Jude turned her neck and a motherfakking pain shot through her upper body, like a lightning strike. She looked up and could just about see out of one of the windows. It had spider web cracks across its surface but she could still make out the inky black of space and, if she really, really squinted despite the agony, she imagined she could see a sliver of Earth. A face appeared, obscuring her view of home. It seemed kindly but concerned but she was ill-placed to remember who it was.
“Easy, my darling Sagiso,” her grandfather used his pet name for her, the little orchid with the angel-shaped flower which had grown in his garden in Tokyo and that he had carefully nursed in his dome on Luna City.
“Ojichan, I’ve missed you so much.” Jude tried to reach up to touch his now smiling face but her arm felt so very, very heavy.
“And I have missed you too, my beautiful girl. I wish for nothing more than to take you in my arms and carry you away.”
“Then do it, my dear grandfather.” Jude willed herself to raise her head, another bolt of myalgia slicing through her like a samurai blade.
“Not yet, precious petal. Your life isn’t done with. “The crinkled features began to go foggy.
“No, “Jude pleaded. “Stay, Oji, stay.”
He leaned down, with ease for a man of his years, and his lips grazed her forehead. “And remember always, my thoughts will always follow you into your dreams.” And with this, his traditional farewell to her, he was gone.
“Oh-jee,” she cried.
At the edge of her blurring view, with tears as much as any pain, Jude could make out a figure in an orange helmeted bio suit thrashing toward her.
“Chief, we’ve got a live one here.”
“Thank fak.” She barely registered the tones of Dug Howe from Kakuda before the darkness overtook her.
The mood on the station following the news from Boulogne and the Tereshkova was low. Although the crew managed to busy themselves with making the three modules as safe and sturdy as they possibly could, there was a palpable air of joylessness.
“Why don’t they just send up a shuttle and get us the fak out of here?” Wib had protested at the next morning’s meeting. The same thought had crossed Jude’s mind too.
“Because it might be a false alarm. Cee-Cee is a business concern, with shareholders and profits to make.” Glass replied. “They are not going to send up a shuttle just on the off chance we might hit a bit of rough space weather.”
“And we are so close to finishing up – if all goes well, we’ll be home in a few days anyway.” Maxie was trying hard to sound cheerful but Jude could tell he was covering up his concerns.
“Yes, “Glass grasped at the support from her systems technician. “Plus, if there is any minor damage, we can get that sorted too before they ship us out. In that way, everyone’s happy and we return from a job well done.”
“We’re just drones to them.” Wib snarled. “Stuck up here, out of sight, out of mind.”
“We’re no different from any other workers on energy platforms or test bases.” Hennessey put in his two yen’s worth. “You knew the deal when you signed on, so stop moaning.”
Jude could feel the tension prickling in the air. She could soon be seeing her first low-gravity fist fight.
The normally silent Kristof spoke up in zher modulated and measured Martian tones. “The latest real-time telemetry coming in from the Advanced Composition Explorer seems to indicate that this particular event will be pretty minor. SOLO, the solar orbiter, is predicting some minor soft errors. However, I believe I have made sufficient adjustments to minimise this and any reparations will be not at all problematic.”
“Thank fak for Spock here,” Wib said. “But what about us poor soft-bodied apes, eh? We’re going to be battered about like nobody’s business.”
Jude felt his jibe at poor Kristof was uncalled for and told him so. “Lay off zhim Wib – Kristof is just doing zher bloody job and so are you. We all are. Look, Glass and I have converted the sleep spaces into a pretty decent shelter, with plenty of anchor points and protective padding” Glass gave Jude the thumbs up, visibly grateful for her contribution both to the safety preparations and the now raucous debate. “It’ll be a tight squeeze but we can ride out pretty much whatever this oncoming storm throws at us. We’ll be fine.”
Glass took back control of the meeting. “We’re all tired and stressed, I appreciate that. Since we got the warning, we’ve been…how do you say it…knocking our pots in to ready ourselves. And we’ve done brilliantly.”
Maxie spoke up. “Everyone – I wasn’t going to say anything much really but seeing as we could all do with something to look forward to – it’s my lovely Kristof’s birthday today.” Kristof motioned to zhis lover to pipe down but Maxie continued. “So, once this little bluster is passed and we’re all ship shape again, I have a couple of bottles of brandy and some pouches of space pudding stashed away in my locker. And,” he nodded to Jude, “our delightful Ms. Sadako has kindly agreed to entertain us with a song. Or two maybe if we can persuade her?”
“Well then, “Wib conceded, “That might be well worth going through this for.”
Messages came in thick and fast over the comms from Boulogne and both the stellar monitoring stations. There was a fair-sized coronal mass ejection timed for 15:30 hours, station time. That gave the crew forty minutes to make final checks and get strapped in to Jude’s shelter space. Hennessey had shut down all the top line avionics and set attitude to a minimum. Maxie and Kris had switched off all computing systems, bar life support and minimal lighting. With some difficulty – their body shapes varying from Kristof’s slender 2.1 metre height to Glass’s matronly solidity – they all managed to cram into the safe space. Maxie and Kristof snuggled together and welcomed Glass into their huddle on one side while Jude found herself sandwiched between Wib and Hennessey on the other. The station hummed then shook slightly, feeling like a small paper boat rocking on a vast ocean. Then the proximity alarm sounded.
“Here we go, “muttered Glass as a massive burst of solar wind crashed into the Tiandong. It was hard to tell up from down as they seemed to roll right over. Jude’s mind rushed back to that first training day with Hennessey as burning bile rose in her throat. She reached out and grabbed his hand and held on tight. His hand was warm in hers, which she was sure, like the rest of her was clammy and shaking.
“Nearly done,” he craned over to whisper.
As suddenly as they had been tossed about, all was till and quiet again. Jude released Hennessey’s hand quickly and moved to unfasten her padded harness.
“Not yet,” said Wib, who had remained rigid like a statue throughout, all his bombast of that morning now gone. “There might be some aftershocks.”
The six of them waited but nothing more happened. They all began unclipping and unhooking themselves from their protective cocoon.
“Thanks Jude. And Glass. “Maxie spoke for all of them. “I was like a bug in a rug.”
Glass grinned. “Yes, all snug. Now, back to work, people. Let’s have a sit-rep as soon as we can.”
They all headed out of the makeshift bunker and headed to their zones. From the CCM, Maxie powered up the on board computers. Everything seemed to have weathered the storm just fine. Then he noticed a flashing display on one of the monitors.
“Fak, I knew it was too good to be true. “
“What’s up buddy?” asked Hennessey as he glided past, his arms full of tools.
“The far aft airlock could be set to breach. Dammit, I thought it was too good to be true.”
“Not a problem”, the Irishman said. “I’ll go and check it out. Probably just needs some Kapton tape.”
Kristof’s voice came over the station-wide comm. It was tinged with alarm. “I’m getting readings in from the OSO. That wasn’t the last of the storm. There’s another CME and it’s headed our way.”
“Return to the safe zone. I repeat, return to the safe zone.” Glass’ yelled.
Wib swam past Jude and pulled her in his wake. “In there. Now.” And he unceremoniously shoved her into then sleep locker. Glass and Kristof struggled in beside her.
“What about the airlock?” shouted Hennessey.
“Forget the fakking airlock.” Jude had never heard Maxie exclaim like that before. “The heat shields are down.”
“Leave them and get your Martian arse in here.” The typically subdued Kristof screamed at zhis partner.
“I can’t. Without them, even a small blast will leave us dead in the water. We could even lose life support.”
Kristof began unhooking zher anchors but Wib put out a hand to stop zhim. He was nearer to the door. Hennessey began unclipping his harness to follow. Wib turned and shook his head.
“Keep her…them safe.” And he spun out and toward Maxie, who was still valiantly trying to revive the heat shielding. They all watched helplessly as Wib reached the slighter man, just as the violent shock wave hit the station. The Mancunian enveloped Maxie and dived under the computer work station as the viewing window bulged inwards. The cabin was illuminated in a dazzling white light.
Wib raised his head and shouted over to his colleagues. “Close the fakking door.”
Hennessey pulled it tight and they were plunged into darkness, Wib’s contorted face burned onto Jude’s now tightly closed eyelids.