They tested it. Apparently, Bergen was right.
And that was it. It was time to suit up.
Jane’s extremities tingled. She’d been preparing for this moment for almost two years—the others for many more. Now that the moment had finally arrived, it felt far removed from reality, dreamlike.
She released the harness and began to strip down, slipping out of the royal-blue nomex flight suit and the gravity-loading countermeasure skin-suit. That left her in panties. She’d given up on bras long before—they were meant to fight gravity, after all, which was pointless in space.
Modesty was long-since gone. They were six people stuck in a container no larger than a small RV. Even the vacuum-assisted toilet was only a cubby with a small curtain tethered at both ends of the entry.
Ajaya opened the locker containing Jane’s LCVG. “I’ll assist with yours, if you’ll lend a hand with mine,” she offered in her lilting, softly-accented voice.
The LCVG was essentially a union suit overlaid with a network of water-filled PVC tubes, worn for the opposite purpose. It kept an astronaut from sweating to death inside the space suit—literally.
She started to put a foot into the spandex leg of the LCVG.
“Jane, don’t forget the MAG,” Ajaya reminded her patiently as she shoved one toward Jane.
Jane caught the MAG out of the air and froze. “Oh, God, really? I thought these were just for launch and re-entry?”
“We have no idea how long you’ll be in there. The suits can support us for 150 hours, Jane. How long can you wait?”
Jane stared at Ajaya. She wasn’t joking. Of course she wasn’t.
Jane’s eyes wandered and there was Bergen, wearing nothing but a MAG, shoving a leg into his LCVG, his clothing floating around him. His eyes met hers and he looked amused. He’d heard the conversation, of course.
Then his eyes traveled down and his expression darkened. He clearly liked what he saw. He seemed to come to himself with a guilty start and turned away to busy himself with his gear.
Jane’s lips twitched. She covered the almost-smile with a sigh, peeled off her panties and pulled on the MAG. The cooling suit slid right on, a testament to how much mass she’d lost en route. Next came the puffy suit. She eased into it from behind and shrugged into the arms. Ajaya zipped it at the back and settled the Portable Life Support System onto Jane’s back, connecting the umbilicus to the suit itself.
Jane loosened her ponytail and pulled the white snoopy cap over her head, her arms swiveling smoothly in the disc-shaped shoulder joints of the suit. She felt every pair of eyes on her as she surged toward Walsh and Bergen at the hatch. They thoroughly checked the life support modules on every suit and depressurized the capsule.
She was up. It was time for her part of the show to begin.
Jane’s breath echoed in the domed helmet, coming faster, shallower—the sound of her own anxiety haunting her. She reminded herself there had been men of some kind inside the ship that crashed in Roswell in 1947—not monsters—no scary fangs and claws. Everyone assumed that small ship originated with this larger one. She fervently hoped they were right.
Jane clumsily pressed her comm to activate it. She hesitated. She couldn’t stand up any straighter, because she wasn’t standing—not that anyone could perceive her posture through the marshmallow suit. That hardly mattered when it was herself she needed to convince. So, instead, she squared her shoulders and said, “Look, I know it’s been drilled into everyone. We’ve gone over every scenario imaginable, countless times—”
It came out more timidly than she’d hoped for. She’d thrown herself off when she’d heard her own voice coming through the comm. Walsh gazed at her with a cool expression. Bergen was intense, as usual, with a hint of an impish smile.
She lifted her chin and forced herself to put resolve in her voice. These things had to be reiterated. “Once the hatch is open, follow my lead. They may look or act very strange and we have to be ok with that. Stay calm. Remember your training. No sudden movements, no loud sounds—no matter what happens. Hands open, at your sides. Do not react. I’ll do the talking.”
Walsh nodded once. “Compton, let’s send another transmission to Houston.”
Compton’s voice came back steady over the speakers resting against her ears. “Channel is open to Houston, Commander.”
“Houston. Providence. We’ve successfully docked with Target. Three of four ZTS-clamps are functional and holding. The fourth could not lock. We’re about to open the hatch.” Walsh paused and seemed, for a moment, to be struggling.
Jane felt a burst of sympathy for him. She was certain he was feeling pressure to say something profound. He’d had months to think of what to say, but maybe none of it sounded appropriate to him now that the moment was actually here.