art by Alan Bao
by Don Norum
***Editor's Warning: Graphic. This story is not for the faint of heart.***
"There's supposed to be a margin of safety. These capsules are overengineered."
He took his hands from the controls to hold his head.
"Yes, and we used up that margin of safety when we loaded the emergency generator for Farside," he said. "The simulations gave a ten percent chance of structural failure on descent anyway, and that was coming in from the ideal orbit."
"I'm only fifty kilos! The generator has to weigh twenty times that!"
He clenched his jaw and felt the muscle pop tight over bone.
"The calculations had to be done to eight decimals."
The clock in the console ticked down, and he hoped that she didn't know what it meant and he knew that she did. He had thirty minutes left, and he'd allotted five minutes for her.
"Can't you jettison the spacesuits? Cut out the chairs and empty the cabinets? We could lower the oxygen, set it on autopilot and be unconscious so we won't use as much air."
He loosed the restraints and turned. She was crammed into the niche where the reserve EVA suit would have been kept, the alcove doubling as the airlock. Spacer head shaved, short-sleeved jumpsuit, he felt his blood rising and did his best to fuel that rage. It would make it easier, when the time came.
"It's not the air. It's the engines having enough delta-v with you on board to drop us into the right orbit. We'll come in too fast and if we can even make it out of orbit intact, we'll shatter on landing." He gestured around the cabin, stopping his spin with his feet tucked under the console. "They offloaded the suits on New Canada, and the only thing in the cabinets is this--" He held up the repair kit, titanium multitool and micro torch strapped together by an elastic sleeve.
"Weighs two kilos," he went on, "the clothes we're wearing another two. Still forty-six to go. The burn is in less than half an hour--think we can cut out the seats by then?"
She glared back at him and he refused to meet her stare, turning back to the console to double-check the flight plan for the fifteenth time, repair kit tucked behind his calf.
It was five minutes before the burn when she spoke again.
"I'm going to die just because I made a mistake?"
"Every choice has a cost up here. You want it safe and secure, you should have stayed on Earth."
She spat at him, hitting the back of his head.