Sunday, June 12, 2011
They are Lucky to be Alive. Space Center Heroes.
Last night I left the Space Center in good hands to attend Chris Call's wedding reception. I was gone 45 minutes. I congratulated Chris and his bride, spoke briefly with Alan Stewart, held Alan's baby son (he wanted to come to me strangely enough), spoke to David Call and his girl friend Jessica (a former student of mine), paid my respects to the delights spread out on the serving tables (a chocolate fountain) and returned to the Space Center to lock the doors.
I was struck by the quiet when I entered the school. My instincts told me something was amiss. I knew the Odyssey and Galileo had missions until 7:00 P.M. and it was 6:45 P.M.
Suddenly there was an explosion from the cafeteria. The Galileo mission was still running. I walked down the ramp, opened the cafeteria door and saw Christine delivering an Academy Award winning performance into her microphone. I shut the door and walked up the ramp toward the Space Center's Office. There was still no sound from the Odyssey.
I walked into the Office to see what was wrong and was immediately struck by the powerful smell of something that made my body's gag reflex react. I backed out to the relative safety of the hallway.
"Jon! Devin! Are you in there?" I shouted. There was no answer. "Anyone in there at all?" There was still no answer.
Something horrific had happened. I had to put mind over matter, stifle my gag reflexes and forge ahead into the abyss. I cautiously walked back into the Briefing Room. The middle bank of fluorescent lights were flickering, making me feel like I was walking into a silent film. It was all too surreal. There was something familiar about what I was experiencing. A memory raced through my mind turning my blood cold.
"Aliens," I whispered through the fingers held tightly over my mouth and nose. How else could you explain the silence and the smell? I heard a sound in the Odyssey's transporter door. It turned slightly revealing the shadowy figure of a boy in a white doctor's coat. He fell to his knees and then out the door onto the carpeted hallway. It was Nabil, one of our volunteers. I rushed to the door, grabbed his wrists and pulled him out of the room into the hallway. He was choking. He struggled to speak. He pointed back into the room.
"Devin," he coughed out. I rushed to the Odyssey's Control Room door and opened it. The smell sent me to my knees. I pulled my shirt up over my mouth and nose and struggled back to my feet using the doorknob for balance. Devin and his 2nd chair were unconscious - their faces painted in olive green. I saw that the Odyssey's AIU Computer had functioned correctly and followed its preprogrammed emergency functions by deploying the oxygen masks. They dangled over our two brave uncounsious staff who were barely breathing. I pulled them out one by one.
"Jon," Devin whispered after loosing his lunch on the blue and white hallway floor. "He was in there with us."
I again pulled my shirt up over my face and nose and reentered the room. The smell was too powerful, stopping me dead near my desk. My self preservation instincts urged me to evacuated but I couldn't leave a valued staff member and friend behind. A solution came to mind. I fell over my desk and found my bottle of cheap cologne stored next to the printer. I made a mask of tissue doused with cologne to give me enough time to search the perimeter. I rushed to the other desk and found Jon on the floor curled in a fetal position.
"Jon, get up!" I shouted. There was no response. I struggled to get him to his feet. The chair was in the way along with the black hole lost and found box. Thankfully Nabil appeared and helped me get him to his feet and out of the room.
"Weapons," I said to Nabil. "Run to the Magellan's closets and bring back all their phaser rifles. If these aliens want the good people of Pleasant Grove they'll have to get through us first."
Nabil looked confused. "There are no aliens Mr. Williamson. One of the kids in the Odyssey had an accident."
"What?" I questioned. "No Aliens?" Nabil shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
"That can't be. The circulation system has fail safes. Such a catastrophe can't happen - not here - and definitely not at the Space Center where all contingencies are taken into account!"
I knew that the air circulation system should have prevented any human smell from reaching the caustic point. Such an occurrence was anticipated in the design of the air handling system. So what had gone wrong? I glanced a the clock and remembered that I had forgotten to do something earlier. The air conditioning system was programed to switch off at 5:00 P.M. It was now nearly 7:00 P.M. My "To Do List" had 'change the air timer' in position one. It was another one of "My Bad's". For two hours there was no conditioned air circulating through the Briefing Room, Odyssey and Phoenix. I had created the perfect atmospheric storm.
The mission was over. The crew was revived and sent on their way. It was time to go where no man dared go - into an infected ship. Jon, being younger and braver, entered first. I followed. The interior of the Odyssey was noxious. Regardless, we had to find the source.
"Anything?" I shouted through the scented tissues.
"Nothing," Jon answered.
"Check the chairs."
The offending chair was found, removed and fumigated.
You are all invited to attend the presentation of the Space Center's Merit Award to Devin, Jon, Nabil and Devin's Second Chair (I don't remember who it was) at the end of the Overnight Camp on Saturday. They stayed at their posts, doing everything they could to keep their mission moving forward even in the face of overwhelming obstacles and non circulating and conditioned air. They set the example for all of us.