Crater*

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Chapter Two

Day Fifteen on board the Gybe

'You’re too keen, Addie. Your tour isn’t for another hour.' Noona, swings her feet down as Adelia squeezes through the airlock door into the viewpod.

'Do you always anti-grav. the top deck?' Addie shoves her feet into a couple of handholds and pulls herself round to look out of the same port as Noona, 'Anyhow, have you heard the snoring? The Company should be commissioning a cure for enlarged adenoids. I swear they’re getting louder the longer we’re in transit.'

Noona smiles and points to a small box floating nearby. 'Ear plugs, never leave terra firma without them. Help yourself.'

'Too late, I’m awake. I’m going down to the isolab, catch up on a little research while its relatively peaceful. Want a coffee?'

'No thanks, this is my wind-down time. I come up here, while you are all sleeping like babies on Company time, turn off the grav-lock and simply drift and compose a tune or two. Caffeine is definitely out.'

'What’s that smell?'

'Irvin. Farts in his sleep. He thinks its funny to vent it into the air-con. One of these days I swear I’ll vent him into deep space.'

'He’s a sad boy. And he really needs to adjust his protein intake. See you later, then,' Addie makes to leave the viewpod then turns to ask, '…Noona, will you sing for me? I was dreaming of home, and well…' Addie trails off. Everyone who has ever undertaken a long haul space flight knows the word homesick.

'Sure. I’ll leave the comlink open, pipe it into the isolab for you.'

Leaving the top deck, Addie swings herself round and down the short tunnel to the airlock. The rush of pressure always has a slight sickening feel; a heaviness in the rush of blood as gravity takes over on the body’s systems. By the time she reaches the lab, Noona is in full song, her words pushing back the empty space beyond the frozen portholes.

Homesick

I said goodbye
Sailing far from my dreams
But they haunt me so
And it always seems
I’m saying goodbye
To you in my dreams

Child ever mine, I wish you were with me
So I write every day about my dreams
As we sail through to forever
I hold you here with the hope
Soon we’ll be sailing for home

And the ship runs before the wind
Ride the sun storm and we spin
Buoy me up and bring me home
And sing a prayer for us who sail
Too close to heaven

I said goodbye
Sailing far with my dreams
But they haunt me so
And it always seems
I’m saying goodbye
To you in my dreams

Man ever mine, I wish you were here with me
So I remember a kiss with which to reminisce
As we sail through to forever
I hold you here with the hope
Soon we’ll be sailing for home.
And the ship runs before the wind
Ride the sun storm and we spin
Buoy me up and bring me home
And sing a prayer for us who sail
Too close to heaven

A little later Harvey, on one of his inspection rounds, stops off in the infirmary to talk to Addie.

'Coffee?'

'Thanks, what’s the time?' Addie pauses momentarily from viewing this week’s blood samples and glances up at Harvey.

'Time for a coffee. You work too hard.'

'Hey, what is this, pick on Addie day? You’re as bad as Noona.'

'Well, Noona and I are right. This is your first long haul and it shows. You’re putting us all to shame. Slow down, its not like we’re travelling at the speed of light! Anyway, all work and no play…' Harvey leans over her shoulder and glances at the samples on the screen. 'Blood?'

'Yes, routine. Very dull, but necessary. You’ll be pleased to know you have a clean bill of health.'

'Thanks, doctor. I commend your thoroughness, believe me, another month or two and you’ll be throwing the samples straight into the Analythis…'

'Hey! How come you’re drinking coffee?” Irvin enters the labs, interrupting Harvey mid-sentence.

“Well, thirst combined with common-sense and I thought, hmmm…'

'Very humorous…I can’t get shit out of those bloody machines! Every time I punch in the code for coffee the menu selector flashes up... 'Invalid request!''

'Sounds like a glitch' Harvey winks at Addie.

'Yeah, that’s what I thought. What are we going to do?'

Addie stifles a giggle 'Sounds like it’s your glitch, Irv.'

'Oh, come on! At least get me a coffee!'

'What’s it worth?' Harvey leans close to Addie and whispers in her ear, 'Glitches are always good bargaining tools.'

'You are kidding me?' Irv shakes his head in disbelief. 'You two are joking, right?'

'Caffeine withdrawal is no laughing matter, trust me, I’m a doctor.'

Harvey tries unsuccessfully to stifle a laugh and it turns into a snort.

Addie picks up a slim, silver laser knife and dangles it in front of Irv. 'That reminds me, I was up early again due to your adenoids…how about I trade helping with your glitch with you letting me give you an adenoidectomy?'

Harvey’s shoulders are beginning to shake with the effort of not laughing out loud.

'I do not snore! You’re teasing me! Come on, I’m dying for a coffee! It’s only a bloody coffee. I can’t believe you could be that cruel!'

Harvey and Addie glance at each other as though about to relent,

'What do you think, Harvey, let him have a cup?'

'Well…we could do, I suppose, what do you think?' They both pause and then, in unison reply,

'Invalid request!'

'Bastards!' Irv storms off as Harvey and Addie collapse in laughter at his anger.

/login irvin/ ‘Anyone talking to me tonight?’

/login dougal/ ‘Just me.’

‘Dougal, where have you been hiding all day?’

‘As far from you as possible! Out on the farm beds. Heard you had a coffee glitch, solved it?’

‘Yeah. It was a voice pitch mismatch. Maincom had detected too much stress in my upper octaves recently, mirrored in the way I’ve been punching in the codes for coffee and so routed the glitch to all the machines.’

‘And the cure?’

‘An hour with the punch bag and then a g-run.’

‘Wow, real stress. Haven’t had to g-run for ages. But you’re ok?’

‘Well, getting coffee at least. Nothing another chapter of the doctor’s novel wouldn’t cure.’

‘Ah yes, now that is a pick me up. Do you think she knows we’ve hacked into it.’

‘I hope not. She’s a real talent for words, not to mention sex scenes. Reckon it’s from personal experience or just wishful thinking?’

‘Hers or yours?’

‘Am I that obvious?’

‘The trouble with long haul is too much time to think, and thinking gets you into a glitch.’

‘Hey, I downloaded some music last night, you interested in Pulse ?’

‘That sounds like a whole lot of stress to me! I’ll pass on that one.’

‘Well try this then, Katy Capet?, very smooth.’

‘OK, I’ll give it a go, I’m going to turn in. The extra humidity out on the beds always does for me. See you tomorrow.’

‘Yeah, sleep well, I think I’m going to read for a while.’

/logoff dougal//

/logoff irvin//logon adelia/routine cache download // pass protected files //code*****//dreamer

Dreamer

Reaching out through the thin needles of heat, turning brilliant and silver in the slanting light from the porthole, reaching through the veil of silver for the hope of his touch. But the water cascade is finite and slides down the glass in riverines. The glass is cold to the touch, cold to the skin, mirror of her flesh echoing a fractured form in the water streams. Flowing through her consciousness, over her skin, enticing the memories from her flesh. Leaning on the cold surface, its icy caress a balm to flaring nerves and still she reaches for his touch. If she could scream his name and make him here but it is too late and beyond the porthole there is only the blank veil of a billion stars weeping their icy glaze across the universe. The sting of heat, the cold glass and the sleek velvet tenderness of the soap, perfume clinging to her thighs, her neck, the swell of her breathing, the weight of her hair coiling down the nape of her neck, slowly unwinding into the steam and still she reaches for him. The burners kick and the rocket alters its trajectory, and the light which was causing mercury fire in the flow of the jet shower is abruptly cut and the magic is gone. She is alone in the oppressive gloom of the cubicle and her hair is falling into her eyes and the glass is cold and he is nowhere but more lost to her than ever.

‘Harvey, what do you do dream of?’ Noona stretches and lets her feet slip off the sill of the viewport. The others were asleep and it was just her and Harvey on duty so they had routed the maincom to the viewpod and were watching space slip by on the viewport.

‘Can’t remember. You?’

‘Well, home, I guess. I mean, out here, you think of home don’t you?’

‘This is my home. You have ties. Makes it harder for you. Every time you launch yourself into space, you have to say goodbye.’

‘It's so hard to say goodbye. I hate it. But on some level it makes me survive, to get back there, to see them again, I’d burn the universe down, you know that? I’d burn the universe down if I thought it would get me back home to see Chip and Christophe again.’

‘Let’s hope it never comes to it, Noona. For me space is where I can let go. Where we freefall out into the void and there’s nothing anyone can do about it but us. Its pure survival, a real rush. I love it and hate it. I know one day it will kill me. You’ll survive. That’s what separates you and I. You know when to get out. You have a reason to retire; you’ll survive this space trip. People like me and Dougal, we’re here for the duration, till death us do part.’

Noona shifts her gaze from the stars to Harvey’s face, as he stares at the viewport, his eyes half-lidded. For the first time she notices the network of fine lines etching out across his face. They belie the hardness in his voice and map out his sense of lost cause.

‘I would have marked out Irv as a space junkie, not Dougal.’

‘Where does Dougal live? Nowhere but here. He’d be climbing the walls on Mars. All those people, all that interaction. Out here, he can live in his head and he’s free. Irv’s like you, like Addie. You watch him watching Addie, then you see where he’ll get off. Wherever she does that’s for sure. He’d follow her straight to compartment bliss if she wanted it.’

‘I hadn’t noticed.’

‘Too busy with your songs.’

‘You and I, Harvey. I always feel safe with you. Like I’m going to get home to see my life again.’

‘Well, I’ll do my best. Because the rules are this, the Company wants something and we get it and we bring it home and then, the Company wants something else and we go out again. And it suits me fine, and while you’re on the ship with me, then you are the closest I get to home and to family. And so what you want, is what I want and if you need to get home, we will get home. Just don’t burn the universe down Noona, because it’s my universe too, and it’s the only place I have to call my own.’

Noona smiles and in her mind is a song and a rhythm just beginning to run, like a tide up over her brain. They fall into a comfortable silence as the viewport displays nothing but a yawning emptiness in front of them.

Fidget skin
Who you to take me to this place
Who you to see lines in my face
And find fault with me
Are you so perfectly at one
With your place in this
Big bowl of stars
Who you to say I’m no one

Silver drift of mercury pulse bring me down to your level
Fumes to vent your fire, little livewires around your eyes
Tell tale signs of the fidget skin you bring to this mix
You jump off into the deep end once to often, and then some
Broken wheel will tailgate your firelife and you’ll be gone

Who you to say I’m no one
Who you to take me to this place
Who you to see lines in my face
And find fault with me
Are you so perfectly at one
With your place in this
Big bowl of stars

Day sixteen

From the hatchway, Harvey can see Dougal at work and, as always, he is absorbed, intent on the task at hand. Lost in his own universe.

‘Mind if I join you?’

Dougal starts, looking up at Harvey with an almost guilty look, ‘No…no not at all. You made me jump. Come in.’

‘Navigational charts?’

‘Sunspot projections.’

‘Oh, need a hand?’

‘Well, I was just running over the calculations. I’ve found a couple of errors already.’

‘Really? In our favour?’ Harvey swings the holoscreen round so he can see and Dougal calls up his figures.

‘No, it cuts down on time on the ISELP. We’ll need to convert her in less than a month. Which shouldn’t be a problem should it?’

Harvey remains thoughtful for a minute, trying to calculate how much time lost.

‘Is it a problem?’ Harvey glances up at Dougal’s question.

‘Hold on, how much time are we losing?’

‘Just over nine days.’

‘Nine days? Dougal that’s a hell of a chunk out of the schedule! Are you sure of your figures, I don’t mean to be rude, but…well, the people who work on these things know what they are talking about.’

Dougal smiles wryly, ‘I know, Harv, I trained them. Which is why I know the figures are out and my calculations are more accurate. Will we have enough time?’

‘I’ll need to run over our schedules. How accurate a model for predicting sunspot activity is this? I mean any leeway when we get there?’

‘No leeway Harv, because if we get caught in a storm of the magnitude these calculations are predicting, we are dead. Look, these models are normally right but the sun has seen a huge increase in activity, which has been slowly building up over the last couple of centuries. Well, they started monitoring sunspot activity back in the middle of twentieth century, modelling activity in the twenty-first when it was on an seven year cycle and predicting for the last seventy years, in which time it has wound up to a yearly cycle. The predictions for the last quarter century are ninety-six percent accurate so far. We thought we had a window of a month, which is pretty bloody good going for Earth at the moment. But I say we haven’t and I’m not prepared to risk our lives for a four percent chance. So, I say we have only nineteen days on the ISELP to convert her.’

Harvey shakes his head. ‘Shit.’

‘Is that a considered opinion?’

‘I’m going to have to go over our schedules, this is going to seriously alter our plans. Do you have any idea how big ISELP is?’

‘Yes, yes I do. Look Harv, I’m going to call a meeting over this because we all need to work on this, OK?’

‘Yeah, when?’

‘In an hour, the sooner we start to get organised for this the better.’

Addie finds Irvin at the coffee machine. ‘So, any clue as to why Dougal has called a meeting?’

'No, hey, how good would it be, if Dougal has a glitch he can’t solve.’

‘Dougal not solve something, we really are in trouble.’ Noona arrives from the direction of their cabins.

‘Hi Noona. Want some coffee.’ Without waiting for a reply Irv punches in Noona’s preferred code.

Dougal and Harvey are already in the viewcom by the time Noona, Irv and Addie arrive.

'What’s this?’ Addie points to the calculations Dougal has called up on the viewscreen.

‘Oh no! Are those what I think they are?’ Noona puts down her coffee and swiftly runs a finger over the screen, reading through Dougal’s figures.

‘These are my adjusted calculations for the probability of a sunspot prominence occurring whilst we are in the vicinity of earth. The calculations we were supplied with were flawed. I have recalculated with the information obtainable and extrapolated to account for…’

‘Dougal, the short version, please!’ interjects Irv, ‘I’m not getting any younger here.’

‘We have less time than originally planned to refit ISELP.’

‘How much less is less?’ Irv asks suspiciously.

Harvey answers. ‘Only nineeteen days.’

Irv whistles, ‘Ouch!’

Addie tries to follow the calculations on the screen, but gets hopelessly lost.’ Is this a glitch?’

Dougal sighs ruefully, ‘Sorry, Addie, no such luck. This is real.’

‘So why does this increase in activity affect us?’

'To refit the ISELP we will be working unshielded by Meld-all. A huge sunspot storm of the magnitude I am predicting will irradiate us lethally.'

‘So, what do we do now?’

‘Solve the problem. Ideas?’

‘Who’s first?’

‘Me,’ Irvin stands up to get everyone’s attention. 'Two things, firstly, can we increase our speed or shorten our route and arrive at ISELP ahead of schedule and secondly, I need more coffee.’ He ducks out through the hatchway to the coffee machine.

‘OK, so how about it Noona, can we get to earth any quicker?’

Noona sighs, ‘The route is pretty fixed, I can’t see any shortcuts in terms of actual flight path. But we can investigate speed. We’ll need to work up some projections on whether the P2PIG or Plasma2Impulse Generator chambers will take any extra pressure. Also we can examine load lightening and sail trim. We might be able to shave off a few hours here and there, but we will be only talking hours, not days.’

Irvin reappears with a thermojug of coffee. ‘Refills.’

‘How about the refit itself? How’s it been scheduled?’

‘Standard rotational shifts, two crews of two for ten hours in every twenty-four.’

‘So we have three hundred and sixty hours to make up. Any suggestions?’

‘Three point three recurring extra hours per shift per person.’

Addie shakes her head at the figure Dougal quotes, ‘Too big an increase in hours, the flight takes its toll on the body and physically, ten hour shifts are bad enough. I would suggest at best gradual increase in hours up to two or three extra at most. Also if we increase shift hours, we need to look at our dietary intake and our training schedules. We’ll need to up protein and carbohydrates plus start more stamina training. Do we carry enough food for this?’

‘So final option would be to carve down on the refit and get ISELP flight ready only.’

‘Seems the most logical solution. But we don’t really know what kind of shape she’s in. The schedule was worked out to give us enough time for an internal audit, assess her flight capability, bolt on a thermo-engine and Meld-all her outer hull, attach her to us and head for home. It’s not like we were going to refit her as a luxury spacetel.’ Irvin flicks at the rim of his coffee cup in agitation.

‘Our best hope is to concentrate on flight capabilities and engines. The Meld-all can be dealt with on the return flight, as can the internal audit.’ Harvey pauses to refill his coffee cup, ‘We ought to work out a best-way scenario for Meld-all application in transit, has it been attempted before?’

‘Not to my knowledge. Hey, so we make a bit of history on the way!’ Irv brightens up. ‘Pioneers!’

‘Any other thoughts?’ Noona glances round at everyone, ‘No, OK so, plan of action is, Addie to work out diet and training regime to increase shift length whilst at ISELP, we’ll try and claw back as much time as possible that way. Dougal and I will work over our engine speed and flight plans. Irv and Harvey can start working up a new work schedule for our time on ISELP and the return flight and start solving any engineering problems, like the application of Meld-all in transit. We all need to be totally familiar with this information and so I want open forum on all work. OK?’


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