SEP-010, Chapter 17, Part 2.

Scav

Mostly Harmless
Joined
May 8, 2010
Messages
1,002
Reaction score
34
Points
48
And now, the continuation:

SEP-010, Chapter 17, Part 2.

Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. Mission Control Center, FCR-A.

Flight Director, Matthew Payton felt the blood drain from his face as he read the terse e-mail headers. One was from Greg Williams . . . and the other was from Jamie Cunningham. He knew it was a foregone conclusion that they had already spoken by now, and his hand had come dangerously close to smacking his forehead as he imagined the outcome of that conversation. Now, as he perused Williams' email, he knew for a fact exactly how sharply everything had gone over up there. Williams was a military man, and he was also very fastidious in his dispatches; he never used . . . casual language like that.

Williams, it seemed, had given up his role of project coordinator in this endeavor. He was now putting everything in Jamie's lap, which was completely unexpected. His precis of the situation stated that Constitution's crew had already done most, if not all of the brainwork in solving the situation, and they just needed the extra ship and the warm bodies to complete the project. Jamie Cunningham herself was the most ardent about getting the job done right, right then and there.

Obviously they felt that these communications were too important to go over the air, through CAPCOM; they both took the most direct route possible: Through the TDRS network, across the broadband, and directly to Payton's terminal, carbon-copied to Ed Foulkes' desk.

As he waded carefully into Jamie Cunningham's thunderstorm of an email, he felt eyes upon the back of his neck. He ignored the nagging feeling as long as he could, and as he read her strident words practically demanding a shot at what she wanted to do . . . he found the scrutiny unbearable. He whirled around in his seat, snapped his eyes upward, and found Edward Foulkes himself standing behind him.

"Hi, Ed," He gobbled. Foulkes glowered at him.

"I'm . . . this . . ." Foulkes sputtered. Payton stared as closely as he dared into his boss' face.

The old man is actually speechless, he thought to himself, and for a moment, real anxiety started to cross his heart.

Foulkes gave another monosyllabic utterance, stuck his finger at him, and stopped himself. His eyes waxed frustration. Payton swallowed. Foulkes turned away, paced forward a few feet along the row of consoles, and paced back.

Payton remained silent through all of this.

Foulkes paced back the other way. Slowly. Purposely. He finally shook his head stiffly, pointed his finger at Payton again . . . started to say something, then stopped. Payton remained rigidly seated, his attention locked on his boss.

Foulkes finally dropped his stance and looked at Payton with a very stern expression.

"I'm getting too old for this crap," He growled. "I'm going to try to stay out of your hair as much as possible, Matt. I . . . just want to be there for this. I want to know we're making the right choice here."

Payton stared at Foulkes for a moment, and he nodded. He knew that Foulkes had obviously already read the e-mail dispatches, and his oddly cool demeanor just now told him that he wasn't there to yell . . . yet.

He took the blessing in disguise. "Have a seat, Ed. We're going to start our preliminary EVA activity soon."

"Thank you, Matt," Foulkes said as he took a chair next to him. "Have you decided who's going out, and who's staying in?"

"Yes," Payton replied unhappily. "Since Jamie has had actual EVA training in the recent past, even though she's technically the pilot and mission commander, and her training dealt with how to field-fix a single satellite, she's taking temporary additional duty as the primary repair technician. Svetlana has volunteered to assist her; we're waiting on a word from Roscosmos before I can completely authorize that. Any luck, and we'll have a two-person crew up there; we feel that it's the ideal number out there to get the job--"

"Cut the legalese," Foulkes said, and Payton fell silent. "You've got the manpower--er, womanpower covered up there, if the Russians don't pucker up and say no. How are you going to transfer the plate?"

"It's going to be the most complex RMS handoff we've ever done, Ed," Payton said unhappily. "It's also going to be done in the most dangerous environment I think we've ever operated in. Enterprise has an EVA platform they can hook up to their RMS arm; we can transport Cunningham and Zaytseva one at a time to where they need to go. The problem is, Cunningham is going to have to free up the attachment points for the plate on Constitution all by herself, at the end of Enterprise's arm, and then she's going to have to guide the new plate on by herself. Then they're both going to need to be put in Enterprise's cargo bay to free up one of their full fuel tanks, so that they can guide that tank into Constitution's bay."

"And once that's physically done, all they have to do is hook up the feed lines and crossfeed their new fuel into their main tanks, and they can get that bird home," Foulkes concluded. "Safety margins?"

"Jamie will have to stay strapped into Enterprise's canadarm the whole time to avoid drifting out into space. Underneath Constitution, there's nowhere to tether her to, so Ciotti and Williams will have to coordinate very carefully to maintain station-keeping during all of this. We'll have Svetlana out there for spotting, as well as the other astronauts through their windows to keep the two ships from smacking into one another, or drifting too far apart. Finally, the tank movement is going to be a real bear to pull off."

"Can those two do it?"

"I don't know about either of the two up there," Payton admitted. "They've been weightless for the better part of a month and they won't take no for an answer. But at worst case, we can use Constitution's canadarm to help pull the tank along. The tanks weren't designed to be handled like this, so we're basically improvising as we go along."

Foulkes frowned.

"I know, Ed," Payton said. "None of this has been rehearsed before. I'm just as happy about all of this as you are, and--"

"Houston, Constitution," He heard in his ear. It was Jamie Cunningham's voice. He shut his eyes in frustration momentarily, and pointed a finger at CAPCOM. "Tell her to shut up and stand by," He barked.

"Constitution, Houston. We are still working on things down here; please stand by," CAPCOM, Alex Langley, said evenly as he swiveled caged eyes towards Payton.

"Good lord, I don't know what's more frustrating; I can't make up my mind," Payton snarled. "The problem up there, or the people up there. Not that I can blame them. Constitution's almost completely out of fuel; they've been doing almost daily debris avoidance maneuvers to stay out of the way of the larger stuff up there, and they've been taking their hits from the smaller stuff every time they've drifted in and out of low Earth orbit. We've got to get them both back on the ground, Ed . . . before they both turn into swiss cheese. Someone's gonna get killed up there, sooner or later."

"Then you'd better get this act moving, Matt. Before that happens for real," Foulkes said coldly.

* * *

Constitution.

"Release!"

Jamie Cunningham felt the clamps on the large fuel tank snap free, and the tank itself began to float 'upwards.' She wrapped her gloved hands around the handle. The premise of what she and Svetlana Zaytseva were about to do was simple: Spin the fuel tank around, and align it so that it could float, by itself, into Constitution's cargo bay, where they were to manually snap it into the tank array for that ship.

"Okay, let's do this!" She said. She heard Svetlana grunt in reply, and she put her own strength into heaving the tank over.

The tank was heavy. Even though they were in a microgravity, the tank still had mass . . . and a lot of it. Over a ton of fuel was inside of that tank, and Jamie quickly discovered that it took everything she had left in her to get the tank to begin rotating.

The tank was now on its side, relative to Enterprise's cargo bay floor, when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Her eyes darted to a wisp of white powder flying through space towards her. Tracking the powder, she quickly found the source.

Svetlana's suit had ruptured. It wasn't powder. It was crystallized air, mixed with blood. She'd been struck by debris.

"No!" She growled as she threw herself at Svetlana. The suit rupture -- really, more like a tear in the suit at her right shoulder -- spun Svetlana around like a rag doll as it propelled her slowly away from the ships.

Jamie heard voices shouting at her through her radio as she watched Svetlana grope wildly at the hole in her suit. The voices didn't matter. They were in a different life, for all that she cared. Her first instinct . . . her imperative . . . was to get to Svetlana to try to help her.

And eventually, she did.

She brought Svetlana upright, and saw the crazed, terrorized look in her eyes, mirrored by the same crazed, terrorized look in her own eyes.

Then it dawned on her that they were both free-floating in space. Much too far away to grab ahold of something . . . too late to stop them from drifting away forever.

It was too much.

* * *

Jamie Cunningham's eyes shot open.

She shivered, still feeling the terror from her dream, and it took a moment for a firm reality check to set in. On one end of Constitution's crew elevator, Svetlana Zaytseva was sleeping; Jamie occupied the other end. The doors were shut; the chamber was set to a partial pressure for the EVA campout.

Only, Svetlana was no longer sleeping. Jamie turned her eyes, noting that she must have made some noise waking up.

"Are you awake?" Svetlana asked.

"No, I'm taking a very lucid nap," Jamie replied immediately.

"You had a bad dream."

"Sure. Yeah, I did," Jamie admitted.

"It was just a dream; you should take what you can from it, and move on," Svetlana said soothingly. "We are under a great deal of stress, and you and I are about to do something no one has done before. I do not blame you for your psyche being unsure of yourself; you should be proud of the way you are handling yourself."

Jamie nodded. "Did you learn that in Star City?"

"I had an outstanding teacher," Svetlana said with a head-tilt.

"Give me his phone number when we're back on the ground, will you?"

"Of course," She smiled.

"Jamie, Svetlana," She heard in her ear, "Enterprise is in position. We're going to lower the elevator and depressurize as soon as you are fully suited up."

"Copy that, Houston," Jamie replied. She unhooked her helmet, and gave Svetlana a glance. As they donned their helmets, they nodded to each other.

They were ready to go to work.

* * *

The elevator stopped moving. Jamie checked the pressure indicators. The chamber they were in was indicating a vacuum, so she reached for the door controls.

Well, this is it, she thought to herself as she pushed the button and the airlock door opened.

They'd done a masterful job of maneuvering the two ships together.

Expecting to see the blackness of space, her eyes stung briefly as she saw Enterprise's brightly-lit cargo bay; a function of the cargo bay lights and the sun creating an almost blinding whiteness after the mellow lighting inside the crew access elevator. Enterprise's RMS arm terminated immediately in front of the opening of the elevator, and Jamie maneuvered herself into the foot cradle at the end of the effector.

"Okay guys, I'm attached to the RMS arm," She said.

"Copy that, Jamie. We'll bring you up to Constitution for the first phase."

The arm moved slowly. It was an unusual experience . . . not dissimilar to being on a slow-motion carnival ride. Only the sensation was all wrong: She expected to feel movement, but the only thing she felt was the same 'forever falling' feeling she felt all along since she reached orbit so many days ago.

Arriving at Constitution's keel took two minutes of wrangling. The two ships were approximately thirty feet apart; it was an easy distance. She took a moment to inspect the hole in the wing.

The wreckage didn't look terrifyingly bad . . . but it was serious enough. An aluminum-lined tank was holed completely through, and she could see the yellow skeletal work through the hole indicating that the wing itself was not likely to come flopping off during re-entry. That much was reassuring. The impact area was dirty, suggesting that whatever hit her ship had spalled completely and turned to dust as it released its momentum and kinetic energy into its explosive force.

Then there were the hold-down clamps for the thermal protection plate. Three of them had sprung shut when the plate liberated itself; the fourth held an egg-sized blister of plate material.

"Okay. I have the old plate material sighted. I'm about to remove the material now."

"Copy that, Jamie. Use nice, soft gloves for this."

"Nice soft gloves. Right," She whispered as she pulled a flatblade screwdriver out of her EVA suit breast pocket with her right hand. Using her left hand to grapple Constitution and the framework supporting the hold-down clamp, she slowly worked the blade of the screwdriver into the clamp and the media stuck in it.

After much effort, two things happened very abruptly: The clamp snapped shut, and the hafnium diboride media smacked into her helmet faceshield, eliciting a yelp.

She let go of the screwdriver with one hand, grabbed the spinning piece of material with her other, and re-grabbed the screwdriver with her off-hand in one fluid motion.

"Right in the pie-hole," She growled sarcastically under her breath. Then, pausing for a reality check, she pocketed the screwdriver back in her breast pocket, and opened up her left thigh pocket to deposit the thermal protection media.

"Okay, Houston. I have the media pocketed. The clamp returned to its closed position. Everything looks good up here."

"Ah, we copy that, Jamie. Everything looks good down here. Stand by; we're going to bring you back down to Enterprise's cargo bay for phase two."

"Copy that."

Through with her sudden adrenaline rush, she now felt herself admonishing herself for glossing over some of the details of this EVA: She didn't know who was at the RMS controls, but they were doing a spectacular job of not throwing her around like a rag doll. It took a few minutes of wrangling, but she found herself looking over a white, fabric-lined 'chest' secured to the floor at the front corner of the cargo bay opposite the RMS arm's shoulder mount.

"Okay, Jamie. Unlock the hinges at the top of the plate containment unit. There will be a strap securing the plate inside."

"Copy," Jamie said as she unlocked each of the four hinges. Then she swung the cover open. The new thermal protection plate, beautifully black and unmolested by the space environment, beckoned to her from inside, protected by what looked like a tow strap one would find at an auto parts store.

"Just as a matter of curiosity, where did we get the strap for holding the plate down?"

"ACME Surplus Supply," The reply came. She chuckled, and she heard laughter transmitted in her ears.

The cinching mechanism undid itself without undue effort, and she folded the strap ends out of the way. Taking the plate with one hand, she found it to be incredibly massless in her glove. She turned it on its side, noting the thickness of the plate: Barely a sixteenth of an inch was actual thermal protection material; the rest was a superstrong, superlight resin mesh that formed the backing of the plate along with the four attachment points for mounting to the ship. Attached to the mesh on the inboard side were a series of electrodes fixed to a wafer-thin printed circuit sheet, and there were a series of nine optical connectors that allowed data transfer to and from the plate.

She knew from her exhaustive studies from the previous year that the system involved real-time data collecting from all of the thermal protection plates aboard, to the tune of some tens of thousands of queries per second. This was done for both structural integrity assurance as well as temperature monitoring during re-entry.

Satisfied with her inspection of the plate, she shut the containment lid and snapped one of the latches shut.

"Okay, Houston. I have the new plate grappled in my hands. I'm ready to translate over to Constitution now," She said.

"Copy that, Jamie. Stand by."

* * *

Constitution.

"I have an idea," Sienna Morrison announced as the RCS jets fired.

"Shoot," Brian Adkinson said.

"Remember how we were talking about safety out there? How there's a risk of her getting hit by debris while she's doing that?"

"Yeah."

"Can we . . . can we have Enterprise come up as close as they can underneath us and partially close their cargo bay doors?"

Adkinson thought it over. It'd take a demon of an astronaut to keep the two ships from bumping into each other . . . there'd still be the risk -- mostly mitigated -- of debris approaching from either 'down the throat' or 'up the kilt' . . . but as he thought it over, he smiled. He liked the idea. Besides, he mulled over the flying crew list in his mind, and came to the conclusion that there was no shortage of demon astronauts flying today.

"Houston, Constitution," He transmitted, and as he started to word his query, he mouthed "good job!" to her.

* * *

"Jamie, for your information, Enterprise is going to offer you a little more protection while we do this. They're going to set their bay lights to maximum-on so you can see properly. They think you're going to appreciate this."

Jamie paused to look around her. She held the plate with both hands, and as she felt the RMS arm move underneath her, she felt the strange vertigo of motion as Enterprise approached her from below. The two ships came within inches of each other . . . she saw translating RCS jets fire softly around her . . . and then she saw Enterprise's cargo bay doors begin to close.

"Oh, that's brilliant!" She gasped as a wide smile crossed her face.

The doors stopped just short of clipping Constitution's keel. She was now enclosed quite nicely.

"Jamie, we see that the entrapment area for the new protection plate is in fairly good condition. Two things from the manufacturer we need to pass along to you before you proceed: Number one, the alignment of the plate needs to be exact to ensure a proper fit and securement. You may only get one chance to get it right. Number two, be careful to avoid compressing the gap filler around the plates."

"Copy that, Houston," Jamie said. She held the plate in front of her as the RMS arm drew her closer to Constitution's wound.

Set the plate in right and push 'er in, she told herself. Remember. You only get one shot. You only need one shot.

She extended her arms outward and started to eyeball the plate in, feeling her adrenaline kick in once more.

You've got this, Jamie Lee. You've got this.

She felt the plate guide in. Everything looked good.

Then . . . as she minded her heart pounding in her ears, with a final push, she felt the clamps engage soundlessly, one by one.

* * *

Constitution.

A console beeped.

Brian Adkinson swam over to the offending panel. The caution and warning light array . . . was extinguished, he noted. Pressing the key combination to call up the wing status indicators, he hooted in relief. The new panel indicated secured and tranceiving data.

"She did it!" He yelled sharply.

* * *
 

Marvin42

Mostly Harmless
Joined
Nov 1, 2011
Messages
67
Reaction score
0
Points
6
The dream thing was really vivid. Also the tension in the story..you could cut it with a knife. There were studies that when a person watches TV or plays a video-game or reads a book, the brain does not understands that it's a fictional world and tends to react as if the person is actually living that action. The best way to relax the reader is to offer some extensive details about some items or mundane tasks (a description) pausing somehow the action without coming with an additional story-line. If this is done in a short manner and quite frequently (although you used also a nice joke 'ACME Surplus Supply,(...)' and the irony '"No, I'm taking a very lucid nap," Jamie replied immediately.' to bring a smile), than the effect is quite opposite and similar to a roller-coaster feeling. Someone else would have fallen into that trap, but no, Scav had to master this sorry very good, specially the way you build your phrases and arrange paragraphs/events. It starts very good: '(...) felt the blood drain from his face (...)'. 'Williams was a military man, and he was also very fastidious in his dispatches; he never used . . . casual language like that.' rebuilding the tension from previous chapters. This phrase: 'Williams, it seemed, had given up his role of project coordinator in this endeavor.' calls for the hero...guess who, but you explain it too fast. ' "You've got the manpower--er, womanpower (...)' - I guess misogyny is still strong and kicking in that guys head. 'Jamie paused to look around her.' - oh, i paused with her, probably it should have been better after the vertigo phrase, but that is just a personal opinion. 'You've got this, Jamie Lee. You've got this.' - yeah, you got this, Scav, definitely got this :)
 

PhantomCruiser

Wanderer
Moderator
Tutorial Publisher
Joined
Jan 23, 2009
Messages
5,603
Reaction score
168
Points
153
Location
Cleveland
Nice job. The tension, while palpable, is relaxed just enough with the "ACME" gag. I used to answer to similar questions with "The lowest bidder".
 

Aeadar

Lurker Representitive
Donator
Joined
Apr 30, 2009
Messages
456
Reaction score
3
Points
18
This has turned out to be one fine read! Thanks Scav!

:cheers:
 

Scav

Mostly Harmless
Joined
May 8, 2010
Messages
1,002
Reaction score
34
Points
48
Thanks again, guys. :)

Marvin42;bt4624 said:
Also the tension in the story..you could cut it with a knife. There were studies that when a person watches TV or plays a video-game or reads a book, the brain does not understands that it's a fictional world and tends to react as if the person is actually living that action.

I think that's something I've been going for all along; in the last twenty years since I've been writing, I've often strived to make a world happen with my text.

I've often wondered just what I've wanted to do with my life. Do you think I've found my niche?

I do really appreciate the detailed appraisal you guys have been giving me. This stuff has been pure gold all around. :)

:cheers:
 
Top