More old shorts. This one was an experiment in non-traditional narrative.
It was also a prompt piece. The three word prompts were: Asteroid, Tellurium, Rictus
The following is an excerpt from evidence presented in the case of the abandonment and supposed destruction of the mining spacecraft, Atropos. The Atropos was one of three close-proximity mining survey ships deployed to survey the Jovian asteroid fields located in Jupiter’s orbit. At the time of the incident, Atropos was operating in the Trojan Asteroid field on a 6-month mission to collect samples of several previously identified asteroids to determine whether their composition warranted further efforts to mine them for minerals. Atropos had two sister ships, Clotho and Lachesis, which at the time of the incident were stationed at the Ulysses Mining Base on Titan for routine maintenance.
The crew of the Atropos was as follows:
Chief Engineer Michael Lewiston – Mission Commander; Employee of Ulysses Mining Corporation for seventeen years; former ISA Exploration Team member; presumed killed during EVA above Asteroid EE43; 46 years old.
Engineer Thomas R. Franks – Systems Specialist; Contract labor; Expertise in Advanced Aeronautic Intelligence and Navigation Systems, asteroid mining protocol, astrogeology; former consultant for Ulysses Mining Corporation; presumed killed by exposure to toxic material aboard the Atropos; 43 years old.
Dr. William P. Weller – Medical support and psychologist; Employee of Ulysses Mining Corporation for ten years; only survivor of the Atropos incident; 51 years old.
Primary Mission Log – 12.16.2039
Chief Engineer Lewiston
In accordance with the mission specifications, we are halting our surface excavation of Asteroid EE41 and will proceed over the next three days to rendezvous with our secondary target, Asteroid EE43.
Preliminary data from the excavation of Asteroid EE41 shows that little or no viable minerals can be mined without jeopardizing the structural integrity of the object. As reported in the previous log, at approximately 4 hours and 17 minutes into our initial excavation, we breached a pressure pocket within the asteroid. The force resulting was enough to propel large sections of rock into the excavation apparatus. After inspection, I determined that the device is still operational. Once we rendezvous with Asteroid EE43, I will make an EVA alongside the device in case manual intervention is necessary at the asteroid’s surface.
Medical Log – 12.16.2039
Dr. William Weller
Our maneuver to rendezvous with Asteroid EE43 will take three days. I am using this extended downtime to conduct psychological reviews of the other two crewmembers. I feel this is necessary following the events of yesterday. Franks has intimated to me his concerns that the crew was in real danger when the pressure pocket was breached. I tend to agree that our fate could have been much different. While Lewiston seems unfazed by the event, I feel it will put Franks more at ease if he feels the evaluation is routine and that Lewiston is also participating.
I have indicated that for the next 24 hours, we should confine ourselves to quarters for rest after the stress of yesterday. After the 24 hours we will begin rotations in the exercise room with short routines using artificial gravity from the revolution pod and the jump rope.
Psychological Evaluation of Chief Engineer Lewiston – 12.17.2039
Dr. William Weller
Lewiston is displaying his usual stoic front at the prospect of his impending EVA. While he says he has considered the dangers of being present at the surface while attached to the mining apparatus, I do not believe he has thoroughly considered the possibility that a repeat of the incident on Asteroid EE41 would pose a great danger to him.
We reviewed several moments from his past including previous missions with the ISA Exploration Team where malfunctions in equipment or unforeseen crises directly affected him before proceeding to speak of his trouble with [DELETED] Regardless, Lewiston is confident that the remainder of the mission will be successful and he looks forward to returning to Titan to reunite with [DELETED] I feel it is important to continuously boost his confidence to a point where it will overpower his guilt about [DELETED] and I am administering a small dose of antidepressants to counter any feelings of anger towards [DELETED] after our discussion.
Upon our return to Titan, I would like to discuss the possibility of taking on Lewiston as a patient of my own as I feel my own experiences with similar situations, specifically [DELETED] does benefit our trust levels.
Psychological Evaluation of Engineer Franks – 12.18.2039
Dr. William Weller
Franks was difficult to engage in productive conversation today. I believe he is over-thinking the incident with the pressure pocket and is nervous about proceeding with the mission. His knowledge of astrogeology is extensive and I must admit his misgivings about Asteroid EE43 do somewhat transfer to me. He describes his fear as relatively sound considering the composition, size, and density of the two asteroids is nearly identical. While I am not as versed in the science of asteroid composition and stability as he is, I am still only marginally concerned about our safety.
I attempted to divert the conversation away from the present to points of his past that he felt more relaxed and happy, but as was evident in my previous evaluations during this mission, Franks is extremely reluctant to discuss his past, even to the point of abruptly ending the session by refusing to speak to me further.
I am giving him an increased dose of muscle relaxers to ease his mind until the rendezvous. Hopefully once the excavation begins his concerns will be somewhat alleviated, and he will be able to function at a higher efficiency during this critical time.
Primary Log – 12.19.2039
Chief Engineer Lewiston
Atropos is now currently positioned approximately 200 meters above the surface of Asteroid EE43. In the next hour I will initiate the secondary phase of our mission by launching the impact probe. Franks has refitted the probe with some additional imaging hardware hoping to increase our visibility of the composition of the asteroid at the excavation point. I am impressed with his talents in this regard. If his addition to the probe works, I will recommend that Ulysses consider making the adjustment a standard feature for future probe designs.
Once data has been streamed back to us from the probe, we will prep the excavation apparatus for its positioning above the surface of the asteroid to begin excavation. I will commence an EVA simultaneously and will ride the apparatus down to the surface in case manual intervention becomes necessary due to unknown damage sustained during the primary excavation of Asteroid EE41.
Should any malfunction occur, I will attempt repairs on site. If repairs are ineffective, I will scrub the mission and begin maneuvers to rendezvous back with Base.
Medical Log – 12.19.2039
Dr. William Weller
At 1732 hours, Chief Engineer Lewiston’s Life Support monitors registered a flat line. After a final attempt to retract the excavation apparatus and retrieve his body to resuscitate, he was pronounced dead.
The following is a description of the events leading to the death of Chief Engineer Lewiston:
1643 – Lewiston and the apparatus reached the target area at the surface of Asteroid EE43. After a final check of the laser machinery, Lewiston activated the laser and began excavation of the site.
1657 – Lewiston halted excavation for further surface scans. After seeing no structural anomalies, Lewiston reactivated the laser and commenced excavation.
1715 – The excavation apparatus breached a large pressure pocket, the resulting force of which propelled the apparatus away from the asteroid and on a collision course with Atropos. Two of our solar arrays were damaged, along with the communications dish, and the secondary life support systems. Lewiston was attached to the excavation apparatus via his EVA suit when the incident occurred. He most likely suffered blunt force trauma either from the impact with the solar arrays or debris from the asteroid blast.
1717 – Franks and I attempted to retract the apparatus and retrieve Lewiston; however, the force of the blast caused the velocity of the apparatus to pull the umbilical attachment in excess of the force supported by the retraction device, thus rendering it destroyed and inoperable.
1723 – Lewiston still shows signs of life on the monitors and his breath is heard over the comm. Franks begins to suit up for an EVA retrieval. Upon assessing the damage, it is noticed that the velocity of the apparatus is pulling Atropos towards another asteroid. Franks and I decide to disconnect the apparatus to prevent a collision with the other asteroid. This results in the loss of Chief Engineer Lewiston.
1732 – Lewiston’s life functions cease. Franks continues to prepare for EVA to assess damage to Atropos.
Medical Log – 12.20.2039
Dr. William Weller
Franks is continuing to exhibit symptoms that go beyond my medical knowledge. Shortly after his EVA to assess the damage to Atropos, he began to complain of chest pains and a shortness of breath. Initially I felt that this was a cursory reaction relative to the stress of the incident, but its exponential increase in seriousness over the past few hours has me worried that something else is the cause. I have resorted to wearing a rebreather in the event that Franks has inhaled some type of toxic material.
Our communications are completely down. Though I have activated the distress beacon, the position of Jupiter between Titan and Asteroid EE43 might result in it not being received for several hours.
I am continuing to monitor Franks. Without him, it may be impossible to reposition Atropos to exit the asteroid field and maneuver the ship into a position where it can rendezvous with Titan should propulsion systems be damaged further. Our trajectory change following the detachment of the excavation apparatus has put us closer to Asteroid EE43. The pressure pocket has proved to have been something other than what we discovered on Asteriod EE41. The plume of purplish gas has continued to be emitted from the excavation site. It troubles me to consider how such a phenomenon could occur continuously like this. Surely once the pressure was released, the plume of ejected gas would dissipate. A part of my mind wonders if this has any relation to the symptoms Franks is exhibiting. Perhaps his exposure to the gases has caused some kind of reaction. I plan to take a sample of dust from his EVA suit to determine if any unknown residues might possibly have been inhaled by Franks once he re-entered the airlock of Atropos. Once I have stabilized Franks, I plan to spend 30 minutes with the jump rope to release some tension.
Medical Log – 12.21.2039
Dr. William Weller
Franks has died and I believe I have discovered what caused his death. In his final moments, his face frozen in a rictus of paralyzing pain, I chanced to remove my mask to see if it would help him breathe. Franks exhaled at that moment and released a sudden heavy effluvium of garlic-smelling foulness. Immediately, considering the strict diet we have on board Atropos, I realized this was a telltale sign of the agent of his destruction. During his EVA, Franks spent a good deal of time attempting to repair the solar arrays. The arrays currently in service on all three Ulysses mining ships are Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) based. It is my belief that the damage of the solar array created a fine compound dust of cadmium and tellurium that stuck to his EVA suit and was later inhaled. Tellurium ingestion commonly results in a heavy garlic odor in the victims exhalations.
I cannot correct the course of Atropos as the propulsion systems are inoperable. Collision alarms have sounded and I have no alternative but to launch the emergency escape pod and wait to be rescued. Hopefully, my proximity to the asteroids will not result in my own death, but this is a chance I am willing to take. Atropos is going to collide with EE43 and I am unable to prevent it. Due to the nature of the death of Franks, I have decided not to bring him in the pod with me as it could jeopardize my safety and the safety of any rescue team. I only hope that I have not already received a lethal exposure to the toxin.
This will be the final mission log entry for the mining ship, Atropos. Lewiston and Franks are dead, and I, Dr. Weller am exiting the craft via the escape pod.
The following is an excerpt from the ISA Court proceedings that followed the incident with the mining ship, Atropos. Dr. Weller was asked by the ISA commission in charge of the investigation to answer a few questions regarding the events leading up to the incident. The investigation was conducted largely outside the public eye, and up until the time Dr. Weller was asked to answer the commission’s questions, no one with either Ulysses Mining Corporation or the rest of the ISA and its many subsidiaries knew what the investigation had concluded.
The transcript of the proceedings is presented as it occurred with “Q” representing the questioning ISA Official and the “W” representing Dr. Weller:
Q: Just prior to the incident with the apparatus on EE43, was there continued communication between Lewiston and yourself, or Lewiston and Franks?
W: No. After his final check we did not hear from Lewiston again.
Q: And the records of the communications that were recorded on resident computers within the Atropos databanks … they were destroyed with the ship when it collided with the asteroid?
W: I believe so.
Q: With Lewiston dead, who was the mission commander in charge of the Atropos?
W: I was the only Ulysses employee left, so that responsibility fell to me.
Q: So it was your sole decision to send Franks out to inspect the ship?
W: No. It was originally suggested by Franks. I felt we should wait for rescue.
Q: Was it your sole decision to release the apparatus and Lewiston to deep space?
W: Franks and I came to a mutual agreement that it was the best thing to do.
Q: And in doing so, you prevented the Atropos from colliding with another asteroid. Is this correct?
W: That is correct.
Q: However, releasing the apparatus adjusted your trajectory to proceed along a collision course with EE43 after all. Is this also correct?
W: That is correct.
Q: Was Franks not able to calculate this possibility given the ship computer readings?
W: He did not indicate the possibility to me.
Q: Dr. Weller, do you have any previous experience piloting a Charybdis-model Mining Ship like the Atropos?
W: No. I’m a doctor, not an astronaut.
Q: Dr. Weller, where were you in the autumn and winter months of 2023?
W: … I can’t recall. Possibly working with ISA.
Q: Isn’t it true that you were stationed on the ISA ship, Ticonderoga?
W: Oh … um … yes, that’s correct.
Q: Are you familiar with the name James Addison?
W: He was my superior at the ISA.
Q: Is he alive today?
W: Yes. I believe so.
Q: And can you tell us why he is alive today?
W: I don’t understand.
Q: Isn’t it true, Dr. Weller, that while stationed on the Ticonderoga in orbit around Mercury that your Charybdis-model Mining Ship was damaged by space debris?
Q: Isn’t it true that your superior and pilot of the ship was rendering unconscious during the collision?
Q: So tell me, Dr. Weller, who exactly was it out of the two people operating the ship, one of which we have decided was unconscious, that initiated the intricate set of navigational adjustments that pulled the ship out of its fatal orbit and saved the ship and the life of James Addision.
Q: So you do have experiencing piloting a Charybdis-model ship like the Atropos?
W: … yes.
Q: Dr. Weller, did you know Thomas Franks prior to his contract with Ulysses Mining Corporation?
Q: Wasn’t it you yourself who recommended Franks for the job to the Mission Commander, Chief Engineer Lewiston?
W: I … I don’t remember.
Q: Are you willing to swear this isn’t your signature on a document offering your recommendation of Mr. Franks for the contract? [document available in case discovery]
W: It is mine. Yes, I recommended him.
Q: Dr. Weller, have you ever hired a private investigator?
W: No … I … Yes.
Q: How did your daughter die, Dr. Weller?
Q: I repeat, Dr. Weller, how did your daughter die?
W: She was … raped and murdered.
Q: Dr. Weller, isn’t it true that you hired a private investigator to discover the murderer’s identity?
Q: And did you not receive information from the private investigator detailing the murderer’s identity and whereabouts?
W: Yes, I did.
Q: Who murdered and raped your eight year old daughter, Dr. Weller?
Q: Please tell us his full name.
W: Thomas Franks.
Q: The same Thomas Franks that died of Tellurium poisoning aboard the Atropos?
W: The same.
Q: Dr. Weller, are you absolutely positive that the Atropos crashed into Asteroid EE43?
W: Yes … I mean … I’m fairly sure …
Q: What do you think we would have found if the Atropos hadn’t been destroyed in that collision?
W: I don’t know. Franks. The databanks.
Q: A jump rope?
Q: Dr. Weller, did you murder Thomas Franks by strangling him with a jump rope?
W: No … I …
Q: Did you also murder Michael Lewiston after he discovered the true cause of Franks death?
Q: Did the laser ever breach a pressure pocket, Dr. Weller?
Q: Dr. Weller … I believe this is yours. [official holds up a jump rope]