José immediately passes out from the stress. Compared to the 4-g’s from the launch from Earth, the 2-g’s inflicted by the magnetic Fling launch from Mars is a cakewalk, but there’s only so much a guy can take. He misses out on the shouts of victory coming over the comm. He comes to in time to get a good view of the surface vanishing quickly behind him.
“Everything OK up there, Space Cowboy?”
José still gasping from the launch and the view replies, “Sí, sí, yes. And please refer to me as Vaquero del Espacio. Everything seems fine, though I may have wet my pants.”
“Your trajectory looks good. Everything checks out. Sit tight, play with the entertainment module and the automated systems will have you docked on Phobos Station in about four hours. If there’s anything we can do for you, speak up. We’ll be listening.”
“Okay, Roger that Houston or whatever.” The view outside, unobstructed by atmosphere, is indeed stunning. However, a man’s attention eventually drifts to old episodes of Baywatch.
With no perceptible movement and the adrenaline rush long gone, José surprises himself by nodding off until he’s jolted by the gentle push of the thrusters. Suddenly wide awake he’s startled by just how close the giant rock of Phobos is before the Bounce Bug. Trying not to sweat too much he takes in all the blinky lights on the consoles around him and a nervous glance at the obvious manual control stick positioned like a viper between his thighs.
“Relax, José. Suit telemetry shows your pulse just shot through the roof. Autopilot is doing a great job. You’ll be docked shortly.” The voice over the comms wasn’t lying. The station, sprawled across the surface draws closer. With a quiet sigh and a smooth ballet of technology the Bounce Bug settles into a pressure port on Phobos Station. More lights blink on the consoles, José can feel the transition from zero G to just a whisp of gravity.
Beth comes over the comm. “Good news. The Bug confirms power and atmosphere in the station. Everything seems to be as we expected and hoped. You’re good to open the door and go inside.”
José unbuckles himself. “Here I go. One small step for José, one giant step for Hispanidad.”
“What’s that, José?”
“Never mind, that Franco guy was a jerk.” José carefully extracts himself from the harness and seat. He lays hands on the toolbox he put together, just in case.
“Don’t forget to take your lunch!”
He was not about to forget his lunch. A quick series of button presses and the pressure hatch opens and he has his first view of the inside of Phobos Station. Looks pretty similar to the various airlock ante-chambers he’s been through on Mars, except for the two women standing about two meters from the entrance. Both skinny, if not a little gaunt, dressed in the usual Bradbury Base grey coveralls, short cropped hair.
“Greetings Space Traveller! Welcome to Phobos!” The taller one gestures dramatically to herself. “I am Princess Side-Boob and this is Queen Lulu Thunder-Undies. We are the Leather Goddesses of Phobos.”
“Thunder-Undies?” Exasperated, Queen Lulu turns to her compatriot. “Susan, are you kidding? We talked about this?”
“Gwen? Can’t we have some fun with this?” The two continue bickering with each other while José works on picking his jaw up off the deck.
“Ladies… please…” The women pause their arguing and turn back to José.
“Ok, ok, I’m Gwen and this is Susan. You’re the first person we’ve seen in person in…”
“In like two years” Susan breaks in. “We wanted to make an impression.”
“Congratulations, you certainly did. We had no idea there was anyone up here.”
Susan: “We arrived right before the feces collided with the ventilator down on the surface.”
Gwen finishes her thought. “Seemed safer to just stay up here.”
“Say, you wouldn’t have any food with you, do you?”
José lifts his lunchbox. “Um, yeah. Are you hungry?”
Gwen: “Does the Pope shit in the woods?”
Susan: “Does Pablo Escobar move the goods?”
“Ok, well I can share.” José just made two very good friends.
In the galley…
“So. This is what everyone’s eating down on the surface.” A doubtful frown. “I was hoping it was something better.”
“I’m afraid not. For that matter, what are you two eating?”
“This station wasn’t intended for long-term habitation. However, there’s a hydroponic research unit for studying plant growth in low gravity, and a significant amount of actual greenery here for maintaining O2 levels. We managed to expand that to meet our needs. Fortunately one doesn’t need to burn many calories up here.”
“Don’t you want to return to the surface?”
“If only we could.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bone density loss. We’ve been too long in near weightless conditions. Return to any kind of gravity and our skeletons will fall apart like sandcastles in the surf.” Frowns all around.
“However, anti-gravity boobs!” Susan flounces around and giggles. “No more bras, ever! Heee-yah!” José drops a fork just to watch it slowly be drawn down to the table from the weak pull of Phobos.
“I guess there’s that. Might as well tell you why I’m here. I’m on a mission to re-connect Mars communications to Earth.” José gives them a quick run-down of the situation.
“Oh. No. No way.” Negative body language, hands clearly saying NOPE.
“We’ve kept everything working up here, and if you break anything then We. Are. Screwed.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“No.” Eyes wide and serious from both of them.
“Absolutely no way.”
“No way, José.”
This takes José aback. He thinks for a moment. “Okay, let me give you one word to think about.” He pauses a moment. “Chocolate.”
“Chocolate. How long has it been?” The women share a glance. “If you let us work on the equipment, we’ll be bringing a fresh cargo ship from Earth.”
A pregnant pause. The girls stare over José’s shoulder, then at their hands, then at each other thinking.
“If we let you do this” starts one.
“You will bring us” continues the other.
“So much chocolate.” Finishes the other.
“You’ve got a deal.” José smiles and presents his fist for the fist-bump. Both women join in.