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Rated: E · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2238911
Episode III: Part II - Stargazer's shuttlecraft arrives at the Martian Colony
Part II

Star Date: Dec. 14, 2096

Arriving in the shuttle bay at 1800 hours, Doctor Rivera and his assistant Chief Medical Officer placed several bags on the deck behind the Stargazer’s solo shuttle. Clothing, a minimal amount of medical supplies and lab equipment, stack and carry tray organizers, logs and journals completed the checklist. Rivera caught a glimpse of the Starship’s hull number, NC-X1, imprinted on the bottom portion of the rear loading ramp.

Removing a final shoulder bag and setting it on the deck next to the others, Rivera turned and faced his colleague. “Per my earlier briefing, you’ll be the acting Chief Medical Officer in my absence. I have every confidence in you and the medical staff that the crew of the Stargazer will be in good hands until my return. Remember, I’ll have an open channel while inside the colony. I'm always available if you need me. Any questions?”

“None, except to tell you I’ve got this while you’re away,” the assistant Chief Medical Officer assured Rivera, smiling and extending a warm handshake. “Good luck, Doctor,” he added before turning and walking in the direction of the shuttle bay elevator.

Rivera returned the smile, watching and waiting until his colleague entered the turbolift for the return back to sickbay. He turned and pounded on the shuttle’s hydraulically controlled rear loading door. A slight whirring sound emanated from the port and starboard hydraulic actuators, the rear access ramp opening in response to the shuttle’s assigned pilot activating the hatch release in the cockpit.

“Good luck, Doctor,” another crew member shouted, standing next to the control room approximately fifty feet behind the shuttle. He would soon seal himself inside the octagonal shaped booth in preparation to depressurize the hanger and subsequent opening of the main shuttle bay doors.

Doctor Rivera smiled and waved in response to the man issuing the solo shout out. He accepted it for what it was, no sarcasm intended. Rivera understood his success, his very life, depended on a fortuitous combination of circumstances. And he’d take all the luck he could get. There was no turning back once he reached the surface of Mars and entered the settlement.

His equipment and supplies stowed in the rear of the shuttle, Rivera continued up the angled loading ramp and proceeded forward toward the cockpit. He wanted to greet the pilot whose only job was to deposit the Chief Medical Officer on the surface of Mars next to the colony’s primary entry and exit airlock. As understood by Rivera, the shuttle pilot would immediately return to the Stargazer. Well, that’s funny, Rivera thought to himself, noticing the silhouettes of two personal behind the darkened cockpit. Why am I seeing two pilots?

“Welcome aboard, Doctor,” a familiar voice shouted out, the rear access ramp rising simultaneously. The pilot stood and moved out of the dark shadow of the cockpit and into the lighted rear cargo hold of the shuttlecraft. Rivera stepped back slowly, his gaze strolling over the face of the unexpected issuer of the greeting. “Captain, what in blazes are you doing here?” he asked, the Stargazer’s Chief Medical Officer appearing utterly stupified.

“We’re both on our way to the Mars Colony,” Foxwell announced, his tone and expression completely deadpan.

Rivera rendered a puzzled look, then chuckled nervously. “So, let me get this straight — you’re taking me there — and dropping me off, is that correct?”

“Yes, I’m taking you there — and no, I will be accompanying you and remaining on the colony,” Foxwell clarified. He turned and nodded in the direction of the co-pilot. “Ensign Roberts will set the shuttlecraft down next to the primary airlock. We’ll suit-up and exit with our gear. Roberts will return with the shuttle back to the Stargazer.”

“Are you crazy?” Rivera shouted. “Do you know what this means?”

“I know exactly what it means, Doctor. It means if you and your colleagues are not successful, neither of us will return to the Stargazer, except in medically sealed containers for return to Earth and burial.”

Appearing baffled, Rivera shook his head. “I don’t understand, Captain. What is it you plan to do? And who’s in charge of the Stargazer while you’re away?”

Foxwell turned and locked eyes with Rivera. “Beta will be in command during our absence. She’s been thoroughly briefed. We have a mission to complete. Now, strap yourself in.” Foxwell returned to the pilot’s seat in preparation for shuttle departure.

“This is the dumbest ….” Rivera mumbled to himself before Foxwell cut him off.

“What’s that, Doctor?” Foxwell asked, smiling and shouting over the whirring sound of the shuttle’s gyros after flipping the master switch to the on position.

“Nothing,” Rivera shouted back, re-focusing his complaint about the Captain’s suicidal decision to accompany him to the Martian Colony to difficulty with the safety restraints shuttle pilots and passengers are required to use. “Why the hell do passengers have to wear a five-point harness? The only thing missing is a lethal injection IV line and a nod from the warden.”

Foxwell and and his co-pilot looked at each other and chuckled. Opening a channel to the Shuttle Bay’s control booth, Ensign Roberts instructed the control booth operator to activate the shuttlecraft turntable, slowly rotating the shuttle one hundred eighty degrees to allow for a nose first departure. Confirming the shuttle’s impulse engines energized and all pre-flight checks completed, Foxwell opened a channel to the command chair on the bridge.

“Bridge, shuttle bay control, this is Shuttlecraft NX-01, do you copy?” Foxwell hailed.

“Aye Captain, Beta here.”

“Shuttle and crew ready for departure.”

“Understood, Beta replied.”

The First Officer keyed the shuttle bay control booth, linking communications with the shuttle bay and the shuttlecraft. “Shuttle Bay Control, this is the bridge — the shuttlecraft reports ready for departure. Proceed to depressurize the shuttle bay and open shuttle bay doors."

“Aye Commander,” the control booth operator responded. De-pressurization and zero gravity confirmed, the Shuttle Bay doors slowly opened.

Engaging vertical and horizontal thrusters, the shuttle rose steadily and moved forward in the empty void above and around it. Foxwell hailed the Bridge. "Shuttlecraft NX-01 exiting the Shuttle Bay.”

“Acknowledged,” Beta replied, adding, “From the crew of the Stargazer to Captain Foxwell and Doctor Rivera — our hopes and best wishes go with you for a successful mission.”

“Thanks, we’ll need it,” Foxwell noted, viewing the red planet through the cockpit’s two inch thick quartz windows. Engaging the port and starboard impulse engines, he maneuvered the shuttlecraft into a lower orbit. Craning his neck to the right, Foxwell attempted to check on the condition of Doctor Rivera. “How you doing back there, doctor?”

“Like I’m stuck in quicksand, that’s how I'm doing,” Rivera complained. “How long will it take to reach the surface?”

“About fifteen minutes,” Roberts chimed in.

“It might get a little rough when we make contact with the atmosphere, Doctor. Just a heads-up,” Foxwell divulged.

“Rivera frowned. “Then I should get my money’s worth from this straight jacket I’m wearing,” he yelled in a sarcastic tone.

Approaching atmospheric entry coordinates, Foxwell engaged the shuttle’s manual control system.

“Ensign, activate exterior thermal coolant."

“Aye Captain. ETC engaged.”

Using gravity and drag in unison with the impulse thrusters, Foxwell slowed and maneuvered the shuttlecraft into the Martian atmosphere. Approximately ten minutes into their descent, the previously smooth flight was now bumpy and unsteady.

“We’ve reached the troposphere — disengaging ETC.”

“Shuttle Sensors have located the Martian Settlement,” Roberts confirmed.

“Yell when you acquire a visual of the settlement,” Foxwell shouted, the shuttlecraft bouncing around like a steel ball in a pinball machine. “Looks like dust storm activity has reduced visibility.”

Following the navigational system’s recommended angle of descent, Foxwell continued to reduce altitude until the shuttle finally broke through the sand created pea soup. The turbulence ceased.

"There it is, Captain,” Roberts shouted.

“Got it,” Foxwell called out, maneuvering the shuttlecraft in a wide arc around the Martian Colony, visually searching for the flashing beacon on the Colony’s shuttlepad.

Staring at the instrument panel, Robert’s noticed a flashing indicator light on the sensor display. “Sensor’s are picking up the beacon’s signal, Captain.”

“I see it,” Foxwell confirmed. “It’s flashing in unison with the signal. Almost there,” he muttered.

Spiraling downward in a controlled descent, Foxwell aligned the shuttle with the shuttlepad located approximately thirty meters in front of the Colony’s primary airlock.

“One more pass,” Foxwell declared, leveling and reducing speed before coming to a gentle rest on the Martian surface.

Instrument panel readings within normal limits, Roberts turned his head before shouting, “how are you, Doctor?”

“How am I?” Rivera parroted sarcastically. “Like I’m the main ingredient in a shake and bake contest, that’s how,” he yelled back.

Foxwell and Roberts exchanged glances, quietly laughing.

Click to read Episode III Part III "Star Voyagers: "THE MARS PLAGUE"

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