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Tales of the Nightingale

by Michael G Dick 5 months ago in science fiction · updated 5 months ago

Chapter I: Open Ship Surgery

Tales of the Nightingale
Photo by Yong Chuan Tan on Unsplash

The only thing separating Kassy from the vastness of space was a few centimeters of material; a myriad of synthetics. The suit was absorbing enough juice to reconstitute oxygen from the bi-product gases released from her skin. Kassy could float out here indefinitely, or at least until she died from dehydration which would occur much more quickly because of the demand the suit ultimately placed on her body.

That wasn’t the case for the rest of the crew, if Kassy did not get the life support systems to engage the crew would freeze to death and be entombed in the belly of the Nightingale forever.

A yellow light ticked on in Kassy’s Heads Up Display, followed by Captain Key’s voice, “Pssssh. Kassy, how we doing out there, Pssssh.”

Kassy responded, “I have located the damaged panel, and I am initiating anchoring procedures to begin my repair.”

Kassy didn’t need to see Captain Key create those troubling forehead creases as he responded, “Pssssh. Copy. Pssssh.” She knew they were there. She also knew that Captain Key was doing the math just like she was, and she knew that time was not on their side.

The Nightingale was put in a spin to create artificial gravity; all non-essential systems were taken offline in an attempt to conserve energy, this was great for the crew inside but it made docking procedures, well forget difficult, they were damn near impossible. The suit was equipped with maneuvering thrusters, but if she was off more than two degrees in her rotation with the Nightingale she could shear right off into deep space, skipping off the hull like a rock. The first rotation Kassy matched speed, which put Kassy and the Nightingale in a waltz, but from Kassy’s point of view her dance partner was pulling away from her and this was a dance she couldn’t afford to go stag on.

Kassy’s HUD was showing a four-degree variant, the thrusters were matching the speed of the Nightingale's Rotation but the angle was off and they just weren’t powerful enough to match the speed and also compensate for the variant angle. It took everything Kassy had not to reach out and grab at the hull of the ship, a rookie mistake that many astronauts made, and it was usually their last.

Kassy instead touched the soft pad attached to her wrist activating her intercom, “Kassy to Cora....”

The yellow light lit up her helmet, Cora’s voice became Kassy’s world.

A light neutral female voice filled Kassys suit with sound, “Pssssh. I have been monitoring your progress, would you like me to adjust my trajectory to insure a safe docking procedure? Pssssh.”

The eerie greenish starlight became a rhythmic strobe pulsing with every rotation. Cora didn't offer a solution unless there was one, “Cora, begin rotation adjustment on my mark. 3. 2. 1. Mark.”

Slowly the separation between Kassy and the Nightingale slowed…stopped…and then reversed. The distance closed.

Kassy knew she would only get one shot, and if she missed it would seem like a freefall down a sheer cliff, and with the Nightingale in a spin, she was sure to be bunted into deep space.

The distance seemed to close slowly, her own breathing was loud, rhythmic, and lonely in her suit. Kassy focused on the projected anchor point that was assisted by her heads-up display; the anchor point was lit up with a targeting reticle, guiding Kassy to the exact point of contact.

Cora was good, the impact was a little harder than falling a few feet from the ground. Kassy snapped the safety tether into one of the many eyelets placed throughout the outer hull, feeling the click of the safety tether through her suit's gloves. Kassy would have activated her mag-boots, but if the micrometer that she was sent out here to extract had magnetic properties, it could complicate an already dire situation, so they had to do this the old-fashioned way.

The eerie greenish light from the star cascaded across the damaged panel in three-second intervals, in time with the rotation; it was hard to believe that the entry point was only ten centimeters in diameter where the micro meteor tore through Nightingales’ outer plating.

Kassy touched the soft pad attached to her wrist, “Kassy to Captain Key.”

Kassy’s suit filled with static as the channel opened, “Pssssh. Go ahead. Pssssh.”

Kassy spoke in a calm measured rhythm, “I have completed anchoring procedures and I have located the entry point of the micro-meteor. I am removing the outer plating to determine the extent of the damage. Over.”

Captain Key did a cursory check of the sensors, looked to the ageless Asian woman in overalls known as Cora, who was the ships' sentient interface. Cora could project herself using holo-emitters and if you didn’t know any better you would think she was just another crew member. She looked at Captain Key anticipating his request, “All green on my end, Captain.”

Captain Key opened the channel, “You are clear to proceed.”

Kassy responded, “Copy.”

Kassy removed the eight screws with the power drill that was secured in a satchel belted on her hip.

Everything had to be done one at a time. Remove a screw. secure a screw. Remove a screw, secure a screw. It was slow. It was grueling.

After all the screws were removed. Kassy pulled out an old-fashioned screwdriver carefully placing it in the hole, prying at the panel like she was trying to pop an old paint can. The panel pulled away too easily, and it made her cringe.

Kassy cabled the damaged panel to her suit and began her appraisal of the damage. What began as a ten-centimeter hole quickly expanded a meter deep and ballooned at the bottom by two meters, turning what should have been an intricate banding of circuitry and tubing into a charred unrecognizable synthetic macabre. The electric housing compartment, which operated and regulated life support, was mostly intact next to the reconstituted molten heap. Nestled inside was the culprit, a grape sized meteoroid. Wires were melted and cauterized around the wound, and everything that was, where the hole is now, was gone, disintegrated or atomized, or whatever happens to you when you get hit with a cosmic bullet.

Kassy held up the culprit so that the camera mounted over her shoulder would give everyone a good view of what almost turned them all into memories, “Captain Key, the damage is mainly in redundant systems, I am attempting to create a bypass that should reactivate the life support and get the Nightingale breathing again.”

The yellow intercom light lit up and Captain Key filled her suit, Kassy could almost see Captain Key almost smile, “Pssssh. That’s great news. Keep us posted on your progress, and hurry, it’s getting cold in here.”

Kassy knew that out here in the deep space, you have what you have and that’s it, that includes hope, you bring that with you as well, and Kassy knows just how important hope is when you're running short on everything else. Kassy really wasn’t sure how she was going to save the day yet, but she wasn’t going to tell them that. Kassy also knew that no one is going to happen by and offer them a helping hand, and in Kassy’s experience, even if they did, they were just as likely to take you for everything you have and leave you to die, if they didn’t outright space you.

Kassy smiled as she saw the crude scratches that were carved on the back of her power drill, “HOPE”, and wondered just how many times just seeing that word scribbled throughout the ship and on her mom's old belongings saved her life.

Kassy was a hell of a mechanic, but working in a zero G environment, with tools designed to hang pictures was slowing things down. Four hours into surgery Kassy was almost ready to turn the lights back on; she placed a bypass here, removed the safety redundant circuitry from there, and prayed that we didn’t need power regulation here. Kassy pushed off a little to allow the eerie jade light to illuminate her handy work. Time was running thin, like the air inside the Nightingale.

Kassy opened the intercom, “Kassy to Captain Key.”

Captain Key chirped, “Pssssh. Go Ahead. Pssssh.”

Kassy took one last look at the back of her power drill, “The bypass is complete. You are clear to restart life support.”

Captain Key looked to his console, wiping away the condensation that built up due to the brutal cold that was settling in all over the ship. Captain Key managed to shiver out of his mouth, “Cora, will you do the honors?”

At first, nothing seemed to happen, everyone’s breath was caught in their throats awaiting Cora’s voice to be heard throughout the intercom. “Life support online and in the green. Congratulations Captain. You are not going to freeze to death.”

A collective sigh was let out by the crew.

Kassy was gazing intently at the back of her drill when the familiar yellow intercom light lit up in her helmet, Kassy jumped at its inception, “Pssssh. Bring it on home, Kassy. Great job today. Pssssh.”

A smile dawned ear to ear on Kassy’s face. "Yes Sir."

Kassy spun around to view the green star, one last time, and whispered to herself, “Not today. Today I have hope.”

The worst part of any spacewalk was the reintegration of gravity, as the airlock pressurized, the artificial gravity kicked in and all of Kassy’s fluids, gasses, skin, meat, flesh, and fibers settled on her bones. Kassy heaved in nausea, lying helpless on the floor in her 300lb spacesuit. The adjoining bulkhead door opened and Cal, a remnant of the trade wars, who looked past his expiration date with his greying hair, helped Kassy out of her suit. His sinewy arms started unlocking arms and legs from the core suit and placing them on the autoload rack.

Captain Key, a big square-jawed dark-skinned human was standing behind them with a towel in one hand, and a plate of hot food in the other. Captain Key handed Kassy the towel, “Great job today Kassy. That was one of the longest space flights, I have ever been a part of. When you get settled, Cora needs you on the bridge, she isn’t sure what you bypassed and we need to make sure we all don’t die.”

Kassy looked perfectly at home in her red long john thermal’s, her blonde hair standing in stark contrast to her dark skin tone. “It was a redundant cooling coil system that was vaporized. Whatever it was it was moving at relativistic speed. We got lucky.”

Captain Key handed his daughter the plate of beans and rice that Doc brought back from his sabbatical on his home planet Titus 3, “Cora, Plot a course for the Gangi System.”

A female’s voice chimed from all around, “Environment stability compromised. Failsafe protocols engaged. Slipstream offline.”

Kassy rolled her eyes, “Cora is the Slipstream and spatial positioning systems adversely affected in any way?”

Cora appeared cross-legged next to Kassy, “System Diagnostics initiated. Stand by. The voice seemed to come only from the Cora that appeared before Kassy, "Are you ok Kassy? Your vitals are indicating high stress.”

Kassy looked at Cora through her golden locks and smiled, I’m fine Cora I have just been on the longest spacewalk of my life.”

Cora nodded, “No impact to those systems can be detected.”

Kassy smiled, “Good, then override the environmental safety protocols.”

Cora disappeared, but her voice was again heard in the ship-wide intercom, “Slipstream is online and ready.”

Captain Key looked at his daughter, “Kassy you are a miracle worker.”

Kassy spoke through a mouthful of beans, “That’s why you are going to give me a raise.”

Captain Key always looked up and to the left a little when he spoke to the ship, “Cora.”

Cora interrupted, “Course plotted, Captain.”

Captain Key continued, “keep the slip under constant watch, you see a problem that threatens the integrity of the ship you drop us out, no authorization needed.”

Cora appeared next to him with her hands clasped against her heart, “Oh you trust me!?” It almost came out like a giggle.

Captain Key just smiled, “I’ll be in my bunk getting some much-needed sleep. Cal, You and the Doc split bridge duty then Kassy and I will relieve you in six hours.

Cal turned around from hanging the spacesuit, “You got it, boss.”

Captain Key walked out of the airlock when no sooner did this bald, bronze-skinned heavily tattooed man walk in with a calm almost monotone keel the crew just came to expect, “Has the captain given us our orders?”

Cal looked at the Doc, “Captain went down for some rack time, put me in charge. You are on the Con until Kassy decides to relieve you.”

The big man known as Doc raised an eyebrow and responded with patient sarcasm, “Is that so?”

Kassy looked at Doc and laughed, “You don’t believe that do you?”

The big man grinned, “I was going to let him have his fantasy. What harm could it cause?”

Kassy bobbed her head like a parrot in shock as she shot her hand out to emphasize her point, “It’s Cal.”

Doc became his neutral tone once more, “One day we may have to trust him to do what’s best for all involved. He is more likely to act favorably if he is exposed to the possibility of command.”

Kassy shook her head pursing her lips as she turned to face doc, “You never cease to amaze me. If anybody was going to be put in command it would be you. Not that mouth breather.”

Cal looked at her with shock, “Mouth breather!? One of these days you're gonna make me feel something, I just know it. You’re just mad because I used your engine scrubs to clean my gear.”

Kassy squinted like a pissed-off cat, “I might be a while, I have a really good book to catch up on. Enjoy bridge duty.” Kassy nodded at Doc before pushing past Cal to her quarters, “Good night Doc.”

Doc looked at Cal with a questioning glance, “You know those scrubs were given to her by her birth mother, right?”

Cal put his hands up in protest, “For the umpteenth time, I saw it in the mess, and I thought it was up for grabs. There isn’t a single rag in this entire tin can and I needed to clean Kito.”

Doc crossed his arms and with a great exhale, “let me offer you some free advice. Apologize, and tell her you meant no harm. One day your life and your life alone will be on the line and trust me, you don’t want her questioning your worth. Apologize. I will be at the Con.”

With that Doc walked past Cal and out of the storage bay, leaving Cal stewing on Doc's words.

science fiction

Michael G Dick

Michael fell in love with writing while studying at the prestigious Clovis Community College or CCC. For one of his electives, he took a Creative Writing Course. Michael loves storytelling and hopes you love a good story.

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