Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chapter 1

The square of golden light moved slowly across the floor as the station rotated along its vertical axis. Joanna floated a meter above the floor, arm hooked through a handhold on the wall, eyeing the corridor. If you paused long enough, she knew, you could see the light move as the station turned. She liked to watch the movement of the station at least once a day; the inexorable motion was reassuring.

As she watched, a yellow arc cut through the blackness outside the window, gradually increasing in size. The edges were indistinct, almost fuzzy. Swirls of faint colors streaked through the atmosphere. Venus was just over four hundred kilometers away, but it looked close enough to reach out and touch. Though the windows appeared clear, Joanna knew that they had been specially treated to block out a great deal of the planet’s light, and the radiation that came with it.

She shook off the hypnosis of the slow movement of the station, and made her way down the corridor, pushing off walls with her feet and occasionally grabbing a handhold to adjust her velocity.

Joanna Regent was thirty-seven, older than average for a position on a research station, and today, she felt every one of those years. As she made her way to the compartment she called her office, she wondered how long she would be content at this job. Head of the equipment locker, she oversaw the usage of all scientific and engineering equipment that wasn’t physically connected to the station at all times. It wasn’t the most exciting job in the world, but the pay was good, it was safer than most jobs aboard the station, and you couldn’t argue with that view.

As she neared the equipment locker, she passed several people headed out to the rim of the station where the sleeping compartments were. Night shift. She knew a few people who worked the night shift, but hadn’t seen any of them yet that day. Not that that was unusual. In a station this size, you could go for a week without seeing someone who was on a different shift.

Joanna slowed to a halt in front of a large metal door marked “Equipment Room: access limited.” She punched a code into a keypad set into the wall beside the door, and turned the handle. It creaked loudly in the mostly-silent corridor, and she made a mental note to ask maintenance to fix it. Again.

The room was cold and dark; Joanna punched a button near the door, and the lights flickered on. She could hear the faint rumble of the heating system, and smiled. “Good morning, Joanna. Welcome to another lovely day above Venus.”

She did a check of the equipment; even a cursory check took over an hour, due to the sheer number of items in the room, which was little more than a storage compartment with electricity and heating. She checked each piece of equipment off her list, and pulled up the list of equipment that had been requested for the day. There were the usual scientific instruments and tools used in the daily operations of the station, but one request stood out. Joanna made a note.

After ensuring that the equipment was ready to be checked out, she floated over to the center of the room. A small desk had been bolted to the floor, and Joanna strapped herself into the chair. She wouldn’t have minded floating free during the day, but if a desk had been provided, she had no problem with using it.

She opened one of the drawers and pulled out a small mirror. She checked her appearance: passable. Joanna had flyaway red hair that she kept pulled back in a practical bun, an oval face that showed the usual pallor of someone who worked in space stations and rarely saw the sun without several sheets of radiation-proof glass in between. She’d long ago given up trying to hide the slowly-growing wrinkles around her eyes, and had never minded the odd silver hair that decided to show up amongst the red. She brushed her fingers against the old scar above her right eyebrow. After the accident, she’d tried to cover it up, but over the years, she’d stopped bothering. It was part of her face now.

She set the mirror back in the drawer, hearing the clang as the magnetic strip on the back of the mirror held it to the metal. Enough of that, she thought. Time to get to work. She unhooked a piece of equipment from its place and began to work.

Joanna was still working on the sensor when the door opened and a young man pulled himself into the room.

“Good morning, Eric. Doing some atmospheric studies today?” She secured the part she was repairing with an elastic strap before leaving the desk.

He nodded. “This whole week, actually. The blue absorbers are increasing, and it looks like they’ll keep it up for awhile. I want to get a probe down there to catch the storm.”

“That explains the balloon system. Those are tricky; I assume you’re familiar with how to use them?”

Eric laughed. “Use them? I helped develop this particular version. I’ll be fine.”

“Excellent. I’ve sent you the checklist to go over before I release the equipment; as soon as that’s done, you can be on your way.”

She went back to work on the malfunctioning sensor while Eric checked the equipment. As soon as he approved the state of the tools, her computer beeped to let her know that the document had been approved.

“Alright, everything is good to go. Want a bag of coffee before you head out?” Joanna nodded toward a small cupboard on the wall; several empty drink pouches hung from a hook.

“I’d hate to be any trouble.”

“No trouble at all, I was about to get one myself.” Joanna unbuckled herself from the chair and pushed off against the desk. Taking two pouches, she hooked them into a small box that sat against the wall. At the flick of a switch, a light blinked, and the machine began to hum. A few minutes later, the pouches filled with coffee, and steamed in the cold recycled air. Joanna unhooked both and made her way back to the desk, handing one of the pouches to Eric. “Hard for me to start the day without it, so I always have plenty on hand.”

He took a sip from his coffee and smiled. “I never bothered to get coffee onto my import list. Too many other things I need, and there’s just not enough space. Might have to change that, though; this is the best thing I’ve tasted since I came aboard.”

“That’s, what, 2 months now? I know you started not too long after me,” Joanna commented. “This is your first zero-g stretch, I think.”

“That much is obvious. I don’t think I’ve gone a day without crashing into a wall or ceiling. Half the time, I’m not even sure of the difference between the two anymore.” Eric wrapped his hands around the bag. “I can’t get used to the cold. I’ve been on polar cap expeditions on Mars, but I eventually got warm, especially when I was hiking and moving around. But no matter how much I work here, it just feels colder.”

“It’s the sun,” Joanna said. “Or the lack of it. Since everything is so well-protected against the radiation coming from Venus, very little sunlight gets through. Makes it feel colder than it normally would. You should spend some time in one of the sun rooms, it’ll help.”

Eric nodded, and capped the drink pouch before clipping it to his belt. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks for the coffee, I’ve got to run. I need to get this stuff ready to go in the next three hours.”

As he closed the door behind him, silence settled back over the equipment room, save for the beeps of a few machines. Joanna let herself float toward the ceiling, and stretched. If Eric Alpert was doing an atmosphere drop today, then Montse would be by soon to check her own robotics. And Carson would want to make sure all the data was being copied into his archives.

She ran a hand over her forehead. The forty-year-old archivist always unsettled her. It was nothing about his behavior; he was pleasant, intelligent, and she enjoyed chatting with him when she encountered him in the course of her job. No, the discomfort came from the feelings she had recently noticed after an ordinary conversation. Joanna never lived in one place on-world long enough to develop a relationship there, and she was sure she didn’t want to have a relationship with a coworker when they were both on board a station with no way out for a few months if everything went badly. It was unprofessional, and she had no time for that. She couldn’t do much about the emotions themselves, but she could cut off the physical causes.

Joanna checked her watch, and took a small pillbox out of her belt. She palmed two small blue pills and swallowed them dry. That would take care of the hormones for another twelve hours. Enough to get through the day.

She hooked the harness on the chair with one foot, pulled herself down toward the desk, and got back to work. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting start. Several things I want to know more information about, so already hooked!