Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Fiction for November 12, 2010

Friday Fiction finds its home this week at Dancin’ on Rainbows, with Sharlyn as our hostess. Dance on over for a rainbow of great reading.

“The Erikson Exigency” is now up to about 28000 words, and fifteen chapters completed. I’m ahead of the target pace needed to win NaNoWriMo, and I think the story is coming along nicely. It will need revising and editing, for certain, but part of NaNoWriMo is accepting that the first draft is NOT going to be perfect. This week, the incident leading to the need for the Exigency.

Incidentally, our Municipal Liaison for Tucson issued the challenge to include “The Paper Bag of Destiny” in all of our novels. Chapter 2 includes my answer to this challenge, so if that little tidbit strikes you as a bit odd, you’ll understand why it’s there.

Chapter 2


Lionel leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms up over his head, before finishing the last of his coffee.

“You know,” Rich Smythe said. “With the scrub safely isolated in SusAn sleep, these past few months have been more like old times. It’s going to be a shame to wake her up when you go under.”

Lionel grimaced. “I tried to convince Arabatsis to let me stay on duty until we reached the plateau, but she keeps citing policies.”

“Like anyone out here is going to report a slight bending of the rules, for the good of the mission. So, how’re we going to keep track of the mistake pool score?”

“I’ve thought about that, and I’ve got an idea.” He pulled one of the emesis bags from the Lander/Transport Percheron out of his uniform pocket. “Behold the Paper Bag of Destiny, ready for souvenirs and notes of her failures.”


“Of course; she’s destined to fail, isn’t she?”

“Good point; I like it.”

“Whenever she messes something up, we put either a note or a piece of scrap from the job into this bag, and when we get back to Earthrise, we can tally the score and see who wins the final bet.” He handed the bag to Rich. “Since Arabatsis is reluctant to let us record the scrub’s deficiencies in the log files, we’re forced to keep our records in this primitive manner. Keep the bag locked out of sight in your personal storage, and I’ll retrieve it when my next duty cycle comes up.” He cut a sly smile at the younger man. “Unless, of course, you find the intimacy and isolation of duty forms a romantic bond between you two, in which case, forget the mistakes, and just fill me in on the details.”

Rich wrinkled his face. “Romantic bond with her? I like the blonde, Scandinavian look, not that dark hair, overly tanned Mediterranean look she has.”

“Perhaps, but it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when all you’re beholding for several months is one woman, you may find yourself appreciating the beauty of availability.” He laughed. “Give yourself enough time alone, and you’d even find Arabatsis attractive.”

“That’s disgusting. She’s old enough to be my mother.”

“Versak is young enough to be my daughter, too, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see a few positive attributes worth admiring, and maybe even enjoying. Nothing wrong with a little cross-generational padding; the Commander might just teach you a thing or two.”

The ship’s voice came over the ‘com system. “Oxygen pressure sensor indicates error in Enviromental Processing Center three. Please acknowledge.”

“Acknowledged and responding, system,” Lionel said. “Well, I guess that means break’s over, and it’s time to get back on our heads.”

“I suppose so,” Rich said. “Need any help, or should I go take care of the scheduled maintenance on the food synthesizer on Deck One?”

“Go take care of the synthesizer. I’m betting the sensor just needs recalibrated, and that shouldn’t take too long to finish.” He dropped the coffee cup into the waste processor, where its basic elements would be broken down and cycled back into one of the synthesizer systems, and then grabbed his tool kit from the rack.

He walked first to the lift system that would carry him up to Deck Three. He was starting to get a noticeable limp, and the pain in his right knee was getting worse each day. Arabatsis didn’t say so, but I’ll bet that was part of her refusal to let me stay on duty. The old joints just aren’t handling the two-gee load like they used to. That SusAn chamber is going to feel quite good, especially since we should be weightless again for my next duty cycle.

The lift opened onto Deck Three, and he followed the corridors to the Environmental Processing Center. The system opened the door to the compartment as he approached, and he stopped just inside.

“System, seal Environmental Processing Center three,” he ordered.

“Sealing compartment is not advisable,” the ship replied.

“Advice acknowledged. Override advisement and seal compartment.”

The door slid shut, and the clamps extended to make the seal.

The Environmental Processing Center handled the life support functions and temperature controls for Deck Three. The oxygen line and atmosphere scrubbers were behind the large thermal control unit, and he slipped around the bulky device to reach the discrepant sensor.

His first step was to verify the sensor, and he extracted a standard from his tool kit. He attached it to the calibration port on the oxygen line, and compared the reading to the sensor in question. Both read within a close tolerance of each other. Okay, it’s not the sensor. The pressure in the line is low for some reason. “System, latest diagnostic report on Deck Three oxygen system compressor,” he said.

“Compressor diagnostics report no abnormalities. Diagnostic sequence performed twenty-five minutes, fourteen seconds ago.”

“Repeat diagnostic sequence and report.”

“Acknowledged.” There was a few moments of silence, and then, “Compressor diagnostics report no abnormalities.”

“Error duration?”

“Sensor error has repeated on last four check cycles, occurring over one standard hour. New errors: compartment pressure has risen to one point two five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now thirty-two percent oxygen, sixty-eight percent nitrogen. Unsealing of compartment advised; confirm instructions.”

“Negative, system; compartment is to remain sealed.” A little extra oxygen isn’t going to hurt, and maybe it’ll help the aggravated knee to heal. Compartment pressure and oxygen concentration rising – that means there’s a leak in the line.

He moved first towards his right, looking and listening for the tell-tale signs of the high-pressure oxygen flowing from the pipe. When he reached the bulkhead, he wrapped his hand loosely around the pipe, and headed back towards the sensor. If he couldn’t hear the leak, he should be able to feel it, either as a blast against his skin, or as a chill where the expanding high pressure gas absorbed heat from the surrounding matter.

“Error,” the system reported. “Compartment pressure has risen to one point five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now fifty-four percent oxygen, forty-six percent nitrogen. Unsealing of compartment and use of breathing apparatus advised; confirm instructions.”

“Advisement acknowledged. Retain compartment seal.” Stupid system is as bad as the scrub. It must be a pretty significant leak, to be rising this fast. He moved off to his left from the sensor. Near the far bulkhead, the pipes turned ninety degrees to pass through the ceiling, up to the surge tank fed by the compressor. The fitting on one of the elbows was covered with frost. There you are; now, let’s see what we’ve got.

With the frost brushed away, the cracked flange on the pipe was obvious. The section of pipe would need to be replaced, and he considered the best way to proceed.

“Error; compartment pressure has risen to one point seven five standard atmospheres. Compartment atmosphere composition is now seventy eight percent oxygen, twenty two percent nitrogen. Risk of oxygen toxicity is present under these conditions. Breathing apparatus strongly advised.”

“System, mute all further error messages.” Oxygen toxicity? What a stupid thing to warn him about. He went and retrieved his toolkit from beside the sensor, and brought it back by the broken fitting. My knee doesn’t hurt anymore. That’s a nice change. Wonderful oxygen – what would we do without it?

Die, I suppose. Now, what was I doing?

Pipe – that’s right. I have a leaky pipe. He started laughing. Sounds like a personal problem. He inhaled deeply. Sweet, sweet oxygen. Maybe I’ll just sit here and enjoy this for a while.

Nope. I need to fix the pipe. I need a piece of pipe to fix the pipe.

Which pipe? What pipe was I working on?

He looked around, confused. The compartment was filled with pipes, some going to the various pieces of environmental equipment, and some just passing through the compartment, en route to somewhere else.

His eyes settled on one pipe, and he stared at the word written on the wrap-around label. “HYDROGEN.” The word made no sense to him, and he continued to stare at it for several minutes.

I need to fix the pipe. Which pipe was it again? It must be that pipe that I need to fix. He selected a wrench, and twisted at a fitting on the gas line with the confusing label. It started whistling, and he paused to listen. Why is it making that noise? I need more coffee – I think. Is there any coffee in here? I think I have some in the toolkit. Every toolkit should include coffee. He stumbled about the compartment, until he fell behind the thermal unit.

I think I’ll just rest here for a few minutes. He drifted out, and woke up to the sound of alarms blaring in the compartment. Alarms? What’s going on? Wait – wasn’t I doing something? There was a leaky pipe, wasn’t there? That must be why the alarm is going off. I just need to fix the pipe. Rolling onto his hands and knees, he tried a couple of times to stand. I must be more tired than I thought. I just can’t seem to catch my breath. He crawled over to the toolkit instead and regarded the tools with a blank expression.

What was it I needed again? The pipe – I need to seal the pipe. What can I use to seal the pipe and silence these infernal alarms? His eyes settled on a small metallic cylinder with an angled fixture on top. He picked it up, and flopped back onto his behind, leaning against the bulkhead.

I know what this is. It’s a – it’s a – uh – it’s a, torch? It’s a torch, for, um, for welding? Yeah, it’s a welding torch, for welding pipe.

I need to seal a pipe.

The torch welds pipe.

Welds seal.

It seemed he couldn’t get his eyes to focus right, and each breath seemed to be more effort than the previous had been. Gotta fix the pipe. Don’t want the scrub thinking I can’t do my job. Just weld the pipe and be done.

Holding the torch in both hands, he mustered all his concentration on bringing his thumb to the igniter switch on the back, and pressed it.

1 comment:

Sharlyn Guthrie said...

Way to go on your Nano project! Keep up the good work!