Don't you hate it when you're working on something, then leave it for a couple months, then come back to find that it turned to crap and you can't continue with it?
I already posted the first part of this earlier in the thread. It's not that much more, to be honest.
Darkness engulfed me. I pushed off from the cold metal. My heavy suit suddenly felt like it was nothing as I moved away from the airlock. I grabbed one of the rails nearby and swung myself to it so that I didn't float off into space. I looked above me. I dipped down, pulled myself up on the rail and shot myself to the top of the ship, catching hold of another rail on the way.
I could have just taken the ladder, but that gets boring after the fifth spacewalk.
I lifted myself over the rail and planted my boots firmly on the hull plating, then raised my arm in front of me to flip a switch on the wrist panel. The electromagnets on my feet hummed to life. I walked across the hull plating, step by magnetised step. Sweat formed on my brow. Losing heat is a bitch in space. I detached the automatic screwdriver from my belt as I reached my destination.
Simple maintenance. The chief engineer wouldn't normally have a job this menial. But I do it every month.
I surveyed the grey box in front of me. Sometimes, ship builders had no sense of aesthetics. They go and make the hull svelte and curved, then stick a square lump on the top. It wasn't very large, but it was noticeable. I loosened the top of it. Despite it being routine, this was a very important task. If the main sensor array's mechanism was out of alignment by even one femtometre, or if the primary X-ray antenna was pointing in a third of a minute in the wrong direction, the ship could collide with an asteroid and no one would notice until we were all space dust. The screwdriver buzzed as I took out the last screw.
I pulled off the cover, and placed it on the hull next to me. I put the screws back in their holes, so that I couldn't lose them. I peered inside. It appeared to be in working order. I took out the alignment caliper, and tapped the side of my helmet to activate the communicator.
“Engineering, this is Lieutenant Dell. I'm about to begin sensor maintenance, please shut down the array. Send a system-wide alert about the temporary downtime.” My voice was a little scratchy. I hadn't drunk my evening coffee yet.
“Roger, Lieutenant. Array going down in five.” was the reply. Sure enough, in five seconds the faint glow from the power conduits faded into nothingness. “Array is down, you can proceed with maintenance.”
I reached into the mechanism. The familiar blue laser emitted from the ends of the caliper as I flipped the on switch. As I measured the distance between the various gears, my mind wandered. A man could lose himself out here, in the dark. Silence reigned. Beautiful, unbroken silence. Sometimes, when my workload was light and I needed to escape everyday life, I come out here with a book and a chair, and sat on the hull reading, using the helmet speakers to play soft jazz. One time, I even brought a Portable Environs-Dome out so I could drink a glass of wine and sit in my smoking jacket.
A wire sparked out at me. More work to do. Absolutely fantastic. I smiled. I withdrew my arm, and read the display on the caliper. The mechanism was aligned correctly. I placed it back on my belt, and drew a length of wire out of a pouch next to it. I unplugged the faulty one, and inserted the new one in its place. I marked the bad wire with a small cutting laser, and placed it in the pouch. I mentioned that the wiring up here was starting to decay at the last department meeting. It seems no one bothered to come out and try and fix it. Typical. If you want something done, do it yourself.
I honestly think I could get by with a much smaller department. I could take on quite a few of the responsibilities myself; I don't mind working, especially if it means I get to get away from the rest of the crew like this. In fact, I'd probably take on most of the spacewalks. They're just that much nicer than most other jobs I had on this ship. If I were anywhere else on the ship, I'd get approached with a proposal for making the engines slightly more efficient, or maybe a detailed breakdown of the energy savings of shutting the artificial gravity off for ten minutes every night. Don't get me wrong, I love those things. In fact, I was working on both of those. I'm just not that fond of people, I guess.
I detached the antenna calibrator from my toolbelt, and held it to the sensor grid on the side of the array unit. The usual blue field emitted from the end, collecting data from the placement of each antenna. Honestly, my life would be so much better if I didn't have as many people to talk to. I'd get things done sooner that way. People just get in between me and my work. It's mostly a case of miscommunication, though. They don't interpret my orders correctly.
Or is it that I don't phrase them in a way that they can understand?
Actually, that makes quite a lot of sense. I've always had a problem relaying things to people. It always seems that whatever I say is different from what I'm thinking. How come the psyche exams required for entry into the Engineer Corps didn't catch something as major as that? If my assumptions are correct, that means I really, really shouldn't be in such a major position. The ship could be at stake. The calibrator beeped to signal that it was ready to fully calibrate the sensor grid. Five antennas were out of alignment. We must have taken a hard knock somewhere along the line. I pressed down on the trigger.
The bright white beam shot out of the end, colliding with the antennas in such a way that they were pushed into their correct positions. It didn’t take long. I slowly replaced the cover on the unit. The job was done. Now to get back into the ship, and back to the daily harassment. I turned round to see hell staring me in the face.
An asteroid was on a collision course with the ship.
Now, normally, this wouldn’t be noticable. The ship would normally be moving, the sensor array would be online and most of the crew would be awake. But then, in the dead of night and during routine maintenance, was not exactly the best condition for a space rock coming to smash through the ship. I tapped the side of my helmet, sweat pooling at the bottom.
“Engineering, this is Lieutenant Dell. Engage the engines and quickboot the sensor array. Now. We have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot off the port bow, coming down at a high enough speed to easily rip apart the entire rear half of the ship.” I barked.
“Sir, engaging the engines would cause you to fall off the ship.” I really didn’t need someone telling me that.
“Just do it. I’ll find a way to stay on board.” My eyes darted along the hull, searching for something to suitably brace myself against. It takes twelve seconds for the engines to cold start, and another five to build up the force needed to throw me off the hull. Plenty of time. The asteroid seemed to slow down as I worked it out in my head. Seventeen seconds to prepare.
There wasn’t much. I could have tried gripping to the sensor array unit, but that was less than a third my height. Not much purchase there. The hull was relatively blemish free. I cursed the ship designers under my breath. My thoughts turned to the cooling system in my suit.
Let me explain to you how it works. It uses a couple of vacuum-sealed canisters of cold air - about minus twenty degrees Celsius - in its setup. Normally, it distributes into the suit itself when it gets far too hot inside, then ejects some air into space. However, it can be rigged - this part is crucial - to expel all of the air at once, propelling the person wearing the suit into space. I reached around and flicked the switch on my backpack. I was going to jump to the asteroid.
Fifteen seconds. I demagnetised my boots, and crouched down by the sensor array unit, so that I could push off properly. Air started hissing, then exploding out of my back. I pushed off with my feet and flew through the dead of space to the asteroid. We met halfway. Nine seconds. I tapped my helmet again.
“Goddamnit, hurry up!” I yelled.
“Sir, where are you? The sensors don’t register you as being on the ship.” The worry seemed to ooze through the speaker along with the voice.
“I’m on the asteroid. Only place I could find where I wouldn’t get lost in space.”
“What are you doing over there?” I watched as the ship started shooting off away from me. I gripped the rock around me.
“Well, think about it. What’s easier to track, a forty-kilometre wide rock or a six feet tall human being? I decided to go with the rock option.”
Five seconds. The ship was barely out of the way. I should really get back to work on my ion engine improvements. They accelerate too damn slowly, we’re lucky to get to sixty miles an hour in a second. I dove into a crater as the asteroid passed the engines, shielding my eyes. Even with my hand in the away and my visor darkening, I could still see the brilliant blue glow. I stood back up.
How the hell was I going to get back? I exhausted my air coolant supply, and all I had were calibration tools on my belt. I reached up to my helmet, but before I pressed the comm panel it started chirping.
“The ship’s clear, sir. How will you be returning?”
Edited by HummingbirdJames, May 23 2011 - 12:40 PM.