by Michael Morgan, Copyright 2017, All rights Reserved
The weather report from the surface was horrifying unless you had been on the station for a while. No storms expected in the next few days. Sergei adjusted the harness that kept him from drifting away from the console, relieved the station would not need to be moved while #8 was misbehaving.
The eight massive plasma jets kept the beanstalk platform in a stable orbit and altitude just above the jovian atmosphere while the miles long siphon whipped and swayed in the 325 kph winds of Jupiter. The station could remain in orbit with only four working thrusters, and with six, Sergei could escape the gas giant’s gravity. Assuming the working thrusters were more or less evenly distributed around the octagonal spider web of girders, solar panels, centrifuges, and storage tanks.
Cloud mining was not a particularly dangerous activity as far as exo-careers went. Sergei had been working for KozmoGaz for twenty years. The last three and a half sitting quietly on Station 23 watching the siphon vacuum Jupiter’s atmosphere into massive centrifuges that separated it into hydrogen and oxygen, the gasses that made life possible in open space. The liquefied “gold” was pumped into storage tanks, and the rest was fed to the thrusters. Periodically, a passing ship would take up a geosynchronous orbit. Sergei would lift the station to meet them and transfer the vital fluids.
At least they cannot ask me to clean the windows, thought Sergei as he scanned the status board. Lately, #8 had been “wandering”, and pulling the station out of position. A little drift was expected as the fierce winds pulled the siphon around, but a little unexpected drift could be catastrophic when docking to another ship. Sergei keyed the intercom, “Hey lovebirds, take five and pick up.”
“You mad bugga!” the intercom crackled. “T’was just gettin’ interestin’.”
Sergei could hear Jina cracking up behind Muldoon’s fake Aussie accent. She was the latest arrival, and the first woman on the station since Sergei’s rotation began. A long limbed Ethiopian goddess, if Sergei had been a betting man. “#8 is pulling again. High card goes outside?”
“No need,” Jina offered. “I need a stretch. Give me twenty to get prepped. Muldoon, help me zip up?”
“I don’t get it,” Muldoon passed the tablet back to Sergei. “Full gimbal rotation with manual control and the automated test routine. Faulty control module?”
Jina drifted through the hatchway, “I checked those at the thruster end. All green.”
“The fiber?” Sergei suggested.
“I ran that all of the way out and back again just to be sure,” Jina said. “No damage that I could see. Signal at the far end was normal.”
“Shut it down or live with it?” Muldoon asked.
“Live with it,” Sergei decided. “We can shut it down during docking. Speaking of docking, your ride is due in fourteen hours.”
“Right!” Muldoon brightened, and the Aussie was back. “Best be packin’ me kit.” He smiled at Jina, and pushed off for the hatch.
Jina’s sticky patches crinkled softly as her knees contacted the console, “Any word on the inbound?”
“Not much,” Sergei called up the personnel profile on his tablet. “Victor Russell. Twenty-eight. Usual tech profile.”
Jina giggled, “I know him. Looks like I’ll have to share.”
Sergei started to answer when his sticky pads suddenly ripped loose, and the bulkhead was coming at him way too fast.
“#2 on overload! Zero degrees off horizontal!” Jina shouted staring at the console.
Sergei caught himself too late. The wall still split his eyebrow leaving a crimson smear as he pushed off again in the direction of the control center. Tiny drops of blood trailed after him.
Jina slammed the emergency button, and grabbed the joysticks as they extended from beneath the console. “Shut down #2 and #8,” she ordered, and Sergei stabbed at the spider web-like diagram of the station systems.
As the thrusters went dark, the console quit trying to fly away from him. Sergei triggered the comm, “Muldoon! You OK?” A second past. Three seconds, “Muldoon?”
“Go find him,” Jina ordered. “I’ve got this.” Sergei kicked off headed for the hatch.
“Muldoon! Report!” Sergei shouted into the comm. The ‘Lounge’ was a cloud of loose objects floating about, but no Muldoon. “Jina, can you check the cams for him?”
“Scanning,” Jina replied. “Got him. Pump Station 3. He’s not moving.”
Pump Station 3? Why there? Sergei trust himself out of the Lounge and angled down through the core to the junction pod. He found Muldoon drifting near an open maintenance panel.
“Muldoon!” Sergei grabbed Muldoon’s foot. The leg was limp as Sergei anchored himself, and reeled in his crewmate.
“How is he?” Jina demanded.
“Don’t know,” Sergei answered as he rotated Muldoon’s body face up. The staring eyes were disconcerting, but not as much as Muldoon’s left hand grasping at his own throat below the blood-flecked mouth. Segei checked for a pulse. Nothing. He moved the hand. Massive bruising and a sharp line across the throat. “He’s dead Jina,” Sergei’s word were answered by a pained gasp.
“How?” Jina asked softly.
“Looks like a crushed trachea,” Sergei replied as he studied Muldoon’s outstretched right arm. “Broken arm too from the angle. He must have been half inside the panel when #2 went crazy”
“Doing what?” Jina asked.
“Keep her steady and I’ll find out,” Sergei offered.
Jina looked up from the instruments when Sergei floated through the hatch, “Wha…?”
Sergei waved a multi-tool at her, “He was tearing at the fiber optic cables for #2 with this. Shredded several of them. Same kind of damage on #8.”
“I checked those cables! End to end.” Jina insisted.
Sergei stopped inside the hatch. “You didn’t check them completely, or…”
“You accusing me of sabotage?” Jina’s hands tensed on the controls.
Sergei shook his head, “Not my department. I’m sure Corporate Security will have questions for both of us.”