Today I’m offering a sneak peek at The Repairmen, a novelette I wrote a few year back. The story is in revision no-man’s land, awaiting a time I can put my attention on it. Someday it will see the light of day again. This sneak peek does come with a warning for strong language (curse words). I hope you enjoy the story.
Mark Nichols squirmed uncomfortably. Almost of its own volition, his hand went to his crotch only to be stymied by the bulky space suit. Man, he wished he could tug at his water-cooled spandex long johns. You’d ‘a thought, after a hundred years in space, some engineer would’ve designed a comfortable cooling system. ‘Course, the pencil-pushers didn’t care—they didn’t have to wear ‘em.
He felt his blood pressure climbing higher. Why’d the company buy such old-fashioned stuff? Because, he reminded himself, the Suits back on Earth sit behind expensive mahogany desks, and they don’t have to wear the damned things, either!
He peered at his suit’s control panel on his chest. Oxygen flow at six liters and green. Helmet connecting-ring—sealed and locked. Gloves—sealed and locked. Snoopy hat, uh, Communications carrier—Yup. At least that pesky fiber optic connector on his backpack wasn’t giving him any trouble this time. Waist connecting-ring—check. Suit pressure 8.3 psi. Cooling and ventilation umbilical intact and operational. Such as it is, he thought, trying to ignore the tickle of gathering sweat behind his ears. It was another itch he couldn’t scratch—not for the next six hours or so. His nose itched, too. That he could and did scratch against the nose clamp to the right of his visor. At least those damned pencil-pushing square-heads could’ve done something so the helmet’s visor didn’t fog up. He blinked and squinted, trying to see across the air lock chamber. Less than half a meter away, he could see his co-worker, J.R. Stedman, suited up and impossibly still. How’d Stedman keep so cool?
“Whhhuh! Whhhuh!” His radio crackled to life.
“Hey, mon!” Stedman’s bass Bahamian voice rumbled. “You didn’t fall asleep now, did you?”
“Almost,” Nichols lied. “Nothing else to do.”
“I been thinking,” Stedman continued. “I think I shall turn my suit in for refit when we get back home.”
Damn. He wasn’t going to scrap the EVA, was he? “What’s wrong?”
“This canned air smells like shit, mon.”
Nichols laughed. “Nah, that’s Bohemian sweat you smell.”
“I am Ba-ha-mian, not Bo-he-mian!” Stedman protested, bristling at the old joke once again. “I’m not kidding, mon. I think the filter must be clogged again.” Stedman tapped the control module on his chest. “Reads ‘all systems nominal,’ but my lungs don’t believe it.”
“Let me take a look-see,” Nichols said. Mutely Stedman turned around, offering Nichols a look at his backpack. The seamless white rectangle held their life-support: oxygen and cooling water. If the control panel went screwy, how could a guy tell if the Oh-Two was flowing right? Nichols made a show of looking at the vents on Stedman’s suit. “Everything looks A-OK from here,” he told Stedman, then added, “Canned air always smells like shit.” What if there were a problem with Stedman’s filters? He could suffer a lethal carbon dioxide buildup before either of them knew it. Hell, it could happen right here in the air lock! How do I know my filters are working right? Nichols stepped back to his side of the air lock. What am I doing? Going for a walk in a goddamned vacuum with a fucking little plastic box and some flimsy Beta fabric between me and instant death. I must be abso-fucking-lutely crazy.
“Decompression complete.” Pilot Jan Lauren Dupree’s rich baritone rang over the radio like a well-played trombone. “I read Air Lock Chamber pressure at zero-point-one eight psi,” he continued. “That’s zero-point-one eight psi, confirmed?”
Stedman moved his visor close to the AIRLOCK DEPRESS control panel. “Yeah, mon. Zero-point-one eight.”
“Confirmed,” Nichols said, his pulse drumming so loud he was sure the radio would pick it up.
Stedman gave him a thumbs up signal. Nichols returned the gesture. Let’s do this.
Stedman pressed the AIRLOCK OPEN button. The chamber door snapped open an inch, then slowly eased the rest of the way open.
“Watch that first step,” Nichols said. His mouth felt dry. “It’s only 23,000 miles straight down.”
Stedman stepped through the open hatch. “You need some new material, mon.”
Writing near-future science fiction is fraught with danger. This one has dated technology now that you don’t notice in this short section. But irony of irony, the story needs repaired. Thank you for reading. Did you enjoy this sneak peek at The Repairmen?