Thursday, August 11, 2005

Scale 7 Artifact, part 10

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Commission (part 3)

Back in his room, Daniel removed his coveralls and then released the tensor to strip off his spacesuit --or spacejohns as it was sometimes called. He sent both to the cleaner even though neither really had to be cleaned. The combination was designed to stay comfortable, odor-free, and sanitary for weeks of constant wear, but it felt to Daniel like he ought to do something to prepare for a months-long mission.

Daniel stepped into the shower, turned off the automatic sequencing and turned on the hot water: medium pressure, full volume. It was almost like an earth shower. The housekeeping program would charge Daniel for the extra water use, but this would be his last chance in a very long time to enjoy a shower, so Daniel was determined to savor it.

Daniel tarried under the stream of warm water for about twenty minutes, until the heat began to seem oppressive. Then he reluctantly shut it off and got out of the shower into his steamy quarters. He dried himself with a large fluffy disposable towel instead of using the air drier in the shower. He had specially requisitioned the towel for just this occasion.

The door chimed as Daniel was drying off. "Who is it?" he asked the air.

A slightly mechanical voice came from the room's speakers, "Valet."

"Enter." Daniel commanded.

The door slid open and the robotic valet entered with the freshly-cleaned space suit and coveralls. The spacesuit to protect him in case of sudden decompression, the coveralls for modesty and pockets.

Daniel took the spacesuit from the tray and began to pull it on. The suit was of soft, sheer elastic fabric, slipping easily over his skin but fitting snuggly once in place. Daniel checked the various indicators at his joints and cavities to make sure the suit was aligned correctly and then activated the tenser. The suit began to hug his body as nanomotors re-aligned tiny spring fibers in the suit to create an equal 4.8 PSI pressure over all of his skin.

Elastic alone could not keep the entire body area under equal pressure because elastic pulls in only one direction, it tries to become shorter. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so if you stretch an elastic fiber by pulling it over a round body part then it will push against the body part, seeking to get back to a straight line. But when elastic is stretched across a flat body part like the back or the inside of the wrist, it is already in a straight line and it doesn't press against the body at that point. Worse are concave body areas where the elastic will not even touch the surface. To get the inward pressure, the spacesuits used fiber springs that would bend easily but would always try to return to their original shape.

Each spacesuit was tailored to one person to specifically follow that person's body contour. The suits were of thin material and literally outlined the entire body as if they were painted on, so modesty required another covering such as coveralls or at least shorts.

The astronaut's fingers and the head were left uncovered for convenience. The spacesuit had finger parts, but they were normally rolled up to the base of the astronaut's fingers like thin fabric rings. In case of a decompression, tiny fiber springs would activate to unroll the material and cover the fingers. A transparent hood would expand from the collar and cover the head, forming an air-tight seal at the top to be filled with pure oxygen at 4.8 PSI from a small canister in the collar. The canister also pressurized the sealed areas of the suit that covered the orifices below the waist, protecting the body's inner cavities from being damaged by decompression.

Except for the few sealed areas, the spacesuit was not air-tight. Water vapor from sweat could pass through the fabric so there was no need for special cooling technology. The suit held only ten minutes worth of oxygen, but there were oxygen canisters all around the ship that could be used in an emergency.

Daniel pulled the coveralls over his spacejohns, wondering at how calm he was. He had never thought he would every have such a wonderful opportunity, and now that it was immanent, his main thoughts were about how odd the whole project seemed to be. Daniel knew that he was a bit too suspicious. Borderline paranoid, according to his brother. Daniel smiled at the memory.

The door chimed again and Daniel asked who it was.

"It's me!" Sarah's voice sounded tense.

"Enter." Daniel said, and the door opened automatically.

Sarah looked tense too. She had her arms crossed over her chest, hugging herself. She looked so tightly wound that she might pop at any minute. Daniel couldn't help but smile.

"Aren't you ready?" she asked, coming into the room, "It's almost time to go!"

"We have twenty-five minutes and we can be at the shuttle in less than ten."

"Well I don't want to wait till the last minute." Sarah hopped nervously as she spoke. "Aren't you nervous?"

"I'm about to explode," Daniel said. "but maybe a good hug would calm me down." He lifted his arms and Sarah immediately grabbed him around the waist, closing her eyes and squeezing hard. Daniel squeezed back and they held the hug until her shivering subsided.

"Feel better?" Sarah asked him finally.

"Yes," Daniel said gently. "That helps a lot, thank you."

"I'm going to get my kit," Sarah said. "Meet me at the lounge door, OK? Don't keep me waiting because I want to get there early."

"OK, sweetheart," Daniel said.

Sarah rushed from the room and Daniel smiled after her for a moment. He really didn't have a kit to get, just that little sack in his personal locker. Daniel opened the locker and paused. In retrospect, the three items he had brought along seemed a bit silly. It felt silly taking them along to Moon 3 and sillier to send them to storage. Well, the coveralls had pockets. Daniel took the items out one by one and put them into the pockets of his coveralls.

Sarah's voice came from the speaker on his collar, "Come on, Danny!"

Daniel chuckled. Then he tossed the empty sack back into the locker and left his short-term home without a backward glance.

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