New Sci -Fi Novel in first draft (Arlo – Chapter 16 Going off Half Cocked)

Things are heating up for the characters in Arlo.  Enjoy the next chapter.  Earlier chapters are available in the Blog archive.  Doc

Chapter 16 Going off Half Cocked

“I can’t,” the tall craven man in black repeated.  “I have my work here to do.”

“Baccalaureate degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Astronomy, one of the finest schools in the world.  Surely, this has to be of interest to you,” Marshall continued to make his case.

“Yes, yes.  But you’ll also notice that I dropped Astronomy and moved on to Psychology before entering the Priesthood.  I just didn’t have the math skills for a top tier astronomy, and who wants to be a technician… at best.”

“But instead of doing the math of astronomy you can live astronomy.  Think of the adventure.  You don’t have a family here,” Marshall continued to argue.

“My congregation is my family,” Pastor Stoeber defended.

“Don’t you have an understudy, an Assistant or something who can take over?” Marshall continued.

“Yes, but he is young,” the Pastor rose as if to leave from the Pew where he was sitting and talking with Marshall.  “Surely you have other, better choices.”

“No, we don’t.  Most of the candidates backed out after the news stories.  And the few remaining choices I don’t trust.”  Standing Marshall continued, “I trust you.  We need you.  69 people will be traveling through the void for two years.  I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be dozens of problems that will require a good counselor, and perhaps even a Priest.”

“Pastor,” Stoeber corrected.

“Pastor then.” Marshall deferred.  “We all need you.  Arlo would ask you himself, if he were still alive.”

Pastor Stoeber stared at Marshall, “I don’t think you or I know what Arlo would have asked.  You go too far.”

Marshall knew he had been walking a tight rope on that one, but continued down the rabbit hole, “You may not know, but I do” he lied.

Stoeber looked away.  “I’ll think about it.  When do you need to know?”

“Today, if possible.  We launch in less than three months, and I need you to get through the training as quickly as possible.”

“I cannot possibly answer today.  I need to confer with Bishop Alder of our Synod,” Pastor Stoeber stated firmly.

“Tomorrow then.  I’ll make the travel arrangements.” Marshall tested.

“We’ll see,” Stoeber tried to deflect, but realized that he had been outmaneuvered.

I did learn something from my father, Marshall reflected, as he shook hands with the Pastor and made his way out through the front of the church.

The Psychologist was not the only position where Marshall and his team were struggling to find staffing.  The increased vetting had caused some problems, but the negative news stories that abounded were resulting in attrition that they had not expected.  The dream of deep space flight lost its luster among many applicants when the reality of the risk and danger involved was resounding from both the conservative and liberal news media.

Naomi was waiting for Marshall when he reached the car.  “Well, how did it go?”

“He’ll come,” Marshall almost whispered.

“But….” Naomi left the statement hanging as a question.

Marshall frowned, as Naomi pulled away from the curb, “But, I had to use some manipulative tactics that are more common to my father’s modus operandi.  I hope I’m not becoming him.”

Naomi drove through the light traffic and out onto the freeway before the conversation resumed.  “How is Justin doing on the rest of the staffing?”

“Well as you know the flight crew is intact,” Naomi began.  “No changes there.  Ada has staunched the leaking of the mining crew.  She is still looking for one more replacement in engineering .”  She smiled, “And I was able to persuade Dr. Milner to rejoin the medical team last night.”

Marshall turned toward her, suddenly attentive, “How did you do that?”

“You don’t need to know,” she responded coyly.

Marshall turned away, staring out the window.  The rest of the drive was silent except for the purr of the engine and the air conditioning.

Four weeks before the accelerated launch schedule, Blake gave the all clear.  “The Yankee Hotel is open for business,” he exclaimed on their daily crow’s nest meeting.

“More details,” Marshall insisted.  “Yesterday you were saying you still had some problems with air balancing, temperature controls, and spin.  You solved all of those in one day?”

“Come on Marshall, this is my baby.  I let her know that I wouldn’t let anything happen to her and she just purrs.”

“That’s a cat, not a baby,” Marshall snipped.

“Okay, air balancing problems were tied directly to the temperature control issues in engineering.  The spin has been at a steady 25 percent for the past….. 16 hours.”

Turning and looking at his command team, Naomi, Justin and Ada all nodded in affirmation.  “All right then.  We have two supply launches this week.  We’ll have half the engineering team on each of the two launches,” Marshall confirmed.

“I’ll be coming up as well,” Justin announced.

Blake laughed on the other end, “You sure your stomach can handle 25 percent gravity?”

“I’ll be fine,” Justin blushed.  “I figure I better get up there and make sure you don’t forget to latch on my mining equipment.”

“What about your girlfriend?” Blake teased.  “Seems like this would be more up her alley than yours.”

Justin turned bright red, but Ada sat quietly without response.  Justin started to answer, “I don’t…” but stopped and fell silent.  Finally he spluttered, “I’ll see you Thursday twerp.”

“I’ll have the barf bags ready,” Blake replied like the cat who has just swallowed the canary.

Marshall’s stomach was churning.  Now the launches not only involved equipment, but critical personnel as well.    They had suffered five scrubbed missions in the last eight weeks, but no catastrophic explosions.  Today, they were launching half the engineering team along with his longtime friend, Justin.  He had not slept the night before, and now sat in the spectator bleachers in the New Mexico desert.  He jumped when his cell phone rang.

“Marshall!  Get out of the stands immediately!”  came the preemptive voice of Naomi.

“Where are you?” Marshall challenged.

“Nevermind.  You have to move and move now!  Naomi screamed loud enough that he pulled the phone away from his ear.  “Run!”

Marshall looked toward the craft that was about to launch, and a thread of terror ran down his spine.  “No,” he exclaimed.  He started to run down the stands toward to launch.  He only made it half a dozen steps then all went black.


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