Chapter 1: we have existence and it's all we share
It's not so bad to be a neurotic OCD mess, when you're an astronaut. It has its upside, in fact, considering the level of health and safety vigilance that's required just as the baseline minimum, to meet regulations and decreed standards, to avoid the kind of disaster based on human error that gets reported around the world, that's never forgotten, that makes any kind of space funding exponentially more difficult to obtain.
That's what Cassie tells herself, in any case. There has to be an upside, because it's so painful and difficult to live with, that if there wasn't then she'd quite probably go crazy. More crazy than she already is.
When she's on a multiple-man mission it's a little easier to keep it under control. That's because she has no choice in the matter. If she's too visibly nutty, then her co-workers are going to eventually feel themselves compelled to report that fact as, ironically, a safety issue. (Even though safety issues are the very things that she checks continually, obsessively.) So with other people around, she tamps it down: checks the air lock three times, not twelve, the food supply storage conditions no more than eight times a day. Doesn't especially feel the need to mentally run through the stipulated codes for air supply controls, a fierce mantra, more than before and after meals, on waking, prior to sleeping.
And guess what, on those missions? No-one's been lost through an airlock. Nothing's exploded. Nothing's rotted in the food vats. Everyone home, safe and sound, barely a nick or a scratch on 'em. It's not like she doesn't know that her charms and mantras and repetitions make sod all difference in the outcome of any mission beyond the thermosphere and on into real space.
Knowing it doesn't make any difference to her habits, either. It's just a question of how much she has to repress them, in a particular environment.
A solo mission is pretty much fatal, as far as giving her psychological oddities free rein is concerned.
And now she's up on a solo mission.
Cassie would recuse herself if she could, but she can't. Multiple psychological profiles were compulsory before she was ever allowed so much as near a zero gravity simulator. It never even occurred to her to lie or to try to fool the program's psych docs. What would have been the point? They're as smart as she is, and their profiles and questionnaires and scans are designed that way for a reason, designed to weed out deception and neurosis and psychotic tendencies.
So Cassie was honest in answer to every question, and unburdened herself of her quirks and her tendencies and every little tendril of crazy she has. And she'd half expected to be ruled out of the race in the first heat, and laughed out of the space mission, asked why she'd even bothered to apply.
No, though, that wasn't at all how it had gone. Seemed like she was within limits for 'sane' and 'normal' functioning. However they measured these things, anyhow. And her grad school transcript, combined with her extra-curriculars and professional achievements, must have tipped her over the edge, into the pool of acceptable candidates.
Chapter 2: pecked to death by predatory birds
'Get over OCD' is on Cassie's to-do list. She'd better check that list one more time.
Chapter title is Stephen King.
Elizabeth Wurtzel reference.
Now, she's an astrophysicist. Now, she's an astronaut, managing projects aboard orbiting, space flight and stationary vessels, a professional working scientist with a publication history and a reputation in her field. Not a reputation for being an obsessive twitching nutcase, obviously. Quite senior and responsible and mature enough to be trusted and charged with a three-month mission, manning a single-person vessel and keeping every project running, ticking over, the tech in fine fettle and carefully -- obsessively -- maintained.
It's all on camera, and she wonders if the clips of her watering herbs and adjusting titrations and scanning read-outs, show her unraveling, or if her face is just as impassive as it usually is. They have to show, though, that she checks the water volume eight times before application through the crop maintenance hydration system. That she pauses and closes her eyes three times before she exits any room, counting in her head. All of the other little routines and checkpoints and habits she has, too, none of them necessary. All of them, essential. They have to tell their own story, no matter how blank her face. If she wasn't alone, on this assignment, then she could keep a better handle on it. But now, now, it's spiraling out of control.
These are the things that Cassandra is checking for, daily, weekly, hourly, by the minute:
Check: the water supply for contamination: hourly, three times minimum.
Check: air con system for full ventilation and breakages: bi-hourly.
Check: air purity and ratios, with special scrutiny of CO2 and CO levels and oxygenation.
Check: carbon monoxide alarms for volume and breakages, in case of heating malfunction.
Check: plant breeding project for correspondence with projected statistics and oxygen production
Check: subject rats in bone density study for a) all being alive b) functionality of water drippers c) no blockages in food funnels
Check: functionality of station:earth comms and vigorousness of signal
Check: news from earth for major disasters involving eight family members or thirteen priority friends. (Every two hours.)
Check: news from earth for major disasters involving non-priority friends and acquaintances. (Once a day.)
Check: heart rate and major organ enzyme function.
Check: heart rate and major organ enzyme function again.
Check: heart rate and major organ enzyme function again. Again, again, again. Stop and walk away. Come back and check again. Walk away. Walk away. Keep walking.
Check: under cabin bunk, for monsters.
Check: with spouse and partner at home, that finances are being attended to. That taxes have been filed. That paperwork is in order and the mortgage is not in arrears and that the debt collector is not at the door. That she hasn't forgotten to maintain virus protection and firewall on their private computing network, that they aren't invaded by enormous Russian pirates and unethical email-hacking slobbering wackadoos, turning their computers into bots and stealing their passwords and banking information.
Check: the same thing again. Again. More, now, again.