Jan 8, 2017
For our first episode of 2017, we go into…space! An experimental stretch for us, and there are times where you can almost hear us reaching for words to describe things we're not familiar with. Hope you enjoy it!
Music: Creepy — Bensound.com.
James: Here are some
"Totally Made Up Tales" brought to you by the magic of the
Internet. In this episode, "Airlock Number Six".
Andrew: The black depths of space stretched out as far as the eye could see.
James: Maria was so used to the sight that she barely gave it a glance these days.
Andrew: She was engrossed in her work of routine maintenance on the outside of the spaceship and her mind was wandering from the task at hand to her plan for the rest of the day.
James: First, of course, dinner in the commissary as usual. That would not be remotely interesting, but afterwards she was hoping she could persuade Steven to take a virtual walk with her through the rainforest.
Andrew: The radio inside the helmet of her space suit squawked and her team leader reminded her that it was time for her to return to airlock number six.
James: She closed the panel she was working on, secured her tools back onto her spacesuit, and kicked off back towards the airlock and the safety of the pressurised compartments.
Andrew: She pressed the illuminated panel next to the door - it swung open with the reassuring hiss and thunk - and returned into the small docking area as the outer door closed behind her.
James: As soon as it had clanked shut, she could sense that something was wrong. The lights had not changed from amber to green. The inner door was not opening.
Andrew: This was not entirely unusual on a space station of this age. It was not one of the newer models, and the simplest thing to do if you encountered a mechanical fault like this was just to back up and start the sequence again. So she turned round to open the outer door that she had come in through.
James: This light was also orange. "That was strange," she thought and thumbed her radio.
Andrew: "There seems to be a malfunction in the airlock doors. Both sides are amber. Is there anything that you could do to reset it at your end?"
James: She waited a few seconds for a reply.
Andrew: She pushed the button on her radio again. "Erm…Michael? Don't know if you heard that, but there's a bit of a problem here in airlock number six."
James: Again, no reply. But they'd been trained for this because sometimes radios would go wrong if they were passing through a sunspot or some other electromagnetic activity which would interfere with radio communications.
She unhitched a spanner from her tool belt and started to work on the inner door lock.
Andrew: She successfully removed the panel from the wall and revealed the emergency override controls. Turning the gauge, which ensured that the outside door was firmly shut, she released the safety switch and undid the locking mechanism of the inner door.
James: Before opening, she tried one more time on the radio. "Michael? Can you…is there anything going on on the other side? Can I open the door and come in?"
Andrew: Again, no reply. She tapped three times on the inner airlock door, which was the agreed signal for "I am coming out." There was no reply, and so she gave the door a firm push and stepped through into the suiting area.
James: After checking the oxygen levels, she carefully removed her suit and noticed, as she was hanging it up, that all the other ones were missing.
Andrew: It was a relief to be back in the relaxed comfort of her everyday space clothes and out of the bulky, cumbersome engineering suit that she had spent the last few hours working in.
She pressed the release panel at the side of the suiting room door and stepped into the corridor outside.
James: The corridor was empty, and more curiously the station seemed completely silent, something that she'd never encountered before. There was always some noise, some mechanical sound, or some murmur from the engines that kept them in orbit, or from the people who lived and worked there.
Andrew: She made her way along the corridor to the elevator bank that would take her up to the seventh deck where her residential quarters were.
James: The lights on the elevator were also orange. That was strange. The elevators had never failed before. She pressed the button anyway, hoping that it was a problem with the light rather than the machinery.
Andrew: Nothing happened as she pressed the panel and she tried again a second, and a third time. Each of the panels next to the bank of service lifts were unresponsive in the same way.
James: Giving up on the elevators, she unhooked the panel that gave access to the service ladders that ran alongside them and started the long climb up to the next floor where the main control rooms and bridge were located.
Andrew: She climbed the ladder with the methodical, practiced precision of an experienced engineer. She knew her way around this vessel and all of its strange corners and crevices in a way that few other people did.
James: When she reached the next floor however, even she was surprised.
Andrew: The access hatch to the service ladder was open, practically hanging off its hinges.
James: The corridor beyond was pitch black, all the lighting seemed to have failed. Maria unclipped her personal light and switched it on.
Andrew: She poked around in the darkness with the beam of the torch looking for any clues as to why the lighting system had malfunctioned.
James: She couldn't see anything, but when the beam passed across the doors to the control centre, she saw that they too had been opened.
Andrew: This instantly sent a shiver of fear down the back of her neck. She knew that the only people who would open the control room doors were fellow engineers and that they would never leave them open.
James: She stood at the entrance of the control room and shone her personal light around.
Andrew: At first, it seemed that everything was as it should be. The connection to the main engines was intact and the backup connection was secure and in place.
James: There didn't appear to be any damage to any of the consoles, and yet all of them were dark. None of the welcoming and reassuring lights twinkled across their surface in the way that they normally would.
Andrew: The eerie quiet of the control room, usually such a bustling space, began to creep up on her and became a steadily more insistent sensation that things were very wrong.
James: Trying not to rush, Maria nonetheless moved quickly over to the central power panel and attempted to restart the power.
Andrew: She ran through the sequence that, rarely though she had ever had to use it before, came to her as second nature - and waited to see if the ship responded.
James: There was no change. The panels remained blank, the lights remained out, and the eerie silence continued.
Andrew: She knew that she should attempt the restart process one more time and that the reboot unit needed to rest for five minutes before it could potentially be operated again.
She sat on the floor in the dark, in the silence and concentrated on breathing steadily in and out to keep the rising sense of panic under control. In the stillness where the only sound was the beating of her heart in her own chest, she became aware of a curious cold sensation passing over the skin of her forearms.
James: It was the same sensation as when an unexpected breeze caresses you or when you're certain that you've heard something where there should be no sound.
She glanced down and noticed that the hairs on her arm were standing on end.
Andrew: She glanced down at her watch and saw that the five minutes had passed and stood up, face-to-face with the reboot unit once more.
James: As her hands moved automatically through the procedure, her mind started to wander once again: What was going on?
Andrew: She primed the reboot switch, pumping the handle three times and turning the control lever to armed. She pushed the reboot button, heard the thunk of the connection being made, and once again was rewarded with no change.
James: She sagged slightly, her forehead touching the reboot panel. Procedure, she was aware - some small logical part of her mind reminding her - procedure at this point was to evacuate the space station.
Andrew: She knew that she should make her way to the nearest escape capsule station, which were situated on every deck. She hesitated. How could she leave the space station behind with so many unanswered questions in her head?
James: She remembered that the memory units for the central computer was stored in the control room. Maybe she could grab the most recent one or two and take them with her.
Andrew: She opened the cabinet containing the storage units of the ship's main computer and was dismayed to see that there were three units stacked next to each other. Without access to power, she would be unable to determine which of the units had been used most recently, and would therefore have to select one of the heavy items at random to take with her.
Would she manage to select the one that contained the most recent records and might explain why the ship was deserted?
James: She had to assume that the technicians responsible for the computer organised things according to some sort of plan. Either they moved from left to right and refilled behind the one that was being used, or they only replenished the cards in one go once all of them had been used up.
In the first case, she would need the one on the far right. In the second case, it could be any of them.
Andrew: She knew therefore there was a slightly better chance of the information she wanted would be contained in the memory bank on the right, so she unclipped it from its housing and picked it up with both hands.
James: It was both bigger and heavier than she had remembered and she definitely wouldn't be able to take more than one. She only hoped that there would be space in the escape capsule to secure it safely for re‑entry.
Andrew: She manoeuvred her way awkwardly from the control room to the nearest escape hatch holding the memory unit in both hands and balancing her personal light on top to illuminate the corridor ahead of her.
James: Although, with the power off, the space station was beginning to cool down, the exertion meant that she was sweating by the time she got there.
Andrew: She pulled at the emergency handle which released the panel covering the entrance to the escape pod.
James: The opening was dark in front of her, and she knew that the chutes led for 10 to 12 feet down into the escape pod, and she couldn't reasonably drop the memory card in there first. She would have to hold it to her body as she slid down into the pod.
Andrew: She stepped one foot and another into the tube, sat on the edge, clasped the memory card across the front of her torso, and pushed off to slide down to the escape pod.
James: She landed in the padded seat with a jolt and she could feel the shock travel though up her spine.
Andrew: There was little room to manoeuvre inside the escape pod. These crafts were designed for one or, at most, two people and the ship was supplied with dozens of them, enough for the entire crew to be able to abandon ship safely.
James: Wriggling round, she tried to find a place to store the memory card so that she would have access to the controls of the small craft.
Andrew: The memory cards were bulky and yet effectively indestructible. All that was necessary was that she found a way to strap it down. She removed a length of webbing from her utility belt and strapped the card to the back of the pod's pilot seat.
James: Then she cast her personal light around the pod, looking for the manual checklist. She knew that without power, she would have to do everything herself.
Andrew: Having successfully located the checklist, she began the exit procedure by decoupling the magnetic lock, which automatically closed the hatch, and detached her escape pod from the space station.
James: From there, she worked her way gradually down the list, taking sightings on known stars, establishing with sufficient accuracy her orbit so that she could calculate the parameters of a manual re‑entry burn.
Andrew: Having completed the calculations, she set her stopwatch and, at the appropriate moment, fired the pod's rocket engine to take her on the appropriate course.
James: Following completion of the re‑entry burn, she again took sightings to confirm that she was in the appropriate orbit. Now, all she had to do was wait.
Andrew: The pod made its steady descent down into the planet's atmosphere and one by one, the mechanical dials on the control panel in front of her began to come to life as altitude and wind speed began to be read by the sensors on the craft.
James: Maria kept her eye on the altitude reading, hoping that it was accurate, and waiting for the right height above sea level to deploy the parachutes.
Andrew: As she waited, she looked out of the single front window of the pod at the surface of the planet that she had not seen for some time.
James: Already the empty, mysterious space station felt like a curious dream and only the hard reassuring presence of the memory card behind her told her that it had been real.
Andrew: She replayed the sequence of events in her head, trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that could have occurred.
James: She remembered Michael telling her that it was the end of her work period. She remembered tidying up, she remembered getting back to the airlock, and getting inside. Nothing seemed strange about any of those events. From that point on, it had been nothing but strange.
Andrew: There had been no signs of struggle anywhere that she had looked in the ship and the control room's escape hatch still had escape pods ready to use.
James: There must have been six or seven people in the control room…all of them disappeared by the time she'd got there. If they hadn't evacuated the space station, where had they gone?
Andrew: Why had the door of the control room been left open and why was the hatch to the service ladder open on that floor as well? It defied all logical explanation.
James: Beyond the control room, there were another 20, 25 people working on the space station, and yet she'd had no indication that any of them had been there either. It was as if in the time between the end of her work period and securing herself within the airlock, everyone on the space station had simply vanished.
Andrew: The same train of thought seemed to go around in her head unresolved until the needle of the altimeter touched into the zone that told her it was time to deploy the parachute.
James: She reached above her head with both hands and grasped the parachute handle, pulling it down suddenly towards her. As the parachutes unfurled behind it, the entire capsule seemed to spin around her. It rocked into its landing position, Maria sitting upright once more.
Andrew: Moments later, the capsule struck the surface of the water and - finally - she was back home, and the mysterious adventure was surely nearly at an end.
James: Through the weeks and the months of the investigation that followed, Maria told her part of the story a thousand times to a thousand different people. Analysis of the memory card was able to explain how a power surge had disabled the station and showed that one by one the crew members had simply disappeared from the computer's vision and tracking system - but was unable to shed any light on how, or why, or where they had gone.
Andrew: In the annals of space exploration, there was only one similar incident ever reported and, since there were no survivors at all from that vessel, no further information could be obtained and no further explanation could be provided for how it was that all the crew, except Maria, had simultaneously vanished.
James: The names of the crew members are inscribed on the Astronauts' Memorial where we remember all those who have given their lives, whether we understand their sacrifice or not, as humanity spreads out towards the stars.
James: I've been James and I'm here with Andrew. These stories were recorded without advanced planning, and lightly edited for the discerning listener.
Join us next time for more Totally Made Up Tales.