Aloha – Chapter 26 is ready for your reading enjoyment. For more, you have a couple of options. Arlo chapters are available in the blog archives. Also, you can go to Amazon and pick up any of the first four books in a different series by the author, Demeter, Return to Demeter, Defending Demeter, and Haumeah. Either way, enjoy, Doc
Chapter 26 White Knights
The headline read, “Mars Expedition Faces Disaster”. Meanwhile, another single column article on page two announced, “Communications Reestablished with Arthur’s Folly.” Arthur Salt smiled as he sat back in the six seat Augusta Westland AW119 helicopter, setting the newspaper on the seat. “Where is Roberto?” he yelled up to the pilot.
“He’s just stepping off the elevator. Should be here in less than two minutes,” the pilot yelled back.
Roberto Trujillo walked across the roof of the Chicago skyscraper holding a hat on his head with one hand, and hauling an over packed leather briefcase in the other. As he climbed aboard the craft he turned to Arthur and wheezed, “Where are we off to in such a rush?”
“Washington,” Arthur raised his voice.
“Wouldn’t it be faster to fly from O’Hare?” Roberto settled into the cushions, tightening his seat belt.
“Three hours by helicopter. From here it is faster than the jet,” Arthur corrected his friend. He knew that Roberto did not like flying, and especially loathed flying by helicopter.
“I never knew you to be in a hurry to get to Washington,” Roberto’s eyebrows shot up in curiosity.
“We’re doing a news conference at two o’clock. I want to work out some financial issues before the briefing.” Arthur replied coolly.
“It didn’t seem that folks were that interested in the communications being reestablished with the Arlo,” Roberto posited, “Or is this about the new refinery?”
“Neither,” Arthur frowned. “Apparently we get to be the white knights of legend.”
“Now I am confused,” Roberto replied. “Speak in English or Spanish, but not mumbo jumbo.”
“We have been drafted,” Arthur announced, “to rescue the damsels in distress. Or in plain English, we are being diverted. The Arlo is going to Mars to rescue NASA’s wayward children.”
“But that’s not even on our way…. oh,” Roberto replied flatly.
Arthur could see the wheels turning inside Roberto’s head.
“But, if the Arlo goes to Mars we won’t have the resources to get to the Belt,” Roberto sat back beginning to put numbers to the disaster. “Can we recover?”
“That’s why we’re on this helicopter right now,” Arthur put his hand on his CFO’s shoulder. We’re going to make sure that the Federal government coughs up enough compensation to dig us out of the hole.”
Roberto sat back quietly for a long moment, and then leaned forward, “Does Marshall know yet?”
“He probably knows by now. I had a message relayed to the Arlo before I came up. I figure it is better for him to get the message from us than catch it on a delayed broadcast from CNN.” Arthur smiled tightly.
“He’s not going to like this,” Roberto frowned.
“Neither do I, but it is what it is,” Arthur replied.
“No way,” Blake was the first to respond.
Justin followed, “They can’t do this to us.”
“I’m afraid, yes way, and they already have,” Marshall replied to his friends in an angry voice.
“We could pretend we didn’t get the message,” Justin suggested.
Naomi glared at all three of them, “You’d leave twelve people out there to die?”
“We didn’t send them to Mars on an underpowered jalopy,” Blake retorted.
“I don’t like this any better than you do,” Marshall lowered his voice. “But we are going to have to divert to Mars.”
“That is a sixty million kilometer detour if you count getting there and then on to the asteroid,” Justin quickly calculated.
“We can get there in twenty-two days,” Marshall stated.
“Forty-four days total?” Naomi asked. “We can handle that kind of detour can’t we?”
“Not forty-four days,” Justin replied. “We’re running in excess of 80,000 kilometers per hour. We’ll have to slow down and match orbits. By the time we regained speed it would probably be more like a sixty day detour.”
“Speed and fuel are not our problem,” Marshall drew everyone’s attention. The problem will be twelve more bodies. They will all need oxygen; they will all need food; they will all need water. If Henrietta’s crops are intact, if food production from the crops can mitigate the food supplies we have on hand, then we can successfully die of dehydration without sufficient water to finish the trip.”
“It isn’t fair,” Blake’s voice waivered.
“It isn’t about fair,” Marshall replied. “The question is what, short of abandoning these men and women can we do? Based on supplies on hand we should be able to make it back to Earth without a problem, but we won’t have the resources to make a second try at Cibola. I’m not willing to give this up so easily.”
“Why don’t we just fix their ship and send them home?” Justin queried.
“The main problem is electronics,” Marshall replied immediately. “We used up the majority of our spare parts making repairs from the storm. We do have the raw materials of the spent parts that we might be able to redesign using the 3-D printers, but that is iffy on electronics.”
“They made it from the Earth to the Moon on less computer power than your Smartphone. Surely they could make it back to Earth with spare parts,” Blake responded. “I think I could do it.”
“Do you want to go back to Earth with them on their ship, with a handful of electronics?” Marshall cracked a smile.
“Bring them with us?” Naomi suggested. “Surely they have a supply of food and water that could supplement what we have. They should have plenty of reserve oxygen/nitrogen tanks.”
“Worth considering,” Marshall replied. “Okay boys and girl…. Justin, maybe you better get Ada in on this as well, time to put your thinking caps on and sharpen your slide rules.”
“Slide rules?” Naomi asked, “what has this got to do with playground equipment?
“Just a figure of speech,” Marshall grinned.
“I want at least two viable alternatives that don’t result in us going back to Earth with our tails between our legs,” Marshall stated firmly. “Get your engineering team and the computer geeks together. There has to be a way to make this work.”
Naomi remained behind as Blake and Justin departed. “You sound more and more like your father every day. I didn’t think that mineral deposits would be all that important to you.”
“It’s more than that,” Marshall hesitated.
“More than some gold and platinum?” Naomi looked perplexed.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Marshall smiled awkwardly. “A nice day to check out the waterfall.”
Naomi slugged Marshall playfully on the arm. “I notice you’re still wearing your jeans and black sweatshirt.”
“Comes in handy in an emergency,” Marshall laughed.
The pair walked side by side, Marshall with his hands grasped behind his back. He noticed that Naomi had switched from her preferred sundresses to the white shorts and polo shirts combination that the flight crew was wearing.
“What do you think of me?” Marshall slowed his pace.
“What do you mean?” Naomi edged closer.
“A long time ago you told me that I was a spoiled brat that runs and hides every time something goes wrong,” Marshall repeated the phrase that had haunted him for three years.
“That was a long time ago,” Naomi looked down embarrassed.
“So what do you think about me now? I can take it. What are the good and the bad?”
Naomi paused for a long moment, and then looked up, “You’re smart, super smart. You know you’re smart and that makes you a bit arrogant.”
“But you’re also loyal to your friends and to your crew. You are something else… not many people have it. You’re… a visionary,” she seemed to be looking for the right words. “There are lots of dreamers in the world, you dream and then do something about it. You’re special.”
“Do you like me?” it was Marshall’s turn to look down.
“Very much so,” Naomi touched his chin and raised it so their eyes met. Her eyes sparkled. Then she turned the tables. “And what, Marshall Salt, do you think about me? I can take it. What are the good and the bad?”
“You’re pretty smart for a girl,” Marshall laughed.
Naomi jabbed him in the shoulder a little harder than he had expected.
“Okay, you’re pretty smart for anybody. You’re pretty, with or without clothes on,” he backed off in time to take the next blow without getting knocked over. “And you’re my rock. I’ll be honest, when I got the message to detour to Mars my first thought was to tear up the message, break the radio, order the flight crew to secrecy and continue on. Then I thought about what you would think and I was ashamed. You,” Marshall hesitated, “make me a better person.”
Naomi was in his arms. The kiss was different than on the blanket. It was different than the few other times in his life he had kissed a girl. It was sucking him in, making him forget everything. Then he was kissing her back. Time stood still. They didn’t hear the catcalls from the nearby benches or the balcony overhead; they were lost in each other. Breaking away for air, Marshall looked into Naomi’s eyes again and they danced with a look of delight. “Guess I said something right,” he stuttered.
“More than right,” she confirmed. She took his hand and they wandered through the sprouting gardens saying nothing in particular.