The Lockheed arrived right on time. Altman Thwing was first in line at the docking module when the airlock swung open. Fourteen lungs behind him filled, pulling in the sweet surface air with a collective sigh. Air only hours old was the best care package an astronaut could ask.
“That’s it, people.” The Captain clapped. “To work.”
Altman glided to his locker past the crew, he had learned to breathe through his mouth. Ore processing stations as old as the Nassau, aka the Nauseam, take on a smell of their own as charcoal and lime scrubbers mature. Seasoned by the station’s inhabitants and spiced with the ferments of food packets and distressed lavatory systems.
Delivery day was special for two reasons. It was the only time when everyone gathered together without bitter words before returning to the rigors maintenance and asteroid processing. Second, the crew contract had a built in three-month rotation lottery, where one lucky soul would return Earth-side with full pay as an incentive. Whoever had the first G (guanine) in their DNA sequence won. Everyone knew theirs, but no one would tell. Strictly for betting purposes. It was a lot of credits.
“Come on, monkey heads suit up,” the Captain ordered, “You know the rules.” But the crew had gotten lax since the chili incident, all except for Altman. He stuck to procedures and grabbed his helmet.
“But Captain…” the crew complained.
“Do it, or Altman wins without a swabbing.”
Diego pushed off the wall bumping into Altman. “I hate you, Thwing the wing.”
Altman swung at Diego defensively. “Don’t make me a target Captain, it’s bad enough bunking next to this asshole. He snores.”
Then suddenly, a digital readout faceplate popped off and spun inches from his head with a tiny hole through it.
“Micro meteors!” they all screamed.
Another soda can pop cracked, then the screech of escaping atmosphere whined; alarms deafened and automatic hatches began to close.
“Patches and Plates,” the Captain yelled, “we got hammers. Lukens, Diego, Thwing, find it. Rose, disengage docking. The rest of you, lock down.”
Rose’s fingers flew over the keyboard, and she yelled into her communications set, “Lockheed, emergency disengage. Hammers.”
Altman fumbled with his helmet. Loop over lock, and twist over the tie, he hurried. He was thankful Johnson down at the training center was a hard ass during drills. Echoes of his kind words helped hasten his gloved fingers. In the event of sudden decompression, a body may expand to roughly twice its normal volume accompanied by disabling pain. That’s your motivation, Mr. Space Debris!
The Captain clacked his helmet against Altman’s. The Captain had his suit on already. How was he so fast? “Altman, patches, and plates, now. Find. That. Hole.”
“Disengaged,” Rose yelled and pushed off to get her suit, but the docking hatch exploded open.
It must have malfunctioned, Altman thought as he pitched into the drink alongside Rose. Technical writers never express the word “dire” in terms a layman understands. Fingers are like fish sticks in EV gloves.
One last fastener and he would be in a different situation. He worked to close it, but spin and drift disoriented him, it wouldn’t line up. Bent. Diego, damn, Diego.
The suit decompressed. Searing cold and heat bit and blistered Altman’s skin. He didn’t want to see his end, spaced was the worst way to die, but his eyes froze, and lids sheeted open. Fourteen seconds to unconsciousness and ninety to death, Johnson screamed in his head. Hypoxia causes a gradual loss of cognitive functions. Don’t breathe, hold it in.
The station spun in and out of view, appearing from behind his head and setting at his feet. Pastel blues and pinks streaked across the Earths horizon, calming colors.
Rose touched his hand as she passed by, her tongue swollen, protruding from her mouth, her eyes out of their sockets.
Somehow he bounced back. The Captain was waving to him from the docking ring. He was pulling him in. Boy, he was fast with the safety line. He must have clipped it on before the door blew. Did he know? Twenty meters, ten seconds to go.
Then Johnson piped up again, There are no unsuited atheists in the vacuum of space. Hold your breath! Severe symptoms such as loss of oxygen in tissue (anoxia), are followed by circulatory failure and flaccid paralysis in about thirty seconds. But without a buddy to help, those points are moot. The lungs also collapse (atelectasis) in this process, but will continue to release water, forming a cloud of ice crystals around the nose and mouth.
He could do this, he was going to make it. The Captain was his buddy, but an explosion took out the center of the station and the Captain flew out of the docking ring with a body pressed against his back. Diego, damn, Diego.
Altman’s return energy although less than the initial force that pulled him out was sufficient to return him to the station. Unfortunately, the trajectory was wrong. With no leverage, and no force to correct his angle of approach. He braced for impact. The air burst silently from his lungs, forming a cloud of ice crystals around his mouth. Johnson was right, the training manual did express dire.
Nassau’s Space Chili.
3 lbs. beef, stew meat
3 lbs. pork butt
4 large onions, yellow
2 tbsp. tomato paste
12 cloves garlic
1 gallon water
4 tbsp. cumin
4 tbsp. coriander
1 tbsp. dried oregano
4 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. cinnamon
Cube and brown the meat on high heat in a large pot. Cook in small batches to ensure even cooking. Browning the meat will enhance the flavor. Set meat aside. Peel and dice the onion, sweat the onions in the pot, lightly browning. Then add the meat, garlic, tomato paste, Jalapinos to the pot. Add water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover pot. Stir occasionally. Add more water as necessary to keep the meat covered. When the meat is cooked, and falling apart add the spices and Jalapinos; cook until the blended approx. 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve with warm tortillas and cold beers.