Friday, September 23, 2011

SPACE IS A DEADLY SISTER: V

by Gil James Bavel


Mission Day 648: 06:51 hours
Ganymede Base mining station
First Shift





In the mess hall, the lights were on and Dr. Lisa Obermeyer and Will Jensen were already up and drinking coffee at the breakfast nook when Marquis Williams and Jim Stanton ambled in. Obermeyer and Jensen had been quietly cooing at each other and speaking in hushed tones. Obermeyer took her hand off of Jensen’s reflexively.

“Morning,” she said to the two. “Coffee?” She reached for the carafe.

“Look,” said Stanton, “You guys don’t have to pretend. Everybody knows you’re seeing each other out here. Hell, I don’t blame you. Just keep it professional and you won’t get in trouble. And yeah, some coffee sounds great.” The tall shuttle captain ducked his head by the drink station and poured himself a cup. In the main lab, the ceilings were just a little too short for his liking.

Obermeyer flushed. “Well, that’s awfully big of you, Jim.” She admitted.

Stanton sat down with them as Williams made his way to the coffee. “You’re the medical authority, Doctor. Sexual tension is bad for the mission. We’re all adults out here, and frankly, it’s a dangerous job. This is one thing the Space Corps and the Company see eye to eye on. You know what you’re doing. You can see a civvie if you want to.” Stanton smelled the coffee, it agreed with him, and he blew on the surface to cool it and took a tentative sip.

Jensen sat up a little straighter with a gleam in his eye. “So, Cap, what did you guys get up to last night?” he said sarcastically.

“Oh, I wish you guys would cut it out. You know I’m married,” Stanton responded, setting his mug down carefully. “Hand me a lid, Marquis, will you?”

Williams complied, poured himself a cup and joined the other three at the table. “Hey, yeah, didn’t your wife squeeze out another kid recently?” he asked.

Stanton nodded. “Yeah. Our first girl, Stacie.” He pulled out the pictures. He carried them old-style, in his ID pack. He handed them around the table as if they were party favors.

Obermeyer looked at them longingly. “Wow, she’s so beautiful.” Obermeyer was feeling her own biological clock ticking away.

“Thanks, I think so. Melissa had another smooth labor, just under three hours. I think we might call it quits now. Two boys and a girl is enough, even if we do retire to Mars.” Stanton took an honest gulp of his coffee, followed by a satisfied Ahh. “One thing’s for sure, you guys may be roughing it out here, but you sure have some damn good coffee. I’ve thought more than once about pilfering some from your delivery,” he said mischievously. “It’s getting harder to get the real stuff back home.”

Williams, comfortable in his medium build, was accustomed to the smaller spaces in the installation. He stretched out and tried his coffee. “You’d never even think about it. They’d kick your ass out of the Corps and you’d lose your pension.”

Jensen piped in, “Hey, let’s have a look and see if we took any damage last night from those MMs,” He deftly pulled a computer pad over to the table and set it on its armature. He called up the relevant damage reports and video camera angles. “Well, it’s a good thing we got you in when we did, but it looks like there’s no damage to the station. Your surveys are going to have to be redone, though,” he said looking at Obermeyer and Williams.

Obermeyer put her free hand back on Jensen’s, and sighed. “Well, we knew that was going to happen, anyway. She gave him a squeeze. “The important thing is that nobody got hurt and there’s no damage to any equipment.”

“Speaking of which,” Captain Stanton interjected, “let’s take some time while we have it and compile a list of what you guys need next week. Will?”

“Okay, well, let’s see,” he said, and wiped the computer pad with one hand, clearing the damage control data. Calling up the installation manifest, he entered in his maintenance code and began poring over a new screen. “Looks like we blew through four drill bits, and we’ve got four on hand, so let’s put in for another four. No, six.” He turned to Williams. “You guys decide whether you’re going to put in another drill station over on the North Forty?”

Williams shook his head. “That’s Devon’s call. But if I had to put money on it, I’d say no. The terrain is too rough and I think it’s too close to the other ones. But like I said, it’s up to him. He’s in command.” Williams got up to refill his coffee, and as he did, Berkshire’s head appeared at the entrance of the mess hall.

“That’s affirmative,” Dr. Berkshire agreed,” we really don’t need another drilling station that close. Hey, grab me a tea while you’re over there, will you, Marquis?” he asked, and sat down at the increasingly crowded table. It came out “Marky” in his dulled British accent. He ran one hand through his thinning black hair. “The company wants more terraforming equipment here, though. You’d better put us down for another blower and algae kit.” Berkshire’s beard stubble was already thick enough to see this early in the morning. Williams handed him a steaming cup of hot water with a lid and a bag of black tea in it, along with a toothpick.

Jensen nodded, and entered the data into the manifest. “Got it. Just need your signature here, Devon.” He handed the pad over to Berkshire. He set down his cup, looked over the pad, and pressed his thumb up against the screen. After a moment, he held it up to his eye and it scanned his retina.

“Okay,” Berkshire said, “Done and done. He handed the pad back to Jensen, picked up his tea and very slowly pulled the tab up and down on the toothpick and then let it steep.

A lull settled over the mess hall as they all paused, sipping their drinks.

Lawton and Biggs broke the peace, entering, much too perky for the rest of the crew.

“Hey guys, what did we miss?” Lawton asked, with a broad, playful smile. She entered the mess hall and took a seat at the table. She was still in her undershirt and shorts.

“Oh, good, the gang’s all here,” Berkshire said, getting up. “Have a seat, John.”

John Biggs sat down as if there were an ominous punishment coming his way. “Okay, Devon, what is it?”

Dr. Berkshire didn’t enjoy command, he was a planetary geologist first and foremost, and then a terraforming specialist second. The whole chain of command thing bugged him. “There’s a message from the Director that we’re all supposed to see. It’s not for the shuttle crew, but there’s no reason that you shouldn’t see it, too.” He dimmed the lights and turned on the telescreen, which normally showed a view of Ganymede’s surface.

Received from Jovian Deep Space Array, 05:44:34 hours,” the computer voice emitted.

The Director’s image appeared on the screen. An older man, in his seventies, First Director Chenowith had been with the Company as long as any of the current crew could remember. Chenowith was a distinguished-looking man with white hair, and the smart grey coat of a bureaucrat. He sat in the foreground, in front of a telescreen camera, with a coterie of people behind him moving back and forth, all buzzing about on their own tasks. Several controllers and technicians sat behind computer stations in the background, going about their business. There was an audible buzz of activity behind him.

“Greetings, Ganymede Base,” he started, “I know you’re out there on your own, and you’re doing good work. Your reports have been coming in regularly and I especially want to thank Dr. Berkshire for his continuing level of excellence. There is good news and better news. The Space Corps have authorized you for a new rover for your expeditions to survey new mining and terraforming territory on Ganymede. I must tell you that the financial outlay for this was difficult to secure in the current monetary climate. It will come equipped with the full complement of surveying apparati and the latest in technology. The new transmitter for the lab is on its way as well.

“We’re also sending you an extra blower and algae pack kit. You’ll be building a new terraforming station on the North Forty, so scrap the plans for mining there. Also, we’ll be upgrading the capacity of the installation to accommodate more space for your crew. Unfortunately, we can’t spare the manpower, so you’ll have to make the upgrades yourselves. I know you’re not construction grunts, but you’ll have the benefit of knowing the job’s been done right and we’re doubling both your pay and your rations during the entire upgrade. There’ll be extra living quarters and more space in the lab.

“Additionally, the helium-3 output from your ore stations will be doubling. It’s a lot of extra work, but that’s why you’re there. Your accounts have already been credited this month; I wanted to be the first to tell you. Specifications and orders follow. Again, good work, Devon and crew, and we’re all behind you. First Director Chenowith out.”

The transmission ended and the telescreen resumed its view of Ganymede’s surface. The grumbling among the crew began immediately.

Berkshire put his hands up at once to quell the uproar. “All right, all right, it’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. We’ve had it relatively easy out here until now, it hasn’t been a picnic, but we knew the harder work was yet to come. That’s why they pay us the big bucks. So let’s look at the specifications and see what we’re in for. Hell, by the time we’re done with the upgrades, you guys will still be bitching about it.”

Captain Stanton raised a hand. “Look, we’ve got to haul the extra stuff, and I know it doesn’t make much difference to you guys, but we can help put in some extra time.”

Berkshire shook his head. “Thanks, Jim, but they’d throw a fit if anything happened to either of you. We can handle it. We’ve had secondary construction training from the Company. We’ll figure it out. For now, let’s just deal with what we have to do and get on with our lives.”

“Chenowith is an evil slave-driving bastard,” said Williams, looking over the pad with the specifications on it.

Berkshire tried to stifle a laugh, unsuccessfully. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. If you don’t want the job, I can send you to Titan Station.”

“No you can’t,” answered Williams. “You need me here, and they’d send you with me if you tried.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that,” Berkshire answered. “But we’d see more of each other.” He smiled.

Both crews continued grumbling about the extra work, talked about their bonuses and went about preparing their mission work for the day. It would be a long couple of weeks.


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