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Authors: R Davison

Orbital Maneuvers (10 page)

BOOK: Orbital Maneuvers
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“Susan, thirty seconds!”

“Go Ivan!  We are in the airlock and the outer hatch is closed.”

As Susan was trying to brace herself and the cosmonauts from being bounced off the bulkheads, she heard Ivan call out, “Hang on to your hats!…3…2…1…Ignition!” Susan grunted as she bore the brunt of the two surprised cosmonauts, who slammed into her as the shuttle accelerated out from underneath them.  The engines fired for about thirty seconds, sending a rumble through the entire shuttle, making it even more noticeable when it stopped and there was complete silence.

Ivan called out, “The burn went off as planned.  With any luck we should be arriving at the station in a few hours.” By this time, Paul had pressurized the airlock and opened the hatch allowing the cargo and people to spill out into the middeck.

Susan heaved a sigh of relief as the adrenaline rush started to subside and watched from the back of the airlock while Paul assisted the two cosmonauts.  She could hear her heart beat slowing down, and gave herself a moment to close her eyes and relax her tense muscles.  She allowed herself to enjoy the warm feeling of accomplishment that flowed through her for an instant, as she saw the cosmonauts give Paul a hug. 
One down, one to go
, she thought.




Ivan checked the systems after the burn to make sure everything was nominal.  He saw no indication of any problems and was pleasantly surprised to see that the air leak had slowed considerably.  He mulled over the possible causes: Either the crack had sealed with the sealant Paul used or from the vibration and stress of the burn.  He thought about it for a moment and considered a third possibility: the internal pressure had dropped below a threshold to which the air could not be forced through the crack.  Whichever the case, he was glad to see the leak almost stop, which could have indicated that their air supply problems had lessened.  He did not trust the readout and definitely did not want to let his guard down.  “Murphy” could still run rampant he reminded himself.

Assured that the shuttle was safely on its way and needed no immediate attention from him, he made his way down to the middeck to welcome the new passengers, his old comrades.  Ivan greeted his fellow cosmonauts, Alexander and Nicholas, with warm hugs, handshakes and smiles.  He noticed Susan floating off to the side, smiling at the reunion, but looking a little worse for the wear having just gone through the ritual.  It was good to see his friends after being in the United States for so many years, training for this mission.  They had crossed paths frequently in the early days of their cosmonaut training.  As each one was selected for his particular missions, they saw less and less of each other.  They had much to talk about.

“I think it is time to take a break and have something to eat,” Ivan said as he headed for the food locker.  “It’s been a long time since lunch for us.  How about you, Alexander, Nicholas?”

“Yes!  We left MIR in rather quite a hurry and did not have time to eat our breakfast,” Alexander responded.

It was at this moment that Jerry made his entrance into the room.  He suffered through the introductions and quickly left the cabin with the excuse that he had some readings to take on the flight deck.  Susan watched Jerry float out of the room and could feel her blood pressure rise.  Given half the chance, she felt she could throw him overboard and not give it a second thought.  This brought a smile to her lips, which faded quickly as she realized just what she was thinking.  With all that had happened, how could she consider another senseless death?  She tried to push all these thoughts out of her mind and focus on their new guests.  Surely, they would have some stories that would provide a nice diversion.

Paul and Ivan were preparing some sandwiches for everyone.  Without the aid of gravity, the simple task of making a sandwich requires two people, because every time you let go of an object, like a slice of bread, to get another object, like the peanut butter jar, the bread starts to float away.  Zero gravity may be fun, but it forces one to rethink even the most trivial of tasks.  Ivan and Paul had it down to a science and Alexander and Nicholas were enjoying the show. 

Alexander went over to the packages they brought along and rummaged through them until he found what he was looking for.  Returning with a big smile on his face and a medium-sized jar in his hand, he said, “I was able to grab a little something to eat on the way, but we never had the chance.  So we will all share now.” With that, he sent the jar floating across the cabin toward Ivan who caught it and smiled broadly.

“Ahh, caviar!  Beluga caviar from the Caspian Sea of course, the best!  Susan and Paul you are in for a treat!”

“Fish eggs!” Paul joked, “I’m not so sure I’m up to eating fish eggs.  Basically, I am a chicken egg kind of guy.  You know what I mean?”

“Paul, one taste of these black, delectable morsels and you will be forever hooked on—fish eggs,” Ivan shot back.

“That is true,” Nicholas joined in, “this is the best in the world.  Historically men have killed to possess caviar this fine.  Really!”

“Come on, Paul,” Susan laughed, “it can’t be worse than your crayfish stew.”

“But that is a delicacy passed down from generation to generation in my family.” Paul’s voice faded, and the cabin was suddenly cloaked in silence.  An icy chill filled the room as Paul tried to regain control.

“I am so sorry, Paul,” Susan said, as she moved over by him and placed her hand on his shoulder.  “I wasn’t thinking.  I didn’t mean to bring this up.”

“It’s okay Susan.  You don’t need to say anymore.  I am the one who should be sorry for disrupting our luncheon.” Looking up at the blank stares from Alexander and Nicholas, Paul realized that they did not know what he and Susan were talking about.  Paul paused, took a deep breath, and turning to the cosmonauts, explained that his family was in the strike zone of the asteroid that hit Texas.

Alexander and Nicholas offered their heartfelt sympathies for Paul’s loss.  Paul mustered all his strength to keep from breaking down completely.  He thanked the cosmonauts, Susan and Ivan for their support, and then to everyone, he said, “We have a challenge ahead of us still and we don’t have time to worry about things we have no control over.  Besides,” he said looking at the two cosmonauts, “we have two guests and we must make them feel at home.  I will gladly taste your fis…ah…caviar and will do so with an open mind and an empty stomach!”

With that, the two cosmonauts helped Ivan spread the caviar on the bread and rolled the slices into tubes to keep any of the little black eggs from floating away.  They ate with enthusiasm, but little meaningful conversation. 

Paul finally broke the ice by asking, “Commander Orlov, Captain Zuyev, did —”

“Please, Alexander and Nicholas,” Alexander interrupted.

Paul smiled and continued, “Alexander and Nicholas, did you hear anything about the impact before you left MIR?”

Nicholas spoke up, “We were asleep when the impact occurred, and we had no news from Earth at that time.  Shortly after we were up and about, we received our daily up-load of news and information and they mentioned that there was a severe seismic disturbance in the United States.  We thought they were referring to California and did not pay too much attention to it.  It was shortly thereafter that we hit something which just about tore MIR apart.”

“It happened quite suddenly,” Alexander added. “First the solar panels shut down and we switched over to batteries.  Then the station started to get hit with bigger pieces of debris.  We immediately got into our pressure suits as every alarm that could go off, did go off.  Between the alarms and the noise of the impacts on MIR it was difficult to talk to each other, even with the intercom at maximum.”

Nicholas continued, “The noise from the impacts stopped as suddenly as it started and we were left with the alarms sounding.  That was enough to tell us that we had major problems.”

“Yes, definitely a lot worse than when the computers crashed,” Alexander volunteered, while Nicholas finished the last bit of his sandwich. “We realized that we had no choice but to abandon the station as quickly as possible.  Our link with Earth was gone, and out of desperation we thought we would try to contact you through a satellite relay.  I did not think that it would work, but was very relieved to hear Ivan’s voice.”

“We also lost our communication link with our Mission Control.  I was quite surprised to hear from you.  I didn’t think we would hear from anyone over the radios,” Susan said.

“After we had talked with Ivan and had a plan, we dumped what we could into Soyuz and prepared to leave MIR,” Nicholas continued, as he caught a few crumbs of bread floating in front of his face.

“That is when we discovered that MIR was not going to let us go!” Alexander continued to explain their difficulties in escaping MIR.

Nicholas picked up the story as Alexander took a moment to take a drink.  “We were almost out of fuel and realized that it was hopeless dragging the station with us.  The Commander demonstrated exceptional judgment and piloting skills in forcing the separation of the two craft, allowing us the chance to achieve the proper orbit.”

“I must admit, it was more desperation than exceptional judgment,” Alexander added with a weak smile.  He finished the story of their adventure and raised his drink bottle in a toast to their rescuers.  “Thank you, comrades, for your timely assistance.  We owe you our lives.”

“Well, we are not out of the woods yet, so to speak,” Ivan said.  “We still have to rendezvous with the space station, and we do not know what condition she is in at this time.  Susan feels that the station may have missed the debris cloud, but it was too close to say.  We have met “Murphy” too many times on this mission, and frankly, I am tired of his company.”

Alexander and Nicholas stared at each other with puzzled expressions and then back at Ivan.  Ivan, Paul and Susan all laughed.  Once they explained that “Murphy” was not a crew member, but the originator of the saying, “
what could go wrong will go wrong
,” Nicholas and Alexander laughed and agreed that they too had met with him more times than they would care to count. “He is definitely an unwelcome crew member!” Nicholas said.

Nicholas had noticed the damage to the shuttle as he came aboard but had not heard what caused it.  Curiosity getting the better of him, he turned to Susan and asked, “What happened to the shuttle?  Did you go through the debris field, too?” Susan hesitated for more than a few moments; trying to compose herself and organize her thoughts so she could relate the events without breaking down.  Ivan was observing Susan.  Just as he was about to answer for her, she cut him off with a quick glance and proceeded to detail the story of their deadly encounter.  Susan felt that talking about it would help her deal with losing Jill.  But it hurt deeply, more than she had anticipated.

After Susan finished, there was silence in the room once again.  Commander Orlov finally spoke up, “It must have been terrible to be there and so helpless.  I am truly sorry for the loss of your comrade.”

“I, also,” Nicholas added.  Looking at Susan he asked, “You said you had a premonition that this was going to happen though?”

“Yes, I did, but I didn’t realize what my dream meant until after the collision.  If only one could know when to trust the subconscious and when not to,” she answered softly, looking at her hands mindlessly twisting a napkin into little spirals.

Ivan took the initiative and changed the conversation.  “What else did you manage to take off MIR?  I do not suppose that those packages are all filled with caviar.”

“Unfortunately not,” Alexander answered.  “We managed to get one oxygen generator, there in the large case. The two others contain a laptop computer that has the daily logs along with other information and various tools and instruments that seemed like they may be useful at that moment.  I hope that you can use the oxygen generator.  When you said you had a leak, I placed that as high priority item when we were packing.”

“Thank you.  I am sure that we can get it working, and although we seem to be okay at the moment, it will not hurt to charge the oxygen tanks on board.  We have another ninety minutes or so before we need to start preparations to dock with the International Space Station, so we can tend to the generators now.” With that, Ivan and Paul set off with the two cosmonauts to unpack the generators. 

Susan sat, or rather, floated in silence for a few moments thinking of the last several hours of her life.  Her thoughts drifted over the mountains and valleys of her memory, bringing up visions of past friends, relatives and events in her life that seemed so important at the time.  How small and distant all that seemed now.  What good did it do her now, that she was valedictorian of her high school graduating class?  Always trying to be the best and to impress…who?  Who cares that she is the mission commander of Endeavour?  In a short while, there would be no one left on Earth to care what she did or even who she was.  She could feel a dark cloud of depression flowing over her and shook her head to clear these thoughts. 

She had people on this ship who were counting on her to give them whatever chance they had to get home, whatever condition it may be in.  She owed it to them and to her family to get back to Earth.  With a slight nod of agreement with herself, Susan grabbed the small vacuum hose attached to the wall and vacuumed up the last of the floating crumbs that she could see around the eating area.  She then headed up to the flight deck to check on the ship’s status and the rendezvous time with the space station.

Susan paused at the viewport to see what part of the Earth the shuttle was passing over at the moment.  She recognized the rugged desert of the southwestern United States just coming into view.  As she turned her gaze to the east, toward Texas, she bit her lip to stifle a gasp at the sight of the impact zone.  The sun was beginning to set on that part of the continent and through the dust clouds she could see the glow of fires on the ground surrounding the densest part of the cloud.  The scene was accented with bright streaks of light as the dust and larger chunks of debris were falling back into the atmosphere.  She turned away from the port and summoned the others to witness the devastation for themselves.  She had seen enough and headed up to the flight deck to the sounds of disconcerted voices talking in Russian and English, echoing throughout the ship.


BOOK: Orbital Maneuvers
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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