HomeFictionTopic Tag Tuesday

Downtime

Ollie reloaded the page for probably the fiftieth time, but the answer was always the same: “server not available”, black on white, denying him his morning moment of zen.

“Webcam’s down,” he called to Gemma, making her coffee for her own moment of zen. “Webcam’s really down.”

“Have you checked the news?” she said, breaking the packet into her cup and guiding the water with shaking hands.

“No,” he said, “I check the webcam, then read the news.”

“You’re gonna want to switch that around today,” she said, taking her first sip, and suddenly becoming mellow. Her mouth curled up in a crinkly smile, and she sat down at the kitchen counter, finally awake. “Just check the news.”

“Why?” he asked, switching to his newsreader, “What’s on the… oh my god.”

“Yeah,” she said, sitting next to him. “That’s why the webcam’s down.”

“They lost power on the moonbase? How did that happen? Are they okay up there? Oh my god, how did I not know about this?”

“You read news second,” she said, but he wasn’t listening, just reading, fast. “It’s been all over everything since I got up. I was wondering how you were keeping so calm.”

“‘A departing shuttle burned a power cable and caused a system-wide shutdown of the power grid’,” he read, skimming over the story. “Backup systems failed… and… and there’s somebody stuck in there. Oh my god, Gemma! He’s stuck in there!”

“What’re you yelling at me for?” she yelled back. “Do I look like I control the universe?”

“But how can we not know what’s going on?”

“Well if you really want to know…” she turned on the TV, sat back down, “…why don’t you get your news live for a change?”

She put down the coffee cup at the sight of the moonbase from lunar orbit, zoomed in and digital, totally black against the terrain around it. The text crawl beneath restated the facts, but nothing could be as striking as the image of a burnt hole in the side of the main complex.

“Damn,” she said, “I didn’t hear about that part.”

“Administration officials have confirmed that is indeed a hole in the side of the moonbase,” said the news anchor in grave tones. “The hole which we have been tracking the last few hours is confirmed to be leaking oxygen, and officials say the base will be dangerously low of air in the next forty minutes.”

“Forty minutes!” cried Ollie, sitting down on the couch with his laptop, trying to find out more, from any source. “They can’t even get the shuttle back to dock in forty minutes! Does he have a suit?”

“Captain Bunning is said to be working to repair the electrical systems to the base,” continued the anchor as the picture zoomed in and out, and a small inset picture showed grave faces in NASA Mission Control, “and we have been told his personal communicator is still powered up, and he has been talking through the procedures with experts in Houston.”

“This is insane,” said Ollie, running his hands through his hair. “This is just insane. All the discussions say the pressurized suits are in the other half of the complex, and if the power’s not on, he can’t get there, so he’s probably going to asphyxiate or something.”

Gemma said nothing, just sat next to him, sipping her coffee, eyes stuck on the screen. He kept scrolling through comments, ideas, theories, anything.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said. “I mean, I can’t believe we’re actually seeing this. This is terrible, it’s—”

Gemma tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked up to see a small girl close up to a video camera, giant phone to her ear as she talked in that sing-songy voice preschoolers do so well. She was identified as Chloe Bunning, and her mother sat in the background, hand over her mouth like she was holding back a mournful sob.

“… an’ I love you, daddy,” said Chloe, “an’ mommy says you be brave okay? I’m gonna be brave for you too. I love you lots, daddy.”

“Say good-bye, darling,” choked the mother from the background.

“Bye-bye, daddy!” the girl smiled, and handed back the phone. The feed cut back to the exterior shot, and even the anchor said nothing for a moment.

“That poor girl,” said Gemma, her voice cracking. “That poor little girl.”

“Come on,” pleaded Ollie. “Come on, you’ve gotta—”

Suddenly, the lights in the moonbase flickered back on, and Ollie and Gemma joined the anchor and most of the newsroom in a shout of shock and joy. The camera zoomed in as far as it could go, shaking so much the astronauts on the shuttle must have been cheering themselves.

“Yes!” shouted Ollie, jumping from his seat and dropping his laptop on the ground. He and Gemma hugged so tight it was as if they were the ones being rescued, and not some man they’d never meet, a million miles away. Ollie started to cry, but it felt appropriate. Honest even. He kept his face buried into Gemma’s shoulder, her arms squeezing him, and he finally felt safe. They stayed there as the anchor replayed the facts, pointless words in this visceral moment of triumph.

Ollie exhaled, let go of Gemma, and they kissed the kind of kiss you have at the end of a war. They rested their foreheads together, eyes closed, and listened.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” he whispered.

“You were yelling at the world,” she said. “It’s understandable.”

“I feel so… so something…”

“Little and vulnerable,” she said.

“Yeah, exactly.”

“I think that’s probably good. For all of us.”

The TV buzzed loudly, and they both looked over to see the crawl at the bottom of the screen wrapped with the words “Breaking News.” The anchor was back on-screen, his face pale and grave.

“NASA is now reporting… one moment,” he said. “NASA is now reporting that the hydraulics systems powering the east and west barrier doors have not come back online.”

Gemma covered her mouth. Ollie sat back down. The webcam showed Bunning urgently digging through wires and panels. He ripped his long-sleeved shirt off and kept working wearing only his sweaty undershirt.

“We’re hearing reports it can take up to four hours for the hydraulics systems to get back to full capacity,” said the anchor.

“He won’t last that long, will he?” Gemma asked faintly.

“I don’t think so,” Ollie said.

“What… what’s going to happen?”

Ollie looked up, took her hand in his, and squeezed.

“I don’t know,” he said solemnly. “But we’ll watch it together.”


This #1kstory is for Eli ("Server not available. Astronaut stranded on moon. Say bye bye. Celebration!")

All content released under a Creative Commons BY-NC license except the contents of "TV" section, which belong to their respective owners.