The second wave was far more powerful than the first. The station rocked and spun, shaken by the cataclysmic solar burst. The four crew, including Jude, who had managed to find refuge in the blackness of the shelter were petrified with fear. Kristof was making low keening noises, barely audible above the roar of the storm outside, but Jude could feel the sobs wracking through zhim next to her. She tried to offer comfort by her mere presence. Almost as suddenly as it had begun, the jolting and jarring ceased. No-one made a move then Hennessey shifted.
“Wait,” said Glass, in hushed tones. “We don’t know for sure if it is over.”
“Fak that,” replied Hennessey as he pushed open the door of the sleeping compartments.
Kristof had quickly composed zhimself and the two of them edged out. Jude slipped out of the one arms of the harness that she had hastily managed to grab onto and followed. Glass reluctantly exited shortly behind them.
The scene that greeted them was one of chaos. Anything that had not been stowed away or secured floated like driftwood around the cabin, in as many broken pieces. Their attention, naturally, was drawn to their two crewman. Maxie was still hunched under the console where he had been frantically attempting to bring the heat shielding back on line, his arms wrapped around the supports. His hands were ice-white where he had held on for dear life. Kristof barrelled to his side and gently prized zher partner’s rigid fists off. Jude looked round – Wib was nowhere to be seen. Then her eyes were drawn upwards – his still form floated above their heads, almost plastered to the ceiling of the cabin. With Glass and Hennessey, they humbly eased him down.
“To the first lab cabin.” Glass indicated and she and Jude manoeuvred Wib through into the space next door. Hennessey meanwhile scrabbled about, searching for the medical kit. He found it, broken open in the second lab, its contents strewn and drifting around it. He managed to gather together what was not damaged or broken and returned to his companions.
Glass checked Wib for signs of life. The blast of radiation and searing heat had caught him initially on his back and his overalls were charred and melted into his skin. Thankfully, although there would be as yet immeasurable damage to his throat and lungs, the brave Lancastrian was still breathing and clinging onto life. Jude located an oxykit from amongst the debris and gently placed it over his burned nose and mouth. Hennessey had managed to save some vials of antibiotics and loaded them into the vaccinator, firing them into various sites on Wib’s arms and legs.
“For sepsis – these burns look as if they could be as much as fourth degree.” He then ripped open dry dressings and with Glass began affixing them tenderly to the worst areas, of which there were many. Jude had affixed a small medi-monitor, which miraculously had weathered the battering. Wib’s vitals were low, his pulse binding.
“Kristof,” Glass called through to the Martian, who was still with Maxie in the main module. “How’s he doing?”
There were tears in the Martians eyes but ones of relief. “He’s fine. Badly shaken and some minor lesions, but good.”
“Great. Now, I know it’s hard but you have to leave him. I need to know what our status is. And if there’s anyone coming to our aid.” She had regained her composure and was taking charge again, for which Jude was thankful. She herself was barely holding it together, looking at the charred face of her recent bed-mate. His eyelids fluttered and she could see that one of his beautiful blue orbs was opaque and dry.
Hennessey was securing the last of the bandages that he could locate. Glass motioned for him to give her his attention.
“Maxie mentioned the airlock being compromised. We’re all still breathing so it must be holding but go and check it for me, please.” He nodded and kicked off in the direction of the aft section. Jude and Glass made Wib as comfortable as they could. He seemed to be stable for now but his injuries far outstripped their expertise.
Kristof spoke up from the charred and smoking console. “I’m getting nothing here. I’ll try to re-route it through the back-ups in one of the labs.” Zhe scooted past, zhis eyes glancing from Maxie then to Jude.
“I’ll see to Maxie.” Kristof nodded, temporarily reassured. The systems tech was still huddled in a protective ball, his face showing signs of shock. Jude grabbed the remains of the medkit and swam over to him.
“I tried…I tried. “ He murmured.
“I know. “Jude reached out. “Here, let me see your hands.” Maxie unclenched his now swollen fists. They weren’t badly burned so Jude applied some topical antibiotic cream and small dry wound dressings to his knuckles.
Maxie winced. “Sorry, “Jude was being as tender as she could.
“No, it’s okay. How’s Wib doing? He saved my life.”
“He’s pretty bad, Maxie, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m worried that if help doesn’t come, he might die.” Jude gasped. Saying it out loud cut her like a knife.
“I think…I hope, I managed to send out a distress before the second wave hit us.” He retched.
“Are you feeling sick?” Jude was aware that, although he might seem unharmed, Maxie could have taken as much of a dose of radiation as Wib. However, his feeling nauseous was a good sign. Fatal doses could be asymptomatic. “Any headaches? Are you dizzy at all?”
“No, I’m alright. Well apart from these I think.” He held up his gauze covered hands and tried unsuccessfully to waggle his fingers. “My piano playing days are over.” He tried to smile, then winced.
“I’ll go and speak to Glass, see what’s what then I’ll try and find you a drink, okay.” She patted Maxie and moved back towards the labs.
“If the brandy has survived, crack open some of that. I think we could all use some.”
Jude returned to their erstwhile commander’s side. Wib looked peaceful but still in pretty rough shape.
“Is he still unconscious? Or sleeping?”
“The former, I think. I found some sedatives and gave him a small dose.”
Jude scanned at him, unmoving apart from a slight rise and fall of his chest.
“I was thinking, maybe we should move him to the sleeping compartment. We can pad him in there til help arrives.”
Glass nodded in assent. Together they guided their patient towards the cubicles. Jude cleared some space and reverently, they anchored Wib inside.
“Shouldn’t we be giving him some fluids or something?” Glass tried to remember her first aid training but she was hazy.
“I didn’t see any in the supplies Hennessey managed to gather.” Jude responded. “I’ll have a look, see if any made it.”
“Good idea. I’ll check up on Kristof, see if he has managed to get comms or systems working. Then I’ll find out from Hennessey what’s happening with that airlock.”
As Jude entered the core cabin, Maxie called out to her. “Is there anything I can be doing? I feel so, I don’t know, superfluous here.”
Jude thought – there wasn’t much he would be able to help with, not with the injuries he had.
“You know, you could sit with Wib. Make sure he stays steady.”
“I’d like that. Thanks.” He gingerly pushed himself up and back.
The central cabin was a mess. Broken equipment hung from the walls, cables and wiring bare. Jude could smell burning. She looked around for the source of the acrid smell, as well as any extinguishing equipment that may have survived.
“Glass, Kristof, can either of you smell burning?” she called into the adjoining lab. “I can’t locate a source in here.”
“Yes, we can too. I think it might be in the ventilation ducts, coming from another part of the station. Good news though.” Glass sounded slightly better. “Kris thinks the OSO picked up our distress beacon. Thank fak. We can’t send or receive comms yet but help should be on its way.”
Jude’s heart lifted. Well done Maxie, she thought. I’ll head back and tell him.
“Hennessey’s in the airlock right now. Poor guy had to suit up and exit the hatch. But he’s isolated the problem so we should be space tight soon.” Good old Hennessey.
“I’m just doing a sweep for any more medical gear, like you asked. If I find any more sedatives, I’ll maybe get Maxie to take a few. He’s holding up but just barely.”
“Brave guy. Yes, you do that.” Glass craned her neck so that she could see Jude down the small corridor. “In the meanwhile, I’ll check on this burning smell. Don’t want any more drama, now do we.”
Kristof piped up “Perhaps it’s my birthday can…WOOF.”
Why did he just make noise like a dog? Jude wondered. Then the blast of heat hit her, flinging her against the bulkhead.
Jude slowly opened her eyes. The lights in the room were dim. This isn’t the Tiandong, she thought. It’s too tidy. And what was her mother doing here. With Coop. That wasn’t right at all. And Oji, he’d been here but now he was gone. A lump rose in her raw throat.
She tried to call out but the words wouldn’t come. But her mother and ex-wife jumped up and rushed to her side.
“Darling, darling. “ There were tears in her mother’s eyes.
“I’ll get the doctor,” Coop said as she left the room.
One of the nursing techs had raised Jude’s bed so that she could sit up. Her left arm was encased in a layer of bio-gel. The doctor, a stern but affable Japanese woman, had told her she had fractured it. Jude also had third degree burns down the right side of her back and leg. She would be able to leave the medical facility in a day or two.
Chief Howe and Cee-Cee herself, the usually haughty but this time obviously strained and subdued Ms. Chouinard, had come to see her. There had been a small fire, in one of the port ventilation shafts right enough. There had also been a rupture in one of the hydrogen feeds, caused most likely during one of the two shock waves and it had been leaking into the station for some time. Fires in microgravity don’t behave like ones elsewhere – instead of rising, the heat had expanded out into a sphere, then all of a sudden, a fireball that had ripped through the modules.
Glass had been killed instantly, practically vaporised, Howe told Jude solemnly. And Kristof had been caught in the flow of hot air, as all oxygen was burned up in the lab section, asphyxiating zhim. Jude had been close to death when they found her in the CCM. Maxie and Wib had been protected from the blast by the luck of being in the sleeping area. However, Wib’s injuries from the second wave had been too severe. He’d had low-level radiation poisoning too and he had died shortly after the rescue team had got them back to Earth.
And as for Hennessey, well, the sheer damn luck of being in an EMU while repairing the airlock meant he was just fine. In shock, of course, as he had witnessed the fireball tear through the CSS. But not a scratch on him. He came to see Jude just before she was discharged, once her parents and Coop had stopped fussing around her. He stood in the doorway, his face pale apart from the dark stubble of a beard.
Jude beckoned him to come in. Her voice was still rasping from the burning and it hurt to speak.
She scooted over in her hospital bed and he climbed up wordlessly beside her. She curled her good arm around his shoulders as he lay his head carefully on her chest. And they cried together.