“What was that, Sergeant?” Lieutenant Olchevski asked via comm.
“Nothing, Sir. Personal problem,” Lorenz replied, her voice strained.
It took all of her willpower not to try and scratch her nose despite it being technically impossible for the time being.
She wiggled her nose, trying to alleviate the itch, but it was not much of a help. In the end, she chose to ignore the situation as well as possible and focus on the task at hand.
“Lieutenant, I’m now starting with platform two.”
“Copy that, Sarge.”
Chief Sergeant Lorenz repeated the same steps as she had done on the previous platform. She opened up the first compartment, stored the shield, and looked inside. If before, the mass of cables had been challenging, it was now a confusing, semi-colour-coded mess.
There were so many connections that, at some point, the engineers in charge of putting the unit together had run out of colours and switched to using black conductors with white numerals. On the bright side, the amount of cables packed in this rather tight space made it impossible for any additional equipment to be hidden among them.
Lorenz sighed heavily and opened the second compartment. This one was equally confusing but less overcrowded. It still contained an overwhelming amount of cables and connections, but also featured a number of various electronic control units.
The technical Sergeant began with the latter, using her multiscanner to inspect each device. Their power usage was normal for equipment in standby-mode, which unfortunately meant that she had no way to know on which connections she should focus when inspecting the first compartment on this platform.
She swore under her breath as she struggled to put this compartment’s anti-meteoroid shield back in place. Once that was taken care of, she returned to the first compartment and took a good look at it again. Her trained eyes scanned for any sort of irregularity, but the only thing she got out of it was a slight headache
Chief Sergeant Lorenz checked her vac-suit’s oxygen reserve and decided to increase the outflow by a fraction, hoping that it would help clear her head.
She then began to painstakingly check every single connection she had access to with her hand-held scanner, which took the better part of an hour.
Every once in a while, Lieutenant Olchevski would check in with her, making sure that she was doing alright- He had access to her suit’s vital readings through the airlock’s console, so he knew that she was physically fine. But Olchevski was aware of the strain an extended spacewalk could have on a person’s mind, so he preferred to avoid that by making small talk with the Sergeant, who was rather pleasant to talk to in his opinion.
“I’m done here, Sir. Moving along to the next platform,” she eventually said.
Lorenz pulled herself along the handrail, making sure to secure her tether at regular intervals. Platforms three and four were on the same level, only fifty metres ahead of her, at opposite sides of the mast’s structural framework.
She knew that those platforms would not be as time-consuming to inspect as the one she had just left behind. But there were a lot more array links further along the mast, which would be a pain to check properly.
The compartment on the first of the twin platforms was inspected in less time than it took to remove the shield and put it back in place. Once this had been handled, Lorenz deactivated her magnetic soles once more and gently pushed off the platform, aiming for the handrail that would allow her to circumnavigate the mast.
Chief Sergeant Monika Lorenz was just about to secure her tether in the next hook when she was thrown off-balance.
She began to spin uncontrollably while unwillingly putting more and more distance between herself and the mast. At the same time, an alarm in her suit started blaring, making her aware of a loss in pressurisation.
A second later, Lorenz felt her left leg being encased in self-sealing foam which quickly hardened, blocking off the leak in her suit and immobilising her limb. Lorenz’ breathing became erratic as she flailed her arms around, struggling to hit the button for the suit’s built-in reaction control system.
Lieutenant Olchevski, meanwhile, had realised that something was wrong when the Sergeant’s tether began to unspool from the winch at an excessive rate. Simultaneously, her heart rate spiked, causing him to hit the winch’s emergency-stop.
Lorenz felt a sharp yank on her waist as the tether stopped her dead in her tracks. She let out a short yelp as a result. She was also finally able to activate her RCS, and the spin she was being subjected to slowed to a halt within a few seconds.
“Sergeant Lorenz, are you alright?” Lieutenant Olchevski asked via comm.
After catching her breath, she responded, her voice strained, “I’m fine, Sir. No idea what happened. Must’ve been hit by a stray piece of debris or some micro-meteoroid.”
“Any damage or injuries?”
“I appear to be intact, Sir. The suit depressurised for a moment, but the foam took care of that.”
“Understood. Hang tight, Sergeant, I’ll reel you back in.”
“Negative, Sir. Just get me back to the mast. I have yet to complete my mission,” Lorenz replied, full of determination.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Sir. I am not injured. I can keep going.”
“Alright, Sarge. Proceed at your discretion.”
Lieutenant Olchevski activated the winch and reeled in Lorenz’ tethering cable until she was safely back on the last platform she had visited. Once there, she proceeded towards the platform on the other side of the mast’s structure.
Inspecting the next platform turned out to only yield negative results once again, which was thoroughly anticlimactic, compared to the excitement involved in getting there.
Chief Sergeant Monika Lorenz sighed and continued to make her way towards the end of the mast. Her left leg was somewhat of a hindrance, as it was still firmly encased in the self-sealing foam that had saved her life only moments before. She did not need to walk, however, so the stiff limb was more annoying than anything else.
As she raised her head to look along the mast, which seemed to continue without end into interstellar space, she silently hoped that she would find something, anything, so that this ordeal would not have been in vain.
A few moments earlier...
Cadets Defour and Lundström were hanging out at bar and shared a few drinks.
At least, that was what they liked to imagine, while spending time together in the student common area. This rather spacious room was one of the few places aboard Zeta Station where young people could come to socialise.
Even though it was rather late, Lundström had managed to convince her friend to stay out until curfew in order to spend some quality time. Their schedules had been more packed than usual, and though this would not have deterred the young blonde, Defour on the other hand was very particular when it came to her studies.
“I miss the sun,” Lundström said, while staring out of the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up one side of the room.
“The sun? You barely have any where you’re from,” Defour laughed, “it’s been a while since I’ve experienced it, but believe me, there is such a thing as too much sun.”
“I may be a pale blonde from the Far North, but I do know what sun is. Growing up, we’ve had sunlight non-stop almost two months.”
“I would go insane. I’ve heard of that, of course, but I’ve never actually experienced it,” the young woman from the UCC said, eyes wide open.
“It’s pretty cool, but you get used to it after a while. Not having that was surprisingly hard to get used to for me once I moved further South.”
“It’s amazing what the human body can get used to.”
“You’re right there, Sky. And that’s nothing compared to what some of the colonists had to adapt to.”
“You can say that again,” Defour said and smiled. She then continued, “I did notice that you seemed to have a soft spot for the plight of the colonies. How come?”
Lundström remained uncharacteristically silent for a moment, weighing her words carefully. She stared out into the darkness once again before finally answering.
“It’s not that hard, really. Aren’t we all human in the end, no matter where we’re from?”
“Of course,” Defour nodded slowly, “It’s just that so far, most people I’ve talked to, military or civilian, didn’t really agree with my more diplomatic approach to this conflict. Especially the Scandinavians were very pro-war. You’re literally the first person from the Scandi Alliance who sees things that way.”
Lundström shrugged, “Bah, I’m sure there’s more of me over there.”
“Over there?” Defour raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, you know, there,” the blonde said, pointing at a random spot beyond the window, “back home.”
Cadet Defour bit her lip, swallowing the question she was about to ask. Before she could come up with something else to say, Lundström continued to speak.
“Don’t tell anyone I’ve said that, especially not our two boys,” she looked over her shoulder before continuing in a lower voice, “sometimes, I feel like this whole war is rather pointless and should just end already.”
The young woman from the Scandinavian Alliance wanted nothing more than to open up, and she felt like Amanda ‘Sky’ Defour was the right person for that. She was unsure, however, whether the curly-haired beauty would understand, despite her apparent openness.
Lundström sighed. She really liked Defour, and it would be a shame to lose her as a friend. But she also knew that, if she wanted to say something, she would have to do so sooner rather than later.
She took a deep breath and was about to open her mouth to speak, when her friend suddenly all but jumped out of her seat and stepped closer to the window.
“What was that?” Cadet Defour exclaimed.
“What was what?” Lundström asked after shaking her head rapidly to bring herself back into the here-and-now.
“Out there, by the mast. Looked like a flashing light of sorts.”
“Where? I didn’t see anything.”
“I can’t quite make it out. Round about there,” the young woman from the Caribbean pointed at the window, “there it is again!”
“Now I saw it too. Wait, is that a person?”
“Could be. Your eyesight is better than mine. Why the erratic blinking then?”
“Looks like a person,” Lundström confirmed after a while, “Oh my... Someone’s tumbling away from the mast!”
Both Cadets now had their noses pressed against the window and were fully focused on the drama that unfolded between them and the mast for as long as they were able to see it. Soon, however, the habitat ring’s rotation had moved the scene out of view-range.
“Should we tell anyone?” Defour asked.
“If someone’s doing an EVA, then there’s someone else by the airlock, watching over them. So they’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
“Of course, you’re right,” she exhaled deeply.
“I’m more wondering what they were doing out there. It’s late, and there’s no maintenance scheduled,” Lundström said, followed by a sharp intake of breath.
“How do you know that?” Defour looked at her friend sideways.
Cadet Lundström took a few steps back.
“I... must’ve overheard it somewhere. You know I like to hang out in the central cylinder for the lack of gravity. There’s maintenance staff around there all the time.”
“Oh... right, of course.”
“I think we should head back now. This night now ended up being more exciting than relaxing,” the young blonde forced a laugh.
“Sure. It’s getting close to curfew anyway, let’s pack up and head back.”
A little while later, the two young women had returned to their cabin, where the lights had already been off. García was snoring, while Osondu still had his reading light on, but the privacy screen of his bunk was closed.
Defour and Lundström changed as quietly as possible, went to the hygiene station to brush their teeth, then nodded to each other before disappearing in their respective bunks. Defour lay on her back, eyes still open, and replayed parts of her conversation with her friend in her mind.
Suddenly, her train of thought was derailed by the sound of Lundström’s privacy screen opening up again. Defour opened hers just enough so that she could look through. She observed how the blonde woman got out of her bunk, slipped back into her jumpsuit, and left the cabin.
Intrigued and confused, Defour got up as well and decided to follow her friend.