Jude was surprised at how quickly the whole team got into the routines of living and working on board the decommissioned station. Their days were pretty standard although significantly longer than those typically worked by the previous inhabitants, due to the time and budgetary constraints imposed by the company. Jude’s day typically began at six a.m. when the alarm next to her ear buzzed and vibrated. She had been lucky enough to obtain one of the proper sleeping berths, which had come as a shock seeing as how far the pecking order she viewed herself to be. There was no command structure as such but as the most experienced member of the group Glass (or Wendelin, as Jude had found out during conversation one evening before sleep – “But you must never, ever call me Wendy, okay?”) was the one they tended to look to for leadership. Glass had elected to tether a sleeping bag in whatever section of the lab modules she happened to be working on and Maxie and Kristof had chosen to bunk together away from everyone else, which no-one seemed to mind. That left the three beds in the sleeping quarters for herself, Wib and Hennessey. Jude liked having a small space of her own, no matter how wee and cramped where she could stow her belongings in a net and listen to music if she liked. Upon waking, she would try to grab a quick turn in the bathroom – she could never, no matter how hard she tried though, get used to swallowing her toothpaste instead of rinsing and spitting – then some breakfast before a brief team meeting. Everyone pretty much knew what tasks they required to be getting on with, Jude included but often some issue or other would come up such as a repair need that had been noticed or, although rarely, a message from HQ with a new request. They would work on with a break for lunch and dinner til at least seven or eight at night and were all asleep or at least in bunks or bags by eleven.
Although Jude was tasked with most of the janitorial work, it did involve a lot of assessment and judgement and she found herself quite happily settling into a schedule of her own. Occasionally she was called over by one of the other team members, usually Glass or Maxie, to give them a hand with something or other. Whatever she was called upon to do, she did it with a glad heart and with interest and curiosity. It pleased and at the same time amazed her how happy she could be, doing something fiddly or that required her concentration and effort. As exciting and varied as her life before had been, whether on the road with her parents or in her own brief flirtations with the entertainment industry, she had never found the same peace and tranquillity that she found here in her new role. Even Hennessey’s continued coolness towards her could not dampen her spirits. He pretty much kept himself to himself these days and was never anything more than civil and polite to her, but she had to admit she missed the early days when it had just been the two of them on their train journeys to and from Kakuda. Still, people come and go and when it came down to it, you couldn’t really control that.
What she could control, to a certain extent, was her dealings with Wib. She was still fond of him and hoped that, once this job was finished and they were back in T-City, that they might be able to resume their relationship. But it was clear that one couple on board was more than enough – even though Maxie and Kristof were nothing but professional during work time and around the other four – and so although they remained friends and shared the occasional joke or aside, the physical dimension had pretty much cooled. They worked well together and she enjoyed his company and, looking on the bright side, Jude took this as an opportunity to get to know the person inside the body.
On this particular morning, Wib had requested her help at the daily crew meeting.
“I’m upgrading the antennae on the main CCM and I could use some backup, if you are up for some EVA, Jude.”
Cee-Cee had provided all of its trainees with robust extra vehicular training and experience at Kakuda. Jude had logged plenty of time in the low and no grav simulation testing areas under the guidance and tutelage of Professor Mori. She felt comfortable in the full body suit and helmet. However, this would be her very first opportunity to test all of that training within a real environment. Deciding to admit her concerns to Wib, she cornered him in the kitchen.
“It’s not that I’m scared Jimmy, “she hesitated, “but this will be my initial spacewalk and I want to do it right.”
“Jude, honey, you’re safe in my hands. I’ve done plenty of them in my time but I do remember my first one.” Jude was glad to hear this. Wib (Jimmy was what she called him in intimate moments together and it had slipped out) had told her of his time working on geo-orbiting comm satellites for Meta Media, before coming to work in Japan. “I don’t need you to work untethered alongside me on this one. It’ll be enough for you to do an SEVA.”
SEVA or stand-up extra-vehicular activity was when the astronaut (for that is what Jude was now – a bona-fide person who travelled and work in space craft) is not required to fully leave the ship or station and is remained tethered. Jude felt a little better about this. Although she was experienced in untethered operations, having that lifeline made her just a wee bit happier about this first trip outside.
Wib helped her into her suit. Before attaching her helmet, he adjusted her Snoopy cap and affirmed that her comm unit was linked to his. Then they were good to go. Jude would mainly be there to pass tools and equipment or to help move the antennae. Wib opened the airlock, stepped out and motioned for her to follow.
It was incredible. Jude couldn’t help but let out an audible “Wow!”
“It’s a doozy, isn’t it chuck?” Wib’s Lancashire tones drummed her awake. “Never gets old.”
Jude had been to Nepal and Olympus Mons on Mars so knew the feeling of being small but this was something else. Even I this low Earth orbit, she could appreciate what people meant by the vastness of space. Sure, she had travelled through it, but to be in it was something else entirely.
“When you are finished having your little thermal socks blown off, pass me that screwdriver will you?” Wib laughed.
And so they worked on, replacing and repairing where needed. Wib stepped back a few times and let Jude in to explain what he was doing – he was a good teacher and his enthusiasm for what could have been a technical and hum-drum morning’s work made it go in so quickly.
“Just a few final checks and diagnostics here and we’re all done. If you take this back to the Orbital Replacement Unit (external storage lockers and pumps, batteries etc.), then return to me to give me a bit of a hand, we can get back inside,” he said to her.
Jude turned, catching site of her home planet. A quote from Taylor Wang, the first Chinese astronaut, came into her mind – “A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. “I could not help but love and cherish her.” She had to agree.
Her reverie was interrupted by a sudden loud alarm. It was the debris detection alarm. One of the hazard of working in the orbital junkyard was the increasing amount of free-flying and fast moving detritus as defunct and decaying tech began to disintegrate. One of the first things Glass had done to the station’s computer was set up the latest detection system, by which larger objects could be targeted and either avoided or, if necessary, vaporised into smaller and less harmful particles. However, even the smallest piece of metal could do a lot of damage.
Jude felt a jolt – whatever had come racing past her had hit her tether with enough force to unlatch it from her EMU. She was floating free. And away from the station.
She must have emitted an audible cry because Wib immediately responded via the comm.
“Jude, don’t panic. Remember your training.” What? Jude’s breathing quickened. Her mind was a blank and all she could see was her own death as she spun off into the black.
“Engage your SAFER, “Wib instructed her. Damn these acronyms. “Your jetpack. The control is on the left side of your suit. “Simplified Aids for EVA Rescue were, as Wib had said, small, self-contained back up propulsion units fitted and designed for emergencies such as this.
Jude’s left hand, so deft a few minutes previously, now flailed in at her side, desperately feeling for the SAFER controls. A hum and some momentum told her it was on. With what seemed like a huge effort, she turned to face the airlock. In seconds Wib was at her side and using his suit thrusters, guided them both back towards the ship and inside.
Hennessey and Glass, were there to help her out of her helmet and hard upper torso unit. They weren’t making a fuss but Glass exclaimed “We saw it all on the monitors. Are you okay?”
“I think so, “replied Jude, as she stepped out of the remaining lower half of the EMU. Hennessey caught her gaze, his face ashen. He patted her gently on the back. “Good lass,” he spoke in his soft brogue.
Wib had stripped off his suit and was beside her. “Well done out there. You kept your cool.”
“Really?” Jude was sure she’d made a bit of a fool of herself, panicking like that.
“Totally. “said Wib. “First time it happened to me, I crapped my suit.”