Asteroid Wranglers (Part 2)

Fire alarms blared throughout the ship as Shane unbuckled himself from his bed and scrambled out of his bunk. He pushed off the frame toward the wall where the emergency breathing masks were stored. Quickly, he stuck one on his face, then grabbed another. Kula appeared at the hatch, and Shane handed him the second mask.

“Fire in the hydroponics compartment,” Flight Engineer Maria’s voice called through the ship’s comms.

Shane and Kula both retrieved a fire extinguisher then pushed toward the hydroponics compartment.

A long row filled with small green plants divided the compartment with square planters, tools, and seeds on the end opposite the hatch. The rightmost corner was where the fire raged. Commander Janice was already fighting the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Shane and Kula rushed toward it and sprayed a sustained blast of foam. The fire rapidly shrunk until it fizzled out and died. Choking smoke clung to the ceiling, and spherical globs of gray drifted through the compartment, but the ship’s atmospheric systems kicked in and dissipated it. Soon the air was safe to breathe again. The three of them quickly pulled the masks from their faces. John and Archie came through the compartment’s hatch with their masks on and an extinguisher in their hands.

Janice raised a placating hand toward the new arrivals. “Stand down,” she said. “Everything’s under control here.” A moment later, the alarms ceased. John and Archie breathed a sigh of relief.

“Doesn’t seem like we lost anything important,” Kula said, looking toward the burned area in the corner.

“No, there’s nothing vital down here,” Janice noted. “The plants are mostly here to assist with oxygen reclamation and CO2 disposal. They take a little of the load off the system, but it can function fine without them.”

Shane indicated a charred plant. “I don’t think oxygen reclamation was the only purpose of this one,” he said. He leaned forward to get a better look at it. “What is that, a tomato plant?”

“I believe so,” John said. “There was some extra unused space in this compartment, so I decided to fill it with food bearing plants. You know, so we’d have something fresh to add to our rations for a meal or two.”

“Well, I don’t think it’ll be doing that,” Archie said.

“The next box has some potato plants, but they look okay. So, at least there’s that.”

“And the whole we’re not going to die in the cold of space,” Archie said dryly.

“This is Janice,” Janice said, putting her hand up to her ear to communicate with the command deck. “There was a fire, but it’s been taken care of.” She pushed off toward a less crowded area of the compartment to talk.

“Alright,” Shane said. “If there’s nothing else that wants to kill us, I’ll be in my bunk. Wake me if you need help fighting off a giant space squid.”

Shane pushed into the gym compartment. Calling it a gym gave the impression it was much bigger than it really was. It was more of a closet where most of the equipment folded out of the wall. He climbed onto the treadmill, and after clipping on the straps that would hold him on it while he ran in a 0G environment, he began exercising.

There was a mandatory allotment of time everyone aboard the Midas was required to spend exercising in a 24 hour period. They were in a 0G environment, and failure to properly exercise would result in bone and muscle loss and atrophy. It could become so bad that when that crew member returned to Earth norm gravity, they couldn’t walk. Their muscle strength would eventually return to their bodies, but it would take weeks of physical therapy and exercise.

After the treadmill, Shane used a stationary exercise bicycle before ending his regiment with upper body and arm exercises. He dried himself off and applied a body deodorant stick so his BO wouldn’t overpower the other crew members. From the gym, he moved into the lounge. He grabbed a pouch of orange juice and settled on a tube of cinnamon roll. Despite the contents of every food tube having the same pudding-like consistency, the substance tasted remarkably similar to the food it represented. He didn’t know what it was made out of, but he guessed he probably didn’t want to. As long as it was somewhat palatable, he didn’t care.

He used his tablet to check his messages as he ate. Half of the messages consisted of distance updates about how far away they were from XJ and earth. One even had a weather report for Venus. Temperatures were at a balmy 700° with sustained winds of 500 miles an hour. He swiped past those then tapped on a report about the fire from Marie.

It read: the fire inflicted no serious damage to the hydroponics compartment or to the structure of the ship. The only casualty was a single tomato plant. The cause of the blaze was a glitch in the programming of an O2 cycler which caused it to send a disproportional amount of pure oxygen into the hydroponics compartment. The blaze started moments later but was quickly extinguished. The programming has since been corrected to prevent another accident.

“All crew members prepare for deceleration,” Marie said through the ship’s comms. “Secure all hatches, and lock down any active equipment.”

Shane pushed through the command deck’s hatch and found the nearest unoccupied seat. He wore his lighter mining suit, which was designed with more dexterous fingers better suited for working with small objects and tools. The suit was less cumbersome than those employed on the ISS or the one he had used with the AMU and was more agile. Despite being a lighter design, the suit was sturdier than its heavier counterpart and less prone to tearing or punctures.

Archie, and Kula, came through the hatch in their mining suits and seated themselves. John came through the hatch. He closed it behind him and found the last remaining seat before Marie floated over and started securing everyone’s restraints. Janice and Duncan were already seated in the two pilot seats at the front of the compartment. Once Marie finished securing everyone, she seated herself in the last empty chair before securing her own restraints.

“Everyone’s secure in their seats,” Marie said. “And all hatches are closed.”

“Copy that,” Janice said.

Marie rapidly hit keys on the console in front of her seat. “Commander,” she said. “Requesting permission to activate control rods in the reactor, and put power output at 25%.”

The primary power load to the reactor came from the ship’s main engine. Without it draining power, thus decreasing pressure, the reactor would overheat within minutes and destroy the ship in a spectacular nuclear meltdown. The control rods prevented this by interfering with the fissile reaction within the reactor and, by extension, reducing its internal temperature and energy output. Even at a quarter of its maximum output, the reactor generated enough energy to power all the ship’s systems.

“Permission granted.”

Marie hit keys on her console. The lights on the command deck flickered for an instant. “Deploying control rods,” she said. “Reactor output, slowing.”

“Starting deceleration in 30 seconds,” Janice said.

“Commencing final checklist,” Duncan said. He spoke 15 seconds later. “All systems green.”

“Prepare to pull some G’s,” Marie warned.

“Beginning deceleration in Five… Four…Three…Two…One,” Janice counted down.

“Decelerating,” Duncan said.

Shane felt an increasing amount of force pushing him into his seat. The dull gray and brown shape of asteroid XJ hung outside the command deck window, and it was the only visual indication of motion. The asteroid slowly slipped below the window, out of view.

“Stopping burn in,” Duncan said. “Three…Two…One. End of burn. How’s our position?”

Janice was quiet while she checked her instruments. “Everything looks good. Well done. Everyone’s free to leave their seats.”

Shane unstrapped himself and turned to address the other nearby crewmembers. “We’re here,” he said. “Now the fun begins.”

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.