0140: Final Preparations

Ziggurat #48

Clifford Ashton snapped his head toward the cockpit. “Do you mean to tell us that we’re going to get vomited out of Westward?”

“The spacesuits are located in these lockers,” The redheaded medic explained, tapping one of the wall compartments against which the seated expedition team were resting their backs. “I assume you all remember how to use one?”

The others nodded, and Lamont joined them without much confidence. He had a dim recollection of having been introduced to the Martian-style atmosphere suits during his whirlwind introduction to the Westward project. It was a strange sort of thing, made out of an apparently flimsy copper-colored foil that felt like a pair of oversized pyjamas until a seal was engaged, at which point it shrank to the exact size of the wearer, clinging close to the pressure suit beneath. His skin crawled at the memory of it.

“We’ll only be using them if there’s a compelling reason to take a spacewalk—or if, for some reason, the atmosphere of the pod is compromised. Just remember that if one person is wearing them, we all are, since this compartment is directly connected to the airlock,” Rosemary continued.

“Unless you’re up here with me,” Ed clarified. He was in the cockpit at the front of the pod, craning his neck around the side of a metal-framed chair as he managed a dizzying array of instruments. “If the back end depressurizes, the cockpit has its own seal—but only three or four people can fit up here at the most if it’s closed and anyone on the other side will be on their own.”

“Brilliant,” Lamont muttered.

“I suppose we’ll all want to be up there before long,” Clifford pointed out. “It’s the best view in the house.”

He had a point. From where he sat, Lamont could see a fraction of the expansive view provided by the pod’s bulbous front viewports.

“Best, but not only,” Abigail smiled. She had been busy pulling cables from a compartment of the metal chest she had brought and plugging them into a panel near the cockpit entrance. Now she opened the top of the box to reveal that it was actually a portable console of some kind, complete with a built-in visual monitor about six inches to a side. “This ties into the pod’s spectrometer systems,” She explained. “From here, I’ll be able to analyze anything that can’t be seen with the naked eye.”

Chief Wellington cleared his throat from where he sat, arms folded over his broad chest, on the metal bench. “Let’s just get on with it, shall we?” He suggested gruffly. 

Ed craned his neck to look at Abigail through the threshold. “I’m all set here, are you?”

Abigail nodded, double-checking that the wheels on the portable unit were locked. “All set, chief.”

Ed faced forward again and flicked a series of toggle switches that were over his head. “Everybody settle in. You might feel queasy for a minute before I engage the pod’s gravity coils. Hold onto the rails above you if you need to.”

There was a high-pitched whining sound from the front of the pod that deepened into a low, throbbing hum as Spratt ignited the pod’s fusion reactors. Inside the cargo cabin, the lights switched from red to a dull amber, while outside in the storage bay, the lights turned red, bathing the cockpit in a ruby glow. Through the metal chassis, Lamont could hear the blaring of a claxon. Ed pulled out a microphone handset from his console and held it to his mouth. “Depressurization in sixty seconds,” he said, and his voice echoed over the claxon. “Everybody out.”

He replaced the microphone and then looked around the side of his pilot’s chair. “I forgot to mention,” he said, “That takeoff might feel a little rough. We don’t want to activate the jets inside the bay, so we just open the airlock and let the pressure blow us out.”

Clifford Ashton, who until that moment had appeared to be lost in thought, snapped his head toward the cockpit. “Do you mean to tell us that we’re going to get vomited out of Westward?”

Ed shrugged. “Well, we’re coming out the aft, so call it what you want.” He picked up the microphone again. “Thirty seconds.”

Five hands simultaneously reached up to grip the rails that lined the curved top of the cabin.