Hard Suit Lock, by Sean Monaghan

StarPad, by Romeo Esparrago
Illustration (c) Romeo Esparrago

Andreas smacked into some tubes on the Donkicong’s fuselage, then clipped the edge of the airlock and bounced away slowly. It reminded him a little of watching Willard’s buckled and broken ship tumbling towards the Martian atmosphere.

“What’s the problem, A?” Bayliss said.

“My arm is jammed. I spun out. And I can’t fit into the airlock.”

“Jammed? I’m not reading a suit malfunction. Did you reach the wrong way?”

“I told you I’m used to soft suits.” Andreas used his free hand to adjust the jetpack and realign. His right arm stuck straight out, pointing at Enceladus. The elbow and shoulder rings had locked up and he couldn’t shake them back.

“You’re rated in the suit,” Bayliss said. “You showed me your certificate.”

“He’s always complained about it,” Madeline said. “And now I’m going to have to go out and drag him inside.”

“Hey,” Andreas said. “I’ll get it back. I’ll just reverse the sequence.”

“If it was that easy…” Madeline said.

“Quiet down.”

“I told you he was reckless. We should never have let him on board.”

“Quiet down,” Bayliss said. “But get suited up just in case.”

“Yeah.”

Bayliss wouldn’t fly with handlers in fabric, not since she lost two soft-suited crew to ring particle punctures. Andreas thought she was over-cautious, but he needed the work and she was willing to take a chance on people. He tried to shake the arm loose again. A hard suit was so different from the cloth suits he was used to. It was easier to move, no stiff pressurized layers to press against, but you had to move in sequence and that was the trick, remembering the sequence. Body memory, Madeline said, but she’d been in hard suits for years. You couldn’t just reach for something, you had to move a little left, a little up, a little right, just to get the rings to slide right, even for the simplest movements. That’s what he’d screwed up. Reaching for the Observer crate and the arm had locked. No amount of shaking was going to shift it.

“How’s your oxy, A?”

“A quarter tank.”

“Good.”

“But you know that anyway. You’ve got all my telemetry.”

“Of course, but I need you to know that too. Tell me how long that gives you.”

He gave the jets a burst to line up again. With the arm stuck, he needed a different angle. There.

“Andreas?”

“Forty minutes.”

“Good. Say thirty with your current consumption rate.”

“Okay. Lots of time.”

“Except that it takes twenty to get Mads into her suit.”

“Sure.”

“And then she’s got to cycle through the lock. Grab you somehow and get you inside.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Now do you see why we stop satellite repairs with a half-tank?”

He was nearly at the lock now. A little tap on the jets and he would be inside.

“Andreas?”

“I told you,” Madeline said. “He’s loose. He cost Willard a salvage with his–”

“Can you get her off comms? She lousing up my concentration.”

“Andreas,” Bayliss said. “You need to focus on staying put. And Mads, I knew his history when we took him on, so let up.”

“He’s been screwing things up forty ways from Venus since he came on.”

“I know, but… what are you doing Andreas? Turn off the jets.”

“I’m just–”

“Aww crap,” Madeline said.

The jets died as Bayliss cut the power remotely.

“Too late,” Madeline said.

“I’m inside the lock,” Andreas said.

“Options?” Bayliss said.

“Just close the outer door.” Andreas knew he was wholly in the airlock.

“You stay out of this,” Bayliss said. “You’ve done enough damage.”

“Damage?”

“Both suit up,” Madeline said. “Bleed the ship, open the internal door and get him inside, then close up and flood again.”

“What damage? The suit’s arm is locked, that’s all.”

“Okay,” Bayliss said. “Bleed the ship, that’ll work. Except that once you’re in your suit you can’t help me into the third suit. Not for the final seals.”

“The emergency bubble?”

Andreas felt himself bump into the lock wall. “Are you going to close the door?”

“Don’t stop Mads,” Bayliss said. “Get that arm on. And the emergency bubble is on the wrong side of the lock.”

“Door,” Andreas said. “Are you going to close it?”

“You screwed it up, you mental,” Madeline said. “With your lousy jetting around.”

“What?”

“You’ve burned off some of the seals,” Bayliss said. “We can’t close it up and keep integrity.”

“You should know not to use your full jets by the lock,” Madeline said. “You grab the rungs and pull in hand over hand.”

“My arm is locked, in case you forgot. I’m not hand-over-handing anything.”

“That’s your fucking fault. What is wrong with you? Why are you even out here? You should still be locked up on Vesta after what you did to Willard. If you hadn’t found some fancy technicality lawyer–”

“Cut it out,” Bayliss said. “I thought he deserved a chance.”

“Thought?” Andreas said.

“Changed my mind. You didn’t. Okay Mads, I’ll take a remote pad, lock up in my bunk while you bleed the ship. Get him inside, then we can head for Callisto and make repairs.”

“Whatever,” Madeline said. “Or we could just make for Callisto now.”

“I’ve got thirty minutes of air.”

“We can be there in a few hours. Breathe shallow. Bayliss? What is it?”

“More than the seals were damaged. That first knock has screwed up the fuel lines. We’re venting.”

“Guys?” Andreas said.

“You keep out of this. We’ve got to burn for Callisto right now.”

“While we’re venting fuel?” Madeline said.

“Look at these numbers. If we bleed the ship, we then repressurize from reserves and we’ll run out of air before we can get there.” Bayliss went quiet.

“You can pilot from inside the bunk?”

“Yep. Let’s move.”

“Wait,” Andreas said. “You’re going to burn with me out here?”

“Snap me in,” Madeline said.

“Gotcha.”

Andreas heard the hiss of the seals through Madeline’s comms. “Talk to me, people.” The Donkicong shuddered and he drifted towards the back of the lock. “I don’t like this.”

“What’s to like?” Madeline said. “Hold onto something.”

The acceleration grew. He bumped around, found himself facing out into the void. The acceleration pinned him against the back wall, jammed arm pointing out of the lock. He couldn’t see his free hand. He felt around with the fingers, trying to get a grip on something. His nose mashed up against the faceplate.

“Okay,” Bayliss said. “I’m sealed in my bunk.”

“Roger,” Madeline said.

“You on a tether?”

“Roger.”

“Going to bleed out the atmosphere now.”

Andreas could feel his eyes pushing their way from the sockets. His vision became red and sparkly. He had a glimpse of the Observer Crate he’d been working on. He wondered how hard she was accelerating. Probably a full burn. Nine G. That was bad enough in a pressure couch, let alone face down in a locked-up hard suit.

Then he felt lighter, almost drifting up. He felt the ship clank. The inner door opening.

“Okay,” Bayliss said. “Back to null for one minute. Get him inside and we’ll push it up again.”

“Roger. How’s our fuel?”

“Almost gone. I’ve sealed out the busted tank, but we’re just about down to maneuvering.”

“Just leave enough to slow down for Callisto.”

“Gotta do some aerobraking.”

Andreas felt himself yanked backwards and turned. Madeline had him.

“Aero?” Madeline said as she shoved him inside. “Callisto’s atmosphere is pretty thin. Won’t slow us down much.”

“Enough, I hope. Anyway with an outer door cracked wide like that anything thicker and we’d crisp up.”

* * *

Madeline tossed him across the cabin and closed the inner door. “Okay,” she said after a moment. “We’ve got integrity. Let’s have some air in here.”

Andreas floated, staring up at Bayliss’s sealed bunk. “Sorry about all this,” he said.

“Oh, now,” Madeline said, “Now he says sorry.”

Bayliss flipped down and helped Madeline out of her suit. Then turned to Andreas and unbolted his helmet. “You are not flying with me ever again.”

Andreas nodded. “The Willard wreck,” he said. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“Whatever,” Madeline said.

Bayliss and Madeline climbed into their pressure couches.

“Hey,” Andreas said. “Hey. Aren’t you going to help me out of this?”

“Aerobraking can be pretty high-gee, can’t it,” Madeline said.

Andreas saw them exchange a grinning glance.

“Yes,” Bayliss said. “Yes it can.” *

About the Author: Sean Monaghan’s suits frequently lock. His stories have appeared online and in print in Deep Space Terror, 10Flash, and AlienSkinMag, amongst others. His science fiction novel “The Rotated” is serialized at Infinite Windows.
Story (c) 2010 Sean Monaghan
Website: http://www.venusvulture.com
Email: sean.monaghan@inspire.net.nz

About the Artist: Romeo Esparrago is a free-floating freelancer.
Illustration (c) 2010 Romeo Esparrago

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