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The Hot Gate: Prologue
Last updated: Monday, February 7, 2011 21:08 EST
As a younger lad, Butch Allen had thought about many things he might do when he finally grew up. When he was five he was going to be a cowboy. Then he found out that job skill had grown out of fashion and that it was no longer politically correct, or in fact legal, to shoot Injuns. Fireman looked good for a while. Police officer was on the list. By the time he was in junior high he had accepted that he would probably end up working the line at the GE plant, maybe be a shade-tree mechanic on the side.
Desperately trying to cut open another melted hatch on the outside of a three kilomter wide door while a nuke went off less than a kilometer away had never even crossed his mind. Ever. Not even close. Not in the same universe.
Detonation in three two
Do we push or hang on, Mister Allen?
Whatever Butch was about to say, and even he couldnt remember afterwards, he hadnt been following his own advice. The ten megaton pusher nuke that team six had installed on the other side of the door didnt impart much energy to the Troy but it did impart enough to move it a bit. Just enough, and given some flexing on the part of the multimillion ton, kilometer thick, nickel iron door, for Butchs sled to slam into the inside of the mostly, in fact nearly fully, cut away hatch.
Said hatch, responding to the laws of physics, then tumbled outwards. Into the plasma wash of the nuke. Followed by Butchs sled.
What saved Butchs life was distance, angularity and the door. The nuke had been installed in a crater made by one of the Rangora missiles that had closed the Therms door oh so effectively. Thus most of the blast was upwards and away from Butchs position. Most. Virtually all of the rest hit the hatch. Since a kilometer matters in space, it had both cooled a good bit and spread out. There was still some serious velocity, however, which tumbled the hatch back into Butchs sled, cracking it and spinning it back into the maintenance tunnel to carome until it hit something solid. Which it quickly did when it hit Jinjis suit.
Jinjis suit was fairly robust and since joining the Apollo team theyd made sure it was fully up to snuff. So it withstood the relatively low velocity impact. Butch was wearing his own suit so the cracks in the sled were not immediately fatal.
Butch had survived being in the blast front of a nuke. Few could say that.
The question was, whether hed ever get a chance to tell anyone. Because while he had physically survived and the nuke being super-clean he had no danger of death from irradiating radiation, that left one last tiny issue.
Electro magnetic pulse.
EMP was rarely an issue in space. EMP from nukes was caused by atmospheric atoms being stripped of their electrons and thus creating an electrified wave front which in turn did all sorts of damage to complex electronics. Even the clean fusion reaction didnt create the issue.
However, when a clean fusion bomb is detonated in contact with nickel-iron, the nickel-iron atoms are stripped of their electrons. And any delicate electronics, such as a suits navigation and atmospheric control pack, shut off.
Butch took a suck of air and there wasnt any. Not vacuum, just not circulating. No more air was entering his helmet. Probably ever. He could suck and suck and suck and he wasnt going to get any air.
Apollo, with the exception of the placement of ship fabbers, planned well. There was a plan for this. There was even training. All that Butch had to remember was to remain calm and, oh, yeah, that long-ago training class.
There were, in fact, two choices. Both involved exiting the sled.
Some of the Apollo systems had been designed with the input of experienced professional divers. One thing that technical divers know is that air is a good thing when theres not any around you. So there was a way to extend a line from the suit to another suit and borrow their air.
Butch thought there might be a couple of issues. While he knew where the emergency air link was on Jinjis suit, and that they were compatible, he wasnt sure if it needed a functioning suit on his side to work. And he wasnt willing to try one thing and not have it work. Since he had, like, zero time. So that left plan b.
On the exterior of the sled was an emergency body pack. It had an air recirculation system. Butch didnt know why all his electronics had gone dead, EMP was barely a word to the welder, but he knew something had screwed everything electronic. However, the air pack in the body bag was manual. Just a little oxygen valve attached to an unfortunately small air-pack. Nothing electronic. Butch didnt know that a junior engineer when they were designing the emergency survival pack, one each, pointed out that in the event of an EMP or similar space event such as a coronal mass ejection they wanted something manual. And for a wonder the more senior engineers and even the engineering managers nodded and stroked their beards and wondered if little jerk was angling for their job but went with it anyway.
All of that went through his head when he sucked and there was nothing there. No air. No air. The second thought that went through his head, instantly suppressed, was to tear his helmet off and breath the nice vacuum around him. Immediately following that was the word MOMMY. Clear as a bell.
Butch was never sure, afterwards, exactly how long those thoughts took. He knew he took one more breath, just to be sure, then decided he wasnt going to keep trying. The air wasnt coming back.
He calmly hit the quick release on his harness then the fast hatch on the sled. The fast hatch was to be used only in emergencies. It blew the hatch off with a light jet of nitrogen and required that the entire hatch be essentially rebuilt. Bottom of the list on what was going to have to be rebuilt on this sled. And this was, definitively, an emergency.
Butch calmly grabbed the hatch and pulled himself into the corridor. Jinji started to reach for him using one of his waldoes and Butch, making sure he didnt tumble, waved the waldo away. The wave was somewhat wild, panic sneaking through his hard held calm. It triggered him trying to take another breath and one leg kicked a bit too hard, almost sending him out into the corridor in a tumble. That would have been bad. So he controlled himself.
He moved his hand to the grab bar then pulled himself to the rear of the sled. At that moment it occurred to him that what with everything else the bags container might have been damaged or lost. But there it was, a small ovoid like a big orange pill.
Butch carefully detached it, one mistake and he was never ever going to breathe again, and pressed the red button on the ovoid with both thumbs. The bag deployed smoothly, flex metal components opening it into an orange tunnel, closed at the bottom, open at Butchs end.
No air, no air
Butch realized that his vision was closing in but ignored it. He was either going to get in the bag successfully, get the air going and open his helmet or he wasnt.
He carefully slid both boots into the rather narrow opening then reached down, one careful hand at a time, and pulled the two red tabs on either side of the tunnel. They wouldnt give until his boots hit the bottom at which point the top of the bag snapped shut. And, according to everything hed been told, the oxygen system should flood the bag with O2.
Butch carefully reached up and popped his helmet seals. The rush of gases coming out of his suit, not to mention the icepicks in his ears and the sucking on his eyeballs, almost panicked him again. But he exhaled as hed been trained to prevent pulmonary embolism. Probably took a second for the bag to pressurize. That was all. Few seconds, max. Or it had a puncture he hadnt seen when he skipped the step examine the exterior for cracks, dents or punctures. What the hell, he could breathe vacuum for a looong time.
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