Aloha – Chapter 20 is available in rough draft form for your pleasure. Remember Chapters 1-19 are available in the Blog archives. Also, if you’re interested in already published works, the first four volumes of the Demeter series are available in e-book for at Amazon.com
Chapter 20 Fishing
Tuesday morning Communications Officer Warren reported, “Weather is within acceptable ranges, with solar winds at 420 to 460 kilometers per second; particle density is ranging between ten and twelve. No indications of solar flares. We’re good to go.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving,” Blake was fidgeting from one foot to the other.
“Chief Pilot Channing,” Marshall looked across at this command crew. All eight members of the flight crew were present, but Kristin Channing was at the helm, “We’ve been orbiting, at least in parts, for over a year; I think it is time to see some new scenery. You are authorized to launch.”
The departure from orbit was less than dramatic. The electromagnetic field was engaged and the Arlo made one last swing around the planet, using the gravity well itself to gain some momentum as the ship broke orbit with Earth. Over the next several hours the Arlo gradually increased its speed to 20,000 kilometers per hour.
Central Park was a popular area for lunch, with garden tables scattered about what the crew decided was the south end of the atrium. Marshall was having lunch with Pastor Stoeber, Naomi, and Justin. “Can you imagine what the Apollo astronauts would have thought of this?” Stoeber was smiling.
Marshall was still looking pasty, as Naomi described it. Leaning back in his chair, he asked, “Thought of what?”
“They were all crammed up in that flying coffin with less than comfortable legroom for starters,” Stoeber reflected. “And it took them three days to make the trip.”
“It will take us two days before we pass by the Moon,” Marshall replied simply.
“Two days?” Stoeber queried. “That would mean…. It would take us a couple of years to reach the Asteroid Belt.”
Marshall leaned forward with a quizzical look on his face, and then smiled, “Oh yes, you went through the accelerated training didn’t you. You obviously missed some of the back story.”
Justin interjected, “We’re increasing speed gradually as we check out systems and look for problems,” moving his head around dramatically he added, “You don’t see Blake anywhere do you?”
“No,” Stoeber looked around the plaza. “In fact, I haven’t seen him since we launched. Where is he?”
“Fixing things,” Marshall answered. “The good news is that the EM drive is working fine. The bad news is that Blake’s tinker toy design for putting the ship together is….” He hesitated.
Naomi finished Marshall’s sentence, “… is having a few challenges.”
“Falling apart is more like it,” Justin laughed.
Stoeber’s face had shifted from curious, to worried, to panic stricken. “Are we going to be able to get back to Earth?”
“We’re not going back to Earth,” Marshall replied simply. “At least not until we’re done. This is a minor setback, and a great training opportunity for the engineering and mining staff. They are getting lots of practice putting the puzzle pieces back together. Quadrant 4, where Ada was complaining about rattling noises was the worst. A whole section became partially disconnected and was starting to drift away from the ship. I understand they have the passageway secured now. But if you want to go for a walk, you may want to avoid some of the side passageways, just in case.”
“Just in case what?” Stoeber’s face reddened as he took the bait.
Justin pounced, “Just in case a hallway becomes totally disconnected and drifts away. It would probably still get grabbed by Earth’s gravity at this distance, and eventually take you back to Earth. It would be a pretty exciting reentry if you hadn’t run out of oxygen/nitrogen a few weeks earlier.”
Stoeber began to stand, but Marshall reached over and took his hand gently, pulling him back down. “Not to worry Pastor. We were expecting some of these problems. This happens when you launch six months before you’re done with construction; you miss some things. Blake knows what he’s doing. He’ll have it under control in a day or two. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy a leisurely cruise past the moon. Starting on night cycle, we’re darkening the lights in Central Park and using the ceiling display to project the moon and stars as they appear outside the ship.”
Stoeber sat back down.
“Ice cream?” Justin queried.
“I’m not really hungry right now,” Stoeber replied. “I think I’ll go back to my quarters and start working on my sermon.”
“Done any counseling today?” Marshall asked.
“Nothing serious,” Pastor Stoeber replied. “just a couple of early cases of homesickness. The Communications Center is still busy keeping live messaging going. They’re already starting to notice the delay, although it is more like choppiness when the delay is only a second. I suspect things will get worse as the delays expand. When I dealt with freshmen students away from home for the first time, the homesickness issue seemed to exacerbate for a few weeks then dissipate completely for most of the students. I’m seeing a similar pattern already with a half dozen crew members.”
“We’ll need to find something to keep them too busy to be homesick,” Marshall observed. “Maybe training on EVAs and then putting them to work holding the ship together would help.”
Pastor Stoeber excused himself and walked briskly toward the living quarters.
Sighing and leaning back precariously Marshall commented, “We probably shouldn’t tease him that way.”
“He’s a bit of a stuffed shirt if you ask me,” Justin grinned as Stoeber passed out of sight.
“Considering that he didn’t want to come, I think we should make allowances,” Naomi rebuked Justin.
“Oh, he wanted to come,” Marshall paused. “He just needed some arm twisting to convince him that this is really where he wanted to be; helped him overcome the guilt of leaving his congregation behind.”
“Well, you better make sure he has a good showing for his Sunday services then,” Naomi smiled malevolently at Marshall, then bent over in concern, “Are you okay?”
“A little tired,” Marshall admitted. “Meredith warned me I’d be light headed for a day or two. Maybe I’ll…..” he hesitated looking across the plaza, “oh-oh”.
Naomi and Justin turned in the direction Marshall was looking.
Blake and Ada Martinez were marching rapidly toward them, clearly arguing as they came.
“We have to go back!” Ada insisted.
“We can’t go back!” Blake argued as they reached the table together.
“Marshall…” Blake began
“Captain Salt…” Ada’s voice rose over Blake’s rising tone. “We have to circle back.”
“We aren’t going to circle back,” Blake replied loudly. “We can’t go back. It would take us three days to make the loop, and for what? A couple of drills. You have over 350 more.”
Marshall sat up straight, “What are you two bickering about?”
They both started to talk at once.
“Stop.” Marshall commanded, and they actually did hesitate.
“Ada. You first,” Marshall offered.
“We’ve lost three drills. They’re adrift about 3,000 or maybe 4,000 kilometers behind us by now.”
Marshall looked at Justin who shrugged in denial of any knowledge.
“So you want to go back and get them?” Marshall stated more than asked.
“That is exactly what I want to do,” Ada almost yelled. “And this moron won’t let me.”
“Well actually, if someone won’t let you, it would be me,” Marshall replied. “Doctor Hilst would recommend, not decide. So Blake, why not go back for them?”
“Time for starters. We’d have to make a 360 degree sweeping turn that would probably take the better part of a day to perform. We’d have to decelerate rather than accelerate. Coming to a complete stop for pickup, ties up another half day. I calculate three days for the maneuver? Blake scowled, “Besides, she has plenty of drills for the operation without three units.”
“What are the long-term fuel costs?” Marshall asked in a tired voice, and added, “and supplies implications?
“Fuel costs are incidental at this point,” Blake admitted. “Supplies? That depends on Dr. Graham’s crops. We should have plenty of surplus with the gardens. Water is more likely to be an issue. This will begin to eat into the reserves.”
“Well,” Marshall spoke softly, “three drills cost us a potential of fifty billion dollars, unless we increase our planned operation. We already know that we will start losing equipment to breakdown to use toward the end of the drilling operation, so you’d probably lose three days on the other end if we don’t go back. At this point, I’d have to say going back is the best decision. I think you can cut the return time in half though.”
“How so?” Blake queried.
“Are they drifting together or apart?” Marshall asked.
“They’re in close proximity. One stop should work to get them if we have to go back.”
“Then don’t stop,” Marshall smiled. “Go fishing. Snag them. Oh, you’ll have to slow down I’m sure, and we still have to make the loop, but I think you folks ought to be able to figure out how to net some salmon. Just think about the last time we went fishing in Alaska.”
Justin jumped in, “We have riggings we could fit into a net. I think it could work.”
“You’re not messing with my solar sail riggings,” Blake’s voice rose.
“No, we got backing materials galore from the thousands of boxes shipped up,” Justin started walking to the commissary area. “I’ll show you.”
Blake and Justin, followed by Ada disappeared discussing how they could create a net.
Naomi stared at Marshall for a moment, “I guess it may be a good thing you did smuggle yourself aboard. How many more of these arguments do you think you’ll have to resolve over the next few months?”
“Hundreds,” Marshall smiled weakly.
“We’re getting you back to your room for a nap,” Naomi looked hard at Marshall’s face. “That or back to the clinic.”
“A nap sounds fine,” Marshall surrendered.