Monday, 23 May 2016

A COUPLE MORE PAGES FROM 'REACH FOR MARS' :

I stood at the control panels watching our approach toward the ISS through the bridge windows with growing apprehension. This was going to be an extremely difficult task to execute. As this was an alien ship, its hatches were designed differently from the space station’s, so we wouldn’t be able to latch onto and dock with the space station as the space shuttle or the Albatross would have been able to. Instead, we would have to fire lines across to the space station and then once the lines were secured, transfer the supplies, baggage, and then the crew into our ship while trying to match their rotation and keep the lines tight for transfer.
As the ship approached the space station, I conformed its flight path to the rotation of the space station so their entry hatch was continually lined up with ours. (God, I loved this ship!) Then I ordered the ship to move in closer so that Dick could fire the lines over to the space station. Their crew caught them and belayed them to mounting points in their airlock. I then ordered the ship to move away from the station until the lines were tight and hold that position. The transfer worked quite well, and it wasn’t too long before it was completed. When I got the word from Dick that the transfer was complete, I told him to release the lines and batten down the hatches. When he had reported back to me that we were free and clear, I directed the ship away from the space station, and then when I judged that we were safely far enough away to turn, I told the ship to head home to Mars. It turned away from the ISS and punched in its engines, and we were away at breathtaking speed. I looked at one of the rear viewing monitors and watched in awe as the Earth and its moon shrank so swiftly in our wake. We were now blazing through the galaxy at an unbelievable rate of speed, heading rapidly toward home. Satisfied that the ship knew where it was going, I removed my headset and put it back on its standby rack. With a last glance at the monitors, I turned, left the bridge, and headed down the stairs to meet the crew we had just pulled off the ISS.



Chapter 24

Back on Mars with Nick;
After signing off from Drew, I replaced the mike on its mount and stared out the windows at the alien starships parked below, lost in my thoughts for a while. As much as I hated to admit it to myself I missed Drew and was looking forward to his return. It was always entertaining when Drew was around; he always rose to the bait when I stirred him up and his reactions were usually quite amusing. I was missing the entertaining exchange of insults and jibes that followed as a result, (Some might call it intellectually stimulating repartee although I very much doubted that it could truly be called that). But it was highly entertaining just the same.
I realized with a sudden shock just how many years we had flown together, fought together, and been each other’s wingman, both in the air and on the ground. Hardly a day had gone by in all those years that we had been separated for any length of time. We were certainly separated now, however, by millions of miles of space! I was worried about Drew and the rest of the crew aboard that alien starship as they flew through space to pick up the six stranded astronauts from the ISS and return to Mars. I knew only too well the dangers they would be facing on a mission such as this, and I wished them the best of luck and Godspeed for a quick return to Mars.
As captain of the Albatross and commander of the Mars mission, I technically had the power to refuse to allow them to attempt such a perilous and foolhardy mission. I would not, however, in all human conscience and decency attempt  to do something so cold and heartless. As the last survivors of the human race we were duty bound to try all avenues to rescue other survivors if at all possible.
It was like the Law of the Sea: all seafarers in a position to give aid must answer an SOS distress call, no matter how inconvenient or dangerous it may be to do so. And after all, we also call our craft, ships.
It was all an academic argument anyway. Even if I had forbidden them to go, they would have simply ignored me and gone anyway. There was no government here on Mars…certainly not like anything back on Earth. Every crew member was master of his or her own destiny, with total freedom of choice, as long as their choice did not adversely or dangerously affect any other crew member or the crew as a whole, of course.
So I had neither the right nor the power to stop those crew members if they decided to take one of the starships and fly off to Earth to pick up six stranded astronauts and bring them to Mars, nor would I have attempted it. I shook myself out of my reverie and stood up with a stoic,
“Fuck it! There is lots to do and this isn’t getting any of it done.”
With a last glance at the radio, I turned and left the flight-control room and took myself up to the terrarium to help Sammy. We toiled there until the sun was disappearing below the horizon before we decided to call it a day, since the sun was calling it a day too. Just before I left the terrarium, I caught myself glancing up at the sky in the direction from which the starship would be coming in from Earth. There was no sign of it yet, as I knew there wouldn’t be, but still I looked. I would find myself doing that a lot in the weeks to come.

There was indeed much to do in the weeks ahead. I was sure that Drew would be very happy to learn on his return that I had discovered an exit ramp from the access tunnel that led to a wide open and flat plain on the surface. We would no longer have to use the goat track up the side of the crater to access the planet’s surface. There was also an added bonus: the plain was flat enough and large enough to park all three remote craft on it, thereby drastically cutting down the travel times to and from the remotes to move supplies to the city. I decided that I would drive over to one of the remotes, fly it over to the plain, and park it a short distance from an exit/entrance ramp the following day.