Adventure Fiction

“Mission Control, Capistrano One” crackled the real-time voice link for a routine training mission on orbit around the moon.

“Go ahead, Capistrano One,” responded Mission Control.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

A sleepy-eyed overnight crew that had been fighting to remain vigilant at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX rose in unison with drill team precision. A pregnant pause ensued as, to a man—and woman— they scanned the large mission status display at the front of the room for any anomalies or divergence from the programmed mission profile. Every thing looked textbook perfect. What possibly could go so wrong in a mission with no other goal than to log a few required hours of flight time for an otherwise desk-bound astronaut bucking for early retirement?

 “Capistrano One, you have our undivided attention but his better not be some kind of joke. There are a few of us here who were interns in this very room when that message came from the Apollo 13 crew. We’re getting too old for  that sort of thing, and what do you mean by we? You’re on a solo mission.”

“Mission Control, with all due respect, we do have a problem. And that we includes you, me, and whoever is staring back at me through my observation port.”

“Capistrano One, when was your last oxygen saturation reading and what was the level?”

“I’m way ahead of you on that one, Mission Control. You may not recall, but I was a USAF medical officer before I transferred to the Space Force. Oh-two sat is ninety-six with a pulse of sixty-two. The person on my front stoop is no little green creature with six eyes and scaly skin, but from the looks of the two eyes she does have, she is terrified and I am her only hope for survival.”

For once, Mission Control was lost for words but quickly sensed the urgency of the high-stakes event playing out and took control of the situation.

“Capistrano One, have you established the nationality of your visitor?”

“Negative, Mission Control, but from her frantic mouthing of words, I can make out a clear ‘Help me, help me.’ And, to answer your next question, she is fully suited in what appears to be an EVA outfit, complete with an emergency bottle of pure oxygen. I can’t imagine that she has much time to spare with her heightened anxiety and rapid respiration rate.”

“Copy that, Doc,” Mission Control responded. “Let’s try a few quick cue cards to allay her fears, if that’s even possible.”

The thirty seconds it took Capistrano One to elicit eye-blink responses to simple written questions seemed like an eternity to Mission Control until the silence broke.

“Mission Control, she understands English and has her respiration rate under control. I lied when I told her we had a plan to take her aboard but false hope is better medicine than no hope at all. I didn’t tell her this craft has no airlock. So what’s our plan?”

“What does your collision avoidance system show for your neighborhood, Doc?”

“Did you say collision avoidance system? That’s all automated on this commuter special but I’ll pull it up for a look-see. Stand by.”

“OK, it’s lit up like a Christmas tree but with everything that responds with a friendly ID flagged, I do see a couple of larger craft marked as ‘abandoned’ not far from my position.”

“Perfect, Doc. Package up the formal report data and zip it down to us ASAP. Then give us a few minutes to analyze the possibilities.”

While waiting for Mission Control to respond with its take on how to proceed, Capistrano One continued to feed increments of hope to the stranger. Doc yearned to know more about how she became stranded alone in space but he hesitated to take that path lest her oxygen usage would shoot up. Likewise, he avoided any messages that even hinted at her country of origin weighing into the decision whether or not to take on the risk of such a transfer. Mentally, he had switched places with her and that guided their conversation. With her faceplate pressed against the view port, she already had an advantage of reading all the patches on his flight suit but if any of that had concerned her, she hid it well.”

“Capistrano One, we have a plan. As you already mentioned, your craft does not have an airlock to facilitate entry and you do not have full EVA capability to allow you to just open the hatch and have her step inside.

“But we lucked out with all that debris around you. One of the abandoned units near you is a small orbital transfer vehicle with an airlock that was disabled by blowing off the outer door when it was decommissioned. But, that won’t keep you from docking with it as long as she is not blocking your hatch. We have uploaded the necessary command sequence to bring your craft within a few meters of the transfer craft. From there it’s all in your capable hands.”

“Roger, Mission Control. I will instruct her to hang on right where she is for the short excursion at which point she can use her EVA gas thrusters to enter the airlock of the abandoned craft. Then, I can dock with that craft, pop the seal on my hatch just enough to equilibrate pressures, and we should be good to go.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth, Doc. But, I do need to tell you that there could be new issues from the equilibration phase since we don’t know if that other craft has remained airtight over the years. Monitor your cabin pressure carefully throughout the whole procedure.”

“Absolutely. I don’t want a travesty turning into a disaster.”

“Did you say travesty, Doc?”

“You heard me right. With limited ability to converse with her at this point I was only able to get basic information but I sensed that she was abandoned during an EVA.”

The trip to the abandoned transfer craft was uneventful and, in the zero-G environment of space, the unexpected guest had no problem remaining attached to Capistrano One. The look of desperation in her eyes had actually turned to guarded hope. It reminded Doc of his days as a medical officer when patients were told they would recover from whatever ailed them.

On station, adjacent to the gaping hole that was the former airlock of the transfer craft, she carefully tested her gas thrusters before loosening her grip on Capistrano One. With the first hint of a smile since the ordeal began, she floated away from Capistrano One and entered the airlock.

Doc carefully nudged his capsule against the docking port and executed a lock between the two. After checking his own capsule pressure, he manually opened a small port that allowed a slow, controlled exchange of atmospheric gases. As he waited for equilibration, he monitored the pressure continuously. It would indeed be a disaster if they had gotten this far and found the abandoned craft to be a leaky old piece of space junk.

“Bingo!” exclaimed Doc to himself but with an open voice channel to Mission Control. “We have equilibration with just a minor leak. We’ll complete the transfer before that becomes a problem.”

With that, he issued the command for opening the hatch automatically and exhaled a sigh of relief when his cabin pressure held as the hatch swung open. Before he could instruct the visitor to enter, she popped into Capistrano One and hugged Doc with a grip that startled him. He had to peel each of her arms off his body to get her to the spare flight seat.

After she stopped shaking from relief, he used simple hand signals to indicate he needed to close the hatch on Capistrano One. With that accomplished, he released his craft’s grip on the other and they drifted apart. Mission accomplished.

“Mission Control, we have transfer. Our mystery guest is Svetlana Ivanov and she hasn’t stopped talking since she took off her EVA gear. She was abandoned by the Russians when a clandestine salvage effort went sour. She has formally requested asylum as she considers this capsule American territory and I must say those beautiful brown eyes that were filled with terror earlier have captured my heart. If she gets refused asylum, I just might consider sponsoring her as my new bride. An early gift for my pending retirement.”

“Capistrano One, you might consider checking your oh-two sat again and repeating that last transmission.”

“Houston, we do not have a problem. Now, if you’ll excuse us…”

February 07, 2023 15:04

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Richard E. Gower
02:36 Feb 16, 2023

Awww, a space drama with all the technical elements right on the money, complete with a happy ending. Liked it a lot. -:) RG


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Laurel Hanson
22:48 Feb 14, 2023

This is a completely enjoyable read. The opening is certainly captivating, I mean what a great concept. Like that old Twilight Zone with a monster on the wing, but in this case, even more inexplicable. You resolved the technical matters really fluidly so that they didn't bog the reader down. Really nice.


Steve Warford
00:13 Feb 15, 2023

Thanks, Laurel. Under my pen name of Murt Gibson, I write fairly technical stories in a couple of genres but I like to write in what I call "user friendly" mode, whether it is deep science or heavy history. Under my real name, I wrote a memoir of my generation and I definitely wrote to entertain while educating - reader friendly history.


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