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The hitch

February 13th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

No one had expected the mission to go off without a hitch. Crews are always trained to anticipate problems. The astronauts had been assigned to attach a new inflatable biodome to the International Space Station for advanced crop testing in zero gravity, and it had been lost on no one that they were essentially hitching the unit to the ISS, least of all Commander Hitchens. “This old dome is hitching a ride to space with Hitch to get hitched!” was the refrain, and he had been lucky to escape the atmosphere without killing anyone. It was a fleeting relief when the wings unexpectedly detached upon escaping Earth’s gravity, or so he had thought.

“Cripes, I knew there’d be a hitch!” “Of course there is, he’s the commander!” “A hitch was the mission, they just picked the wrong kind!” Hitchens was raging at the cracks from Ground Control. He angrily banged on the radio panel, switching off communication, and proceeded to maneuver the craft between a pair of satellites over the next two hours, as their flightpath grew increasingly erratic. Hitchens latched the robotic arms from the base of the ship onto the satellites and brought them back to a balanced orbit. He switched on the communications to Houston again.

“We’ve stabilized the ship for now, but we are losing fuel and oxygen reserves rapidly. We will need a plan and soon to make it to ISS,” he radioed down. Ground control was finally silent. “Control, please advi-” He stopped abruptly and watched part of the radio panel float by him. The crew’s eyes had grown hostile, as they no doubt reflected upon the transmissions working fine before the commander punched the control board. “Get to work. We’re on our own for now,” Hitchens ordered, knowing they still understood survival was more important than revenge in the moment.

Working quickly with his now-panicked crew, the commander sealed the two oxygen tanks that were leaking to conserve their supply. Everyone then examined the fuel leakage issue, but determined repair would require a space walk, something the commander deemed too risky given their unstable position between the satellites. This left them with enough food, water and air to survive for months, as they had been carrying supplies for the station as well, but no way to reach the station or to survive a trip back home. His mind reeled. Was it conceivable another mission could be sent to rescue them? “How’s this for a hitch, you smart asses?!” he shouted at the crew with enraged helplessness.

Mutiny in all forms is ugly, but when it happens in space, the variables become wildly more complex and fraught with danger. The navigator came at Hitchens first, but fighting in zero gravity is also complex, and the commander was the more experienced astronaut. Hitchens flung the navigator away from the cockpit and angled toward the first crew member, who pushed off the wall but not in time for her leg to escape his grasp. He rotated his hips to continue his momentum by running up the same wall, then pushed off and sent her into the body of the navigator, who was lunging his way back. The second crewman had already given up his resolve and was weeping at the window, so Hitchens swung himself toward the controls, where he speedily replaced his helmet, buckled himself into his seat, and pressed the “release airlock” button.

The three crew members were gone in a whisk, along with some random items they had intended to use to attack the commander. Hitchens resealed the lock, removed his seat harness and helmet, and returned to the cabin. Now alone, his options were particularly bleak. The second crewman had been the control maintenance expert, so repairing the existing unit or even wiring into one of the satellites outside was impossible. His hastiness to dispatch everyone into the void was out of character for him as a commander, but as he gazed out the window into space, he realized he had finally achieved true silence. After torturous months of “hitch hitch hitch” droning into his ears, his eagerness for it to stop had rushed him into a cruel decision, but he was free. Earth spun below him in mesmerizing beauty as he broke into a grin.

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