Teenager caught up in thrilling and dangerous outer space adventure.
|Careful What You Wish For
Beating back and forth between Mars 6 anchorage and Lunar 2 station had turned out to be a bit boring. I had just verified my coordinate calculations against the ship's navigation computer for the fourth time. The intercom bleeped and I reached for the button on my collar. "Mike, what did you find? Did I screw up again?"
"Hey, Daern!" My uncle's voice crackled with static. “I found a malfunction in the cooling vent for number three. I'm going out in the pod.”
"Can I help?"
"Yeah, tell me how long to touchdown?”
"Just under three hours, one and a half to deceleration. Mike, your transmission is breaking up.”
"I noticed. Must be that new unit Johnny installed; some bargain, huh? See you later.”
My summer break was done; I was due back at the Space Academy next week. Mom let me spend my vacation with Uncle Mike on his space tug. We had towed three mining rigs to Mars Station to join a Jupiter bound convoy. There were fourteen mining rigs and six super class liquid gas tankers awaiting station assignment outside the asteroid field.
On our first trip, Mike took me out in the pod over one of the space platforms. The Canada, an elliptical shaped craft, was five miles long and two miles across and displaced a half mile of space from top to bottom. We drifted slowly a hundred yards above the dark gray metal superstructure. I spotted water, fuel storage tanks, cooling towers and ship mooring docks.
The underside of these craft housed life support, water generation, power plants, equipment repair shops and the nuclear fusion furnaces which powered the entire complex. The platforms had no internal propulsion systems; they maintained position by computer controlled attitude thrusters placed strategically along their titanium hull surfaces.
Awesome, I thought, as we skimmed above the huge plexi domes which covered most of the center of the platform. Convex structures, they contained habitat and work areas for the mining crews for their three year tours. Artificially generated sunlight now glowed dimly across the trees, shrubbery and grassy fields in the center and largest dome.
The smaller domes clustered around the main one; each was capable of independent operation and connected to the main dome by tubular passageways like spokes of a giant wheel. However, except for a maintenance crew, there was no one aboard during transit.
I had continued to bother my uncle until he agreed to take me with him in the repair pod. “Look, what could go wrong? We’ll be back in less than an hour.” Then, before he could respond, I changed the subject. "Hey Mike, do the miners really bring their families along?"
"Three years is a long time."
"Why couldn't they just travel home every couple of months?"
Mike frowned. "Interplanetary shuttles could take a week to get home and back. The mining companies couldn't afford that and miners worked better with fewer distractions.” Mike’s com unit crackled louder.
I studied the platform and couldn't help thinking of my family back on Earth. "Mom should see us now; so near this rig, I mean."
“When we get back, don't tell her that we got anywhere close to this thing. I promised her you'd stay aboard the Kara Anne the whole time."
"Why is my mother so fearful about mining platforms, Mike?"
He was silent for several seconds. "It's not the platforms, Daern." Mike suddenly fell silent. Again, I feared I wasn't going to find out why she hated space ships.
"Mike, when can I take the controls?"
Because we were in spacesuits; he swiveled his seat to face me. I could see the frown through his faceplate. He wasn't sure. "Okay, but just for a little while.” Mike nodded to the control stick in front of me. “Gently, wrap your hand around the pistol grip, but don’t apply pressure.
Remember, the pod reacts slowly so don't rush things. Just hold steady and gently press the button under your thumb; lower the power level to dead slow.”
I eagerly fondled the pistol grip which curved up from the floor under my seat. The repair pod was a sphere of plexi material reinforced with titanium. Fusion powered field generators gave it propulsion and the control systems were behind our seats. Jutting out and stretching forward were two flexible work arms. The pilot or copilot could operate the external claws using two large gloves connected to fly by wire circuits.
The pod glided smoothly under my control and when we reached the forward end of the platform; it was time to return to the Kara Anne. "Had enough?" Mike asked.
I looked at him and nodded. "I guess so."
"Okay, just ease her around to port and point us back to the ship."
I slid the stick gently to my left and I still don't know what went wrong, but I lost control of the pod. It swung quickly in toward the surface of the platform and rolled over. The sphere wobbled around upside down accelerating toward the top of the nearest dome.
Mike grabbed his control as we yawed and pitched between space and the platform. Upside down, the dome surface came at us fast as the top of our pod caromed off the hard surface. In seconds, Mike regained control but we were drifting slowly, hundreds of yards out in the void of space.
"Sorry, Mike. I don't know what happened." Perspiration ran down my cheeks. He was sweaty, too and he just shook his head.
Pivoting the pod around, we accelerated back to the Kara Anne. Mike opened the intercom link to the Kara Anne.
"Johnny, do you copy?" Mike said in an even tone.
My helmet speaker crackled to life. "Greetings, Skipper!
How was the tour?" The flight engineer asked. “You didn’t check in for some time.”
Mike turned to me as he answered. I detected the slightest smile on his face. “Uneventful, but interesting." We're coming in; prepare for docking."
"Aye, docking bay system activated. See you on board."
That was last week. After we had finished nudging the Canada in line among the convoy, we waited for the replacement tug, signaled farewell and turned toward Lunar 2; there, we would have a two day layover.
Johnny caught a shuttle home before we turned over custody to the other tug. His son was about to be born and Mike cut him loose to be with his wife, Sarah. The look on her face was awesome when Johnny told her.
Two hours out from Lunar 2, showered and ready for a meal, I thought about my instructor, an officer from the Lunar Merchant Marine. When he had first told us about the floating factory ships, I wasn't interested. But, just seeing a dozen of these rigs in Mars Orbit waiting to take up their stations among the tumbling planet shards of the asteroid belt was incredibly impressive. I had some interesting stories to tell about my vacation.
I was swiveling around in the pilot's seat as the bulkhead door hissed open. Uncle Mike, dressed in a dark blue jump suit, ducked his muscular six foot frame slightly to enter the control cabin. His thick black hair glistened in the overhead lighting; sweat beaded on his forehead. I started to get up, but he motioned told me to stay put as he slid into the engineer’s station.
He punched in control codes and spun around to me. "I think we'll be okay, but I want to check that engine vent before we attempt to decelerate. The computer will track my progress to be on the safe side."
When he left for the pod bay, I visually swept the gauges for the ship's condition. Only the number three vent overheating indicator flashed red continuously; the remainder of the panel was green. The intercom bleeped again. "Daern, I'm going out now. Let me know when the light goes green on number three."
"Roger, Mike." Boy, I wished Johnny hadn't gone home after we delivered the Canada. With Mike outside, I was in charge of the ship; I wasn't too relaxed. Oh, heck! I thought, what could go wrong? Mike will be back inside, soon.
My Uncle Mike was twenty seven years old, nine years older than me and my mother's youngest brother. He inherited the Kara Anne from his former employer, an old man who never had any children. Jason Pyke was like a father to Mike and taught him how to run the business profitably until he died suddenly.
Pyke surprised Mike by granting title to the Kara Anne in his will; business contracts came with the ship. That was two years ago; it took me that long to talk Mom into a vacation with Mike. Now, the break was over and I was returning to Lunar 2 for the last time this school year.
Interplanetary Commercial Port
Lunar 2 was the hub of a huge wheel of inbound and outbound shipping routes. They stretched to Uranus as well as to the gas docks of Jupiter's moons. Our current route back was directly through the main shipping channels; the trickiest routes were those which navigated around the densest shipping lanes. We were to rendezvous with a chemical barge bound for the Mars Astral sector in high Mars orbit. From there, we would be in time for me to catch a shuttle for my return to the Academy.
Most traffic controllers consider a three thousand metric ton vessel as a tiny nuisance. The lanes had become so crowded that it was not unusual to impose a ban on any ship under a hundred million earth tons. Mike had mentioned that if small craft, like the Kara Anne, got in the way, the freighters and tankers would be unable to maneuver in time. But, I decided not to worry too much. Besides, the Mars Station Controller assured us that our ETA would be clear. We could spiral in, pick up our tow and be on our way before the rush began.
About twenty minutes had passed and finally the intercom bleeped twice; I pressed my collar button. "Yes, Mike."
"I'm outside near number three vent. Activate the vent control."
I pressed the button on the engineer's control panel for number three engine vent. In the open position, the green indicator light flashed several times and then became steady. "Mike, I got a steady green."
“The vent is open." Mike replied through some static. "How's the heat warning light?" The static grew worse.
"Still red." Wait; it just flickered and went out."
“Say again!" Mike yelled above the buzz.
"It went to green." I repeated louder. “What did you do?”
When he didn't answer, I repeated my question. The static level rose to a screech. Mike's voice came through faintly, but readable. "I used repair procedure number one; I shook it with one of the grapples." He replied laughing. "Try to close and open the vent a couple of times." The radio static increased.
"Roger." I laughed. "Hey, that static is getting worse."
"One emergency at a time, please." Was his very faint reply.
“Got all green in here."
"Great!" His voice seemed a little louder now. "I'll be right in. Turn on the coffee pot." Mike loved his coffee; it reminded him of home.
"Activating bay docking mechanism." I replied.
Reality Tends To Show Itself
This vacation had not been the romantic spacefaring life I dreamt about when I was younger. It was over forty hours since we left the mining platform, Canada, in Red Planet apogee. I actually wanted to get back to school and be able to stretch my legs in real gravity again.
The view ahead had not changed dramatically since an hour ago. There was blackness with pinpoints of light to starboard, fewer to port. Earth was a blue crescent arc curving in the direction of the sun with most of the planet shrouded in the darkness. The moon floated in a curved gray crescent matching that of Earth.
Suddenly, I felt a rumble more than heard anything, a shudder which grew right out of Kara Anne’s hull. A second later the collision alarm blared through the cabin. The whole ship pitched forward and rolled. The screen went blank and the control room lights went out except for the emergency spotlight over the engineering console.
"Mike!" I shouted into the intercom. Then, I realized I hadn't turned it on. Pressing the button, I said. "Mike! Do you copy?" All I got was a blast of loud static and I couldn't think over the noise of the emergency klaxon.
On the engineering panel, one whole row of red lights flashed. The noise was deafening. "Where is the alarm reset", I thought out loud; my face felt flushed and my neck was wet with perspiration. I finally spotted the reset and turned off the alarm.
Moving to the pilot's seat, I activated the emergency power cells and the computer screen. The lights returned and the screen brightened. I tried to think; how would Mike handle the situation?
I took a deep breath and punched in the computer codes to find the pod. A bunch of gibberish flowed across the screen; snow took over and finally a fractured image made up hundreds of block segments coalesces into a frightening picture from the external cameras.
The Kara Anne's repair pod drifted out there. Dangling pieces of the pod’s plexi hull were tethered to the Kara Anne by a couple of shredded cables. The front of the craft was completely torn away. I couldn't see Mike and I feared the worst.
Apparently, an explosion had torn a gaping hole in the Kara Anne's starboard side where engine three used to be. I pictured Mike’s body drifting forever between the orbits of Mars and Earth. The cabin lights winked as the computer regained control of ship's power and automatically sealed off the damaged areas from the rest of the craft. I still couldn't see Mike and the intercom was useless. I had to be sure. I decided to take the other pod and look for my uncle.
My First Solo
Luckily the pod bay wasn't damaged and I suited up, climbed into the remaining pod and activated its power cells. After decompressing the bay and releasing the magnetic stays, the craft floated free just off the deck. I opened the bay doors and gently nudged the pod slowly outside.
This was eerie, like looking out over a cliff into a deep, deep canyon. Suddenly, I was out in space with nothing to keep from tumbling into the void except my hand on the control stick. My mind reviewed the last time I had sole control of the pod. Forcing myself with all my will, I moved out away from the ship. The Kara Anne appeared to be rolling against the stars in the background. From here the hull looked just fine, bathed in the work lights lining her white hull, but we were tumbling.
"Hang on Daern!" I coaxed myself. "Try and relax." Boy, I thought; it sure is warm in here. I checked the gauges in the pod. The temperature readings inside and outside my suit were normal. Moving the control stick back slightly, the craft climbed straight up. A slight move of the stick forward and I was stopped just off the port side and slightly above the Kara Anne.
Several seconds later I was at the stern. The starboard rear quarter was a mass of twisted metal struts and broken plates which once housed the Kara Anne's third impulse engine. It had come apart, tearing itself free and its remains were somewhere out there in the darkness of space.
I noticed a piece of Mike’s pod drifting out behind the tug. It was swinging from side to side like a small skiff tied to a dock on a windy day. Somehow, the pod's work arm cables had wrapped around a hull strut. The pod lay open like one side of a clam shell, its plexi front torn away. There was no sign of the pilot.
Guiding the pod directly over the damage, I saw something jammed into the wreckage. By swinging the pod inward, the spotlight showed the blackened hull. Suddenly, a feeling of elation welled up inside me. It was Mike’ suit; his helmet visor reflected the beam back at me. I thought; he had to be alive; he just had to be.
Activating the work arms, I slowly manipulated the fingers at the end of each. I drew in a deep breath, moved the pod into position and reached for Mike. I figured that his air supply would last another half hour at most. I had to be quick and careful.
I maneuvered one arm above him and pulled some wreckage out of the way. The broken cabling let go and Mike drifted into the empty engine compartment. Carefully, working the other arm and trying not to penetrate his pressure suit, I pulled him free and slowly backed away from the tug. Now to get him inside, I thought. Through Mike's face plate, I could see that his eyes were closed.
The trip back went quickly and I was so intent on getting Mike back inside that there was no time to be nervous. I kept hoping he was still alive. Minutes later the pod bay was pressurized and the gravity field activated. Mike lay on the pod bay floor.
I removed his helmet; his breathing was very shallow. There was deep cut above his right eye where his forehead had apparently struck the inside of the helmet. I guessed he had a concussion. Academy basic first aid had taught us to keep the patient warm and move him as little as possible.
First Things First
I stopped the bleeding, but could not see other injuries due to his spacesuit. I undid the clasps and removed the suit and inspected his torso; there was no blood. I pulled up his shirt and looked at both legs. There was some bruising, but no wounds.
I covered him with blankets and went back into the control room. The navigation course indicator displayed the time remaining to the deceleration point, ten minutes. I punched up the computer status.
The forward view screen and the computer monitor stopped operating again, but the gauges showed a constantly changing heading both vertically and horizontally. Yes, the Kara Anne was in a slow spin, more like a tumble. I had to adjust our attitude to point us in the correct position for deceleration, but Mike had only let me fire the breaking thrusters several times. I had never tried to correct the ship’s attitude before.
I tried the ship's computer; a warning message swept across the monitor and the control cabin speakers repeated the message audibly. "Course deviation! Course deviation!"
"Yeah, I know" I answered. "But, can you correct the course?"
The computer replied that it needed permission to access to the inertial guidance system. I wondered why it didn't already have access and shook my head. “Granted! Why don't you have access?” The computer screen flashed came back to life.
“Com system interface interrupted at section 1-a” Replied the female voice.
"Where is section 1-A?" A diagram of the Kara Anne appeared with flashing red dot indicated a bulkhead near the engine room, engine number three's engine room. I moved back into the aft area and found that bulkhead door was sealed and a warning message flashed in bright yellow letters, HULL BREACH.
At a nearby terminal, I asked if the link could be rerouted. And the computer suggested a physical cross connect at a com junction box just forward of section 1-A. Two minutes later I had affected the repair and walked back to the control room.
I flipped the switch off and on and the distinct outline of the moon appeared on the view screen with the earth spinning just to the left. We were getting closer. The time to deceleration was less than four minutes. I switched to the view to the pod bay; Mike was lying still, unconscious, but breathing regularly.
I had to get help and keyed the com center alert to broadcast an automatic SOS. There was a green pulsing light for a few seconds and then it stopped. The computer chimed in. “Distress broadcast beacon has failed. Com system inhibited.”
“Can you advise on fix?” I blurted out somewhat frustrated with the situation. And, in desperation, I switched the com switch on and off and started a brief transmission. Static blared through the speakers and then a distant voice.
“Space tug, Kara Anne, this is Lunar control, we received an emergency burst broadcast. Please respond.”
“Lunar control” I answered. “This is Daern Janis aboard Kara Anne. We have a medical emergency, over.”
“Kara Anne, this is Lunar Control. Your transmission is breaking up. Are you declaring an emergency, over?”
“Lunar Control!” The com system failed again and static filled the control room. I switched off the unit. “Computer, activate emergency com backup programs.”
For five seconds there was only silence. “Computer!” I shouted.
“Working, secondary and emergency coms offline. Total failure; system reboot required.”
“How long will it take for system reboot?” I sighed. “What else could go wrong?”
“Ten minutes? We'll be space dust if we enter Lunar2 Space sector at our current velocity.”
The computer voice was silent for two seconds, then “Permission to implement deceleration protocol.”
“Activate.” I shouted.
“Computer, calculate current spin rate and determine stabilization procedure.”
“Working, attitude and spin compensation are calculated and available.”
The Kara Anne shuddered as the attitude thrusters and remaining two engines redirected their thrust forward and then aft for one minute to stop our spin. After that maneuver, we rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, pointing Kara Anne’s stern thrusters toward our destination. The engines fired and the ship started decelerating.
“Computer, what is our current velocity?" What is our current velocity?”
“We are moving at Interplanetary 5.0” Then, another delay of seconds. “Course deviation from plot... Current vector will miss assigned window.”
“Can you adjust vector?”
“Negative. Navigational system needs input from com satellite system.”
“Reduce velocity to InP 2.5.”
“Working.” The Kara Anne shuddered again as the engines fired slowing the ship's velocity once more.
The control room was suddenly silent and I had an inspiration and went down to the pod bay. As I entered, I thought I saw one of Mike’s legs move. Then, I realized I was still in my pressure suit. I reached down my right side, slid the suit seal switch. The suit's power pack whined and moved the stays and released the tension.
I quickly shed the lightweight, but bulky outfit, tossed it on a nearby crate and knelt at Mike's side. His carotid artery pulse was strong and regular; the bruise on his forehead was turning blue with yellow highlights. I had to get him to a medical facility. Then, I remembered the other reason I came to the bay.
May Day! May Day! May Day!
I got in the repair pod and switched on the power. Putting on the headphones, I pressed the activate button expecting static or worse, a dead unit, I was surprised to hear com transmissions from nearby vessels. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” I shouted hoping that someone would hear. “This is Space Tug, Kara Anne. We have an emergency situation. Does anyone copy, over?”
“Kara Ann, this is Star Freighter Epsilon 1 on course out of Lunar2. State your emergency?”
“This is Space Tug, Kara Anne” Pilot injured and unconscious. He needs medical attention. One of three main engines damaged and main com system has failed.”
“Kara Anne, we are in sustained exit burn; will relay situation to Lunar Control. Please state current SPS position.”
I activated the pod's ship interface. “Computer what was our last Space Positional System coordinates?”
“Prior to com failure, “Jupiter 127, Mars 12, Earth 58.”
I repeated the coordinates and the fact that they were almost forty minutes old.
“We will relay info, Kara Anne and, forward our bearing on your signal. We are alerting Lunar Control and Space Emergency And Rescue. Good luck”
Kara Anne continued to plummet toward lunar orbit as I attempting to change our course using the attitude thrusters and a holographic representation of the Earth-Lunar region. The problem was that our position in relation to every other reference point was fluctuating and without the com system and an interface with the navigation satellites, I was basically flying blind. I tried to remember my navigational training from the Academy.
It was possible to determine Kara Anne's position, but all we had were short range sensors; this hologram could be many degrees away from reality. “Computer, scan for any close objects or vessels. Report any anomalies.”
“Working, sensors show no collision contacts within five solar minutes.”
“Great! But, I suppose five minutes is better that no minutes, right?” I thought out loud.
My mind again drifted again to Mike. I had to force myself to refocus, ignore that for now. Help was on the way and all I could hope that Mike was stable. I punched in a new set of numbers and the hologram tilted and spun to give a new perspective.
I was looking at the estimated course of Kara Anne looking from our next towing location. If we could stop further course deviation, the Kara Anne could slip through that area without colliding with another vessel.
One More Straw?
“No reason we need all this speed. Computer, reduce velocity to InP 1.”
“Working.” But, the rumble of the engines never happened.
“Computer, what is the status of velocity reduction.”
“Engine controls are offline; programming recommends a reboot of the system.”
“Offline? Are engines operational?”
“What's our velocity?”
“In velocity per minute, please.”
“Velocity is twenty five hundred miles per minute.
I tried to remember Kara Anne's specs as I grabbed the handrails and jumped down the companionway steps which led to the engine compartments. Prepared for the shock of my feet hitting the lower deck, I braced myself, but instead, instead my boots went out from under me and I floated gently to bump my rear end on the lower deck.
“Gravity generator is offline, too.” I said as hand over hand along the handrail, I moved my body toward the pod bay. Mike had floated off the deck. His body wedged itself under a ceiling support beam. I launched my body upward and grabbed one of his legs and worked my way along the ceiling to a vertical strut and pulled us both down to the deck.
Shoving Mike into the pod, I lashed him across the seats. I placed his helmet on his head and flipped on the telemetry. His brain activity showed small spikes which indicated dreaming, but not for long if we slammed into the barge waiting in orbit for our tow.
The terminal inside the bay bleeped. The life support system had shifted to battery power. The air pressure would be okay for a while, but it was going to get cold if I couldn’t restart the engines. The pod com unit crackled. “Kara Anne, this Space Emergency And Rescue 12, over! Please respond.”
I plugged in my head set. “SEAR 12, this is Kara Anne. What is your location, over?”
“Kara Anne, SEAR 12. We are behind and above your position. We should rendezvous in seven solar minutes at current speed. What is the injury status?”
“Pilot seems stable with sporadic brain activity, still unconscious. We are out of control without main propulsion and coms. Are there other rescue craft en route?”
“Negative, Kara Anne. All SEAR craft scrambled for Lunar 1. There was a catastrophic event involving two gas tankers. We were closest to your sector and got diverted. Can you restart your propulsion systems?”
“SEAR 12, we would be completely cut off for ten minutes with no guarantee of engine restart. We need your help to slow our descent to Lunar 2, over.”
“Kara Anne, we are transport only. No rescue gear aboard.”
Fantastic, I thought, that’s just our luck today. “SEAR 12 can you increase speed to rendezvous sooner?”
“Kara Anne, we are at max velocity. We are gaining but slowly. Can you slow down?”
Daern just drew a deep breath. “I'll think of something.”
Desperation and Folly
Traveling in space is a double-edged sword. Once in motion, an object remains in motion unless another force slows or speeds up the process; the second edge was the issue. Without that opposing force we would keep moving unless we met an immovable object, like our contract tow in orbit around the Moon. What we needed was a drag, an anchor like they used on Earth's oceans to slow the drift of vessels during a storm, a sea anchor; we needed a space anchor.
I unplugged the head set and slid Mike out of the pod and guided his weightless body up the companionway to his cabin where I lashed him to his berth. I would be taking a chance by leaving the ship, but the Kara Anne wasn't going to slow down without help. The repair pod wasn't much, but it did have a propulsion unit, a mini fusion reactor, a small scale model of Kara Anne's more powerful pushing engines. “Computer, reboot!”
“Working.” The female voice went silent as the lighting blinked twice. No time to worry now, the computer needed ten minutes to restart and there was no guarantee that it would fix anything. I would have to manually open and close the pod bay door and re-pressurize.
Mike had drilled that into me before we left for Mars. “You never know.” Mike insisted. “We may lose power and one of us will be outside knocking at the door.”
Without gravity the bay door slid easily, but getting to the pod wasn’t fun. I had to go the long way up and over the top. Once inside the pod, the internal field generators in the pod kept it stable and I released the magnetic tether.
Outside, the work arms handled the hatch and I maneuvered away from the ship looking for a secure anchoring toward the bow. The gaping hole at the stern was a tangle of struts and power cables drifted below me as I went forward. On the bow, one of the heavy space platform connectors was a perfect spot to connect the heavy cable as I slipped the locking pins place.
Easing away in the opposite direction of Kara Anne's trajectory, I watched through rear view screen as the cable went straight and then taut. To avoid tearing the pod in half, I eased the control forward ever so gently as the grapple arms took up the strain.
If I hadn't watched my uncle yank a huge boulder out of the asteroid field, I would have been more worried at the rumble of the straining little vessel. And, Kara Anne was quite a bit larger than that boulder; I watched the arm stress gauge closely.
Applying more forward thrust, the pod shuddered again, but responded. The velocity gauge showed negative movement. Kara Anne dragged the repair pod along with her. I calculated that, if the tug hit an object or vessel, I would hit it about a tenth of a second later. It was not a comforting thought.
Then without another shudder, the velocity gauge jumped into positive territory. It wasn’t much, but the pod was having an effect on the ship’s forward speed. The propulsion thrust was near maximum as I nudged the stick further forward. A red light flickered on the dashboard, and then burned steadily.
I sighed and pulled it back; the light barely flickered. I didn't need a fusion reactor malfunction or worse, a meltdown and subsequent explosion. At the Academy, I had watched a larger craft obliterate itself within a magnetic containment field. It wasn't pretty.
Looking forward I noticed blinking red lights in the distance. “SEAR 12, this is Kara Anne. What is your position and ETA?”
“Kara Anne, three minutes behind you. Do you see our beacons?”
“Affirmative! You are on the edge of visual range.”
“Kara Anne, I thought your propulsion systems were down. We are reading an overloading fusion reactor. Are you having further difficulty?”
“Negative. I am using our repair pod as a space anchor.”
“Kara Anne, Lunar Control has been trying to make contact for twenty solar minutes. You are on a collision course with Titan Passenger Station. Orders are to intercept and destroy your vessel. Do you copy?”
“SEAR 12, I am rebooting main computer to get engines online. Pilot is still unconscious. Please relay the status to Lunar Control, over!”
“Kara Anne, you are classified as a hazardous derelict. Destroyer Cameron is en route at max speed to intercept.”
“Understood, SEAR 12! Still need medical assistance.”
“Gaining ground, Kara Anne, we are concerned about your reactor state.”
Right on queue, the red light on the pod’s dash, flickered and glowed brighter red than before. The pod was done; I reduced the propulsion to one quarter thrust, but the light stayed lit. I maneuvered back toward the bay.
“SEAR 12, this is Kara Anne. I am going back aboard and will jettison the pod. Please note position for Lunar Control, over.”
“Roger, Kara Anne, adjusting course to parallel yours, above your position.”
I moved the pod as close as I dared and set the auto pilot to bring the pod to a dead stop and then shut down. After disconnecting the cable, I opened the pod front, wriggled outside and pushed off to the open bay external hatch. The pod’s attitude thrusters fired moving it behind the ship.
After muscling my way inside, the bay lights flickered and came on full as I activated the manual pressurization controls. “Welcome aboard, Daern Janis, the female voice stated without emotion.”
I removed my helmet. “Engine status?” My breath showed as I spoke. “Life support?”
“Working, life support systems are coming on. Engines are in shut down mode. Do you wish to restart engine one?”
“Affirmative, skip startup cycle and ignite laser booster.” I decided to forego safety measures or wind up part of a burnt cinder orbiting the moon forever.
“Confirm! You wish to skip the startup cycle!”
“Affirmative, ignite up both number one and number two engines.” And, I remembered engine three. “Remove number three from start solution.”
“Working, engine one is firing; engine two is firing. Laser booster is operational.”
“Kara Anne. SEAR 12 on station descending to pod bay please allow entry.”
I had forgotten all about the ambulance. I switched the pod bay controls to emergency. The SEAR 12 crew could now enter the ship. Then, I realized that my feet were firmly on the floor, the gravity was working. Two minutes later in the control room, I heard the shuffle of spacesuit feet in the passageway.
The techs were outside Mike's cabin; still in their protective helmets. When they saw me, the first person pushed a control beneath his chin and removed his helmet. The second placed a med case on the deck, touched her chin and removed hers. A shock of brunette hair burst out from the helmet and she quickly twisted her hair into a hair tie then leaned over Mike. After examining his injuries, she injected him at the base of his neck.
The other tech turned to me. “I'm Cary Bruin, Med Tech. That's Darma Wright.” He held out his gloved hand.
“Daern Janis.” I shook it.
“He's in shock.” She said. “We have to get him off this ship. I can't treat him here, but I've given him a stabilizer. Let’s get him aboard the ambulance. Both techs replaced Mike's helmet and suit, produced an anti-gravity gurney and moved Mike toward the bay. I put on my helmet and followed them. When the bay doors opened the ambulance was secure to Kara Anne via magnetic anchors, maintaining an air tight seal.
I realized their suits and helmets were just a precaution. They loaded Mike into their ship and closed the hatch. I watched through the bay door window as they disengaged and returned to the control room. The com unit crackled to life. “Kara Anne, this is Commander Sarns of the DMS Cameron. Do you copy? Over”
“Commander, this is Daern Janis, over.”
“Captain Janis, prepare to abandon ship. We have orders to destroy your craft as a derelict and a hazard to navigation.”
“Negative, Commander. I have power restored and I am about to take evasive action.”
“Belay that order, Kara Anne. Your current vector puts you across shipping lane 7. You only have 3 minutes to leave your ship, over.”
I didn't respond; I checked the gauges for engines 1 and 2.
“Computer, plot a course to avoid shipping Earth- Lunar2 Shipping lane 7.”
“Working. two minutes to solution.”
“Abort!” I didn't hear the computer response. Not really knowing our exact position or which direction to go, I recalled our last course heading and added 180 degrees then mashed the execute button.
Reckless? Perhaps, but I had to do something in a hurry.
Seconds ticked off and finally Kara Anne shook as two fusion impulse engines opened to full power and the attitude thrusters torqued the Kara Anne into excruciating multiple g-force turn.
My head swam and I blacked out as the ship pivoted abruptly. Coffee cups, food packs and any loose items flew up into the air and drifted around the cabin. “Danger, entering space lanes! Danger!” The female monotone voice droned and the klaxon added to the din as Kara Anne drained off her forward speed, but she still violated the Lunar 2 shipping lanes.
As I opened my eyes seconds later I watched as the swirling debris stopped in mid and then crashed to the control room floor. The alarms disengaged and went silent; Kara Anne reversed course slowly, but surely, as she moved out of danger in the opposite direction, heading for the dark space beyond the moon.
Everything was silent as Kara Anne gathered speed and exited the danger zone. The computer voice announced. “Contact, close aboard. DMS Cammeron at coordinates 104, 307, 10.”
“On screen!” The Navy ship was parallel to us as we moved away from Lunar 2.
“Kara Anne, this is DMS Cameron. Janis, do copy?”
I was still in a mental fog as I tried to process the question. Shaking my head to get the thoughts together, “Roger, I’m a bit dizzy, but in control. Can you assist?”
Captain Janis, Sarns here. We cannot find any record of Captain's papers for a Daern Janis.”
Sheepishly, I decided to correct the error. “Sir, if you will check the Space Academy, I believe you'll find my name in that in the student body.”
“Academy?” There was silence for about ten seconds. ”You're only a Cadet? Where did you learn to handle a ship like that? Cancel that. Cadet Janis, I expect a full report on this incident on the Commandant’s desk in twenty four hours.”
“Uh, yes, Sir.” Then the name, Sarns rang a bell. Commandant Sarns was the Space Academy's Commanding Officer. I’d never really paid attention before. Commandants were way out of my social circle.
“Shut down main engines and stand by for a tow.” Commander Sarns responded. I am sending a team to assist. “Carry on!”
Epilogue: Over the next several months, I experienced unwanted celebrity after the rumor surfaced on campus that I captained a ship in outer space. No matter how loudly or how often I denied posing as a ship’s captain and years later, I am sure my reputation for insubordination followed me throughout my service.
Oh, my uncle Mike recovered from his concussion and the engine manufacturer’s warranty and insurance covered the repairs of the Kara Anne. She was back on station two months later at Lunar 2.