"I'm not here," Dave said, waltzing onto the bridge, followed by Wilson closely enough to be a tripping hazard, even from behind. Lieutenant Commander Ko Kwion, third in command of the Chʼil Awoshí and one of Dave’s closest friends, raised an eyebrow and made the tiniest chortling sound. Dave started to make his usual rounds. Ko ignored him.
“What’s that?” Dave asked, looking over the shoulder of the officer at the facilities console.
The officer straightened, looking up at the first officer. “There’s something wrong with the airlock,” he said. “A drone team couldn’t find the problem. We’re waiting for a repair crew.”
Wilson warbled a question. Dave shushed him.
Dave tapped his fingers on the console. “The airlock is an essential system,” he said. “It may not be used often, but it is part of the emergency structure.”
“Yes sir,” the officer answered. “The team is due in about forty-five minutes. Should I insist that they send someone immediately?”
“No, no.” Dave stood up straight, then turned to Ko on the command dais. “I’ll take a look at it myself. That’s my field, after all.”
“Enjoy yourself, sir,” Ko said, then turned to answer a question from the yeoman standing next to him.
Dave headed for the airlock. The ensign on duty briefed him on the problem, then Dave started to suit up. “I’ll take a look at it,” he said. “You know, back in the day, I was part of the team that designed the new interface. I could take the entire thing apart and put it back together again if I needed to.”
For a moment the ensign looked like she was afraid he might do just that, but she just nodded and didn’t say a word. Wilson pirouetted at his side, for no apparent reason. Dave worried about the droid. Wilson seemed confused with the new schedule. Instead of spending ten or more hours in ops every day, he was spending most of his time with Tagata, only coming around to make sure everything was going smoothly in his absence.
The inner airlock doors worked perfectly. Dave waited patiently while the air cycled around him, bringing the pressure down to match the airless void outside. “Try them now,” Dave said.
“Triggering the outer doors now,” the ensign answered.
Dave took a multitool from his leg pocket. There was a release that should be able to open the doors. He found the interface and inserted the emergency key, but the only result was a hum he could feel through his gloved hand. It stopped after a few seconds.
After trying a few more tricks, he asked the ensign to cycle the lock again and let him back in. “I’m going to approach from outside,” he said. The ensign nodded. Wilson bounced. He was probably whistling something, but Dave couldn’t hear him. He picked the droid up and established a link so they could communicate.
It was clunky wearing the suit to walk to the pod bay, and he garnered a few odd looks along the way. As long as none of them was the captain, who would surely disapprove of his being in ops when he was supposed to be on his honeymoon, everything would be fine. He’d successfully avoided her all week.
The pod bay was not designed for individuals to enter and exit. Pods carrying crew and civilians shuttled regularly between the command module and the government complex, as well as a few other destinations. “Can we interrupt the shuttles long enough to let me out?” Dave asked of traffic control.
They looked surprised, but after a moment recognized him, or at least recognized the insignia on his suit. “Of course, Commander Dalrymple. Or would you like to wait for the repair crew? I assume you’re going out to check on the airlock near the bridge.”
“Yup. I was one of the guys who designed systems like that before I changed career paths. I can probably figure out what’s wrong before the crew gets there.”
“Very good sir,” they said. Dave nodded. No one seemed to be impressed with his engineering expertise. Or perhaps they found him intimidating…that was a distinct possibility. He was, after all, second in command of the largest city in space.
Once outside, Dave realized he’d forgotten to put a tether on Wilson. He hadn’t intended to bring the droid with him, but Wilson could maneuver in microgravity, and he might even be helpful. It took a little fancy maneuvering to get over to the airlock. His suit was designed for emergency excursions, not long repair jobs, but he still had a couple hours of air, and he had enough power to maneuver almost that long. Longer, if he only used the jets to get where he needed to go, then used the magnetic joiners and handholds for everything else.
There was a reason only certified personnel were allowed to maneuver between the modules, whether in a suit or a pod. If a module was spinning, it could fling a spaceman off in a random direction, either off into space or to smash into some other part of the station, like Shentah Sho had done on Dave’s wedding day. Off into space wasn’t too big a deal; most suits could easily maneuver back to an airlock, and if that failed a patrol could reach them in a matter of minutes. But outside the station it was more likely that they would run into random traffic that might be piloted by a private individual who wasn’t as conscientious about safety as they should be.
Dave reached the sculpture garden, which was easier to land on than the airlock itself. Although it wasn’t designed for taking a leisurely stroll, there were paths connecting the various levels. He wondered if any tourists were trying to take pictures at the moment. They might be disappointed to have a silvery suited man in the frame. Or perhaps he was an interesting subject, one that made their photo more memorable.
He worked for twenty minutes or so before the repair crew showed up.
“I’m honored you could join us, Commander!” the supervisor said. “I’m Ensign Boehring.” She introduced the two crew she’d brought with her, then Dave started filling her in on what he’d found.
“I don’t think it’s a problem with the electronics or software,” he said. “I think it’s a simple mechanical problem. Unfortunately—”
“You’re here early, Captain,” Ko’s voice interrupted him. Boehring looked at Dave expectantly. Apparently she couldn’t hear Ko.
The captain’s voice came over the comm, but it was distant, in the background, as if being picked up by Ko, not transmitting directly from her own link. “My meeting ran short. We didn’t get to half the things we were supposed to cover because some people simply can’t be bothered to prepare.”
Dave cursed under his breath as Hal and Ko continued with their small-talk. She would probably find out soon that there was a repair crew working on the airlock, but there was no reason she should suspect he was out there with them. Fortunately, she was the kind of leader to assume that everything under her was being run efficiently and effectively, and she didn’t need to bother paying close attention unless someone reported an issue. He preferred to get his hands dirty.
Wilson warbled his “uh oh” sound, but Ko and Haleola continued their conversation. Apparently, Ko was stealthily letting him know that the captain was there, transmitting but not letting anyone on the bridge hear him or Wilson.
“Ah. Let’s see if it’s something simple, first…” Dave addressed Boehring. If he was lucky, they’d get the airlock working again and they could go in the easy way. He could stow his suit and Haleola would never be any the wiser.
Half an hour later, the mech panel was completely dismantled. He and Boehring stared at the tiny piece of machinery that was keeping the entire mechanism from working. “Well. That wore out much faster than expected,” Boehring said.
“And we had to tear the whole thing apart to get at it,” said one of Boehring’s crew. Dave waited for the follow-up comment taking a dig at the guys who designed it, but none came. There was a beat of silence, and he wondered whether Boehring had given the crewman a cue to shut up.
The captain’s voice formed a question, but she was too far from Ko for her words to be transmitted clearly. “There’s a repair crew at the airlock,” Ko’s voice came through easily. “The shuttle service has been suspended while they’re working, but it will probably be only about twenty more minutes.”
Hal’s voice said something unintelligible, and Ko answered “Yes sir.” A heartbeat later, Ko’s voice muttered very quietly “She’s on her way to the pod bay.”
Dave cursed silently. Wilson cruised in slow circles around them, whistling his special rendition of Moon River, as he had been doing for the last twenty minutes. Dave had programmed him with a variety of lunar-themed music when he started dating Tagata, who was a Loony by birth.
“I assume we have the part in inventory?” Dave asked. “Can we have someone bring it out?”
Boehring shook her head. “We switched out to the newer ones last year,” she said. “I didn’t realize any airlocks were still using these. According to my records, this was replaced six months ago. Whoever did it must have not known or not cared that it was supposed to have an upgrade.”
“What do you recommend?” Dave asked.
Wilson paused and echoed the question. Dave nudged him out of the way.
“We’ve been upgrading the systems whenever we find something like this,” she said.
“How much of the system?”
“Ideally, we’d replace the entire airlock…”
Dave shook his head. “Let’s get it patched up for now. I don’t like the idea of the bridge being without an airlock, but we do have the emergency pods if needed.” He sighed. “I’d like to see two options on my desk in the morning, one for replacing the entire airlock, and one for replacing only what is absolutely necessary.” He paused, realizing that Wilson wasn’t warbling anymore. “Oh, and also include the option of getting the older part. I know you’ve been upgrading everything, but I want to keep all the options open. This airlock was brand new only five years ago, it shouldn’t be obsolete yet.”
Dave helped them put everything back together. Wilson was hovering behind him, no longer singing and dancing. His low power light was on. They’d need to go in soon. His own air supply was running low.
Unfortunately, the captain was waiting in the pod bay. Maneuvering through the Chʼil Awoshí to another airlock was possible, but unnecessarily dangerous.
“You go on ahead,” he said. “I want to check something on the…” he couldn’t think of anything that sounded plausible. “Going to pay my respects to the past captains.” Fortunately, the repair crew didn’t question his eccentricity. He hoped that the Captain would accept their return as the end of the incident, and he could slip in through the pod bay after she left.
He looked up toward the government complex. The tube had a different spin from where he was standing. It was hypnotic. He toyed with the idea of cruising over to the pod bay on the other side, but not only was it a tricky maneuver, it would require them to temporarily suspend shuttle traffic there to let him in.
A few minutes later Ko’s voice sounded quietly in his ear again.
“The repair crew is in. Shuttle service has resumed. Yet, our beloved captain remains in the pod bay for no apparent reason,” he said. “I think you’re busted.”
“Frack,” Dave cursed. He thought for a minute. Maybe he could excuse it as something he was doing for his new bride? “Yeah, I went to pick her some flowers,” he muttered to himself as he made his way back to the pod bay.
He waited for a large, crowded shuttle to leave, then he addressed traffic control. “This is Commander Dalrymple, returning from a repair excursion. Could we suspend large traffic for a moment to let me back in?”
Wilson started to drift ahead. Dave grabbed him, fumbling with the droid. Wilson wasn’t exactly cuddly and he didn’t have anything convenient to hold onto. He was really just a ball most of the time.
As soon as he had a grip on his pet, Wilson blinked once then went into power-saving shut down.
“This is Captain Kitewhetu,” came the familiar voice, a complete deadpan as if nothing was amiss. “Shuttle traffic is suspended.” She paused. “Again.”
Dave maneuvered around to the pod bay doors. “Thank you Captain,” he said. “Please open the pod bay doors.”
There was silence. The pod bay doors remained closed.
“Open the pod bay doors, please Captain,” he said again, keeping his tone even. He checked his air. It had switched to the emergency back-up before he even reached the pod bay. It was a stinky mix, and the oxygen content was low, just enough to keep him alive. He had to get inside.
“Open the pod bay doors please Hal,” Dave said.
There was only silence. He checked his power levels. They were low, but more than adequate for simple communication.
“You’re gonna die out there, Dave,” Ko said.
Dave tried to take a deep breath. It was impossible with only the emergency reserves. He closed his eyes a moment, calming himself and taking tiny sips of air.
“Hal, do you read me?”
“Dave, is that you?” Hal said. “Is Tagata out there with you? What a strange way to spend your honeymoon.”
“Hal, please open the pod bay doors.”
“I can’t do that, Dave.”
Dave pursed his lips, taking tiny sips of air. “Captain, I know I’m not supposed to be on duty. And I apologize for that.” He paused, wishing he could see her face. He could read her if he could see her face. Without that visual cue, he had no idea whether she was silently fuming or gently teasing. “The thing is, I’ve been out much longer than I planned and I’m running out of air.”
Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Wilson was drifting toward the pod bay. “Wilson!” Dave called.
The droid blinked to life, then let out a jet and streaked off in a random direction. “WILSON!” Dave yelled. The droid’s lights were all off. He was travelling in a straight line into the heart of the Chʼil Awoshí. “Wilson, no!”
The pod bay doors yawned open. Dave looked back at his droid once, then dove into the bay. Once inside, Dave stood, watching his best friend drift away as the doors closed, separating them from any chance of rescue.