Aloha – Good news! I finished the first draft of the novel. It clocked out at nearly 150,000 words and sixty six chapters. The following is first draft of chapter 21, previous chapters are available in the blog. Doc
Chapter 21 Cowboy
Cheers rang out in the command center, where Commander Channing had successfully coordinated speed and trajectory so that the twelve member EVA team spanning the three kilometer width of the outer framework of the Arlo, had fed the makeshift drift net behind the ship.
Justin Nelson had worked with Blake and Ada to do the calculations for not only capturing the wayward drills, but to design the capture technique that would avoid damaging the packed drills while the Arlo was still traveling over 5,000 kilometers per hour. As Justin put it, “It will take a soft touch at that speed.”
“I’m leading the team,” Justin announced.
“You?…. You can’t hold down your cookies in zero gravity,” Blake teased.
Justin blushed, “That was in those air transport simulations. I think it was more the fuel fumes that made me sick. I’ve been fine working in the tunnel repairs. That’s zero gravity.”
Ada interjected, “Justin, you really don’t need to do this. We have some team members that have more hours and seem more attuned to this type of work.
“It is my job,” Justin choked. “The fact that we lost them in the first place is my fault. It was my responsibility to get them secured properly in the first place.”
“Let’s get real,” Blake grew serious. “You couldn’t account for the detached framework in your calculations. Frankly, we’re lucky it wasn’t more than just three drills. That’s on my head.”
“Great!” Ada mocked. “I’ve learned in over ten years in the mining industry it’s not really a matter of who made a mistake, it is a question of whether or not the leadership learned from the mistakes they make. If they do, you take your lumps then move on. Let’s move on. It happened, we fix it. That is the end of the story as far as I’m concerned.”
In the end, Justin led the team to snag the crates containing the drill units. He was assisted by Red Eddington and Jake Rockwell, who anchored the other eleven members of the EVA team.
The first two crates were textbook captures, but it looked like they were going to miss the third drill by a couple of hundred yards. “Be sure to pull me back in,” Justin yelled, as he launched with a corner of the netting away from the ship.
Red relayed to Jake, and the entire team shifted left across the surface of the exterior of the ship to provide more range for Justin’s solo flight.
Justin barely missed ramming into the third crate, which started tumbling down the inside of the capture net range. A tear formed at it’s second contact with the net. The rip began to spread and it looked for a moment like they might lose all three of the drills and Justin along with it. But the net held deeper into the rings of the central purse.
“What were you thinking? Ada grabbed Justin when he got back into the Yankee Hotel, shaking him by the light jacket he had donned. “Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“What she said!” Blake laughed. Watching you float away from the ship was surreal, like watching a calf roper at a rodeo, or someone flying off a brahma bull.” Blake grinned, “Yeah, that’s it. No more Doctor Nelson for you. From now on you’re Cowboy.”
“Not funny,” Justin complained, looking at his friend, while tightly embraced by Ada.
Ada pushed Justin away, “You do something like that again, and I’ll…. I’ll…” She didn’t finish her sentence as Marshall and Naomi approached.
“Good catch,” Marshall congratulated Justin with a warm handshake. “I didn’t see that last maneuver in your plan.”
“It wasn’t exactly a plan,” Justin admitted. “I could see we were going to miss it if I didn’t do something, and jumping was the only thing that came to mind.”
“Well congratulations on a job well done,” Marshall smiled.
Naomi’s face was set as she exchanged glances with Ada.
Marshall turned to Blake, “Is everything secure?”
“Red and Jake are finishing securing the load, and directing the retrieval of the net itself. We may want to use it in the future. That will actually take the most time. Probably three or four hours.” Justin interrupted.
“Any reason not to start accelerating now, or do we need to wait for the materials to be secured?” Marshall turned back to Justin.
Blake and Justin looked at each other, and Blake finally spoke up. “If we begin acceleration now, we would be up to about 8,000 kilometers per hour in about four hours. I think if we proceed on our measured acceleration strategy it will have little or no impact on the team securing the materials. Actually I don’t even think they’ll notice.”
“Justin? Ada?” Marshall asked.
“We’re fine with it as long as we don’t accelerate like a dragster,” Ada stated and Justin nodded.
“The we’ll let Commander Channing know,” Marshall turned to leave, then paused.
“Blake, when are you planning to deploy the solar sail?”
“We’re clear of all the space junk around Earth’s orbit,” Blake’s brow rose and his eyes lit up. “Really, the only thing hold us up now is making sure everyone is fresh. I think Commander Channing should be at the helm, and she’s been on duty for how long now?”
Marshall checked his wrist band computer unit, “About twelve hours. I think any of the pilots could handle it, but I know Channing would be disappointed if she slept through the coming out party. I’ll confer with her and let you know. But let’s plan on tomorrow. Are you sure the framework is intact?”
“As intact as it is going to be for now,” Blake grinned. We’ll be working on it for weeks to finish up, but it shouldn’t drift apart again.”
Everyone wanted to watch the deployment of the solar sail. The canteen team, were busy for hours before preparing a spread to celebrate. The tables were crowded with food and beverages, and crew members had found walls to lean against planter boxes to sit on, much to the chagrin of Henrietta Graham, or simply sat on the floor. The external camera systems was shifting from camera to camera, displaying empty space at one moment, a section of the external framework of the ship at another moment, and even a corner of the boxy propulsion system in rotation.
Commander Channing opened the channel between the flight crew and Engineering, and announced, “We are all clear to begin the deployment Doctor Hilst.”
“Roger that,” Blake responded.
Naomi and Marshall were sitting on a blanket with a good view of the display monitor on the ceiling of Central Park, sharing a sandwich and bottled water. “Blake’s been watching war movies again obviously,” he snickered.
The monitor began shifting back and forth between two cameras. One showed a close up of the boom arm that was beginning to extend from the exterior of the front right side of the life support environment pod, or the Yankee Hotel.
Marshall wasn’t sure, but he thought he could feel the slightest vibration in the floor as the arm began to extend.
The arm seemed to move in slow motion as it continued to expand outward 3500 meters. By the time the arm was fully extended, Marshall and Naomi were sharing a pudding with crunchy caramel topping that the cooks were calling crème brulee.
Marshall leaned forward intently as the sail itself began to extend from the boom. The material the sail was made of was extremely delicate and thin. Sometime in the previous hour he had tuned out the dialog between Blake and Commander Channing. “Hold it, hold it,” Blake exclaimed in a loud voice.
“Say again,” Channing responded. “We are doing anything.”
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Blake’s voice rose.
Over the next several minutes it became apparent that something was stuck.
“Maybe we’ll have to have Cowboy go out and fix it,” someone could be heard saying, who was apparently standing next to Blake in Engineering.
“Not funny,” Blake snapped. “Reel it back in and try again.”
A moan could be felt from the crew members watching from Central Park.
Minutes passed, then an hour, as Blake and his team tried to tease the sail free.
“Maybe I better go check on them,” Marshall started to rise.
“Marshall, this is Blake’s show. I don’t think you going to Engineering and hovering will help.” Naomi pulled him back down. “She leaned in and kissed Marshall,” then pulling away for breath she smiled, “I think you need a distraction.”
Nearby some of the crew members chuckled.
“Looks like we are the distraction,” Marshall whispered, as he noticed that Naomi was wearing knee length cut offs and a V-necked white sweater. Her hair was back and her face was shining without makeup. “You look great,” the words slipped out.
Naomi looked around at several staring faces, “Well, it looks like we’ll be the water cooler topic of the week.”
“Gotcha!” Blake’s voice rose and octave over the communications system.
Those next to Marshall and Naomi broke out laughing, as both Marshall and Naomi blushed.
Meanwhile, whatever had been holding up the deployment and been worked loose and the sail began to expand slow and steady.
A cheer went up around the atrium.