28 September 2012

"A Hitch in Time"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Remember," Stacy said, "there's no guarantee the beacons will be transmitting. Wait two minutes, then switch to your compass."

"And if I can't find magnetic north, look for the Sun," Andrew said.

"And if you can't see the Sun?" The last probe had come back pitted all over, as if it had been through a dust storm.

"I sit and wait." Andrew tested his helmet spotlights. "Sixteen hours of air, thirty minutes emergency OPS."

Stacy plugged her diagnostic wand into Andrew's backpack. "PLSS is good to go. You have the weapon?"

Andrew held up the pistol. "Gotta tell you, feels weird to be wearing a spacesuit and carrying a gun."

"It's a last resort." Stacy went back to her console. "We've tested the darts. They will penetrate a suit, but he won't lose much air."

The self-sealing suit material should also protect Andrew against dust storms. She trusted that he would abort if he started losing air. Don't turn one victim into two: that was the first lesson of search and rescue.

"How strong is this tranquilizer?" Andrew asked.

"Don't take chances. Hit him at least three times. Aim for his legs."

"Bigger arteries?"

"So he won't be able to run."

Andrew chuckled. "You're all heart, Professor."

Stacy's console chirped. She opened a drawer and pulled out a syringe. "Portal's fully charged. Ready to go?"

Andrew pulled open the med-port on the left shoulder of his suit. "You ever going to tell me what happened to those mice?"

Stacy shook her head. When Bobby hadn't returned from his mission, the lab had sent several probes containing mice. The animals had reacted badly, coming back highly agitated and all having injured themselves—some fatally. Then someone had suggested sedatives. Sleeping through the actual transit seemed to be the answer.

She had no idea how the displacement event had affected Bobby's waking mind, but she hoped he was still alive. She hoped she wasn't also sending Andrew into delirium and death.

"I'll send you the report when you get back," Stacy said. "It's got pictures. Your kids will love it."

Andrew laughed. "You married, Professor?"

Stacy frowned. "You're married."

Andrew shook his head. "I just hate to think nobody is enjoying the pleasure of your company every night."

Stacy wasn't sure how to respond to that. "Did you just pay me a compliment, Major?"

Andrew smiled. "I'll tell you when I get back."

Stacy shrugged. "Ready?"

Andrew nodded. "Let's do this."

Stacy attached the syringe to his med-port and pushed the plunger in. Andrew blinked. "Okay, that's working... fast..."

"Sit down." Stacy helped him into the chair. Andrew's helmet clanged against the metal headrest, and he started snoring.

Stacy looked at his face. "Please come back."

She went back to her console and tapped the controls. Thin red lasers lit up and intersected at the center of the invisible event horizon. Stacy pushed another button. The motors in the floor pushed Andrew's chair forward, to the other side of the room, and through the portal into the future.


Image: A Hitch in Time by Steve Jurvetson, January, 2011