The concept behind this short piece of fiction started when a friend wrote a short piece of fiction about a guy who was working at a particle collider and dealing with all sorts of bizarreness. It was inspirational and I wanted to piece together an anthology of similar stories… common people in crazy circumstances. Even amazing historical events has the people that don’t see the amazement, but see the drudgery of a day to day job.
Originally published around October 2008 in Livejournal
“Object number two-three-three dash seven-nine-nine-three is making a pass over Libreville-Gabon launch path in two minutes,” Nick rambled off into the headset mic as he watched the screen in front of him. It was the thirty-seventh announcement he had to make in his first hour of work. Paul, his co-worker came up behind him slurping his coffee.
“Two-thirty-three, seven-ninety-nine- three… what is that again?” Paul asked between slurps of coffee.
That annoyed Nick. Not the slurping. The running together of the identification numbers.
“Hammer,” Nick grunted.
“Oh right, one of the old shuttle missions.”
Nick selected the object on the screen and the screen zoomed in. The hammer appeared in space, rotating end over end slowly, as if it were one of those gruesome holoshows where the killing blow is shown in slow motion to maximize the suspense. There was no suspense here. The hammer had been orbiting Earth for nearly a century and a half.
Nick dismissed the zoomed image from the screen and noted another dot that was drifting into one of the African launch paths. “Object number seven-one-four dash zero-five-zero-two has altered orbit seventeen degrees and is crossing Mombassa-Kenya launch path in thirty seconds.”
Paul chuckled, “Thirty seconds? You cut that one close.”
Nick grunted, “It must have been deflected by something. I don’t recall it ever coming through the African launch paths before.” Nick selected it and zoomed in. There wasn’t anything obvious on the screen. He zoomed in further. A tiny screw floated in space before him, spinning rapidly as if it did bounce off something.
“Damn. Good thing Africa hasn’t launched any ships for six months. That could have been disasterous,” Paul said with a shake of his head.
Nick grimaced. “Shouldn’t you be watching your screen?”
“Australia Watch? How many people are left in Australia… five hundred? A thousand tops. I haven’t had a launch in over two years. Those who are left want to be down there. Not like those guys over at Europe Watch.” Paul jerked his thumb towards a much more active part of the control room. Europe Watch was composed of ten DTCs – debris traffic controllers – monitoring the London-UK, Paris-France, Frankfurt-Germany, Rome-Italy, Madrid-Spain, and Balkins-1 and 2 launch paths. They had an average of eight launches a day – most unscheduled and unannounced. Most of them were small family shuttles, bouncing up to orbit to rendezvous with one of the carrier ships heading out to the Terraformed Worlds.
Nick tapped a few buttons and pulled up a map of the Earth. He hoped by not talking Paul would get the hint and wander back to his station. Paul never took the hints. He instead offered a running commentary on the data Nick was looking at.
“Wow, 108 degrees in Toronto. Glad we are here on a platform with environmental controls. Man can you imagine what it is like down there?”
“No,” Nick grunted, dismissing the display.
“Yeah, neither can I. But I bet it is miserable.”
“Yeah, why else is everyone making a beeline for the Terraformed Worlds? There’s nothing left down there. It is all used up.”
From across the room one of the DCTs began shouting. “Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight! Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight!” The room erupted in chaos. Stations were abandoned as everyone crowded around shouter.
Nick pressed in close staring at the screen. “Zoom in! Zoom in!” Nick commanded the DCT at the controls.
The image on the screen expanded. Object Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight appeared in view. Floating gracefully through the blackness of space, a magazine slowly spun. The cover had torn away but the pages inside sometimes spun into perfect view displaying images of scantily clad women in very seductive poses.
The crowd of men whooped and high fived each other as the DCT at the control took screen grabs of Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight to add to the growing stash. As the magazine drifted out of the launch path, Nick turned to go back to his station, smiling at Paul. “God damn, this is a good day!”