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Space Gypsies

Space Gypsies

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Space Gypsies

Lunghezza:
279 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Jan 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781310449246
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The year is 2055, and the first humans are on their way to colonize Mars. A meteorite shower damages their spacecraft worse than they realize. After months of traveling through space, they arrive in the vicinity of Mars, and then things go horribly wrong.
There is no hope of a rescue mission. Incapable of landing as planned and without any contingency plans, they are doomed to drift out of control in space.
Intervention comes in a most unexpected form. Read this exciting adventure to find out what happens to our intrepid pioneers...

Pubblicato:
Jan 4, 2015
ISBN:
9781310449246
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Charles Dyer is a consulting engineer, former senior lecturer and former technical magazine editor. He creates 3D models to help with visualisation and realism in his writing.

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Space Gypsies - Charles G. Dyer

Space Gypsies

CHARLES G. DYER

Copyright © 2015 Charles G. Dyer

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 9781310449246

Smashwords Edition

License

Thank you for purchasing this book. Names, characters and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. It remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to purchase their own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

It would be greatly appreciated if you could post a review on the site where you purchased this book.

CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter_Twenty_Two

Chapter_Twenty_Three

Chapter_Twenty_Four

Chapter_Twenty_Five

About The Author

Chapter One

In 2055, the trip from Earth to Mars was supposed to take 86 days. For reasons that neither ground control nor the crew could figure out, it took 88 days.

Perhaps the impact of a meteorite shower had something to do with the delay. The instruments showed nothing untoward. Visual inspections internally had revealed no damage, and the external video cameras only shown a few minor dents on one of the modules.

At the time, the crew had a brief discussion about whether or not they should take a space walk to more thoroughly examine the spacecraft. The fact that all systems were fully functional and nothing appeared to be amiss decided them against it.

Zoe Avril Picard checked that everyone was strapped in. OK, Henri. Systems checks are fine. You're the helmsman and navigator, do your stuff.

Henri Dupont, also known as Dupe, swallowed. I never even got a licence to drive one of these… Starboard retrorockets firing now. He punched a button.

Minutes ticked by until Henri was satisfied. On the kisser, fifteen point four degrees to port. And we're now flying backwards. He sucked in a deep noisy breath. Over to you, Cap Zap.

Merde, Zoe thought, why couldn't my parents have given me names that didn't form a stupid word? She tapped the last few keys. There goes another twenty-four tons of gas.

Close to twenty-four hundred tons of thrust slammed the crew into their seats. Their bodies were held more or less in shape by the pressure suits, but their faces contorted under the strain.

For nearly three very uncomfortable minutes, they were subjected to forces well in excess of the microgravity they had become used to. Most of them were gagging, but nobody was actually sick.

The purpose of the burn was to slow them down enough to be captured by the gravity of Mars, and to be set in orbit around the planet. During the burn, it was impossible for any of the crew to monitor instruments or do anything at all other than to suffer the discomfort.

Once the deceleration stopped, another systems check showed that the spaceship was safe. As the most highly qualified person, despite being the youngest, Zoe was the one they all looked to for leadership. Once she gave the all clear, they started removing helmets and loosening their spacesuits.

After running further checks, the captain was somewhat rattled. Mon Dieu! Zoe thumped a palm against her forehead. "Something's not right. The fuel gauges showed thirty-seven tons, and the duration of the burn could not have used it all. Now there's nothing!"

Henri shook his head violently and stared at his screen. Surely the course can't be that… He showed Zoe what had startled him.

What's up, Dupe? Hey guys, will y'all please tell me what's going on? Bradley J Sims III leaned forward in his seat to see the faces of his companions.

Zoe struggled to maintain a calm countenance, but the anxiety in her voice was obvious. "We're totally screwed, Brad. Firstly, there's no fuel for landing, or for returning to Earth. Not that that was ever an option anyway."

Brad shrugged. As I understand things, we could land without the fuel from the main tanks. Each pod and module acts independently.

Henri muttered glumly, True, but no fuel has been transferred to the modules…

Wonderful! Doctor Lia Walsh twisted her long black hair into a manageable ponytail and fitted a scrunchy. "You said, 'firstly', Zoe. That implies there's more… Do tell."

Yes. The fuel problem could have been worked around… possibly… Zoe rubbed her hands over her face. "The worst of it is that we're not in the Mars orbital path anymore. We're heading for deep space, and there's nothing we can do about it."

Ain't that just swell. Brad slumped back in his seat.

The crew of four had been selected from thousands of applicants for this one-way pioneering mission. Part of the selection process had been to ensure that each crewmember met the stringent psychological profile requirements. A prerequisite being that they had to be able to think outside the box, and be prepared for anything.

An indomitable spirit, unflappability and the ability to adapt to extremely difficult circumstances were among the desirable qualities that were expected. All of them knew and understood the risks of the journey and the colonisation of an alien world. However, they had expected to succeed.

The whole crew were top achievers. Not only in their chosen fields of expertise, but also in the plethora of courses, trials associated with the mission. After all, the investors wanted the best to ensure that everything possible had been done to ensure the chances of success and hopefully lucrative returns.

The major sponsor of the programme had an alliteration fetish that was vigorously applied to the hype and advertising drive. The crew knew better than to oppose the often-embarrassing slogans. Any negative thoughts they might have had about publicity promotions were kept private for fear of being removed from the team.

The sorts of statements they had to pretend to like were, 'Brad's buddies are the best brains and beauties born on our blue world.' At the eleventh hour, the launch was promoted with, 'By brightly burning boosters our brave buddies will soon be bashing boulders on barren Mars.' And, the slightly less corny, 'Our brave band begins the battle to bridge worlds.''

Now their courage, composure, resolve and the very fibre of their beings were being tested beyond any preconceived scenarios. It is not easy to remain calm in such trying circumstances. Silence is a good way of concealing fears and other emotions.

As Zoe racked her brains for solutions, she silently chanted the mantra that had seen her through countless examinations. I don't fail. I can't fail. I won't fail.

The fifth and final member of the crew was Hoshi, a diminutive Japanese android. Her original design was as an upmarket sex toy. She was anatomically correct in every conceivable way. Her artificial skin was practically indistinguishable from the real thing.

She was a marvel of human engineering perfection. Attention to detail was so complete that she could even cry real tears. A network of several powerful central processing units provided the immense amount of computing power needed to control all her functions.

Her artificial intelligence gave her a mental capacity well above that of the average human. In addition to which, her brilliant programmers had endowed her with an artificial consciousness that bestowed sapience and sentience on her in a way that no other robot before her had ever exhibited. Nevertheless, Brad unkindly called her the 'Million-Dollar Ho'.

One ability that she was never expected to use had been a standard feature of her type. As a marketing gimmick, her manufacturers had developed the model to such a high degree of mobility that they were able to make them competent in the martial arts. The sales pitch being something along the lines of, an intimate companion that will protect and pleasure.

Hoshi was programmed with the equivalent of a black belt Shodan-Ho in karate. The Mars Pilgrim team decided to let her keep it because it could one day provide a source of amusement on Mars.

She had been significantly upgraded to fulfil a far more useful function as a mission specialist. Hoshi had spent two years of her life in space assisting with the construction of the Mars Pilgrim in high Earth orbit, a hundred thousand kilometres above the surface of the Earth.

Hoshi broke the tense silence with her calming sultry voice. It is possible that the meteorite damage was more extensive than we realised. I should go out and check.

Henri nodded. I'll come with you. As the mechanical engineer and materials specialist, he was the most suitable person for the job.

Zoe, you're the electronics expert. Is there any way that you can verify the accuracy of the instruments? Brad asked.

Not only did Zoe have a doctorate in orbital mechanics, she had a bachelor's degree in electronics. She nodded. Hmm, I can try. Most systems have at least one backup and some have two. Brad, will you check the landing modules to see if there's any fuel?

Sure, I'll get onto it right away. The lanky Texan drifted out of his seat, and floated from one handgrip to the next on his way to the aft end of the spaceship.

The bright green grab-handles were a necessary feature of the ship thanks to the permanent weightless conditions. They were spaced at regular intervals along the ceilings and walls. Fluorescent stripes made them visible if the lights were out.

Unless you've got something else in mind for me, I'll help Brad, Lia said.

Zoe shook her head. No, go ahead, Doc.

Hoshi and Henri were already at the airlock. Although she didn't need oxygen, she needed a spacesuit to protect her skin and circuits from the intense cold and radiation of space. They checked the monitor to confirm that both inner and outer doors were sealing properly then entered the chamber.

They were tethered together, and each of them would anchor a tether to a special eyebolt with a snap hook while the other moved to the next eye. In this manner they safely leapfrogged the length of the spaceship.

Cameras in their helmets transmitted everything they saw back to the command module where the data was recorded. Similarly, conversations and verbal comments were filed for later evaluation.

It took them nearly half an hour to traverse the length of the 88 metre long spaceship. Hoshi arrived at the engine and latched on. Here is the problem. The meteorites broke some of the engine mounting bolts…

The main engine was Russia's pride and joy. The Pushkin 2 nuclear thermal rocket uses liquid hydrogen fuel for plasma thrusters with a 300-megawatt nuclear reactor. Decades of use have proved it to be the most reliable of rocket engines. At five billion dollars, it was a mere seven percent of the mission's seventy-two billion costs.

Henri joined her. Yes, yes, I see. The effect was to swivel us several degrees off course. Pah, we only have ourselves to blame.

Why?

Because we should've checked at the time of the meteorite strike. He shrugged. No point in doing anything more here. It'll take days to repair, and there's no reason to do that now. Let's see if we can solve the mystery of the missing fuel.

One fuel line had a few tiny punctures. Henri shook his head. I doubt that such small holes could account for the loss of seventeen tons of fuel. Maybe only a few litres while the valves were open.

Careful examination of the two massive 408 cubic metre propellant tanks showed that one of the sensors had been misaligned by a meteorite and the backup had been destroyed. Ha! Chances are that we do indeed have sufficient fuel for landing. Let's get back inside as quickly as possible. Henri released his tether.

Brad and Lia confirmed that the landing modules were fuel-free. A short discussion led to calculations of various possible solutions.

Finally, Zoe shook her head. Even if there is enough fuel, separating the modules now and attempting to use the retrorockets to get each one into orbit is virtually impossible.

Aren't the modules supposed to act independently? Lia asked. Why do you think it's impossible, Cap?

Zoe explained patiently. Because by the time we've pumped the fuel into the modules we will have travelled several thousand kilometres further off course. Most of the fuel that the modules can carry is needed for landing safely. The tiny amount of surplus simply won't be enough to get us into satisfactory trajectories.

Lia gestured vaguely. Just remind me how things were meant to work. When we spun on our axis and fired the rocket, we were in Mars's solar orbit about one and a half million kilometres ahead of the planet. It was supposed to take a couple of days for it to catch up with us. Surely we can't be that far off, relatively speaking, can we?

In two days time, Zoe turned in her seat to face her, we should've been caught in Mars's sphere of influence. That's a tad over half a million kilometres from the planet. From then on, its gravity was meant to slow us down quite quickly. As things now stand, we've shot off at a tangent. In two days, we'll be in the shadow of Mars, and several million kilometres from its sphere of influence.

In a nutshell, Lia my dear, we're toast. Brad forced a smile.

Actually, more like frozen lollypops given the direction were going, Henri chuckled.

Lollypops or toast! Ha! What delicious options. Lia thought sarcastically and disparagingly, and then she considered everyone's mental health. Face it girl, you always wanted adventure. Is this any different from settling on Mars? She swallowed her pent-up anxiety and smiled. Well then, we have a change of plans.

How so? Brad asked.

This should be good. Zoe cocked her head on one side.

Lia continued cheerfully. Her voice was made that much more pleasant by the lilting tone of her native Ireland. We all planned on spending the rest of ours lives together, so that much stays the same. We have everything we need to live indefinitely on the ship. The gravity wheel exercises should keep us in good shape. On the bright side, we won't have to contend with the hostile environment of Mars. We might not be the first colonists on Mars, but we will be the first generation of space gypsies. I'd say we're going to be just fine.

Henri and Zoe exchanged glances, and then burst out laughing. Brad raised his eyebrows. Henri recovered first. "And where is our high-tech caravan going, Doctor?"

Lia lifted a shoulder nonchalantly. It doesn't matter. We will enjoy the trip and see where it leads. We've managed perfectly well so far. Now that our goals have changed, we can spend our spare time developing new skills. There's more than enough to keep us busy. I'm quite willing to teach and to learn.

Bravo Lia. Zoe clapped. Thanks for the glimmer of hope. There is the faintest of possibilities that we might now be in an enormous orbit around the sun. That might eventually bring us close to Earth or Mars at some time in the future. Maybe I'll run the numbers sometime.

What she did not voice were her dark thoughts. The original transfer orbit would've taken us as close as 140 million kilometres to the asteroid belt. Now we're going to get very much closer and we may even go through it… without any control at all. Heaven help us.

Brad sighed. I guess we ought to let ground control know what happened, huh?

Humph. Henri made a noise between a hum and a grunt. "While you're at it, rub it in that it's partially their fault. If they had insisted that we do a thorough inspection after the meteorite business, we would be right on track."

Brad ran a hand through his short ginger curls. Mars Pilgrim to Ground Control… He described at length the outcome of the final burn and the current situation.

They had to wait sixteen minutes for confirmation that the message had been received. It was some time later that the concerned people at Ground Control composed a message with numerous useless suggestions.

Hey guys! Brad wore the expression of the cat that got the cream. Remember all that hoopla with promos? Well I've got one for Mr Big to suck on. Reckon it'd make a good headline too.

So, don't keep us in suspense, Lia said.

He took a deep breath. Bold band bashed by ballistic boulders to bounce about in the boundless backwaters of space.

Zoe smiled and clapped. Bravo buddy, Brad.

Henri smirked. You could've added several choice expletives to that.

Lia shook her head. "I hated all that stuff. Some of it was so demeaning. I wonder that it did anything to attract positive attention rather than ridicule."

~##~

Chapter Two

Eight months later, Zoe's worst fears were being realised. The asteroid belt drew inexorably closer. Her only consolation was the knowledge that historically several spacecraft had moved through the asteroid belt without ever hitting anything.

The asteroids range in size from dust and pebbles to the dwarf planet Ceres. However, of the tens of thousands of objects, only a few hundred present any serious threat to a spaceship. In addition to which the region is so sparsely populated that an observer at one asteroid is unlikely to be able to see the nearest neighbour.

She kept her thoughts to herself and ensured that the crew was kept busy with maintenance and chores as well as their newfound interest in learning each other's skills. Hoshi played her part in this way of life too.

The android taught the doctor how to weld in exchange for filling her database with medical knowledge. Similar dissemination of knowledge between other crewmembers filled in much of their leisure time.

Although Lia was a highly qualified physician, her primary tasks on the spaceship were caring for the livestock and the plants. The first cargo module was a compact farm with six dairy goats, ten chickens and four pigs. In addition to which there were aeroponic gardens that required constant attention.

Fortunately, the fish tanks in the gravity wheel were less demanding on her time. Birds, animals and humans alike had to be regularly exposed to gravity to prevent bone loss, muscle atrophy and other complications of weightlessness.

***

The people of Earth had all but lost interest in the fortunes of the intrepid pioneers. Only a handful of die-hards continued to spout encouragement over the social media. The crew no longer bothered replying to them. The investors had written them off, and negative public opinion had persuaded them to withdraw from the programme.

Lost in space, out of sight and out of virtually every human mind, the crew kept on going. Lia's advice was taken to heart, and morale was as good as it had been at the start of the adventure.

Unknown to anyone on Earth or in the doomed spaceship, another pair of eyes had been watching ever since the launch from the high Earth orbit so many months ago. They were inorganic eyes that were rigidly fixed in the head of the bearer.

Gasog was an autonomous alien scout on clandestine assessment mission. It was a sophisticated android from the Epsilon Indi solar system.

Gasog's original mission had been to determine what technological progress humans had made, as well as evaluating developments in civilisation and society. On seeing

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