Nemesis - Part I - Praxis
Nemesis – Part I

Nemesis – Part I

Alarms wailed, red lights strobing a frantic rhythm. Sunita Williams scrambled to the main console, her brow furrowing as nonsensical error messages flooded the screen…. Based on a real-life drama that recently unfolded at the International Space Station

 

Sunita Williams peered out of the cupola module, the Earth a mesmerising blue marble suspended in the inky blackness. But the awe usually accompanying this view was replaced by a gnawing anxiety. Trapped aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with her seasoned partner Butch Wilmore, the silence of space felt suffocating. Their planned return on the Boeing Starliner had morphed into a seemingly unending exile.

“Helium pressure still dropping,” Wilmore’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Engineering’s running diagnostics, but they’re stumped.”

Williams grimaced. The helium leak was just the latest in a series of gremlins plaguing the Starliner. Ever since they’d docked a week ago, the once-proud spacecraft had become a bucket of bolts, leaking propellant, malfunctioning thrusters, the news cycle painting a damning picture back on Earth.

Boeing’s reputation, already tarnished by the 737 MAX debacle, was taking another beating. Memories of the whistleblowers, the hushed congressional hearings, Elon Musk’s smug tweets about SpaceX’s superior Crew Dragon – itall swirled in Williams’s mind like a toxic cloud. She and Wilmore were pawns in a corporate chess game, their safety a pawn sacrifice for Boeing’s dwindling credibility.

A sudden tremor jolted the station. Williams’s heart lurched. “What the…”

“Control panels haywire!” Wilmore swore. Alarms wailed, red lights strobing a frantic rhythm. Williams scrambled to the main console, her brow furrowing as nonsensical error messages flooded the screen.

“Looks like a power surge,” Wilmore said, his voice tight. “Initiating emergency protocols.”

They clung to their seats as the ISS lurched, the familiar hum of life support systems replaced by an eerie silence. Williams’s stomach curled. Without power, the delicate balance of the station’s atmosphere, temperature – their very survival – was at stake.

“We’re losing comms with Houston,” Wilmore reported, grim.

Williams’ blood ran cold. Isolated, in the dark, with a malfunctioning spacecraft and a crippled space station – the situation was turning dire. She reached for the emergency procedures manual, a knot forming in her gut. This was not a drill.

As they grappled with the situation, a faint, rhythmic tapping echoed through the station. It was coming from the back of the Starliner, docked just outside the central module. Williams exchanged a worried glance with Wilmore. No other crew was supposed to be on board the Starliner. It was supposed to be unmanned, undergoing diagnostics back on Earth.

Williams rose, a sliver of unease creeping up her spine. “Wilmore, stay here. I’m going to check the Starliner.”

“Williams, wait!” Wilmore protested, but she was already moving. Reaching the docking hatch, she felt a strange sense of foreboding. This tapping, it felt…deliberate. Like a message in Morse code. Taking a deep breath, Williams depressurised the airlock and clambered into the Starliner.

The darkness inside was oppressive. She activated her helmet light, the dim beam revealing an unsettling sight. The pilot and co-pilot seats were empty, but a single, pressure-suited figure lay sprawled in the back, strapped into a passenger seat. The figure was motionless, but the rhythmic tapping continued, emanating from its gloved hand.

Williams inched closer, her heart hammering against her ribs. As she knelt beside the figure, a chilling realisation dawned. The pressure suit bore the insignia of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. But it wasn’t the insignia that sent a bolt of terror through her. It was the nameplate on the chest – a name she recognised all too well – Koslov.

For the uninitiated, Ivan Koslov was the ex-lead engineer on the Starliner project, a man presumed dead – although his body was never found – in a mysterious ‘industrial accident’ back in Moscow several months earlier.

Suddenly, the tapping stopped. Williams froze, her blood turning to ice. Then, with a sickening snap, the pressure suit on the figure inflated, the visor fogging instantly. A message, scrawled in Cyrillic on the inside, materialised through the condensation: “They’re coming for you.”

A bloodcurdling scream tore from Williams’s throat as a pair of cold, metallic eyes materialised behind the visor, glinting with a murderous intent. The figure lurched forward, its gloved hand reaching for her.

Williams recoiled, scrambling back as the figure launched itself at her. Adrenaline flooded her system, every survival instinct kicking in. The Starliner’s cramped cabin offered little room for manoeuvre. She slammed into a console, the metal groaning in protest.

With a burst of inhuman strength, the figure tore at the straps securing him to the seat. Williams lunged for a fire extinguisher mounted on the bulkhead, her only hope against this unexpected assailant. Aiming blindly, she discharged the extinguisher, a plume of white powder engulfing the figure.

The figure coughed and spluttered, momentarily blinded. Williams adroitly bounced the extinguisher off the assailant’s head, sprinted out of the cabin and slammed the hatch shut behind her.

Panic gnawed at Williams’s resolve. What in the name of all that is holy was Ivan Koslov doing aboard the Starliner? How long was he there? Who was coming for them? The answers seemed lost in the deafening silence of space.

Rushing back to the ISS, she found Wilmore frantically trying to restore power. “Williams! What was it?”

Williams gulped, struggling to catch her breath. “There’s someone…in the Starliner. A Roscosmos engineer, Koslov. He was…dead.”

Wilmore’s face mirrored her own horror. Koslov’s supposed demise months ago had been a poorly kept secret, whispers of foul play swirling around the incident. But what was he doing aboard the malfunctioning Starliner?

A cold dread settled over Wilmore as Williams stammered out the details. The cryptic message, the supposed Roscosmos engineer – it all felt staged, a meticulously crafted scene.

Think, Williams, think!

She retraced her steps back to the Starliner docking hatch in her mind. Taking a deep breath, she repressurised the airlock and climbed back into the cramped cabin. The figure still lay motionless, the fire extinguisher powder coating its suit like a ghostly shroud.

Gingerly, Williams knelt beside him, her gaze drawn to the nameplate. She examined it with a critical eye.There, almost imperceptible beneath the grime and the layer of powder, was a faint outline – a different logo, one that sent a fresh wave of shock through her.

“It’s not Koslov,” she whispered, her voice trembling.”It’s… Miller. John Miller. He was the lead engineer on the Starliner project before it went to Boeing. He now works for…”

She gasped.

The pieces began to fall into place. John Miller, a brilliant but disillusioned engineer, sidelined by Boeing’s cost-cutting measures. The whispers of his frustration, his public criticism of the Starliner’s design flaws. And then, his sudden disappearance, attributed to a non-existent “industrial accident.”

“He’s not working for the Russians,” Wilmore said, his voice grim.”He’s playing them. The Cyrillic message, the Roscosmos suit – it’s all a carefully constructed facade.”

A horrifying truth dawned on them. Miller wasn’t there to kill them. He was there to expose Boeing’s negligence, to turn the narrative on its head. He’d sabotaged the Starliner further, pushing the situation to a critical point, all to ensure a dramatic rescue – preferably by a competitor!

 

[To be concluded]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023 Praxis. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy
   Contact Us