A Break in the Routine
Cora rebooted and found herself in darkness broken up by faint light passing across the room. She became aware of gravity pinning her lightly to the wall and the creaking and groaning of distressed metal reverberating through the walls, ceiling, and floor.
She scanned her surroundings for familiar heat signatures and found the human patterns of Ludmila Likhachyova and Evelyn Bonner as well as the quite different pattern of her friend Kim’s cybernetic body.
“Kim, is everyone okay?”
“Col. Likhachyova’s unconscious. Might have a concussion. She hit the floor pretty hard, but we were all in the air when the electrical discharge happened. You weren’t so lucky.” Kim’s glowing red optic strip shifted as she moved closer. “It arced out of a panel you were passing by and … well, zap.”
“Ah. So, that’s what knocked me out.” Cora checked her internal chronometer and discovered she’d been offline for nine seconds. She ran diagnostics and scanned her recent memories for gaps caused by physical damage. Arriving at Odyssey Station, delivering supplies for the construction crew building the O’Neill cylinder. Meeting the new station commander and another pilot, Evelyn Bonner -- or “Boner,” the unfortunate callsign she’d had since her Air Force days.
Noticing a flash outside the main viewport and finding a very large, crescent-shaped object hurtling straight at the station. The impact, another flash, Cora’s sensors registering a power overload, then nothing for nine seconds. Just a routine flight that had gone completely to shit in only a few seconds.
Everything tracked with her chronometer. Her diagnostics flagged the damage to half of the nano-sensors in her metal surfaces, but she’d already noticed the numb spots all over her body. It would’ve been even worse if she hadn’t been hardened against radiation and EMP before her first run from the Pacifica Skyhook to Jupiter last year.
Cora secured herself to the wall with the electromagnets in her feet, turned back to the viewport, and noted the distant sun and Jupiter sweeping past the viewport. “The station’s spinning.”
“Yeah, when that thing hit us, it cleaved the station in half.” Kim motioned at the viewport. “I caught a glimpse of the other half when it rotated past. It appears to still have power. The thing that hit us is still out there, too. Looks like it’s drifting.”
“Once we evacuate the crew and get them to one of the other stations, maybe we can take a closer look at it.” Cora made her way over to the hatch. “I’d love to find out what it is and where it came from.”
Kim turned to Boner. ”Please tell me you still have the emergency kits and spacesuits in every room.”
“Yep. The previous station commander made sure we always had more spacesuits than we needed.” Boner pointed at a set of lockers in the far corner. “Ludmila left most of his policies in place when she took over, including that one.”
“Good. Cora doesn’t need to breathe and all I need is a tank to plug in and keep my brain supplied with oxygen.” Kim crossed the room and stuck herself to the wall with electromagnets like the ones Cora had. She pulled a spacesuit out of one of the lockers and tossed it to Boner. “We need to get Likhachyova into that.”
Cora opened the other lockers until she found an oxygen tank. She motioned for Kim to turn around. Kim faced away from her and pulled her shirt off, revealing her feminine-shaped but robotic torso. Cora connected the tank to a port in Kim’s left shoulder blade.
“Good. Thanks.” Kim grabbed another spacesuit, helped get Likhachyova into the first, and handed the other to Boner.
“How many people are aboard?” Cora moved back to the hatch and waited for Boner to seal her suit and activate its systems.
“Thirty-six, including three robots like you and another who has a quadrupedal body about the size of a car.”
“I’m familiar with that model,” Kim said. “My mom works with a few of ’em. They were built for police and military use, though.”
“Lopez was the same, but after he became sentient, he wanted to build stuff instead of hurting or killing people.”
“I like him already.” Cora checked one last time to be sure everyone was ready, then she cranked the hatch open with the manual control. She returned to Likhachyova and carried her gently into the corridor. They made their way back to the docking module and found six more people floating in the air and slipping into armored spacesuits -- the guys who’d unloaded the cargo. One of them twisted his face up while putting his right arm into the sleeve and then cradling his left arm.
“How are you holding up?” Cora detached from the wall, floated over to him, and helped him finish donning the suit as gently as possible. Most of the others had already put their helmets on and locked the seals.
“Well, we’re alive.” A woman near the hatch spoke through gritted teeth. “My legs were crushed between two crates. I keep telling myself that I’m lucky it wasn’t my skull.”
“We’ll get you to a medical bay as soon as possible.” Cora put the woman’s helmet on and sealed it up. “Is anyone else here?”
“No,” another guy said. “The rest were in the command and habitat modules when we headed over here.”
“Aw, hell, I should’ve thought of this before.” Boner tapped the control panel on her left forearm. “Can anyone hear me? We were in the pilots’ lounge when all hell broke loose.”
Cora activated her internal comlink and a new voice came through, sounding understandably panicked. “This is Vance. Is Ludmila okay?”
“She was knocked out and may have a concussion, but she’s alive. So are Boner and the six crew members who handled our cargo.”
Vance let a relieved sigh rush out. “Good.”
“Is everyone on your half of the station okay?”
“No fatalities, but a lot of broken bones, lacerations, and one really bad spinal injury. And we haven’t been able to contact Lopez -- he was outside, repairing some micrometeorite damage. His comm equipment must be offline. I mean, I hope that’s all it is. He’s a tough little ’bot, but that was a hell of a jolt. What was it?”
“Something collided with us. That’s all we know, for now. Is your half of the station tumbling?”
“Yeah, slowly. Your half looks like it’s in worse shape.”
“That’ll make launching the transports a challenge, but once we do that, we’ll be able to pick everyone up. Sit tight until then.”
“Got it. Good luck, guys.”
“Whatever we’re gonna do,” Kim said once Vance had signed off, “we need to do it before that half of the station falls out of orbit.”