He triple-checked everything, sticking to the official checklist. Alone, on the night side of Viviani—a rocky subsatellite in the Poerava system—was not the time nor place to play cowboy and go off script. As frustrating as that may be.
“Aleksander to base, still ready to make the splice.”
“I said stand by,” came the reply in his headset, short and terse.
He checked his oxygen; plenty left. The real killer out here was boredom. He started the checklist for the fourth time.
There had been comms issues from day one. Inbound messages had been choppy, or delayed, or inexplicably missing. And who knew what the outbound feed was like? They thought they had the solution though, and Aleksander jumped at the chance to suit up, hike a few klicks around the moonlet’s curve, and splice a qubit shunt into the array. It was something to do. But of course, now that he was here it was all hurry up and wait. Typical.
“Aleksander to base, do you have an update?” He waited. “Aleksander to base, copy?” Nothing. That was very unusual. He stood up, walked around a little to keep the blood flowing, made slow circles with his joints. Five long minutes passed. “Aleksander to base, copy?” He counted to ten. Silence. The comms problems were manifesting in new ways. He probably could just make the splice and be done with it. But that’s not what the book said to do. Damnit. He left everything as it was—tools, equipment, miscellaneous supplies; there was no atmosphere here, no weather. It would be fine until he, or someone else, returned.
He marched back to base.
Every quarter-klick or so he’d radio base again, but he never got a response. Still, the process tamped down his displeasure, kept his mind at ease. At last, he circled the crag that stood beside the base, and stood frozen with horror. Every module was blown out like overpressurized tin cans. Tanks of hydrogen and oxygen floated overhead, having been accelerated beyond Viviani’s meager escape velocity. Crystallized atmosphere hung in the vacuum like a sky of shattered glass. How long had it been since he’d heard from anyone? Could someone still be alive in there? No, he knew, but he frantically worked his way up the steep hill anyway. He had to check.
He suddenly had much bigger problems than the comms array.
Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Karen Papazian, used with permission.