H. E. Remus
I can see the rectangular ship descending from just above the platform outside the entrance to the port. Its gleaming silver coat reflects some of the Sun’s luminescent, uncontrolled rays beaming through our solar system. The tainted glass on the ship’s bow indicates the cockpit. Its thrusters are on low. This is a class D civilian and cargo transport ship. Coming from Earth, probably more immigrants, tourists, and travelers come to inhabit the ORB.
“Astropilot Clark of the Orchid to Docking Bay Y-9. Safety code 975-389-238. Orchid is prepared for landing. Requesting clearance to initiate anchor magnetics.” A static voice comes over the radio. I turn to the left where it sits in the console, beneath the lighting switches and above the air pressure and chemical controls.
I adjust the pressure in the docking bay with the control on the console. It’s always strange when the nothingness of space is just beyond the bay, half a mile beyond my thick glass window from the control room to the opening of the bay. One hundred seventy-three lights and buttons blink at me in varying codes in all different colors.
I flick on the switch beside the speaker on the left. “Docking Bay Y-9 to Astropilot Clark.” I reply into the mic on the console. “Ship Orchid is cleared for landing. Initiate magnetics. Responding magnetics will be ready.” I turn off the mic.
“Orchid is dropping anchor now.” I hear Clark’s voice on the radio. I don’t reply. I believe in brevity.
I know what every single light, every single switch means. I switch on the gravity magnetics, and the ship’s thick anchors drop down the last few feet to lock against the platform with a thud. I can see the platform groan underneath the weight of the class D ship. Cargo ships are always heavier. I flip the switch for the intake platform, and it begins its automated slide into the port slowly.
“Prepare to close docking bay doors.” I say aloud.
“Docking bay doors on standby.” Replies Zeres behind me. I hear her charge the engines. There is no wasting energy in space. We only use what we need. The platform has drawn the whole freighter inside.
“Shut the doors.” I can see that the ship is powering down. No residual heat from the thrusters. As the bay doors begin to shut out the intruding sunlight, I hear the pilot’s voice again.
“Astropilot Clark to Control Room Y-9. The Orchid has landed. Permission to open the doors.”
I briskly turn to the mic, angry with him for bothering me while I am still stabilizing the environment. I flick the on switch. “This is Control Room Y-9, Clark, negative, that is a negative. Environment has not been pressurized. The doors are still-“
“Controller Rhys, the doors won’t close.” I hear Zeres’ voice behind me. I turn around and see her fiddling with the controls. My hands still in place on the air pressure, I look out through the glass at the docking bay. I can see the sunlight still streaming through the last several dozen feet from space.
“Why not?” I snap back.
“I don’t know.” She replies, “It feels like something is pushing against the handle.” I see her struggling with the final arm of the mechanism on the wall, the arm that guides the powerful, heavy mechanical doors shut.
“Control Room Y-9, are you there?” I hear the voice on the radio. I notice the microphone is still on. He heard everything that just happened in the room. I turn it off.
“Controller Rhys!” Zeres is calling. “Help!”
I grit my teeth. This is the third time this has happened this week. When are they going to fix the damn doors? I rise from my chair. I look out the window to the doors. I stare them down. Maybe it’s a power problem. They don’t have enough juice to close? I grab the handle from Zeres. “Give it to me.” I say. She lets go her grip. Her young, inexperienced eyes are panicking behind her decent facade.
I grip the handle. It does feel as if something is pushing back, as if something is pushing against the doors.
They won’t close.
I pull and pull, for what seems like a long time.
I sweat and I pull harder than I have all week. I can feel them giving. I can feel them closing.
“You’re doing it!” Zeres squeals. I can hear her smiling. “I can see them closing!”
“Yes, thank you.” I grunt through my teeth.
“Now go to the console.” I say.
Her face looks petrified. “Just do it.” I command in a loud voice.
She walks to it.
“Look for the Greek letter Gamma.” I shout at her. “I need you to activate the magnetic door locks.”
I watch her search for it. “It looks like a strange small Y!” I say impatiently, just as I feel myself about to give up, just as the doors get close enough for the locks to work.
I see her reach for the switch.
I feel the release of the handle as the locks click into place in my peripheral vision. I don’t need to look for sure. I am about to go out there. I can still hear the static of the channel to the Orchid. I walk over to the radio and flick on the mic.
“Control Room Y-9 to Astropilot Clark aboard the Orchid.” I say. I look out at the ship. Several workers are waiting around it to clean and fuel the Class D freighter. “Astropilot Clark, are you there? Come in please.” I hear no answer.
“What happened out there?” Zeres asks. I look over at her with a frown.
“Stop looking so scared, for Sun’s sakes.” I snap at her. “I don’t know.” I turn back to the radio. There is just static. “Clark? Come in, Astropilot Clark.” I repeat this a few times before I hear a crackling sound against the radio, and then what sounds like a strange whoosh. Almost as if air had left the ship in a giant breath. Out in the bay, the lights flicker for a moment. Then they go out. I can hear the shouts of the workers faintly as they scatter.
I walk across the room to the door where my spacesuit is kept. I open the closet. Above the suit there is a huge flashlight.
“All right.” I say to Zeres. “You’re gonna help me put this on, and I’m gonna go check out the docking bay. There is something broken out there and I am going to fix it.”
She crosses the room. Just as she reaches me, the whole place goes dark.