AQ – 04 – First Food, Air Second

Jonathan awoke again after passing out in space again.  This was beginning to be a bit ridiculous.  His stomach ached with hunger even more than his feet burned with cold.  He figured that it was a good thing that his feet felt any pain at all.  He had little experience with frost bite, but suspected that if the feeling had been completely gone from his feet that would be much more serious.  His breathing was back to normal, but he had a headache taking form.

He reached out of the slit he had made and grabbed his left mittened hand with his right exposed hand and pulled his left hand out of the mitten. Then with both hands he tugged at the opening he had made.  He had no idea what had happened to his sharp object.  He might have dropped it in his space suit sack or he might have dropped it on the floor and then floated across this bay for 10 minutes, 40 minutes or 6 hours.

He did feel refreshed and suspected he had slept for at least a few hours.  He had no way of telling time.  They had taken stock before his walk and none of them had a watch, there were no timers, nothing to help them mark the passage of time.  As a result, the others really had no way of knowing if he had been successful.

They had planned to come out of the back room after 10 minutes and attempt to watch his progress.  However, they could not be certain if they would even be able to see him at 130 meters, nor if they could see him enter or not.  They would hope and try and see how it went.  If he did not return in what they estimated to be 1 day, they would start on a second suit and send someone else.

He managed to wiggle back out of the suit.  He had done a little more damage than anyone had anticipated.  That could be problematic if there were no real space suits here on the bridge.  Fortunately, this was indeed a bridge!

Some of the more negative terrorists had speculated that this might just be an engine room compartment or empty storage or nothing at all.  Jonathan had not felt this way, had gambled with his life that it wasn't, but had admitted inwardly that it was a possibility.  His gut had told him otherwise for reasons he could not explain with facts and he had been right.

Regardless, that was the past and he needed to get his shit together now.  The first thing he needed to figure out was whether or not he could ditch the Al Qaeda bastards, kill them, maroon them in space something.  He had been stuck with them for too many years, first as a hostage and captive and then as an enemy non combatant in prison.  He had absolutely had it with these bastards.  He wanted his revenge but now that he was separated from them he figured he would happily settle for dumping the bastards in a vacuum or letting them starve to death if he could.

He started moving about the room.  The first thing he realized was that this was much smaller than the other compartments, designed for a crew of probably three or four people at most.  He also noticed that there were no other exits from this area, no other modules further down the line to move to or occupy.

He found a galley area, really more of a system of  cupboards and compartments.  He found a silvery looking bag with something lumpy inside.  It was labeled chicken and rice.  He ripped it open and a wide plastic tube popped out.  He looked at an instruction image on the side of the package, stuck the tube in his mouth and started squeezing  chicken and rice through the tube and into his mouth.  He almost inhaled it and the bag was empty in less than a minute.  It was slightly lumpy with chunks of chicken, but he only knew this from a fragment of a memory of the food going down his throat.  He could barely recall tasting it.

Suddenly he felt very tired as his digestion system kicked in to do work that it had not done in god knows how long. He took a deep breath of air and focused on staying awake.  He needed to act now, think and sleep later if he was going to survive this.  He started looking around for a weapon.  The galley surprisingly didn't have anything.

That probably made sense actually as sharp dangerous items in space were probably not wise under normal conditions.  NASA hadn't thought about defending their astronauts from international terrorists.

He moved to another area, that looked more like a lab mixed with an engineering shop.  This area had a number of compartments with tools and other items.  He found a large wrench.  It felt like it was made out of air, but looked like a special alloy.  He thought he could wield it as a club.  He took a hard swing with it and accidentally spun himself around.

It took him a half minute to stop spinning and grab something.  "Note to self, don't swing unless you can definitely hit something."  He moved to another compartment and hit pay dirt.  A space suit but no helmet was shrink wrapped and attached to a slide out drawer.  It was more of an ironing board than a drawer, like a big mortuary slab or something.

He went to the a similar drawer and punched the button. Again, the feet came out first and the helmet, 'There was a helmet!' It came out last.

He had no idea how much time he had until the next person might try to make the walk.  He wasted no more time and put the suit on.  He had little difficulty as he had seen this done many times before both in school and years earlier at space camp.  This suit was very different from those bulky old government surplus suits he had donned as a teen ager, but not all that different.

He didn't put the helmet on, just hooked it to a latch on the wall.  He moved back to the door and looked out the window.  He could see the light at the other side still lit but no Al Qaeda dude moving hand over hand.

He found a light switch on the wall in the same position as the one in the previous compartment.  He toggled it, and an exterior light on this side lit up.  This light was significantly more powerful.

In fact it must activate several lights not just one.  He could now see the extent of the spaceship beyond or behind the storage/sleeping compartments.  It was massive.  If the distance he had traveled was 130 meters, the storage compartment and sleeping compartment had to be 40 meters and beyond that there was more structure and things that looked like rockets and pods and tanks that went at least another 400 meters.

Beyond that there was a single tube extending yet another 200-400 meters.  When he saw this he understood how they had traveled.  It was an ion drive, a slow accelerating mode of travel that incrementally sped a rocket up for years and years and years.  This one did not seem to be engaged any longer which indicated that they were no longer accelerating.

Ok. He had a space suit. He had a weapon. He had a general, text book understanding of the ship itself.  Time to get some real intelligence.  There were no Al Qaeda guys on their way, and he had turned on the exterior light which would signal them that he had indeed made it.    He hoped that would buy him more time.  At minimum he had about 23 minutes before one of them could make the journey, but if he checked regularly he could get more done.

He vaguely remembered how to communicate with morse code, but doubted the Al Qaeda guys would know it, let alone morse code in English.  He double checked the port hole again and resumed his search.

He moved back to a seating area in front of a massive bank of buttons, knobs, keyboards, screens and more.    Most of the switches seemed to be powered down, but he rapidly zeroed in on several indicators of the life support systems.  One of those indicated the oxygen system for the sleeping compartment.  He could shut off all their oxygen right now!

But to do that he might have to deplete the stores of valuable oxygen he would need to survive himself.  It was an option, but not a good one, yet.  He needed to find something that would show him just how much oxygen was stored.  He attempted to turn on one terminal but no luck.

He moved to another and as he was trying to power it up the first awoke from hibernation in a very slow booting process.  No wonder this system had been sleeping for years, maybe decades.  He didn't know how long he had been looking at the console so he got up and moved back to the port hole.

A light was flashing on and off on the other side, but no Al Qaeda guys were in movement.  He signaled back by turning his light off and on twice.  There was a responding two light flash on the other side.  He flashed 3 more times and so did they.  Everyone now knew that it was not random, that they were indeed communicating they just weren't sharing anything useful.

He figured there was nothing he could do just yet, the key was still the terminals.  He now had another 23 minutes minimum.  He started counting out loud as he moved back to the console.  As he reached 85, 86, 87, he managed to work his way in the seat and then stopped counting.

There was a clock on the screen, but he couldn't read it.  His mouth dropped open as he looked at the calendar date next to the time.  It said that the year was 2071.  He had been asleep for almost 50 years.  Everyone he had known would be fifty years older, his parents would probably be dead unless medical science had made a ton of progress in the last fifty years.  It was possible, but he was still too stunned to accept it really.

Suddenly he felt an overwhelming amount of loss as if he had just lost everyone he had ever know or loved.  This actually gave him comfort like an old favorite pillow.  After years in captivity, he understood how to cope with loss.

Finally, he focused on the clock.  It was 0313:43.52.  He noted to himself that he had probably 'spaced out' for at least 2 minutes so that meant he had a minimum of about 19 minutes before Al Qaeda came knocking at his door.  He started exploring the system.  He found a systems status of the ship and noted that this included a diagram of the entire ship.  All doors were labeled with indicators that they were 'Closed'.

He didn't have to get up to monitor the porthole any longer.  He went a few menus deeper and found some Oxygen tank indicators.  It listed an amount of Oxygen and Nitrogen, but the amounts didn't mean anything to him in terms of how much air might be there for 1 or 73 men.

Next, he looked up some information on the ships inventory.    Food: 343 MRDs (Meals Ready to Drink)  That was an old joke from space camp.  The acronym was MRD, but he had no idea what it really stood for.

Still it sure didn't take a rocket scientist to calculate that 343 meals for 72 hardened terrorists and 1 rocket scientist would not sustain anyone for long, possibly 4-7 days at the most and that was if they could also get more nutrition out of the IV drip.  They had to find more food, get home faster or someone had to die and die damn fast.  Shit he might end up having to eat some of those bastards if he wasn't careful.

A section of the screen started flashing red.  He touched the screen and the schematic of the ship re-appeared and showed that the Al Qaeda porthole had opened up.  They were sending a follow on person his way.  The time was ticking down, he needed to think fast.  He noticed that the Oxygen reserves had just decreased by 2%.  That must relate to the Oxygen that had been depleted when the door in the other chamber had been opened a second time.  Two percent was huge.  That meant that the door could only be opened 49 more times before they were out of air.  It would definitely not be possible for all of the Al Qaeda guys to walk this way.

It also gave him a slight impression of how much air they might have.  That entire sleeping room could hold 2% of their Oxygen, which was only a portion of the air mixture.  That room could keep 73 men alive and breathing for some amount of time.  If he estimated that it was 1 day, then that room held 73 days of air for 1 man x 49 meant 3,577 days approximately and if he was being very hopeful.  If it only held 1 hour of air then that would only be 149 days of air for one person.

Guppy sips of air.  Another space camp joke came back to him and he smiled.

He noticed a touch panel that said video monitor exterior that was now blinking.  This must be intelligent enough to know that a person was moving between compartments.  he hit the panel on the screen and a video lit up of a gray bag moving along the hand holds awkwardly like a blob.

Actually, it looked like two sacks sewn together.  They must have found a way to put more than 1 person into a bag, or maybe 1 person with multiple heaters or more air?

He watched for a few more seconds and guessed that there had to be two people.  It seemed like there were three hands in play.  2 Hands to hold on and another reaching forward.  They were using a second person as a pair of back up hands, a human tether.

Maybe they were strapped together back to back with the heating systems on their chests.  It would make sense and probably keep them warmer.  But how would they make that last awkward leap of faith that Jonathan had had to make?

With two people it wouldn't be possible.  He noted on the panel that he could keep the door locked electronically.  He could essentially try to kill them.  But he did not know if they might have enough air to go back?

He could don his helmet and meet them in space combat?  Too risky.  If he let them in, he would be out numbered.  They might be able to coerce him a bit, or believe that they could.  That's probably what they thought and that's why they had done this.  He suspected Osama himself was one of the two.  There was no food on the other side, he probably didn't have much to lose in venturing the walk.  More time starving increased the chances of organ failure.

He could let them in, show them the numbers and try to convince them to kill the others.  His odds of survival would be drastically improved if things changed from 72 against 1 to 2 against 1.  Still not great, but better.

But what if Osama wasn't with these two?  In that case, these would not be decision makers, they would not be able to give the OK and even more oxygen would be depleted sending people back and forth to communicate...  He had gambled with his own life several times in the last few hours and days, he decided to gamble again now.  He would kill them.

He wasn't yet in a position to make strategic moves.  He had to show the bastards that he could kill them and was at least as crazy as the craziest of them.  He had to earn their respect in some form otherwise nothing would work in the future.

He hit the electronic lock on the exterior door.  He also hit the exterior lock on the door on their side!  Why hadn't he seen or thought of that before!?!

 Continue to Next Chapter - ... Coming Soon