Author: Michael Hopkins

Dr. Arden Hart floated through the airlock into the International Space Station IV.
“Well, well…daddy’s little girl finally made it.” Captain Gianna Moralez, the ranking office on ISS IV, hoped her new recruit would get sick. “So you have Doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and agricultural engineering. And you’re up here to study the weather?”
“Yes,” Arden said.
“Couldn’t figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?” Arden floated towards the Captain to shake hands and was met with a stiff arm to the chest. “Or, you just couldn’t figure out how to make daddy happy?”
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Arden snapped back, “I missed your educational background.”
Captain Moralez got nose to nose with Arden. “I would match my Tech School Degree and 28 years experience up here against your green ass and alphabet soup credentials any day.”
The two other astronauts, Eun Jung Gwan and Antonia Petrov looked on and knew better than to come to Arden’s defense.
“Suit up Hart,” the Captain said. “You, Lieutenant Petrov, and I are going out to perform a status check on the orbital debris shields. Dr. Gwan will man the control room.”
Hart wanted to object but said nothing. She started towards the suit room.
“Hold up Hart,” the Captain said. “You got a brand spanking new suit. Are you good to assemble it? The O2 mini tank and CO2 scrubber are pre-charged.”
“I’ve been trained,” Hart said.
Antonia Petrov smiled and told Hart to call her Nia. “I’m EJ,” Eun Jung Gwan said with a handshake. “Be ready in fifteen minutes.”
They made their way out of the station to begin the task of checking the 200 debris shields protecting the orbital laboratory.
“500,000, Dr. Hart,” the Captain said. “That’s how many pieces of loose junk are orbiting the earth.” Hart wanted to tell her it was more like 550,000, but let it pass.
Two minutes into the project, Hart heard a panicked voice in her helmet. “Hart! Hart! Are you there?” EJ was frantic.
“I’m here,” Hart said. “What’s up?
“Simultaneous suit malfunctions. Both the Captain and Nia are unconscious. CO2 levels jumped to 10,000 ppm and are continuing to rise. They’ll be dead in 10 minutes.”
“How the hell could two suits malfunction?” Hart said. “Any new system updates?”
“Updates every day. But I can’t fix anything from here.”
Hart ignored protocol, untethered, and pushed across the station to Captain Moralez. She tethered to her and made her way to Petrov, and attached to her.
“Status?” Hart said.
“13,000 ppm,” EJ said. “Both dead in three minutes.”
“It’ll take at least seven minutes to get these two to the southern airlock,” Hart said. “I’m going to hose up to both of them. Meet me there.”
“Don’t do it, Hart,” EJ said, “You’ll all die.”
“Get ready to pull us in,” Hart said. She needed a trifurcated connector for a three-way hook-up. She remembered the damaged Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) she was assigned to fix. It was only twenty feet away and would have the junctions she needed.
Hart took the pistol-grip wrench from her belt, zipped out four bolts from the CATS unit, took the value, and made the three-way hook up. Her oxygen supply would keep Moralez and Petrov alive, but she would also lose consciousness in a minute.
Hart snapped her titanium carabineer back to the ISS and slinked around to the south side. She could see that EJ had the airlock open. Blackness crowded out her vision and she passed out.
“Wake up Hart,” Captain Moralez yelled.
Hart saw the other three astronauts sitting in the airlock, helmets off.
“Petrov your incompetence with the suit maintenance almost got us killed! Hart, our CATS is floating in space, and you performed non-regulated suit mods on a walk for god’s sake. As for me, I’m screwed for taking a rookie on a project walk without a checkout run. EJ you should report us.
“When Hart went off book,” EJ said, “I turned off the comlink. We’re still in blackout. They’ll do a manual connect in ten minutes.
“EJ, totally against regulations,” Moralez said. “If we don’t figure out a plausible story all our asses are going to be shuttled back and run out of the agency.” She looked around. “Anyone have any ideas?”
Hart raised her hand, “I have one.”
Moralez stood up. “Okay genius, let’s hear it.” The Captain smiled and offered a hand to Hart. “Welcome to the team.”