hours, Universal Time, Coordinated, the instruments have detected something and one of the screens was flashing, accompanied by a beeping sound. Of course, I cannot ignore this so I checked it out.
On the main screen, I could see that the ship is reading a sudden surge of electromagnetic activity. SInce this is the observation area, I brought up the real time feed of Epsilon Eridani on the large projection screen. I had the computer pinpoint the relative location of the anomaly. I was observing what any astrophysicist would kill to see; the formation of a solar flare of another star. Since our arrival, we did record as much as we can of the stellar activity of this star, but we have never seen the formation of one. I set the computer to record all data so that the other guys would see it when they wake up.
Suddenly, I felt something is wrong. From the narcotic sensation of scientific discovery, it turned into a vision of forboding danger. I moved quickly to the terminal and went through the data again. After seeing what I wish I would never saw, I swore, and exclaimed, "This is not good!"
I sprinted down the steps to the flight deck and reactivated some key systems to override the autopilot. I also activated the communications system and contacted the Captain, Donny (second-in-command), and the rest of the flight crew.
"Do you want to tell me what is going on?" the Captain asked through the com.
"No time to explain, Bart!" I said, "We need a flight crew down here right now! We're in big trouble. If we don't get the ship to manuever, we are screwed!"
At that precise moment, the ship wide alarm kicks in. The tone is ominous and I was beginning to panic to hear the sound of it. I ran to an engineer's workstation and I found that the instruments were confirming my fear; it wasn't a solar flare that was forming, it was a Coronal Mass Ejection. Even if our force shielding were at full power, it wouldn't be enough to protect the ship against millions of degrees of super heated plasma. Actually, it didn't even matter what would hit us. The result would be the same; we would be toast, quiet literally.
Finally, the flight crew arrived and the Captain ordered us to stations. I sat down at the station behind the pilots. The Captain asked me what was going on and I just told everybody the impending threat.
"Now all we have to do is get away from it and we have no time to program that in the auto pilot," I said.
"All we have to do?" Donny asked who was sitting in the pilot seat directly in front of me.
"Yes, all we have to do, Lieutenant Colonel McClellan. All we have to do,"
"You heard the man," the Captain spoke up, "Increase power to VASIMR engines and I want those fusion rockets up and running,"
Everyone complied and got to work, including me. I accessed the ship's systems and initiated both of the Inertial Confinement Fusion rockets. It would take at least three to five minutes for the nuclear reaction to start and another two minutes for them to reach full potential. We were starting to get hit by some of the ejected material. I was not even sure if we could make it at this point. I was wishing for some kind of miracle to occur
"Doctor, we are my rockets?" the Captain said.
"I'm trying, Captain! It's gonna take a while to start," I said.
"I don't think we have a while, Oz,"
"I know! I know!" I almost shouted while working vigorously to find a way to accelerate the starting of the engines. I got some help from a junior engineer sitting close by but it wasn't really enough.
"Seven minutes before the CME hits us. Shields are holding but it is under strain," a female technician said.
I looked at my own screen and confirmed it. We were in the nick of time and it seemed that luck wasn't on our side. However, I still have faith and I believed that we would get through this no matter what. The Captain was demanding to have the rockets and the rest of us were not really in a good mood either. Another engineer pointed out that the hull temperature was increasing rapidly. And I knew that the end was near.
"Chief, fusion rockets are online and ready to go!" the junior engineer said.
Immediately the Captain and the pilots pushed the throttle all the way. Then, the ship started to accelerate significantly. The thrust generated by the fusion rockets are a far cry from the VASIMR engines so very soon we would be moving away from the danger. However, the CME was moving much faster than previously anticipated.
"Ninety seconds!" said the female technician.
I was sweating and hyperventilating as I looked at the computer screen again. It was approaching the ship at over 300 kilometers per second. I looked over to the junior engineer in concern, and Donny did the same to me. Our speed was increasing, but would it be enough to save us still remained unanswered.
"Thirty seconds!" said the female technician again.
I became anxious. I checked the monitor again and get the readings from the instruments again. I stopped at my tracks at one point, and I checked the computer again. One of the technicians looked at me, and I knew why.
"I think we made it," I said.
"What?" the Captain asked.
"Sir, I can confirm that," a technician said, "The CME just missed us and we are about twenty-one thousand kilometers away from it,"
Suddenly, everyone in the flight deck cheered. I would have done the same, but instead I got out of my seat and ran out of the station. They noticed my departure and asked me where I was going but I didn't answer. As I passed through the decks, the other crew members at emergency stations noticed me running towards the stairs that led to the observation deck. Many of them followed me.
Once there, I sat down at the work terminal and recalibrate the instruments. I had the cameras to look aft. When the angle is just right, I immediately projected the image onto the main screen. I looked over to the bright projection, and I was appalled. I quickly stood up and became engulfed in the feeling of seeing something that I could only imagine. The others who stood behind were equally stupefied.
I stood there for 15 minutes just looking at the CME as the ship was moving away. I smiled, knowing that I achieved something, should I say, astronomical. Maybe being "the Gatekeeper" wasn't so bad afterall.
Eight in the morning, or as according to the ship's internal clock, I soon found myself waking up in my quarters. I sat down on the side of my bed, then I looked over to my personalized computer terminal. Next, I could see the slide show of pictures of my family. Suddenly I remembered how much I missed them. I sighed, thinking about what would happen if I cannot come home. However, I brushed that thought aside and left my quarters.
After cleaning myself and changing into better clothes, I proceeded to the mess hall to grab some breakfast. As I sat down to eat, Donny sat down to talk to me about something.
"If it has anything to do with the ship," I said, "Can you talk about it later?"
"I'm sorry, Oz," said Donny in his distinct Canadian accent, "But it's a little important,"
"Define 'a little important'," I said again while biting on cheese pita bread.
"The CME last night," he said, "Umm, even though we evaded it, it did left some problems. Take a look,"
Donny left a tablet computer in front of me. I picked it up and looked at the information onscreen. From what I can tell, the high levels of ionizing radiation from the star had ended up causing some problems in the system, more specifically system interference. We have anticipated something like this when we were approaching the star. The CME had apparently made things worse.
"Is it that serious?" I asked.
"Not yet," Donny said, "But like you said, we can't take chances, eh?"
"You're right, I'll take a look at it," I said.
I finished my breakfast and proceeded immediately to the engineering deck. With a technician, I ran a full diagnostic. However, I cannot really sort out the problems myself when the computer detected them. Even with the technician, I needed a second opinion, so I called for someone to help us.
"You called for me, Doctor?" someone said. It was the junior engineer that sat near me in the flight deck.
"Yes, come in," I called for him.
He entered and I explained everything of what is happening. He agreed to work, but there is something else that he wanted to address before going to work.
"For all due respect, Doctor, you spelled my name wrong---again," he said.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Really?" I said.
"Yes, you did. My name is spelled a 'Y,' not an 'I'," he said.
"I'm sorry again, Ayden," I said, realizing my mistake, "I preferred the more traditional way. It's easier to type on the keyboard that way,"
"It's alright, Doctor," said the twenty-eight year old, "Everybody makes mistakes,"
"I agree. Let's try not to anymore, shall we?" I said, getting to work.
One might be surprised why I recieved help from a junior engineer instead of the ones at my level. The answer was simple: he was brilliant, and maybe even more brilliant than I was. He was one of the youngest crew member in the ship. In fact, he was the youngest engineer to be aboard the ship. Even at fourteen years my junior, he worked by the book and was very methodical at pretty much everything. I met Ayden two years before the mission started. Back then, he was just a Caltech graduate with lots of potential, although he graduated as an average student. However, to me, after working with him for a few months, he was not an average graduate. His ability to analyze every single detail earned my uttermost respect. For this reason, I managed to convince, although it took a few tries, for him to be an astronaut and participate in this mission.
Six hours and a lot of painstaking work later, we managed to analyze every single problem detected by the diagnostics program as well tracking down things not detected by the diagnostics program. With Ayden's and Annas the Technician's help, I concluded that many of the problems can be traced to the interference of stellar activity and the magnetoplasma bubble which shielded us against intense radiation; as mentioned, something we have anticipated before we gotten too close to the star. The CME ejected large amounts of ionizing radiation to the point where our shields cannot handle the electromagnetic interference. The solution was to readjust the shields. At that point, we thought there were no major consequences resulted from the event occured the night before.
Three days later, and the week proceeded without much trouble. However, there were some drawbacks in a few areas. The garden was producing a lesser yield of food, the water system was leaking, the hamsters from the research lab have gotten loose, and the cooling system was a little glitchy, to name a few. Well, these drawbacks were finally solved as we successfully slingshot away from Epsilon Eridani. It would be another two days before we reactivate our FTL drive, and I can say that I, and everyone onboard, were both nervous and excited. Finally, we would spool up the Buraq drives to 90 percent potential; our trip from Earth to Epsilon Eridani only had the FTL drive spooled up to 25 percent potential.
And it was also time for our weekly update. Basically, it was a weekly broadcast where two members of the crew would go around the ship with a camera and record everything. Most of the time, I would be the one in front of the camera narrating while Ayden was always the one behind the camera. I wasn't sure why it was always him and I who would do this kind of thing. Maybe we had some kind of natural talent. In fact, I've always dreamed of hosting my own show.
That day, the filming took 45 minutes because he pretty much scrutinized the entire ship to find something worthy of interest for the people back on Earth. From what I could see, it would be long video to be watched by billions of people. Naturally, I would say we had to do a good job editing it "for it to be worthy of anything" as Bart had put it.
We concluded our filming in the social area in the lounge. Ayden turned off the camera just as I finished saying my thanks and goodbyes. Then, I stopped him from getting the memory card out of the camera.
"Why? We just finished filming," he said.
"There is something else we haven't done yet," I said, while walking towards the living quarters.
"Really, what would that be?" he asked again.
We faced each other and Ayden was waiting for an answer. I didn't answer immediately and I smiled at him. After a long pause, I finally said simply, "You."
"Me?" he asked, "What about me?"
"Get the camera into your quarters and I'll explain,"
Without further question, he set up the camera and mounted it in his living quarters. He still had that look on his face; he continued to wonder what I wanted him to do. Actually, I wanted him to sit in front of the camera and talk.
"But why?" he asked.
"I tell you this," I started, "We've been doing this for almost a year now and I noticed--actually the audience noticed--that you have the least screen time. Do you know how many messages from Earth we've got demanding for you?"
"Yes, Ayden, really," I said again, raising my tone of voice, "Everyone is dying to know who you are or what you are. They can research however they want about you, but you never really make an appearence. Today, that's gonna change!"
Then, I instructed him to wear his jacket and sit in front of the camera. I also told him to fix his hair a bit because it was pretty messy. I, on the other hand, set up the camera and started rolling when he said he was ready.
"Alright, what should I say?" Ayden said.
"I thought you said you were ready," I said, "It's rolling, Ayd,"
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean I know what to say,"
I sighed, and then said, "Okay, let's start, with, in short, about who you are and what is your role in this expedition, what you do and stuff. Come on, it's easy!"
Well, easy for me to say. I have to admit that Ayden seemed to be nervous about this whole deal, considering the fact that this video would have such a large audience. It was partly my fault, too, since I pressured him into this.
Ayden cleared his throat and gone to a straighter posture. He takes his breath and said, "Hi, my name is Ayden, as you can see on the badge on my jacket here. I'm twenty-eight years old and I'm a member of the expedition. And, yes, I'm American, see my flag patch! I am also an engineer and my job on the ship would be maintaining systems for a smoother and safer ride, part of the reason why we're still out here."
"Keep going. Talk about something else, your family, anything,"
"Alright, it's been nine months and you guys finally get to see me from what Oz told me. Um, it's great being out here and we're pretty much a family out here. One big happy family. That reminds me. Ever since I was chosen for the expedition, I knew I left behind a family of my own. So, mom, dad, little brother, I have to tell the world how much I loved you guys, and how much I missed you guys. I wish you can all be here,"
Resting overnight was worth it, because the next day I extended my shift because we found some kind of anomaly in the system. I pretty much skipped lunch that day, although I did have something sent to me. From experience, it was just a tiny glitch after working with systems for almost twenty-years now, but my gut feeling said something worse. I couldn't help it but continued to work on it, even if it meant overlapping the shift with someone else.
"I thought you were done a couple of hours ago," Donny said, as he entered the engineering section.
"Really, what time is it?" I said while keeping my eye on the monitor.
"It's nearly sixteen-hundred," Donny said, "Aren't you tired or something?"
I stopped and thought about it. Then I realized that I was overcome by fatigue. No wonder it was getting harder to concentrate! I turned around and faced Donny, who was standing right there in front of me.
"You know what," I said, "I am pretty tired, but I've gone through nearly half of the system and still haven't found anythinh. Well, it's the good thing you're here,"
"I know," said Donny nonchalantly, "I'm here to replace you. The other guys told me what you were doing and I know it's a lot of work,"
"That means I don't have to brief you about anything?"
I stood up quickly, started to walk out while I said, "Good! Would you excuse me, I have an exercise routine to do. Radio me if you have something, alright?"
"Alright," he said.
I got back to my quarters and changed into my exercise clothing. I went to the social area and ran on the treadmill. First, I make a ten minute briskwalk and then a twenty minute jog. The good thing was the VR goggles made it less boring. Running through a virtual park was pretty soothing, but nothing could beat the real thing. At that point, I really missed fresh air, the sound of the trees, annoying pigeons, and the banging sounds on a metallic object.
No, I did not miss any banging sound. I heard it quite clearly. I stopped the treadmill, took off the VR goggles, and listened. The sound was very metallic and it echoed all throughout the ship. The banging happen at almost a constant two second interval. At that point, I could guess what was going on.
"Donny, do you copy?" I said through the radio.
"I'm here," he replied, "If you're asking about the banging sound, it's the arm on the midsection of the ship,"
"Starboard or port side?"
"Can you shut it down?"
"That's the problem," he said.
I paused for a moment. "What do you mean you can't?" I said.
"It's something to do with all the systems tied together and such," he said, "I'm trying to isolate a few system protocols so that I can safely shut down the arm without affecting any other systems. Usually, we don't have to do this, but the arm is nonresponsive,"
"Well, figure it out," I said, "I'm coming down there,"
I sort of sprinted to the engineering section. As I get there, it was pandemonium; there were five people trying to work on it already, and it was worst timing for me. I was thinking of leaving, but I thought it would be best if I help with the situation.
"Donny, what's going on?" I asked.
"Oz, thank God you're here!" he said, "You better take a look at this,"
I went to the computer screen and took a look at the data. From what I can understand, the arm was behaving erratically because it was given false commands. At first, I was surprised and was wondering what would make it to recieve false commands. I personally checked the computer and found that the computer were sending out all the correct commands. I even gone to the pain of looking at the coding with the help of Donny.
"Anybody considered a hardware problem?" Ayden spoke up.
I turned around and then said, "No, if there is any problems with the hardware, the computer had detected it,"
"But you did say that the arm had been given false commands," Ayden said, "Won't that also mean that the computer would also given false feedback readings? I mean, if we already confirmed that the computer was giving out correct commands, is there any other explanation?"
I grinned, and I thought that he is right. "You see, that's the answer I wanna hear!" I exclaimed, "Right now, we are going to sort out this problem. You know the problem, ladies and gentlemen, let's get to work,"
It would be in the middle of the night until we found what was wrong with it. It was definitely a hardware problem, and we pinpoint it to be at the arm itself. The explanation for the arm's erratic behavior was because of the microprocessor in the arm's control board. It was this microprocessor which recieved information and commands as well as sent feedback from the control board. The problem was that the microprocessor and the control board itself were broken, but not completely. Since the development of the ship, I helped with the failsafe measures of the ship's critical systems. The failsafe is a bypass of the onboard controls to be controlled by the ship's main computer. However, since the control board wasn't broken completely, the microprocessor was processing information sporadically, causing false feedback signals and commands.
"Alright, so are you saying that the arm is only halfway broken?" said Alex, upon hearing my explanation.
"Yes, Doctor Butterfield," I said.
"But we still have to fix it," said Ayden, "It doesn't matter if it's ten percent broken, or even twenty percent broken, it's causing a problem and we may need that arm someday,"
"But you said something about a system bypass," said Mai Ling, a female technician, "Why don't you disable the protocols of the control board and just control it using the ship's computer,"
"For all due respect, technician, if that would be possible, we won't have this meeting," I said.
"Well, something tells me that someone has to go out and fix it," said the Captain.
"If you mean an EVA, you are entirely correct, Captain," I said again.
"Wait, an EVA?" said Kareem, our Chief Medical Officer, "I thought we don't have to do that,"
"Now we have too," said Donny, "The reason we have robotic arms all voer the ship is that we don't have to make repairs and external observation by sending somebody out. But since this arm is broken, I don't think we have a choice. Right now, we need someone to go out there,"
Just as Donny finished that sentence, everybody in the flight deck looked at each other. It seemed fairly comical, and I would sometimes laugh at the memory of the day. A moment of silence was followed and we were staring blankly onto something.
"I'll do it," I said, breaking the silence within the ship and raising my hand.
"You need a partner," said the Captain, "You can't finish it alone nor do I allow you to go out alone without someone else to watch your back."
"I agree," Donny said, accessing the schematics on a terminal, "The system may be simple but small parts might be the problem. You'll get your hands full with tools and such, and we would need those tools and parts so we shouldn't lose them,"
Another moment of silence. Actually, I was contemplating something. I looked the others stand around me in the face. I saw Ayden and I had a small smile in my face. "Okay, I'm definitely going and Ayden would be my buddy," I said.
Ayden looked surprised and then said, "Me?"
"There is no person in the name of Ayden Carreon other than you in this ship," I said.
"Wait, you're serious!" he said.
"Oh yes I am!" I said, then to the Captain, "Mr. Simpson, let's get this mission started,"
"Aye-aye, Doctor," said the Captain, gestured the others to get going.
All others get to work and so was I. I asked Ayden to come with me to get suited up. Two technicians came along with us to help with the suits. Ayden seemed to have his doubts. Really, I could have chosen many others in the ship, but I chose Ayden. He asked me why.
"It's something about you that is, you know, unique," I said.
"Well, what is it?" he asked again.
"I have to get back to you for that," I said.
The main airlock is a place we sparingly used, although a technical team would come down there once in a while to check things out. Even though it was dimensionally smaller than other parts of the ship, it somehow felt spacious. Maybe it was the roundish profile and the mostly white finish. Even to this day, I still haven't figured that out.
The spacesuits we carried were indeed state of the art; complete radiation protection, a holographic heads-up-display, projectile and ballistic resistant outer layers, multi-directional thrusters and flight control, very easy to put on, and they just looked awesome! In fact, I was on the original team who developed the suit after realizing intersteller travel was a reality. The design underwent field testing under numerous circumstances and I personally said that it was the best ever made. It was also very comfortable to wear, and very mobile as well.
"You're alright in there, Ayd?" I said.
"I'm alright," Ayden said, "It's just I haven't been in a suit for so long,"
"The snoopy cap doesn't bother you?" I asked.
"No, not really," I said, "I kinda like it,"
"Alright, I'll be more direct," I said, "Is there anything that bothers you in any way?"
"Good," I said, then to the technicians, "We can take it from here, guys,"
We have completely suited up and we only have our helmets and gloves left to wear. Ayden and I got our twenty-thousand-dollar pair of custom made gloves on. Then, Ayden complained that the gloves felt tight and he was sure that those were his. I answered him by saying that it should be and that it will become better when we get out to space.
We proceeded to the airlock door and I closed the inner door. We got our tools ready and our equipment set. We were ready to go. However, Ayden seemed a little nervous. So was I, except that Ayden manifested it much more clearly.
"Hey, are you sure you're alright?" I asked.
Ayden was sort of surprised when I said that. "Oh, what? Oh, no. I'm fine," he said.
"Well, if you're not up to this, I can always call someone else," I said.
"No, I'm up to it," he said, "It's a space walk, and I haven't make much spacewalks lately, so I'm excited. Very excited,"
I just smiled. At that point, I definitely knew we were ready to go. We closed our helmets shut and I radioed the flight deck to say that we were ready. After I recieved a response, I made sure Ayden was ready before I start decompressing the airlock. We had to decompress slowly so that we could check our suits for any leaks.
"Passing through one eight atmosphere. Internal pressure reading, no change. How 'bout you, Ayden?" I said.
"Same here," he said.
"This is flight," said Donny from the flight deck, "Sounds like you guys are ready. You are cleared for EVA. Best of luck for you guys,"
"Thank you, flight," I said, "Decompression is complete, opening outer door,"
Having no air means no sound can be transmitted. As the outer door opens, it felt weird to not hear anything. It took thirty seconds for the round hatch to open completely. Then, I saw the emptiness of space. It is unbelievable to catch a glimpse of the size of the universe, in which I felt very insignificant. I looked over to Ayden and he looked back at me. We didn't say anything.
"Flight, this is EVA team. We are ready to go. Deactivating artificial gravity in this sector," I said.
"Roger that," a voice responded.
Before we knew it, we started floating. Zero gravity was something I missed from my early days of space travel. Getting reacquainted with it wasn't exactly a fireworks show, and it was confusing the first moment. Ayden told me he felt the same way. Nonetheless, it didn't stop us from committing to this mission.
I came out of the ship first and followed by Ayden. We made sure our thrusters were working before we embark. Ayden and I tested our thrusters and they were working perfectly. We tested it by making a few simple and complex maneuvers. Suddenly, it became fun to play around with the controls.
"Man, I'll do the Hampster Dance with this thing," I said. I could hear laughter through the channel afterward.
Of course, we have to get serious and back on track. After we check our communications and monitoring systems, Ayden and I went towards the broken arm near the top of the ship. Maybe I shouldn't say top since there isn't any ups or downs in microgravity. As approach the arm, the star was shining brightly. I lowered my visor into place to protect my eyes. Ayden did the same.
"Wow, you should see this, guys. It's beautiful," I said, referring to the star shining about thirty million miles away. Even with the gold-plated visor, I can still feel the heat coming through to my face. The good thing was the cooling system was working properly; otherwise I would experience a hundred degree increase of temperature.
"Alright, let's get it started," I said again.
We got to the control panel of the arm which was in the shade at that time. I had to lift my visor in order to see. I positioned myself right in front of the control panel. Ayden was right beside me. I turned my lights on to illuminate the panel since we cut all power to the arm.
"Give me a size six, will you?" I said to Ayden, asking him for a power tool with a size six tip.
He handed me over the tool and I proceeded to open the bolts that close the control panel. There were six bolts and it took ten seconds to open each of them. Ayden made sure that all of the bolts were accounted for and lost to the depths of space.
After the initial bolts were removed, I had to disengage to locks that shuts close the panel. They weren't hard to open. As I opened the panel, I saw that the control board of the arm has six slots; one for the processor board and the rest are for feedback and the control. Donny told me that the third from the left was the processor board. I disengaged the two catches that keep the board in place. Then, I pulled it out slowly.
"Are you guys getting the feed?" I said.
"Yeah, we're getting it," said the Captain in the flight deck, "That thing looks pretty bad,"
"I thought you said it was half broken," said Ayden.
I took a look at him and then quickly looked back. "I did," I said, "It's more than half broken,"
"So, three quarters then?" said Ayden.
"Just help me put away this thing," I said, after a brief pause, "Flight, this is EVA team. I am proceeding to check the other boards,"
"Copy. Let's hope that we don't have to replace anything," Donny said.
"Yeah, let's hope so," I said again.
At this point, I unlocked and inspected all of the other boards in the control panel. So far, none of the other boards were damaged. I put everything back in place, making sure nothing was loose. I also put back the panel that protects the control panel and fastened the locks. I asked Ayden to back away.
"Alright, we are ready for a test," I said, "Is there anyone who can monitor the system from engineering, just in case,"
"I am sending a technician right now," said the Captain, "We'll tell you when we're ready,"
"Is it Annas?" I asked.
"Yes, Oz, why?"
"Nothing. I just like that guy," I said.
The Captain chuckled and then said, "Copy that,"
The test began a few minutes later. Donny was controlling arm movements from the flight deck while Annas the Technician was monitoring everything from the engineering room. Initially, it performed well with simple movements and all the readings from the arm's sensors looked good. It continued to do so towards the end of the test.
"It's looking good out here, guys," I said, "What about you people inside the ship?"
"The control's a little bit sluggish. I think the emulator is not as efficient as we thought. I'll keep it running until I figure something out," Donny said.
"How about you, Annas?" I asked again.
"Everything seems to be going well," Annas said in his strong Indian accent, "All functions seem normal and everything is in the green, as you always say, Doctor,"
"Good. Ayden, hand me those bolts and that power tool again. We're done here," I said.
I put back all the bolts and tightened them. I yawned. I felt tired, and it was not surprising since my biological clock was telling me to go to sleep. I glanced the clock displayed on my hut; It was 2314 hours. I should have gone to bed then. I knew that some of the crew members were already asleep. I envied them. My eyes watered as I yawned, and there was no way to wipe the tears out of my eyes. I had to blink several times in order to restore my vision. Tightening the bolts took longer than to open them. It didn't matter, as long as I got the job done.
"Flight, this is EVA. Control panel secured. We are ready to head back," I said.
As we were ready to embark, however, the Captain said, "EVA team, please standby. Donny wants to test all of the arms for functionality,"
Oh, great! That meant that we would be out there much longer. "Donny, you wanna test the arms one by one?" I asked.
"You heard me correctly," he said, "We need someone to visually inspect them. So, can you guys do it, eh?"
"What the heck, I don't mind if we have to visually inspect everything," Ayden said, almost sarcastically.
"I think I'll go with Ayden with this," I said, "It's somehow soothing to be out here. Hey, by the way, the arm can be controlled by more than one person, right?"
"Affirmative," said the Captain, "I think I know what you're thinking. I'll handle the other arm and I'll send another technician to engineering,"
"It's good to hear that," I said, "Ayden, do you understand what we have to do?"
"Let me guess. We split up," Ayden said.
"You are correct," I said, "You take forward, I'll take aft, okay?"
There are a total of twelve arm located throughout the hull of the ship. I've instructed Ayden to inspect the six forward to ship while I inspected the rest. Since we just fixed one arm, I only had five left to inspect. We used the same test that we did with the arm we just fixed, and as everyone are in place, we got to work.
It took over an hour to inspect every single arm. All of the arms I've inspected, designated as numbers from eight to twelve, were in perfect order. Ayden, who inspected arms one to six, also reported the arms were in perfect order--except for one. Upon hearing the information, I sighed and whined because one problem was enough for one day.
"It's some hydraulic problem in arm number one," Ayden said after I asked him about the situation, "It's stuck halfway. I think something's wrong with the pump,"
I swore, and then said, "Hang on, I'll take a look,"
My fatigue was taking over me. I couldn't keep my eyes open let alone navigate two hundred meters to the front of the ship. Arm number one is located at the bow of the ship, and I saw Ayden as if he was just floating out in space. I slowed down, and nearly collided with the junior engineer.
"What?" I asked.
"Look at this, doctor," he said.
I took a closer look at the hydraulics system, in which Ayden had taken apart. I've asked someone to move the arm a bit. As Ayden said, it was stuck halfway. I then asked the technicians in the engineering section. They reported that it was a mechanical problem. I took another look at the system. and it was a problem with the pump.
"It's the main pump, but it's not exactly broken," I said in relieve, "We just need to tweak it a bit, loosen it up so that it pumps fluid more smoothly. It won't take long,"
"I can handle it," said Ayden.
"You do?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. I can. You look tired, Doctor. I think I can handle this alone, so you can go ahead and get back,"
"Thanks, Ayd," I said, as I was moving away, “Hey, guys, I’m coming back. Ayden’s handling the problem,”
“Roger that,” replied someone, “We’ll see you inside, doctor,”
I didn’t say anything, only returning silently towards the airlock. This was when I thought of my wife and my teenage kids back home, and then I remembered my letter. I thought about finishing the letter and writing it specifically with my kids in mind. If one would think that it was hard to leave behind the people I really love, it was very much true. I was almost near the airlock when I heard some news.
“Can you repeat that, please?” I asked, as I was too sleepy.
“Guys, we are going to pass through a debris field,” said the Captain, “So, it’s recommended that you guys get back inside,”
“What kind of time frame we’re talking about here?” I asked.
“Five minutes,” said the Captain again.
I paused. I suddenly thought that we were moving so fast that our long range radar didn’t have enough time to track anything in front of the ship for a significant distance quickly. The ship was moving at approximately 250 kilometers per second relative to the star.
“Ayden, you heard the man,” I said, “Get back here, now. You’d have only two minutes to get here, so drop everything you’re doing and get back here.”
“Wait, I’m almost done,” he replied, “I just need to get this thing closed,”
“Well, wrap it up! You don’t have much time!” I said, then to the Captain, “Bart, raise the deflector shields,”
“Way ahead of you, they’re raising right now. We’re also giving more power to the energy shields,” replied the Captain.
The spaceship was designed in mind about defending against space debris. The deflector shields will ultimately deflect away any debris, large or small, from critical points. The energy shield, even though it can shield against radiation and heat, will only protect the ship from physical projectiles or objects to a degree; anything possessing enough kinetic energy will pass through without any problems. Though the concept of an energy shield sounds very cool, it isn’t what science-fiction fans would expect.
“Ayden, what’s your status?” I asked.
“I’m heading there right now. Just give me a second to get everything in order,” Ayden said, and I could hear the nervousness from his voice.
“I don’t think we have a second to spare, now move!” I ordered.
Ayden didn’t reply, but I knew he was on his way. I managed to access his forward-facing camera feed from and displayed it on my HUD. He was moving as fast as he could. However, there was some news that no one wanted to hear.
“Oz, we have a problem,” said the Captain.
I cursed again when I heard that sentence. I was tired, delirious and obviously pissed off. Wasn’t one problem a day enough? It started off with a trouble with the arm, and then it became a race against time. Unlike some people, I don’t work well in the threat of impending death, especially if that threat was also directed to people I know.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“Your time just gotten short,” said the Captain, “We’ll be within the debris field in thirty seconds,”
“Wait, thirty seconds?” Ayden exclaimed, “I thought we still have ninety!”
“Doesn’t matter, Ayden,” I said, almost shouting, “Just find cover, get behind a deflector shield and wait there,”
“Copy,” he said, and I saw through the video feed that he was going to the hull of the ship.
I could hear him breathing heavily, and so was I. I got myself behind a deflector shield as well. Then, I could see small and large chunks of debris passing by at over 550,000 miles per hour. I could also see the decelerated pieces at it gone through the energy shield. I stayed there for nearly two minutes before I thought it was clear. I received confirmation that we have passed through it.
“I think it’s safe now,” I said, “Ayden, get back through the airlock,”
He didn’t reply. Instead, I heard a scream through communications. I called out his name several times but I can only hear someone crying in pain. What I learned later shocked me; Ayden was emerging from cover after I said it was safe. He was on his way back to the airlock when a small ain. What I learned later shocked me; Ayden was emerging from cover after I said it was safe. He was on his way back to the airlock when a small piece of meteoroid in the size of a key hit him. Even though it was decelerated, the effect was ballistic; it hit Ayden in the speed of over ninety kilometers per second, and the suit was only designed to withstand impact up to thirty kilometers per second.
“Oz, what just happened?” said the Captain.
“I don’t know, you tell me,” I said, “Was that Ayden I heard screaming?”
“Yeah, and what we can see here, he has a suit puncture and his pulse is off the roof. He’s also hurdling away from us, pretty fast,” said Donny.
“Where is he?” I said, moving towards the top of the ship and to Ayden’s last known position.
“He should be right in front of you,” Donny said again.
As I get there, I could see Ayden tumbling helplessly in towards space.
“I see him,” I said while I fired my thrusters again to intercept him.
It didn’t take long to get to him and I didn’t even slow down when I “caught” him. I used my thrusters to stabilize both of our movements and to break from our spin. Without further a due, I got him and I back towards the airlock.
“Ayden, can you hear me?” I said.
“Yeah,” he replied in a weak voice. At that point, I knew that if he doesn’t get medical attention soon, he would die quickly.
I asked for a medical team to standby in the airlock. Then, I looked at him again and saw the puncture to be on his right forearm. The tear was extensive, and I was horrified to see the layers broken through. It even got to the skin, as I saw blood bubbled out.
“Oz, you do know that if he’s not in the airlock soon, and by the rate of decompression, he will
die. His pulse is really weak right now, that means he’s already experiencing hypoxia. Better get in here
soon,” said Donny.
“Tell me something I don’t know! Is the medical team in there?” I said.
“Roger that,” said the Captain, “They’re standing by,”
“Copy. See you guys inside. Oz out,” I said.
It didn’t actually take that much time to get back inside the ship, although I felt it to be longer. I had to swoop down the side of the ship to get to the airlock. When I reached the open airlock door, I sort of threw Ayden in first before getting inside myself. I made sure that Ayden was in the right position before I used the control interface on the wall to close the outer airlock and repressurize the airlock. I also attached a gas line to his suit so he would receive much needed air as the pressure gradually builds up. In about forty seconds, the airlock was completely pressurized and reactivated the artificial gravity. I tended quickly to Ayden.
“Ayden, can you hear me? Ayden!” I said while taking off his helmet.
His nose was bleeding and he was unconscious. Blood was dripping from the tear down the floor. I remembered seeing it pool. I tried lightly slapping his face, but he was nonresponsive. I checked for a pulse, and I didn’t get anything. In due time, however, the inner door opened and a medical team, led by Kareem, quickly entered the airlock. I moved away so that I don’t interrupt them.
“We need to get him out of his suit,” said Alex, who was on the medical team, “Somebody help me here,”
I walked over to Alex and unlocked the torso from the lower part of the suit. Alex and the others held him down while I was taking off his gloves and pulled the top part of his suit. At this point,
he was out of his suit and the medics get to work.
They hooked up an EKG and IVs on him. From what I can see from the machine, his pulse was very weak and his heart rate was very low. I just stood there watching while the medics patching up his wound. I wish I could help, but my skill was rudimentary at best.
“Flat line!” a medic shouted.
“Twenty miligrams of epi! Ready those pedals, charge to two hundred!” Kareem said.
He had the pedals in his hands and as the defibrillator was charged, he shocked Ayden once. He looked at the EKG and saw no change.
“Charge to three hundred. Clear!” Kareem said again.
He shocked Ayden again, but still no change. He then did chest pumps and a medic pumped air into Ayden’s mouth. After a few moments, he used his fist and tried to restart Ayden’s heart this way. I was worried. I don’t want to lose another fellow astronaut.
“We got it! He’s out of it!” Kareem shouted.
The EKG was beeping as it should; the sound of every heart beat. Medics then carried him upstairs to the infirmary. They moved quickly because his condition was still dire. I stayed, however, and I sighed in relief. I sat down on a wall, and I tried to catch my breath and relax. That was a close one, I had to admit. Too close.
Two days later and things started to become normal again. By then, we have attained escape velocity so there was no need to keep accelerating. Also, we were preparing the ship once more for faster-than-light travel. We ran a few simulations of our course, and we tested the thermonuclear reactors to test the power output. Other than minor glitches and bugs, there were no other problems with the ship.
Eating soy-based imitation meat wasn’t so bad, even if I ate it twice a day, every day. I wasn’t so hungry that day, though. The thoughts in my mind were interfering with my normal brain functions. I couldn’t concentrate on work only that I was thinking about family and the crew and of course Ayden who has been lying in bed. Since the incident, I had to write two additional letters on top of mine; one was a report for the guys back home, and the other was for Ayden’s family to make them aware of what happened. I felt saddened when writing these, because what if I was in his shoes at that point? I couldn’t help it but think about it.
Instead of eating, I was working on packaging the data and calibrate the subspace transmission array so that the information arrives on time and in the right place. The calculations were difficult, but it was something to perk me up in the midst of things. I would say that working on something was a release.
“Doctor?” said a female crew member, who I recognized as one of the medics.
“Yes?” I replied.
“He’s waking up,” she said.
I paused for a moment, and then said, “Thank you. I’ll be there,”
As she leaves, I sat there and thought about it. It has been two days. I guessed that he would be very, very weak from the ordeal. He did lose a lot of blood, and he had to go through surgery to repair his arm. Sitting there thinking what to say, I finalized my calculations. Then, I walked away with my tablet while leaving my food behind.
From the mess to sick bay wasn’t a long walk. One could walk about a minute and be there, although it is a very big ship. I walked through, passing the bulkhead, into the infirmary. Among the empty beds and unused medical equipment, there was one patient lying down on a bed. Kareem was checking up on him as I entered. I walked closer, and both Ayden and Kareem noticed me.
“Doctor, how are you?” Kareem asked.
“I’m fine, just had lunch, sort of,” I said, “How’s our patient?”
“He’ll be fine and he would have full recovery in about a month or so,” Kareem said, “Although I do want to make regular check-ups,”
“That is, of course, nothing happened to me again,” Ayden said.
Kareem and I smiled. Even though he was hurt, Ayden still had his sense of humor. That was a good sign, since laughter is the best medicine, as many have said. I believed so, too, and the reason why I wanted Ayden on this expedition was because he has a sense of humor, albeit slightly dry at times.
“Hey, Ayd,” I said, “Man, you look like hell,”
“What do you expect? A piece of space rock passed through me,” he said.
He and I chuckled and Kareem excused himself to attend to other matters. I took a chair and sat down by the bed. I had myself facing towards Ayden, who apparently was glad to see me.
“How long was I out?” he asked.
“Fifty-six hours,” I said, while looking at my watch, “And fifteen minutes,”
“Wow, that’s a record,” he said.
“Hey, I’ve been out longer,” I said, “Guess what! You’re a lucky guy. We’ve been preparing for the jump and you are going to be awake to see it!”
“Oh? When will we be jumping?”
“In about ten hours. I hope you can eat something by then because we’re gonna throw a little party,”
“Is it necessary to do that?”
“Come on, Ayd. We never done anything like this and I really want to celebrate the moment,” I lightly punched him in the healthy arm. I was really glad that he made it through and getting better. I took a look at my tablet. After I saw a report message by a technician, I quickly remembered about the letters.
“I wrote to your family, by the way, and told them what happened to you. Of course, I spared the gruesome details and said that you are fine,” I said.
“What exactly did you write?” he asked.
“I said that you were hit by a small piece of debris and you lost suit pressure and you were injured,” I said.
“That’s it?” he said.
“Why, you want me to mention my heroism? I can go on for ten pages just mentioning how I
saved you and brought you back to the ship,”
We laughed. Then, we abruptly ended it. Ayden took a chance to thank me and I said that I was just doing my job. I also said that I cannot stand losing another fellow astronaut, which, eight years prior, two fellow astronauts and my good friends died while trying to save the ship and the compartment they were in was exposed to space. Ayden recalled reading a report to that accident very well but never knew I was actually there when it happened.
“It’s been eight years,” I said, “Even though it still hurts, I let them go, but it took a long time. I
don’t want to go through that again.”
Ten hours passed very quickly and we were ready to make the jump. All the necessary preparations were taken and everything was in place. Donny and I transmitted our package of compressed data, which contained everything including our letters, after we made a final check of the transmitter array. As I hit “enter,” the data package travelled at superluminal speed and would reach Earth in less than thirty-six hours.
As I mentioned to Ayden, we sort of threw a party in the social area, minus the confetti and the fancy hats. Ayden, who was cleared by Dr. Kareem, was there standing beside me after I proposed a toast for the success and achievement we had so far. The drink was pretty interesting as well; it wasn’t alcoholic but it was really interesting mix of soybeans and fruits. To this day, I never found out what really was in that drink because the two scientists that worked on it kept their formula a secret.
In the flight deck, about two minutes before the jump, we had some “conflict” on who would make the ship “jump.” I asked the Captain to do it, but he refused, saying, “Well, I pressed too many buttons in my youth and the consequences were not exactly lead to good results,”
“But you’re the Captain. You’re in charge of the ship, overseeing her operations and fly her to the far reaches of space. From what you’ve done, Bart, you deserve it,” I said while smiling with confidence.
“Then again, Oz, you are the mission leader. Without you, there will be no expedition. And it is your ship,” he said.
I shouldn’t have been reminded about that. I was indeed the mission leader of the expedition. What the Captain meant about the ship being mine was that I was the one who perfected the design, with a lot of help from everybody, of course. After some reflection, and stares coming at me, I agreed to push the button.
Everyone was on station; we were ready, and I had the final calculations checked before we activate all the three fission reactors and both thermonuclear fusion engines. As the FTL drive was configured, it was time to “spool it up.” At the last moment, I took a look everybody and said a small prayer. Then, I punched it.
In about a few seconds, something weird happened. Suddenly, normal perspective changed as the ship enters FTL. It happened for a few moments and then things have gone back to the way they were. It was successful jump, and we were on our way.
And the letter, I’ve erased everything I wrote and replaced it with “Wish us luck. To infinity and beyond we
go. I’ll see you guys in a year or so. Pray for our success.
"Sincerely, the crew of the Columbus.”
© Copyright 2016 Azmi Azahari. All rights reserved.