Author : K. Pittman
I wake, if that’s the term for it, unwriting domains against polarised fragmentation and unkempt electric spin, programmed instinct seeking proper orientation.
Slow firing dormant ion-lights, we rotate counter-clockwise, along the azimuth, putting the Milky Way at our back, shaving seconds per meter off the tumble of our outbound trajectory. I throttle up the impulse motors of our EMU and check on my passenger while plotting windows back to IS-5.
Her chip says her name is S Patrice:Welder 4:StationDay on the roster. I re-synch my chronometer and discover an alarming thirty hour deviation from standard.
Life signs: hers, comatose; ours, sluggish, stable, quickening.
EMU external integrity reads at maximum, with some warpages in topology. Atmosphere in the suit reads high levels of hydrogen sulphide; the port for the waldo is dead.
I assume the safety protocols worked; it buckled when whatever incident occurred, and Beta system, my cousin, must have flooded the passenger cavity in response to a dire emergency assessment. Analysis of discontinuities in linear memory indicate the effects of a large, quick EM pulse.
Memory also gives our last recorded position, on IS-5’s surface, replacing a section of shield panel, behind Recycling and astern of South Bay 3.
I page my sisters, silent lights cast wide in cislunar space.
There’s a noticeable lag. Some don’t respond, others report returns along inbound paths as skewed as ours is out, their Passengers comatose or near-dead, suit integrities on the verge of compromise, emergency gel desiccating in the solar wind.
S Patrice:Welder 4 and I, we got lucky. If the programmed definition of “luck” in my banks is correct, very lucky.
I call IS-5, as per standard.
S Patrice:Welder 4 and I execute a full about and begin a long curve on a gathering burn. I call IS-5 again, as per standard. Garbage and chaff assault me in the form of a “Hello”.
The handshake is missing.
Protocols dictate the sending of a handshake request, and I handle that while plotting new trajectories. S Patrice:Welder 4 has four hours before becoming truly nonliving, but has twenty hours of breathable atmosphere on board. Lucky.
Kind of. Is that right? Is that how that goes?
Nothing from IS-5. A collapsed silence, very notable.
Nothing but my sisters, now, and this looming, and the roiling grain of space-time churning about us. I whisper my plans to them.
After long seconds down, we all agree: This requires a Passenger’s discretion, and my Passenger just happens to be the closest to optimal Passenger Integration. Passengers hate the safety-sleep gas, for when things go bad. Even when it works. Ideally, what’s to be done is wake her gradually and fully, clue her in, extract a decision, and then gradually render her comatose again. What hinges on her decision is when I can wake her again in safety, if at all.
We are at best forty hours away from anything in habitable space, travelling at speed. It can be done. My calculations are on point. Written into those algorithms are the limits of Passenger tolerances. But it can be done, given some statistical slippages.
Bright without light, my sisters cry, bitching based on consensus analysis, on lost signals, something like an enormous itch and no body and a knowing looming looming.
I may have to wake S Patrice:Welder 4 into the middle of a nightmare.