by Jason Mullins
I really hated this part.
I struggled to stay focused on my drill as it bored into the satellite’s skin but my eyes kept flicking to the lights of the Earth, glowing however many hundreds of miles below me. My head was threatening to swim away with the feeling that I was about to fall off some great precipice. My left hand ached from my panicked grip on the magnetic anchor. Images of me tumbling off into the darkness flashed through my head. I squeezed my eyes shut.
I breathed deeply and double checked my safety tether. I opened my eyes to the gray metal, illuminated brightly under my helmet light. The drill was continuing its work as I hung just a few feet off the Earthside end of the satellite. It was an oblong tube a little over twenty meters long. The thing was supposed to be for communications; it was supposed to be a key link in the peaceful advancement of the Free Peoples’ developing infrastructure. It wasn’t. We hadn’t been sure what exactly it was for but we did know that.
The drill stopped turning as it broke through the metal. Finally. Disconnecting its mount, I carefully removed it and reconnected it to the clip on my waist, retracting the sharp drill bit. I extended a fiber-optic scope from my wrist. As I angled it towards the hole my gut clenched and sweat tingled on my skin. A familiar coldness welled up into my chest.
Fear again. This time, though, it stemmed from legitimate danger rather than my idle mind. Sensors. Boobytraps. Whatever else I hadn’t thought of. I told myself that if anything went wrong, it would probably be too quick to register. No slow suffocation or burning up in the atmosphere. Just instantaneous nothingness. That made it easier.
I forced the fear back to where I needed it, deep in the pit of my stomach. Unpleasant but manageable. I said a silent prayer to whatever god might give a damn and gently passed the scope into the satellite interior. The infrared display on my visor flared and then came into focus.
Missiles. But they weren’t nuclear. Thank fuck for that.
My breath released with a low hiss. The weapons were clearly kinetic, designed to be like guided meteors, except faster. They were precise and scalable, able to target a single person, a building, a city block, or hypothetically even more. There were hundreds of them hiding in the satellite, all behind claims of peace. I sneered.
I retracted the scope and pulled myself hand-over-hand across the behemoth satellite. I paused at a seam that ran the whole circumference of the machine and pulled up a set of schematics. Primarily estimates and best guesses, I was hesitant to trust them but it was the best we could do. Comparing my display to my location, I found an orbital adjustment system venturi and a series of rivets exactly where they were supposed to be. I pulled a small explosive charge from its magnetic attachment on my waist and placed it three inches below the venturi. It would be enough to force the satellite out of orbit but not so much as to look like anything but an unlucky debris strike.
I pressed a button on my wrist before I could think too hard about it and immediately felt the tug of my capsule, floating 100 meters above, reeling me in.
As the satellite slowly receded sheer nausea began to outpace my anxiety. I squeezed my eyes shut again. If I vomited I would most likely suffocate and of all the myriad ways I could die, that was not going to be it. After a count of twenty, I opened my eyes again. My stomach wasn’t happy but it stayed settled. I finally started to relax.
Dawn had crested the horizon sometime during my work, illuminating the satellite. It was ugly, with no purpose but destruction. Soon, however, it would make beautiful and unattributable fireworks across some ocean’s sky. It might be replaced. But if it was someone else would pay it a visit. Just another move and counter move in the Second Cold War.
My mind drifted to the lights of early morning as they twinkled below me. Maybe a kid and his dad up early to go hunting. Some woman coming home from her graveyard shift. Four more months in orbit then I’d be back on the ground, too. The fear and panic in my chest kept loosening as the nausea faded away. A familiar mix of relief and awe surfaced in their place.
As I watched the Earth pass peacefully below me, one thought crested above all others:
I love my job.
Jason Mullins has spent most of his life bouncing from one part of the world to another but currently finds himself in Maryland. This is his first published work.