She can function as a lifeboat

©Masterson selected two of the twenty-four nitrogen thrusters and gently dabbed the Man Manoeuvring Unit retro button on the left armrest. He immediately floated slowly to port. Below him the Luna shuttle’s white livery stood out starkly against the blackness of space.  “Well at least it isn’t raining,” he quipped.

Bret floated through the hatch into the cargo hold on a life line and rotated so Masterson could see him. “Funny man. You missed your calling,”

“I know, I should be on the stage.”

Bret laughed. “Yeah, sweeping it.”

It was three hours since the collision and despite repeated attempts the shuttles main engines were dead. Masterson finally decided, as commander, to put the MMU on and go see the damage, if any, that the huge piece of space junk had done.

As the thrusters carried him under the shuttle and toward the engines his worst fears were realised.

“Fuel cells ruptured, Bret. Looks like we’re out of fuel. Guess we’ll have to get out and push.”

They both laughed but it was a nervous laugh.  Communication with moonbase was good and an emergency call logged within seconds of the accident. The problem was moonbase could not launch a rescue mission for eight hours. The shuttle was drifting off course despite constant corrections using the ship’s small retro thrusters. They also ran out of fuel. In eight hours they were going to be out of range. No rescue shuttle would be able to reach them and return to base. There was not enough fuel.

Bret tapped the communications panel. It lit up automatically. “Moonbase, this is Galileo. We are dangerously close to the no return sector. What’s going on?”

“Galileo, we know you have a little fuel left in one of the two cells supplying the retro thrusters. If you can use the cell pump to even out each tank we think we have come up with a solution.”

Bret looked across at Masterson who was busy flicking switches and peering at the computer readings.

“Moonbase this is Bret, where are we heading?”

“Bret, you are closing on Sirias 3.”

“You’re kidding!”

Both men looked at each other. Sirias 3 was abandoned some ten years previously when a malfunctioning computer had caused a serious fire and sent the huge communications centre off course. More than two hundred plus employees had managed to escape, everyone except a few crew.

“Bret, Sirias is still alive. She lost fuel and almost half the structure has gone. However, she can function as a lifeboat. If you can dock with her we can send a ship to you and a probe carrying fuel for the return journey. It depends on you though. Get the fuel pumped and then we’ll give you the co-ordinates so you can use the retro thrusters to find and dock with her.”

“What about oxygen and water?" asked Bret.

“We estimate two full tanks of oxygen and plenty of water.”

“Okay moonbase, we’re go.”

“Something else, Bret. There is a possibility that some of the crew are still alive.”

Bret gave the comment some thought before answering. As shuttle pilot the docking procedure would be crucial. If any of the crew were alive it would be essential for him to communicate with them. Inner airlocks had to be secure. If no-one opened them from inside Sirias 3 the locks would have to be blown. Without being able to warn them, survivors inside without the protection of a suit would perish instantly.

“Moonbase, we understand your warning.”

With final checks complete and new course co-ordinates programmed into the flight computer, Bret turned off the cabin lights while Masterson closed the cargo doors and secured his body straps.

“Well buddy, here we go.” Masterson gave Bret a pat on the arm. “Get us out of here.”

Bret dabbed the retro control and the shuttle responded, turning slowly onto its new course. As it gathered speed the small retro guidance system shut down as programmed.

“Galileo to Moonbase – we are go for Sirias 3.”

“Copy Galileo – you’re looking good. ETA is T minus 27 minutes.”

Masterson looked at his watch. They had enough time before they reached Sirius 3 to decide what to do. Without communication their only hope was if there were survivors they would follow procedure.

***

A huge revolving colossus, Sirias 3 without power orbited the moon and earth in a giant elliptical circuit, passing close to earth and then being slingshot out far beyond the moon before making its return journey. The size of ten ‘London Eyes’ and a central control station the size of a super aircraft carrier, it dwarfed Galileo. In its day before the fire, the station served as a testing laboratory for new technology and training ground for crews making the long trip to Mars. Now abandoned, there were plans to gradually salvage most of it and rebuild another station that could orbit Mars.

About a third of the outer hub had burned but the infrastructure remained. The fire had started and destroyed most of the inner hub but not enough to send Sirias 3 to her death. Solar panels appeared to be working as lights still blazed on some of the decks.

Bret gradually closed on the central control station until he was four meters from the docking ring. “I can’t stay on this station for too long. We need to dock and then I’ll go through the tunnel and blow the hatch.”

Masterson disagreed. “No, I’ll go. Besides, if anything goes wrong you’re the only pilot we’ve got.”

He was right. Normally a shuttle would be crewed by four – two pilots and two technical engineers. This flight there was no cargo; just the delivery of a new shuttle to moonbase.

Bret shrugged. “Okay, you wanna’ suit up and make your way forward. When you’re in position let me know.”

Bret pushed the communications switch. “Moonbase, Galileo here. Docking shortly. We will be blowing the hatch.”

Static filled his ears. “Ensign Fedra here – do not blow hatch – say again do not blow hatch.”©

Next chapter

Comments

They both laughed but it was a nervous laugh. The tension is screwed up tightly by thus line. Again great description and the way the men interact is very realistic. I really enjoyed it! Well done Raymond. You're becoming quite the master storyteller! I love it! Sirius spelt two ways - Sirias and Sirius.

Thank you -fixed it.