16 Hours, 23 Minutes

622 21 6

It was going to be a long night.

I stared at the monitor, willing the display to be different. My eyes locked on the screen and glazed over, losing focus. The numbers blurred together but did not change their slow countdown. I concentrated, hoping that the time remaining on the diagnostic pass might jump sharply, perhaps caused by an earlier miscalculation. I knew it was an empty hope. I was confident that those estimation algorithms were robust. I'd written them to be.

The diagnostic on Portsmouth's light sail had at least sixteen hours and twenty-three minutes remaining. That's if I was lucky. The outer estimate was a soul-crushing twenty-one hours. I drew in a breath, put all my hopes and dreams of a quick sail-check alongside the spent air in my lungs, and blew them all out in a long sigh.

It was going to be a long night.

Sail-checks are a necessary exercise in any prolonged trip, of course, and if someone forced me to choose between a long night of mind numbing boredom and being stuck with an inoperative mainsail in the depths of the interplanetary void, it would be a pretty simple decision. Portsmouth was configured with a backup light sail, but if you're cringing at a sail-check then you're not likely in the mood for a mid-flight replacement, either. I could also have handed over control to one of the completely automated diagnostic packages available on the market if I had any faith at all in their reliability. I've been monitoring sail-checks for most of my spacefaring life, though, and as pretentious as it sounds, it's as much an art as a science. Besides, I need to do my periodic exercise between bouts of coldsleep to ensure that my muscles remain somewhat intact.


From: ben@portsmouth.deephaul.sol

To: sophie@dartmouth.deephaul.sol

Re: Long Night Ahead

Hey Sophie,

Up now for routine check and workout, looks like a lot of dust collected on the sail in the past few weeks. I've got an ETA of 16-23 hours for the full sweep. Assuming there are no problems that means a long night of staring at this damned screen. At least I'll have plenty of time to run on the 'mill or stretch out those resistance bands :( Maybe I'll request a vidburst or something.

I'll toss you another line before I bed back down. Only three months left on this haul for me! Sorry you're just on your way out, give my regards to the belt, wave to the Amors, etc. ;)

- Ben


Reaching out to the board, I swept away the communication interfaces and pulled the diagnostic display back into view. The first section of sail had been checked, so I pushed down into the data, allowing it to fill the main display. The completion timer slid into the upper right of the screen and continued to quietly taunt me with its unyeilding confidence. Nothing out of the ordinary in the first band of the check; dust, microparticulate, but mostly evidence that I'd been traveling in a predominantly empty void. I marked it OK for ablation and pulled back to the overview. Sighing again, I swiped the view over to my slate and stuck it to my chest. I had time for a quick run before the next section was ready for review.

Grabbing the hand-holds on the wall with my left hand and unstrapping myself with the right, I hoisted myself up and used my legs to twist myself into the right direction and kick off down the tube towards the gymnasium. I only paused for a moment as I passed by the coldsleep compartment, just enough to catch a glimpse of Heather's and Francine's pictures on the wall display there. I'd been gone 11 months already, and by the time I was back it would be a little more than a year. I was looking forward to the off -year of improving diagnostic algorithms and software before having to head out again.

I was halfway to the gym when the slate on my chest bleeped.


"Incoming messsage from Dartmouth," said the almost but still not quite human sounding voice from the slate.

Sophie's awake? I started doing some mental math on when her next check ought to have been, as well as how far apart our ships were scheduled to be around now. If she was indeed up the message transfer would be ... pretty quick.

"Read it."

"Hi! You've reached the Deep Haul Dartmouth. I'm sorry, but I'm not available to reply to your message just now, as I'm in coldsleep on my way to the main belt. I'll get back to you when I'm up for my next diagnostic run. If you'd like to connect to Dartmouth's data systems, please"

"Stop. Delete." I sighed to the slate. A gentle chime signalled compliance. "Diagnostics. Progress?"

"Current block 18% complete, sixteen hours, 2 minutes estimated remaining in overall sail diagnostic."

I took a deep breath and launched myself further down the tube towards the gym. A run would clear my head and keep me awake.

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