“Let’s try to capture it. Cyril, do your magic,” Zoe ordered.
Walt switched his communicator to communicate privately with Rudy. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked Rudy.
“Sure, newbie. What’s up?”
“Why is the commander interested in a small satellite? It can’t take up much space.”
“True,” Rudy answered. “But these older sats often have gold or precious metals, even diamonds, worth more than their weight as junk. Now get ready.”
Cyril approached the satellite and matched its orbit. When he felt he was close enough he said, “Okay, Walt. It’s your baby now.” Walt extended the front arm and moved them closer to the satellite.
“Grab it gently, don’t smack it,” Zoe commanded.
Walt maneuvered the arm’s claws around the satellite and slowly began to close them. At this close range, he was using direct line of sight through the front windshield. As soon as the claws closed on the satellite, a small flame appeared on the claws and began to move toward the space craft.
“Uh, Rudy, are you seeing this?” Walt asked through his headset.
What’s wrong?” Rudy asked.
“The claws are on fire.”
“I don’t see anything. Anyone see flames?” No one answered.
“The claws are on fire, I tell you.”
“Okay, okay, settle down,” Rudy tried to calm Walt. “Was there a spark when you touched the sat? Could be static electricity.”
“I didn’t see any spark,” Walt replied.
“Okay then. Turn it loose for a sec.”
Walt opened the jaws on the claws and moved the arm away. “The flames are gone,” he announced.
“Fine,” Rudy said. “Now try again.”
Walt maneuvered the arms around the satellite and clamped onto it. “
The flames are back, Rudy.”
“Okay, stay calm. Do a thermographic scan. What are you reading?”
“I’m getting minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“That’s normal so something is off.”
As the flames grew larger, they started to extend along the claws and along the arm. Walt felt panic. “Rudy, the flames are coming up the arm toward the ship. What do I do?”
That’s impossible,” Rudy replied. “There’s no oxygen in space. Wait one,” Rudy replied. He switched on an outsider camera and remotely focused on the satellite and claws. He didn’t see any flames.
“It’s in your head, Walt. It’s an illusion. There’s no fire.”
Immediately Zoe saw the satellite explode, sending shrapnel every direction. Some pieces tore through the hull striking Zoe and ripping gaps in the hull. “Rudy,” she screamed. Cyril saw the satellite turn and crash into the Junk Yard Dog at high speed. Cyril felt himself flying through the front windshield, screaming.
Rudy watched in horror as water began to form on the floor of the spacecraft. The water started rising rapidly, burying Walt as it filled the cabin. By sheer chance, Rudy reached forward and felt his monitor in front of him. He was able to turn on an interior camera revealing that everything was normal: no flames, no shrapnel, no water and no collision. He tapped his monitor a few times until he hit the correct button to send the picture to all the crew monitors. “It’s in our heads. Look at your monitors,” Rudy said in as calm a voice as he could manage.
Zoe and Cyril both answered, “Copy.” Walt continued to scream. Walt was seeing the entire cabin engulfed in flames. Rudy unbuckled from his seat, climbed down to Walt’s seat, climbed onto him and rapped his arms around him until he stopped screaming.
“It’s all in your head, Walt. There’s no fire. You’re okay. You’re safe.”
Walt nodded his head and said, “Okay. Okay.” As soon as Rudy returned to his seat, Walt saw the flames return. This time his space suit was on fire. He was paralyzed with fear.
“Cyril, move us away from the satellite,” Zoe commanded in a reasonably calm voice. Cyril didn’t respond and remained motionless. “Cyril!” Zoe shouted. No response. Zoe removed one of her gloves and threw it at Cyril. In the low gravity, the glove seemed to glide toward Cyril in slow motion finally striking him in the back of his helmet.
He jerked around in surprise. “Commander?”
“Move us away from the satellite—now.” Zoe repeated.