Remember before the International space station when the Russian's had their own orbiting the earth. Remember when American Astronauts shared quarters with the Russian Cosmonauts? This is a story of those times.
Shannon Bennet could barely think; the tremendous pressure she was experiencing was even more than she had been prepared to expect. At 20-plus G's her mind was numb, and she felt herself blacking out.
Fear and excitement coursed through her tense body, each emotion battling for domination. To help combat the stress that threatened to overpower her senses, Shannon thought back to the events that had put her in the padded seat aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, heading for a nine-month mission on the Russian Space Station MIR-19.
It had been a long ride, much longer than the two days, three hours, 49 minutes that this journey to the MIR-19 would take. It started four years ago, almost to the day.
Shannon's mind ranged back to those first days of training in Star City, Russia; the shared training with her fellow-astronauts and the MIR-19's primary and backup crew members.
How strange everything had been back then. She was amazed how comforting those memories were to her in the present stressful situation.
This seventh joint mission to the MIR-19 was critical. A lot was riding on her unique experience as a top systems analyst. She was the best flight systems specialist at NASA, and that was the only reason she was there. Shannon knew that the bigwigs at Mission Control hadn't really wanted a woman for this mission. With a faint smile, she thought: 'Well, you just don't have a choice now, do you?'
It had been a tough, uphill fight to get to the top, but she'd made it. It was truly the best feeling she'd ever had, finding that she'd won a place on this mission.
As the sounds of a distant mechanical voice popped and crackled in her earphones, she was brought back to the present. "STS-89 Atlantis, this is Ground Control. Please remit status in 10..."
Shannon knew the main boosters were about to fall away and, sure enough, within seconds of the ground contact, there was a bump, then silence... What a feeling, to be released from the titanic force of the booster engines and to be in the silence of space, drifting toward their destination at 17,800 miles per hour!
Shannon heard Mike Warren, mission commander, respond loud and clear: "Mission control, STS-89, status clear, time Zulu 0098/24, AOK."
She was glad to know for sure that everything had gone well. No matter how exciting a space mission might be, there was always an underlying fear that something would go wrong.
Mike turned in his padded seat and smiled at her, giving a thumbs-up sign. "We're on our way! What a sight, huh?"
Shannon looked out through the superplex view screen, and agreed it was truly awe-inspiring... space in its enormity. Yes, it was truly humbling.
The next two days were uneventful. The daily routine was simple, devised to reach their destination as fast as possible: Keep the instruments transmitting; eat; sleep; stay alert. One thing Shannon wasn't too happy about was the waste management system. She'd never gotten used to peeing through a catheter, and was looking forward to the gravity cell on MIR-19. There'd be a toilet there that would work more or less normally, even a static shower, and after two days in space that seemed like a luxury.
They were now in MIR-19's vicinity. Their equipment told them the station should be visible, but though Shannon had been looking intently for the Russian space vehicle she was still unable to see anything man-made.
Just then a shout in her earphone exclaimed: "Look at that!"
She quickly looked round, and saw a strange metallic shape moving past their craft.
The commander said: "Space crud. We must be close to the MIR now. Kind of a shame that man has to dump his garbage into space."
Shannon looked carefully at the object sailing by, and noted that it was a net bag, full of refuse; she saw a 'Coke' can in the garbage held together by the net. "Well, it looks like they get all the comforts of home," she murmured, to no one in particular.
Suddenly a shining star appeared... No, it was the sun, reflecting off the MIR's solar array. How beautiful it looked, hanging there in space, all bright and shiny.
Shannon had heard so much about the ageing space station that she'd pictured it a rusting hulk, or pitted shell. But this craft looked almost new, at least from a distance.
Docking was a real effort. Even with the NASA-designed module, it took almost three hours before the air-locks could be safely opened.
The first thing Shannon saw through the open hatch was the face of Nikolai Budarin. He had smoky gray eyes, pitch-black hair and a smiling face. She had trained with Nikolai almost a year and a half ago. He was from Kirya settlement, Chuvashia, Russia, and he had a wife, Marina, and two sons.
He reached through the hatch, and said in Russian:
"Shannon, good to see you again!"
Another of Shannon's many talents was that she could speak Russian fluently, while her fellow NASA crew-members had only rudimentary Russian-language skills.
She radiated her warmest smile at Nikolai and said:
"I'm happy to see you too, Niko. I've also been looking forward to getting out of this suit and into something a little more comfortable." Smiling broadly, Nikolai pulled her through the hatch into the space station.
Over the next five hours all the supplies were transferred, and Scott Miller, her colleague who had been on the station for the past six months, was back aboard the Atlantis. There was no time to waste on this trip. The Atlantis had her own mission to complete, and was scheduled to leave right after transfer was complete.
Shannon watched as the two crafts parted and her fellow American crew-members disappeared into the night of outer space.
Nikolai was watching Shannon's face as she leaned into the observation bubble to watch her friends sail away on their mission. He was glad she was there, having always been fascinated by her almost male drive. Yes, he was a liberated citizen of a country that had dropped the bourgeois notion that women are the fairer sex.
However, if the truth be known, his society was as sexist as any other, and it amazed him to see a female with such a drive to succeed. It was a great turn-on for him, since he was used to little women, who stood behind their men. It's what he thought he wanted when he married Marina.
As the last trace of the Atlantis disappeared into space, Shannon turned back to her new surroundings. She noticed that the only other occupant of their little world, Valeri Korzun, the MIR-19 commander, was staring at her.
She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a glint in his eye that might spell trouble in the future. Shannon had always been good at reading people's intentions; it was one reason why she'd been so successful in her career. She'd always been aware of her striking good looks. Sometimes they'd been a hindrance. Men always responded to her appearance, sometimes not taking her as seriously as she deserved; at least, until they got to know her. This Korzun fellow looked as if he might be one of those.
Thinking about it, Shannon realized that the man had been in that confined space for almost a year. Maybe he was just a little uptight; if so, she couldn't really blame him under the circumstances.
That night, after sorting out her personal space arrangements, Shannon found herself was more than ready for a sleep period.
After dinner she could hardly keep her eyes open. The events of the day must have been tougher on her than she'd supposed. So, with an apology, she took herself off to bed.
She was grateful that the MIR-19 space station's small pressurization allowed the wearing of normal clothing. She was also glad to have changed into her uniform of the day: running shorts, sweatshirt and aerobic shoes. They would comprise her uniform for the next nine months, she thought, just before drifting into dream-less slumber.
Shannon's eyes snapped open. Something, or someone, was touching her thigh. She quickly moved into a defensive posture and glared at... NIKOLAI! "What in hell do you think you're doing, Niko?" She was shocked that her friend could behave like that to a professional colleague. Sure, maybe that Korzun guy, but not Niko!
"Shannon, I'm sorry. It's just that I've been here so many months, and I've really got to have relief. You looked so inviting, and we are friends, after all. I thought you might help me with..." His voice tailed away and his eyes fell to the floor plates.
"I can't believe you said that, Niko! You sound like a teenage boy," Shannon said, in an exasperated tone.
Nikolai's reply came in an earnest whisper: "That's all very well for you to say. You're a rich American, and you people get your own compartments, while Korzun and I must share a small space together. When can a man find relief if he has no privacy?"
"Well, this is hardly private now, is it? There are two of us here, just like there are two of you out there," Shannon whispered back, frowning at the dark-haired young man.
Nikolai looked earnestly up at her from his crouching position beside her bunk. "I am a man, and you are a woman. There is no shame to have sexual things between a man and a woman. But there is between two men."
"Well you can forget it, Niko, 'cause while I'm here there still won't be any sex between a man and a woman."
"Shannon, even if we do not have actual 'sex' you could still help me so much. Please, Shannon. I beg you."
.... There is more of this story ...