A far longer journey, p.1
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       A Far Longer Journey, p.1

           John Stevenson
 
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A Far Longer Journey
nger Journey

  Orbit the Sun – Part 2

  By John Stevenson

  Copyright 2014 John Stevenson

  It was almost four hours after he had dropped the bombshell that Mathew sought Andrew out again.

  Andrew was alone in the cubical that he termed his office; he looked up from the water-recycling forecast, as Matt gave the cursory knock and entered. Andrew leaned back in his chair and smiled ruefully. “After five months we may have to resort to recycling sweat; that’s assuming any of our guests have ever worked one up?” he said lamely.

  Mathew did not respond. “I’ve got more on the new orbit?"

  “Good or bad?"

  “I suppose it could be worse."

  “Mine was supposed to be a joke; your going to tell me it isn’t, aren’t you?”

  “You probably need to start factoring everything in.”

  “That isn’t what I was hoping you would say.”

  “Sorry, but it seems I don’t have any good news."

  Andrew looked at him seriously “Then you had better tell me exactly what were up against?"

  “You have to remember I’m doing most of this by the seat of my pants; there’s no exactly yet."

  “Then I'll settle for the best you can?" Andrew looked at the computer on the drop down desk before him. “It's impossible to work on provision and resources until we know how long it will be before we can be re-supplied?"

  “For the moment, as near as I can say; it will be approximately seven months."

  Andrew shook his head. “That’s too long."

  “Houston have more resources maybe they will get a shorter time; but I can’t see it being less; unless I’ve got something wrong."

  “Then we might have to cut down on the mouths by sending the St Louis after Earth."

  "Maybe, but we're on the limit of getting it back home."

  "Possibly, but by cutting out mouths it will extend out supplies."

  "Hardly enough though."

  Andrew looked slightly guilty. "I was thinking of sending as many as possible?"

  Mathew looked at him seriously. "Load it up? Obviously you know how…" he didn't want to use the word he felt most appropriate. "Problematic that could be?"

  "We both know it's not configured as a bus; but is a short, rough, ride any more a bad option than log term starvation?"

  “Even so I don’t think that's wise."

  "Wise… No it’s not, if we had genuine options?"

  “Where we’re going we could need the extra power ourselves.”

  Andrew nodded. “I do realize that; and that to save their lives I could put others in jeopardy?”

  Mathew didn’t want to be provocative but he was against the idea and needed to be as forceful as he could. “And for that reason I'm not sure we have the option of letting the shuttle go."

  “It is not your decision; as station commander I have to make the best of a bad situation.”

  Mathew knew he had overstepped but he couldn’t accept what he saw as a mistake. “No and I shouldn’t think releasing the last lifeboat has ever rested easily on any captains shoulders?”

  Andrews face hardened, he already knew the risks. “We have fifteen pressure suits; including the shuttles. We could pack twenty aboard for the trip down."

  “That would mean to putting loose bodies in the cargo bay?"

  Andrew looked at him slightly offended. Yes it was risky, he knew that, but this wasn’t a multiple-choice situation. “I wouldn’t have termed it quite that way, but in essence that’s what I am considering."

  “I don’t think I’d like to be one."

  “You’re not going to be,” countered Andrew firmly.

  “No." replied Matt. “I wouldn’t have expected to have been asked.”

  Andrew knew the man had a wife and child on the surface, but apart from anything else he was the most experienced person aboard, it was essential he stay. “The guests will have priority; in a purely practical way they are excess baggage.”

  “Agreed but I’d recommend we keep suits here; we don’t know when we’re going to need an EVA?”

  “I’m aware of that.” Andrew tried to sound less confrontational. “Tell me what you have worked out?"

  Mathew was glad to change the conversation. “Firstly and I stress that we still have only a few hours data to base this on, is that we will indeed cross the orbit of Earth in around seven months’ time. The downside is that it will be above the plane of Earth's orbit and…" He hesitated. "About seventeen days too late."

  “Seventeen days?" Andrew’s voice was heavy with dread. “Then we may have no alternative but to send the St. Louis after Earth?"

  “Andrew." Matt dropped the formal exchange between the two men. “I thought it was an impossible option too when it became obvious what was happening, but we cannot afford to lose the St Louis?”

  “We have just discussed that.”

  “Yes, but as I said we may need the extra power.”

  “Okay, convince me."

  “As it is we will skim above the plane and continue out beyond the orbit. With the St Louis’s main engines, and a little creative flying we could bring the array back onto a parallel orbit, and…” Mathew hoped his calculations were right, "Wait for the Earth to come back?"

  Andrew raised his eyebrows. “In seven months?” he said unsurely

  Mathew was reticent. “A little longer.”

  “How long are we talking about?”

  Mathew gave a weak smile. “We could be looking towards two years."

  Andrew almost laughed; instead shook his head. “Impossible; we would all be dead long before that time."

  “I know: but if there was a re-supply vessel waiting for us, we could survive.”

  Andrew thought for a moment. “I suppose…. Okay, I don’t like it but, it’s a reasonable proposition and I won’t dismiss it, but that only makes reducing our number even more critical."

  “Reducing personnel would be the option if we could do it?"

  "I know it has risks; severe ones, but we need to eat and drink; irrespective of breathing."

  “Without the added power of the shuttles engines, our maneuvering thrusters will not be sufficient for the corrections that will have to be made, to make that rendezvous’."

  Andrew nodded. "All this is assumption; we could all die. If we have the chance; even a slim one of saving at least some lives we may have to take it."

  Mathew looked deeply into Andrews’s eyes. "I accept that and of course the decision is yours; but there is something else you should consider."

  Andrew looked at him dubiously.

  “For us to even miss the Earth by the seventeen days I have proposed, will take us closer in toward the orbit of Mercury. We will need very accurate control of the solar shields; having the St Louis as a backup if the trajectory does turn out to be a bit tighter would certainly make me sleep a lot more comfortable knowing I'm not being irradiated or fried."

  “I can’t argue that, but I still need something more convincing than personal comfort."

  “I’d hardly call it comfort?” Mathew sighed. “Look Andrew I don’t want to throw wild ideas into the mix but if we do keep the shuttle then there could be a very slight chance of catching Earth on this orbit?"

  “That could do it for me: how?"

  “I need much more data on what is actually happening, but by reducing our perihelion to within Mercury’s orbit we could get a reduction in distance and an increase in velocity sufficient to arrive in the vicinity of Earth closer to time."

  “That sounds the most promising thing you have said." Andrew saw Mathew’s expression. “Why is it that every time you tell me something that I feel there is more to come?"

  “Maybe
your just very perceptive."

  “And maybe I’m right; I am, aren't I?"

  “If we take that option, we have to be careful how we use the added boost from the encounter with the Sun. Used right and it should give us sufficient velocity to catch up, and be in reach of Earth; but only for something in the range of a day two at most."

  “Damned if we do. Damned if we don’t," muttered Andrew.

  “Something like that."

  “Well, there seems you have left little for me to consider; only to approve."

  "I don’t like it but we still have the option to send the St. Louis back?"

  "After all you have just said? No, we're on the limit now; and it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. I don’t like what you are suggesting, but given the options you have probably come up with the most logical action for us to take?"

  “All I tried to do is ask myself the questions you have?"

  Andrew smiled, “It seems you know me too well."

  Mathew was turning to leave when Andrew spoke again “Tell me the answer to one more question." The smile had gone and he looked at Mathew seriously. "If we do all this and the twenty-four hour window for a rescue is wrong; what are the consequences?”

  Mathew tried to frame it in lite way, but he wasn’t smiling. “Have you ever wondered what's past the orbit of Pluto?"

  Andrew
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