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of 'lasts'. The last time she'd hit the 'Snooze' button on her alarm clock and bury her face into her feather pillow, pull the sheets around herself and nestle into warmth and soft for just another 10 minutes. The last time she'd roll out of bed, bleary-eyed, and stumble into the shower. The last time she'd feel real, hot water pour down on her head, the last time she'd use both shampoo *and* conditioner, and take as long as she wanted, steam filling her lungs. The last time she'd wrap herself in a fluffy bathrobe. The last time she'd walk into her sun-filled kitchen, make herself a cup of coffee (her favorite brand, Lavazza, high quality Italian coffee that she'd brought with her from Houston, simply for the sheer luxury of it). The last time she'd stand at the window of this hotel room (or any hotel room, really, or any window of any building at all) and watch the sun rise over the city, glinting off of roofs. The last time she'd listen to birds chirp, the last time she'd hear the rush of a plane taking off or landing above her head. The last time she'd revel in the glorious blue of sky. In all honesty, this constant mental ticking of 'lasts' had begun the night before at a pre-launch dinner. Her crew mates, several family members and friends, and most of the ground crew had been there. She wasn't a native of Cape Canaveral, and hadn't even spent much time there before the last couple of weeks of pre-flight training and briefing and she'd never heard of the franchise, but most of the ground crew swore by “Durango Steakhouse,” and the cheesy amusement park-esque old timey train-themed decorations of the restaurant had filled her with nostalgia for the truly frivolous. It had struck her at the time that she'd never experience anything quite like this luxury again. This was her last Diet Coke, her last juicy steak (or last juicy anything really). Her last beer! But how they had savored those last beers. Faye, as usual, had started it, proposing a toast to a successful mission. Which was fairly innocent, in and of itself, but then Blaire jumped in with another toast, and by the end of the evening, things had devolved into loud, off-key rounds of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” until the restaurant closed and kicked them all to the curb. Oh, beer. Alas, beer, farewell to you. Thinking about beer, and her new life completely devoid of it, was too sad for prolonged contemplation. She tore herself away from the view and headed back into her room, dressing in what was probably the last uniform she'd ever wear, a blue jumpsuit, and took a bite out of her breakfast, a slightly-stale granola bar, before giving it up as a lost cause and dumping it in the trash can. She was too jittery to eat anything, anyway. She scanned the room a final time for any wayward items. Her ride would be arriving any minute, and she wanted to be ready. Her bags (well.. bag. It's not like she'd have much room for luggage) were packed, and she was ready to go. She smiled to herself and hummed the rest of the lyrics to the old song under her breath as she puttered around the room, ".. don't know when I'll be back again. Oh, babe but I hate to go.. so kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you'll wait for me. Hold me like you'll never let me go... cuz I'm leavin' on a rocket, don't know when I'll... hm. What rhymes with 'rocket'. Locket? Block it? Rock it? Socket? Don't know if I'll... damn." She gave up. Stupid old song was almost a hundred years old anyway. Her cell phone rang (last time she'd ever answer a phone call?). The car was here. Bags retrieved, she locked the door and headed to the elevator. (Last time she'd ever ride an elevator? No, probably not. That would be on the way to the cockpit of the Ares rocket that would take her to orbit. Last time she'd ride a civilian elevator, then.)
Ten minutes later, she was safely tucked into the car and on the way to the launch site. (Last car ride!) She made small talk with the driver, talking about the weather, the launch. The mission. (Ooh. Don't think too hard about that one, she thought, not if you want to maintain any semblance of calm.) It was a warm, sunny day. One or two fluffy white clouds dotted the horizon, but otherwise, the sky was uninterrupted, brilliant blue. The Ares I, her ticket to space, was sitting on the launch pad, busy crews of people worrying around it, busy with last minute launch preparations. From the road, they looked like tiny black ants. Nearby, the smaller Ares V was also getting its last minute pre-launch tune up. In a scant three hours, the two rockets would be taking off in tandem, the Ares V docking momentarily at the International Space Station to restock the stations' supplies before catching up to Ares I during its brief stop at the Lunar Base. Today was the first and last time Elise Reynolds would launch into space on board a rocket, and head into space, to the very outer reaches of human habitation. Her destination: Mars. The car dropped her off at the entrance to the launch preparation area, and she thanked the driver. She stretched, the joints in her back giving a gratifying 'crack' as they popped. She swiped her key card and entered the building. Standing in the lobby were two of her crew mates. She grinned and waved. "Rodriguez! Snyder!" They both turned and looked at her. They were both dressed as she was in company flight suits with logos on their chests, small bags filled with personal belongings identical to hers resting at their feet. Rodriguez gave her a little twitch of her lips that was probably a smile and a half-gesture with her hand that was intended to be a wave. She looked distracted, and had a hint of strain around her eyes. Snyder looked equally pensive, but cracked a smile when he saw her approach. "Why hello there, Dr. Reynolds." he said with a wave of his hand and just a hint of joking mock-formality. "Seen Newton? Or our dear Captain Spencer? " "Not yet." Elise replied, coming over to stand by them. "I just got here. How about West?" "He's around here somewhere. Last I saw, he was on the phone quadruple-checking the calibration on the flight navigation computers with Mission Control." Elise gave a fond quirk of her lips. That man was so strange, in a vaguely charming way. "OCD." she said, which really, explained just about everything. Snyder's answering smile told her he was thinking the same thing. Twenty minutes later, after a great deal of waiting and chatting, mixed in with some last minute discussion of mission stats and work details, all six crew members were assembled in the lobby. There was a lull in the conversation, and Elise had a moment where it really dawned on her that she would really be living with these people intimately for the next six months, and dependent upon them for her survival for the rest of her life. The thought was daunting, but it didn't exactly displease her. Although she'd been spending all morning tallying up what she was leaving behind, she wasn't really going to miss most of it. Except beer. Oh, beer. And hot showers, she would really miss those. But everything else? All those things were really nothing compared to what she'd be gaining on this trip. The adventure, the sheer exploratory potential. The chance to put all of her theories to the test, to make discoveries her colleagues at Harvard could only dream of. She was about to be on the cutting
edge of biomedical research, on the cusp of the greatest opportunity of her career, of her lifetime. Hell, the first thing she'd do when she got to Mars would be historic; a scant few weeks after arriving, she would be the doctor to deliver the first native Martian colonist! That was actually why she was on the team—SpaceX and NASA had long been debating the merits of sending someone as a dedicated medical doctor to the Phoenix station, but when the news had come two months previously that a woman from the Phoenix I mission had conceived, her presence onboard had finally been deemed a necessary expense. Still, though she'd only known her crew mates for a mere months, she had been impressed by their competence. She was nervous, but it was nervous excitement, not nervous fear. After that, things began happening entirely too quickly to contemplate philosophically. The pre-launch meeting flew by in a frenzied pace, they suited up quickly into space suits and stood for a pre-flight photo op. She didn't speak at the press conference; her mind was already several thousand miles away, and later she would only remember it as a series of flashing lights, and a mental still image of the plaque that they were presented with, bearing the name of the Phoenix III mission and its matching seal, a stylized flaming bird, wings outstretched. Below that was an embossed carving of all of their names: Daniel Jacob Spencer (Commander), Faye Natalia Rodriguez (Major, USAF), Jason Christopher Snyder (Lieutenant Colonel, USAF), Elise Payton Reynolds (M.D.), Edwin Marcus West, Blaire Leah Nelson (Ph.D). The sheer thrill of reading those names was electric, the atmosphere of the conference so charged with the thrill of possibility and anticipation. It was one of those truly magical moments. The 327-foot tall open platform elevator ride to the Orion shuttle perched on top of the Ares rocket a mere hour left before liftoff, had been another memorable snap shot of time. The world stretched out below them, the wide ocean to the west, flat land sprawled out to the east, a slight breeze blowing, ruffling her curly brown hair. She had absentmindedly tucked a lock of it behind her ear before pulling it back and securing it tightly, idly thinking that she probably should've just chopped it off; long hair wasn't particularly practical in zero gravity. The banality of the thought at such a pivotal moment in her life had struck her as funny, and she'd let out a little giggle. The rest of the crew had looked at her in question--Snyder cocking an inquisitive eyebrow, Rodriguez's equally cocked but with a great deal more judgment behind it, Spencer's mouth twitching in a matching smile. Padre apparently either hadn't heard her, or was deliberately ignoring it, lost in his own private world. He did that a lot. Blaire was standing next to her, and nudged her with an elbow. "What's so funny, short stuff?" "Blaire. We're going to Mars." "Yes, I had noticed that." "*Mars*, Blaire!" Blaire had laughed at that, staring up at the scaffolding of the elevator and up into the sky beyond. In that moment, she could see that Blaire was feeling the same way she did--not like the professional she was, with years of experience and mountains of training to her name, ready and prepared for anything. She'd looked like a kid in a candy store, giddy, and yet somehow disbelieving. "Yeah," she'd said, almost wondering. "Mars." When they'd been safely strapped into the cockpit, the countdown had taken both seconds and years. And when the thrusters pushed away from Earth, she'd closed her eyes and mouthed "Ignition" in tandem with the Mission Control technician like it was a benediction.
Chapter 1 Day 25 of the Phoenix III mission to Mars began about how the previous one had started. And the one before that. And the one before that. And the one before that. In reality, all 24 days had been pretty much exactly the same. It was unbelievably tedious, days and days filled with short sleep cycles, endless mundane, routine tasks, and repetitive aerobic exercises. Who would've thought something that sounded so epic on paper and in the news be so very excruciatingly boring in reality? Commander Daniel Jacob Spencer was not exactly a stranger to the boredom or inanity space travel could entail. He had served six months on the International Space Station, he had performed brief stints on the Lunar Base. He had trained for years for this very mission, and he had known what to expect. That didn't exactly mean that he had to like it. Which is why he did everything in his power, on a daily basis, to make even the most uninteresting task as adventurous as possible. Case in point: at that particular moment, alone in the cockpit as most of the crew slept in the chambers below, he was listening to the latest track by pop star diva Mikali Stevens playing on his portable music player, dancing wildly and singing at the top of his lungs. “Do you believe in life after love?” He belted, arms in the air and swaying his hips. “I can feel something inside me say, I really don't think you're strong enough, now!” It was apparently a remake of a song in the 90s by some lady named 'Cher'. Given how absorbed he was in his singing and dancing routine, it is perhaps understandable, if not particularly forgivable, why he missed the impending collision until nearly the last second. In fact, he might have missed it entirely, the ship colliding straight with the space debris and quite probably destroying the ship and killing the entire crew, if Edwin had not walked in when he had. As it was, however, he managed to walk in at precisely the right time. The Commander was rocking out in his own little world, eyes closed fast, hips swinging to a beat only he could hear. And behind him, a red 'warning' light was flashing, the ship's notice alarm beeping furiously. "Daniel!" He yelled, grabbing the commander by the arm. "What the hell are you doing?! And what the hell is that alarm?" Daniel looked up at him. The music was too loud to have heard whatever it was Edwin had said. "Huh?" he asked, brow furrowed, pulling one ear bud from his ear, "What was that you... oh shit!" 'Cher' tribute forgotten, he whirled around and sat behind the controls in a blitz of activity. "Oh fuck! Why didn't you say something earlier?!" "Why didn't I... what?!" Edwin crossed his arms over his chest, "You're the one who's supposed to.." "Shut up, I'm trying to drive!" David waved a hand at him, not bothering to turn around. "Maybe you should've tried doing that earlier, I can't even believe.. what is that alarm anyway?" "We're on a collision course with something." "A collision..." He stepped close behind Daniel, peering down at the screen. "Oh crap, that's almost right on.."
Daniel's brow was furrowed, his eyes narrowed, but suddenly his lips widened into a tight grin. "Hey, Padre?" ".. um..?" "Hang on." And, with no further warning, he fastened himself to the seat, flipped several switches, fired the auxiliary rockets and gripped the controls, giving them an alarmingly sharp twist. Edwin barely had time to grab onto the copilot's seat before the ship was completing an insane swing, toppling through space. The G forces pressing inward on him were intense, and a wave of nausea washed over him in a rush. When the ship finally completed its spin, there was a moment of silence and the sensation of floating. Am I...dead? But after a few more moments, as the ringing in his ears faded and hearing started to return to him, and he saw Daniel's mp4 player drift by in front of him, fluffy pop music playing from the ear buds, he realized he wasn't just feeling the sensation of floating; he was floating. The sharp spin the Commander had pulled them into had thrown the ship off its centrifugal spin, and the constant sensation of artificial gravity they had been enjoying for the past several weeks had faded immediately. A second after that realization hit him, he was blindsided by retroactive fear; his heart started beating double-time, and a cold sweat broke out all over his body. They had nearly just died. Seconds later, Daniel pushed off of his chair (which was above him now; what had been the floor moments prior was now doing a fantastic impression of the ceiling) and floated down toward him, making contact with the 'ceiling' and coming to a rest. He was wearing a shit-eating grin and nearly twitching, he was so keyed up. “Dude. Padre.” he said excitedly, eyes so wide Edwin could nearly see the whites of them. “Wasn't that fucking awesome?!” Edwin's eyes were just as wide, for completely different reasons. “Awesome?!” His voice had gone embarrassingly high in pitch, but he was too freaked out to really care. “Daniel, you just nearly got us killed!!” Daniel shrugged dismissively, waving a hand and pushing back toward the command chair. “Hardly. From where I see it, I just saved everyone's lives! Just a little excitement to get the blood flowing in the morning.” From the control panel, the ship's intercom gave a sudden squawk. “Spencer, what the fuck are you doing up there?!” Faye's voice was unpleasantly shrill in the mic. “Yeah, what the hell, man?” Jason's voice chimed in behind her. “Who are you and what have you done with the competent pilot? You're not letting Padre drive, are you?” From his spot in the air, Ed gave a huffy, panting breath. “Ha fucking ha.” Still struggling to get his breathing back under control, he looked for something to push off of. He was floating in the middle of the cockpit, and nothing was immediately in range he could push off to move toward the 'floor'. Until some force pushed on him, he wasn't going anywhere. He would rather that force not be the centrifugal force starting back up. Daniel laughed out loud at the joke and pushed the intercom button. “Folks, this is your captain speaking. We apologize, but we've encountered some unexpected turbulence. I have turned on the 'Fasten Seatbelt' sign, so if you'll all just return to your seats, and fasten your seat belts, we'll have this ride back on track in no time.” He switched off the comm and started punching in course recalibrations.
Edwin definitely failed to see what was so entertaining about all of this. “David. Get me down from here.” Daniel looked up at him, floating helpless in the middle of the cockpit and smirked. “Having a bit of trouble there, Padre?” Ed didn't answer. Holding on to the seat with one hand, Daniel pushed up and grabbed Ed's ankle, pulling him back down to his seat. (let's rewrite this later; the cockpit probably isn't actually that spacious) “C'mon,” Daniel said. He had stopped bouncing in his seat, and the tone of his voice had regained some sense of professionalism. “Let's get this ship back its spin.” There were two rockets on the side of the ship; one on the the side of the cockpit that they were sitting in, and the other on the aft of the ship on the other side. When they fired in tandem, the opposing forces would push the ship into a head-overheels spin that would generate gravity inside the vessel. Daniel pressed down and flipped the switch. “Switching on ancillary thrusters.” he intoned. Nothing happened. “Um.” Ed quirked an eyebrow at the man sitting next to him. “Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't something supposed to happen, right then?” Daniel frowned, and pressed the button a little harder. Still nothing. He then pressed it several times in a row, in an increasingly frustrated manner. Then he kicked the console. “Ah, Daniel? I don't think that's helping.” “Shhh. It might.” “Daniel,” Ed said, flatly. “Okay, okay.” Giving up his frantic mangling of the buttons, he flipped on the intercom. “Ah, this is your captain speaking. We've encountered a bit of a complication. If passengers Snyder and Rodriguez could make their way to the cockpit? Passengers Snyder and Rodriguez, please make your way to the cockpit.” He flipped the switch off and sat back with a sigh. “Faye's gonna kill me, isn't she.” “Yes.” Edwin said, smugly, arms folding back behind his head. The thought made him feel a little better. “Yes, she is.” *** “Wait. Okay. So. Run this by me again.” If one could pace in zero-gravity, Faye would've been pacing furiously across the cockpit floor. As it was, she was hovering in front of her four other crew mates, while Daniel lounged back in the commander's seat and looked remarkably unconcerned. “You were holding a one-man concert in the cockpit singing along to some ____ _____ (something really good for 'stupid bimbo' in Spanish)...” “Excuse me,” Daniel defended himself. “Mikala Stevens is most definitely not a ... whatever you just called her. She ranks in the top half of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll! She's always stuck to her guns, regardless of ridicule and pressure to conform to rock and roll's own strict stereotypes!” His voice began to rise in both pitch and volume with passion. “She's the Lazarus of Rock and Roll, a soul of niceness in the gritty world of rock. She's an activist! Every note in her album bleeds raw emotion...!”
Faye's face was doing an admirable impression of a blueberry, so Jason stepped in. “Daniel. We do not care if Mikala is the most talented artist in a generation. Which she's totally not, by the way, that honor definitely goes to The Ninth Gate. The point is..” “The point is,” Daniel interrupted, “That we didn't crash into anything, and that we're all still alive, and fixing the ancillary thrusters will not be that difficult for mechanics as talented as you two.” “Flattery will get you nowhere, bendejo.” Faye humphed, crossing her arms across her chest. “You are in such deep shit.” “You can't talk to me that way! I'm the commander!” Daniel protested, but it sounded more plaintive than authoritative. “Look, there's nothing we can do about it now, so let's just fix it, okay?” Faye ran a hand through her short black hair, scratching at the back of her neck and her face scowling like an angry pit bull. “You really think we're going to sit back, relax, and help you cover up your own incompetence?” The beaming smile Daniel gave her was as winsome and open and boyishly charming as a fresh-faced school-boy's. “Yes?” “You owe us, cabron. You owe us big.” The boyish smile warped into a leer. “Oh, I'm pretty sure I could think of a way to pay you back,” he said slyly, leaning forward and checking Faye out in an absurdly obvious manner, giving her a lecherous smile. Faye blanched, threw up her hands and floated through the narrow doorway to the aft of the shuttle, making gagging noises. Blaire, who had been desperately holding her breath to keep from laughing for the entirety of the exchange, let out an explosive breath and then cracked up, laughing so hard, she flipped over backwards. “Oh my god, Danny-boy, you are ridiculous.” Daniel turned the charm back on in Blaire's direction. “I aim to please! Now.. I can only assume Faye went to the aft controls to switch on the rear drone, you wanna go help her with that, Padre?” Edwin was sitting near the floor of the cockpit, and made no reply to his commander's request. “Hey, Padre? Earth to Padre, come in!” Elise, who was near enough to him to reach, placed a hand on his shoulder and shook lightly. Ed's head snapped up, and his body shook a little, as though coming out of a trance. “Huh? What?” “Good lord, now is not the time to take a nap. Go run diagnostics on the aft controls with Faye, will you? See if you can't figure out what's wrong with the rockets.” Ed nodded slowly and made his way out of the cockpit, heading in the same direction as Faye had gone. “Jason, why don't you help me recalculate our course trajectory?” Jason gave a little half shrug and pushed off the side wall he was hovering against, drifting down to the forward fuselage and hitting switches, while Daniel sat back in the pilot's seat and appeared to be referencing some calculations. Elise and Blaire both looked at each other uncomfortably; this was an
aspect of the ship's controls with which they were completely unfamiliar. So, by soundless, unanimous consent, they hovered uncomfortably, shoulder to shoulder along the back wall and did their very best to stay out of the way. After a moment, Faye's voice crackled in through the inter-ship comm. “... Ah. Guys.” Her voice, even through the tinny crackle of the speakers, sounded... Elise didn't know what. She might have thought 'panicked', except, since this was Faye they were talking about, that was surely impossible. “We have a problem.” Daniel flipped on his end of the comm and leaned over the mic. “.. Problem?” “Ah.. the drones. They aren't..” Daniel and Jason shared a glance, Daniel's brow slightly furrowed and one of Jason's eyebrow creeping up his forehead. Daniel pressed the comm button and light-heartedly joked, “If you tell me you've forgotten how to work them, I will make fun of you until the day we die.” However, the creases in his brow belied the tension he was feeling. Everyone in the cockpit was feeling the same pressure. Faye, as usual, fell prey to the joke without understanding the intent. “No, you stupid fuckwad, I did not forget how to work the drones! They aren't.. they aren't there!” Daniel's face went from worried to confused. Blaire and Elise shot wild glances at each other. “They aren't.. there?” Daniel spoke into the comm, incredulity thick in his voice. “You fucking heard me, they aren't there! They're gone!” “.. where.. did they go?” Elise asked, tentatively, bewildered. Everyone in the cockpit was wearing the same matched incredulous expression. This whole situation was becoming increasingly more ridiculous every second. Daniel had kept his finger on the intercom switch, and Faye had apparently heard Elise's question. “Where did they go? I'll fucking tell you where they went!” Her voice came through, “The locks holding the drones to the ship aren't closed all the way!” her voice was crackling more and more in the speakers as her voice went increasingly higher in loudness and pitch. “When you decided to get all acrobatic on us with your goddamned piloting, pendejo, they must have flown off. They're thousands of miles away by now! I cannot even believe this! When I find out what ___ made a stupid mistake like that, I swear upon all that is holy I'm going to...” Daniel clicked off the intercom, cutting Faye off in mid-sentence. He turned to Jason, and his eyes narrowed in the commander's approximation of 'dangerously.' “Jason.. when was the last time you used the drones?” he asked, suspiciously. Jason put his hands up in a slightly defensive gesture. His eyes were wide. “Hey, don't look at me. Faye's been running most of the routine maintenance on this ship, lately, I'm pretty sure she was running diagnostics on the ship's water supply just the other day... the water's had this off taste to it lately and she wanted to find out if..” Daniel nodded distractedly and turned back on the intercom, cutting Jason off in mid-sentence. “Hate to break it to you, babe,” he said into the mic, “but I think you were the last person to use the drones.”
“What?!” her voice screeched “Are you seriously accusing me of what I think you're accusing me of? I would never do something like that and you know it!” “But Jason says..” “I don't give a flying fuck what Jason says! He's probably lying to cover his own ass!” “Hey, leave me out of this, I know you were using them to look into the water filtration system, we were comparing notes about it just a couple of days ago!” “Uh.. guys?” Elise piped up behind them, a little timidly. Getting between Faye and Daniel in a screaming match was a dicey proposition. True to form, they ignored her. “Guys!” she spoke up, a little louder. The three-way bickering continued. “Hey! Guys!” She finally shouted. Jason and Daniel whipped around to face her, and Faye's voice over the intercom barked, “What?!” “.. can't you just check the logs?” For a moment, everything was quiet. Jason gaped at her, and Faye's voice was silent on the radio. Daniel was the first to recover. “..Ah. Good point, Elly.” he said, a little sheepish. “You mind checking for us?” Elly turned around and pulled out the large touch screen on the wall behind her, dragging a few windows and pulling open the maintenance log book. “Ah.. it seems like Padre was actually the last person to use the drones... the notation here says something about a performance upgrade to the mainframe computer?” “Performance upgrade..?” Daniel echoed. “Hey, Faye, quit blabbing and get Padre on the line. We have some questions for him.” “Hang on,” she replied, wryly. “He is attempting to flee, and I must apprehend him.” ___ There really weren't many places a person could run to on a spacecraft not much bigger than the size of an average two-bedroom apartment, so the entire crew of the Phoenix III cornered Edwin in the crew's quarter's in short order. Eventually, after some negotiation and a bit of pleading for his life, Ed finally admitted that he had been rather bored three days ago while most of the crew had been on sleep cycle, and taken out both drones to see if he couldn't wring a few more GB/s out of the system's mainframe computer. “There are some real inefficiencies in the way the system caches information,” he had pleaded. “I managed to increase system efficiency another 8%!” But the hours had been long lately, and sleep in short supply. Ed swore up and down he'd clamped the drones back where he found them but, well, if, in his fatigue he had forgotten a step... Daniel had taken great delight in blaming Ed for the fiasco, until Blaire had courteously reminded him that, had he not nearly collided into space junk and sent the ship tumbling out of normal centrifugal spin, which created enough artificial gravity to hold the drones to the ship, tethered or not, it probably would never have become a real problem. After what was a rather excessive amount of blame-laying and finger-pointing, in Elise's opinion, considering these were all ostensibly 30-40 year old trained professionals, it was eventually decided
that Faye and Jason were going to have to go out and make the repairs to the auxiliary rockets manually. It was not a decision made lightly. No one in memory had ever performed a spacewalk further from earth than lunar orbit; that was what the drones were for. Although JAXA had managed six years ago to develop a space suit that could protect astronauts, to some degree, from the effects of cosmic radiation without unduly compromising the mobility of the user, it was still not guaranteed to work. SpaceX, when designing this mission and the two Mars missions that had proceeded it, had decided that it was too dangerous to send astronauts outside of the protective shields of the ship except in the case of dire emergency, and had designed the Deep Space Remote Operated Repair Module (more affectionately referred to as the 'drone', because 'dsrorm' was not even remotely pronounceable) for use in maintenance and repair operations outside of the ship. On the first two missions, the JAXA space suits had not even come out of their storage compartment, and though most of the crew of the Phoenix III was trained in space-walking, and both Jason and Faye were experienced at it, it was not a skill they had ever expected to use while en route to Mars. And then there was the threat of radiation poisoning to consider... Needless to say, Jason and Faye were in a black mood as they suited up into the heavy, bulky space suits and waddled their way into the airlock. Up until then, the atmosphere on the ship had been fairly light-hearted. Yes, Daniel had made an error, and a very unprofessional and nearly fatal one at that. Still, they were not, in actuality, dead, and spin was a relatively easy problem to correct. This, however, was a nosedive into a truly critical situation. From now on, for the next five months, every time they needed to make a repair or run maintenance on the ship, they would have to conduct a space-walk. Considering that, up until that point, they had been running the drones nearly every day, it was a daunting proposition. In the cockpit, Daniel was manning the steering controls and monitoring the progress of the repairs, while Ed walked them through the repair steps. Although the circumstances were dire, Elise was secretly enjoying the fact that she was finally getting to put her medical skills to use, monitoring both Faye and Jason's vital signs and levels of radiation exposure, while Blaire kept an eye on the monitors for any signs of solar flares. “Okay.” Jason's voice came in over the comm. “We're outside the airlock.” “Roger that.” Ed replied, “Faye, you go toward the forward rocket, Jason, you go to the aft one. I know it's not really procedural, but let's shorten your exposure time as much as possible.” “Roger.” both Faye and Jason chorused. Daniel and Ed both tracked their progress by watching the exterior cameras. Their ship was shaped not unlike a torpedo, or a cylinder, with the living quarters on one end, and the rest comprised mostly of nuclear material, thrusters, and other various equipment. Something interesting is going to happen here, but I'm not really sure what.. this whole part needs to be written, and the next part will have to be completely rewritten; joining these two parts are going to be a huge part of revision. So let's.. leave this here for now. __ “Reynolds,” The tinny voice growled, dangerous in her ear over the ship's intercom, “Me cago en la hostia. I swear to God, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary and all the blessed saints, if you do not get that tether secured this instant, I am going to push you out the airlock and laugh as your bloated, imploded
corpse careens into deep space orbit!” Elise gulped. That was not an idle threat. Over the past twenty days, she had learned the hard way to fear the wrath of Faye Natalia Rodriguez, and if Rodriguez told you that she would push you out the air lock, then so help you God, she would. Never mind that at that present moment, both Elise and Faye were outside of the airlock and Faye was the one who was dangerously close to becoming a bloated, imploded corpse careening into the edges of deep space. And she would be, if Elise didn't do exactly what Rodriguez was telling her and get this tether secured to the hull. Elise knew it, and while her crew mate's sass in her ear wasn't helping her concentration, she figured she could forgive her for giving a little bit of concerned encouragement. Elise took a deep breath to steady her nerves and slowly inched out along the hull of the space craft. This really should not be her job. There should be no reason, no reason at all, that a medical doctor and biomedical researcher should be strapped into a space suit, much less clutching to the hull of a space craft whirling through space at a speed of several thousand miles per hour and charged with the delicate task of saving her crew member's life. She had participated in space walk training on Earth, but it had been cursory at best. After all, she was not supposed to be doing this. In fact, none of them were really supposed to be doing this, there was serious danger from cosmic radiation to be faced when stepping outside of the protection of the ship's hull, and any kind of routine maintenance or minor damage could be fixed using remote crawlers they could control from the safety of the cockpit. If everything on the spaceship would do as it was told and behave properly, not a one of them should have to step foot outside the spacecraft for the entire six months of the journey. From everything she'd understood in training, space suits were for dire emergencies only. And even if a space walk had been necessary, Faye and Jason both were highly trained in zero gravity maneuvers. In case of emergency, procedure stated that one or both of them should be deployed to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, both Rodriguez and Snyder had already gone out in their space suits to respond to the first emergency of the day. They had then promptly become the source of a second emergency, and who exactly is supposed to rescue the rescuers then? Blaire was even less qualified than she was to operate a space suit, and Spencer had to fly the ship and so where did that leave Elise? At the heart of the second life or death situation the crew had faced in the same number of hours, that's where, all of which had stemmed from a single near miss, followed by a technical glitch and two very stupid mistakes. It had been a very long day. She was really not looking forward to explaining all of this to Mission Control. Unless, of course, she could get Rodriguez to speak to Mission Control, instead. 'Ah, there, a real reason to stick her neck out for her pissy, bad-tempered crew mate,' with just the tiniest touch of malicious glee. “Okay, Elly. Okay.” she whispered to herself under her breath as she edged out along the hull. In the encasing of her space suit, the only thing she could hear was her own gasping, labored breathing. There were only scant meters separating her from the anchor, but, clinging desperately to the smooth metal of the rocket's side, perched on a narrow ledge and a single cord the only thing separating her from the inky, endless black of space while hurtling forward at 17,500 miles per hour, it seemed desperately far away. "Okay. Here we go." One hand inched forward, grabbed a hand hold, and pulled her body forward. "Okay." Another hand. "Okay." Another hand. The anchor was only feet away. "Okay, Elly. Okay. No big deal, right? No biggie. Just a few feet.. more..." She stretched forward her arm. The gloves covering her fingers were huge and bulky; she couldn't even feel the rope, even though it was grasped tightly in
her fingers. "Just... a little... further...." "Reynolds! Mi madre, what is *taking so long*?" The voice in here ear had noticeably increased in both volume and pitch. If she hadn't known better, she might have thought Faye was getting a bit panicked. If it had been anyone else, she might have uttered a few words of comfort or encouragement, but Faye would most definitely *not* appreciate it, so... Suddenly, she felt a sharp tug behind her; she had reached the end of her own tether cord. She pulled forward a little more, stretching as far as she could, but her fingertips couldn't quite reach the anchor, falling short by just a scant few inches. Fuck, she thought, I can't.. it's not... fuck. Fuck... Okay. Faye did not need to know about this particular development. She flipped her comm on to broadcast to the cockpit only. "Um. Commander? Blaire?" She hated how plaintive her voice sounded, but given that her knees were knocking together, she was shaking so hard, it was hard to help it. “I'm having some trouble reaching, here...” Blaire's voice on the other hand was calm; but then, Blaire was always unbelievably, unflappably calm. Elise didn't understand how she managed to keep her cool, but she envied her whatever inner peace or confidence or sheer recklessness or whatever it was that allowed her to maintain it. "Sorry hon, you have to." Not particularly helpful, that. She broke out into a cold sweat. "I.. I know, but.." Daniel's voice chimed in over the comm. (and said something cute and witty) "Elly. Hon. You should know by now that, whatever you do, do not listen to Daniel. You don't need a pep talk from either of us. Just get it done." "I.." Elise swallowed. Well. That sucked. Because there was just no way. Her tether cord was too short and.. Wait. Suddenly struck by inspiration, she flipped off her comm and backed up along the hull to where her own tether cord was tied. It was a complete breach of protocol to do what she was about to do, but, with no other options, she was going to have to make a judgment call. She unhooked her own cord from the ship. If she were to fall now, there would be nothing to stop her. She would drift away from the ship, fated to die adrift mere inches from the hull. Well. Failure was simply not an option here, and really, this mission could not afford three life or death situations in a row. She would simply have to avoid slipping. The trip back across the side of the hull was ten times more heart clenching and painstaking than the last, but finally she reached the anchor, heart pounding so loudly, her ears were ringing. Reaching out with fingers that were numb with cold and fear, she felt the tether. Holding her breath, she reached out and snapped the tether into place. "Okay." She spoke breathlessly over the intercom. "I've got it." In her ear, Faye gave a half sob of relief. "Oh. Oh. It's about time." She said, her voice cracking in a way that she would no doubt refuse upon pain of death to admit to, later. "Oh my god, chica, when we get back inside I am going to *kiss* you!" Elise breathed a shaky sigh of relief, tuning out the rapid burst of conversation that erupted on the comm link. She knew they'd been holding off conversation waiting for her, and now that the immediate crisis had been averted, Faye and Jason needed to get back to work. Jason was yammering about something related to gyros. It wasn't really her concern. All she had to do now was get back to the airlock without slipping away from the ship and becoming the cycle's disaster number three. Let the trained professionals handle getting the ship back on course. If Elise had known what to look for, she might have noticed, on her way back toward the airlock, that part of the hull below her was dented and scraped. She might have deduced that one of the drones had
scraped the hull as it was flown away from the ship, and may have notified the rest of the crew that that particular part of the hull needed to be repaired and quite possibly replaced. If Elise had known what to look for, she might well have saved the entire crew a trial that would soon threaten their entire lives. But Elise didn't know what to look for, because she was a doctor, not a mechanic, and so she continued on along the hull, blissfully unaware of danger lying right beneath her feet. Chapter 2 Elise shakily maneuvered back into the airlock and removed her spacesuit, pulling herself through the corridor toward the shuttle cockpit. (It was really surprisingly difficult to move through the shuttle corridors in zero gravity!) She arrived just in time to hear Jason tell the Commander over the comm that the technical error preventing the jets from firing appeared to be minor and they had repaired it, and that, once he and Rodriguez were safely back inside, he could fire the thrusters and realign the Orion's centrifugal spin. Ten minutes later, after Faye relayed the 'okay', Daniel flipped the switch and they fired, giving off a gentle hiss, and the shuttle began a slow spinning motion, eventually picking up speed, until Elise settled back to the shuttle 'floor' with a quiet 'thump'. Faye and Jason joined them in the cockpit not a few minutes later, looking tired but no worse for the wear. Elise really couldn't believe their luck; as far as the instruments had reported, none of the crew members had received any particularly high doses of radiation during the space walk. The stress had been awful, and worse, avoidable, but now they'd survived the situation unharmed and apparently no worse for the wear, she couldn't help the giddy sense of relief that came over her. A quick glance around the room told her that the rest of the crew was feeling the same way—the whole crew was smiles all around, earlier anger forgotten in the dizzying relief of the moment. She noticed Jason was looking at her, so she gave him a big smile. As soon as she did, Jason walked over to her and stuck up his hand for a high five. “Nice one, Elly!” he said with a grin. Elise shrugged and put up a hand to slap Snyder's, bumping his fist afterward. She tried, unsuccessfully, to control the faint blush that was working its way up her neck and to her face. And really, by then, it was too late to continue to postpone the inevitable--reporting to Mission Control. Explaining the mishaps that had lead up to that particular misadventure promised to be a true clusterfuck. Communicating with Mission Control was always a pain. Although the crew of the Phoenix depended on their ground crew for vital information, there was a time delay in communications between the ship and Mission Control. This was coupled with the fact even though there was nothing Mission Control could really do for them in case of an emergency, the ground crew was in the bad habit of trying to dictate the methods to fixing problems that they weren't experiencing didn't actually understand. Because of this, although it made the crew at MC quite irritable, the Phoenix crew found it was easier to communicate things to them after the fact, rather than keep them informed minute to minute. Of course, there was still the irritation to deal with. "Ah, Mission Control" Spencer spoke into the microphone, "Do you copy?" They sat back to wait as the message bounced through space and to Earth. It took a couple of minutes for Earth to read their signal, and the same amount of time for Mission Control's signal to return to their ship. The wait times were getting longer every day, too, as they rocketed further and further from
home. Four minutes later, a soft female voice crackled on the ship's radio. "Yes, Phoenix, this is Mission Control, we copy." Elise smiled to herself. It was Rose on the other end. Well, if they were going to have to explain the mess to someone, it may as well be Rose. Spencer took a deep breath and looked like he was about to start speaking. Which was normal; generally, he took it upon himself as team leader to report to Mission Control, and his shameless flirting always got on Rose's good side. However, instead of his general flirtatious greetings and salutations, he stopped, appeared to think better of it, cut the mic, and turned to Major Rodriguez. "Hey, Faye." he said, with a little grin. "Why don't you tell them what happened." She gave him a blank look, a hand going automatically to her hip and tapping arhythmically. "Excuse me?" "Well, you are the resident mechanic on board, it's only fair that the engineer who was instrumental in resolving the issue be the one to report to MC. I mean, I just sat here and drove the ship, how could I possibly give a complete and accurate report." The Major ducked her head, a hand coming up and combing through her hair, scratching absentmindedly at the back of her head. "That maybe so, but considering you got us into the situation in the first place..." "C'mon, Faye, you have such a lovely speaking voice." Faye was turning red, although whether that was out of embarrassment or anger was anyone's guess. Actually it was fairly easy to guess; she was almost embarrassingly easy to fluster. Daniel grinned, stood up from his commander's chair and gestured at it with a flourish. "C'mon, love, feel the power!" The look she gave him was decidedly unimpressed. "You think you're so smart, descracido, I see straight through you. You just don't want your little “Rosey-Wosey” to be angry with you. Well, if you think I'm going to help you cover your ass, you are out of your mind" "I haven't the foggiest idea what you're talking about, my little Spanish flower," he said, and gave her a guileless flutter of his eyelashes. The look on her face had morphed into 'disgusted,' but, as usual when it came to Daniel, she was ultimately incapable of getting her way with him. It was only a guess, but Elise had the faintest idea that maybe, secretly, deep down in a place that she'd never admit to, probably not even to herself, Faye found Commander Spencer's antics to be charming. In any case, a bit of grumbling aside, the Major settled herself into the commander's chair without further argument, quietly cleared her throat, flipped on the mic, and began to narrate the events of the last 24 hours. "Ah... Houston, we've encountered a bit of a situation. (this will cut out here in the edit, but in the interest of keeping the word count up...)Three hours ago, at 0400, Spencer reports that both main and alternate alarms on the forward sensors were triggered. He was on watch in the forward control center and was narrowly able to avoid a near head-on collision with an object of unknown type or origin, probably some sort of space debris. We suspect that a direct hit would probably have destroyed the
vessel. Although Commander Spencer was able to steer the vessel enough to avoid head-on collision, the craft received a glancing blow to its left panels, throwing us out of centrifugal spin. At this point, myself, Dr Reynolds, West and Nelson were in the middle of our sleep cycles. Spencer should have been able to fire the calibration rockets on both ends of the shuttle, thereby realigning the craft and resuming spin with minimal difficulty. However, he reports that both rockets jammed and were unable to fire. He then awoke us and reported the malfunction. Myself and Lieutenant Major Snyder deployed the remote crawlers to access the fuel panel and recalibrate the fuel lines leading to the rockets, but the jets were still unable to fire. At this point, I made a judgment call, and Lieutenant Major Snyder and I suited up into space suits to get a more hands-on approach to fixing the problem. Once on the outside of the spacecraft, we spent some time running diagnostics and were eventually able determine that a faulty nozzle leading from the fuel tank to the course correction jets was at fault for the misfire. After replacing the nozzle, Commander Spencer once again attempted to fire the rockets. However, the rockets still wouldn't fire. At this point, Lieutenant Snyder and I made a decision to split up, thus halving the time it would take to run diagnostics on the entirety of the spacecraft. Snyder examined the aft engines, and I examined the front engines. I was in transit from one control panel to another when Commander Spencer jostled the controls and I was disconnected from the ship, and the anchor to which my tether was attached, broke. I have yet to determine how this happened, but my best guess is integral design flaw.” Spencer reached out a hand suddenly, interrupting her and shutting off the mic. "Excuse me, I most certainly did *not* jostle the controls." She glanced up at him, an eyebrow raised. "Oh you didn't, did you? Then how exactly do explain the fact that one moment I was firmly anchored to the ship, and the next I was most definitely not?" "It's not my fault if you're clumsy! My flight skills are supreme and I won't allow you to question them." "I am *not* clumsy, you pig-headed, stubborn *dolt*.." she shot back, rising slowly out of her seat threateningly. Snyder quickly stepped between them. "Okay, children. Let's maybe cut the bickering. It doesn't really matter, and this is really unprofessional of both of you." Spencer shrugged and backed off, still with a smile firmly on his face. "Just making sure the record is straight." he said, casually leaning against the helm. Rodriguez shot him a final, deadly glare before settling back into her seat and flipping the mic back on. "Apologies, Control. There was a slight disagreement between crew members on the nature of events. After the tether broke, I attempted to fire my personal rocket system and maneuver back to the ship And this scene needs to be completely rewritten so I'm just going to go back and figure out the mechanics of it later >_>;; (what this should actually become is a disaster that's going to become a ticking time bomb. So, why don't, when you go back to fix it, start with the actual alarm going off and the near miss—Daniel in the cockpit, nearly missing, then alerting everyone. Centrifugal spin goes out. Then, Faye and Jason try to use the robots; they're not working. Maybe they weren't secured correctly (mistake!) and the force of the spin makes them fly off. Faye and Jason make the decision to go out and
fix everything manually. Once they're out there.. this is up for grabs, but for now, let's say that the anchor thing happens and Elise has to go out and save her, re-anchoring her to the ship. (Maybe it could be some kind of medical emergency?)In the hubbub, they miss a serious problem that occurred when the remote crawler flew off the ship. It catches on a pipe that holds cooling water for the ship's nuclear system and badly scrapes it, compromising the integrity of the pipe. This creates a ticking time bomb scenario. If the coolant were actually to spill out, they would basically be totally FUCKED, so maybe instead, we can have them catch it in time, and have to shut down the system so that, if the pipe were to break, the whole system wouldn't melt down. Thus, they lose power to other systems, temporarily, as they try to figure out some way to fix the pipe) (Let's electrocute Jason later. And Edwin goes nuts about the time they figure out this pipe problem) "However, we now believe that we have the situation firmly under control. Over." she finished, flipping off the mic and settling back in her seat. "Okay, cabron. I hope you're happy." "Thrilled, peaches." "I hate you." Elise shook her head disbelievingly, a tiny smile playing on her lips. It really shouldn't have been as funny as it was. The two of them bickered like five-year-old siblings, not mature, professional astronauts. Although relations between them on Earth had been cool but cordial, and sometimes even quite friendly, things had grown rather sour between them in the last month. Faye found Daniel to be flighty and unprofessional, and as the mission proceeded, she had begun disparaging his abilities with greater and greater frequency. Daniel thought Faye was too irritable and bitchy, and took delight in pressing all her buttons with abandon at every opportunity. Elise had a private suspicion that he also did it to keep the rest of the crew entertained, like Faye was the eternal straight man in a comedy entirely at her own expense. Blaire sidled up to her and nudged her in the side with an elbow. "What's so funny?" Elise gave her a weary half-smile and nudged her back. She nodded her head in the direction of the commander and the major. The Major was bent over the main computer system, pointing at some schematics and discussing something with Edwin, who was typing away furiously at something that looked vaguely like course corrections. The Commander was perched next to her, occasionally making funny faces at her until she looked at him, and then quickly turning away and act like nothing was happening. "Them." Blaire leaned back against the console. "Ah, yeah. Daniel's pretty damn ridiculous when he wants to be. Hey, you want some coffee? We can let Daniel, Faye and Padre handle MC, the whole mess is a combination of their faults, and they should be the ones to deal with the fall-out. They can give us the digest later. I've still not gotten my fix this 'morning' and after all of this bullshit, I could really use some." Elise straightened, popping her back and stretching her arms out above her. "Tell me about it. Waking up floating above my bed, personal objects bumping into me and West yelling in my left ear while Rodriguez barked orders in my right was not the best way to start a cycle." Blaire nodded. "I know. I think Faye really missed her calling as a drill sergeant, I could hear her
hollering from the other side of the ship." She jerked a thumb in the direction of the door. "Mess?" Elise followed her out into the corridor and down the narrow, steep metal stairs leading to the “mess hall”. Blaire was bent over nearly double on the stairs to avoid bashing her head on the ceiling (a problem which Elise had never had all that much trouble with. Sometimes being short had its benefits.) Although they called it the "mess hall,” the room actually had about 8 different functions at any given time, only one of which was as a food prep and eating area. It was narrow and cramped, with low ceilings and little room to stretch--pretty much like the rest of the ship. Space, after all, equaled weight, and the less of that on a journey in space, the better. Still, SpaceX, the corporation that had manufactured this section of ship, had managed to find room onboard for the luxury of a real life, honest to God, coffee machine. Given the number of hours of work they all put in a cycle compared to the number of hours of sleep, it had become a basic essential to the entire crews' day. In fact, when she reached the bottom of the stairs, Elise saw that Snyder had actually beaten them to the coffee machine and was standing on one leg, drumming his fingers on the top of the machine idly and in the middle of brewing a cup. "Hey, Jason!" Blaire said, sidling up to him and resting an arm casually on his shoulder. "Mind making a couple more cups for us?" "Anything for you, Blaire." he said with a winsome grin, pulling out two more plastic mugs and resting them on the table next to his own. In the middle of an occasionally rough interplanetary journey, ceramic mugs would've just been crossing over the line of 'luxury' into just plain stupidity. Two minutes later, the three of them settled into folding chairs, pulled out next to what Elise generally referred to (if only to herself) as a high-tech card table. It wasn't really even a table at all, just a metal slab that could slide in and out of the far wall as needed for workspace and eating space, but really, the folding principle was the same. And it was just about as sturdy. Elise put the cup to her lips and gave a little tentative sip. A little sweeter than she had used to like, back on Earth she'd never put sugar in her coffee at all, just a little dash of cream, but the coffee on this tin can was about as good as could be expected, and the sugar helped to cover its shitty. And caffeine never went unappreciated. "Hey, Elise, I've got a question, if you don't mind me asking." Blaire piped up, suddenly, setting her coffee gingerly on the table and propping her head on one of her hands. "Why is it that you're always calling people by their last names?" Startled out of her reverie with the coffee, she looked up sharply. "Huh?" (we're going to go ahead and cut out the name conversation, because I'm going to end up changing the pov, and Elly won't have a chance to refer to people by their last names, because I won't be narrating things the way they are in her head. But for the interest of keeping my word count up, let's keep it for now) "The name thing. A minute ago, you were referring to Faye as 'Rodriguez'. I guess I've never really noticed that you do that, but thinking about it, you call everyone on this ship by their last name." Elise blinked slowly. "Um.. huh. I guess. I.. hadn't really thought about it, actually." That was a lie, of course she had, but actually explaining it might end up being a bit awkward. “I guess, it's just that,
well, I don't really know most of the crew that well, and especially Major Rodriguez, she's pretty intimidating, don't you think? And Commander Spencer, I know he wants us to call him Daniel, but really, Major Rodriguez calls him 'Spencer', so do you, Sn.. Jason.. and she calls you 'Snyder' so, I don't know, I guess that's just the way I've been thinking of it.” Blaire tilted her head to the side slightly, eyebrow raised. “But you call me 'Blaire'..?” Jason is looking at her speculatively, slightly amused in a way that she can't tell is more bemused or condescending. She really hoped the heat in her face was just in her imagination and not actually a blush. "Ah, well, that's a little different. I mean, we knew each other before this, yeah? So the circumstances are a little different." Well, not that different, honestly. Astronix Labs had sponsored both Blaire and her trip to the Mars colony, and they had known each other professionally through that organization for a little over a year and half, mixing at company functions and the like, but it wasn't exactly like they had been friends before the mission began. Still, it was kind of different. She simply couldn't imagine a world in which she referred to Blaire as 'Nelson'. Snyder shrugged and took a sip of his coffee. "You're kind of weird, you know that? Faye calls me 'Snyder' or 'Lieutenant Colonel' because she's Air Force through and through, and, even though it hardly matters out here, I'm still a higher ranking officer. To her, it'd just be weird to call me anything else. Not that I really care one way or the other, but it makes her happy. But coming from you, it just sounds entirely strange. You're probably the least 'military' person I've ever met. Just call me 'Jason,' yeah?” She ducked her head, but refused to be too embarrassed about it. “Okay, Jason, then.” She took another sip of her coffee. Well, if it was names they were talking about. “Speaking of names,” she leaned back slightly in her chair, crossing one leg over the other, “I still haven't heard the story of why Edwin is Padre of all things. It's not exactly like he has a real 'fatheresque' quality to him.” In fact, he most definitely didn't. Edwin was tall, but lanky, all shaggy hair and loose limbs. He was deceptively strong and coordinated for someone who looked like he did, but he was still the kind of person who looked like they'd never quite grown out of that awkward adolescent stage, and probably never would. Apparently, it was a funny question, because Snyder (Jason, she quickly corrected mentally, Jason) leaned back in his chair, threw back his head and laughed out loud. It was a good look on him--Jason was always sly smiles and teasing grins, but she couldn't remember a time she'd seen him laugh quite like that. She was rather appalled to find herself thinking that he was quite handsome when the laugh actually reached his eyes. It took a couple of seconds for him to regain his composure. Blaire was looking at him expectantly, so apparently she didn't know the story either. Finally, he sat back up and wiped a bit of moisture from his eyes. "Hoboy. Sorry about that. I forgot y'all didn't know that story. I'm afraid dear Padre has threatened to upload a computer virus to the air supply regulation electronics of my space suit (think of a different threat, you've already talked about how space suits aren't used very often) if I ever reveal that information, but I can tell you that it comes from a very.. epic night at a bar.” He leaned forward conspiratorially and rested his elbows on his shoulders. His voice lowered in volume and he glanced over his shoulder in the manner of those that think they have a particularly juicy bit of gossip.
“See, we were in astronaut training with NASA down in Houston, right? And Edwin, see, he makes the horrible mistake of telling Faye that he's never been drunk before. Now, Faye, she takes that as a personal challenge, right, because what 32 year old man has never been drunk in his life?” “Never been drunk in his life?” Elise interrupted. “What?” “See?” Jason said, “It's just a travesty. So two days later, she drags him and I out to this bar. It was this little shitty hole in the wall kind of place, and the two of us were the only people there that didn't speak Spanish. And, well. Faye just kept ordering tequila shots, and Padre just kept knocking them back, and then some of her old friends from Mexico came over and... That's about all I can really tell you.” “Oh, come on.” Blaire cajoled. “What happened?” “Told you, I can't. See, I'm rather fond of breathing.” (In the revision this scene doesn't exist from here:)He looked up and behind the two women to the entrance. “And, speak of the devil.” Both Elise and Blaire turned simultaneously toward the stairs. Sure enough, Edwin was coming down them, looking very tired and a little shell-shocked. He pulled out another folding chair and plopped down at the table, burying his head into his arms. “What devil?” he asked, voice muffled. “You mean the Colombian one upstairs who just nearly tore me a new asshole?” Elise and Blaire shared a look, and a set of matched smirks. It was hard to feel bad for him when the guy really had deserved it. “Actually,” Elise said, “We were discussing how exactly it was you came by such an interesting nickname.” Edwin looked up blearily and stuck an accusing finger at Jason. “I warned you.” he growled. Jason threw up his hands defensively and did his best to look blameless. “Hey, I just mentioned the basics, nothing too horribly incriminating.” Ed put his head back into the cradle of his arms. “To be completely honest, I don't really even remember most of it. For all I know, they're making the whole thing up just to spite me. Now, if you'll excuse me a second, I need coffee. (to here) (Instead:) *** Back upstairs in the cockpit, the mood was decidedly less good-natured. "This is without a doubt, the most embarrassing thing I have ever heard in my life. You call yourselves astronauts? What were you *thinking*!" Rose was ranting on the radio, and had been for the past five minutes without so much as a pause for breath. It was a little strange to hear her so angry; although Faye had never actually met Rose, her soft, soothing, sweet voice had always led her to imagine the woman as a petite, shy, unassuming woman. The woman yelling at them through the comm link was anything but. "This is a total disgrace! Your carelessness nearly ruined the mission and killed you all!"
"Look.. Rose. Honey." Spencer was trying to placate the angry woman, to little avail. "No one is dead and the mission isn't a disaster. Everything is fine. We've just been kind of tired lately. Not much sleep, you know? We got careless. It won't happen again." Minutes went by, and in the delay, Rose's voice scolded them unabated. Four minutes later, once Spencer's message had reached Earth and Rose's reply had returned to them, her voice cut off abruptly and change subject. "Of all the stupid, idiotic things for someone to... You're *damn straight* it isn't going to happen again! I don't care how boring or soul crushing it is up there, and I really don't care that you haven't been sleeping. You knew it would be like this when you signed up for the damn mission, and it's no excuse for being careless." "Look. Rose. We know. It won't happen again. Just.. look. If there was some way to *not* report this to the press? I mean.. it doesn't really make anyone look good, they don't really need to know.." Four minutes later, Rose let a very undignified snort into the microphone. "Well, I think you have kind of an exaggerated image of how interested people are on Earth. There's no great honor or recognition in being third, you know. Still.." she sighed, "something about this is going to come out somewhere." "Please, Rose? Please?" Faye rolled her eyes, but Spencer's sickening charm appeared to do the trick. "Oh, i guess I can make you people not sound like completely incompetent idiots in the retelling." "You are the best, Rose." "Yeah, whatever. Houston, out." Spencer cut the mic and turned his chair around. He looked more serious than Faye had ever seen him before. Which was not saying much, she thought with a touch of malice. "Okay. You know she's right. We're going to talk about how this happened, and how to not let it happen again." "I have a great idea." Faye volunteered, leaning back against the control panel, one foot propped up and her arms crossed tightly over her chest. "How about you stop fucking around when you're supposed to be driving?" "Only if you stop fucking around when you're supposed to be undertaking a space-walk." Daniel retorted. "One I wouldn't have had to make if Scatter-Brain over here could manage to clamp down the drones properly." Saying so reminded her that Edwin was still in the room with them. Not that she had forgotten, exactly, but he hadn't said anything at all since the gravity had been reestablished on board half an hour ago. He was a quiet person at the best of times, but this was just ridiculous. Ed was curled up in one of the chairs at the back of the small room, legs curled into his chest, head resting on his knees, and gazing long and hard at nothing in particular. She and Spencer glanced briefly at each other, disbelieving. “Hey, Padre. Earth to Padre.” Spencer said. Ed didn't look up. “Hel-lo~?” He waved one arm in an attempt to catch his attention.
Faye rolled her eyes and walked over, brusquely shaking his shoulder. He started and jerked his head up to look at her. “Wha--” She resisted the urge to roll her eyes again and sat down beside him. The chair was ostensibly covered by fabric but it had no give to it at all, and she spared a short, selfish moment wishing for her favorite red, lumpy, plush recliner. It had been so well-worn it had conformed to her every curve. She missed sinking into that chair, watching bad telenovas and eating popcorn and unwinding after a long, hard, terrible day. Like this one. She slapped herself mentally. This was no time to get nostalgic. “Look,” she said flatly, hunching over and resting her elbows on her thighs. “Let's.. look. I know none of us have been sleeping well lately.” Faye was distinctly uncomfortable giving this pep talk, but the poor guy looked like he could use it. She looked at Ed pointedly, but he wouldn't meet her gaze. “At least, I haven't. And the hours have been long, and tedious. So, the fact that we've been getting sloppy isn't that surprising, really, okay? And that goes for all of us.” Another pointed look at Ed, but he still wasn't meeting her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders a little, and leaned back in the chair. “We just.. had the bad luck to have all of those little mistakes come together in the worst combination imaginable, at the same time. Okay?” It felt rather unnatural, but she put out a hand and rested it on Ed's shoulder, patting it. It had the desired effect; Edwin finally looked over at her and his lips quirked a little. He slowly uncurled a little from his ball in the chair, and the tension in his shoulders relaxed a little under her fingers. "Yes, it was really all just a series of unfortunate mishaps." Spencer's voice broke in, disturbing what had actually been a rather nice moment. "So no one gets blamed for anything, yeah?" If she looked at that bastard, she was going to punch him, she knew it. "Let's just make sure it never happens again, hm?" she said, pointedly. And if the words were muffled a little, getting them out from between clenched teeth, who could blame her, really? *** In the next few days, they argued and bickered and finally settled on a few changes that would, most likely, make mistakes less likely and improve peak performance. Or so Daniel confidently declared. Elise, who was far from a licensed psychologist but did have some knowledge of how manage group dynamics, had recommended longer sleep cycles, and more interpersonal socializing and downtime among the crew. Since performing ship maintenance had suddenly become a great deal more difficult, Jason made the suggestion that necessary repairs and maintenance be more studiously cataloged, and everything be done once a week in one long stretch, instead of hodgepodge and randomly. Blaire suggested that the crew, in general, needed to foster better communication. Faye didn't offer any suggestions of her own, but, since the changes made sense, went along with them with little complaint. Daniel had wholeheartedly accepted the suggestions and then immediately proceeded to follow none of them. No one was surprised. That is, until four cycles later, the fancy struck Daniel to take some of Elise's suggestions about fostering crew solidarity and hold a poker 'night'. Jason had bought into it right away—he claimed to have been a great poker player on Earth, and he missed the game. Faye had been easy to convince, once she was promised that there would be serious betting involved. Blaire had given a good-natured smile
and agreed to go along. Edwin hadn't cared one way or the other, and it was easier just to go along with whatever hair-brained scheme Daniel had come up with rather than fight it. Elise was proving more difficult to convince. “Oh, hell no!” had been Elise's first reaction. “I have the worst poker face ever! I am going to lose so badly, I'm going to end up owing someone my first-born child!” “Ooh, yes,” Jason said, waggling his fingers at her, “That's a great wager, I hear those things go for a ton on the black market on Mars.” “Shut up, Jay,” Blaire said, whacking him on the back of the head. He rubbed the spot and glared up at her, good-naturedly. “No one is going to take your first-born, Elly dear. It's just a bit of fun.” "Yeah," chorused Daniel. "Nothing worse than first pick of rations for the next week, or who has to do toilet-cleaning duty, or whatever. It'll be fun." Elise had finally caved in to peer pressure, which is why the five of them were now cramped around the mess hall table in folding chairs, hunched over a deck of cards that Jason had stowed away in his bags. They were pressed together nearly elbow to elbow, since the table wasn't really large enough for the five of them at once, and consequently, people were spending more time making sure no one could see their cards than actually strategizing. For a moment, Jason thought of poker games back on Earth, and slotted the memory on top of the present game. The table would have been larger, for one. They would've poured drinks all around, and he'd be sipping on his favorite Jack and Tonic, with lime, rather than water filtrated out of his crew-members' piss. Faye would be sitting next to him in the same position, chair turned around backwards with her legs straddled, arms resting on the chair back. On Earth, she would have had a cigarette dangling from her lips, but in the Phoenix mess hall, it was a lollipop instead. Somehow, he mused, she managed to hold both in her mouth with the same air, both lazy and dangerous. He then wondered why he had spent so much time thinking about her mouth. Probably had better leave that one alone. Anyway. The stakes on the table would've been money, not black bean burrito rations, which were unanimously considered to be the best-tasting meal on the ship. But some things remained the same. The game, for one thing. Texas Hold'em was a good, solid version of the game, and he had lobbied heavily to play it. Reasons? It was fun, of course, but more importantly, it was the version that he knew best how to cheat at. Which, of course, like any good poker player, is exactly what he intended to do. He glanced down at his cards. An Ace of hearts and a 2 of clubs in the pocket. Shitty. A 2 of hearts, a 4 of diamonds, an 8 of spades and an Ace of clubs on the table. Cheating might not even be necessary this round; he already had two pair, and was well on his way to a Full House. Still...
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