The Bear Necessities

Miralí Muetry-ith-Muetry floated in the center of Oculus Station’s stellarium. The view was at its most magnificent – the station had just passed periapsis and was approaching zenith, leaving the whole Eliéran Upperside spread out below her; a fuzzy-edged whorl of silvery-gray cloud over continents calen-green and fidur-blue amid the brighter blue of the oceans, spangled with cities gallé-warm, the whole glowing opaline with the reflected light of the suns. It was a view which, in reproduction, was hanging in almost every home on the planet below since Phoenix One had first captured it, but which no-one – from the newest rookie to the oldest hands aboard – ever tired of watching live in their off-shift. The stellarium, while one of the quietest places on the station, was also one of its most crowded.

But for a few minutes, during station-day shift-changes, it was possible to find some peace and solitude there; something which, on some days, Miralí found particularly appealing.

“Groundside wants to send a what to my space station?”

“A bear, Flight Commander.”

“Dare I hope that that is a project codename for something?”

“No, Flight Commander. It is on the list as Project Ursine, but the bear itself is, well –”

“A bear, Science Operations Coordinator?”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

‘An entire bear, Science Operations Coordinator? Not, say, bear tissue, or a bear biosim, or, or even a teddy bear? The six hundred pounds of fighting mad with claws kind of bear?”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Although – a hibernating one.”

“I see. Inform groundside that the Festival of Cinníäs was last month and they should resubmit their proposals when they sober up, come down, or both.”

“Yes, Flight Commander. Really, Flight Commander?”

“No, not really.” She pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. “This is normally outside my department, Sian, but did groundside go into any detail as to why they want to ship us a bear?”

“It’s… an Initiative joint research project with Ochale Biotechnics, Flight Commander. Apparently bears don’t lose bone or muscle mass while they’re hibernating. The researchers want to know if that applies to microgravity too, in case it will help us out with adaptation-syndrome treatment, so they want to orbit one for ninety days and collect its biodata.”

“Ah.” Something important, then. Damn. “Well, they can’t have it in the science, habitation, or utility modules, or in anything plugged into any of those modules. There are many things I’m willing to go down in the history books for, and none of them are ‘lost half her science establishment to an orbital bear attack’. Preferably, we should avoid all mention or possibility of ‘orbital bear attacks’, yes? So tell them if they want a bear up here, they can put it in its own ‘can with independent life support, and we’ll hang it off the industrial truss. Their payload specialist’ll have to go for a walk every day, but so be it. FlightCom’s final word on safety – not negotiable.”

“Yes, Flight Commander.”

“And, Sian?”

“Flight Commander?”

“Warn Kael what’s coming, and that the words of the week down in Structural Maintenance need to be explosive bolts.”

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