They spent an hour and seven minutes getting everything ready, going over all the equipment and gear they were bringing with them and ensuring it was in proper working order before it was secured in the hold of the shuttle. Boatswain Nkosi was lending a hand to get things ready, personally checking their EVA suits, so that by the time the Epoch
reached Cimmerian Delta, they were already onboard the shuttle and waiting to depart.
Harvey sat in the hold opposite Ray-Gun and Doctor M’Vani, whilst Aldridge was with Farojj in the cockpit. Everything was strapped in to keep it from shaking loose and breaking, thus slowing them down, whilst the team were already suited up, all they were missing was their gloves and helmets. Only the pilot remained in the crews standard grey jumpsuit (the fitted suit, with its abundance of pockets, was standard for the bridge, engineering and deck crews, whilst the medical and research staff were in blue coveralls).
From the cockpit he could hear Aldridge speaking with the bridge, then strained against the harness to look out the forward viewport as the space doors opened and they were offered their first real look at the enormous asteroid belt (which was at least half an AU in width). Unlike other ships of the era, the Intrepid-Class didn’t utilise a drop-bay style hanger, but rather had two separate bays at the rear of the saucer—it was a design feature that allowed them to carry more modern shuttles, which were far more practical and durable that older models.
With expert skill, the Girinite lifted the shuttle off the deck and out into open space. The trip into the field was short and uneventful, a few small chips twanged against the hull of the shuttle but they were few and far between. It didn’t take long for them to reach the target asteroid. When they did, Aldridge joined them in the back, where they finished suiting up. The airlock to the cockpit sealed, keeping Farojj safe, whilst making it easier for them to move the equipment out into position.
Though it was Harvey’s first time on the job, the others had all done it before (even Ray-Gun who was only three years his senior, but on his second tour onboard the Epoch
), so they knew exactly what needed to be done and kept him right. He was grateful for the guidance, as he wanted to be useful onboard and make a contribution, no matter how small.
The four of them floated out the shuttle, each laden with portable drills and sample containers, and headed towards the largest asteroid in the vicinity. The plan was to set up six small drilling platforms around the surface and drill simultaneously, lessening the time they needed to be out in EVA. The target sites had all been preselected on the Epoch
and the co-ordinates were locked into their scanners, so each team had to set up three drills each. Once they were activated the drills it would take a short time to get down far enough for suitable samples, in which time they would have to make sure they remained calibrated and in synch.
As they split up and began their opposite trips around the asteroid, Harvey was alone with Aldridge. She remained in front, scanner open and directing them towards each point. When she made a statement or issued an order to complied, but their conversation went little beyond that. The silence made him uneasy, even more so as they moved further around the asteroid and lost sight of the shuttle.
They got the first drill established and as they were packing up for the second location, M’Vani purred through the comm that they had done their first as well and were moving to second position. Her soft tone and breathy voice right in his ear was incredibly intimate and Harvey became jealous of Ray-Gun for being paired up with the researcher.
Aldridge’s level tone snapped him from his fantasising. “We’re moving now as well.”
She turned towards him. “Let’s get moving, O’Connell.”
“Yes sir…eh, ma’am.”
He couldn’t be certain, but he was pretty sure he saw her roll her eyes. Things are just getting better and better,
he griped to himself.
* * * * *
The rest of the drills took only around forty minutes to set up, at which point both teams returned to the shuttle from where they could activate and monitor the progress, until such time as they had reached their target depth. In the shuttle, M’Vani and Aldridge went through to the cockpit, leaving Harvey and Ray to sort out what equipment was needed next.
From the briefing, he knew it would take the drills around twenty minutes—any faster and they risked destabilising the orbit and rotation of the asteroid, which would make things in the already tightly packed field all the more difficult. As they saw to the gear, he kept an ear open to what was being discussed in the front, so when he heard an alert he looked back at the scientist as she scrutinised the readings. Ray-Gun must’ve been doing the same, as he paused and looked as well. Aldridge stepped closer to the Caitian’s console and waited impatiently for a few moments.
“One of the drills is losing power. It’s down twelve percent and dropping.”
“Number two,” M’Vani replied, still looking at the screen. That made it the second one he and Aldridge and set up, but everything had gone smoothly and their checks had shown it was fully operational. What could have happened to it, in less than an hour, that it was now failing?
Aldridge looked back at him. “Grab your helmet and a couple of repair kits, we’re heading back out.”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied automatically, then quickly got together what was needed.
“Do you need another pair of hands, ma’am?” Ray-Gun asked.
“Not yet. Remain here, we could need other supplies so be ready to move quickly.”
Ray-Gun and Aldridge switched places in the shuttle, his fellow deckhand now safe behind the cockpit airlock, as Harvey and the petite miner got their gloves and helmets back on and hefted the toolkits. He wasn’t sure exactly what use he would be; he was trained to run routine diagnostics not repair valuable equipment—though he suspected that Aldridge wasn’t expecting to rely on him too much, but rather needed someone to do heavy lifting.
Once they exited the shuttle again, they activated their thrust packs and took off towards the problem drill. En route he focused on their destination, not the wide expanse of stars that engulfed them, of the mishmash of rocks that floated all around them. Aldridge was in the lead and remained quiet, all he heard was his own breathing within the confines of his EVA suit, and the occasional update from M’Vani.
“Power loss now at twenty-one percent.”
“Understood. We’re almost there,”
Aldridge reported back to the shuttle. “O’Connell, prepare to cut engines and reverse thrust in eight seconds.”
“Acknowledged,” he stated.
To himself he counted down. On eight, he tapped the stud that stopped his forward momentum and fired the reverse jets, bringing him to a relative stop. Aldridge did the same just ahead of him. Together they approached the faulty drill. Still new to life in space, he expected it to be like the old movies he’d seen back on Earth, hearing a shrill noise or clanking, but there was nothing, it looked just like how they’d left it— except the control panel was flashing red.
Whilst the mining consultant moved to the display and began tapping away at the controls, Harvey stayed a short distance away, looking at the drill. He was surprised that something was wrong with it, as he could see no problems. Over the open comlink he heard the two women on the team going back and forth over possible issues. Harvey felt like a spare part, just drifting a few short meters above the uneven surface of the asteroid.
“What if you try shutting down and restarting,”
“Without knowing what the original fault was, we could have the same problem crop up again,”
replied Aldridge. “The diagnostic systems can’t localise the problem, and I can’t see anything that would cause a drop in power. The sonic pulse is stable, vibration dampeners are aligned, powerpack fully operational.”
Harvey pulled the scanner from its holster and began running a few sweeps. He wasn’t sure exactly what he might find that the more experienced members of his team couldn’t, but an extra pair of eyes was always useful.
“What if we get another drill from the
“It might have to come to that, Doctor,”
Aldridge admitted. “Comm the ship and have them ready another drill, just in case we can’t solve this problem.”
Farojj chipped in.
As he drifted, scanning the drill, a faint flicker caught his eye. It was close to the connectors between the drill and its powerpack, but at his current angle he couldn’t see that caused it. Moving in closer, there was another flicker and the link between his suits comm system and the scanner chirped. He studied the screen again and noticed that what he saw wasn’t matching up with the system diagram.
Closing to only a meter and change he was finally able to see the frayed wiring and damaged sensor relay. It looked as though something had smacked into that section of the drill, throwing the sensors off whilst causing the power drain—which the diagnostics didn’t know existed.
He reached for the conduit, whilst tapping the comlink. “Ma’am, I think I’ve found the problem,” he stated, trying to keep his excitement and pride from his voice—he didn’t want to come across as big-headed on top of being a ‘dump jock’.
“What have you—O’Connell! NO!”
Her warning came just as his hand made contact with the damaged connector. There was a blinding flash, a pulse of heat passed through his suit, and his head snap backwards, cracking against the side of his helmet.
Everything went dark after that.
* * * * *