In slightly under three months, the automated resupply ship from Mercury would synchronize its velocity with the Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, cargo cells in slow, inevitable sequence sliding down the length of the resupply ship’s spine, whereupon each would be reclamped to the station’s cargo intake port.
The cargo cells – and in truth, there were usually only three or perhaps four for a standard resupply – would disgorge their supplies of vitals, including a substitute caretaker for the observation station for the next six months. Even more importantly, carried in the belly of one of those cargo cells would be a new air save pump to replace the one that had burned out two months ago.
In slightly more than three days, however, Sergei Viktorovich Ulyanov would be dead.
Every breath Sergei took was about 20% pure oxygen by mass; every breath he exhaled consisted of about 15% by mass of pure oxygen for an approximate conversion of 5% to an ultimately lethal, unbreathable CO2. 600 or so liters of pure oxygen went into his lungs every day, and every day something like 150 liters of CO2 would fill the station’s air supply.
Under normal circumstances and normal operations, that CO2 would be laboriously but reliably reprocessed back into breathable O2 by assistance from a large air save pump.
That same air save pump that had burned out. Even that, by itself, was not supposed to be a death sentence. The Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station carried with it an emergency supply of CO2 filters for just such an exigency. When the air save pump had burned out, Sergei simply pulled up the hatch on the habitat floor panel, dropping down the long arm as, slowly, the partial gravity of the habitat ring turned into micro-gravity, then no gravity at all in the center section. Sliding along the rails thoughtfully set there for such maneuvers, Sergei pulled out of storage a crate full of CO2 filters, then hauled it back up to the habitat ring.
When Seregi opened the crate he swore softly.
++++ TO Izolda Sergeevna, Magadan, Eastern Federation, Earth
++++ FROM Sergei Viktorovich
++++ DATE 30.11.2468
++++ TIME 19:05 Station Time
++++ LOCATION Tàiyáng 4 Observation Station, at Mercury‘s L4 Lagrangian Point
Today, Izolda, I watched 455 Solars in good money coast past me in the darkness. If I thought those fèirén would honor my payment and send it on to you, I could have sent the transponder codes and watched it match velocity with the Tàiyáng 4 to make good yet another smuggled cargo cell into the Eastern Federation Mercury Authority, courtesy of the lovely lady next door.
Then again, maybe not. I am already to be put to sleep by one set of cheap, murderous bastards, only to be cheated out of my pay by a different set of cheap, murderous bastards. This will be my little revenge, to see their precious smuggled contraband floating through the orbital plane to eventually burn to pieces in the Sun.
Neither my official employer nor my side provider had the decency to include even a token bottle or two in either resupply or the last blind push from Venus. Cruel bastards. A man is not a man without a real drink, yes?
I do not imagine you will care about the details, and I will not bore you with this old engineer’s complaints about shipments of backup CO2 scrubbers that the factory thoughtfully neglected to check for compromised seals, though at this moment, I must confess I myself bear a considerable amount of frustration at this exact development.
I have many regrets. My father, your grandfather, used to say that a man should not carry regrets to his deathbed. This news will therefore come as a disappointment to him. Break it gently to him there while he sits on Nagayevo Bay drinking unappreciated drink, these regrets of mine.
I regret that this is the last message I will send to you, little one. Though I should not call you that, since barring pituitary malfunction I expect you have not been little now for a very long time. I will be asleep by the time you receive this, since though it is only ten or so minutes by comm from here where I sit on this station in the middle of nowhere to you were you complete your studies, the means I must use to send this to you require a more indirect route so as to avoid Authority censors – there has been quite the labor unrest at home, and I think they fear partisans. Perhaps they are not even wrong.
I also regret that I will not even get a last drink.
Last, I regret that Beda must follow me. She knows me well enough to know something is wrong, so she sits in my lap as I type this out to you, but perhaps it is a mercy that she does not understand what is to come. She is not nearly as much trouble as she was when I smuggled her onto this lonely outpost to selfishly save my own sanity. And she has, after all, done her own duty well.
In three months, the automated resupply ship from home will arrive with my replacement. I do not envy them the difficulty of re-hooking up new scrubbers, not to mention the pump itself. I myself should prove a formidable obstacle to dispose of, and this gives me, I confess, some satisfaction, but we cannot all be saints. It is so very quiet here without the sound of the air pump.
I know I say this every time, but I will say this just this one last time: I am sorry.
Beda thinks I should stop typing now. At least, I have had to retype that last line three times now.
I think I will lie down now.