The two stars nearest the Valiant Explorer are going supernova – and they cannot outrun the explosion. The crew is manually applying the trinite to the ship, and the last compartment has yet to be sealed. The men drew straws to determine who the last two men working outside would be. Once finished, the ship would be sealed and there was no way for them to get back inside.
8:00 PM Estimated 5 Hours to Supernova
The room emptied slowly. Finally all that remained were Vince, Tank, Jim and Ted. Vince assisted as Ted and Jim put on their high pressure suits. Designed by ASAUF (Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United Federation) to withstand temperatures up to 1200 degrees, they had with three layers of trinite infused cloth underneath the radiation shielding.
The bulky suits were reinforced for hazardous duty. Each arm ended in a mitt with a trinite “hand” extending from it. Inside the mitt were virtual sensors, like the type used in virtual reality gaming sets. The sensors relayed information into the artificial limb which then acted like a human hand. If you made a fist in the mitt, then the trinite hand did the same.
Ted tested his suit, flexing the hands and flipping the sun visor up and down. He checked his oxygen mix and made sure the tank was full. Vince checked each man for any holes or scrapes that would endanger them in the suits. Finally he slapped their helmets lightly and gave each a thumbs up.
“Good luck! Vince yelled to them. Without a radio and mike he had to yell to be heard inside the suit. Tank echoed the sentiment. Jim nodded. The suit was cool, which was a little uncomfortable in here but would be a lifesaver out there near the sun where the mean temperature was already a bone searing 850 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment.
Vince and Tank shook their hands and thumped them on the back. The respect in their eyes when they left bolstered his courage a little. It was very quiet inside his helmet. Ted listened to his breathing. It sounded really loud and came in quick gasps as he stepped into the airlock. Vince and Tank sealed them in, and would any minute open the outer bay doors.
He looked outside through a small portal. On the other side of that door was outer space. The wonder of it all began to overtake him. It looked peaceful, like something you could see from your front lawn. Except for the blazing suns (behind the aircraft at the moment or else they could not have withstood the heat) the rest of the universe looked tangible. A pretty picture, like the Grand Canyon back home. We’ve all seen photos of the grand vistas and steep plunges down multicolored cliffs. You don’t realize until you get there that looking at it is still like viewing a photograph. Even though you are there, it is simply so large, so vast that most of what you are looking at is actually very far away.
He had thought that once he got to outer space that the stars and planets would look different somehow, bigger or closer or something. That had not been the case, unless they were flying directly by a solar system the view was always the same. A black carpet sprinkled with tiny pinpricks of white, red or blue depending on the type of sun. The scale of the planets, stars and galaxies was overwhelming; the distances between them were nothing more than numbers. Beyond his comprehension. How insignificant we really are. He thought of the fickle thing, life, and how fragile it actually was. One pin hole in this suit… one pin hole and the vacuum of space will suck all the air out, make my blood boil oh and hey if that doesn’t kill me the temperatures outside of the door will. He raised his hand and the mechanical arm raised itself too. He studied it as though it was an alien thing. One pin hole. A fine sweat broke out across his upper lip.
Suddenly Ted was interrupted by the speakers set inside his helmet. He jumped, but was so thankful he almost laughed out loud; he had been seriously psyching himself out. Shake it off man, shake it off. Jim was speaking to him.
“Ted, are you listening to me?” Jim asked, looking at him. His voice sounded tinny and small inside his helmet.
Ted nodded. “Yea man, yea.”
Jim nodded. He pointed to a large silver hose with an industrial nozzle on the end of it. ”This here is your basic trinite layer. The stuff is melted in the foundry back there,” he pointed toward the ship behind them, “and on the way to the hose the mix ratio with the iron…” Jim saw that he was losing Ted. “Well, it all boils down to that nozzle. It spreads the trinite like those old insulation spreaders. Don’t let it jam, and don’t aim it straight up or we’ll be wearing the trinite. Keep the business end close to the ship’s surface; we don’t want to lose any.” Both men waited for the airlock to depressurize as Jim continued instructing.
“Keep tethered to the ship at all times. Do not remove your tether for any reason Ted, no matter what you may see or whatever may happen. If you drift away from the ship we have no way to get out there and rescue you. There might be about 3 hours in that oxygen bottle but there’s no way you would last that long.”
Ted nodded, mouth open like a guppy. Yes sir. Radiation shielding on his suit could only help so much. Right now they would be working in the shadow of the ship, not in direct view of the suns. The ships magnetic shields were deflecting the worst of the radiation. Drift out of that protection, and even the bulky spacesuits would be next to useless.
“You trying to get me to quit?” Ted cracked out a joke. It fell kind of flat.
“Nope, just making sure you know how serious this is.” Jim answered.
“Hey, the tether stays on. You won’t get any problems from me.” Ted said.
A crackle in their helmets let them know that Tank and Vince had come online.
“Guys. You ready to go?” Vince wanted to know. Ted swallowed audibly.
“Who would be ready for this?” Jim wondered. “Yea,” he said out loud, “we’re ready.”
The outer airlock doors began to separate, exposing the airlock to the searing heat outside. The men were sweating within minutes. Jim knew that the supernova could go at any moment. They moved out on to the hull of the ship. Ted found the experience surreal. He could see and feel his gravity boots locking on to the hull every time he put his foot down, but he couldn’t hear them and that was disconcerting. Back In the cargo bay the boots had made a heavy clanking noise when he walked across the floor. He had to keep looking down to make sure he was making contact with the ship and not stepping off into space.
After a few false starts (Ted had to get used to the equipment) they began to lay the last of the trinite. After an hour Vince signaled them to come inside. They had to check their suits for wear and replenish them with water, coolant and oxygen. Vince decided that they should just change into new suits. Hot trinite could build up on the mechanical hand, rendering it useless. Specks of it already lined the wrists of the suit and the tips of the hands. Laborious as it may be, it was safer to get into new suits to finish the rest of the work. They were about half way done with the last door.
Vince and Ted said their goodbyes. The ship’s personnel were going back into cryostasis. It was the only possible way for their fragile human bodies to survive the blast. It took nearly a half hour to get one of the pods online and full of fluid and they had to get their own pods up and running. Vince assured Jim and Ted that he would turn theirs on – hell you never know, they might make it back. The truth was that if they didn’t make it back it wouldn’t matter if their pods stayed on or not. If they did make it back, having the pods online might make all the difference. It would be beyond uncomfortable to have to initiate the process themselves, but when considering the alternative… a few tubes and hoses could be handled. Jim shuddered, remembering those tubes. He prayed that he would be laughing about it in a few years.