Aloha – Well it has taken 18 chapters, but the Arlo is finally ready to launch for the Asteroid Belt, but will Marshall be left behind? If you haven’t been following these first draft chapters of this sci fi novel, you can catch up in the Blog archives. Enjoy, Doc
Chapter 18 The Last Detail
“She’s not trained,” Naomi argued.
“She can be our OJT candidate. It can be a test of the impact of various levels of training,” Marshall replied. “Besides, we know the most important part… she stays calm in an emergency.”
“And what if she handle the environment? That has been the biggest cause of wash out,” Naomi felt herself losing the battle.
“If we get her up on the Saturday shipment, she’ll have a week to figure out whether she can handle it or not? If she can’t handle it, we’ll just ship her down on the last load in two weeks,” Marshall smiled as he could feel victory within his grasp.
“And if she doesn’t want to go?”
“I already asked her,” Marshall grinned. “I think her words were something like, A dream come true.”
“You already asked her? What happened to panel interviews?” Naomi replied.
“What panel?” Marshall snorted. “Ada lifted off today, that leaves you and me.”
“And what about me? You didn’t ask me!” Naomi’s voice stuttered.
“You had enough on your plate already. Plus as mission control I’m going to have to find something to do while you guys have all the fun.”
That had been a real surprise. When the medical staff had responded to Arthur Salt’s query about Marshall’s fitness for the stress of a lift off, they had been very clear. It would be weeks, perhaps months before they would sign off on such an event. Marshall had taken it all in. Naomi thought she was going to have to tie Marshall to a bed and sit on him to keep him Earthbound. He simply responded, “Okay, we’ll work around that. Guess I’m Mission Control then.”
In three days in the hospital, Marshall had delegated the Crow’s Nest meeting to Blake and Naomi to coordinate, just asking for a debriefing after the daily meeting.
“So what is our status on supply launches?” Marshall changed the topic.
“Yesterday’s launch went without a hitch. Snackbar 26 arrived,” Naomi looked at her watch, sixteen hours ago. Blake reports that all food and water have been unloaded and is in the process of being stowed. The last drill units launch tomorrow. Justin is running a little behind on securing the drill assemblies to the out frame. He says that his mining team is doing fine, just moving a little slower than expected working outside the ship. Apparently one of the engineers has severe vertigo and locked up a new team that was supposed to be helping.”
Marshall frowned, “Well, I guess he’ll be an onboard operator only then. How many does that make?”
“She,” Naomi corrected.
“Huh?” Marshall looked up. The engineer who froze is a woman, Sharla Sanders.”
“The one that Ada recommended. Did wonders in Bolivia apparently,” Naomi reported.
“But afraid of heights,” Marshall pondered. “Well we really didn’t test for vertigo did we. Something to consider next time.”
“In any event, that makes three operators who have problems outside the ship. One was more related to claustrophobia than vertigo.”
“Will that be a problem?” Marshall quizzed.
Justin doesn’t think so,” Naomi then added, “Neither does Ada. Most of the mining operation is from within the operator booths on the framework passageway. We haven’t checked to see if the passageway itself will be a problem for our friend with claustrophobia, but really with ceilings 12 feet high, and average passage six feet wide it shouldn’t be too big a problem.”
“You should tag that one to watch for Rock Fever,” Marshall commented.
“Rock Fever?” Naomi’s brow rose in curiosity.
“We’ve talked about that, guess I just never called it that before. It’s what happens to people who go to Hawaii thinking it will be paradise, then begin to regress into a sense of being trapped on the rock or island,” Ryder now sounded like a school teacher giving a lecture. “I would think that claustrophobia and Rock Fever would affect the same people.”
“Makes sense,” Naomi pulled out her notebook. “I’ll pass it along to the medical team.”
“So are we still on schedule to launch a week from Sunday?” Marshall asked.
“Sunday or Monday,” Naomi responded. “Tuesday at the latest. That is only if we either have a failed launch or Justin and Ada’s team can’t finish securing the in-process equipment in time.”
“Speaking of launches, we’re down to four. You need to take Dr. Black up on the next launch,” Marshall stated in an even voice.
“I’m not leaving you,” Naomi’s voice rose. “I’m your body guard and you obviously need one.”
“I can get a new body guard,” Marshall spoke softly. “Not you of course. I’ve grown very fond of you. But you have a more important role on the ship.”
“Anyone can do my job,” Naomi muttered…. “on the ship.”
“No they can’t,” Marshall said flatly. “We cut the service jobs by 75% and are demanding that all crew take various responsibilities above and beyond their regular job titles. People said yes easily enough, but I’m already hearing that a lot of the crew are muttering about kitchen duties and so forth. You’re head of security. I need a strong hand who can also be diplomatic. People can’t run to a console every time they want to bring an issue to my attention. I’ve thought it through. There is no one who can replace you on the ship.”
“No buts. I’ll be fine. I’ll get two ugly, former Secret Service types to protect me.”
Naomi finally laughed. “I can just imagine. Why not a couple of pretty CIA types?”
“I can barely handle one pretty CIA type,” Marshall smiled, and then turned away as his face reddened. “Anyway, launch tomorrow. I’d bring a couple of extra barf bags in case Dr. Black has a problem.”
“And on-ground operations?” Naomi queried.
“They’ll let me out of here tomorrow. By a week from Tuesday there won’t be much for ground control to do that couldn’t be done on an old short wave radio,” Marshall laughed. “I might just feed the radio system to a giant hot tub and spend the next 24 months or so lounging in the hot tub and listening to your static and occasional reports.”
At Naomi’s insistence, Marshall did not attend the action live when she and Dr. Meredith Black launched with the last two members of the mining crew and Pastor Eric Stoeber, who was fresh out of three months of intensive pre-flight training. Naomi couldn’t decide who was more excited between Pastor Stoeber and Dr. Black. She watched attentively to see if there were any significant differences in their physiology as they accelerated from the launch pad. Nothing obviously different occurred. The payload also included the final two drill units, and a hundred cases of ramen noodles.
Marshall did watch the launch, but from a monitor in the office in the near empty warehouse. A dour looking man in a dark suit stood near the door. “You can take off the sunglasses,” Marshall smiled broadly.
The warehouse looked like a great place for a shootout. Stacks of empty pallets occupied two corners of the massive complex. Five seventy foot long double rows of food stuffs and water were all that remained for shipment to be loaded on the final launch, scheduled for the following Saturday. The two security guards, who would soon be laid off with two week’s pay were stationed at the front gate.
Marshall remained at his station in the office until the launch had cleared the atmosphere and established orbit. It would be three hours before the payload reached parity with the Arlo.
The formal christening of the ship as Arlo would not occur until the last load arrived aboard the ship next week. But after debating names for months, they had finally reached consensus on a name, as opposed to a registration number several weeks earlier. Marshall felt he had finally provided an appropriate tribute to this friend and bodyguard for so many years. Turning to his new caretaker he exhaled slowly, “Home, James.”
“Michaels sir,” the man replied coolly.
“Michaels it is then,” Marshall agreed, but laughed to himself, You feel more like a James.
Michaels drove the gray Lincoln though the security station. As the car paused, Marshall saw a tumbleweed blow into the fence and struggle against the barrier. Boy, it does feel that desolate doesn’t it, he reflected.
The following Friday afternoon, Marshall and his new shadow, Michaels, closed down the office and warehouse as the final five semi-trucks pulled out the last five loads for the Saturday launch. Despite his jokes to the contrary, there was a Mission Control operation set up in Houston, through an agreement with the Johnson Space Center. The Center was scheduled to track the mission, maintain a communications conduit, and provide information about space weather, such as massive solar flares that could potentially cause damage to certain systems not protected by Earth’s electromagnetic field. Blake was convinced that his artificial system would deflect such bursts, but knowledge of such incidents would be invaluable.
Saturday morning offered a clear blue sky against the distant sandstone bluffs. News had leaked that this was the final launch of supplies from Earth to the newly christened Arlo, so a larger than usual crowd of reporters occupied the stands hoping the get an interview from the elusive Marshall Salt. News of Marshall’s brush with death had reinvigorated interest and debate in Arthur’s Folly. Reporters had to be satisfied with a public relations person from Salt Industries, and a near perfect launch. The young woman informed the reporters that Mr. Salt was on his way, and perhaps had already arrived in Houston.
Twelve hours later, Naomi Katsuki received an urgent message from the crew members unloading water and food supplies. They had a stowaway.
“Shit, that was a one way delivery. What am I going to do with a stowaway?” she growled at her assistant as they raced from their small office to the far starboard corridor. Naomi was still not used to 25 percent gravity, having a tendency to trip over her own feet.
“We could stuff him out an airlock,” her assistant suggested with a grin.
“Might not be a bad idea,” she muttered.
A small crowd had formed around the space suited villain. When he removed his helmut, he grinned at Naomi, “I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”
“What are you doing here?” Naomi growled.
“It’s my ship isn’t it,” Arthur grinned.
“And you’re dripping blood all over it,” Naomi replied. “Someone call a medic.”