A Flying Visit

"Just think". Said Phillip Goode as the Co-pilot entered from the cockpit.

"Down there on that blue disk". He tapped on the shuttle window for effect. "Is a cosy little house with a warm bed in it. In that bed is a good looking woman. Next to that woman is an empty space. I was in that space fast asleep just a few hours ago. Now I'm in this big cold, empty space." His voice trailed off. The co-pilot pulled himself down into one of the empty seats opposite.

"But think of all that extra money you'll be getting, Phil".

Phillip grunted. "Money is no good unless you live to spend it, James. And don't call me Phil, you know I don't like it. It's Phillip, two Ls."

James smirked "I know what you mean, you should have heard the overrides being silenced during pre-launch. Little Jack was bellowing 'It's got to go, it's got to go!' I nearly wet myself!"

"I'm glad you think it's so amusing, You won't be laughing when this old space bus starts rattling apart on re-entry."

James stretched his long legs across the narrow cabin. "You worry too much Phily boy, relax!". He clasped his hands behind his head.

"This mission is make or break time for all of us, no good getting all stressed up at a time like this."

Phillip leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, rubbing his sweaty palms together. His voice was low and deep. "No need to remind me. The big boss himself met me in the shuttle bay. He was squawking like a parrot, on and on about lost revenues, millions of pounds down the drain, the company in trouble. I thought he'd never shut up."

There was a noticeable groaning from the fuselage as the retro rockets fired and the shuttle slowed. James allowed himself to float out of the seat.

"Here we go, Phil, looks like we caught up with the satellite." Phillip watched the co-pilot disappearing back into the cockpit.

Alone with his thoughts, Phillip began to set them in some kind of order.

Five hours before he had been rudely awakened by the ringing of the phone. It was the control centre. One of the main satellites broadcasting to the whole of Europe had suddenly stopped. The signal was going up, it just wasn't coming back down. The satellite was still there, but it wasn't responding to any form of control signal. It seemed completely dead. The consequences of this had been made all too clear to him. If adverts weren't broadcast the advertisers wouldn't pay. Every hour that went by twelve minutes of adverts were lost for each and every country in Europe. That's an awful lot of money.

Phillip floated over to the robotic arm control panel and waited for the cargo bay doors to open. He stared through the porthole into the empty berth, in a few minutes it would be filled by the skeletal bulk of a damaged satellite. Then he could get to work. Then these nerves will disappear, he thought. Phillip felt the thump of the door motors starting up through the handgrip. At the same time James' voice sounded in his headphones "O.K. Phil, you're on!"

The cargo bay doors swung silently open to reveal the intended target apparently hovering just above the Shuttle. Phillip manipulated the robot arm using the joystick on the control panel, switching his gaze between the porthole and the screen being fed from the camera mounted on the arm. It extended itself like a giant insect leg towards its victim, snagging the prey and pulling it into its eager mouth. With the cargo safely aboard the doors closed and sealed.

"O.K. Phil." It was James again. "Wait for the pressure light and off you go. If you need anything, don't ask us, we only fly overweight aeroplanes!" James' laugh was cut short as he released the mike button. Phillip looked above the door and waited for a green light. Under the light was a sign which read "PRESSURE".

"Thanks for the reminder," Phillip said, mainly to the door.

The cold of space still lingered in the bay, despite the heat of the sun pouring through the portholes. Helmet on but visor open, he pulled himself hand over hand towards the damaged hardware. He skimmed over the structure to where he thought he had seen a hole whilst grabbing the thing. Sure enough, at the back of the main section was a neat circular hole about twenty centimetres across. "Wow, that's some puncture." He sighed.

Phillip pulled a powered driver from the belt around his waist and began to remove the shielding. With the debris shield out of the way, he could see the hole continuing on into the heart of the satellite. Phillip stowed the shielding in a net tethered at the side of the cargo bay. He then set to work removing the side panel. This done, and safely stowed, he pulled himself up and pushed his head into the gap. The light on his helmet showed another hole, this time in one of the main circuit boards.
Phillip felt a cold sweat run down his back. He hoped it was the cooling system of his suit. But then he realised, these light weight interior suits didn't have cooling systems. Phillip now knew for certain that the situation was serious, possibly even terminal.

That cold sweat ran again when he noticed the hole on the inside was at a ninety degree angle to the one in the skin! Another baffling thing that struck him whilst he was down was that the hole wasn't getting any smaller. Phillip had a sudden thought. Putting the driver into his mouth, a habit he had never managed to kick despite the accident with the battery, he pulled himself out and around the satellite and began to search for an exit hole. Not finding one he returned to his investigation. Phillip now worked with the haste of a worried man. Whilst they had provided him with spare parts, they hadn't had time to load up a full set. Don't worry, the chief engineer had said, (from his hotel in the Seychelles) it will only be something simple, a burn out in the transmitter or something. Yes, he thought, only the transmitter has a hole in it you could put your arm through.

- Copyright Steve Dean