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Beyond the little safety wall, we have about two metres of clearance before the solid floor of the javelin shielding’s end cap gives way to the grid of straight bars that supports the electrostatic shield. When hauling a body in a bulky space suit around, that’s not a whole lot of clearance. Adin and I carefully kneel on either side of the body, make sure that our tethers are attached, and make sure that all three tethers we attached to the body are attached. After all this work the last thing we want to do is lose it to deep space.
“Okay,” Tinera says, “all cameras and comms are working. Any problems?”
“None here,” I say. “The tethers are secure.”
Adin doesn’t respond. He has one hand on the body and one on his own tether, as high up as he can reach, the closest thing he had to an anchor point to hold onto that isn’t the edge of our little landing.
“Alright. You’re clear to proceed; the doctors recommend that you lower it head first until the heart is below the level of the field bars and then pull it back up. You only need to get the heart affected; no need to drop the whole body down there.”
“Understood,” I say. “Adin, let’s go.”
“Aspen should handle the lowering while Adin secures the legs,” Tinera says. “Denish says that, given that being on top of the bars knocked out your lights and radios, Aspen, but not your air pumps and whatnot, the effect of the field must extend high enough to scramble the electronics on the front of your suit when lying flat but not the back. Meaning we don’t know if the effect extends to the heart, and Adin should stay as far away from the field as possible.”
“Understood.” We manoeuvre ourselves so that Adin is pinning the legs, while I take the body’s shoulders and pull it closer and closer to the sloped edge. My hands are clumsy in the bulky gloves, but there’s a surprising number of handholds on a modern space suit. I get the head over the edge, grab the compressed air tanks on its back, and slowly push its shoulders and chest out.
Adin holds the legs and doesn’t move. In order to get the heart below the field, we need to bend the body at the waist, which means getting its whole torso over the edge; I can’t do that unless Adin moves forward.
“Adin,” I tell him, “You need to move.”
“R-right. I… I’m coming.” He still doesn’t move.
A voice came over the comms. Tal. “Adin. It’s okay. There’s nothing to be scared of.”
“I’m not… that’s space out there!”
“Yeah, exactly! And it’s safer than you think.”
“You said that you were fine with high buildings, right? Twenty fifth story balconies and stuff? Well, if you fell off one of those, you’d die. Like, immediately. Hit the pavement, and crack. So, logically, space is just as safe as those balconies, right? If you’re not scared of one, no need to be scared of the other! Just pretend you’re on a balcony with a fatal drop!”
“Tal,” Lina cuts in, “that’s not helpf – ”
“It’s better than that, actually,” Tal continues, “because if you fall off a balcony, you’re dead, and if you fall off this ship, so what? You’ve got a tether. It’ll catch you and the cap can reel you in and you’ll be totally fine. And even if it snapped and you got flung out into space at the speed of rotation, you wouldn’t die instantly like with the pavement! You’d have hours to pick one of better, more painless meth – ugh! Mff!”
“Sorry about that, Adin,” comes Denish’s gruff voice. “Problem is gone. But know that tether is very strong; I checked. Will not break.”
Perhaps in defiance of Tal’s horrible attempt at reassurance, Adin is already moving, sliding forward and adjusting his grip on the legs to give me room to shove more of the body over. Soon, we have enough of the body over that it takes both of us holding down the legs to stop it from sliding forward and off the edge entirely. We reach the waist, and the entire front of the body drops down, jolting us both forward and dropping its head, shoulders and heart down into the electrostatic field.
“We’re done,” I report. “Retrieving the body now.”
We can’t just grab the legs and pull. We don’t have enough room between us and the safety wall for that, and besides, we’d never be able to drag the front of the bent body back over the edge of our little ledge. There’d be too much friction. We need to unbend it, first; to lift the front back up.
We had expected to need to manipulate the body when we’d started this, so the tethers attached to it are on different parts of the suit. One is attached to the back of the neck; I grab it and pull.
This does nothing. I’m just pulling it along the back; I don’t have the leverage to lift the torso doing this. I need to be above it, not behind it.
“Adin,” I say, “take the legs. I’m going out on one of the beams.”
“Are you sure – ”
“I fell onto one of these and crawled half the length of the spaceship once. I’ll be fine.” Neck-connected tether still in hand, I scoot my way to the edge of the ledge, straddle the shield support beam closest to the body, and hook a spare tether of my own around it. Much as I want to lie flat for stability, I stay sitting upright; lying flat would risk frying my radio, which wouldn’t be ideal now that I have a crew I can talk to. Leaning forward just far enough to grab the beam with my hands, I scootch forward a bit, then pull up the corpse’s front half.
Or try to, at any rate. The problem with this strategy is that now I don’t have a stable anchor point for myself, and trying to raise something this heavy risks unbalancing me. Swearing under by breath, I turn around on the beam (ignoring Adin’s shouts of alarm), hook my feet under the edge of the ledge I’d just come from for stability, and try again.
This time, I’m able to raise the body. Adin yanks the legs as hard as he can. It slides backward.
Yeah! We’re doing it!
Except for the part where the sudden movement of the weight I’m holding up unbalances me, one of my legs gives out, and I slip sideways.
Which, honestly, not that big of a problem. It gives me a scare and I swear loudly as I slip, but I’m already preparing to grab the beam as I drop below it, haul myself up and –
I don’t need to. Adin sees me fall, drops the body, surges forward. He grabs my arm as I tip sideways and, with a sudden burst of strength I never would have expected from him, physically hauls me off the beam and right into the safety wall, safe and sound. I grab it with both hands to avoid bouncing off it, and barely have a moment to appreciate the cool heroic moment before Adin is suddenly yanked away from me.
I make a grab for him, but it’s too late. When he let go of the body, it slid back down over the edge. One of its tethers had looped around his foot. Before I can react, he’s pulled off the edge of the ledge.
The startled yells of the entire crew ring in my ears. Adin’s own yelp is cut off as his radio equipment is fried. He flails and grabs at the shield support beam as he falls, managing to wrap both arms around it, followed by both legs.
I peer over the edge. The body dangles below on its cords, now free of Adin’s leg. Adin hangs upside down from an electrostatic support shield beam, arms and legs wrapped tightly around it. His whole body passed through it, meaning all of his suit equipment must be fried; his lights are certainly out. It’s hard to be certain through the space suit, but it looks like he’s holding on as tightly as possible, with both arms and legs.
This is my fault. I’d seen how scared he was, how unsuited to this task he was. He’d moved forward to save me, someone who didn’t need saving, in a sudden combination of heroism and panic. And now here we are.
“Captain, report,” Tinera says.
“Uh, it… he fell, I couldn’t…”
“Captain. Use your arm camera to show us what’s going on.”
Right. I sweep the arm cam over the scene a few times.
“Okay. Is Adin alive?”
Good question, that. He has one of those kill switches, and he’d passed through the electrostatic shield. He’s holding tightly to the bar, but I remember the cramping effect that the shield had had on my arms and legs; could it keep those muscles rigid after death?
He’s completely deaf to our radio chatter, of course. With the air pumps of his suit silent, he must be deaf to everything except the vibrations of the bar he’s clinging to. I try to poke his leg for a response, but he’s wearing a space suit; there’s no way he’ll feel it. And there’s no easy way for me to get into his field of view without frying my own radio equipment.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I can’t… how do I find out?”
“I’m sending Denish out to assist.” Tinera’s tone is cool and composed. “He’ll be with you as soon as he’s suited up. We’ll proceed under the assumption that Adin is alive and in need of immediate rescue. Captain, do you have any spare tethers on you? Ones that aren’t tying you to anything?”
“There’s a tether point on Adin’s belt there, within your reach if you crawl out onto the beam a bit. Tether him around the beam with the shortest spare tether you have.”
I crawl out a little way and clip a one metre tether to his belt. Problem: I can’t get it around the beam. There are no tether points on the beams; usually I loop the tethers around and clip them to themselves. But Adin’s body is pulled tight against the beam, and he’s far too bulky in the suit for me to get it around him.
There is, however, another tether point on the other side of his belt. It’s a bit more tricky to reach, but clip the other end to that, so it passes over the beam first.
“Okay, Aspen, here’s the situation. You hear me?”
“Alright. Adin’s not moving of his own accord, so we can assume that he can’t. Probably though a mixture of panic and physical trauma.”
I nod, although Tinera can’t see me, of course. “The field causes limbs to cramp up. He’s using them to support his weight, so he probably can’t safely move them at all, especially since he’s terrified of the drop and unable to communicate with us. He can’t even see or feel me, so.”
“It’s not just the effect of the shield on his limbs. The majority of his body is either immersed in or outside of the shield, meaning he’s dealing with the interstellar medium. This means that his body is undergoing significant physical trauma and his suit is getting blasted with a lot of high-speed matter it wasn’t designed to deal with. The doc’s first suggestion was to allow him to pass out when he exhausts the limited air in his suit now that the pumps aren’t working, and then pull him up through the field when he lets go, but that’s dangerous in its own right and we probably don’t have time, in combination with these other factors.”
“Also, suit cooling systems are broken,” Denish cuts in. “Shield makes a lot of heat, and also breaks cooling system – double problem, yes? Could possibly cook before passing out. I am in airlock, by the way.”
And passing out in this situation would probably be the most traumatic event of Adin’s life. Actually, this was probably going to be the most traumatic event of Adin’s life either way. But that’s something for Future Aspen to worry about.
“So our goal here,” Tinera continues, “is to get Adin out of this situation as fast as physically possible, even if that means doing something radical. Understand?”
Oh, that’s where this was going. “What horribly unpleasant thing do I need to do without hesitation, exactly?”
“Denish is bringing you some equipment. If you can’t do this, he’s volunteered to do it himself, but it involves being out on the beam over Adin, so – ”
“I’ll do it,” I say. Whatever it is, I’m the one who’s experienced at this, and Denish is really heavy. We can’t risk him falling and creating even more problems.
“I am here,” Denish reports. Out on the beam, I can’t really turn around to look, but I point my arm camera at the ledge and see him there with a small case, waiting.
“Great,” Tinera says. “Hand over the stage one supplies.”
Denish places something in my hand. I pull it forward to have a look.
Two items. A patch of cloth with some kind of thick plastic thing in the middle and clear plastic on the back, and… a pair of scissors? Shears, more like. Small, but obviously durable, and with a big handle to accommodate my big spaceship gloves. They’ve got a tiny motor in them, for cutting through stuff beyond the strength capacity of a human hand.
“What the stars am I supposed to do with these?” I ask.
“Just pick an accessible part of Adin’s suit, preferably on an extremity,” Tinera says calmly.
“And then you’re going to cut a hole in it.”
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4 thoughts on “036: HEIGHTS”
Okay okay I know you really like cliffhangers but WHAT????
Ah yes, The Martian’s Iron Man Maneuver
Oh, we’re really in it now, Aspen