There is, Kate thought to herself, nothing better than the calm beauty of space. As long as one is tethered to a place with air.
Her eyes traced the long white tube that lead from her space suit back to the little mining skiff she and Steve had borrowed for their mission to see the damage up close. Through a small port-hole on the side of the ship she could catch glimpses of Steve’s head bobbing around as he struggled with the skiff’s unfamiliar controls. Slowly, carefully, no quick movements in zero gravity, she turned away from the only source of light. Her eyes took a moment to re-adjust to the dim light of distant stars. Still seemed strange that the sun was just another star here at the edge of the solar system.
A dark shape, visible only by the way it blocked the stars, floated in front of her. No light came from the damaged side of the space station. The far side, the undamaged part, where people still lived, had plenty of light, none of which could be seen from her position.
Steve’s voice came over her com, “Aha! I think I found it.”
A burst of light temporarily blinded Kate, and even Steve, looking out through the port-hole, cursed at the unexpected brightness.
“What the hell? What’s it reflecting off of?” He asked.
“I’ll let you know in an hour or two when I can see again.” Kate said. wishing she could reach up a hand and wipe away the tears. She felt a brief swirling of air on her face, and the moisture evaporated. “Uh. That was cool.” she said.
“What?” Steve asked.
“This space suit is pretty sophisticated. I though the mining company was struggling.”
“So I heard, ah, wait, here we go.” The light became less painful. “Found an ‘intensity’ dial, ‘course it’s nowhere near the light switch.”
Kate blinked a few more times and finally saw the cause of the light’s reflection. What looked like some sort of crystal completely covered the damaged area.
It was, in its own way, beautiful.
“Steve, can you see this?” She asked, her voice almost a whisper.
“Yeah,” he answered, his own voice uncharacteristically breathy. “looks like shards of ice.”
“Impossible,” she said, “if there was a leak, it would have confined itself to a small area, not spread so evenly and completely. ”
“I wasn’t saying it was ice, I said it looked like ice.”
Kate heard the exasperation in his voice. She didn’t know why she was always so pointed with him.
“Sorry. Alright, I’m moving closer.”
She reached for the hand throttle, then stopped, recalling the conversation she’d had with her father.
“When you are out there, just give my ‘crack brained theory’ as you so lovingly termed it, a try.” He’d asked her, “I promise you won’t be disappointed.”
Kate held in a sigh and decided it couldn’t hurt. She took a deep breath and thought about moving. She thought about the jets on her backpack firing in the precise order and strength needed to start her moving gently forward. If what her father said was true, the hand throttle and the direction controls strapped to her boots were just props. A focus for the brain, but not actually involved in the working of the jet pack.
“You ok there, Kate?”
“Fine.” She grabbed the entirely functional hand throttle and moved forward.
A long time ago, her father was the star of her solar system. Everything she did revolved around obtaining his approval. But now, their positions seemed reversed. No longer was he the brilliant inventor the President called directly when he needed help. Her father was only a crazy old man whom people indulged out of respect for previous accomplishments. Now she was the one receiving the five AM call: we need you.
Kate moved in closer to the edge of the damage. The most troubling aspect of the accident was the lack of a debris field. An explosion in space should cause a debris field. Even if all the pieces of debris were vaporized in the explosion, the vapor at least would leave a trail. Something to represent trajectory and explosive force. Something for her to examine. A place to start her calculations.
The initial imagery in the accident report showed only the carved out section of station she could see now, albeit a little less ‘brilliant’ than reality. Her first reaction didn’t change. It still looked as if huge serving spoon had carved out a chunk of a space station cake. A perfectly smooth elliptical section of the station scooped away like so much rich dessert.
Kate moved a bit closer, then stopped, using the reverse thrusters on the boots and the sides of her helmet to cancel out her forward motion, when she was almost close enough to touch the crystal-like spikes at the edge of the bowl-shaped area.
Every spike was perfectly perpendicular to the surface it arose from. As if something pulled the missing part of the space station away, stretching out the metal between. So not like cake, more like taffy. What she was seeing did not fit in with any possible explosive scenario she could think of. What it fit with was a sudden black hole. A black hole that existed only long enough and strong enough to suck in a small amount of the mass around it then disappear. Which was impossible. Wasn’t it?
She pulled a digital caliper from her belt pack, stretching out the two long sensors as she moved just a little bit… Wait a second.
She hadn’t touched the hand throttle. Both hands were on the calipers. But she had moved.
The space suit had reacted to her thoughts. Exactly the way her father said it would. Two impossibilities in less than a minute. She must be going crazy.
“Kate! Your suit, you’re losing pressure!” Steve called out.
Kate felt a tingling sensation in her right calf muscle. She moved her leg then looked down to see a puff of red mist escaping from just above the metal boot.
“And now I’m bleeding.” Her voice sounded distant to her own ears.
“Kate! I’m pulling you in!” Steve’s panic snapped her out of the momentary shock.
“Hold on!” She called out. Kate looked down and saw that the almost invisible ends of the spikes had embedded themselves in her boot and punctured her suit. She backed away slowly but she didn’t get the angle right and a few spikes broke off in her boot and suit. The spikes were longer than she’d thought. Whatever had pulled away the missing chunk of the station must have shrunk to an infinitesimally small point before disappearing altogether, and the metal left behind probably stretched to the atomic level.
Backing away, using the hand and foot controls as usual. Kate moved to a more central point and could see what she missed before. All the metal spikes didn’t just point away perpendicular from the damaged edge, they all pointed to a single spot. The center of the ‘scoop.’
“Kate, your suit is damaged. you need to get back in here.”
“Yes, I know, I’m coming.”
Kate turned around and started moving to the skiff. Her head swam with all the new revelations she’d gained in the past few moments. But the most amazing one of all was the thought that her father was right. He wasn’t crazy after all. The thought made her smile.
Part of an ongoing Serial: A Life Investigated