Expedition

4 09 2009

The four of them stood at the airlock, dressed in environ-suits. Each were fitted with com-links to the other members of the team. Not knowing the disposition of the occupants on the other ship, Jason decided not to take any chances. Manuel passed out the rifles. Rifle was such an anachronistic term for the laser weapons they were being issued, but the shape was similar to that of the pre-space fairing firearm of their mother planet.

The airlock chamber was just big enough for the four adults to stand comfortably in. The exterior hatch was circular with a locking ring meant for mating the ship up with other Earth ships. Its two doors met at a horizontal line in the center. Ordinarily, there would be a complimentary set of doors and an airlock on the mating vessel. In this case, however, the other ship had no such docking system in place. The crew would have to perform a bit of a space walk to get to their counterpart’s hatch.

Manuel had maneuvered the Delphinus close enough to the other ship to get a locking beam connection established between them. Sensors showed the corresponding hatch to be about 50 meters from their airlock. It was an inconvenience, but not an insurmountable one. The environ-suits were each equipped with magnetic devices embedded in the toes of their boots and the palms of their gloves that could be toggled on and off. This would enable them to climb the other ship and decrease the danger of floating off into their own orbit.

Jason went first, followed by Manuel. It was Jason’s idea to have Atlanta behind himself and Manuel so that she could be protected in case the occupants of the other ship were hostile. It was a nice gesture, but he had also assigned Brandon to protect the rear which Atlanta was not crazy about. Jason was taking no chances and had assigned Brandon to be Atlanta’s informal bodyguard for the trip.

The rifles made it somewhat awkward to climb, but Jason set the example by slinging his over his back where it floated without getting in the way. It was an painstaking expedition, especially for Atlanta. She hadn’t fit in her normal sized suit. Her pregnancy was not something that usually inhibited her activities, but in this case it had. She actually felt relieved that she had arrived at the airlock before the others and be spared the embarrassment of not fitting into her suit. She had to opt for a larger size that would accommodate her belly. The drawback was that it hung loosely everywhere else, which resulted in her feeling like she had to constantly pull her gloves back on her fingers.

Her protruding abdomen obligated her to adopt a perambulation that reminded her of the elephant walk. This resulted in her rifle constantly wanting to hover right above her head and threaten to float loose.

Eventually they arrived at their destination. There was a rudimentary control mechanism next to the door that made Atlanta think of the Arthur C. Clarke novel Rendezvous with Rama. In the book, as she remembered it, the intrepid space explorers had needed to turn the Rama airlock handwheel the opposite direction than expected to get it open. She wondered if there would be some trick like that to this operator. It was egotistical of mankind to expect other space-faring civilizations to conform to Earth’s conventions in technology. Regardless, Jason quickly figured out the control and got the doors to open.

Jason was bathed with the smudged interior light. The quality of light in the black hole was one they were all getting used to. Without hesitation, Jason rotated his body around to an orientation that seemed to match the inner environs and slid into the opening.

“The airlock is only big enough for one person,” Jason’s voice crackled across the com-link. “We’ll have to go in one at a time.” With that statement the doors slid shut. Atlanta let out an involuntary gasp and put her hand to her chest. The few moments it took for the door to reopen seemed like an eternity.

Manuel took the next turn. The doors shut behind him and he could sense the hissing of the chamber filling with air. As soon as the proper air pressure was obtained, the inner door opened and he stepped into a corridor. The presence of artificial gravity was the first thing that caught his attention. It was about ninety percent of Earth gravity, but it was a relief nonetheless. The next thing he noticed was that the corridor was empty. Jason was no where to be seen.

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