A strange way to die

Author: Neil Otte

“What a strange way for an Arkansas farm boy to die”, he thought. He could imagine Gramps shaking his head and saying, “Son, you are a caution”.

Of course, his love of numbers, ability to fix mechanical systems, and delight in growing things – all traits he got from Gramps – were the reasons he ended up here. When he saw Hydroponics Lead as one of the positions on The Foundation’s roster, he knew he had to apply. Not that it wasn’t hard to become one of the “crazy, selfish dreamers” as the vocal deriders of the Foundation’s plans called the ones who signed up. Although Hebert’s implementation of the EmDrive made interstellar travel possible, the multi-decades voyage was a high-risk proposition. Years of acceleration to a large fraction of light speed, followed by years of deceleration gave large probabilities of failure in even highly redundant systems. World opinion was split on the prospect, but in the end, the multi-national Foundation was formed, and the first interstellar mission was born.

It was Gram’s influence that gave him the courage he needed to apply. He could remember sitting at the picnic table outside church and her saying, “You have a purpose in life and you need to pursue it with passion and integrity. If you do, you have nothing to fear, not even death, because, at the end, you’ll have peace.”

Now as he thought back over the last three hours, he wondered if he had seen the culmination of that purpose. When the explosion occurred in the transfer station it holed both tank 2 and 5, venting water systems that constituted 38 percent of their capacity. He knew to the liter what they were going to need to make it to Vaetta, and at the rate of venting, they had 68 minutes to find a solution. Even now, with time to think and ponder, he couldn’t think of anything else he could have done but vent the just harvested hydroponic bays 8 -12, and then vent the ruptured tanks into the bays. Not a perfect solution, but the bay filters would not allow moisture to vent, and the bays would hold enough water in vapor form to reclaim once the damage was repaired. The fact that the only way to now shunt water from the tanks to the bays was via the original loading system on the outside of Finaer, and the only available way to get to the loading system controls was the limited range/thrust IMU, seemed like a minor detail at the time. The IMU had barely enough propellant for him to maneuver his way to the control panels through the venting cloud of ice. In the movies, the hero would have been able to make it to the tether node and the hook would have caught by a fraction of an inch on his last desperate attempt. In reality, he didn’t get within 15 meters of the node before the IMU propellant was depleted, and the vapor accelerated him steadily away from the Finaer.

Now he floated silently through space as the Finaer dwindled to a gleam against the backdrop of red-shifted stars. They had run the numbers on using one of the CMU’s to retrieve him, but it was clear the delta-v was too great. The goodbyes had been said, the thank you’s and commendations given. Now as he gazed out over the expanse of the universe, he realized that Gram’s words were absolutely true.

“Thanks, Gram”, he whispered. “See you soon”


  1. Jatayu

    A poignant and well written story.

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