David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part Three)William McIntire, head of one of the three independent quality control teams at O'Neill, tapped at the door in front of him. "Petya? Are you there, Petya?"
The lights in the corridor glowed dimly for the nighttime cycle and the air conditioning ran a little cooler. The air freshener smelled different as well. McIntire wondered if anyone else found these attempts to make the construction shack homelike annoying rather than soothing.
"Go away." The closed door muffled Petya’s voice.
"Come on. Talk to me."
"I said 'go away.'"
"Not a chance, Petya. Not until we talk."
The door slid aside. "And what have we to talk about?"
Petya stood a bare 160 cm tall and weighed maybe sixty kilos. His wore his solid black hair cut short. He looked almost like a doll next to McIntire’s 185 cm and 100 kilos.
"Plenty, I thought," McIntire said. "I thought we were friends."
"Friends?" Petya frowned. "Your people attacked mine."
Pyotr Maktsutov--everyone called him Petya--one of the two junior engineers on McIntire’s team, was doing a co-op year on exchange from the University of Leningrad. McIntire did not know all the details of the deal but he knew that the contract to deliver materiel to Lunaville had some role in it. Part of the deal required Petya to receive actual experience in space. That meant that McIntire’s team had moved from Earth--getting their data by telemetry from the colony--to the construction shack.
McIntire tried to catch Petya's eyes but Petya avoided him. "Yeah. I saw the same tape. You know that it was an accident. A stupid, insane accident."
"Accident?" For all his small size, Petya managed to put surprising energy into his voice. "Bozhe moi, do you know how many people died in that accident?"
"A lot." McIntire kept his voice soft. "Millions, I guess. And yes, I agree that it's tragic. But it's not half as tragic as the stupidity going on right now. The leaders of both countries, mine and yours, are being stupid." He shook his head. "None of this should be happening."
Petya remained silent.
Down the hall, another door slid open and someone poked their head out to look at McIntire and Petya. "Keep it down out there. Some folk are trying to sleep."
"Sorry," McIntire said to the man and turned back to Petya. "Look, I'm not going to stand out here arguing cases. Can I come in?"
One corner of Petya's mouth twitched. "Have I any choice?"
McIntire grinned. "Not much."
As Petya stood aside, McIntire stepped into the room. Petya had a room to himself as one of the benefits of the exchange program. Most of the other junior personnel had to share.
"Please sit down," Petya said.
With both bunk beds folded against the wall, the compartment barely held enough room for the two chairs. An easel and a half-completed charcoal drawing occupied most of the remaining space.
McIntire leaned close to the sketch. It showed O'Neill in a very early stage of construction. The moon hung in the background and the Rock, the large chunk of silicates connected to the construction shack by tether and around which the shack spun to give them the feeling of gravity, hung in the middle. The construction shack itself added balance in the foreground.
"Careful," Petya said as McIntire leaned closer.
McIntire jerked back. He glanced over his shoulder at Petya.
Petya smiled. "Charcoal smudges easily. I thought you about to touch it."
"I won't," McIntire said. He sat in one of the chairs. "You okay?" he asked.
Petya sank into the other chair. "I am...uncertain. This war has me confused. You, all of you, should be enemy, yet I cannot make myself believe that."
"We're none of us the enemy," McIntire said. "Not you, not me, none of us. We're just assorted victims. All of us, casualties of a war that's not our doing."
Petya sighed. "I...realize that, I think. Is still hard sometimes."
"I know. You love your country. It's home to you."
Petya nodded. "I know how it must look to you, but Russia has changed much since I was small boy. For my parents Russia was hard land to love, yet love it they did. And now?" He shrugged. "You are right. Is my home."
McIntire sat in silence a long time. Petya was a good kid. The insanity going on back on Earth did not change that. Finally, he said, "I'd like to keep you on my team. Charles agrees with me. That is, if you feel you can still work with us." He looked up to catch Petya's eye.
This time Petya did not avoid McIntire's gaze. "I would like that, I think."
"Good," McIntire clapped him on the shoulder, then he turned serious. "There's one thing you should realize though."
McIntire nodded. "There will be some, not many I hope, who will see you as the enemy. I know that this war's not your fault, or Russia’s fault, any more than it is mine or America’s, but I don't think some people will be able to see that clearly."
"I am not sure I understand," Petya said. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just stay calm," McIntire said. "Some people are going to try to make your life hell. For the most part you’ll just have to ride it out. It might be good to stick close to me and Charles whenever possible. Folk will be less likely to give you trouble then."
"I understand." He grinned. "I was teenager not too long ago. I suppose that people here can be no worse than Murmansk high school"
"Good man." McIntire rose to leave.
#"So what's the extent of our damage?" Jared Arthurs asked. He had collected the C.A.M.P.E.R. research team in the common room, a combination kitchen, lounge, and game room. The entire crew crowded with him. The temperature had dropped since power had gone off and Jared pulled a jacket over his jumpsuit.
"We've lost one of the solar collectors Crystal Gibson said. "The other has some power line damage so we're still on batteries but I think it's fixable.
"The external rack is gone entirely," Wade said. Once he had work to do, his fear had almost entirely disappeared. "It probably took the brunt of whatever hit us."
"The machine shop took some light damage, but we can fix it if we have to. Something punched a hole in our waste tank, but escaping water froze and resealed it. Our sewage is safe."
Jared nodded at Ralph Moulton.
"We've lost the external antennas," Moulton said. "That leaves us out of radio communications with anybody and everybody."
Jared nodded again. "Anything else?"
"All right," he said. "Anybody have any thoughts on what to do now?"
"Can't we use the escape capsule?" Michelle O'Brien asked. "I mean, this is an emergency and the Shuttle won't be coming to get us. Will it?"
"No," Jared said, his voice as calm as he could make it. "No, I don't think we can expect the Shuttle. The missile defenses are shooting at anything that bears even a passing resemblance to a missile. That's what hit us in the first place."
"So we abandon ship," Michelle said.
"Real smart, Shell," Crystal said. "We come down through the atmosphere in the emergency capsule, blazing for all the world like a reentering warhead. What happens then I leave as an exercise for the student."
"Oh," Michelle said quietly.
Jared gave a mental shake of the head that he very carefully kept away from his muscles. These people were not astronauts, they were machinists. A moment later he gave a half smile. Astronauts or not, they were handling this situation very well.
"All right," Jared said. "We're out of touch. We have one week's supplies, two with the emergency stores. We can't risk attempting to return to Earth with the emergency capsule. Nor can we expect rescue. What have we got to work with?"
"We can get power back," Crystal said. "With that, the machine shop will operate again. I don't know what good that will do us though."
Jared thought for a moment. "With the machine shop working, can we make some new antennas?"
"Easily" Wade said. "We can give you spinnings of optical quality if you want--bodies of rotation on any pattern you care to name."
"Not optical quality," Michelle said. "The laser polisher was on the external rack."
Jared shook his head. "Doesn't matter. We don't need optical quality for radio antennas. He paused for a moment. "That will be our first order of business. With antennas and power, we will be back in touch."
Relief showed on each of the others' faces. A job, something constructive to do, made them forget for a time their problems.
END CHAPTER TWO