A Planet Called Eden

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Chapter 7: Damage

Angela sighed, closed the panel she been working on, and rested her head on console before her. God, but she needed a cup of coffee. Real coffee, from a real mug, not something she sucked from a tube. That had gotten old right about the time it had become a necessity rather than a luxury. Or sleep. Yeah, sleep would do nicely. Even just one blessed hour. But that was about as likely as the real coffee. Baring sleep or coffee, she wanted to cry. Instead, she settled for a tube of — whatever the hell is was they squeezed in there and called coffee. Funny how something as simple as a mood can change the taste of a tube of coffee. At least it was hot and caffeinated.

She pulled herself back along the ship’s main central corridor and joined Maazin in the aft corner of the engineering pod. He looked up at her expectantly. Angela pulled off her Snoopy cap and let her hair float free. She ran her hands through it and sighed.

“Maazin raised his eyebrows. “How bad?”

“Fuel cells three and seven are a complete loss. Four, Five, and six were damaged, but I’ve got them repaired. For now, anyway. No idea how much power we’ve lost. Starboard battery banks are a complete loss.”

“I have an idea on those,” said Maazin. Angela saw him suppressing a yawn. There were dark circles under his eyes. “I might be to get some of them back online, anyway. If we can charge them.”

Angela nodded. “That’s something. Charging we can probably handle. Life support?”

“Worse than we thought.” Maazin frowned, and deep lines furrowed his brow. He shook his head. “I’ve stopped the bleeding, but we lost a lot. I think we should seal off the sections that aren’t critical. That includes the cargo pod and crew’s quarters. Probably the science pod, too.”

Angela winced. “That bad, huh?” She shrugged. “Well, it’s not like we’re sleeping much anyway. What about the engines?”

“Mains seem good,” said Maazin. He forced a grimace that Angela suspected was meant to be a smile. “Well, except for the fact that we don’t have much fuel for them. I want to run a few more diagnostics on the regulators, but I’d feel comfortable testing them soon.”

“That’s … refreshing. Thrusters?”

“I can repair the port ones,” Maazin said. He forced another grimace-smile.

Uh oh. Angela forced herself not to sigh again. She ran a hand through her hair and closed her eyes. “And the starboard thrusters?”

Maazin shook his head. “Nothing. I can’t even get the diagnostics online.”

Angela pulled herself closer to Maazin’s console and took a look over his shoulder. “Wow. Well. At least all the lights aren’t red.”

“The others are offline.”

“Oh. Wow. Wow. So what’s the next step?”

“I don’t even know if the starboard thrusters are still there, Angela. I’ve literally got nothing. We might have lost both arrays when we lost the antenna for all I know.”

That was bad, worse than she’d thought. She tried to swallow but her throat was dry. She needed a drink. No more coffee though, at least not until her stomach settled. She thought about opening a tube of Tang, but they only had the stupid grapefruit left. She forced herself to swallow and grasp for options like straws.

“You tried the cameras?”

“Gone,” said Maazin.

Angela thought about beating her head on the bulkhead. “Of course they are.”

Maazin nodded. “That means one of us is going to have to go outside and have a look.” He shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Before you get all heroic and volunteer, we both know that someone’s got to be me. I’ve got the best chance of patching together some kind of repair.”

Angela rubbed her temples. She was getting damn tired of making decisions she didn’t like. After a moment, she nodded. “Okay. But take an hour and sleep first.” Before Maazin could protest, she added, “That’s an order, flight engineer. A full hour. You can suit up for EVA after that.”

# # #

Maazin touched the control in his glove for a split second, and the tiny thrusters on the back of his EVA suit fired briefly, adjusting his course. His momentum carried him forward. He kept his eyes focused on the wounded hull of the Michael Collins; when turned his gaze to the vastness of the planet below, it’s impossible, patchwork surface larger even than mighty Jupiter, waves of vertigo threatened to overwhelm him.

Don’t let me vomit in my suit. Sweet and mighty Allah, please don’t let me vomit in my suit.

Angela’s voice came over his helmet speaker. “How’s it look, Maazin?”

“To be honest? Better than I expected. You designed one hell of a tough ship. Mission Commander.”

“What about the thruster arrays?”

Maazin maneuvered around. “Yes, that’s bad,” he admitted. “The aft array on the starboard side is completely gone. The main array’s still there, though.” He hesitated. Most of it. “If we can get that online, we should be able to maneuver enough to get back to the gate and home.”

“But?” Angela prompted.

“The panel below the main array’s been breached. Best case, the regulators are offline. Best case.”

“And if we try to fire thrusters without the regulators—”

“It goes boom,” said Maazin. “Assuming we could bypass the safety overrides. Which we’re probably going to have to do anyway.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Do I have a choice?” The gate might be impossibly large, but in astronomical terms, it was still the eye of a needle and the Collins was an especially clumsy thread. They’d only have one shot. Without the starboard maneuvering thrusters, the odds of coming even remotely close were about as close to zero as you could get and still be marginally above it.

Maazin thumbed his thruster control and floated toward the hull. When he reached it, he attached his tether. He let out the breath he’d been holding. Up close the damage looked even worse. More than worse, it looked hopeless.

He reached for the damaged panel beneath the thrusters and ran his gloves along the access control. It should have swung open, but the panel was bent and the hinges were jammed. Maazin gripped and pulled. For a long moment, nothing. Then, the entire panel broke lose. Only a single cable kept it from drifting away into space. Only the tether kept Maazin from following it.

Maazin heard Angela’s voice in his helmet speaker again. “Maazin, tell me you didn’t just make things worse.”

“Don’t worry. I didn’t.”

“Good.”

Maazin muttered to himself. “I don’t think it’s possible to make things worse.”

Carefully, he reached for the panel — but a small, silent explosion flashed slightly, propelling the panel away. Maazin lost his grip, but his tether strained and held. He grabbed for the panel, but it was no good. The part tumbled away, lost.

“I stand corrected,” said Maazin.

“Maazin—”

Before Angela could finish, Maazin heard the eardrum-shattering sound of an explosion booming over his helmet speakers. The hull lurched and shook. A split second later, he felt the violence of the blast rock the Collins. The silent force threw him back and spun him away from the hull, but once again his tether strained but held.

The explosion hurled debris away from the ship. Maazin felt at least two of the pieces hit the back of his EVA suit, knocking him out of position. His tether held. He glanced at the display on the visor of his helmet. The status light for his backup life support system flashed to yellow. The status light for his right side thruster flashed from green to red, and then winked out all together.

Okay, that’s not good.

And then Maazin felt his eyes shoot open wide with alarm. The explosion had torn the regulator panel away from the thruster array.

Maazin grabbed desperately for the parts. Too late. The critical gear tumbled away into space.

There was no time to think; he could only act. Maazin unhooked his tether and pushed himself after the panel.

Angela’s voice came over his helmet speakers again. “Maazin? Maazin! What the hell are you doing?”

Maazin thumbed the control in his glove and activated the thrusters in his suit. The rockets fired silently, and he picked up speed.

The panel was just out of reach. He stretched out his fingers—

And then, suddenly, the damaged right side thruster sputtered and stopped. The left thruster was still firing, and before Maazin could reach his thumb control to make an adjustment, he found himself spinning wildly, out of control.

Angela’s voice was frantic. “Maazin!”

Maazin jabbed at his controls, but he must have thumbed it the wrong way. The left thruster was still firing.

The universe tumbled madly. He saw the Collins, already dwindling, the vastness of space, and the unbelievably huge patchworked mass of the planet below, swelling larger with every spin. Vertigo rose up in his stomach like bile.

“I’m out of control!”

“Maazin, you’re tumbling.”

Angela’s voice was calm, firm. Maazin tried to concentrate on it, but the nausea was growing in his gut, bubbling like lava. He couldn’t think. He tumbled faster, and his head was beginning to pound. The thruster was still firing.

“Maazin relax! Get your hand off that thruster!”

Maazin was breathing too heavily, too fast. His visor was beginning to fog. He was tumbling faster.

“Maazin, listen to me. Listen, God dammit! Your thruster’s damaged. The computer can’t compensate. You gotta go manual.”

“I can’t!” The planet rolled in front of him, closer, and then it was gone. The Collins appeared, then the empty blackness of space, and then the planet again, closer still. His guts were in knots.

He was going to vomit. He was going to vomit in his suit.

He was breathing to fast and he was beginning to see spots.

“Maazin, you know the drill. Maazin! Get out of that tumble! Do it! Do it!”

“I can’t!”

He was spinning faster. He couldn’t find the Collins. Where was it? Which direction? The planet was closer, looming. He thought he could feel it pulling at him like an undertow, like a vortex.

“You can. Maazin, listen to me. You’re getting too close to that gravity well. Now dammit, relax!”

“Not helping!” Maazin’s breathing was coming faster, faster, faster still. The dim, impotent, rational part of his brain knew he was having a panic attack.

“Maazin, do the math! Maazin! Focus. You’re tumbling and you’re moving in the wrong direction. You’ve lost a thruster. Concentrate. How does the equation start?”

He tried to see the equation in his mind, but there was only the fogged glass of his visor, and beyond, the black and empty enormity of space, and the impossible vastness of the planet below, growing larger, nearer, larger, and nearer still with every ever-accelerating spin.

He was going to vomit. He was going to vomit in his helmet, and then he was going to die.

Angela kept talking. “You know this. Maazin. Remember where your center of gravity is. Maazin! Calculate! Give me the numbers.”

The planet below was closer still, larger. Maazin wondered what it would feel like to touch the atmosphere. He wondered how long it would take the fall to burn away his suit.

He was getting dizzier. He was definitely going to be sick.

“Maazin, get your thumb off the thruster control!” Somehow, he managed to obey. He didn’t stop tumbling. There was nothing to stop or even slows his momentum. He was falling toward the planet.

“Spread your arms and legs! Maazin, do it!”

Maazin did. His spinning didn’t slow, but he was able to get his breathing under control.

Okay, center of gravity. Center of gravity.

Maazin forced himself to concentrate.

“Now use your thruster. Just the one. You’re gonna have to re-center yourself. Carefully! Just see the equations in your mind and start solving. Okay? You can do this!”

There — the Collins. Where the hell would that be? He was missing a thruster, so he’d have to compensate. He pictured the equation, and started to solve. On the next spin, he concentrated on his center of gravity. One on the one after, he lined himself up. On the next one, he touched the thruster once.

The forward motion slowed his tumbling and started him moving, but his direction was off. This time, he saw the equation clearly. He calculated, solved, waited, and touched his thruster control again, just once, for less than a second.

Yes, yes. That’s more like it.

Maazin’s breathing slowed. One more touch, another small course correction.

He was doing it. He was jetting slowly back to the Collins.

“I’m okay,” he said.

“Now what the hell were you thinking?” Angela demanded. “We have spare panels!”

Maazin took another deep breath. “No we don’t. I already cannibalized them.”

“Oh,” said Angela. A faint, rhythmic thumping sound came over the speaker. Maazin recognized the sound. Angela was beating her head against her monitor.

They were, in a word, screwed.


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