“Seal the bridge and get to your station,” Lewis said.
“Copy,” Johanssen said. Unstowing the emergency seal, she plugged the entrance to the bridge. With a few turns of the crank, the job was done. She returned to her station and ran a quick test. “Increasing Bridge pressure to 1.03 atmospheres... pressure is steady we have a good seal.”
“Copy,” Lewis said. “Time to intercept?”
“28 seconds,” Johanssen said.
“Wow,” Martinez said. “We cut that pretty close.”
“You ready, Johanssen?” Lewis asked.
“Yes,” Johanssen said. “All I have to do is hit enter.”
“Martinez, how's our angle?”
“Dead-on, Commander,” Martinez reported.
“Strap in,” Lewis said.
The three of them tightened the restraints of their chairs.
“20 seconds,” Johanssen said.
Teddy took his seat in the VIP room. “What's the status?” He asked.
“15 seconds till they blow the VAL,” Venkat said. “Where have you been?”
“On the phone with the President,” Teddy said. “Do you think this will work?”
“I have no idea,” Venkat said. “I've never felt this helpless in my life.”
“If it's any consolation,” Teddy said, “Pretty much everyone in the world feels the same way.”
On the other side of the glass, Mitch paced to and fro.
“5... 4... 3...” Johanssen said.
“Brace for acceleration,” Lewis said.
“2... 1...” Johanssen continued. “Activating Panel 41.”
She pressed enter.
Inside Vogel's bomb, the full current of the ship's internal lighting system flowed through a thin, exposed wire. It quickly reached the ignition temperature of the sugar. What would have been a minor fizzle in Earth's atmosphere became an uncontrolled conflagration in the container's pure oxygen environment. In under 100 milliseconds, the massive combustion pressure burst the container and the resulting explosion ripped the airlock door to shreds.
The internal air of Hermes rushed through the open VAL, blasting Hermes in the other direction.
Vogel and Beck were pressed against the wall of Airlock 2. Lewis, Martinez, and Johanssen endured the acceleration in their seats. It was not a dangerous amount of force, in fact it was less than the force of Earth's surface gravity. But it was inconsistent and jerky.
After four seconds, the shaking died down and the ship returned to weightlessness.
“Reactor room still pressurized,” Martinez reported.
“Bridge seal holding,” Johanssen said. “Obviously.”
“Damage?” Martinez said.
“Not sure yet,” Johanssen said. “I have External Camera four pointed along the nose. I don't see any problems with the hull near the VAL.”
“Worry about that later,” Lewis said. “What's our relative velocity and distance to MAV?”
Johanssen typed quickly. “We'll get within 22 meters and we're at 12 meters per second. We actually got better than expected thrust.”
“Watney,” Lewis said. “It worked. Beck's on his way.”
“Score!” Watney responded.
“Beck,” Lewis said. “You're up. 12 meters per second.”
“Close enough!” Beck replied.
“I'm going to jump out,” Beck said. “Should get me another two or three meters per second.”
“Understood,” Vogel said, loosely gripping Beck's tether. “Good luck, Dr. Beck.”
Placing his feet on the back wall, Beck coiled and leaped out of the airlock.
Once free, he got his bearings. A quick look to his right showed him what he could not see from inside the airlock.
“I have visual!” he said. “I can see MAV! Jesus, Mark, what did you do to that thing?”
“You should see what I did to the rover,” Watney radioed back.
Beck thrusted on an intercept course. He had practiced this many times. The presumption in those practice sessions was that he'd be rescuing a crewmate whose tether had broken, but the principle was the same.
“Johanssen,” he said, “You got me on radar?”
“Affirmative,” she replied.
“Call out my relative velocity to Mark every 2 seconds or so.”
“Copy. 5.2 meters per second.”
“Hey Beck,” Watney said. “The front's wide open. I'll get up there and be ready to grab at you.”
“Negative,” interrupted Lewis. “No untethered movement. Stay strapped to your chair until you're latched to Beck.”
“Copy,” Watney said.
“3.1 meters per second,” Johanssen reported.
“Going to coast for a bit,” Beck said. “Gotta catch up before I slow it down.” He rotated himself in preparation for the next burn.
“11 meters to target,” Johanssen said.
“6 meters,” Johanssen said.
“Aaaaand, counter-thrusting.” Beck said, firing the MMU thrusters again. The MAV loomed before him. “Velocity?” He asked.
“1.1 meters per second,” Johanssen said.
“Good enough,” he said, reaching for the ship. “I'm drifting toward it. I think I can get my hand on some of the torn canvas...”
The tattered canvas beckoned as the only handhold on the otherwise smooth ship. Beck reached, extending as best he could, and managed to grab hold.
“Contact,” Beck said. Firming his grip, he pulled his body forward and lashed out with his other hand to grab more canvas. “Firm contact!”
“Dr. Beck,” Vogel said. “We have past closest approach point and you are now getting further away. You have 169 meters of tether left. Enough for 14 seconds.”
“Copy,” Beck said.
Pulling his head to the opening, he looked inside the compartment to see Watney strapped to his chair.
“Visual on Watney!” He reported.
“Visual on Beck!” Watney reported.
“How ya doin', man?” Beck said, pulling himself in to the ship.
“I... I just...” Watney said. “Give me a minute. You're the first person I've seen in 18 months.”
“We don't have a minute,” Beck said, kicking off the wall. “We've got 11 seconds before we run out of tether.”
Beck's course took him to the chair where he clumsily collided with Watney. The two gripped each others' arms to keep Beck from bouncing away. “Contact with Watney!” Beck said.