A Revelation

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.

Nothing happened.

“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.

That’s impossible.

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 

 

A Phone Call

“Kate, this is a really bad time, I have a class starting in…”

“John, I’m leaving.” Kate interrupted her husband.

“What? Forever?” He chuckled, but the sound contained complicated nuances.

Kate let the pause drag on too long before clarifying, “No, on assignment, but this is a long one, six months.”

“That is long.  Look, Kate, I really gotta…”

“I’m leaving in one hour, John.” Kate interrupted again.

“Oh. Hold on a sec.”  She could hear the sounds of his students all around him, asking questions, joking with their favorite teacher, making excuses for late assignments.  He announced to the room that they had five minutes of study time before a one question pop quiz.  She heard the gasps and groans of twenty young voices and then silence of the empty hallway outside his classroom.

“One hour? What’s going on – some huge explosion I missed hearing about, I guess?”

“Yes, out near the asteroid belt, crippled the WaveRing of a mining station, a bunch of miners and their families all stranded.  It’s going to take five months of slow-travel to get out there and at least a month for the Wavers to fix the Ring, so, yeah, six months.”  Just explaining the journey to her husband made it all much more real.  It occurred to her now that no one, in all the frantic discussions of the morning, had included her investigation time in that ‘six months.’  Did they think she’d have it all solved by the time the Wavers finished the repairs?

space
space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

“Kate, you hate slow travel! Steve promised he’d never send you out on a long trip again!”

Kate felt gratified to hear his projected anxiety. Proof that he cared, she told herself.  “Well, there’s no other way to get out there until the Wavers fix the Ring, is there?” She took a deep breath. “They asked for me, John. The Wavers, I mean.  I’m traveling on a Waver ship and the explosion happened on the Waver part of the space station.”

“Crap – that is a big deal, hold on.” She heard the door opening and his voice projecting, “Three more minutes, make sure you really know that chapter, people, this one is going to count as extra credit for your final exam grade.”

Kate waited for the silence, then added, “I’ll be the first Tinwinian on a Waver ship, ever.”

“Wow.” he said.  She heard a clicking sound and some mumbling.

“John?”

“Sorry – I need to figure out what I’m going to ask them.”

“Right – OK, well, see you in six months.”

“Kate, don’t be like that.  Look – I’ll pull the assistant principal in to sub, and I’ll meet you at the port, in, uh, an hour?”

“No, they’re picking me in a private shuttle from the office, I’ve got a couple spare uniforms and my extra toiletry kit up here, but the Waver ambassador assures me they’ll have everything I need on board.”

“This is really big… exciting. I just wish the timing could have been a bit better.” He said.

“Yeah.” She tried to hide the disappointment in her voice, “me too.” She knew, logically, there was nothing he could do with such short notice.  No magic winged horse or time traveling phone box that could skip through the time and distance, and everything else, that separated them.

“Well, call me when you get to the ship – our com’s should work the whole way, right?”

“That’s what they say.  I guess we’ll find out.” Kate answered, knowing full well that the communicators worked fine in deep space.

“OK, well, be safe, love you.” John said.

“Love you too.” Kate said.  She pushed the spot behind her ear to hang up, glad to have one more item checked off from her list of things to do before departure.

 

Part of an ongoing Serial: A Life Investigated 

 

A Conversation over Lunch.


Star Field

Kate sat in the dining hall across the table from Kella and tried not to look as uncomfortable as she felt.

“Is it the windows?” Kella asked, “They aren’t real. It’s just a projection.  A lot of people get claustrophobic after months and months on the ship. The projection of the stars and space seems to help.”

“No, I’m fine,” Kate answered.  She looked down at her tray of food and wondered why she’d selected the peach pie for dessert.  She’d really wanted the chocolate cake, but there’d only been one slice left and it seemed wrong to take it.

“So, I’ve met your father,” Kella said with a knowing glance, referring to the way he flirted with the ship’s Matron every chance he got, “But I don’t know anything about your mother, I hear she is in the government on Tinwin?”

“Not in the government, not really.  She works for the News actually. She’s the government correspondent.” Kate took a bite of a pressed meat-like patty with its smothering gravy and chewed for longer than necessary.

Kella waited, sipping from a mug of creamy soup that looked and smelled delicious.

“She reports the goings on in the capital on the News every evening.”

“Ah, so I guess she wasn’t home much.”

“Well, sort of.  She was gone in the morning before I woke up for school, but she was home every night for dinner, her segment was recorded, not live.  We’d watch it while we ate.”

Kella nodded, staring at Kate with thoughtful eyes.  Kate felt pitied.

“She was a good mother.  Busy, of course, but we had nannies and housekeepers and all that. We were well cared for.”

Kella nodded again.

Kate looked down at her plate, wondering what was in the green mush.

“It’s mostly kale, but they generally add some other flavors as well,” Kella said.

Kate looked up at her, it wasn’t the first time Kate felt the other woman was reading her mind.

“I never knew my mother.”  Kella said. “I mean, I knew who she was, she came to visit me when I was little.  But children in the Society grow up in the nursery with just a few people to look over them, and then, as soon as they are able, they’re sent into training.”

Kate knew the Wavers called themselves ‘The Society.’  It seemed pretentious.  ‘Wavers’ was more descriptive, since they were the waves of people who’d emigrated from Tinwin many decades ago.

“What did you train as?” Kate asked.

Kella looked at her, confused, “Well, as a Ship Matron, of course.”

“Oh, you didn’t get to choose your job?”

“Choose? No, we’re tested for the first time at about five years old and then again at about seven, it depends on individual maturity levels and such. The test determines what you can do best, what would make you the most satisfied and how you could be the most useful to the Society.”

Kate shivered at Kella’s tone. It seemed so cold to Kate, telling a kid what job they’d have when they were only seven years old, never giving them the freedom to dream or explore.

“Kate, I love my job. I’ve never been unhappy with my work and I am useful and respected. Can you say the same?” Kella looked away after speaking and took a large swallow of soup.

“I’m sorry, that was rude,” she said, looking back again. She smiled apologetically at Kate, but Kate didn’t sense any real regret in her look, only condescension.

“What happens with the kids who don’t test into a job that is needed?” Kate asked.

“What do you mean? Every job is needed.”

“I meant, what if the test says a kid is a writer or an artist.”

“The test doesn’t work that way. If someone has artistic abilities, then they are probably good at designing new software or new ships. We don’t need pretty pictures.”

“That’s what I’m asking. What happens when the test says all this kid is good for is painting beautiful works of art.”

“That would never happen.” Kella said into her mug.

“Never?” Kate asked, holding back the smile.

“Never.” Kella insisted, while looking out the fake window into fake stars.

Part of an ongoing Serial: A Life Investigated