Science Fiction – Chapter 25 of Arlo

Proofreading of Arlo has proceeded slowly this week.  I’m still slightly ahead of what I’m sharing now.  Chapter 25, What a Mess is tied to the aftermath of the Solar Storm.  Again, if you’re new or have fallen behind, all the chapters to date (edited and unedited are available in the Blog Archives.  Enjoy, Doc

Chapter 25  What a Mess

“Frankly, at this point, the whole this is problematic.  We’re not even sure if they’re alive.  If the ship is intact it may be a flying coffin,” Arthur Salt swallowed, but tried to stay focused on the issue at hand.

“It is unlikely that they’re all dead, or that any of them are dead,” Admiral Somervell replied coldly.  “Assume for a moment that they absorbed lethal doses of radiation in that solar storm.  If that is the case, you are correct; they are dead men walking.  All the more reason to do this if that is the case.”

“But it is nowhere near their flight plan,” Arthur responded.  “How do they retrieve your crew?  What about food?  Water?”

“Are you suggesting,” Admiral Somervell sneered, “that money is worth more than the lives of twelve men and women?”

“I’m saying, we have our mission you have yours,” Arthur’s voice rose.  “What are your own rescue options?  Obviously you must have had a backup plan for such an event.”

“Six months,” Somervell replied.  “NASA has a limited budget, and so the answer to your question is, no.  NASA did not have a rescue rocket sitting on the ground ready to take off at a moment’s notice.”

“So what happened?” Arthur asked pointedly.

“Global dust storm,” Somervell snipped.  “Winds rose above 120 kilometers per hour.  We were ready for that, but the particles started sticking to everything.  It built a massive charge and basically, blew the electronics to hell.  We had to cannibalize the ship in orbit just to keep the team alive.”  Turning somber the Admiral finished, “So Salt, the clock is ticking.  Are you just going to let them die?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Arthur’s voice softened.  “We better find out if we have an operational ship to work with.”

Admiral Somervell left Arthur Salt’s office shortly thereafter.  Janice wasn’t quite sure why he was smiling when he left.

***

“What a mess,” Commander Channing growled.  “No navigation, no communications, no life support,” she glared across Central Park as she saw another person stumble in the fine layer of  water covering half the Park.  Seven or eight people had lost embarrassing amounts of clothing to the mist.  “And gravity at .62.”  Turning to Marshall and Blake she complained, “Where do we start?”

Naomi Katsuki spoke for the first time in over two hours, “The gyro needs to be rebooted so we can get the G force back to normal.  That or you better shut down the water system.”

“I already have a team on that,” Blake responded immediately.  “The Electrical Engineer and HVAC specialist are working to replace burned switches and wiring in the gyro system.  Justin and a team of six members of the mining crew are assisting.  I’m still not sure what caused the system to slow toward zero gravity even without power,” he frowned.  “The Environmental Sciences engineer has her hands full.  She has to reset and rebalance the entire life support system.  You really should have allowed me those additional engineers,” Blake complained.  “Henrietta Graham is already driving us crazy, but we need her assistance.  I’ve pirated other specialists to assist, but it will probably be twenty-four hours before we have stability.  Drive system reactivation is on the back burner.  The solar sail is intact and operating at full capacity.  He paused, then directed a question at Marshall, “What about communications and navigation?”

Marshall replied firmly, “Life support and the gyros take priority.  The computer techs will have to help the communications team attempt  to bring up communications and navigation.”

“Ah….,” Blake interrupted.  “We’ve already drafted two computer geeks on the other projects.”

Commander Channing complained, “Can’t you free up one of the computer techs?  Some of the electronics is beyond our communications team to re-sync.”

“Depends,” Blake smiled.  “It seems like you need a good oxygen-nitrogen mix if you want to talk through the communications channels.”

“We’ll wait,” Channing muttered.  “I’m headed back to the Command Center.” She marched off in a huff.  Not paying attention, she walked near the fog like mist that extended half way across Central Park, which immediately melted the bottom two inches of her shorts.  “Shit!” she exclaimed, detouring toward her quarters.

Even Naomi laughed at the commander’s mishap.  “It could have been a lot worse,” she called out.

Blake pulled Marshall aside, “The Electromagnetic Field should have worked fine and there was no logical reason for the spin to deteriorate, at least not at the rate that it did.  I think we have a problem with sabotage.”

Marshall stared at his friend.  He had never seen Blake look so tired or disheveled.  His clothing was torn in several places, sweat and grime coated the whites he was wearing.  There were patches of his clothing that had disintegrated from perspiration.  “You need a bath and some rest.”

Blake chuckled, “Yes, I heard about Naomi’s shower.  I don’t think I’d make as interesting a show.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Marshall glanced in Naomi’s direction, where she was talking with the communications officer.  “You’re tired, you’re not thinking clearly.  Who in their right mind would sabotage the Electromagnetic Field.  That would be suicide.”  He paused then added, “On the other hand, sabotaging the gyro could have been the work of anyone with a wicked sense of humor.  Do you think Justin might have done that as a prank?”

“Justin does love a good prank,” Blake acknowledged.

Marshall’s face grew serious, “What makes you think the Electromagnetic Field was sabotaged?”

“There are obvious cuts in the conduit.  They were not caused by overheating, it was clearly done by someone with a blade,” Blake frowned.  “I almost missed it.  We were pulling some of the burnt cable to recycle and I saw the marks and thought what the heck.  Turned out there were two cables that were manually cut by someone.”

“It still doesn’t make sense,” Marshall thought out loud.  “Whoever did this was either very stupid or very smart.  I don’t buy into a suicide.  You better cross check all your engineering staff, and … computer techs.  When we get communications back up I want to have Arthur put a team on digging deeper on the background checks.”

“So you’re into very smart,” Blake responded.

“That or someone very misinformed.  In which case we have to expand the conspiracy theory to the idea that we have a manipulated pawn on board,” Marshall exhaled slowly.  “That could make the background check problematic.  I’d like to hope that if it is not someone in engineering or maybe a highbrow computer tech that it is some genius that we can track down via a deep background check.”

“Well, I’m going to go over the gyro system carefully,” Blake started to pace.  “If I were going to sabotage the spin, I’d put a counter energy source on the unit to slow the spin.  It would have to be very low power to avoid detection, but in zero G I can see how I would do it.  So I think I know what I’m looking for.”

As Blake headed back to the Engineering department, Naomi rejoined Marshall.  “What was that all about?”

“Blake thinks we’ve been sabotaged,” Marshall confided.

Naomi’s eyes widened, “How so?”

Marshall quickly briefed her on Blake’s suspicions.

Naomi growled, “Why didn’t you call me over?  This falls within my job description here.”

Marshall stepped back, “I didn’t take him seriously at first.   I just thought he was tired.”

“Well I better go catch up with him.  I may not be CSI, but I’m the closest thing we have to it,” she left chasing after Blake.

Twenty-four hours later Blake’s teams had restored the spin to .75G and rising.  Life support was moving and processing stale air.  It was forty-eight hours before communications and navigation were fully online.  To the disappointment of many, the mist had all but disappeared and the waterfall was back in its channel.  Meanwhile, Naomi confirmed that both the Electromagnetic Field and the Gyro had been sabotaged.

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