Mars by Stealth
A Sci-Fi comedy adventure by Peter Rasmussen
|Far from the hula hoop
Victoria had no idea Space was going to be so smelly. What was Victoria doing on the outside of the spacecraft so far into the mission? And what was she doing out there with a bow and arrow?
Victoria was working on one of the attitude jets that had been sticking and slow to respond. Her tool bag had been in the way and had stopped her from getting close enough to work so she took it off and tied it to the communications dish. At least she thought she had. She looked up to see it slowly floating away. Her tether was too short for her to go after it. What to do? She looked at a cluster of aerials poking out of the side of the vessel. She picked two that had been used during launch and were now redundant. One was carbon fibre. She kicked the base with the heel of her boot. This carbon fibre was very strong in one direction but if you hit it just right it snapped like chalk.
Victoria was quite petite so the carbon fibre rod was nearly as tall as she was. She had strung her own wooden bow hundreds of times so her actions were almost automatic. In low gravity this was going to be harder but not impossible. This aerial had a wire that curled up the length of it. She quickly unwound the wire to the tip where it remained connected. She put this end between her thighs so it came out the back like a stiff tail. She bent the other end right around in front of her and wrap the free end of the wire on to it. Now she had a bow. She reached for the shorter aluminium aerial and broke it off. This was going to be her arrow. A spool of wire hung off her belt. She tore one side away so the wire could slide off freely. She tied the loose end of the wire to the back of the arrow.
By now the tool bag was quite a long way off. Her helmet made it hard to sight along the arrow but she gave it her best shot. She pulled the arrow back on the string and tried to find that zone which had won her so many trophies at school so many years ago. Even before the arrow had reached its mark Victoria knew the outcome. She felt the spool of wire on her hip rapidly uncoiling and held her breath. Got it. The arrow tore through the thin plastic of the tool bag and stuck there so Victoria was able to pull it back.
There were a lot of valuable tools in that bag but the thing that drove her to be so resourceful on this occasion was her last bottle of personal deodorant. But no matter how much deodorant Victoria used on this journey it just seemed to mix in with the overall muddy foulness. One time she even tried it on her upper lip to see if it would work as an odour barrier. The general stench still broke through. It was worse than a Batchelor's favourite underwear.
But that space walk was over a month ago. Now they were a very long way from home. The sun was faint and distant. The tiny cylindrical vessel they were in floated in the inky void. At a misty porthole Victoria's face looked out, searching.
Inside Victoria, very tired, wiped the mist from the glass and searched the sky. She checked her watch and the navigation display. Surely there should be something by now. In a well-practiced ritual she opened a bottle of cleaning spirit. As it floated she wet a cotton bud with the spirit to clean the lens of the telescope. She used a spiral motion to send the dust to the edges of the lens. All in complete silence. She even chewed her gum with care. They were all pretty tense after six months in a tin can and the last thing she wanted to do was wake them. Everyone was suffering from chronic cabin fever and getting on each other's nerves. Victoria was doing the graveyard shift, keeping an eye on things. Behind her the other five members of the crew lay weightless in hammocks tethered to the bulkhead.
Victoria remembered the time she had excitedly tried to get her niece to understand how far away Mars was. She took Julie to a soccer field and put a hula-hoop at one end of the field to represent the size of the sun. She walked her right to the other end of the field and took her just outside the boundary fence saying this is how far earth was away from the sun. She held up a mint the size of a marble to show how big the earth was on this scale. Before she could explain that mars was another third of a soccer field away from the sun Julie had eaten the mint. Victoria only hoped that when they had used the return vehicle to get back to Earth that Julie had not gobbled it up.
To address the problem of living conditions over such a long journey the last few missions used new additions intended for the international space station. Before a new section was added it would serve temporary duty on a Mars mission. No matter what its specific end purpose was it would be attached to the command module and be shuttled back and forth just for the extra elbowroom. Even if a mission was lucky enough to get a large section it still was not quite enough room for six people to get away from each other over the six-month journey. Work had been done for a permanent interplanetary shuttle for this purpose but NASA had a new set of budget cuts so it would not be ready until the mission after this one. It was supposed to be ready for this mission because there were no more space station sections to be borrowed. It was complete. So this was the most cramped crew that had ever done this journey.
The international space station had grown considerably over the years. When she was younger Victoria always wondered why the space station was not round like a cartwheel, like in the movies. On thinking about it she realised it would not really be practical. The spin cycle of a washing machine works fine until all the socks and shirts decide to have a house meeting on one side of the tub. The space station would not last very long with that kind of wobble.
But the space station was a very long way behind them now. Victoria decided to pass some time on night watch by tidying her tools. In low gravity you either have to be holding something or it has to be stowed away. With gravity you could depend on an object waiting for you where you had absentmindedly left it. In space unsecured inanimate objects tend to do exploring of their own. The careful hand to hand movements that resulted from this made a job like tidying your tools take on the air of a religious ritual.
She was replacing the worn out screwdriver attachment in her cordless drill with a fresh one. Then she saw it. She put the drill in her left hand and took up the telescope in her right for another quick look. Victoria lined up her small telescope to examine the distant object. "There it is." What she had been looking for. "We're here. Wake up. We're here." She went over to the others to shake them awake. They all looked the worse for wear and pretty scruffy. The men were all unshaven.
Victoria was so excited she swallowed the gum. It's peculiar how much time passes before you realise what's going on. You reach for the air and it doesn't come. An involuntary action suddenly competes for front position in your thoughts. She tried to clench her lungs to force the obstruction out but it was jammed tight. The others woke to a demented wheezing creature waving a drill and a telescope in panic. Strangely, even though Victoria was choking she felt an overwhelming compulsion to let them know what she had seen.
She gestured to the window with the cordless drill. It flew out of her hand and hit the bulkhead. The fresh screwdriver bit punctured the thin aluminium wall of their spacecraft. The hole was small but still a hazard.
Brian was the first one to twig what was happening to Victoria. He positioned himself behind her, wrapped his arms around her abdomen and gave her the Heimlich manoeuvre. The gum popped out, hurtled across the cabin and sealed the hole. Brian was not the captain of this mission but he was such a quick thinker Victoria had often thought he should have been. The captain was the captain for reasons that looked good on paper. He was experienced, had the mission hours and because it was his turn. But he still wasn't so good with people. What was his name again? Even after all this time in the same room Victoria could some how manage to forget his name. Stewart, that's right, Stewart.
Victoria told them they had arrived. They all rushed to the porthole and took turns at the telescope to look at their new home for the next few months. While everyone was busy Victoria pushed the gum more firmly into the hole. Not too firmly. Not so hard that it stuck to her thumb. Just leave it alone Victoria. Just leave it.
Copyright Peter Rasmussen 2001 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Warning: Modifying or translating this