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Muttnik – Part 3 of 4

Sarah smiled out through the plastic visor as the large heavy space helmet was secured down over her head. Lifting a gloved hand, she tapped the helmet a couple of times and then gave her fellow astronaut a thumbs up. She held her arms out at her sides as a tool belt was strapped onto her waist, and secured with clips to the suit itself. There were more clips to secure certain tools to her suit directly, the expensive tools, as most of them were at this point. There was talking about utilising that new 3D technology and potentially getting a 3D printer up into the space station, with the idea that they could print the tools they needed, but that was a long way off yet.

Sarah got a thumbs up from the man strapping her into her gear and he touched the headset that he wore, his voice flowing into her earpiece.

“You’re good to go darlin, you stay safe out there.”

“Always have, always will.” Sarah looked around at the space station hull surrounding them and touched her hand against the open doorway of the hatch. “Let’s get you fixed up, old girl.”

Sarah ducked through the open hatch and after giving a final thumbs-up, and the door swung shut behind her, the small round handle spinning as the door was tightly shut. There was an audible hiss and she could see a small puff of air rise from outside the door as the seals were activated. She held onto two handles on opposite sides of the bay as a red light began to flash, and she gave her tether one last check for security before she opened her comms line again. “Good to go guys, let’s get this done, and then we can relax a bit for the day.”

A burst of laughter came across the comms and a French-accented voice trilled down the earpiece to her. “Sarah, darling, we’re already relaxing, you’re the one doing all the hard work.” More laughter and then a female voice came through.

“Don’t worry about Jacque, he may be doing nothing, but the rest of us have your back, we’re keeping a close eye on you.”

Sarah laughed at their banter, “Just another in a long line of walks and repairs, guys, I’ll be home soon.”

Replacing her hand on the handles inside the bay, Sarah waited in silence for a moment, expectantly.

“Zeroing gravity now.” said the voice through her headset, and she felt herself begin to float within the small chamber as the gravity was drained. She watched as the evac hatch door began to open, revealing the darkness of the sky to her eyes. Endless black, dotted with points of white stars. Sarah sighed into the headset, “I’ll never get tired of seeing that.”

She moved forward using the handles to propel herself as she floated, and swung her body out around the edge of the space station, grasping the handles along the outside of the hull. She pulled herself along the height of the hull, towards the small panel array. There was a small group of panels and she moved up to them, pausing to speak into the comms, “Confirm panel number for repair.”

The same reassuring female voice came back through the headset, all business, “Panel 36HA, door 285.”

Sarah took a took from her belt and opened the panel piece in question, pausing until the confirmation came through the headset again, “Confirming panel in question is now open. You’re good to go Sarah.”

Sarah nodded unnecessarily and began to work on the complex internal workings of the panel. Sarah fiddled with the panels and pried loose the circuit that was no longer working. As it flew loose she caught it in her free hand and slid it into an empty pocket on her suit. Pulling the replacement circuit piece free, Sarah swore out loud as she fumbled the piece of the circuit, and it slipped out of her fingers. A voice smoothly came to life inside her headset. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

Sarah grimaced, not having wanted to tell the other astronauts, “Fine here, just need to go play fetch with one of the tools.”

She reached up to grab the circuit as she spoke and pushed herself away from the hull of the space station. The piece of the circuit had flicked out of her fingers with more speed than she had, and it was currently coasting into space at quite the speed. With a sigh, she pushed her feet off a patch of the hull and began to chase it down. Catching a piece of anything flying in space was not an easy task. Most of the items were disposable, and those that weren’t had straps fixing them to the suit. Unfortunately, the circuitry had no place where a hole could be safely drilled through to link a cable.

“Sarah, you’re getting too far out of range.” a warm voice echoed in her ear. The man who had strapped her into the suit to start with.

“Captain, I need to get this, you don’t understand.”

“I don’t care. Tools can be replaced, you can’t. If we lose you…” he trailed off, perhaps realising that he’d spoken too far as a French voice crackled through with a laugh, “Ooooohhh, Sarah…don’t leave me, my beloved-”

There was a muffled thump and the voice cut out mid-sentence, quickly replaced by the stern woman from before. “I apologise for that interruption. Unrelated, I’m going to need an ice pack for Jacque.”

The Captain’s laughter echoed in the headset again, and Sarah’s frustration boiled over.

“Stop it, all of you. It’s the goddamn circuit, okay? It slipped away from me.”

The line went so silent in response that Sarah thought for a moment that she’d been completely cut off. She gave her tether a test-tug to ensure it was still connected, the hardwire audio lines running through it as a backup.

The Captain’s voice came through the line again, no longer warm and playful, but now with the edge of commandment that he usually saved for officials, and occasionally the bedroom. “Sarah, do what you can to get that piece, but don’t risk your life. It’s not a vital system, I think we can live without the luxury of hot water until a replacement can be sent to us, or repurposed from another piece of machinery.”

Sarah nodded inside the helmet, well aware that he couldn’t see the movement. “Yes, Captain.”

As she floated towards the piece of circuit slowly pinning in space, Sarah realised that she hadn’t pushed off hard enough from the space station and she didn’t have enough speed to catch up with the small circuit, She swore hard again and heard only a whispering response from the headset. She assumed that the Captain had told them to be quiet and give her time and space.

Space, that was one thing that she had plenty of. Too much of it at the moment.

She blinked, her eyes sore suddenly from focusing so hard on that tiny piece of metal and plastic floating in the expanse of space; she wished she could rub her eyes inside her helmet. As she watched the circuit, it seemed that it had hit a surface, and bounced back towards her. She held her hand out in front of her and watched the circuit float down into her palm, and she carefully packed the piece away in its safety pocket.

A brush of weight moved past her suit, and the pressure turned her in space so that she was looking back towards the space station again. Her headset crackled to life. “Sarah, how’s it going out there?”

“Got the circuit, coming back in now.” Sarah tugged on the tether, and the movement started her momentum in moving back towards the space station.

There was a hesitation before the Captain spoke up again. “Come back in as soon as you are finished, no dallying. I think the systems might be playing up and I want to run a complete check of the camera system.”

“Anything wrong?” Sarah’s voice was shaky, the whole experience had left her with confusion that she couldn’t explain.

“A glitch on the cameras, that’s all.”

Jacque’s voice came across the speaker after the Captain, and Sarah felt relief at the teasing tone, sure that if he was still in good spirits, there wasn’t anything really wrong.

“Are you scared of ghosts, Sarah? Ooooooooooo,”

At his imitation of ghostly noises, Sarah could hear Greta laughing in the background. Sarah let her laughter join in with them, and she could hear the Captain release his held breath across the speaker.

“Just a glitch guys. There are no ghosts in space. Come on back in soon as you can Sarah.”

The speaker crackled again before falling silent, and she sighed, left alone with the vast expanse of space again. Sarah laughed to herself and she returned to the side of the space station, and quickly replaced the broken circuit, re-fixing the circuit panel cover, she made her way back to the open hatch of the zero-gravity room she’d left the space station through.

She grabbed the handles inside the cabin and the red light began to flash as the hatch door slowly shut. As she waited, her eyes fell upon the sticker that had been put there by one of the Russian astronauts they had on the space station recently. Although popular in the earlier years of space travel, the tradition of wearing a patch to honour Laika, the first dog in space, had fallen to by the wayside.

Sarah looked from the sticker of the dog to the disappearing window of space as the hatch door shut. “One last game of fetch, huh? Thanks, girl.”

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