Space PlumbingFrom one Chris of Vacuum Forest

Warner–ConCen Resources — Confidential

Meeting Record C17A2F39
Automatic Transcription Only
March 13th, 2151 11:12 AM PST
ERL/914FF4B2 Margaret Boensen, Deputy Departmental Auditor, Maintenance/Fleet [MB]
ERL/1C751E59 Jennifer Wells, Maintenance ‘Red Team’ Lead, Maintenance/Fleet [JW]

Transcript Begins

JW: “We have the final loss report on Prospector 7731, ma’am.”

MB: “That took a while longer than I though. So what was it?”

JW: “The toilet, ma’am.”

MB: “The toilet?”

JW: “The prelim flight recorder data analysis was pretty straightforward. The algorithms sized it up as rapid decompression followed by progressive explosive structural failure. Our first guess was it was a design limit excursion; something like a very fast, very dense extrasolar rock with more energy than we could have guessed for. In other words, just bad luck. But…”

MB: “But?”

JW: “Well, the early warning sensor net didn’t see anything. That doesn’t happen these days, we track everything down to a spitball in our sectors. If it can so much as ding the paint on a carry-all, operations knows about it. This would have been a big, fast rock to break up the ship in a DLE. At least it would have triggered a proximity conflict, and that would have shown up on the logs. We argued over probabilities and outside cases, and so-on, for days. Yesterday morning, somebody noticed something off on the hab section sub-system’s logs leading up to the event.”

MB: “The toilet.”

JW: “Yes ma’am. Officially, the hygiene bay. Seventy-seven thirty-one was an early Telfer-series prospector; Crew complement of six, it has one hygiene bay attached to a multipurpose galley-cum-dayroom, and to that a bunk module that doubles as a refuge pod. The habitable section consists of that, a couple of airlocks, and the control room. The Telfers weren’t even originally slated to have a dedicated hygiene bay or galley, but when we cancelled the contract on the long-range prospector program those were added on so they could stay out longer.”

MB: “You still haven’t explained the toilet.”

JW: “Internal environment logs on the flight data records indicated that the event started in the hygiene bay. It shows up as a negative spike in the module’s air pressure, similar to what you’d expect if a hole just opened up in the wall. That didn’t add up on closer inspection, though. A lot of stuff got moved around on the exterior design when they added in the galley and the hygiene bay, to deal with balance issues and thermal distribution. There’s a whole lot of systems surrounding the outside of the hygiene bay, and none of them malfunctioned during the initial event. With that big of a negative pressure spike, implying an object collision leading to a hull breach, nothing surrounding the hygiene bay broke? It was improbable, to say the least. That’s when we noticed it… The onboard waste tank was full.”

MB: “Wait, so the toilet backing up scuttled the ship?”

JW: “No, it’s worse than that. I personally went through the logs for the hygiene bay controls. Someone had been messing with them, it seems that they rooted the sub-system controller and didn’t want anyone to know. Apparently, they modified the solid waste receptacle settings for, uh, added effect.”

MB: “Sabotage?”

JW: “No ma’am, uh, let me try and explain this. You know how it basically works: a receptacle on a hose goes up to the uh, area, where a person eliminates waste, and then a very gentle suction ensures that the waste goes down the tube. There’s a control panel where you can make slight adjustments for comfort and efficiency, programmable user presets: wash spray temperature, that kind of stuff you’d find on any smart toilet at home. In this case there’s also a suction strength setting, but it’s limited for safety… Well, it seems that one of the crew had been messing with the software, and altered some routines… They, uh, turned the butt-sucker to eleven, ma’am. Also, they added more water.”

MB: “Do I even want to know why?”

JW: “It isn’t certain how long, but, from what dispatch says, this kind of thing has been going on for a while. Generally speaking, at times, someone on the ship will rig the toilet to provide, uh, stimulation. I just found out the prospectors even have a name for it, they call it a ‘dirty kirby’ or ‘getting rimmed by kirby’. What the hell is a Kirby?”

MB: “Old brand of vacuum cleaner, back before robotics and such.”

JW: “That makes sense. It’s messed up, but it makes sense, and anyway it’s a thing out there. Unfortunately for the crew member in question, their meddling in the code must have tripped up the hygiene bay’s control system, and the waste disposal circuit overshot its negative pressure limiter. Electrical systems logs show Hygiene Bay Bus A almost monopolizing the entire ship’s power for a brief interval leading to the event. The same Bus A that supplies the waste disposal pump. Add the sudden full tank flag, and that… They were, uh, sucked in, ma’am.”

MB: “Sucked in? Into the toilet, you mean?”

JW: “I did some research, this has been known to happen with swimming pools, back in the last century. Someone gets frisky with a drain, forms a solid seal, and in the blink of an eye they’re eviscerated though the rectum! This case wouldn’t be all that different. Our guess is that the seal broke off at the hose connector when they were struggling to get free, or the hose ruptured, and the waste removal pump caused the negative pressure spike in the hygiene bay.”

MB: “Wait, a toilet pump did this? First of all I didn’t know there was a pump, or a tank for that matter. I thought these things just vented to the outside? Why wouldn’t they?”

JW: “Inner-system health and environmental regulations. Once it got crowded enough in the belt, people started complaining about constantly tracking waste into the airlocks, diseases and all that, not to mention the smell. Inspectors said air fresheners and hand sanitizer stations by the airlocks weren’t good enough, so we had to upgrade the fleet, everyone did. There hasn’t been an open-loop waste disposal on any vessel we operate for six years.”

MB: “Right before we rolled out the Telfer-series ships.”

JW: “Exactly. Now here’s where it gets even crazier… The subcontractor who did the habitation section redesign really screwed us, but corporate vis-a-vis legal rubber-stamped it anyway, ostensibly because we needed something to fill the medium-endurance mission profile at the time.”

MB: “…to beat out the rush of independent claim jumpers after the belts were deregulated.”

JW: “Right. But, I got the whole story from a buddy in legal… It turns out that this particular subcontractor’s CEO had a sweetheart deal with a relative’s housewares and industrial supply company in some bum-fuck part of Wisconsin. If someone had done their due diligence, you could have spotted them from a mile away for being serial graft artists. Legal did no such thing, although technically that’s their entire job description, and the subcontractors did what they do. They overbuilt the entire damn thing, with kickbacks galore. Remember that housewares/industrial concern? Did you know that some Telfers have DM9000 margarita machines in the galley?”

MB: “What?! A DM9000 uses a class-five AI! The navigation system doesn’t even have that! Hell, how did they fit a 9000 in that space? Not to mention, I’ve been asking corporate for a DMS6500 in our break room since those came out… three goddamn years ago! What the hell is a crew of six going to need a plus-17 margarita-per-minute rig for anyway?”

JW: “I agree, absolutely unfair, and probably not the best idea in any case. I’m surprised the ship didn’t explode from being full of margarita. No idea where the limes are coming from, to say nothing of the tequila. Hopefully not our budget.”

MB: “You’re damn right it’s not coming out of our budget. I’d kneecap somebody if I found out!”

JW: “If it makes you feel better, legal is having kittens right now, and those kittens are shitting bricks all over the place. Last I checked, they seemed to be building a tiny castle out of the bricks to avoid the incoming shit-storm from on high. Better yet? I saw something big under a sheet in one of their meeting rooms, my buddy hinted that it’s a DM9000. Guess where they got it? They’re probably going to use it for shredding the documentation on this, then take it out to the desert and shoot it, bury it in a deep grave somewhere. No sense letting it get subpoenaed and blab the whole damn story in open court.”

MB: “Not just the people out in the belt rushing to cover their asses, huh? Serves them right, the bastards. But what about the pump? How the hell did it suck someone down a hose that couldn’t fit a baseball?”

JW: “Right, so the pump for the waste tank? I read through our hard-copy spec on file; The one nobody bothered to glance at until now? Turns out that the particular model of pump found in these hygiene bays is more commonly found in exploratory volatiles extraction equipment. Drilling rigs, ma’am. It’s a goddamn portable mud pump, capable of thousands of PSI at maximum power. When the crew member tricked out the hygiene bay’s system by fucking up the registry too much, the pump itself must have reverted to whatever default firmware settings it came with, and it sucked the poor, dumb bastard inside-out in what must have been all of 20 milliseconds. It could have easily done the same to the entire ship, faster than opening a window. But, the tank was full, so the pump automatically shut off before that.”

MB: “Why didn’t the tank explode?”

JW: “Pre-stressed iso-structure titanium. Surplus 30’s tech, rated for submarines, not spacecraft. We got a great deal on those, by the way, only $240,000 each! Legal signed off on all of it using a general acquisitions account, that’s why you or anyone else in M/F never saw it, and probably why they got a margarita machine. Oh, and get this, spares were included. Three per ship! We wouldn’t have found out until decommissioning or refit. There’s about three billion dollars in precision hyper-alloy titanium shit-tanks scattered amongst the depots that nobody is technically accountable for.”

MB: “That fucking figures… So what about the rest of the ship? Isn’t it designed to handle decompression?”

JW: “The pressure differential spike is, in fact, what did it. Human-rated volumes on spacecraft are generally designed to deal with hull breaches. The design limits account for a one in one-hundred year event that roughly corresponds to an airlock blow-out or something like that. Even in that case, where the crew is probably dead by rapid exoatmospheric defenestration, the hull would be intact and the ship itself salvageable. That’s the supposed worst-case, but it accounts for the vacuum of space, not the most overbuilt shit pump ever devised. In this instance, the forces created by the very short and extremely intense spike in negative pressure basically jerked the hull apart at the seams. Those forces were transferred through the structure, via what was basically a sound wave. The modules came apart, from the hygiene bay to the control room, all in about 3 seconds. We’ve done hundreds of simulations, and it works out.”

MB: “I’m seeing all this, but, what’s this ’brown note’ thing here on page A15?”

JW: “Ah… that. Someone in the group pulled a spectral density plot from the structural load simulations and gave it that caption, they thought it was hilarious. I wrote them up for it, but it had already made it into the report. I’ll fix it before we push it up to corporate.”

MB: “Ha, don’t bother, it’s fine. Corporate wouldn’t get it anyway, you know how they are… the goddamn toilet… So what’s the fallout on this? How about salvage? Is operations pulling anybody for recovery?”

JW: “There was already a five-ship of rockhounds headed back to the local depot from a dry stake in that area. They were the ones who called in the distress beacon. The depot had them do a preliminary search. So far they’ve brought back two bodies, a scattering of personal effects, and the flight recorder data that was pulled off the scuttle buoy. Neither of the two bodies had injuries consistent with the, uh, incident. The traffic net has a plot on what looks to be the ship’s DM9000, and several debris clouds headed off-axis at a good clip. All of them are outside of the velocity envelope for our ships currently in the area. It would cost more than the scrap is worth to contract faster ships and collect it, so right now legal and operations are having an all-out slap-fight on whether the inner-system council will come after us if they leave the DM9000 to float off; Politics of quasi-sentient entities and artificial personhood being what they are these days, they don’t want to end up on the wrong side of public controversy and outrage.”

MB: “You came onboard after the ’moon penis’ scandal; These people know better than to piss off the masses. Speaking of which, what about the crew, their families? It’s operations and human resources’ show, but they could at least pretend to give a damn for the optics.”

JW: “The remains of the rest of the crew are another story, contracts and regulations don’t explicitly mandate recovery and burial, so the families on their own in that regard. I would suggest that an autopsy of the person in question would settle some questions on our end, but I didn’t want to press my luck with HR. They were busy screaming in tongues at the time. We’ve already placed a memorial beacon at the site, anyhow. Dispatch is busy fielding death threats and worse from a bunch of pissed-off prospectors who want to know what happened, and legal would just love for this thing to go under the rug, but…”

MB: “Lingering externalities?”

JW: “You’re going to love this… So, the septic tank? Yeah, it took off in the fashion of the most inexplicable water rocket, ever. The ship coming apart must have cracked the main inflow in just the right way to make a good nozzle, after that the pressure and mass inside… As far as motors go, it’s actually quite damn impressive. I’m writing a paper on this to show to R&D, and… Well, anyway, although it’s smaller than the DM9000 we got a brief track on the sensor nets, just enough for a trajectory.”

MB: “Oh god…”

JW: “Yeah, with the velocity and mass involved, it could easily punch its way through any of our stations. Worse yet, that PSIS-Ti stuff is almost indestructible, but when it does go, it goes… With enough energy, which it has, it’s pyrophoric. Not to worry! The good news is that the plotted trajectory goes away from our claims and equipment.”

MB: “What about the bad news..?”

JW: “…It’s going to hit the Musk group’s forward operations hub. Dead on, at that. We were playing with the numbers ourselves, after-hours last night. It could scuttle the whole damn thing, or worse yet, breach a reactor and cause a prompt critical excursion, cracking the rock itself. I mean, there’s no way they can move a rock that big in time, not even with every tug, hell, every ship in the inner ring. It’s going to be epic, like, ’boom for the boom god’. I’ve already had to talk several people out of taking up a hobby in insider trading. Even so, I bet someone over there is wondering why a bunch of telescopes and drone-cams are staring at them now.”

MB: “Fucking hell… So, we’ve inadvertently started the first intra-system conflict in human history, all because someone wanted to get off in an unconventional manner with a piece of plumbing. What’s more, the opening shot in ’Belt War I’ is an overpriced, over-engineered water rocket propelled by feces and human entrails… Am I getting this right?”

JW: “One-hundred percent, ma’am. Oh, and we’ve already sent out a safety bulletin to every depot to take the hygiene bay toilets offline in each and every Telfer-series prospector. Each crew will get an extra supply of plastic bags and hand sanitizer when they go out, until we can refit them with new toilets.”

MB: “Oh, that will go well. I suppose we ought to send extra wet-naps and air fresheners too… What are the prospectors going to fuck now? The goddamn DM9000, no doubt.”

JW: “Technically that’s rape, ma’am, they are quasi-sentient. Legally it’s questionable if they can even give consent. A new gray area for the council to contend with.”

MB: “Thank god we don’t work for the council. Well, anyway it looks like this is an easy section-two write-off. Legal can deal with the rest, since it’s their fault. As it’s not a maintenance issue or malfeasance on our part, we’re off the hook. File the report upstairs and take the rest of the week off. Tell your team to do the same, you all did well… God, the toilet, of all things.”

JW: “I know, right? And, the one person who could tell us what actually happened is dead, drifting out above the orbital plane.”

MB: “Just one more terrible secret for space to keep. Us too, of course, but NDAs aside, I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t get around during the next holiday party.”

Transcript Ends

1 comment

  1. baki says…
    the United States

    That was by far the best fecal engineering scifi I've ever read. Amazingly detailed and hilarious.

    "They, uh, turned the butt-sucker to eleven, ma’am." - one of the best lines I've read in a story all year!

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