Vincent Ritter

Short Stories: Into the sorrow of the Moon - Part 1

Baldwin was used to this shift. Moon travel has been commercialised, sending anyone with enough credits into an industrial class freighter metal death trap glorified into a big space bus. Mankind hasn’t perfected space travel yet. You needed more luck than science to make the journey. Yet, it drew enough interested and awe to make you forget the bustling life of Earth as soon as you left orbit. For some, like Baldwin, this was worth it to make it their living. Leave your troubles behind, some said.

This was Baldwin’s 57th trip making her one of the most experienced captains. She’s been lucky or, as she would say, unlucky. The Moon was still a 2 day journey from space dock and anything could happen before even setting foot onto the Lotus. Lotus was an old, yet trustworthy, industrial class space ship converted into a, so called, comfortable people transporter. She wasn’t pretty, and if a square piano could fly then this is what the Lotus was, a flying brick shaped piano in the vacuum of space. Lotus was the wrong name for her. Everyone knew that. Her creators didn’t see it that way. No one argued. After all it was bright minds from all mankind that even made space travel possible.

Baldwin’s shift started at 02:30 AM. Not an hour for a normal sane person. Crew rest after a trip is roughly 3 days, which is a luxury compared to other sectors. The corporates know the risks, so they let you have the time to make sure you said your goodbyes. The death rate for space travel was 1 in 10. It was a risky business. Baldwin had no one left to say goodbye to, but she did it anyway - it calmed her before the flight, gave her purpose to continue.

Like every shift day, Baldwin woke up before her time. She couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of mechanical issues close in her mind, planning contingencies, disappointment of unavailable equipment if something would have failed and the push to keep going if the ship had half the systems working than it should. The corporations couldn’t loose the money that civilians paid to get to the Moon. Everything was on thin margins. That also meant that spare parts were hard to come by. Everything was a rust bucket waiting to be crushed by a flake of dust in space.

There were 2 crew trips per day, taking anyone working the shift to space dock. Usually a small and cramped rust infested shuttle type craft. Best in class. 2 pilot seats, 16 seats for crew, engineers and occasionally scientists. There wasn’t much room to take luggage, a duffle bag is all you could throw into the back compartment, separated by a flimsy net. There was barely enough power to make it into orbit and keep everyone alive. The doors closed with a loud hiss, like air escaping from a thousand little holes. Baldwin’s ear drums popped as they shut. “Pressure check, air cyclers automatic” said one of the pilots as the pressure inside the cabin climbed a little higher than outside. This was to check that the pressure seals functioned. The air recyclers started humming and groaning trying to recycle carbon dioxide from 16 crew members. 2 seats were empty as a few spare parts had to be taken up, leaving not enough free weight to break out of the atmosphere if they were occupied. Everyone knew the disaster stories. They learned from early mistakes.

The two pilots sitting up front didn’t even look 20. This was normal. The demand for shuttle craft pilots was high. Re-entry to the atmosphere usually turned out fatal. Baldwin wasn’t bothered, she started when she was 14, gained her official credentials at 17 with more experience than most. If you made a few trips and came back alive, you got promoted and could opt-in to fly bigger and heavier craft.

There was nothing to prepare you for the shuttle journey, except to actually go on it and make it to the station. Nothing was pleasant about it. From low pressure in the cabin making you slightly hypoxic, the unpleasant harsh vibrations as you accelerated and hoped it wouldn’t all fall apart below your feet, to the sudden feeling of zero gravity after a high G orbit burn. If you had a big breakfast, forget about keeping it in. The air smelled like sick, mould and bleach.

This was no place to forget about life underneath. You couldn’t hear your own thoughts. Many crew members opted not to use ear protectors. After horror stories of exploding ear drums, you’d think twice. The company behind them released a new and improved model since. Reputation and trust is hard to gain after a stain of history like that. The pilots wore special space helmets and suits. If something would happen in the cabin they wouldn’t hear the screams, they would see a red flashing warning light on their control panel. Everyone would be dead by the time they turned around. The suits were heavy, so only the pilots could afford the weight penalty. For many of the crew behind, this was a normal day of work. They knew the risks.

Space dock looked like a rotating octopus in space with arms made of, what looked like, shipping containers. All different colours, nothing of taste and mostly resembled fragile rust waiting to break off as soon as you put weight on them. The station had 6 docking ports for larger ships like the Lotus and a few other scattered shuttle docks for crew transports and other small re-supply vessels. Built 30 years ago, it was the most robust station in the solar system. They called her Opportunity Station. A gateway to the stars. Or that was what they had in mind anyway. Nothing glamorous, but reliable.

The journey from Earth to Opportunity took 5 hours. 5 hours of hell. Hell for the pilots, hell for the 14 passengers that tried to hold in their food. Baldwin was amused at the sight of young pilots trying to throw up in a paper bag at high g. She made that mistake once.

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