NASA Engineer-First-Class Arnold Francesca hears a beep and takes his eyes from the deepest recesses of the ion engine and looks down at the LCD hologram display. In the environment of his EVS, the image is crisp and readable. His eyes flick past the generic mission data that reminds him of what it is he has decided to do with his life.
Joint Mission: NASA/ESA Deep space Trappist 1b
Day since thaw: 2
Standard deployment EVA + 9 hours
Check external condition of ion engines.
Yes thank you, he thinks to himself as he scrolls the page down a bit and sees the blinking red envelope, indicating a com check has been requested from command.
He pictures the duty NCO, dark-haired beauty, uniform snug like it wasn’t one-size-fits-all. Miracle actually. She was one of the few who could fill it out. Everyone else looked dressed in a shiny trash bag, but not Engineer-Specialist-6 Darla
He works the words over in his mind before speaking, it feels like it’s been a while since he last spoke, “Com check, over,”
“Com check, heard, over.” Her voice answers back as if tentative, maybe relieved to hear from him, but Arnie, as he is known around the ship, knows his imagination plays tricks on him. He doesn’t mind obliging the occasional fantasy and he finds himself happy to hear the balance of nervousness in the NCO’s voice.
Old Arnold’s still got it.
“How’s it going in there,” he asks.
“It’s quiet and safe with comfy seats and well-ventilated air conditioning. You wouldn’t like it. Things with you?”
“It’s cold and lonely here. I wouldn’t mind a warm body to look forward to when I get back.”
“I will let Bruno know to expect you.”
Bruno was the ship mess officer. A nice guy, but not one to make a bunk feel roomier.
“Say Arnie, could you run a rad check for us?’
“Rad check: nil.”
“Ion check: nil”
“Just cold inert tech.”
“Cool, thanks for that.”
Thanks for that? Darla did not say thanks for that. Darla was an ice queen. A beauty. A stoic. An untouchable. The EVA crew liked to flirt with her, but it was like flirting with a wall.
Francesca finds himself again staring in the center of the ion engine, just floating, his mind emptying of thought. It’s his best skill, like a toilet flushing. But he kept the last image in his mind, of Darla and her perfectly fitted uniform. She is always there to keep him centered.
Captain Ventura stands with his arms clasped behind his back. His face downturned. He looks over the shoulder of his NCO directing Com. She’s the monitor that records all back and forth between support and bridge staff. The yellow cursor sits in the top left corner of the bright blue screen unmoved.
“Maybe you should visit the Doc again.”
Darla wipes tears from her eyes. “It was him. Why won’t you believe me.”
“None of us want him to be dead. Believe me.”
Darla wails and collapses forward her body convulsing with sorrow.
Ventura nods and two security personnel approach. He touches Darla on the shoulder, “let’s go see the Doctor-Specialist, maybe some rest will help.”