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Capo di tutti capi

Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
July 29

   Personal E-mail to, Dr. Emma Watson
   From, Jack McCallum
   Like a diamond in the sky. That’s what you look like from down here. Last night I stayed up to watch you pass over. Gave you a big wave.
   This morning on CNN, you were being touted as Ms. Right Stuff. “Girl astronaut blasts off, doesn’t chip a nail,” or something equally hokey. They interviewed Woody Ellis and Leroy Cornell, and both of them were beaming like proud daddies. Congratulations.
   You’re America’s sweetheart .
   Vance and crew made a picture-perfect landing.
   Bloodsucking reporters were all over poor Elill when he arrived in Houston. I caught a glimpse of him on TV—he looks like he’s aged twenty years. Services for Debbie are this afternoon. I’ll be there.
   Tomorrow, I’ll be sailing on the Gulf.
   Em, I got the divorce papers today, and I’ll be honest with you. It doesn’t feel good. Then, I guess it’s not supposed to, is it?
   Anyway, they’re ready for us to sign. Maybe now that it’s finally over, we can get back to being friends again.
   The way we used to be.
   P.S. Humphrey’s a little shit. You owe me a new couch.

   Personal E-mail to, Jack McCallum
   From, Emma Watson
   America’s sweetheart? Puh-leeze. This has turned into a high-wire act, with everyone on earth watching and waiting for me to screw up. And when I do, I’ll be the shoulda-sent-a-man Exhibit # 1. I hate that.
   On the other hand, I do love it up here. How I wish you could see this view! When I look down at the earth and see how incredibly beautiful she is, I want to shake some sense into everyone living down there. If only they could see how small and fragile and very alone the earth is, surrounded by all this cold black space. They’d take much better care of her. Oh, here she goes again, getting teary-eyed about the home planet.
   Shoulda sent a man. I’m happy to report the nausea’s gone. I can zip around from mod to mod with scarcely a twinge. I still get a little woozy when I catch an unexpected glimpse of earth through a window. It screws up my sense of up and down, and it takes me a few seconds to reorient. I’m trying to keep up the exercise, but two hours every day is a big chunk of time, especially when I’ve got so much to do.
   Dozens of experiments to monitor, a zillion E-mails from Payload Operations, every scientist demanding top priority for their pet projects. Eventually, I’ll get up to speed.
   But this morning I was so tired, I slept right through Houston’s wakeup music. Luther says they blasted us with Wagner’s Valkyrie! As for the divorce being final, it doesn’t feel good for me, either. But, Jack, at least we had seven good years.
   That’s more than a lot of couples can say. I know you must be anxious to finish this business. I promise I’ll sign the papers as soon as I get home.
   Don’t stop waving.
   P.S. Humphrey never attacked my furniture. What did you do to upset him?

   Emma turned off her laptop computer and folded it shut.
   Answering personal E-mail was the last task of the day. She had looked forward to hearing from home, but Jack’s mention of the divorce had stung her. So he’s ready to move on, she thought.
   He’s ready to “be friends” again.
   As she zipped herself into her sleep restraint bag, she was angry at him, at how easily he’d accepted the end of their marriage. in their divorce, when their arguments were still raging, she’d strangely reassured by every noisy disagreement. But now the conflicts had ended, and Jack had reached the stage of calm acceptance. No pain, no regrets.
   And here I am, still missing you. And I hate myself for it.
   Kenichi hesitated to wake her. He lingered outside her sleep privacy curtain, wondering if he should call out again. It was a small matter, and he hated to disturb her. She had looked so tired at supper, had actually dozed off still clutching her fork. Without the constant pull of gravity, the body does not crumple when you fall unconscious, and there is no warning jerk of the head to jolt you awake.. Tired astronauts had been known to fall asleep in the midst of repairs, while still holding a tool in their hand.
   He decided not to wake her and returned, alone, to the U.S. lab.
   Kenichi had never needed more than five hours of rest a night, and while the others slept, he would often wander the labyrinth of the space station, checking on his various experiments. Inspecting, exploring. It seemed that only when the human crew slept did the station assert its own gleaming personality. It became an autonomous being that hummed and clicked, its computers directing a thousand different functions, electronic commands zinging through its nervous system of wires and circuits.
   As Kenichi drifted through the maze of tunnels, he thought of all the human hands that had worked to fashion just a single square inch of this structure. The electronics and metal workers, the molders of plastic. The glassmakers. Because of their labor, a farmer’s son who had grown up in a mountain village of Japan now floated two hundred twenty miles above the earth.
   Kenichi had been aboard the station for a month, and the wonder of it all had not left him.
   He knew his stay here was limited. He knew the toll now being exacted on his body, the steady seepage of calcium from his bones, the wasting of his muscles, the declining vigor of arteries and heart, now freed from the challenge of pumping against gravity. Every moment aboard ISS was precious, and he did not want to waste a minute of it. So, during the hours scheduled for sleep, he wfloated around the station, lingering at windows, visited the animals in the lab.
   That was how he had discovered the dead mouse.
   It had been floating with legs frozen and extended, pink mouth gaping open. Another one of the males. It was the fourth mouse to die in sixteen days.
   He confirmed that the habitat was functioning properly, that the temperature set points had not been violated and the airflow rate was maintained at the standard twelve changes per hour. Why were they dying?
   Could it be contamination of the water or food?
   Several months ago, the station had lost a dozen rats when toxic chemicals had seeped into the animal habitat’s water supply.
   The mouse floated in a corner of the enclosure. The other males were bunched at the far end, as though repulsed by the corpse of their cage mate. They seemed frantic to get away from it, paws clinging to the cage screen. On the other side of the wire divider, the females, too, were bunched together. All except one. She was twitching, spiraling slowly in midair, her claws thrashing in seizurelike movements. Another one is sick.
   Even as he watched, the female gave what looked like a last tortured gasp and suddenly went limp. The other females bunched even tighter, a panicked mass of writhing white fur. He had to remove the corpses, before the contagion—if it was a contagion—spread to the other mice.
   He interfaced the habitat to the life-sciences glove box, snapped on latex gloves, and inserted his hands through the rubber dams. Reaching first into the male side of the enclosure, he removed the corpse and bagged it in plastic. Then he opened the females’ enclosure and reached in for the second dead mouse. As he removed it, a flash of white fur shot out past his hand.
   One of the mice had escaped into the glove box.
   He snatched her in midair. And almost immediately released her when he felt the sharp nip of pain. She had bitten right through the glove.
   At once he pulled his hands out of the box, quickly peeled off the gloves, and stared at his finger. A drop of blood welled up, the sight of it so unexpected, he felt nauseated. He closed his eyes, berating himself. This was nothing—barely a prick. The mouse’s rightful vengeance for all those needles he had stuck in it. He opened his eyes again, but the nausea was still there.
   I need to rest, he thought.
   He recaptured the struggling mouse and thrust it into the cage. Then he removed the two bagged corpses and placed them in the refrigerator. Tomorrow, he’d deal with the problem. Tomorrow, when he felt better.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
July 30

   “I found this one dead today,” said Kenichi. “It is number six.”
   Emma frowned at the mice in the animal habitat. They were housed in a divided cage, the males separated from the females only by a wire barrier. They shared the same air, the same food water supply. On the male side, a dead mouse floated motionless, limbs extended and rigid.
   The other males were clustered at the opposite end of the enclosure, scrabbling at the screen as though frantic to escape.
   “You’ve lost six mice in seventeen days?” said Emma.
   “Five males. One female.” Emma studied the remaining live animals for signs of illness.
   They all appeared alert, their eyes bright, with no mucus from their nostrils.
   “First, let’s get this dead one out,” she said. “Then we’ll take a close look at the others.” Using the glove box, she reached into the cage and removed the corpse. It was already in rigor mortis, the legs stiff, the body inflexible. The mouth was partly open, and the tip of the tongue protruded in a soft flap of pink. It was not unusual for lab mice to die in space. On one shuttle flight in 1998, there had been a hundred percent mortality among newborn rats. Microgravity was an alien environment, and not all species adapted well.
   Prior to launch, these mice would have been screened for a number of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. If this was an infection, then they had picked it up while aboard ISS. She put the dead mouse in a plastic pouch, changed gloves, and reached into the enclosure for one of the live mice. It squirmed with great vigor, showing no signs of illness. The only unusual thing was a tattered ear that had been chewed by its cage mates. She flipped over to look at its belly and gave an exclamation of surprise.
   “This is a female,” she said.
   “You had a female in the male enclosure.” Kenichi leaned close to peer through the glove box window at the mouse’s genitals. The evidence was plain to see. His face flushed deep red with embarrassment.
   “Last night,” he explained. “She bit me. I put her back in a hurry.”
   Emma gave him a sympathetic smile. “Well, the worst that can happen is an unexpected baby boom.” Kenichi slipped on gloves and inserted his hands in the second pair of glove box armholes. “I make the mistake,” he said. “I fix it.” Together they examined the rest of the mice in the enclosure, but found no other misplaced specimens. All appeared healthy.
   “This is very strange,” said Emma. “If we’re dealing with a contagious disease, there ought to be some evidence of infection.”
   “Watson?” a voice called over the module intercom.
   “In the lab, Griggs,” she answered.
   “You’ve got priority E-mail from Payloads.”
   “I’ll get it now.” She sealed off the animal enclosure and said to Kenichi, “Let me check my message. Why don’t you take out the dead mice you put in cold storage. We’ll look at them.” He nodded and floated across to the refrigerator.
   At the workstation computer, she called up her priority Email.

   To, Dr. Emma Watson
   From, Helen Koenig, Principal Investigator
   Re, Experiment CCU#Z3 [Archaeon Cell Culture] Message, Immediately abort this experiment. Latest specimens returned by Atlantis show fungal contamination. All Archaeon cultures, along with the containers holding them, should be incinerated in onboard crucible and the ashes jettisoned.

   Emma read and reread the message on the screen. Never before had she received such a strange request. Fungal contamination was not dangerous.
   To incinerate the cultures seemed a drastic overreaction. She was so preoccupied by this puzzling request she paid no attention to Kenichi, who was taking the dead mice out of the refrigerator. Only when she heard him gasp did she turn to look at him.
   At first all she saw was his shocked face, splattered with a foul slurry of entrails. Then she looked at the plastic bag that had burst open. In his horror, he had released it, and it floated free, hanging in the air between them.
   “What is that?” she said.
   He said, in disbelief, “The mouse.” But it was not a dead mouse she saw in the bag. It was a mass of disintegrated tissue, a putrefied gumbo of flesh and fur that now was leaking out foul-smelling globules.
   She shot the length of the module to the caution-and-warning panel and hit the button to shut off airflow between modules.
   Kenichi had already opened the emergency rack and pulled out two filter masks. He tossed one to her, and she clapped it over her own mouth. They didn’t need to exchange a word, they both knew what had to be done.
   Quickly they closed the hatches on either end of the module, effectively isolating the lab from the rest of the station. Then took out a biocontainment bag and carefully moved toward the drifting bag of liquefied flesh. Surface tension had bound the droplets together in one globule, if she was careful not to stir the air, she could trap it in the bag, without scattering droplets. Gently she moved containment bag over the free-floating specimen and quickly sealed it off. She heard Kenichi give a sigh of relief. Hazard contained.
   “Did it leak into the refrigerator?” she asked.
   “No. Only when I took it out.” He wiped his face with an alcohol swab and sealed the swab for safe disposal. “The bag, it was… you know, blown up big. Like a balloon.” The contents had been under pressure, the process of decomposition releasing gases. Through the plastic containment bag, she could see the date of death on the label. This is impossible, she thought. In just five days, the corpse had deteriorated to a puree of rotted flesh. The bag was cold to the touch, so the refrigerator was functioning. Despite cold storage, something had accelerated the body’s decomposition. Flesh-eating streptococcus? She wondered. Or another bacteria, equally destructive?
   She looked at Kenichi and thought, It splashed him in the eye.
   “We need to talk to your principal investigator,” she said. “The one who sent up these mice.” It was only five A.M., Pacific Daylight Time, but the voice of Dr. Michael Loomis, principal investigator for the experiment, “Conception and gestation in mice during spaceflight,” was fully and obviously concerned. He was speaking to Emma from Ames Research Center in California. Though she couldn’t see him, she could picture the man who belonged to this reedy voice, tall, energetic. A man for whom five in the morning is a normal part of his workday.
   “We’ve been monitoring these animals for over a month,” said Loomis. “It’s a relatively low-stress experiment for the animals. We’d planned to mingle the males and females next week, in hopes they’d successfully mate and conceive. This research has important applications for long-term spaceflight. Planetary colonization. you can imagine, these deaths are pretty upsetting.”
   “We’ve already got cultures incubating,” said Emma. “All the dead mice appear to be decomposing more quickly than they should. Based on the condition of the corpses, I’m concerned for clostridia or streptococcus infections.”
   “Dangerous bugs like that on the station? That would be a serious problem.”
   “Exactly. Especially in a closed environment like ours. We’d all be vulnerable.”
   “What about autopsying the dead mice?”
   Emma hesitated. “We’re only set up to deal with Level Two contamination up here. Nothing more dangerous. If this is a pathogen, I can’t afford to risk infecting other animals. Or people.”
   There was a silence. Then Loomis said, “I understand. And I guess I have to agree with you. So you’ll be safely disposing of the corpses?”
   “Immediately,” said Emma.
   For the first time since he’d arrived on ISS, Kenichi could not sleep. He had zipped himself into his restraint bag hours ago, but he was still awake, still mulling over the puzzle of the dead mice.
   Though no one had uttered a word of reproach, somehow he felt responsible for the failed experiment. He tried to think of what might have done wrong. Had he used a contaminated needle, perhaps, when he’d sampled their blood, or a bad setting in the rack’s environmental controls? Thoughts of all the possible mistakes he might have made kept sleep at bay.
   Also, his head was throbbing.
   He had first noticed the discomfort this morning, when it had started as a vague tingling around his eye. As the day wore on, tingling had become an ache, and now the left half of his head hurt. Not an excruciating pain, just a nagging annoyance.
   He unzipped his bag. He was getting no rest in any event, he might as well check on the mice again.
   He floated past Nicolai’s curtained sleep station and headed through the series of connecting modules that led to the U.S. of the station. Only when he’d entered the lab did he realize someone else was awake.
   Voices murmured in the adjoining NASDA lab. Silently he floated into Node 2 and peered through the open hatch. He saw Diana Estes and Michael Griggs, limbs tangled together, mouths locked in hungry exploration. At once he backed out unnoticed, face burning with embarrassment at what he’d just witnessed.
   Now what? Should he grant them their privacy and return to his sleep station? This is not right, he thought with sudden resentment. I am here to work, to fulfill my duties.
   He floated to the animal habitat. Deliberately he made a great deal of noise as he opened and closed the rack drawers. A moment later, as he’d expected, Diana and Griggs suddenly appeared, of them looking flushed.
   And well they should be, he thought, considering what they’ve been up to.
   “We had a problem with the centrifuge,” lied Diana. “I think it’s fixed now.” Kenichi merely nodded, betraying no sign that he knew the truth.
   Diana was cool as ice about it, and that both appalled and angered him.
   Griggs, at least, had the decency to look a little guilty.
   Kenichi watched as they floated out of the lab and disappeared through the hatch. Then he turned his attention back to the animal habitat. He peered into the cage.
   Another mouse was dead. A female.
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Capo di tutti capi

Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 1

   Diana Estes calmly held out her arm for the tourniquet and squeezed her hand open and shut several times to plump up her antecubital vein. She did not flinch or look away as the needle pierced her skin, indeed, Diana was so detached, she might have been watching someone else’s blood being drawn. Every astronaut was poked and prodded many times during the course of his or her career. At selection screening, they endured multiple blood draws and physical exams and the most probing of questions. Their serum chemistries and EKGS and cell counts were on permanent record, to be pored over by aerospace physiologists. They panted and sweated on treadmills with electrodes attached to their chests, body fluids were cultured, their bowels probed, every inch of skin was examined. Astronauts were not just highly trained personnel, they were also experimental subjects. They were the equivalent of lab rats, and while in orbit, they resigned themselves to a sometimes painful battery of tests.
   Today was specimen collection day. As the physician on board, Emma was the one wielding the needles and syringes. No wonder most of her crewmates groaned when they saw her coming.

   Diana, though, had simply held out her arm and submitted to the needle.
   As Emma waited for the syringe to fill with blood, sensed the other woman’s gaze appraising her skill and technique.
   If Princess Diana had been England’s rose, went the joke at JSC, then Diana Estes was England’s ice cube, an astronaut whose poise never cracked, even in the heat of real calamity.
   Four years ago, Diana had been aboard Atlantis when a main engine failed. On tapes of the crew transmissions, the voices of shuttle commander and pilot had risen in alarm as they scrambled to guide the shuttle in a transatlantic abort. But not Diana’s voice.
   She could be heard coolly reading the checklist as Atlantis hurtled to an uncertain landing in North Africa. What had sealed her icy reputation were the biotelemetry readings. On that particular launch, the entire crew had been wired to record their blood pressure and pulse. While the heart rates of everyone else had skyrocketed, Diana’s had barely accelerated to a leisurely ninety-six per minute. “That’s because she’s not human,” Jack had joked. “She’s really an android. The first in NASA’s newest line of astronauts.” Emma had to admit there was something not quite human about the woman.
   Diana glanced at the puncture site on her arm, saw that the bleeding had stopped, and matter-of-factly turned back to her protein crystal growth experiments. She was indeed almost android perfect, long-limbed and slender, her flawless skin paled to white from a month in space. All that plus a genius IQ, according to Jack, who had trained with Diana for the shuttle mission he had never completed.
   Diana had a doctorate in materials science and had published over a dozen research papers on zeolites—crystalline materials in petroleum refinement—prior to being accepted into the astronaut program. Now she was the scientist in charge of both organic and inorganic crystals research. On earth, crystal formation was distorted by gravity. In space, crystals grew larger and more elaborate, allowing thorough analysis of their structure. Hundreds of human proteins, from angiotensin to chorionic gonadotropin, were being grown as crystals aboard ISS—vital pharmaceutical research that could lead to the development of new drugs.
   Finished with Diana, Emma left the ESA lab and floated into the hab, to find Mike Griggs. “You’re next,” she said.
   He groaned and reluctantly held out his arm. “All in the name of science.”
   “It’s just one tube this time,” said Emma, tying on the tourniquet.
   “We’ve gotten so many needle sticks we look like junkies.” She gave his skin a few gentle slaps to bring out the antecubital vein. It plumped up, blue and cordlike on his muscular arm.
   He had been compulsive about staying in condition—not a simple thing while in orbit. Life in space took its toll on the human body.
   Astronauts’ faces were bloated, swollen by shifts in fluids, thigh and calf muscles shrank until they had “chicken legs,” out pale and scrawny from their bloomerlike shorts. Duties were exhausting, the irritations too numerous to count. And then there was the emotional toll of being confined for months with crewmates who were under stress, scarcely bathe, and wearing dirty clothes.
   Emma swabbed the skin with alcohol and pierced the vein.
   Blood shot back into the syringe. She glanced at him and saw his gaze was averted. “Okay?”
   “Yeah. I do appreciate a skillful vampire.” She released the tourniquet and heard his sigh of relief when she withdrew the needle. “You can eat breakfast now. I’ve drawn everyone’s blood but Kenichi’s.” She glanced around the hab.
   “Where is he?”
   “I haven’t seen him this morning.”
   “I hope he hasn’t eaten. That’ll screw up his glucose level.” Nicolai, who’d been floating off in a corner, quietly finishing breakfast, said, “He is still asleep.”
   “Strange,” said Griggs. “He’s always up before everyone else.”
   “His sleep is not so good,” said Nicolai. “Last night, I hear vomit. I ask if he needs help, and he tells me no.”
   “I’ll check on him,” said Emma.
   She left the hab and headed up the long tunnel to the RSM, where Kenichi’s sleep station was. She found his privacy curtain was closed.
   “Kenichi?” she called out. There was no response. “Kenichi?” She hesitated a moment, then opened the curtain and saw his face.
   His eyes were a brilliant blood-red.
   “Oh, my God,” she said.

   The flight surgeon manning the console for ISS Mission Control was Dr. Todd Cutler, a physician who was so fresh-faced and youthful astronauts had dubbed him “Doogie Howser” after the TV show about a teenage doctor. Cutler was, in reality, a ripe old thirty-two and known for his cool competence. He acted as Emma’s personal physician while she was in orbit, and once a week, during their private medical conference, she spoke to him on a closed communications loop, reporting the most intimate details about her health.
   Emma trusted Todd’s medical skills and was relieved that he was the surgeon on duty at that hour in the ISS control room at Johnson.
   “He’s got scleral hemorrhages in both eyes,” she said. “It scared the hell out of me when I first saw it. I think he got them from vomiting so hard last night—the sudden changes in pressure popped few vessels in his eyes.”
   “That’s a relatively minor concern right now. The hemorrhages will clear up,” said Todd. “What about the rest of the exam?”
   “He’s got a fever of thirty-eight point six. Pulse one twenty, blood pressure one hundred over sixty. The heart and lungs sound fine. He does complain of a headache, but I can’t find any neurologic changes. What really worries me is the fact he has no sounds, and his abdomen is diffusely tender. He’s vomited several times in just the last hour—so far, it’s negative for blood.”
   Emma paused. “Todd, he looks sick. And here’s the bad news. I just checked his amylase level. It’s six hundred.”
   “Oh, shit. You think he’s got pancreatitis?”
   “With a rising amylase, it’s certainly possible.” Amylase was an enzyme produced by the pancreas, and its levels usually skyrocketed when the organ became inflamed. But a high amylase could also indicate other acute abdominal processes. A bowel perforation or a duodenal ulcer.
   “His white blood cell count is also high,” said Emma. “I’ve drawn blood cultures, just in case.”
   “What’s the history? Anything worth noting?”
   “Two things. First, he’s been under some emotional stress. One of his experiments is crashing on him, and he feels responsible.
   “And the second thing?”
   “He was splashed in the eye two days ago, with body fluids from a dead lab mouse.”
   “Tell me more.” Todd’s voice had gone very quiet.
   “The mice in his experiment have been dying, for reasons unknown. The corpses have decomposed at an amazing rate. I was concerned about pathogenic bacteria, so I took samples of the body fluids for culture. Unfortunately, all those cultures are ruined.”
   “I think it’s fungal contamination. The plates have all turned green. No known pathogens can be identified. I had to discard the plates. The same thing happened to another experiment, a cell culture of marine organisms. We had to abort that project because fungi got into the culture tube.”
   Fungal overgrowth, unfortunately, was not an uncommon problem in closed environments like ISS, despite the continually recirculating air. Aboard the old Mir station, the windows were sometimes coated with a fuzzy layer of fungi. Once the air of a spacecraft has been contaminated by these organisms, it is next to impossible to eliminate them. Luckily, they were by and large harmless to people and lab animals.
   “So we don’t know if he’s been exposed to any pathogens,” said Todd.
   “No. Right now, it looks more like a case of pancreatitis, not bacterial infection. I’ve got an IV started, and I think it’s for a nasogastric tube.” She paused, then added reluctantly, “We need think about emergency evacuation.” There was a long silence. This was the scenario everyone dreaded, the decision no one wanted to make. The Crew Return Vehicle, which remained docked to ISS whenever personnel were aboard, was large enough to evacuate all six astronauts. Since Soyuz capsules were no longer functioning, the CRV was the only escape vehicle on the station. If it left, they would all have to aboard it. For the sake of one sick crew member, they would be forced to abandon ISS, ending hundreds of in-flight experiments. It would be a crippling setback to the station.
   But there was an alternative. They could wait for the next shuttle flight to evacuate Kenichi. Now it came down to a medical decision.
   Could he wait? Emma knew NASA was relying on her judgment, and the responsibility weighed heavily on her shoulders.
   “What about a shuttle evac?” she asked.
   Todd Cutler understood the dilemma. “We have Discovery on the pad for STS 161, launch minus fifteen days. But her mission classified military. Satellite retrieval and repair. One sixty-one’s crew hasn’t been prepping for ISS docking and rendezvous.”
   “What about replacing them with Kittredge’s team? My old crew from 162? They’re scheduled to dock here in seven weeks. They’re fully prepared.” Emma glanced at Mike Griggs, who was hovering nearby, listening to the conversation. As ISS commander, his primary goal was to keep the station up and running, and he was firmly opposed to abandoning her. He joined the conversation.
   “Cutler, this is Griggs. If my crew evacuates, we lose experiments. That’s months of work down the drain. A shuttle makes the most sense. If Kenichi needs to get home, then you come pick him up. Let the rest of us stay here and do our jobs.”
   “Can a rescue wait that long?” asked Todd.
   “How soon can you get that bird up here?” said Griggs.
   “We have to talk logistics. Launch windows—”
   “Just tell us how long.”
   Cutler paused. “Flight Director Ellis is standing by. Go ahead, Flight.”
   What had started as a closed and confidential loop between two physicians was now open to the flight director. They heard Woody Ellis say, “Thirty-six hours. That’s the earliest possible launch.”
   A lot could change in thirty-six hours, Emma thought. An ulcer could perforate or hemorrhage. Pancreatitis could lead to shock and circulatory collapse.
   Or Kenichi could recover completely, the victim of-nothing worse than a severe intestinal infection.
   “Dr. Watson’s the one examining the patient,” Ellis said. “We’re relying on her judgment here. What’s the clinical call?”
   Emma thought about it. “He doesn’t have an acute surgical abdomen—not at the moment. But things could go bad fast.”
   “So you’re not sure.”
   “No, I’m not.”
   “The instant you give us the word, we’ll still need twenty-four hours for fueling.”
   A whole day’s lag between a call for rescue, and the actual launch, plus additional time for rendezvous. If Kenichi suddenly took a turn for the worse, could she keep him alive that long? The situation had turned nerve-racking. She was a physician, not a fortune-teller. She had no X rays at her disposal, no operating room.
   The physical exam and blood tests were abnormal but nonspecific. If she chose to delay rescue, Kenichi might die. If called for help too soon, millions of dollars would be wasted on an unnecessary launch.
   A wrong decision either way would end her career with NASA. This was the tightrope Jack had warned her about. I screw up, and the whole world knows. They’re waiting to see if I’ve got the right stuff.
   She looked down at the printout of Kenichi’s blood tests.
   Nothing she saw there justified hitting the panic button. Not yet.
   She said, “Flight, I’m going to keep him on IVS and start NG suction. Right now his vital signs are looking stable. If I just knew what was going on in his belly.”
   “So in your opinion, emergency shuttle launch is not yet indicated?”
   She released a deep breath. “No. Not yet.”
   “We will nevertheless be poised and ready to light Discovery’s candle, should it be necessary.”
   “I appreciate that. I’ll get back to you later with a medical update.” She signed off and looked at Griggs. “I hope I’m making the right call.”
   “Just cure him, okay?” She went to check on Kenichi. Because he would need attention throughout the night, she’d moved him out of the hab module and into the U.S. Lab, so the rest of the crew would not have sleep disturbed. He was zipped into a restraint bag. An infusion pump fed a steady flow of saline solution into his intravenous line.
   He was awake and obviously in discomfort.
   Luther and Diana, who’d been watching the patient, both looked relieved to see Emma. “He vomited again,” said Diana.
   Emma anchored her feet to hold her position and slipped the stethoscope on her ears. Gently she placed the diaphragm on Kenichi’s abdomen. Still no bowel sounds. His digestive tract had shut down, and fluid would begin to accumulate in his stomach.
   That fluid needed to be drained.
   “Kenichi,” she said, “I’m going to insert a tube into your stomach. It will help the pain, and maybe stop the vomiting.”
   “What—what tube?”
   “A nasogastric tube.” She opened the ALSP medical kit. Inside was a broad array of supplies and drugs, a collection as complete a modern ambulance’s. In the drawer marked “Airway” were various tubes, suction devices, collection bags, and a laryngoscope. She tore open the packet containing the long nasogastric tube. It was thin and coiled, made of flexible plastic, with a perforated tip.
   Kenichi’s bloodred eyes widened.
   “I’ll be as gentle as I can,” she said. “You can help it go by taking a sip of water when I ask you to. I’m going to insert end into your nostril. The tube will go down the back of your throat, and when you swallow the water, the tube will pass into your stomach. The only uncomfortable part will be right at the beginning, when I first slip it in. After it’s in place, it won’t bother you at all.”
   “How long does it stay inside?”
   “A day, at least. Until your intestines start working again.” added, gently, “It really is necessary, Kenichi.” He sighed and nodded.
   Emma glanced at Luther, who was looking more and more horrified by the idea of this tube. “He’ll need water to sip. Could get some?” Then she looked at Diana, who was floating nearby. As usual, Diana looked unperturbed, coolly detached from the crisis.
   “I need NG suction set up.” Diana automatically reached into the ALSP kit for the suction device and collection bag.
   Emma uncoiled the NG tube. First she dipped the tip in lubricant gel, to ease its passage through the nasopharynx. Then she handed Kenichi the pouch of water, which Luther had filled.
   She gave Kenichi’s arm a reassuring squeeze. Though dread was plain to see in his eyes, he returned a nod of consent.
   The perforated end of the tube glistened with lubricant. She inserted the tip into his right nostril and gently advanced it deeper, into his nasopharynx. He gagged, eyes watering, and began to in protest as the tube slid down the back of his throat. She pushed it deeper. He was twitching now, fighting the overwhelming to thrust her away, to yank the tube out of his nose.
   “Swallow some water,” she urged.
   He wheezed and with a trembling hand brought the straw to his lips.
   “Swallow, Kenichi,” she said.
   When a bolus of water is passed from the throat into the esophagus, the epiglottis reflexively closes over the opening to the trachea, preventing any leakage into the lungs. It would also pass tube down the correct passageway. The instant she saw him begin to swallow, she swiftly advanced the tube, threading it the throat and down the esophagus, until it slid in far enough for the tip to be in the stomach.
   “All done,” she said, taping the tube to his nose. “You did fine.”
   “Suction’s ready,” said Diana.
   Emma connected the NG tube to the suction device. They heard a few gurgles, then fluid suddenly appeared in the tube, flowing out of Kenichi’s stomach, into the drainage bag. It was green, no blood, Emma noted with relief. Perhaps this was all the treatment he needed—bowel rest, NG suction, and intravenous fluids. If he did indeed have pancreatitis, this therapy alone would carry him through the next few days, until the shuttle arrived.
   “My head—it hurts,” said Kenichi, closing his eyes.
   “I’ll give you something for the pain,” said Emma.
   “So what do you think? Crisis averted?” It was Griggs speaking.
   He had watched the procedure from the hatchway, and even though the tube was now inserted, Griggs hung back, as though repulsed by the mere sight of illness. He did not even look at the patient, but kept his gaze focused on Emma.
   “We’ll have to see,” she said.
   “What do I tell Houston?”
   “I just got the tube in. It’s too early.”
   “They need to know soon.”
   “Well, I don’t know!” she snapped. Then, swallowing her temper, she said more calmly, “Can we discuss this in the hab?” She asked Luther to stay with the patient and headed through the hatchway.
   In the hab module, she and Griggs were joined by Nicolai. They gathered around the galley table as though sharing a meal. What they were sharing, instead, were their frustrations over an uncertain situation.
   “You’re the M.D.,” said Griggs. “Can’t you make a decision?”
   “I’m still trying to stabilize him,” said Emma. “Right now I don’t know what I’m dealing with. It could resolve in another day or two. Or it could suddenly get worse.”
   “And you can’t tell us which is going to happen.”
   “Without an X ray, without an OR, I can’t see what’s going on inside him. I can’t predict what his condition will be tomorrow.
   “I do think he should go home. I’d like the launch moved up as soon as possible.”
   “What about a CRV evac?” asked Nicolai.
   “A controlled shuttle ride is always better for transporting a sick patient,” said Emma. A CRV return was a rough ride, and depending on weather conditions on earth, they might not be able to touch down in the best possible location for medical transport.
   “Forget CRV evac,” said Griggs flatly. “We’re not abandoning this station.” Nicolai said, “If he becomes critical—”
   “Emma will just have to keep him alive long enough for Discovery to get here. Hell, this station’s like an orbiting ambulance! She should be able to keep him stable.”
   “What if she cannot?” pressed Nicolai. “A man’s life is worth more than these experiments.”
   “It’s the option of last resort,” said Griggs. “We all jump on CRV, we’re abandoning months of work.”
   “Look, Griggs,” said Emma. “I don’t want to leave the station any more than you do. I fought like hell to make it up here, and I’m not about to cut my stay short. But if my patient needs instant evac, then it’s my call.”
   “Excuse me, Emma,” said Diana, floating in the hatchway. “I just finished running Kenichi’s last blood tests. I think you should see this.” She handed Emma a computer printout.
   Emma stared at the results, Creatine kinase, 120.6 (normal 53.08).
   This illness was more than pancreatitis, more than just a gastrointestinal disturbance. A high CK meant there had been damage to either his muscles or his heart.
   Vomiting is sometimes a symptom of a heart attack.
   She looked at Griggs. “I’ve just made the decision,” she said.
   “Tell Houston to fire up the shuttle. Kenichi has to get home.”
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 2

   Jack tightened the jib sheet, his sunburned arms gleaming with sweat as he strained against the crank. With a satisfying whomp sail went taut, and Sanneke heeled leeward, her bow suddenly slicing faster through the muddy waters of Galveston Bay. He had the Gulf of Mexico behind him, had sailed around Point Bolivar earlier that afternoon, dodging the ferry from Galveston Island, and was now tacking past the string of refineries on the shores of Texas City as he sailed north toward Clear Lake. Toward home.
   Four days at sea on the Gulf had turned him brown and shaggy.
   He had informed no one of his plans, had simply stocked up on food and set sail toward open water, beyond sight of land, into nights black his eyes had been dazzled by the stars. Lying on his back on deck, the Gulf waters gently rocking the hull beneath him, he’d gazed for hours at the night sky. With that field of stars stretching in every direction, as far as he could see, he could almost imagine Emma was hurtling through space, that each rise of the swells was thrusting him deeper into the coil of another galaxy. He had emptied his mind of everything but the stars and the sea. Then a meteor had streaked by in a brilliant slash of light, and suddenly he’d thought of Emma. He could not put up barricades high enough to keep her out.
   She was always there, hovering at the edges, waiting to slip into thoughts when he least expected it. Least wanted it. He had gone rigid, his eyes fixed on that dying streak of the meteor’s trail, even though nothing else had changed, not the direction of the nor the rise and fall of the swells, he had felt suddenly, deeply, alone.
   It was still dark when he’d raised the sails and turned back for home.
   Now, as he motored up the channel into Clear Lake, past rooflines silhouetted against the glare of sunset, he regretted decision to return home so soon. On the Gulf there had been a constant breeze, but here, the heat hung unstirred and the was stifling.
   He tied up at his slip and stepped onto the dock, his legs unsteady from days at sea. First order of business, he thought, a cold shower. He’d save the boat cleanup for tonight, when it was cooler. And as for Humphrey, well—another day in the kennel wouldn’t hurt the little hair ball.
   Lugging his duffel bag, he up the dock and was walking past the marina’s small grocery store when his gaze fell on the newsstand. His duffel bag slipped from his grasp and hit the ground. He stared at the banner headline across that morning’s Houston Chronicle, “Emergency Shuttle Countdown Begins—Liftoff Tomorrow.” What has happened? he thought. What has gone wrong?
   With shaking hands he pulled quarters from his pockets, fed the coins into the slot, and grabbed a copy from the stand. Two photos accompanied the news article. One was of Kenichi Hirai, the NASDA astronaut from Japan. The other was of Emma.
   He snatched up the duffel bag and ran for a phone.

   There were three flight surgeons at the meeting—an indication to Jack that the crisis they faced was medical. As he walked into the room, heads turned in surprise. He read the unspoken question in space station flight director Woody Ellis’s eyes, What’s Jack McCallum doing back in the fold?
   Dr. Todd Cutler gave the answer. “Jack helped develop our emergency medical procedures protocol for the station’s first crew. I thought he should join us.” Ellis said, uneasily, “The personal angle makes this complicated.” Emma was what he meant.
   “Every member of that crew is like family to us,” said Todd. “So in a way, it’s all personal.” Jack took a seat beside Todd. Sitting at the table were the NSTS deputy director, the ISS mission operations director, flight surgeons, and several program managers. Also present was NASA’s public affairs officer, Gretchen Liu. With the exception of days, the news media largely ignored NASA operations. Today, though, journalists from every news agency were crammed into the tiny pressroom in NASA’s Public Information building, awaiting Gretchen’s appearance.
   What a difference a day made, thought Jack. Public attention was fickle.
   It demanded explosions, tragedy.
   Crisis. The miracle of a flawless operation drew no one’s attention.
   Todd passed a sheaf of papers to him, with a note scrawled on top, “Hirai’s labs and clinical findings last 24 hours. Welcome back.” Jack flipped through the medical reports while he listened to the meeting. He had a day’s worth of developments to catch up on, and it took him a while to absorb the essentials. Astronaut Hirai was seriously ill, his lab findings puzzling to everyone. shuttle Discovery was poised for a six A. M. EDT launch manned by Kittredge’s crew, along with an astronaut-physician. Countdown was on schedule.
   “Any change in your recommendations?” the NSTS deputy director asked the flight surgeons. “Do you still think Hirai can wait for a shuttle evac?”
   Todd Cutler answered. “We still believe a shuttle evac is the safest option. We aren’t changing our recommendations in that regard. ISS is a fairly well-equipped medical facility, with all drugs and equipment needed for cardiopulmonary resuscitation.”
   “So you still believe he’s had a heart attack?”
   Todd looked at his fellow flight surgeons. “Frankly,” he admitted, “we’re not entirely certain. There are things that do point to myocardial infarction—a heart attack, in layman’s terms. Mainly, the rising levels of cardiac enzymes in his blood.”
   “Then why are you still unsure?”
   “The EKG shows only nonspecific changes—a few T wave inversions. It’s not a classic pattern for an MI. Also, Hirai thoroughly screened for cardiovascular disease prior to his in the program. He had no risk factors. Frankly, we’re not sure what’s going on. But we do have to assume he has had a heart attack. Which makes a shuttle evac the best option. It’s a reentry and a controlled landing. Far less stress on the patient coming home in the CRV. In the meantime, ISS can deal with any arrhythmias he may have.”
   Jack looked up from the lab reports he’d been scanning. “Without the necessary lab equipment, the station can’t fractionate CK levels. So how can we be sure this enzyme is really from the heart?” Every one’s attention turned to him.
   “What do you mean by ‘fractionate’?” asked Woody Ellis.
   “Creatine kinase is an enzyme that helps muscle cells utilize stored energy. It’s found in both striated and cardiac muscle. If there’s damage to heart cells, say, in a heart attack, the CK rise in the blood. That’s why we’re assuming he had a heart attack. But what if it’s not the heart?”
   “What else could it be?”
   “Some other type of muscle damage. Trauma, for instance, or convulsions. Inflammation. In fact, just a simple intramuscular injection can cause the CK to rise. You need to fractionate the CK order to tell if it’s from heart muscle. The station can’t do that test.”
   “So he may not have had a heart attack at all.”
   “Correct. And here’s another puzzling detail. After acute muscle damage, his CK levels should drop back to normal. But look at the pattern.” Jack flipped through the lab sheets and read off the numbers. “In the last twenty-four hours, his levels have been steadily rising. Which indicates continued damage.”
   “It’s just part of the bigger puzzle,” said Todd. “We’ve got abnormal results all over the board, without any recognizable pattern. Liver enzymes, renal abnormalities, sedimentation rate, blood cell counts. Some labs go up while others are dropping. It’s as though different organ systems are taking turns being attacked.
   Jack looked at him. “Attacked?”
   “Just a figure of speech, Jack. I don’t know what process we’re dealing with. I know it’s not lab error. We’ve run controls on other crew members, and they’re perfectly normal.”
   “But is he sick enough to warrant any evac?” The question was asked by the mission operations director for the shuttle. He was not happy about any of this. Discovery’s original mission was to retrieve and repair the classified Capricorn spy satellite. Now mission had been usurped by this crisis. “Washington is not happy about postponing the satellite repair. You’ve commandeered their flight so Discovery can play flying ambulance. Is it really necessary? Can’t Hirai recover on the station?”
   “We can’t predict it. We don’t know what’s wrong with him,” said Todd.
   “You have a physician up there, for God’s sake. Can’t she figure it out?”
   Jack tensed. This was an attack on Emma. “She doesn’t have X-ray vision,” he said.
   “She’s got just about everything else at her disposal. What’d you call the station, Dr. Cutler? A well-equipped medical facility?
   “Astronaut Hirai needs to get home, as expeditiously as possible,” said Todd. “That remains our position. If you want to second guess your flight surgeons, that’s your choice. All I can say is, I’d never presume to second-guess an engineer on propulsion systems.” That effectively ended the argument.
   The NSTS deputy director said, “Are there any other concerns?”
   “Weather,” said the NASA forecaster. “I just thought I’d mention there’s a storm system developing west of Guadeloupe and moving very slowly westward. It won’t affect the launch. But depending on its path, it could be a problem for Kennedy in the next week or so.”
   “Thanks for the heads up.” The deputy director glanced around the room and saw no further questions. “Then launch is still a go for five A.M. CDT. See you all there.”

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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
Punta Arena,

   The Sea of Cortez shimmered like beaten silver in the fading light.
   From her table on the outdoor deck of the Las Tres Virgenes cafe, Helen Koenig could see fishing boats heading back to Punta Colorado. This was the time of day she loved best, the evening cool against her sun-flushed skin, her muscles pleasantly weary from an afternoon’s swim. A waiter brought the margarita she’d ordered and set the drink before her.
   “Gracias, se?or,” she murmured.
   For an instant he met her gaze. She saw a quiet and dignified man with tired eyes and silver-streaked hair, and she felt a prick discomfort.
   Yankee guilt, she thought as she watched him walk back to the bar. A feeling she experienced every time she drove down to Baja. She sipped her drink and gazed at the sea, to the whining trumpets of a mariachi band playing somewhere up the beach.
   It had been a good day, and she’d spent almost all of it in the sea. A two-tank dive in the morning followed by a shallower dive the afternoon.
   And then, just before dinner, a swim in the sunset-gilded waters. The sea was her comfort, her sanctuary. It always been so. Unlike the love of a man, the sea was constant it never disappointed her. It was always ready to embrace her, soothe her, and in moments of crisis she found herself fleeing its waiting arms.
   This was why she had come to Baja. To swim in warm waters and to be alone, where no one could reach her. Not even Palmer Gabriel.
   Her lips puckered from the tang of the margarita. She drank it down and ordered a second. Already the alcohol made her feel as if she were floating. No matter, she was now a free woman. The project was finished, aborted. The cultures destroyed. Even Palmer was furious with her, she knew she had done the right thing. The safe thing. Tomorrow she would sleep in, order hot chocolate and huevos rancheros for breakfast. Then she’d slip beneath the waters for another dive, another return to her seagreen lover.
   A woman’s laughter drew her attention. Helen looked at the bar, where a couple was flirting, the woman slim and tanned, the man with muscles like steel cord. A vacation fling in the making. would probably have dinner together, walk along the beach, hold hands.
   Then there would be a kiss, an embrace, all the hormone-charged rituals of mating. Helen watched them with both a scientist’s interest and a woman’s envy. She knew such rituals did apply to her. She was forty-nine years old and she looked it. Her waist was thick, her hair more than half gray, and her face was unremarkable save for the intelligence of her eyes. She was not of woman who attracted looks from sun-bronzed Adonises.
   She finished the second margarita. By now the floating sensation had spread to her whole body, and she knew it was time to get some food in her stomach. She opened the menu. “Restaurante de Las Tres Virgenes” it said at the top. The Three Virgins. An appropriate place for her to eat.
   She might as well be a virgin.
   The waiter came to take her order. She looked up at him and had just requested the grilled dorado when her eyes focused on the TV over the bar, on the image of the space shuttle poised on the launchpad.
   “What’s happening?” she said, pointing to the TV. The waiter shrugged.
   “Turn up the sound,” she called out to the bartender. “Please! I need to hear it!” He reached for the volume knob, and the broadcast spilled out in English. An American channel. Helen crossed to the bar counter and stared at the television.
   “…medical evacuation of astronaut Kenichi Hirai. NASA has not released any further information, but reports indicate their flight surgeons remain baffled by his illness. Based on today’s tests, they felt it was prudent to launch a shuttle rescue. is expected to lift off tomorrow at six A.M. Eastern Daylight Time.”
   “Se?ora?” said the waiter.
   Helen turned and saw he was still holding his order pad. “Do you wish another drink?”
   “No. No, I have to leave.”
   “But your food—”
   “Cancel my order. Please.” She opened her purse, handed him fifteen dollars, and hurried out of the restaurant.
   Back in her hotel room she tried to call Palmer Gabriel in San Diego. It took half a dozen tries to connect with the operator, and when the call finally went through, she got only Palmer’s voice mail.
   “They have a sick astronaut on ISS,” she said. “Palmer, this is what I was afraid of. What I warned all of you about. If it’s confirmed, we have to move fast. Before…” She paused, glancing at the clock. To hell with this, she thought, and hung up. I have home to San Diego. I’m the only one who knows how to deal with this. They’ll need me.
   She threw her clothes into the suitcase, checked out of the hotel, and climbed into a taxi for the fifteen-mile ride to the airstrip in Buena Vista. A small plane would be waiting for her there to fly her to La Paz, where she could catch a commercial flight to San Diego.
   It was a rough taxi ride, the road bumpy and winding, the dust flying in the open windows. But the part of the trip she truly dreaded was the flight coming up. Small planes terrified her. If for her rush to get home, she would have made the long drive up the Baja Peninsula in her own car, which was now safely parked at the resort. She clung to the armrest with sweaty palms, imagining what sort of aviation disaster awaited her.
   Then she glimpsed the night sky, clear and velvety black, and she thought of the people aboard the space station. Thought of the risks other, braver human beings took. It was all a matter of perspective. A ride in a small plane is nothing compared to the an astronaut faces.
   This was not the time to be a coward. Lives might hang in the balance.
   And she was the only one who knew what to do about it.
   The spine-rattling ride suddenly smoothed out. They were now on a paved road, thank God, and Buena Vista was just a few miles away.
   Sensing the urgency of this journey, her driver accelerated, and the wind whipped through the open windows, stinging her face with dust. She reached down to crank up the glass. Suddenly she felt the taxi swerve left to pass a slow-moving car. She glanced and saw to her horror they were on a curve.
   “Se?or! Mas despacio!” she said. Slow down.
   They were neck and neck with the other car now, the taxi just pulling ahead, the driver unwilling to surrender his gain. The ahead wound to the left, dipping out of sight.
   “Don’t pass!” she said. “Please, don’t—” Her gaze shot forward and froze on the blinding lights of another car.
   She raised her arms to cover her face, blotting out the brilliance of those lights. But she could not shut out the scream of the driver and the shriek of her own voice as the headlights leaped toward them.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 3

   From his seat behind the glass partition of the crowded visitors’ gallery, Jack had a clear view down into the Flight Control Room, where every console was manned, every controller neatly attired for the TV cameras. Though the men and women working below might be intently focused on their duties, they never entirely they were being observed, that the public eye was trained on them, and every gesture, every nervous shake of the head, could be seen through the wall of glass behind them. Only a year ago, Jack had manned the flight surgeon’s console during a shuttle launch, and had felt the gaze of strangers, like a vague but uncomfortable trained on the back of his neck. He knew the people below were feeling it now.
   The atmosphere in the FCR appeared icy calm, as were the voices on the comm loop. It was the image NASA strove to maintain, of professionals doing their job and doing it well. What the public seldom saw were the crises in the back controller rooms, near-disasters, the Chinese fire drills when things went wrong and confusion reigned.
   Not today, he thought. Carpenter’s at the helm. Things will go right.
   Flight Director Randy Carpenter was leading the ascent team.
   He was old enough and experienced enough to have witnessed a multitude of crises during his career. It was his belief that spaceflight tragedies were not usually the result of one major malfunction, but rather a series of small problems that piled up resulted in disaster. He was therefore a stickler for details, a person for whom every problem was a potential crisis. His team looked up to him—quite literally, because Carpenter was a giant of a man, six foot four and nearly three hundred pounds.
   Gretchen Liu, the public affairs officer, was sitting at the far left, last-row console. Jack saw her turn and give the viewing gallery A-OK smile. She was dressed in her TV best today, a navy blue and gray silk scarf. This mission had caught the world’s attention, and although most of the press was gathered at the launch site in Cape Canaveral, there were enough reporters here in JSC’s Mission Control to pack the observation gallery.
   The ten-minute countdown hold ended. On audio, they heard final weather clearance, and then the countdown proceeded. Jack leaned forward, his muscles tensing as events cascaded toward liftoff. That old launch fever was back. A year ago, when he’d walked away from the space program, he thought he’d left all this behind. But here he was, caught up once again in the excitement.
   The dream. He imagined the crew strapped into their seats, the vehicle trembling beneath them as the chambers of liquid oxygen and hydrogen built up pressure. He thought of their claustrophobia as they close their visors. The hiss of oxygen. The quickening of their pulses.
   “We have SRB ignition,” said the public affairs officer in KSC’S Launch Control. “And liftoff! We have liftoff! Control has now shifted to Houston’s JSC…” Tracing across the central screen, the shuttle’s course arced eastward along its planned flight path. Jack was still tense, his racing. On the TV screens mounted above the gallery, images of shuttle were being transmitted from Kennedy. Communications between Capcom and shuttle commander Kittredge played on the speakers. Discovery had gone into its roll and was climbing into upper reaches of the atmosphere, where blue sky would soon darken to the blackness of space.
   “We’re looking good,” said Gretchen over the media loop. In her voice they heard the triumph of a perfect launch. And so far was perfect.
   Right through Max Sentence, through SRB sep, through main engine cutoff.
   In the FCR, Flight Director Carpenter stood immobile, his gaze fixed on the front screen.
   “Discovery, you are go for ET sep,” said Capcom.
   “Roger, Houston,” said Kittredge. “We have ET sep.” It was the sudden jerking up of Carpenter’s massive head that told Jack something had just changed. In the FCR, a flutter of activity seemed to animate all the flight controllers at once. Some of them glanced sideways at Carpenter, whose normally slouching shoulders had snapped up to attention. Gretchen had her hand pressed to her earpiece as she listened intently to the loop.
   Something has gone wrong, thought Jack.
   The air-to-ground loop continued to play on the gallery audio.
   “Discovery,” said Capcom, “MMACS reports umbilical doors have failed to close. Please confirm.”
   “Roger that, and we confirm. The doors are not closing.”
   “Suggest you go to manual command.” There was an ominous silence. Then they heard Kittredge say, “Houston, we’re A-OK now. The doors have just closed.” Only then, when Jack released a sharp breath, did he realize he’d been holding it. So far this was the only glitch. Everything else, he thought, is perfect. Yet the effects of that sudden adrenaline still lingered, and his hands were sweating. They’d been reminded of how many things can go wrong, and he could not shake off this new sense of uneasiness.
   He stared down at the FCR and wondered if Randy Carpenter, the best of the best, felt the same sense of foreboding.
   It was as though the clock in his brain had automatically reset itself, shifting his sleep and wake cycles so that his mind to alertness at one A.M. Jack lay in bed, eyes wide open, the luminous glow of his nightstand clock staring back at him. Like shuttle Discovery, he thought, I am racing to catch up with ISS. With Emma. Already his body was synchronizing itself to hers. In an hour, she would be waking up, and her workday would begin.
   And here was Jack, awake already, their rhythms in near parallel.
   He did not try to go back to sleep, but rose and got dressed.
   At one-thirty A.M., Mission Control was quietly humming with activity.
   He glanced first in the FCR, where the shuttle sat. So far, no crises had occurred aboard Discovery.
   He went down the hall to Special Vehicle Operations, the separate control room for ISS. It was much smaller than the shuttle’s FCR, with its own array of consoles and personnel. Jack headed straight to the flight surgeon’s console and sank into the chair to Roy Bloomfeld, the physician on duty. Bloomfeld glanced at him with surprise.
   “Hey, Jack. I guess you’re really back in the program.”
   “Couldn’t stay away.”
   “Well, it can’t be the money. So it must be the thrill of the job.” He leaned back, yawning. “Not many thrills tonight.”
   “Patient’s stable?”
   “Has been for the last twelve hours.” Bloomfeld nodded to the biotelemetry readings on his console. Kenichi Hirai’s EKG and blood pressure readings blipped across the screen. “Rhythm’s steady as a rock.”
   “No new developments?”
   “Last status report was four hours ago. His headache’s worse, and he still has that fever. Antibiotics don’t seem to be doing of anything. We’re all scratching our heads over this one.”
   “Does Emma have any ideas?”
   “At this point, she’s probably too exhausted to think. I told her to get some sleep, since we’re watching the monitor anyway. So far, it’s been pretty boring.” Bloomfeld yawned again. “Listen, I need to take a leak. Can you watch the console for a few minutes?”
   “No problem.” Bloomfeld left the room, and Jack slipped on the headset.
   It felt familiar and good to be sitting in front of a console again. To the muted conversation from the other controllers, to watch the front screen, where the station’s orbital path traced a sine wave across the map. This might not be a seat on the shuttle, but it as close as he could get to one. I won’t ever touch the stars, can be here to see that others do. It was a startling revelation him, that he had accepted that bitter twist in his life. That he stand on the periphery of his old dream and still admire the view from afar.
   His gaze suddenly focused on Kenichi Hirai’s EKG, and he leaned forward.
   The heart tracing had shuddered up and down in a few rapid oscillations.
   Now it sketched a completely straight line across the top of the screen.
   Jack relaxed. This was nothing to worry about, he recognized it as an electrical anomaly—probably a loose EKG lead. The blood pressure tracing continued across the screen, unchanged. Perhaps the patient had moved, accidentally pulling off a lead. Or Emma had disconnected the monitor, to allow him to use the toilet in private. Now the blood pressure tracing abruptly cut off—another indication that Kenichi was off the monitors. He watched the screen for a moment longer, expecting the readings to reappear.
   When they did not, he got on the loop.
   “Capcom, this is Surgeon. I’m seeing a loose lead pattern on the patient’s EKG.”
   “Loose lead?”
   “Looks like he’s been disconnected from his monitor. There’s no heart tracing coming across. Could you check with Emma to confirm?”
   “Roger, Surgeon. I’ll give her a jingle.” A soft whine pulled Emma from a dreamless sleep, and she awakened to the cold kiss of moisture on her face. She had not intended to doze. Though Mission Control was continually monitoring Kenichi’s EKG on biotelemetry and would alert her to any changes in his status, she had planned to stay awake throughout the crew’s designated sleep period. But in the last two days, she had caught only brief snatches of rest, and those were often interrupted by crewmates, waking her with questions about her patient’s status.
   Exhaustion, and the utter relaxation of weightlessness, had caught up with her. Her last waking memory was of watching Kenichi’s heart rhythm blip across the screen in a hypnotic squiggle, the line fading to a blur of green. To black.
   Aware of the cold splash of water clinging to her cheek, she opened her eyes and saw a globule float toward her, twirling with rainbow of reflections. It took her a few dazed seconds to understand what she was looking at, another few seconds to register the dozens of other globules dancing like silvery Christmas ornaments all around her.
   Static, then a voice, crackled over her comm unit. “Uh, Watson, this is Capcom. We hate to wake you, but we need to confirm status of the patient’s EKG leads.”
   Hoarse with exhaustion, Emma replied, “I’m awake, Capcom. I think.”
   “Biotelemetry shows an anomaly on your patient’s EKG. Surgeon thinks you’ve got a loose lead up there.” She had been drifting, turning in midair while asleep, and now she reoriented herself in the module and turned to where her patient should be.
   His sleep restraint bag was empty. The disconnected IV tube floated free, the catheter end releasing drops of glistening into the air. Loose electrode wires drifted in a tangle.
   At once she shut off the infusion pump and quickly glanced around.
   “Capcom, he’s not here. He’s left the module! Stand by. She pushed off the wall, shot into Node 2, leading to the NASDA and ESA labs. A glance through the hatchways told her he was not there.
   “Have you located him?” Capcom asked.
   “Negative. I’m still looking.” Had he become disoriented, wandered away in confusion?
   Backtracking through the U.S. Lab, she shot through the node hatchway.
   A droplet splattered her face. She swiped at the of moisture and was startled to see her finger was smeared with blood.
   “Capcom, he’s passed through Node One. Bleeding from his IV puncture site.”
   “Recommend you shut off airflow between modules.”
   “Roger that.” She glided through the hatchway of the hab module.
   The lights had been dimmed, and in the gloom, she saw Griggs and Luther, both sound asleep and zipped into their restraint bags.
   No Kenichi.
   Don’t panic, she thought as she shut off the intermodule airflow.
   Think. Where would he go?
   Back to his own sleep station, at the Russian end of ISS. Without waking Griggs or Luther, she left the hab and moved quickly into the tunnel of connecting nodes and modules, her gaze darting left and right in search of her fugitive patient. “Capcom, still haven’t located him. I’m through Zarya and heading for the RSM.” She slipped into the Russian service module, where Kenichi normally slept. In the gloom she saw Diana and Nicolai both asleep, floating as though drowned, their arms drifting free of restraint bags. Kenichi’s station was empty.
   Her anxiety turned to real fear.
   She gave Nicolai a shake. He was slow to awaken, and even after he opened his eyes, it took him a moment to understand what she was telling him.
   “I can’t find Kenichi,” she repeated. “We need to search every module.”
   “Watson,” said Capcom over her headset. “Engineering reports intermittent anomaly in Node One air lock. Please check status.”
   “What anomaly?”
   “Off and on readings indicate the hatch between the equipment and crew locks may not be fully secure.” Kenichi. He’s in the air lock.
   With Nicolai right behind her, she shot like a flying bird through the station and dove into Node 1. At her first frantic glance the open hatch, into the equipment lock, Emma caught a startling glimpse of what looked like three bodies. Two were only the pair of EVA suits, the hard-shelled torsos mounted on the air lock walls easy donning.
   Hanging in midair, his body arched backward in a convulsive spasm, was Kenichi.
   “Help me get him out of here!” said Emma. She maneuvered behind him and, bracing her feet against the outer hatch, shoved toward Nicolai, who pulled him out of the air lock. Together, propelled him toward the lab module, where the medical equipment had been set up.
   “Capcom, we’ve located the patient,” said Emma. “He appears to be seizing—grand mal. I need Surgeon on the loop!”
   “Stand by, Watson. Go ahead, Surgeon.” Emma heard a startlingly familiar voice over her headset. “Hey, Em. Hear you’ve got yourself a problem up there.”
   “Jack? What are you doing—”
   “How’s your patient?” Still in a state of shock, she focused her attention on Kenichi.
   Even as she restarted the IV, attached EKG wires, she was wondering what Jack was doing in Mission Control. He had not sat at a flight surgeon’s console in a year, now here he was on the comm loop, his voice calm, even casual, as he asked about Kenichi’s status.
   “Is he still seizing?”
   “No. No, he’s making purposeful movements now—fighting…”
   “Vital signs?”
   “Pulse is rapid—one twenty, one thirty. He’s moving air.”
   “Good. So he’s breathing.”
   “We’re just getting the EKG hooked up now.” She glanced at the monitor, at the cardiac rhythm racing across the screen.
   “Sinus tach, rate of one twenty-four. Occasional PVCS.”
   “I see it on biotelemetry.”
   “Taking BP now…” She whiffed up the cuff, listened to the brachial pulse as the pressure was slowly released. “Ninety-five over sixty. Not significantly—” The blow caught her by surprise. She gave a sharp cry of pain as Kenichi’s hand flailed out, striking her across the mouth. The impact spun her away, and she flew across the module, colliding with the opposite wall.
   “Emma?” said Jack. “Emma?” Dazed, she reached up to touch her throbbing lip.
   “You’re bleeding!” said Nicolai.
   Over her headset, Jack’s frantic voice demanded, “What the hell is going on up there?”
   “I’m okay,” she murmured. And repeated, irritably, “I’m okay, Jack. Don’t have a cow.” But her head was still buzzing from the blow. As Nicolai strapped Kenichi to the patient restraint board, she hung back, waiting for her dizziness to pass. At first she did not register Nicolai was saying.
   Then she saw the look of disbelief in his eyes. “Look at his stomach,” Nicolai whispered. “Look!” Emma moved closer. “What the hell is that?” she whispered.
   “Talk to me, Emma,” said Jack. “Tell me what’s going on.” She stared at Kenichi’s abdomen, where the skin seemed to ripple and boil. “There’s something moving—under his skin—”
   “What do you mean, moving?”
   “It looks like muscle fasciculations. But it’s migrating across the belly…”
   “Not peristalsis?”
   “No. No, it’s moving upwards. It’s not following the intestinal tract.” She paused. The squirming had suddenly stopped, and she was staring at the smooth, unworried surface of Kenichi’s abdomen.
   Fasciculations, she thought. The uncoordinated twitching of muscle fibers. It was the most likely explanation, except for one detail, Fasciculations do not migrate in waves.
   Suddenly Kenichi’s eyes shot open, and he stared at Emma.
   The cardiac alarm squealed. Emma turned to see the EKG whipsawing up and down on the screen.
   “V tach!” said Jack.
   “I see it, I see it!” She flipped on the defibrillator charge button, then felt for a carotid pulse.
   There it was. Faint, barely palpable.
   His eyes had rolled up, and only the bloodred sclerae were visible. He was still breathing.
   She slapped on defibrillator pads, positioned the paddles on the chest, and pressed the discharge buttons. An electric charge of hundred joules shot through Kenichi’s body.
   His muscles contracted in a violent and simultaneous spasm.
   His legs thrashed against the board. Only the restraints kept him from flying across the module.
   “Still in V tach!” said Emma.
   Diana came flying into the module. “What can I do?” she asked.
   “Get the lidocaine ready!” snapped Emma. “CDK drawer, right
   “Found it.”
   “He’s not breathing!” said Nicolai.
   Emma grabbed the ambu-bag and said, “Nicolai, brace me!” He maneuvered into position, planting his feet on the opposite wall, his back pressed against Emma’s to hold her in place as she applied the oxygen mask. On earth, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation is demanding enough, in microgravity, it is a nightmare of complex acrobatics, with drifting equipment, tubes and tangling in midair, syringes filled with precious drugs away. The simple act of pressing your hands against a patient’s can send you tumbling across the room. Although the crew had practiced this scenario, no rehearsal could reproduce the genuine chaos of bodies frantically maneuvering in a closed space, racing against the clock of a dying heart.
   With the mask over Kenichi’s mouth and nose, she squeezed the ambu-bag, forcing oxygen into his lungs. The EKG line continued to thrash across the screen.
   “One amp lidocaine IV push now,” said Diana.
   “Nicolai, shock him again!” said Emma.
   After the briefest hesitation, he reached for the paddles, placed them on the chest, and pressed the discharge buttons. This time two hundred joules arced through Kenichi’s heart.
   Emma glanced at the monitor. “He’s gone into V fib! Nicolai, start cardiac compressions. I’m going to intubate!” Nicolai released the defib paddles, and they floated off, dangling at the ends of the wires.
   Bracing his feet against the wall of the module, he was about to place his palms on Kenichi’s sternum when he suddenly jerked his hands away.
   Emma looked at him. “What is it?”
   “His chest. Look at his chest!” They stared.
   The skin on Kenichi’s chest was boiling, squirming. At the contact points where the defib paddles had delivered their electric jolts, two raised circles had formed and were now spreading, like ripples cast by a stone in water.
   “Asystole!” came Jack’s voice over her headset.
   Nicolai was still frozen, staring at Kenichi’s chest.
   It was Emma who swung into position, bracing her back against Nicolai’s.
   Asystole. The heart has stopped. He will die without cardiac compressions.
   She felt nothing moving, nothing unusual. Just skin stretched over the bony landmarks of his breastbone. Muscle fasciculations, she thought. It had to be. There’s no other explanation. With body braced in position, she began chest compressions, her hands performing the work for Kenichi’s heart, pumping blood to his organs.
   “Diana, one amp IV epinephrine!” she ordered.
   Diana injected the drug into the IV line.
   They all looked at the monitor, hoping for, praying for, a blip the screen.
   “There has to be an autopsy,” said Todd Cutler.
   Gordon Obie, director of Flight Crew Operations, flashed him an irritated look. Some of the others in the conference room gave Cutler dismissive nods as well, because he had merely stated the obvious. Of course there would be an autopsy.
   Over a dozen people had gathered together for this crisis meeting.
   An autopsy was the least of their concerns. Right now, Obie was dealing with more urgent issues. Normally a man of few words, he’d suddenly found himself in the uncomfortable position of having reporters’ microphones thrust at his face whenever he appeared in public. The excruciating process of assigning blame had begun.
   Obie had to accept a portion of responsibility for this tragedy, because he had approved the choice of every member of the flight crew. If the crew screwed up, in essence, he had screwed up. his choice of Emma Watson was starting to look like a major error.
   That, at least, was the message he was hearing in this room. As the only physician aboard ISS, Emma Watson should have realized Hirai was dying.
   An immediate CRV evac might have saved him.
   Now a shuttle had been launched, and a multimillion-dollar rescue mission had turned into nothing more than a morgue run. Washington was hungry for scapegoats, and the foreign press was asking a politically incendiary question, Would an American astronaut have been allowed to die?
   The PR fallout was, in fact, this meeting’s major topic of discussion.
   Gretchen Liu said, “Senator Parish has gone on the record with a statement.” JSC director Ken Blankenship groaned. “I’m afraid to ask.”
   “CNN-Atlanta faxed it over. And I quote, Millions of tax dollars went into the development of the emergency Crew Return Vehicle. Yet NASA chose not to use it. They had a critically ill up there whose life might have been saved. Now that courageous astronaut is dead, and it’s apparent to everyone that a terrible mistake was made. One death in space is one death too many. A congressional inquiry is in order.” Gretchen looked up with a expression. “Our favorite senator speaks.”
   “I wonder how many people remember that he tried to kill our Crew Return Vehicle program?” said Blankenship. “I’d love to rub that in his face right now.”
   “You can’t,” said Leroy Cornell. As NASA administrator, it was second nature for Cornell to weigh all the political ramifications.
   He was their link to Congress and the White House, and he never lost sight of how things would play out in Washington. “You launch a direct attack on the senator, and things will really hit the fan.”
   “He’s attacking us.”
   “That’s nothing new, and everyone knows it.”
   “The public doesn’t,” said Gretchen. “He’s making headlines with these attacks.”
   “That’s the whole point—the senator wants headlines,” said Cornell. “We fire back, it’ll feed the media beast. Look, he’s never been our friend. He’s fought every budget increase we’ve ever asked for. He wants to buy gunships, not spaceships, and we’ll never change his mind.” Cornell took a deep breath and looked around the room.
   “So we might as well take a good hard look at his criticism. And ask ourselves if it isn’t justified.” The room went momentarily silent.
   “Obviously, mistakes were made,” said Blankenship. “Errors in medical judgment. Why didn’t we know how sick the man was?” Obie saw an uneasy glance fly between the two flight surgeons.
   Every one was now focused on the performance of the medical team. And on Emma Watson.
   She wasn’t here to defend herself, Obie would have to speak up for her.
   Todd Cutler beat him to it. “Watson’s at a disadvantage up there. Any doctor would be,” he said. “No X ray, no OR. The point is, none of us know why Hirai died. That’s why we need the autopsy. We have to know what went wrong. And whether microgravity was a contributing factor.”
   “There’s no question about an autopsy,” said Blankenship.
   “Every one’s agreed on that point.”
   “No, the reason I mention it is because of the…” Cutler dropped his voice, “preservation problem.” There was a pause. Obie saw gazes drop in uneasy contemplation of what that meant.
   “The lack of refrigeration on the station is what he’s talking about,” said Obie. “Not for something as large as a human body. Not in a pressurized environment.”
   ISS flight director Woody Ellis said, “Shuttle rendezvous is in seventeen hours. How badly can the body deteriorate in that time?”
   “There’s no refrigeration aboard the shuttle either,” pointed out Cutler. “Death occurred seven hours ago. Add to that the time for rendezvous, the transfer of the corpse, as well as other cargo, the undocking. We’re talking at least three days with the body at room temperature. And that’s if everything goes like clockwork. Which, as we all know, is not a given.”
   Three days. Obie thought of what could happen to a dead body in two days. Of how badly raw chicken parts stank if he left them in his garbage can for just one night… “You’re saying Discovery can’t delay her return home, even for an extra day?” said Ellis.
   “We were hoping there’d be time for tasks. There are numerous experiments on ISS ready to come home. Scientists on the ground are waiting for them.”
   “An autopsy won’t be of much help if the body’s deteriorated,” said Cutler.
   “Isn’t there some way to preserve it? Embalm it?”
   “Not without affecting its chemistry. We need an unembalmed body. And we need it home soon.” Ellis sighed. “There has to be a compromise. A way to get something else accomplished while they’re docked.” Gretchen said, “From a PR point of view, it looks bad, going about your usual business while a corpse is stored in the middeck. Besides, isn’t there some, well, health hazard? And then there’s … the odor.”
   “The body is sealed in a plastic shroud,” said Cutler. “They can curtain it off out of view in a sleep station.”
   The subject had turned so grim that most faces in the room were looking pale. They could talk about the political fallout and the media crisis. They could talk about hostile senators and anomalies. But dead bodies and bad smells and deteriorating flesh were not things they wanted to concentrate on.
   Leroy Cornell finally broke the silence. “I understand your sense of urgency about getting the body back for autopsy, Dr. Cutler. And I understand the PR angle as well. The seeming lack of sensitivity if we go about our business. But there are things we need to do, even in light of our losses.” He looked around the table.
   “That is our prime objective, isn’t it? One of our strengths as organization? No matter what goes wrong, no matter what we suffer, we always strive to get the job done?” That’s the moment Obie sensed the sudden shift of mood in the room. Up till then, they had been laboring under the pall of tragedy, the pressure of media attention. He had seen gloom and defeat in these faces, and defensiveness. Now the pall was lifting. He met Cornell’s gaze and felt some of his old disdain toward the man fall away.
   Obie had never trusted smooth talkers like Cornell. He thought of NASA administrators as a necessary evil and tolerated them only as long as they kept their noses out of operational decisions.
   At times, Cornell had strayed over that line. Today, though, he had done them a service by making them step back and view the big picture. Every one had come to this meeting with his or her private concerns. Cutler wanted a fresh corpse to autopsy.
   Liu wanted the right media spin. The shuttle management team wanted Discovery’s mission expanded.
   Cornell had just reminded them that they had to look beyond this death, beyond their individual concerns, and focus on what was best for the space program.
   Obie gave a small nod of agreement, which was noted by others at the table. The Sphinx had finally made his opinion known.
   “Every successful launch is a gift from heaven,” he said. “Let’s not waste this one.”
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 5

   Emma’s running shoes pounded rhythmically on the TVIS treadmill, and every slap of her soles against the moving belt, impact jolting her bones and joints and muscles, was another self-administered blow of punishment.
   I lost him. I fucked up and I lost him.
   I should have realized how sick he was. I should have pushed for a CRV evac. But I delayed, because I thought I could handle it.
   I thought I could keep him alive.
   Muscles aching, sweat beading on her forehead, she continued to punish herself, enraged by her own failure. She had not used TVIS in three days because she’d been too busy tending to Kenichi.
   Now she was making up for it, had snapped on the side restraints, turned the treadmill to active mode, and started her run.
   On earth she enjoyed running. She was not particularly fast, but she’d developed endurance and had learned to slip into that hypnotic trance that comes to long-distance runners as the miles melt away beneath their feet, as the burn of working muscles gives way to euphoria. Day after day she had worked to build up that endurance, had forced herself, through sheer stubbornness, to go longer, farther, always in competition with her last run, never cutting herself a break. It was the way she’d been since she was girl, smaller than the others, but fiercer. All her life she had been fierce, but never more so than with herself.
   I made mistakes. And now my patient’s dead.
   Sweat soaked through her shirt, a big wet blotch spreading between her breasts. Her calves and thighs were beyond the burn stage. The muscles were twitching, on the verge of collapse from the constant tension of the restraints.
   A hand reached over and flicked off the TVIS power switch.
   The running belt abruptly shuddered to a halt. She glanced up and met Luther’s gaze.
   “I think that’s more than enough, Watson,” he said quietly.
   “Not yet.”
   “You’ve been at it for more than three hours.”
   “I’m just getting started,” she muttered grimly. She switched on the power, and once again her shoes pounded on the moving belt.
   Luther watched her for a moment, his body floating at her eye level, his gaze unavoidable. She hated being studied, even hated him at that instant, because she thought he could see right to her pain, her self-disgust.
   “Wouldn’t it be quicker just to smash your head against a wall?” he said.
   “Quicker. But not painful enough.”
   “I get it. To be punishment, it’s gotta hurt, huh?”
   “Would it make a difference if I told you this is bullshit? Because it is. It’s a waste of energy. Kenichi died because he got sick.”
   “That’s where I’m supposed to come in.”
   “And you couldn’t save him. So now you’re the corps fuckup.
   “That’s right.”
   “Well, you’re wrong. Because I claimed that title before you.”
   “Is this some sort of contest?” Again, he shut off the TVIS power. Again the treadmill belt ground to a halt. He was staring her right in the eye, his gaze angry.
   As fierce as hers.
   “Remember my fuckup? On Columbia?” She said nothing, she didn’t have to.
   Every one at NASA remembered it. It had happened four years ago, during a mission repair an orbiting comm satellite. Luther had been the mission specialist responsible for redeploying the satellite after repairs completed. The crew had ejected it from its cradle in the payload bay and watched it drift away. The rockets had ignited right on schedule, sending the satellite into its correct altitude.
   Where it failed to respond to any commands. It was dead in orbit, a multimillion-dollar piece of junk uselessly circling the earth.
   Who was responsible for this calamity?
   Almost immediately, the blame fell on the shoulders of Luther Ames. In his haste to deploy, he had forgotten to key in vital software codes—or so the private contractor claimed. Luther said he had keyed in the codes, that he was the scapegoat for mistakes made by the satellite’s manufacturer. Though the public heard very little about the controversy, within NASA, the story was known by all. Luther’s flight assignments dried up. He was condemned to status of astronaut ghost, still in the corps, but invisible to who chose shuttle crews.
   Complicating the mess was the fact Luther was black.
   For three years, he suffered in obscurity, his resentment mounting. Only the support of close friends among the other astronauts-Emma most of all—had kept him in the corps. He knew he’d made no mistakes, but few at NASA believed him. He knew people talked behind his back. Luther was the man the bigots pointed to as evidence minorities didn’t have the “right stuff.” He’d struggled to maintain his dignity, even as he’d felt despair closing in.
   Then the truth came out. The satellite had been flawed. Luther Ames was officially absolved of blame. Within a week, Gordon offered him a flight assignment, a four-month mission aboard ISS. But even now, Luther felt the lingering stain on his reputation.
   He knew, only too painfully, what Emma was now going through.
   He stuck his face right in front of hers, forcing her to look at him.
   “You’re not perfect, okay? We’re all human.” He paused, added dryly, “With the possible exception of Diana Estes.” Against her will, she laughed.
   “Punishment over. Time to move on, Watson.” Her respirations had returned to normal, even though her heart continued pounding, because she was still angry at herself. But Luther was right, she had to move on. It was time to deal with the aftermath of her mistakes. A final report still needed to be transmitted to Houston. Medical summary, clinical course.
   Cause of death.
   Doctor fuckup.
   “Discovery docks in two hours,” said Luther. “You’ve got work to do.” After a moment, she nodded and unclipped the TVIS restraints.
   Time to get on with the job, the hearse was on its way.
   The tethered corpse, sealed in its shroud, slowly spun in the gloom.
   Surrounded by the clutter of excess equipment and spare lithium canisters, Kenichi’s body was like one more unneeded station part stowed away in the old Soyuz capsule. Soyuz had not been operational in over a year, and the station crew used its service compartment as excess storage space. It seemed a terrible indignity to Kenichi in here, but the crew had been shaken badly by his death.
   To be confronted repeatedly with his corpse, floating in one of the modules where they worked or slept, would have been too upsetting.
   Emma turned to Commander Kittredge and Medical Officer O’Leary of the shuttle Discovery. “I sealed the remains after death,” she said. “It hasn’t been touched since.” She paused, her gaze returning to the corpse. The shroud was black, and small pouches of plastic billowed out, obscuring the human form within.
   “The tubes are still in?” asked O’Leary.
   “Yes. Two IVS, the endotracheal, and the NG.” She had disturbed nothing, she knew the pathologists performing the autopsy would want everything left in place. “You have all the blood cultures, all the specimens we collected from him. Everything.” Kittredge gave a grim nod of the head.
   “Let’s do it.” Emma unhooked the tether and reached for the corpse. It felt stiff, bloated, as though its tissues were already undergoing anaerobic decomposition. She refused to think about what Kenichi look like beneath the layer of dark plastic.
   It was a silent procession, as grim as a funeral cortege, the mourners floating like wraiths as they escorted the corpse through the long tunnel of modules. Kittredge and O’Leary led the way, gently guiding the body through hatchways. They were followed by Jill Hewitt and Andy Mercer, no one saying a word. When the orbiter had docked a day and a half ago, Kittredge and his crew brought smiles and hugs, fresh apples and lemons, and a long-awaited copy of the Sunday New York Times. This was Emma’s old team, the people she had trained with for a year, and seeing them again had been like having a bittersweet family reunion. Now the reunion was over, and the last item to be moved aboard Discovery was making its ghostly passage toward the docking module.
   Kittredge and O’Leary floated the corpse through the hatchway and into Discovery’s middeck. Here, where the shuttle crew slept and ate, was where the body would be stowed until landing.
   O’Leary maneuvered it into one of the horizontal sleep pallets.
   Prior to launch, the pallet had been reconfigured to serve as a medical station for the ailing patient. Now it would be used as a temporary coffin for the returning corpse.
   “It’s not going in,” said O’Leary. “I think the body’s too distended. Was it exposed to heat?” He looked at Emma.
   “No. Soyuz temperature was maintained.”
   “Here’s your problem,” said Jill. “The shroud’s snagged on the vent.” She reached in and freed the plastic. “Try it now.” This time the corpse fit. O’Leary slid the panel shut so no one would have to look at the pallet’s occupant.
   There followed a solemn ceremony of farewell between the two crews.
   Kittredge pulled Emma into a hug and whispered, “Next mission, Watson, you’re my first choice.” When they separated, she was crying.
   It ended with the traditional handshake between the two commanders, Kittredge and Griggs. Emma caught one last glimpse of the orbiter crew—her crew—waving good-bye, and then the hatches swung shut. Though Discovery would remain attached to ISS for another twenty-four hours while its crew rested and prepared for undocking, the closing of those airtight hatches effectively ended human contact between them. They were once again separate vehicles, temporarily attached, like two dragonflies hurtling in a mating dance through space.
   Pilot Jill Hewitt was having trouble getting to sleep.
   Insomnia was new to her. Even on the night before a launch, she could manage to drop off cleanly into a deep sleep, trusting a lifetime of good luck to carry her through the next day. It was point of pride for her that she’d never needed a sleeping pill. were for nervous Nellies who fretted about a thousand awful possibilities. For the neurotics and obsessives. As a naval pilot, Jill had known more than her share of mortal danger. She’d flown missions over Iraq, had landed a crippled jet on a heaving carrier, had ejected into a stormy sea. She figured she’d cheated Death so many times that surely he’d given up on her and gone home in defeat.
   And so she usually slept just fine at night.
   But tonight, sleep was not coming. It was because of the corpse.
   No one wanted to be near it. Though the privacy panel was shut, concealing the body, they all felt its presence. Death had entered their living space, cast its shadow over their evening meal, their usual jokes. It was the unwanted fifth member of their crew. As though to escape it, Kittredge, O’Leary, and Mercer had abandoned their usual sleep stations and had moved up to the flight deck. Only Jill remained on the middeck, as though to prove to the men that she was less squeamish than they were, that she, woman, wasn’t bothered by a corpse.
   But now, with the cabin lights dimmed, she found that sleep was eluding her. She kept thinking about what lay beyond that closed-off panel.
   About Kenichi Hirai, when he was alive.
   She remembered him quite vividly as pale and soft-spoken, with black hair stiff as wire. Once, in weightlessness training, had brushed against his hair and had been surprised by its boarlike bristliness. She wondered what he looked like now. She felt a sudden, sickening curiosity about what had become of his face, changes Death had wrought. It was the same curiosity that used to compel her, as a child, to poke twigs into the corpses of the animals she sometimes encountered in the woods.
   She decided to move further away from the body.
   She brought her sleep restraint bag to the port side and anchored it behind the flight-deck access ladder. It was as far as she could get, yet still be on the same deck. Once again she zipped herself into the bag. Tomorrow she would need every reflex, every brain cell, to be operating at peak performance for reentry and landing. Through sheer strength of will, she forced herself a deepening trance.
   She was asleep when the swirl of iridescent liquid began to seep through Kenichi Hirai’s shroud.
   It had begun with a few glistening droplets oozing through a tiny rent in the plastic, torn open when the shroud had snagged. For hours the pressure had been building, the plastic slowly inflating the contents swelled. Now the breach widened, and a shimmering ribbon streamed out.
   Escaping through the pallet ventilation holes, the ribbon broke apart into blue-green droplets that briefly danced in weightless abandon before recongealing into large globules that undulated in the dimly lit cabin. The opalescent fluid continued spill forth. The globules spread, riding the gentle currents of circulating air. Drifting across the cabin, they found their way to the limp form of Jill Hewitt, who slept unaware of the shimmering cloud enveloping her, unaware of the mist she inhaled with every soft breath or of the droplets that settled like condensation on face. Only briefly did she stir, to brush the tickle on her cheek the opalescent drops slid toward her eye.
   Rising with the air currents, the dancing droplets passed through the opening of the interdeck access and began to spread through the gloom of the flight deck, where three men drifted in the utter relaxation of weightless sleep.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 8

   The ominous swirl had begun to take shape over the eastern Caribbean days before. It had started as a short wave trough aloft, a gentle undulation of clouds formed from the evaporated waters of the sun-baked equatorial sea. Butting up against a bank of air from the north, the clouds had begun to rotate, spinning a calm eye of dry air. Now it was a definite spiral that seemed to grow with every new image transmitted by the geostationary GOES weather satellite. The NOM National Weather Service had been tracking it since its birth, had watched as it meandered, directionless, off the eastern end of Cuba. Now the newest buoy data was coming in, with measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction. This data reinforced what the meteorologists were now seeing on their computer screens.
   It was a tropical storm. And it was moving northwest, toward the tip of Florida.
   This was the sort of news shuttle flight director Randy Carpenter dreaded. They could tinker with engineering problems. They could troubleshoot multiple systems failures. But against the forces of Mother Nature, they were helpless. The primary concern of this morning’s mission management team meeting was a go-no-go decision on deorbit, and they had planned for shuttle undocking and deorbit burn in six hours’ time. The weather briefing changed everything.
   “NOAA Spaceflight Meteorology Group reports the tropical storm is moving north-northwest, bearing toward the Florida Keys,” said the forecaster.
   “Radar from Patrick Air Force Base Nexrad Doppler from the National Weather Service in Melbourne show radial wind velocities of up to sixty-five knots, with intensifying rain. Rawinsonde balloon and Jimsphere balloon both confirm. Also, both the Field Mill network around Canaveral as well as LDAR show increasing lightning activity. These conditions will probably continue for the next forty-eight hours.
   Possibly longer.”
   “In other words,” said Carpenter, “we’re not landing at Kennedy.”
   “Kennedy is definitely out. At least for the next three to four days.” Carpenter sighed. “Okay, we sorta guessed that was coming. Let’s hear about Edwards.” Edwards Air Force Base, tucked into a valley east of the Sierra Nevada in California, was not their first choice. A landing at Edwards delayed shuttle processing and turnaround for the next mission because the shuttle would have to be transported back to Kennedy, piggybacked to a 747.
   “Unfortunately,” said the forecaster, “there’s a problem with Edwards as well.” A knot had formed in Carpenter’s stomach. A premonition that this was the beginning of a bad chain of events. As lead shuttle flight director, he had made it his personal mission to review any mishap on record and analyze what had gone wrong. With the advantage of hindsight, he could usually trace the problem backward, through a succession of bad but seemingly innocuous decisions. Sometimes it started back at the factory with a technician, a miswired panel. Hell, even something as big and expensive as the Hubble Telescope lens had started off screwed up from the very beginning.
   Now he could not shake off the feeling that he would later think back to this very meeting and ask himself, What should I have done differently?
   What could I have done to prevent a catastrophe?
   He asked, “What are the conditions at Edwards?”
   “Currently they’re looking at a cloud ceiling at seven thousand feet.”
   “That’s an automatic no-go.”
   “Right. So much for sunny California. But there’s the possibility of partial clearing within the next twenty-four to thirty-six hours. We might have reasonable landing conditions if we just wait it out. Otherwise, it’s off to New Mexico we go. I just checked MIDDS, and White Sands looks good. Clear skies, head winds at five to ten knots. No adverse weather forecast.”
   “So it’s down to a choice,” said Carpenter. “Wait till Edwards clears up. Or go for White Sands.” He looked around the room at the rest of the team, seeking opinions.
   One of the program managers said, “They’re fine up there right now. We could leave them docked to ISS as long as we need to, until the weather cooperates. I don’t see the necessity of rushing them home to a less than optimal site.” Less than optimal was an understatement. White Sands was little more than an isolated landing strip equipped with heading alignment cylinders.
   “There’s the matter of getting the corpse back as soon as possible,” said Todd Cutler. “While an autopsy’s still useful.”
   “We’re all aware of that,” said the program manager. “But weigh it against the negatives. White Sands is limited. Civilian medical backup just isn’t there, if we have any problems on landing. In fact, all things considered, I’d suggest we wait it longer, till Kennedy’s clear. Logistically, it’s the best thing program. Quicker orbiter turnaround, get her right back on the pad for the next mission. In the meantime, the flight crew can stay as a hotel for the next few days.”
   Several other program managers nodded. They were all taking the most conservative approach. The crew was safe where they were, the urgency of bringing home Hirai’s corpse paled in light of all the problems of a White Sands landing. Carpenter thought of the ways he could be second-guessed should there, God forbid, be a catastrophic landing at White Sands. He thought of the questions he would ask, were he reviewing the decisions of another flight director.
   Why didn’t you wait out the weather? Why did you hurry them home?
   The right decision was the one that minimized risk, yet met mission goals.
   He decided to choose the middle ground.
   “Three days is stretching it out too long,” he said. “So Kennedy’s out. Let’s go for Edwards. Maybe we’ll get clear skies tomorrow.” He looked at the forecaster. “Make those clouds go away.”
   “Sure. I’ll just do a reverse rain dance.” Carpenter glanced at the wall clock. “Okay, crew’s wake-up call is in four hours. We’ll give ‘em the news then. They can’t come home quite yet.”
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 9

   Jill Hewitt woke up gasping. Her first conscious thought was that she was drowning, that with every breath, she was inhaling water.
   She opened her eyes, and with her first panicked glance saw what looked like a swarm of jellyfish drifting around her. She coughed, at last managed to draw in a deep breath, and coughed again. The sharply expelled air sent all the jellyfish tumbling away.
   She scrambled out of her restraint bag and turned up the cabin lights.
   In amazement she stared at the shimmering air.
   “Bob!” she yelled. “We’ve got a spill!” She heard O’Leary say, up on flight deck, “Jesus, what the hell is this?”
   “Get out the masks!” ordered Kittredge. “Until we know this isn’t toxic.” Jill opened the emergency locker, pulled out the contaminant-protection kit, and tossed masks and goggles to Kittredge, O’Leary, and Mercer as they came diving down the access opening into middeck. There’d been no time to get dressed, everyone was still their underwear, still shaking off sleep.
   Now, with their masks on, they stared at the blue-green globules drifting around them.
   Mercer reached out and captured one in his hand. “Weird,” he said, rubbing it between his fingers. “It feels thick. Slimy. some sort of mucus.” Now O’Leary, the medical officer, caught one and held it up to his goggles for a closer look. “It’s not even liquid.”
   “Looks to me like a liquid,” said Jill. “It behaves like one.”
   “But it’s more gelatinous. Almost like—” They all gave a start as loud music abruptly blared out. It was Elvis Presley’s velvet voice singing “Blue Suede Shoes.” Their morning wake-up call from Mission Control.
   “And a good mornin’ to you, Discovery,” came Capcom’s cheery voice.
   “Time to rise and shine, folks!” Kittredge responded, “Capcom, we’re already awake. We’ve, uh, got ourselves a strange situation up here.”
   “We have some sort of spill in the cabin. We’re trying to identify it. It’s a viscous substance. Sort of a milky blue-green. It looks like little opals floating around. It’s already spread to decks.”
   “You guys wearing your masks?”
   “You know where it’s coming from?”
   “Not a clue.”
   “Okay, we’re consulting ECLSS right now. They may have an idea what it is.”
   “Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be toxic. We’ve all been asleep with this stuff hanging in the air. None of us seems to be sick.” Kittredge glanced around at his masked crew, and they all shook their heads.
   “Is there any odor to the spill?” asked Capcom. “ECLSS wants to know if it could be from the waste collection system.” Suddenly Jill felt queasy. Was this stuff they’d been breathing in, swimming in, leaked toilet waste?
   “Uh—I guess one of us has to take a sniff,” said Kittredge. He looked around at his crew, who merely stared back. “Gee, guys, don’t all volunteer at once,” he muttered, and finally lifted his mask. He smeared a globule between his fingers and took a whiff.
   “I don’t think this is sewage. It doesn’t smell chemical, either. At least, not petroleum-based.”
   “What does it smell like?” asked Capcom.
   “Sort of … fishy. Like the slime off a trout. Something the galley, maybe?”
   “Or it could be leakage from one of the life-science payloads. You’re carrying a few experiments back from ISS. Aren’t there aquarium enclosures onboard?”
   “This stuff does sort of remind me of frog eggs. We’ll inspect the enclosures,” said Kittredge. He looked around the cabin, at glistening clumps adhering to the walls. “It’s landing on now. We’re gonna be cleaning up the splatters for a while. It’ll set back our reentry.”
   “Uh, Discovery, I hate to break the news,” said Capcom. “But reentry’s going to be delayed in any event. You’ll have to sit tight.”
   “What’s the problem?”
   “We’ve got some weather down here. Kennedy’s looking at crosswinds of up to forty knots, with thunderstorm anvils in the vicinity. Tropical storm’s moving in from the southeast. She’s already made a mess of the Dominican Republic, and she’s headed for the Keys.”
   “What about Edwards?”
   “They’re currently reporting a seven-thousand-foot cloud ceiling. It should clear up in the next two days. So unless you guys are anxious to land at White Sands, we’re looking at a delay of at thirty-six hours. We may have you reopen the hatches and join the crew on ISS again.” Kittredge eyed the globules drifting by. “Negative on that, Capcom. We’d contaminate the station with this spill. We’ve gotta things cleaned up.”
   “Roger that. Surgeon is standing by here, wants to confirm that your crew is experiencing no adverse effects. Is that correct?”
   “The spill appears harmless. No one’s showing any signs of illness.” He batted away a clump of globules, and they went off like scattered pearls. “They’re really kind of pretty. But I hate to think of them gunking up our electronics, so we’d better get cracking on cleanup detail.”
   “We’ll update you on the weather as it changes, Discovery. Now get out those mops and buckets.”
   “Yeah,” laughed Kittredge. “Just call us the sky-high cleaning service. We even do windows.” He pulled off his mask. “I guess it’s safe to take ‘em off.” Jill took off her mask and goggles and glided across to the emergency locker. She had just stowed the equipment when she found Mercer staring at her.
   “What?” she said.
   “Your eye—what happened to it?”
   “What’s wrong with my eye?”
   “You’d better take a look.” She floated across to the hygiene station.
   Her first glimpse in the mirror was shocking. The sclera of one of her eyes was bloodred. Not merely streaked, but a solid crimson.
   “Jesus,” she murmured, horrified by her own reflection. I’m a pilot. I need my eyes. And one of them looks like a bag of blood.
   O’Leary turned her around by the shoulders and examined her eye. “It’s nothing to worry about, okay?” he said. “It’s just hemorrhage.”
   “A small bleed into the white of your eye. It looks more serious than it is. It’ll clear up without any effect on your vision.”
   “How did I get it?”
   “Sudden changes in intracranial pressure can do it. Sometimes a violent cough or heavy vomiting is all it takes to pop a tiny vessel.”
   She gave a relieved sigh. “That must be it. I woke up coughing on one of those floating goombahs.”
   “See? Nothing to worry about.” He gave her a pat. “That’ll be fifty bucks. Next patient!”
   Reassured, Jill turned back to the mirror. It’s merely a small bleed, she thought. Nothing to worry about. But the image back horrified her. One normal eye, one eye an evil and brilliant red.
   Something alien. Satanic.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
August 10

   “They’re the houseguests from hell,” said Luther. “We shut the door on ‘em and they still refuse to leave.” Every one in the galley laughed, even Emma. In the last few days there had not been much in the way of humor aboard ISS, and it was a relief to hear people joking again. Since they’d transferred Kenichi’s corpse to Discovery, everyone’s mood seemed brighter.
   His shrouded body had been a grim and constant reminder of death, and Emma was relieved she no longer had to confront the evidence of her own failure. She could focus, once again, on her work.
   She could even laugh at Luther’s crack, although the subject of his humor—the orbiter’s failure to depart—was not, in fact, funny. It complicated their day. They had expected Discovery to undock early yesterday morning. Now it was a day later, and she was still mated and could not leave for at least the next twelve hours. Her uncertain departure time threw the station’s work schedule into uncertainty as well. Undocking was more than just a simple matter of the orbiter detaching itself and flying away. It a delicate dance between two massive objects hurtling at 17,500 miles per hour, and it required the cooperation of both the Discovery and ISS crews. During undocking, the space station’s control software had to be temporarily reconfigured for proximity operations, and its crew suspended many of its research activities. Every one had to be focused on the orbiter’s departure.
   On avoiding calamity.
   Now a cloudy day over an air force base in California had delayed everything, wreaking havoc on the space station’s work schedule. But this was the nature of spaceflight, the only thing predictable about it was the unpredictable.
   An alarming blob of grape juice came floating by Emma’s head.
   And here was more unpredictability, she thought, laughing, as a sheepish Luther went chasing after it with a straw. You let your attention wander for just an instant, and there goes a vital tool or a sip’s worth of juice drifting away. Without gravity, an object could end up anywhere.
   This was something the crew of Discovery was now confronting. “We had glops of this stuff land all over our aft DAP controls,” she heard Kittredge say over the radio. Discovery’s commander was conversing with Griggs on the space-to-space subsystem. “We’re still trying to clean off the toggle switches, it’s like thick mucus when it dries. I just hope it hasn’t plugged up data ports.”
   “You find out where it’s coming from?” asked Griggs.
   “We found a small crack in the toadfish enclosure. But it doesn’t look like much leaked out—not enough to account for what’s flying around the cabin.”
   “Where else could it be coming from?”
   “We’re checking the galley and commode now. We’ve been so busy cleaning up, we haven’t had a chance to identify the source. We just can’t figure out what this stuff is. It sort of reminds me of eggs. Round clumps, in this sticky green mass. You should see my crew—it’s like they’ve been slimed on Ghostbusters. And then Hewitt’s got this evil red eye. Man, we’re scary looking.”
   Evil red eye? Emma turned to Griggs. “What’s wrong with Hewitt’s eye?” she said. “I didn’t hear about it.” Griggs relayed the question to Discovery.
   “It’s just a scleral bleed,” answered Kittredge. “Nothing serious, according to O’Leary.”
   “Let me talk to Kittredge,” said Emma.
   “Go ahead.”
   “Bob, this is Emma,” she said. “How did Jill get that scleral bleed?”
   “She woke up coughing yesterday. We think that’s what did it.”
   “Is she having any abdominal pains? Headaches?”
   “She did complain of a headache a little while ago. And we’ve all got muscle aches. But we’ve been working like dogs here.”
   “Nausea? Vomiting?”
   “Mercer’s got an upset stomach. Why?”
   “Kenichi had a scleral bleed too.”
   “But that’s not a serious condition,” said Kittredge. “That’s what O’Leary says.”
   “No, it’s the cluster of symptoms that concerns me,” said Emma.
   “Kenichi’s illness started with vomiting and a scleral hemorrhage. Abdominal pains. A headache.”
   “Are you saying this is some sort of contagion? Then why aren’t you sick? You took care of him.” A good question. She couldn’t answer that.
   “What disease are we talking about?” asked Kittredge.
   “I don’t know. I do know Kenichi was incapacitated within a day of his first symptoms. You guys need to undock and go home now. Before anyone on Discovery gets sick.”
   “No can do. Edwards is still under clouds.”
   “Then White Sands.”
   “Not a good option right now. They’ve got a problem with one of their TACANS. Hey, we’re doing fine. We’ll just wait out the weather. It shouldn’t be more than another twenty-four hours.”
   Emma looked at Griggs. “I want to talk to Houston.”
   “They’re not going to head for White Sands just because Hewitt’s got a red eye.”
   “It could be more than just a scleral hemorrhage.”
   “How would they catch Kenichi’s illness? They weren’t exposed to him.” The corpse, she thought. His corpse is on the orbiter.
   “Bob,” she said. “This is Emma again. I want you to check the shroud.”
   “Check Kenichi’s shroud for a breach.”
   “You saw for yourself it’s sealed tight.”
   “Are you sure it still is?”
   “Okay,” he sighed. “I have to admit, we haven’t checked the body since it came aboard. I guess we were all a little creeped-out about it. We’ve kept the pallet panel closed so we wouldn’t have to look at him.”
   “How does the shroud look?”
   “I’m trying to get the panel open now. It seems to be sticking a little, but…” There was a silence. Then a murmured
   “The spill’s coming from the shroud!”
   “What is it? Blood, serum?”
   “There’s a tear in the plastic. I can see it leaking out!”
   What was leaking out?
   She heard other voices in the background. Loud groans of disgust, and the sound of someone retching.
   “Seal it off. Seal it off!” said Emma. But they didn’t answer.
   Jill Hewitt said, “His body feels like mush. As if he’s … dissolving. We should find out what’s happening to it.”
   “No!” cried Emma. “Discovery, do not open the shroud!” To her relief, Kittredge finally responded, “Roger that, Watson. O’Leary, seal it up. We’re not going to let any more of … that stuff … leak out.”
   “Maybe we should jettison the body,” said Jill.
   “No,” Kittredge answered. “They want it for autopsy.”
   “What sort of fluid is it?” asked Emma. “Bob, answer me!”
   There was a silence. Then he said, “I don’t know. But whatever it is, I hope it’s not infectious. Because we’ve all been exposed.”

   Twenty-eight pounds of flab and fur. That was Humphrey, sprawled like a fat pasha on Jack’s chest. This cat is trying to murder me, thought Jack, staring up into Humphrey’s malevolent green eyes.
   He’d fallen asleep on the couch, and the next thing he knew, a ton of kitty lard was crushing his ribs, squeezing the air out of his lungs.
   Purring, Humphrey sank a claw into Jack’s chest.
   With a yelp, Jack shoved him away, and Humphrey landed on all fours with a ponderous thump.
   “Go catch a mouse,” Jack muttered, and turned on his side to resume his nap, but it was hopeless. Humphrey was yowling to be fed. Again.
   Yawning, Jack dragged himself off the couch and stumbled into the kitchen. As soon as he opened the cupboard where the cat food was stored, Humphrey began to yowl louder. Jack filled the cat bowl with Little Friskies and stood watching in disgust as his nemesis chowed down. It was only three in the afternoon, and Jack had not yet caught up on his sleep. He’d been awake all night, manning the surgeon’s console in the space control room, and then had come home and settled on the couch to review the ECLSS subsystems for the space station. He was back in the game, and it felt good. It even felt good to wade through a bone-dry MOD training manual. But fatigue had finally caught up with him, and he’d dropped off to sleep around noon, surrounded by stacks of flight manuals.
   Humphrey’s bowl was already half empty. Unbelievable.
   As Jack turned to leave the kitchen, the phone rang.
   It was Todd Cutler. “We’re rounding up medical personnel to meet Discovery at White Sands,” he said. “The plane’s leaving Ellington in thirty minutes.”
   “Why White Sands? I thought Discovery was going to wait for Edwards to clear up.”
   “We’ve got a medical situation on board, and we can’t wait for the weather to clear. They’re going to deorbit in an hour. Plan infectious precautions.”
   “What’s the infection?”
   “Not yet identified. We’re just playing it safe. Are you with us?”
   “Yeah, I’m with you,” said Jack, without an instant’s hesitation.
   “Then you’d better get moving or you’ll miss the plane.”
   “Wait. Who’s the patient? Which one’s sick?”
   “They all are,” said Cutler. “The entire crew.”
   Infectious precautions. Emergency deorbit. What are we dealing with?

   The wind was blowing, kicking up dust as Jack trotted across the tarmac toward the waiting jet. Squinting against flying grit, climbed the steps and ducked into the aircraft. It was a IV seating fifteen passengers, one of a fleet of sturdy and workhorses that NASA used to shuttle personnel between its many far-flung centers of operation. There were already a dozen people aboard, including a number of nurses and doctors from the Flight Medicine Clinic. Several of them gave Jack waves of greeting.
   “We’ve got to get going, sir,” said the copilot. “So if you buckle right in.” Jack took a window seat near the front of the plane.
   Roy Bloomfeld was the last to step aboard, his bright red hair stiff from the wind. As soon as Bloomfeld took his seat, they closed the hatch.
   “Todd isn’t coming?” asked Jack.
   “He’s manning the console for landing. Looks like we’re gonna be the shock troops.” The plane began to taxi out onto the runway. They could waste no time, it was an hour-and-a-half flight to White Sands.
   “You know what’s going on?” Jack asked. “Cause I’m in the dark.”
   “I got a brief rundown. You know that spill they had on Discovery yesterday? The one they’ve been trying to identify? Turns out it was fluids leaking from Kenichi Hirai’s body bag.”
   “That bag was sealed tight. How did it leak?”
   “Tear in the plastic. The crew says the contents seem to be under pressure. Some sort of advanced decomposition going on.”
   “Kittredge described the fluid as green and only mildly fishy smelling. That hardly sounds like fluid from a decomposing corpse.”
   “We’re all puzzled. The bag’s been resealed. We’ll have to wait till they land to find out what’s going on inside. It’s the first we’ve dealt with human remains in microgravity. Maybe there’s something different about the process of decomposition. Maybe the anaerobic bacteria die off, and that’s why it’s not giving off odors.”
   “How sick is the crew?”
   “Both Hewitt and Kittredge are complaining of severe headaches. Mercer’s throwing up like a dog now, and O’Leary’s got abdominal pain. We’re not sure how much of it is psychological. There’s gotta be an emotional reaction when you’ve been gulping in a decomposing colleague.”
   Psychological factors certainly complicated the picture. Whenever there is an outbreak of food poisoning, a significant percentage of victims are, in fact, uninfected. The power of suggestion is so strong it can produce vomiting as severe as any real illness.
   “They had to put off the undocking. White Sands has been having problems too. One of their TACANS was transmitting erroneous signals. They needed a few hours to get it up and functioning again.” The TACAN, or tactical air navigation locating system, was a series of ground transmitters that provided the orbiter with updates on its navigation-state vector. A bad TACAN signal could cause the shuttle to miss the runway entirely.
   “Now they’ve decided they can’t wait,” said Bloomfeld. “In just the last hour, the crew’s gotten sicker. Kittredge and Hewitt have scleral hemorrhages. That’s how it started with Hirai.” Their plane began its takeoff roll. The roar of the engines filled their ears, and the ground dropped away.
   Jack yelled over the noise, “What about ISS? Is anyone sick on the station?”
   “No. They kept the hatches closed between vehicles to contain the spill.”
   “So it’s confined to Discovery?”
   “So far as we know.” Then Emma’s okay, he thought, releasing a deep breath.
   Emma’s safe. But if a contagion had been brought aboard Discovery inside Hirai’s corpse, why wasn’t the space station crew infected as well?
   “What’s the shuttle’s ETA?” he asked.
   “They’re undocking now. Burn target’s in forty-five minutes, and touchdown should be around seventeen hundred.” Which didn’t give the ground crew much time to prepare. He stared out the window as they broke through the clouds into a golden bath of sunlight. Everything is working against us, he thought. An emergency landing. A broken TACAN shack. A sick crew.
   And it will all come together on a runway in the middle of nowhere.

   Jill Hewitt’s head hurt, and her eyeballs were aching so badly she could barely focus on the undocking checklist. In just the last hour pain had crept into every muscle of her body, and now it felt as if jagged bolts were ripping through her back, her thighs. Both her sclerae had turned red, so had Kittredge’s. His eyeballs looked like twin bags of blood. Glowing. Red. He was in pain too, she could see it in the way he moved, the slow and guarded turning of his head. They were both in agony, yet neither of them dared accept an injection of narcotics. Undocking and landing required peak alertness, and they could not risk losing even the slightest edge of performance.
   Get us home. Get us home. That was the mantra that kept running through Jill’s head as she struggled to stay on task, as sweat drenched her shirt and the pain ate into her concentration.
   They were racing through the departure checklist. She had plugged the IBM Thinkpad’s computer cable into the aft console data port, booted up, and opened the Rendezvous and Proximity Operations program.
   “There’s no data flow,” she said.
   “The port must be gunked up by the spill. I’ll try the middeck PCMMU.” She unplugged the cable. Every bone in her face screamed with pain as she made her way through the interdeck access, carrying the Thinkpad.
   Her eyes were throbbing so badly they felt as if they were about to pop out of their sockets. Down middeck, she saw Mercer was already dressed in his launch-and-entry suit and strapped in for reentry. He was unconscious—probably from the dose of narcotics. O’Leary, also strapped in, was awake but looking dazed. Jill floated across to the middeck data port and plugged in the Thinkpad.
   Still no data stream.
   “Shit. Shit.” Now struggling to focus, she made her way back to the flight deck.
   “No luck?” said Kittredge.
   “I’ll change out the source cable and try this port again.” Her head was pounding so badly now it brought tears to her eyes. Teeth gritted, she pulled out the cable, replaced it with a new one. Rebooted. From Windows, she opened RPOP. The Rendezvous and Proximity Operations logo appeared on the screen.
   Sweat broke out on her upper lip as she began to type in the mission elapsed time. Days, hours, minutes, seconds. Her reflexes weren’t obeying as they should. They were sluggish, clumsy. She had to back up to correct the numbers. At last she selected
   “Prox Ops” and clicked on
   “RPOP initialized,” she said with relief. “Ready to process data.
   Kittredge said, “Capcom, are we go for sep?”
   “Stand by, Discovery.” The wait was excruciating. Jill looked down at her hand and saw that her fingers had started to twitch, that the muscles of her forearm were contracting like a dozen writhing worms beneath the skin. As if something alive were tunneling through her flesh. She fought to keep her hand steady, but her fingers kept twitching in electric spasms. Get us home now. While we can still fly this bird.
   “Discovery,” said Capcom. “You are a go for undocking.”
   “Roger that. Digital autopilot on low Z. Go for undocking.” Kittredge shot Jill a look of profound relief. “Now let’s get the hell home,” he muttered, and grasped the hand controls.
   Flight Director Randy Carpenter stood like the statue of Colossus, his gaze fixed on the front screen, his engineer’s brain coolly monitoring simultaneous streams of visual data and loop conversations.
   As always, Carpenter was thinking several steps ahead. The docking base was now depressurized. The latches connecting the to ISS would unhook, and preloaded springs in the docking system would gently push the two vehicles apart, causing them to free away from each other. Only when they were two feet apart would Discovery’s RCS jets be turned on to steer the orbiter away. At point in this delicate sequence of events, things could go wrong, but for every possible failure, Carpenter had a contingency plan. the docking latches failed to unhook, they’d fire pyrotechnic charges and shear off the latch retention bolts. If that failed, crew members from ISS could perform an EVA and manually remove the bolts. They had backup plans for backup plans, a contingency for every failure.
   At least, every failure they could predict. What Carpenter dreaded was the glitch that no one had thought about. And now he asked himself the same question he always did at the beginning of a new mission phase, What have we failed to anticipate?
   “ODS has successfully disengaged,” he heard Kittredge announce. “Latches have released. We’re now in free drift.” The flight controller beside Carpenter gave a little punch of triumph in the air.
   Carpenter thought ahead, to the landing. The weather at White Sands was holding steady, head winds at fifteen knots. The TACAN would be up and operational in time for the shuttle’s arrival.
   Ground crews were at this moment converging on the runway.
   There were no new glitches in sight, yet he knew one had to be waiting just around the corner.
   All this was going through his mind, but not a flicker of expression crossed his face. Not a hint to any of the flight personnel in the room that he was feeling dread, as sour as bile, in his throat.
   Aboard ISS, Emma and her crewmates also watched and waited.
   All research activities were at a temporary standstill. They had gathered at the Node 1 cupola to look at the massive shuttle as it undocked. Griggs was also monitoring the operation on an IBM Thinkpad, which showed the same RPOP wireframe display that Houston’s Mission Control was now looking at.
   Through the cupola windows, Emma saw Discovery begin to inch away, and she gave a sigh of relief. The orbiter was now in drift, and on its way home.
   Medical Officer O’Leary floated in a narcotic daze. He’d injected fifty milligrams of Demerol into his own arm, just enough to take the edge off his pain, to allow him to strap in Mercer, and to batten down the cabin for reentry. Even that small dose of narcotic was clouding his mental processes.
   He sat strapped in his middeck seat, ready for deorbit. The cabin seemed to drift in and out of focus, as though he were seeing it underwater. The light hurt his eyes, and he closed them.
   Moments ago, he thought he’d seen Jill Hewitt float past with the Thinkpad, now she was gone, but he could hear her strained voice over his headset, along with Kittredge’s and Capcom’s. They had undocked.
   Even in his mental fog, he felt a sense of impotence, of shame, that he was strapped into his seat like an invalid while his crewmates up on flight deck were laboring to get them home. Pride made him fight his way back from the comfortable oblivion of sleep, and he surfaced into the hard glare of the middeck lights. He felt for the harness release, and as the straps came free, he floated out of his seat. The middeck began to shift around him, and he had to close his eyes to stem the sudden tide of nausea. Fight it, he thought.
   Mind over matter. I’m the one who always had the iron stomach.
   But he could not bring himself to open his eyes, to confront that disorienting drift of the room.
   Until he heard the sound. It was a creaking, so close by that he thought it must be Mercer, stirring in his sleep. O’Leary turned toward the sound—and found that he was not facing Mercer. He was staring at Kenichi Hirai’s body bag.
   It was bulging. Expanding.
   My eyes, he thought. They’re playing tricks on me.
   He blinked and refocused. The shroud was still swollen, the plastic ballooning out over the corpse’s abdomen. Hours ago, they had patched the leak, now the pressure inside must be building up again.
   Moving through a dreamlike haze, he floated across to the sleeping pallet. He placed his hand on the bulging body bag.
   And jerked away in horror. For in that brief moment of contact, he had felt it swell, retract, and swell again.
   The corpse was pulsating.
   Sweat beading her upper lip, Jill Hewitt watched through the overhead window as Discovery unlatched from ISS. Slowly the gap widened between them, and she glanced at the data streaming across her computer screen.
   One foot separation. Two feet. Going home. Pain suddenly arced through her head, its stab so unbearable she felt herself beginning to black out. She fought back, holding on to consciousness with the stubbornness of a bulldog.
   “ODS is clear,” she said through clenched teeth.
   Kittredge responded with, “Switching to RCS OP, low Z.” Using the reaction-control-system thrusters, Kittredge would now gently steer away from ISS, moving to a point three thousand feet below the station, where their differing orbits would automatically begin to pull them farther apart.
   Jill heard the whomp of the thrusters firing and felt the orbiter shudder as Kittredge, at the aft controls, slowly backed them apart.
   His hand shook, and his face went tight with the effort to retain control of his grip. He, not the computer, was flying orbiter, and a wayward jerk of the control stick could send them careening off course.
   Five feet apart. Ten. They were past the crucial separation phase now, moving further and further away from the station.
   Jill began to relax.
   And then she heard the shriek on middeck. A cry of horror and disbelief.
   She turned, just as a gruesome fountain of human debris burst onto the flight deck and exploded toward her.
   Kittredge, nearest the interdeck access, caught the brunt of the force and went flying against the rotational hand controller. Jill tumbled backward, her headset flying off, her body pummeled by foul-smelling fragments of intestine and skin and clumps of black hair, still attached to scalp. Kenichi’s hair. She heard the noise of firing thrusters, and the orbiter seemed to lurch around her. A cloud of disintegrated human parts had spread throughout the flight deck, and a nightmarish galaxy swirled, floating bits of plastic shroud and shattered organs and those strange greenish clumps.
   A grapelike mass of them floated by and splattered against a wall.
   When droplets collide with, and adhere to, flat surfaces in microgravity, they tremble briefly from the impact, then fall still. The splatter had not stopped moving.
   In disbelief, she watched as the quivering intensified, as a ripple disturbed the surface. Only then did she see, embedded within the gelatinous mass, a core of something black, something moving. It writhe like the larva of a mosquito.
   Suddenly a new image caught her eye, even more startling. She stared up through the window above the flight deck and saw the space station rapidly zooming toward them, so close now she could almost make out the rivets on the solar array truss.
   In a burst of panic, she shoved against the wall and dove through that gruesome cloud of exploded flesh, her arms outstretched in desperation toward the orbiter control stick.
   “Collision course!” yelled Griggs over space-to-space radio.
   “Discovery, you are on a collision course!” There was no response.
   “Discovery! Reverse course!” Emma watched in horror as disaster hurtled toward them.
   Through the space station’s cupola window, she saw the orbiter simultaneously pitch up and roll to starboard. She saw Discovery’s delta wing slicing toward them with enough momentum to ram it through the station’s aluminum hull. She saw, in the imminent collision, the approach of her own death.
   The plumes of firing rockets suddenly spewed out from the forward RCS thruster in the orbiter’s nose. Discovery began to pitch downward, reversing momentum. Simultaneously the starboard delta wing rolled upward, but not quickly enough to clear the station’s main solar truss.
   She felt her heartbeat freeze.
   Heard Luther whisper, “Lord Jesus.”
   “CRV!” Griggs shouted in panic. “Every one to the evac vehicle!
   Arms and legs churned in midair, feet flying in every direction as the crew scrambled to evacuate the node. Nicolai and Luther were first through the hatch, into the hab. Emma had just grabbed the hatch handhold when her ears filled with the squeal of rending metal, the groan of aluminum being twisted and deformed by the collision of two massive objects.
   The space station shuddered, and in the ensuing quake, she caught a disorienting glimpse of the node walls tilting away, of Griggs’s Thinkpad spinning in midair and Diana’s terrified face, slick with sweat.
   The lights flickered and went out. In the darkness, a red warning light flashed on and off, on and off.
   A siren shrieked.

   Shuttle flight director Randy Carpenter was watching death on the front screen.
   At the instant of the orbiter’s impact, he felt the blow as surely as if a fist had been rammed into his own sternum, and he actually lifted his hand and pressed it to his chest.
   For a few seconds, the Flight Control Room went absolutely silent.
   Stunned faces stared at the front wall. On the center was the world map with the shuttle trajectory trace. To the right the frozen RPOP display, Discovery and ISS represented by wireframe diagrams. The orbiter was now melded like a crumpled toy the silhouette of ISS. Carpenter felt his lungs suddenly expand, realized that, in his horror, he had forgotten to breathe.
   The FCR erupted in chaos.
   “Flight, we have no voice downlink,” he heard Capcom say.
   “Discovery is not responding.”
   “Flight, we’re still getting data stream from TCS—”
   “Flight, no drop in orbiter cabin pressure. No indication of oxygen leak—”
   “What about ISS?” Carpenter snapped. “Do we have downlink from them?” SVO’s trying to hail them. The station pressure is dropping—”
   “How low?”
   “It’s down to seven hundred ten … six hundred ninety. Shit, they’re decompressing fast!”
   Breach in the station’s hull! thought Carpenter.
   But that wasn’t his problem to fix, it belonged to Special Vehicle Operations, the hall.
   The propulsion systems engineer suddenly broke into the comm loop.
   “Flight, I’m reading RCS ignition, F2U, F3U, and F1U. Someone’s working the orbiter controls.” Carpenter’s head snapped to attention. The RPOP display was still locked and frozen, with no new images appearing. But Propulsion’s report told him that Discovery’s steering rockets had fired. It had to be more than just a random discharge, the crew trying to move the orbiter away from ISS. But until they had radio downlink, they could not confirm the orbiter crew’s status. They could not confirm they were alive.
   It was the most terrible scenario of all, the one he feared most.
   A dead crew on an orbiting shuttle. Though Houston could control most of the orbiter’s maneuvers by ground command, they could not bring it home without crew help. A functioning human being was necessary to flip the arming switches for the OMS deorbit burn.
   It took a human hand to deploy the air-data probes and to lower the landing gear for touchdown. Without someone at the controls to perform these functions, Discovery would remain in orbit, a ghost ship circling silently around the earth until its orbit decayed from now, and it fell to earth in a streak of fire. It was this that passed through Carpenter’s head as the seconds ticked by, as panic slowly gathered force around him in the FCR. He could not afford to think about the space station, whose crew even now might be in the agonal throes of a decompressive death. His focus had to remain on Discovery. On his crew, whose survival seemed less and less likely with every second of silence that passed.
   Then, suddenly, they heard the voice. Faint, halting.
   “Control, this is Discovery. Houston. Houston…”
   “It’s Hewitt!” said Capcom. “Go ahead, Discovery!”
   “ … major anomaly … could not avoid collision. damage to orbiter appears minimal…”
   “Discovery, we need visual on ISS.”
   “Can’t deploy Ku antenna—closed circuit gone—”
   “Do you know the extent of their damage?”
   “Impact tore off their solar truss. I think we punched a hole in their hull…” Carpenter felt sick. They still had heard no word from the ISS crew. No confirmation they had survived.
   “What is your crew’s status?” asked Capcom.
   “Kittredge is barely responding. Hit his head on the aft control panel. And the crew on middeck—I don’t know about them—”
   “What’s your status, Hewitt?”
   “Trying to … oh, God, my head…” There was a soft sob.
   Then she said, “It’s alive.”
   “Did not copy.”
   “The stuff floating around—the spill from the body bag. It’s moving all around me. It’s inside me. I can see it moving under my skin, and it’s alive.” A chill crawled all the way up Carpenter’s spine.
   A head injury. They were losing her, losing their only hope of getting the orbiter down intact.
   “Flight, we’re approaching burn target,” warned FDO. “We can’t afford to miss it.”
   “Tell her to go for deorbit,” Carpenter ordered.
   “Discovery,” said Capcom. “Go to APU prestart.” There was no response.
   “Discovery?” repeated Capcom. “You’re going to miss your burn target!” As the seconds stretched to minutes, Carpenter’s muscles tensed, and his nerves felt like live wires. He gave a sigh of when Hewitt finally responded.
   “Middeck crew’s in landing position. They’re both unconscious. I’ve strapped them in. But I can’t get Kittredge into his LES—”
   “Screw his reentry suit!” said Carpenter. “Let’s not miss that target. Just get the bird down!”
   “Discovery, we advise you proceed directly to APU prestart. Just strap him into the starboard seat, and you get on with deorbit.” They heard a ragged sigh of pain. Then Hewitt said, “My head—having trouble focusing…”
   “We roger that, Hewitt.” Capcom’s voice became gentler.
   Almost soothing. “Look, Jill. We know you’re the one in the commander’s seat now. We know you’re hurting. But we can guide in on autoland, all the way to wheel stop. If you just stay with us.”
   She let out a tortured sob. “APU prestart complete,” she whispered. “Loading OPS 3-0-2. Tell me when, Houston.”
   “Go for deorbit burn,” said Carpenter.
   Capcom relayed the decision. “Go for deorbit burn, Discovery.” And he added softly, “Now, let’s get you home.”

   In the hellish darkness, Emma braced herself for the shock of decompression. She knew exactly what to expect. How she would die. There would be the roar of air rushing out of the hull. The sudden popping of her eardrums. The rapid crescendo of pain as her lungs expanded and her alveoli exploded. As the air pressure drops toward vacuum, the boiling temperature of liquid also drops, it becomes the same as the freezing temperature. One instant, the blood is boiling. In the next, it freezes solid in the veins.
   The red warning lights, the siren, confirmed her worst fears. It was a Class 1 emergency. They had a breached hull, and their air was leaking into space.
   She felt her ears pop. Evacuate now!
   She and Diana dove into the hab, flying through gloom lit only by the bright red flashes of the warning panels. The siren was so loud everyone had to yell to hear each other. In her panic, Emma bounced into Luther, who grabbed her before she could ricochet off in a new direction.
   “Nicolai’s already in the CRV. You and Diana next!” he shouted.
   “Wait. Where’s Griggs?” said Diana.
   “Just get in!” Emma turned. In the psychedelic flash of red warning lights, she saw no one else in the hab. Griggs had not followed them. A strange, fine mist seemed to hang in the gloom, but there was no hurricane whoosh of air sucking them toward the breach.
   And no pain, she suddenly realized. She’d felt her ears pop, but there was no chest pain, no symptoms of explosive decompression.
   We can save this station. We have time to isolate the leak.
   She did a quick swimmer’s turn, kicked off the wall, and went flying back toward the node.
   “Hey! What the fuck, Watson?” yelled Luther.
   “Don’t give up the ship!” She was moving so fast she slammed against the edge of the hatchway, bashing her elbow. Here was the pain now, not from decompression but from her own stupid clumsiness. Her arm was throbbing as she kicked off again, into the node.
   Griggs wasn’t there, but she saw his Thinkpad, drifting at the end of its data cord. The screen flashed a bright red
   “Decompression” warning.
   The air pressure was down to six hundred fifty and dropping. They had only minutes to work, minutes before their brains would not function.
   He must have gone in search of the leak, she thought. He’s going to close off the damaged module.
   She dove into the U.S. Lab, through that thickening white mist.
   Was it mist or was it her vision fogging over from hypoxia? A warning that unconsciousness was closing in? She shot through the darkness and felt disoriented by the warning lights continuing to flash like a strobe. She banged into the far hatchway. Her coordination was off, and her clumsiness getting worse. She through the hatch opening, into Node 2.
   Griggs was there. He was struggling to disconnect a tangle of cables strung between the NASDA and European modules.
   “The leak’s in NASDA!” he yelled over the screaming sirens. “If we can clear the cables from this hatchway and close it off, we isolate the module.” She dove forward to help him yank the cables apart. Then she found one that could not be disconnected. “What the hell’s this? she said. All cables leading through hatchways were supposed to be easy to pull apart in case of an emergency. This one was continuous—a violation of safety rules. “It doesn’t have a quick release!” she yelled.
   “Get me a knife and I’ll cut it!” She spun around, dove back into the U.S. Lab. A knife. Where the hell is a knife? Through the red flashes of light, she saw medical locker. A scalpel. She yanked open the drawer, reached into the instrument tray, and went flying back into Node 2.
   Griggs took the scalpel and began to sever the cable.
   “What can we do to help?” came Luther’s shout.
   Emma turned and saw him, along with Nicolai and Diana, hovering anxiously in the hatchway.
   “The breach is in NASDA! -” she said. “We’re gonna close off the module!” Sparks suddenly shot out like fireworks. Griggs yelped and jerked away from the cable. “Shit! It’s a live wire!”
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Trenutno vreme je: 18. Feb 2020, 12:46:15
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Poslednji odgovor u temi napisan je pre više od 6 meseci.  

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