MidReal Story

Stellar Odyssey

Scenario: travel in space
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travel in space
I leaned back in my seat and looked at Earth from the International Space Station.
At 400 kilometers above the surface, we were almost close enough to touch it, or that was how I liked to imagine it.
A few of the guys on the crew had told me that the view got old fast, but I’d been up here for months and still felt like I could spend hours just staring at the planet.
I’d grown up in the mountains of Colorado, and I’d been a hiker, a climber, and a skier for as long as I could remember.
Even when I wasn’t on some kind of expedition, I’d spend as much time as possible outside, breathing the fresh air and admiring the world around me.
There was something about being up here in space, looking down at Earth, that made my heart ache a little.
I felt like we were so close to the planet, but at the same time, so far away.
When I was a kid, I’d dreamt of being an astronaut so I could explore the world and see things no one else had seen.
And while I was technically an astronaut now, I spent most of my time in space looking at Earth from above.
Well, when I wasn’t on a spacewalk.
I took a deep breath and tried to push those thoughts aside.
This wasn’t the first time I’d done this job and it wouldn’t be the last.
It had been a long day already and I still had hours more work to do before my shift was over.
And we were on a schedule; we had a satellite to repair and not much time to do it.
I shook my head to get back on task and then looked down at my feet.
The satellite was right there below me, but it looked like it was miles away because we were both moving so fast.
The ISS orbits Earth at about 28,000 kilometers per hour, or 17,500 miles per hour for you Americans out there.
That’s fast enough to go around our entire planet in just 90 minutes or so.
And because the satellite and I were moving at almost the same speed, it looked like it was just hanging there in space.
It was a cool illusion, but it made things a little tricky up here sometimes too.
We didn’t have much room for error while we were doing our work.
I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself before reaching out to grab the satellite with one hand so I could start working on it with the other one.
The voice of my colleague Sarah crackled over the radio in my ear.
“Are you ready to get started?”
She was inside the station, watching me through a camera that was trained on me from above.
Or rather on the satellite that I was working on.
I took another quick look around to make sure that everything was secure before grabbing hold of one of the cables that was dangling from the bottom of the satellite.
“Okay,” she said.
“First thing you need to do is remove that cover.”
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I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me, and started unfastening the bolts.
“All right,” she said.
“You’re going to need to connect the power cables now.
Once you finish that, the power should be restored.”
I gave her a thumbs-up, even though she couldn’t see me, and started connecting the cables.
Sarah was the lead engineer on the team, and I’d worked with her for years.
We knew each other pretty well by this point, and we’d done so many spacewalks together that we could communicate with just a few words.
There was no need for us to talk more than we had to when we could be concentrating on our work instead.
As soon as I had the last cable connected, Sarah spoke again.
She sounded pleased.
That was it; you’re all done up there.
And the good news is that the satellite seems like it’s in good shape and ready for deployment.”
I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me, and then I carefully detached the few tools that I still had hanging from my belt and attached them to the station with a short tether so I wouldn’t lose them.
Sarah sighed over the radio.
I could imagine her looking down at her feet, just like I had before.
She was a short woman, even by Earth standards, and she had to use a footstool when she wanted to reach the higher shelves in the lab.
She had short blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pretty face that didn’t seem to be aware of how pretty it was.
I always thought she was cute, but I wasn’t stupid enough to fall for her.
In space, you can’t really avoid your colleagues, and I wasn’t about to make things any more awkward than they already were by getting involved with someone I had to work with every day.
“I’m sorry,” she said, bringing me out of my thoughts.
“It’s not your fault,” I said as I finished securing the tools.
“We can’t predict solar flares, can we?”
I glanced out at the sun, even though I knew that I wouldn’t actually be able to see it from where we were.
The sun was directly below us, and we were orbiting the planet in the same direction that it was spinning.
So, technically, we were moving faster than the speed of light.
That was about all the physics I knew, but it was enough for me to understand why we couldn’t see the sun from here.
There was nothing but darkness above us, and the sun was too far away and too bright for us to be able to see it from this distance anyway.
But that didn’t mean it couldn’t hurt us.
“We need to get out of here,” Sarah said.
“That storm is moving faster than we thought it would, and it’s headed right for us.”
“I’m on my way.” My heart was pounding so hard that I felt like it might burst out of my chest, but I tried not to let it show in my voice.
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I started back toward the spacecraft as fast as I could.
The solar flare would produce high-energy radiation in all directions, and if any of that radiation managed to breach our shielding, we were as good as dead.
I didn’t know how much radiation was too much–I’d been a pilot before I became an astronaut–but I knew that even a second of exposure to the wrong kind of radiation could kill me.
So, I did my best to keep moving without panicking.
I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes right now, not if I wanted to live.
I glanced back at the sun again as I made my way across the last set of handrails.
It was still just a bright spot in the darkness, but there were thin lines of light radiating out around it like spokes on a wheel.
I knew that those lines were coronal loops of hot gas that were about to separate from the sun and hurtle out into space on a collision course with our spacecraft.
They would hit us in a few minutes, if they hadn’t already.
Maybe I should have been terrified about that fact, knowing that I was about to be slammed with enough force to throw off my balance for a few seconds.
But I wasn’t scared at all.
In fact, part of me was almost excited for it to happen.
It was like seeing a tornado up close, or watching a wildfire sweep across the forest.
I knew that I should be afraid, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at nature’s power.
It was beautiful when you looked at it from a safe distance, but up close, it was terrifying; a reminder of just how small and insignificant we really were.
I reached the spacecraft just in time to see the first of the loops hit the ship.
It didn’t look like much at first, just a thin line that streaked across the darkness in front of me for a few seconds before disappearing again.
But then, the whole spacecraft shuddered, and I heard a loud sound like something heavy had hit the hull.
The whole ship shook again, this time more violently than before, and the lines around the sun grew brighter, until I had to look away to keep from being blinded by their light.
“Alex, are you okay?”
Sarah’s voice came over the intercom, and I took a deep breath as I opened the hatch and stepped inside the ship.
I was back in the airlock again, and although we had only been apart for a few minutes, it felt like a lifetime.
“I’m here,” I said.
“I’m okay.” I quickly stripped off my suit and checked the radiation counter on the wall.
I didn’t know what the numbers were supposed to be, but there didn’t seem to be any alarms going off, so that was good.
I didn’t see any sign of Sarah, either, which meant that she was probably still in the cockpit.
I stepped out of the airlock and made my way up to join her.
The spacecraft was dark and silent, except for the soft hum of the engines, and I almost wished that it wasn’t.
The silence was almost as scary as the solar flare had been, and it made me feel like I was all alone out here.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Sarah said when she saw me.
“Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
I shook my head.
“Is everything okay in here?”
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