Brandon suddenly begins gasping for air...
|Prompt: Someone is working on calculations, but they mess up? What kind of chaos ensues?
Written for Blast Off! "Blast Off!"
It had been a long 2 months, but the crew of the space shuttle, Utopia II, intended to help develop a new space station, and eventually colonies in space had finished their mission and were soon heading home. They'd long ago dropped ranks and even last names, feeling bonded like family...perhaps closer than family because rarely does your life depend on decisions your family members make, let alone on a daily basis.
Brandon, the Payload Commander, was the silly one, his dark curly hair had grown quite long in the absence of a barber and he'd enjoyed the others teasing him about it. He'd wave his locks back and forth in the zero gravity and joke about how everyone else was simply jealous of his thick head of hair. Sarah, a Mission Specialist, always agreed with him that she was jealous of his locks. It seemed his hair was now longer than hers, which had started out longer than his. She' pretend to flaunt her honey hair when he teased her. Derek, the Utopia II's Commander, was definitely the stoic one of the group. He never seemed to show emotions. As they'd trained, they'd teased him about it until one night over drinks, he opened up about his childhood and how his father beat him for showing emotions, even happiness. They didn't bother Derek after that. Finally, Jerry was the Pilot. He offered a good mix of humor and silence. Though he was always quick to ask for a photo to show his three children when opportunity to send them back allowed.
Since the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, NASA has required a space walk before reentry. A piece of foam had damaged the Columbia after liftoff, causing little trouble in space, but catastrophic damage upon return. Could they have fixed it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But they were never given the chance.
The team knew the space walk was one of their last procedures and the energy about returning home caused electricity in the air. While they were all military and both Brandon and Sarah understood the unbreakable bonds built between military members during life and death situations on deployments, they had discussed that even those bonds weren't like these. They agreed that there could not be a stronger bond among non-family members and perhaps theirs was even stronger than most families. Derek had agreed to that statement.
Sarah did the calculations for the space walk. There were a lot of things to consider, not the least of which was the oxygen needed and time allotted. They were running low on excess oxygen tanks and the compressor to refill them had broken recently. They knew there was enough, if they were judicious, but the space walk also needed to be thorough to ensure the safety of the crew.
"Okay, Brandon, come here while I explain how we need to do this walk," Sarah said.
"Okay, how YOU need to do this walk. I've worked out several sets of calculations and have figured out how to do the walk without really decreasing your inspection quality but still maintaining a margin of safety for the O2."
"...Without really decreasing the inspection quality?" he quipped.
"Okay," Sarah started, "Seriously, it will be fine. Just do what I say. I've worked it all out. You'll do a bang up job on the inspection and then return safely with at least 10 minutes of air remaining."
"Hopefully not too much of a 'bang up job'" Jerry piped up.
"Oh, geez!" Sarah acted exasperated. She knew they were just teasing her, but she also knew if she didn't show that she was getting annoyed, they'd just continue until she did. The quickest way to get everyone on board was to play the part.
"Alright, you two, let her do her job." When the Commander spoke, everyone listened. Not so much out of respect for his authority, though that would be plenty, but more out of respect for him; what he's been through; what he'd go through for them, if called to.
Sarah explained the plan to Brandon, double checking that he understood. She ended with, "Don't worry. We'll be here in case anything goes wrong."
"Yeah, a lot of good that will do me." Brandon laughed.
After donning his protective gear and having it double checked by Derek, the sealed the bay and Brandon prepared to step out into the limitlessness of space. This wasn't his first space walk, but he knew it could be his last. He'd been discussing with his wife about the possibility of retirement. He wasn't an old geezer yet, but he wanted to retire while he was still young enough to enjoy his life, his wife, and his grandchildren. After all, being an astronaut wasn't the same as working in an office building. The family time after hours just didn't happen from the other side of the moon, literally.
As he drifted out slightly, he ensured both tethers were secure. He took a moment to enjoy the view. Seeing space from space, was truly something that just couldn't be put into words. After a deep, contemplative breath, he began working on his check list, working with Sarah, on the comms, as she checked things off one by one, guiding him through the slightly altered routine.
Things were going well and he was getting close to finished. He'd enjoyed a few good belly laughs as they joked. He wondered how many of the few people who had even space walked, had had the opportunity to laugh in space as well. Then he noticed he was starting to feel light headed. He shook his head to clear it, but it didn't help. He was starting to breath faster, but the feeling only seemed to intensify. Not wanting to worry anyone, he checked his gauge. He was out of oxygen. Panic set in...from both the situation, and the simply lack of oxygen which throws a brain into panic anyway.
Sarah noticed his ragged breathing. "What's wrong, Brandon."
Brandon suddenly begins gasping for air. Unlike a scuba diver who will not even be able to inhale when he runs out of air, Brandon is simply rebreathing his own carbon dioxide, each breath making the next one worse. "I'm out! I'M OUT OF OXYGEN!"
"No Brandon! You aren't! You're just getting panicky! Take long deep breaths and you'll be fine. Breath with me." She begins taking in a deep breath but is interrupted.
Jerry overhears Brandon's cries for help and puts him on the intercom. "What's going on, Brandon?"
"He said he was out of O2, but he couldn't be. I did the calculations several times!"
She's darting for her spacesuit to suit up for a rescue. Jerry is close behind. The Commander preps for a possible casualty situation. They each call to Brandon, but there's no response. As he's searching the empty space through a window, Derek sees Brandon's body floating, tethered to the space shuttle, lifeless. Derek knows deep down that the laughing and joking had been the cause of his doom, but wouldn't bring that up to Sarah. She had enough guilt already. She'd bear that the rest of her life.
Word Count: 1200